Archive for the 'WA-Sen' Category

Poll watch: GOP dominates IN and IA, has fighting chance in VT and CA

Given how much of this week’s has had us talking about Indiana, it is no surprise that its most noteworthy poll also comes from the Hoosier State: Rasmussen tested the Senate race sans Bayh - and the results are atrocious for Democrats. Reps. Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill would be crushed by whichever Republican they are up against: Dan Coats leads them 46-32 and 48-32, John Hostettler is up 49-31 and 46-27 and even Marlin Stutzman has decisive leads, 41-33 and 40-30. If these numbers are confirmed by other pollsters, Indiana would no doubt move towards North Dakota.

Yet, it is in not certain that other pollsters will find similar results, as we already know that Rasmussen’s number are in flagrant contradiction with Research 2000 released last week. While R2000 did not test other Democrats but Bayh, it did find Coats with a 38/33 favorability rating; Rasmussen has it at 54/27. (I’ll pass on the other weird internal of Rasmussen’s poll: How can a first-term state Senator [Stutzman] have the same name recognition as a congressman?) Given that Research 2000 had found Bayh in a far stronger position when matched-up against Hostettler than Rasmussen had found last month, it’s probably safe to say their numbers would have found Ellsworth and Hill in a far more competitive position than this Rasmussen poll does.

Does this mean we should trash Rasmussen and cherry-pick Research 2000’s survey? Of course not! But we shouldn’t do the inverse either. At the moment, only two polling outlets have tested Indiana’s Senate race and both have released surveys with no glaring problem that paint a very different landscape. (Of course, this has happened in other states, most notably in Colorado where Rasmussen and R2000 have a very different take on Michael Bennet’s electability.) We will need more polling evidence to figure out what to make of all of this, and it’s too early in the cycle to decide what’s an outlier and what’s not.

Senate

Wisconsin: To my knowledge, Rasmussen and PPP are the only pollsters to have recently tested Tommy Thompson’s prospects and their results are so at odds that it is a shame no other firm is releasing a Wisconsin poll. After all, the main reason Rasmussen’s finding that Thompson would start as the front-runner has become conventional wisdom is that they are releasing a survey of the state every few weeks, and indeed a new Rasmussen poll conducted this week finds that Senator Russ Feingold trailing Thompson 48% to 43%. Feingold’s favorability rating is a mediocre 50/48 while Thompson’s is an impressive 63/34, which is the main difference with PPP since that pollster found the former Governor rather unpopular. In any case, Thompson is not running as of now and Feingold leads two low-profile Republicans - albeit by underwhelming margins: 47% t o 37% against Westlake, 47% to 39% against Terrence Wall.

North Carolina: No surprise in PPP’s monthly look at Senator Richard Burr (yet another race that is pretty much tested by only one firm). As always, he has a comfortable lead against his rivals; as always, he is very far from the 50% threshold and his approval rating is mediocre (35/35). Against Elaine Marshall, he leads 43% to 33%; against Cal Cunningham, 44% to 32%; against Kenneth Lewis, 44% to 31%. That said, those numbers are clear improvement over the December and January numbers, since Burr only led Marshall by 5% and 7%. Another bad sign for Democrats: For the first time in January, Marshall performed better than a generic Democrat, a potential sign that her campaign was catching on, but she has once again fallen behind. PPP also tested the Democratic primary, finding Elaine Marshall ahead but certainly not by enough to look like a safe bet: She has 29% versus 12% for Cal Cunningham, 5% for Kenneth Lewis and 2% for new candidate Marcus Williams, who I had not heard of before this poll.

Illinois: Internal polls are only good insofar as the other camp chooses not to release a contradictory survey so it looks like the two parties have fought themselves to a draw in Illinois. Two weeks after Mark Kirk publicized an internal poll finding him leading Alexi Giannoulias, it is now the Democrat’s turn to release a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey that has him up 49% to 45%. Combine that with PPP and Rasmussen’s contrasting results (the former has Giannoulias up 9%, the latter Kirk up 6%), and thi is one race whose polls are all over the map.

Iowa: Democrats have never thought of Iowa as a strong opportunity, but given the number of their incumbents who are struggling to lead unknown Republicans it must be jarring to see Senator Chuck Grassley with 56% to 35% lead in a new KCCI-TV poll. Combine that with Grassley’s strong approval rating, and it certainly doesn’t look like there is anything to see in this Senate race.

Oregon: Rasmussen has released the first poll I am aware of that tests Senator Ron Wyden, and Democrats can be relieved that there isn’t yet another bad surprise. Wyden’s approval rating stands at 55-36, making it hard to see how the GOP can find an opening to defeat him. However, even he fails to crack the 50% threshold when matched-up against his largely unknown opponent, Jim Huffman, though his 49% to 35% lead is nothing for Democrats to get panicked by. Also today, SUSA found Wyden’s approval rating to be a respectable 50/37, which is a better spread than Jeff Merkley’s and Barack Obama’s.

Washington: While two surveys find Wyden with a strong approval rating, Patty Murray might not be holding on as well - at least according to SUSA. The senator’s approval rating has collapsed to 43% to 50%, by far the lowest SUSA has ever found Murray in 5 years of polling. So is this poll an outlier or does it serve as more evidence that the GOP can put Washington in play if it recruits a strong candidate?

Governor

Vermont: While this open race has looked like one of Democrats’ top opportunities of the cycle, Republican Lieutenant Governor would more than hold his own against a series of Democratic candidates according to Research 2000: He trails Secretary of State Deb Markowitz within the margin of error (43-41), leads state Senator Doug Racine 43% to 38% (also barely within the MoE) and has decisive leads ranging from 10% to 18% against lower-profile Democrats (Peter Shumlin, Matt Dunne and Bartlett). A major caveat: No more than 11% of Republican respondents say they are undecided in any of these match-ups, between 25% and 36% of Democrats say the same. When we account for that, Markowitz does start as the front-runner and the other Democrats have a lot of room to grow.

Iowa: Governor Chet Culver trails his chief Republican challenger Terry Branstad 53% to 33% in the latest Des Moines Register poll and 54% to 38% in a new Research 2000 poll conducted for KCCI-TV. Six months ago, those numbers would have been jaw-dropping; now they’ve come to be expected. The former Governor’s entry in the race has made Culver look like one of the surest gubernatorial losers of the year. The one thing that could save him would be for Branstad to be upset in the GOP primary since Culver is far more competitive against 3 other Republicans (in the DMR poll, he trails Vander Plaats by 3% while leading state Rep. Roberts by 5%; in R2000, he leads Vander Plaats by 3% and crushes Roberts by a surprising 22%). While he reaches 48% in Research 2000’s most favorable match-up, he doesn’t break 41% against any rival in the DMR survey. Combined with his dismal approval rating (36-53), this makes it hard to see how he could survive.

California: For a year now, Rasmussen has found tougher results for California Democrats than PPIC and the Field Poll, and its latest round of gubernatorial numbers are no different since Meg Whitman forces a 43%-43% tie against probable Democratic nominee Jerry Brown. Brown does have a wide 46%-34% lead against Steve Poizner, however. What should be comforting to Democrats is that this comes from Whitman’s remarkable popularity (56-28) rather than because Jerry Brown is unpopular (his favorability rating is a decent 53-41) or because the electorate has soured on Democrats (Obama’s approval rating is a solid 57-42). As long as Democrats don’t fall asleep as they did in Massachusetts, their attacks combined with Poizner’s should at least be able to increase Whitman’s negatives.

Interestingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating is a disastrous 26% to 73% in this Rasmussen poll and 19/80 in a newly-released SUSA poll. Republicans sure are lucky he is term-limited.

Nevada: The latest numbers of this Governor’s race are more encouraging than usual for Democrat Rory Reid, as Brian Sandoval’s lead is not as overwhelming as usual (44% to 35%) but then again it is a survey conducted by a Democratic firm, Grove Insight. The poll also confirms  just how much Democrats stand to benefit if Governor Jim Gibbons somehow manages to survive the GOP primary; weighed down by a catastrophic approval rating (20-75!), Gibbons would be crushed by Reid 49% to 33%. The survey also finds that Rory’s father Harry Reid is in bad shape, however: His approval rating stands at a dismal 34-63.

When Democrats are left hoping Maryland is safe

[Updated] The speed with which the rumor that Senator Barbara Mikulski would not seek re-election spread yesterday testifies to Democrats’ incredibly high level of anxiety.

A year ago this week, Judd Gregg had become the 5th Republican senator to announce his retirement, Democrats still thought Kathleen Sebelius would run for the open Senate seat, no one suspected Indiana would be competitive and congressional aides were talking about delaying legislation until the 112th Congress, in which they hoped for a larger majority. Today, it is no longer possible to deny the GOP has a clear shot at capturing the Senate: With DE, ND, AR, NV clearly favoring Republicans and CO, IL, PA and IN now no worse than a 50-50 shot, the NRSC needs to put two more seats in play, which they can do by attacking Barbara Boxer, working towards a recruitment coup in NY, WA, WI and hope for yet another stroke of good lucks from one of the states still deemed safe.

For one, the news that 86-year old Frank Lautenberg was taken to the hospital last night is a reminder that Democrats have a number of aging senators with health problems. Second, more retirements can no longer be ruled out. I have already written about Hawaii’s 85-year old Dan Inouye. While it would be a huge shock if Chuck Schumer and Ron Wyden called it quits, but the two remaining senators are both old enough that nothing should be ruled out at this point: Pat Leahy is 70 and Barbara Mikulski is 73. Both represent blue states, but in the current environment the last thing Democrats want is to worry about Vermont and Maryland, though they were reduced to doing just that last night.

In normal circumstances, a conservative blog writing they had heard from “an impeccable source” that Mikulski will retire would not attract much attention. But in the wake of Evan Bayh’s stunning retirement, how can the prospect of an additional open seat not terrify Democrats? Both Mike Memoli and Chris Cillizza soon tweeted the rumor is true, but would their sources tell them if it was? Maryland’s filling deadline is not until July, and given Mikulski has been on my retirement watch since the cycle started, I wouldn’t advice the DSCC to sleep easy on this one.

Of course, Maryland is the least of Democratic worries right now considering how chaotic Indiana’s situation is as we wait for the noon deadline to submit signatures. At the moment, rumors are hard to decipher (in particular, is Rep. Baron Hill actually attempting to collect 4,500 signatures overnight?) while all eyes are on Tamyra d’Ippolito, owner of Bloomington’s Ragazzi Art Cafe, to see whether she will qualify.

That seemed all but impossible yesterday afternoon, as d’Ippolito said she was 1,000 signatures short, but conservatives have been organizing to ensure she is on the ballot, with websites like Red State and The Washington Examiner urging Hoosiers to download the qualification petition from the SoS’s website, sign it and turn it in at their county’s registrar. If enough conservatives do it, d’Ippolito will be Democratic nominee. (Note that d’Ippolito in fact needs to submit far more than 4,500 signatures: Not only does she need 500 per district, but a large share are typically deemed invalid by officials. Candidates often submit double the required amount, which means that even if meet the required amount we won’t know for many days whether she actually qualified.)

When we first met her yesterday, I assumed Democratic Party officials could convince her to withdraw if she did qualify. Yet, after the interviews she granted yesterday (for instance telling Politico that she is campaigning against a party establishment that practices “sexism with a big S” and her pledge to do her best to break the “old boys club in Indiana”) as well as her tweets, in which she calls calls for a “revolt against the political machine” and urges conservatives and independents to help her cross the finish line, I am starting to think that it is unlikely.

I will leave a full assessment of the Indiana situation to a later post: by this afternoon, we should have a better idea of not only d’Ippolito chances of qualifying but also will have been able to get a clearer sense of whether Dan Coats made it and whether there is any truth to the Baron Hill rumors. After all, yesterday also brought signs that Democrats cannot afford to look away from other states that not so long were presumed safe, namely California and Washington.

Where did the latest worrisome news originate from? Rasmussen, of course. The polling firm, always available to kick Democrats when they are down, released surveys from both Senate races yesterday, finding somewhat worrisome results for the incumbents. In California, Barbara Boxer’s has unimpressive leads: 45-41 against Tom Campbell, 46-42 against Carly Fiorina and 47-42 against Chuck DeVore. The senator has repeatedly polled under 50%, not to mention that her lead barely sits at the margin of error. Rasmussen or not (PPIC also found Boxer vulnerable this month, so Rasmussen is no longer isolated), it is becoming increasingly difficult to not consider California vulnerable.

In Washington, Patty Murray crushes three of the four challengers she is matched-up against: 50-38 against state Senator Don Benton, 49-34 against former football player Clint Didier, 48-33 against Chris Widener. While she does fail to top the 50% threshold against Didier and Widener, these numbers alone are little to be concerned about. But the trouble starts when she is matched-up against two-time gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi, who is ahead 48% to 46%. Rossi, who is probably the GOP’s best bet, also lead in a Republican poll released last week and he recently opened the door to running. Is it probable he runs? No, but then again the GOP has been on quite an unlikely streak of good luck in recent months.

Much of it due to Democrats’ stunning cowardice and their unfathomable determination to run for the hills (both policy-wise and electorally) at the faintest hint of trouble. The party has turned its back on its one chance this cycle to pass meaningful legislation it could campaign on; and Bayh is the second senator to retire as soon as he saw he might have to work for another term. Imagine if Susan Collins or Jon Cornyn had called it quits in 2008 because Tom Allen or Rick Noriega looked threatening, if Reps. Mark Kirk, Dave Reichert and Jim Gerlach had retired in 2008 to avoid a repeat of the brutal races they had just gone through. I am unable to explain Democrats’ unique ability to sabotage themselves in spells of panic they blow out of all proportions, but I do know that this painful train wreck will be remembered as one of the defining stories of Obama’s first two years in office.

Update: Tamyra d’Ippolito now says she has enough signatures, but: (1) does she mean she has about 6000, which is at least what she needs since a large share of signatures are typically invalidated and (2) since she can only have reached that number with the uncoordinated help of Red State-conservatives, how would she know? It will surely take a few more hours (probably days) for the situation to get clearer.

Weekly update: NM’s filing deadline passes, state Senator takes on Murray, Krolicki won’t run

The past week was dominated by an avalanche of open seats, most of which concern congressmen who were not expected to retire. Diane Watson, Patrick Kennedy, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Vern Ehlers announced they would not seek re-election and Marco Diaz-Balart made a move for his brother’s district that opened up his own seat. Meanwhile, Jack Murtha’s death will lead to a special election that will probably be held in early May.

A fifth state saw its filing deadline pass this week: New Mexico. The main attraction is the open Governor’s race, in which there were no last minute surprises. On the Democratic side, actor Val Kilmer and state Senate Majority Michael Sanchez let the filing deadline pass without making a move, leaving Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish in control. On the Republican side, no one joined state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, Dona Ana County DA Susana Martinez and Pete Domenici Jr. Over on House races, all three Democratic representatives are seeking re-election, with Rep. Harry Teague (NM-02) the most endangered since Steve Pearce is seeking his old seat back. In NM-01, Rep. Martin Heinrich’s probable opponent is Jon Barela, a former vice chairman of the state GOP who will need the environment to be truly dismal for Democrats to pull off an upset.

In Washington, Republicans have yet to convince Rob McKenna, Rob Reichert or Dino Rossi to challenge Senator Patty Murray but they did get a credible candidate in the race this week: Don Benton, who has served in the state Senate since 1996. While Benton is only 52, he seems to have had a higher profile ten years ago: In 1998, he mounted a challenge to Rep. Brian Baird (who is retiring this year) and in 2000 he became chairman of the state Republican Party, though a rocky tenure led to his ouster within 8 months; also, he seems determined to emphasize conservative themes and embrace the Tea Party label, which should prove risky in a state that has trended increasingly Democratic over the entire decade (i.e. not just in 2008).

Yet, Benton’s entry is significant as it once again demonstrates the GOP’s rising confidence. In normal circumstances, Murray would likely crush Benton but if the electorate grows even more hostile to Democrats than it has for now, even a relatively low-profile state legislator can upset a seemingly solid incumbent. (While it seems hard to compare Elizabeth Dole and Patty Murray, Dole would have far tougher for Hagan to beat in most other cycles.) There is for now little reason for the DSCC to be alarmed, but the NRSC does have an eye on this state and Benton could still make life difficult for the incumbent.

In Nevada, we are getting a clearer picture of what the GOP’s Senate primary will look like. After seeing his prospects crushed by an indictment, Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki found himself back in contention when the charges were dropped; but he announced this week he would not jump in. On the one hand, the months of bad publicity due to his indictement surely damaged his standing (Rasmussen recently found him running weakest); on the other, he was a rare Republican with an imposing profile. The GOP field now contains at least 5 candidates with a credible shot at the nomination (Lowden, Tarkanian, Amodei, Angle, Chachas), which makes the primary wildly unpredictable; that’s always a dangerous place for a party to be, as we saw recently in Illinois’s gubernatorial primary.

A twist: A “Tea Party” group has qualified as a official party in Nevada, which will allow them to field a candidate on the November ballot; that candidate will likely be a man named Jon Ashjian. While Democrats will hope this takes some conservative votes away from the GOP, there is no evidence this will have any importance on the general election, but it still merits mentioning.

In Connecticut, week after week the gubernatorial field looks to be in as much flux. On the Republican side, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton had joined the race last week and this week, it was Newington Mayor Jeffrey Wright’s turn. I see that I had missed Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh’s entry in the race, so we now have at least five Republicans in the race. On the Democratic side, former Speaker James Amann’s decision to drop out appeared to open the way to a clearer opposition between Dan Malloy and Ned Lamont, but then we learned that Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura is preparing to jump in. The state’s fifth biggest city, Waterbury has about 110,000 inhabitants; Jarjura could certainly be a major player in the primary.

As always, I list all the changes I have logged in during the week to the retirement and race-by-race pages. First, updates to Retirement Watch:

New open seats Debra Watson (D, CA-33)
Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21)
Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25): will run for FL-21, leave FL-25 open
Vern Ehlers (R, MI-02)
Patrick Kennedy (D, RI-01)
Jack Murtha (D, PA-12)
Will not retire No one
Added to retirement watch No one

Next, the recruitment page:

NV-Sen, GOP Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki will not run
retired Navy commander Kirk Lippold will run
NY-Sen, GOP/indie Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman added
OR-Sen, GOP Kareem Hamdy is running
SC-Sen, Dem attorney Chad McGowan dropped out
WA-Sen, GOP state Sen. Don Benton announced run
Chris Widener is running
chiropractor Sean Salazar is running
enery trader Craig Williams is running
physician Arthur Coday Jr. is running
Rod Rieger is running

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

CT-Gov, Dem former Speaker Jim Amann dropped out
Waterbury Mayor Michael J. Jarjura announced run
CT-Gov, GOP Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh is running
Newington Mayor Jeffrey Wright announced run
MI-Gov, Dem Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is running
former Treasurer Bob Bowman is running
UM regent Denise Ilitch will not run
NM-Gov, Dem state Senator Michael S. Sanchez will not run
PA-Gov, Dem state Senator Anthony Williams added

To have shot at Senate, NRSC needs recruitment coups in two out of NY, WI and WA

Evan Bayh has dodged his second bullet in two weeks as Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita announced he would run for the House seat from which Rep. Steve Buyer retired on Friday rather than challenge the longtime senator.

Is this a case of fortuitous timing for Democrats? Rokita had nothing to lose by seeking federal office since his term is not up until 2012; his decision to run for the House suggests he really was interested in a congressional position, so might Bayh have landed a top-tier challenger by now had Buyer not retired? While Republicans are left wondering what might have been, we are back to the situation we were in on Thursday: Unless Governor Mitch Daniels bucks expectations, the GOP will have to do with state Senator Marlin Stutzman and former Rep. John Hostettler, neither of whom are well-positioned to take full advantage of the environment.

(Rokita’s move also guarantees a competitive GOP primary in IN-4, since Buyer’s protege state Senator Brandt Hershman has also jumped in. Whoever prevails in this their primary is likely to win the general election; the only Democrat who is being mentioned as a potential candidate is Purdue University biology professor David Sanders.)

While Bayh can no longer be considered a shoo-in for his re-election race, Indiana is back on the safer side of the equation - which is more than we can of other Democratic seats. A reminder of what the landscape looks like: With ND, DE, AR, NV, CO, PA and IL already top-tier targets, Republicans need to put three more Senate seats in play to have a shot at controlling the Senate if they pull off a sweep. With an Inouye retirement looking unlikely in HI, the NRSC failing in its IN recruitment effort and Blumenthal as of now marching towards a CT coronation (which is leading to talk that Rob Simmons might drop out), the remaining targets are CA, NY, WI and WA.

With Tom Campbell and to a lesser extent Carly Fiorina, the NRSC already has the candidates they need in California. That means they probably need to pull off recruitment coups in two out of the three latter states.

WA: GOP poll suggests Patty Murray could be vulnerable

We should never do much with partisan polls taken with obvious political intents but GOP firm Moore Research found Dino Rossi, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in both 2004 and 2008, with a 45% to 43% lead over Senator Patty Murray. Rossi is arguably as good as it gets for Washington Republicans; after coming as close as you can get to becoming governor in 2004 (he led before a recount reversed his edge), he was one of the few Republicans mounting a competitive statewide challenge in 2008 anywhere in the county. As such, Murray could do worse than trail Rossi by 2% in a Republican poll.

On the other hand, Murray was considered safe until Massachusetts altered the GOP’s ambitions so these numbers cannot but give a lot of additional heartburn to Democrats - especially as they moved Rossi to open a slight door to a run. While he said he has “no plans to run for any office at this point,” he added “I never say never.” The GOP is presumably working to convince Rep. Dave Reichert, who must not be relishing the prospect of being one of the only House Republicans facing a credible challenge.

GOP prospects against Gillibrand depend on Pataki (and Ford)

Believe it or not, even Chuck Schumer’s re-election race is now generating news! While the Democratic Senator has long looked untouchable, a new Marist poll finds an undeniable downward trend in his approval rating: for the first time since April 2001, it has dipped under 50%. This development comes as CNBC anchor Larry Kudlow, last seen mulling a Senate run against Chris Dodd last year, is now setting his sights on Schumer. That prospect is silly and Marist confirms the dip in Schumer’s rating doesn’t mean he has much to worry about: He crushes Kudlow 67% to 25%. Yet, the mere fact that I am moved to discuss Schumer on this blog is a stunning development.

New York’s other Senate seat remains the race to watch, and Marist finds that GOP prospects probably depend on George Pataki’s decision. While Kirsten Gillibrand trails the former governor 49% to 43%, her numbers against sole Republican candidate Bruce Blakeman bear no trace of vulnerability: she crushes him 52% to 30% - a margin that is all the more decisive considering the number of Democratic senators who are proving unable to muster leads against low-profile challengers, let alone cross the 50% threshold.

The GOP’s other hope of contesting this seat, of course, is for Harold Ford to bruise Gillibrand, outright win the primary or run as an independent. Marist found Ford routed by Pataki (52% to 35%) and struggling to muster a lead over Blakeman (39% to 35%); a match-up with Ford running as an independent was not tested. Marist did poll the primary, finding Gillibrand up 44-27 with Tasini at 4%. Ford is competitive thanks to weak support for Gillibrand in NYC, but is this not the region in which he should find the coldest reception for his conservative views? Another problematic number for Ford is that his unfavorability rating is nearly identical to Gillibrand’s despite his lower name recognition.

Except for Indiana, filing deadlines are a long time away

Unfortunately for Democrats, New York’s filing deadline is in July so Pataki has time to see whether Ford will gain any traction before making up his mind. The same is true in other states since Washington and Wisconsin Republicans have until June to make up their mind. Only in Indiana is the NRSC running out of time.

Of course, it is difficult to mount a competitive statewide campaign in just a few months, but we are talking here about well-known politicians like Pataki and Tommy Thompson who do not have to introduce themselves to voters, already have a fundraising structure and would probably easily secure their party’s nod; the same is true to a lesser degree of Rossi and perhaps even of Reichert, who is already raising money at a fast paste to prepare for his re-election race.

Can the NRSC expand the Senate map? A look at 7 seats

Republicans have top-tier opportunities to pick-up 7 Senate seats: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. Their prospects of winning most of these races have improved in recent months, but the overall number of seats they are contesting has remained the same since the summer. (While North Dakota was added following Byron Dorgan’s retirement, Connecticut was removed after Chris Dodd’s.)

But in the wake of Scott Brown’s upset in Massachusetts’s special election, the GOP is dreaming expanding the Senate map further. To take back control of the chamber, Republicans now need to pick-up 10 seats, which means they have to go after at least 3 additional races - and then hope to sweep all and not lose any of their own. While that is obviously a very tough feat, it doesn’t mean the NRSC shouldn’t try: In 2008, the DSCC was so determined to put 9 seats in play that it poured in millions in North Carolina’s Senate race before there was strong evidence that Kay Hagan could pull it off, and the party did pick-up a total of 8 seats.

Of course, not all map expansion efforts work - even in the most favorable of environments: Again in 2008, Senator Susan Collins was challenged by a top-tier Democratic candidate in a blue state in a very tough environment for her party and in a presidential year; she never even once looked like she would have to break a sweat. In short: Republicans might be able to win in many more places than is typical next year, but some incumbents will be out of reach no matter how big recruitment coups they pull.

Besides the 7 seats I listed above, Democrats are defending 11 seats: CA, CT, IN, HI, MD, NY-A, NY-B, OR, VT, WA, WI. 4 of those do seem to be off-limits: Mikulski’s Maryland seat, Schumer’s New York seat, Leahy’s Vermont seat, Wyden’s Oregon seat. That does leave 7 seats that we should keep track of - so let’s get right to them.

Connecticut

This race used to be a top-tier opportunity for the GOP, but now Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is heavily favored, and polls have been showing him crushing his well-known Republican opponents (the same who were leading Dodd) by margins ranging exceeding 20%. Furthermore, Blumenthal is a far more established presence than Martha Coakley was in Massachusetts and seeing his Bay State colleague’s downfall should ensure he doesn’t rest on his laurels. But the fact is that it is an open seat in which the GOP has well-financed candidates it is happy with. In short: it would be foolish for Democrats to act like Connecticut is in the bag. I find it unlikely we’ll end up spending much time talking about this race, but the surest way for Democrats to endanger their hold on Connecticut is to assume that to be true.

New York

This is arguably the most obvious seat on the list because it is the only one that should have been competitive by now: No one doubts that appointed senator Kirsten Gillibrand is vulnerable. Yet, the NRSC has met numerous recruitment failures here (Giuliani, King, Molinari) and the candidate they look like they might end up with does not look strong enough to mount that threatening a race. Does that mean Democrats are out of the woods? Certainly not, as there are several ways in which New York could join the list of highly competitive seats.

First, if the red wave is truly huge Blakeman could catch fire and become a threat. Second, Pataki could still enter the race; he is not expected to do so, but that would hardly be the cycle’s biggest surprise. Third, the Harold Ford factor could give the NRSC an opening: If he were to run as an independent, the GOP nominee could win a 3-way race with a plurality of the vote. In fact, Rasmussen just released a poll finding that in such a contest Ford would receive 10%, with Gillibrand at 39% and a generic Republican at 34%. (Also: If Ford beats Gillibrand, does that count as a Dem hold or a pick-up for Lieberman’s caucus-of-one?)

California

Boxer might be the first incumbent Republicans turn to in the hope of contesting another seat, and this for a very simple reason: they already have a field of credible contenders, which is more than they can say for the states I discuss below. Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore and new entree Tom Campbell are running hard for the GOP nomination, and while DeVore is probably too far to the right to compete in California the newest primary poll shows he is fading away since Campbell’s entry: The Field Poll has the former representative at 30%, Fiorina at 26% and DeVore at only 6%, which is excellent news for the NRSC.

Boxer looks more or less vulnerable depending on which pollsters we ask. This week alone, we received two California polls. Rasmussen had a pessimistic outlook for Boxer, who struggled to post a significant lead: She led 46% to 43% against Fiorina, 46% to 42% against Campbell ad 46% to 40% against DeVore. The Field Poll, meanwhile, gives Boxer stronger margins: 48% to 38% against Campbell, 50% to 35% against Fiorina and 51% to 34% against DeVore; the survey also has Boxer’s approval rating at a solid though not impressive 48/39.

Even the Field Poll finds that Boxer can’t be considered safe, since she does not clear the 50% threshold against Campbell, who is confirming expectations that he would be the GOP’s best bet to win a statewide race. As such, here’s the good news for Democrats: Boxer is fully aware she needs to take the race seriously. She has stockpiled millions of dollars - $8 by the end of 2008 - which is more important here than in most states, especially as GOP candidates wil have to concentrate on each other for many more months; and she has been talking about the possibility she faces a tough race for months, thus preparing a campaign infrastructure. This is one Democrat who won’t be taken by surprise.

Wisconsin

The GOP hasn’t been paying much attention to Russ Feingold, but they are now trying to recruit the one man who would make the race competitive: former Governor and former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who said this week that he was looking at the race. (Note: This is being covered as a sign that Brown’s victory has altered the landscape but Thompson has been saying exactly the same thing since November.) While Thompson would make the race a top GOP opportunity, he is no John Hoeven, by which I mean that Republicans shouldn’t expect an easy pick-up. An October University of Wisconsin poll found that Thompson would lead Feingold 43% to 39% but a November PPP poll reached different conclusions: Not only did Feingold have a 50% to 41% lead, but Thompson had a mediocre favorability rating and he was the only one of 3 Republicans to trail in gubernatorial match-ups. So would he really be that formidable a candidate? (Another potential Republican candidate is Rep. Paul Ryan, but he recently hinted once more that his ambition lies in challenging Senator Kohl in 2012.)

Indiana

That we are even discussing Evan Bayh as a Democrat who might potentially have to worry about his re-election race shows just how rough the landscape has gotten for his party. Yet, the NRSC is actively looking to recruit Rep. Mike Pence in the hope that the conservative congressman could give Bayh his toughest race in 20 years. Not only is Pence meeting with NRSC officials this week, but the Club for Growth is publicly urging him to take on Bayh; on the other hand, Pence-ally Tony Perkins just said it was unlikely Pence would get in. (Martin Stutzman and John Hostettler are both already challenging Bayh, but it’s hardly surprising that the NRSC is looking elsewhere.) My sense is that Bayh is just too established for Indiana voters to oust him no matter who he faces and no matter the state’s conservative bent; as such, I think a Bayh-Pence race would be the closest equivalent to Maine’s Collins-Allen. Yet, there’s no question that the last thing the DSCC wants is to worry about an incumbent that looked as safe as could be back in January 2009.

Washington

Republicans underestimated Senator Patty Murray in 2004, but the “Mom in Tennis shoes” had no trouble beating then-Rep. Neterhcutt in what wasn’t an easy year for her party. She’s now seeking a fourth term, and the GOP wasn’t expected to give the state much thought. But it will surely now take a look at whether it can recruit a credible candidate. The state has 3 Republican congressmen. Rep. Hastings is probably too old to run for Senate, Rep. McMorris Rodgers is very conservative; that leaves Rep. Reichert, who would probably be the NRSC’s best bet. While there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding Reichert, his spokesperson did not rule out the possibility. The other name that has been mentioned is Attorney General Rob McKenna; he’s been known to have gubernatorial ambitions, but the Senate wasn’t McCaskill or Warner’s priority either. The GOP’s highest-profile candidate at this point is former Washington Redskins player Clint Didier, but it would take quite a Democratic collapse for Didier to make this competitive.

Hawaii

Senator Dan Inouye announced in December 2008 he would seek another term in 2010. But since he will be 86 years old by Election Day, we cannot but ask whether he might still retire. (In the post in which I wrote about his statement, I wrote that an incumbent’s insistence that he should not retire should never be taken quite seriously, and I linked to a post I had just written expressing skepticism that Senator Bunning and Rep. Moore really meant their just-announced re-election plans; both have since then retired.) Hawaii’s filing deadline is July 20th, so it certainly is not too late for him to decide he wants to call it quits. At this point, it is late enough that this would be improbable, but it’s not impossible. If the seat were open, the GOP would have a good shot at convincing Governor Linda Lingle to jump in, which would make the race competitive no matter Hawaii’s blue bent.

Poll watch: Strong numbers for Patty Murray, Mike Bloomberg

Today, Research 2000 delivered the cycle’s first poll from Washington State, testing Democratic Senator Patty Murray against two potential Republican challengers:

  • Murray leads Rep. Dave Reichert 53% to 40%; against Attorney General Rob McKenna, Murray is even further ahead - 55% to 39%.
  • While a third of respondents have no opinion of the two Republicans, Murray has a good favorability rating: 55% of respondents have a favorable opinion of the Senator, while 40% have an unfavorable one.

There is no evidence that either Republican will jump in the Senate race. In fact, odds are that Reichert and McKenna both pass on the race. McKenna is known to harbor gubernatorial ambitions, and he is likely to wait until 2012 to seek a promotion. As for Reichert, he represents a blue-trending district in the Seattle area, and he survived two tough campaigns in 2006 and 2008; he is expected to have an easier time in upcoming years, as the environment should not be as favorable to Democrats then as it was over the past two cycles. Would he want to leave the House seat for which he fought so hard to run after such a difficult Senate race? Even if he is thinking about it, the NRCC is sure to beg him to seek re-election instead.

This poll is nonetheless very useful. Once a swing state, Washington has swung decisively to the Democratic column over the past decade and the Republican Party has a thin bench. Reichert and McKenna are probably the strongest candidates the GOP could field, and the fact that Murray remains well above 50% against both of them is a clear sign that she is a solid and popular incumbent. Republicans can always make noise about mounting a competitive run (just as they did in 2004), but Murray is heavily favored to win another term.

Meanwhile, Marist released a poll of New York’s mayoral race, which takes place in just eight months! The poll finds mixed news for Mike Bloomberg, whose approval rating has collapsed by 17% since mid-October; but 52% of respondents still describe his action as excellent or good, a solid rating that does not leave much opening for Democrats to exploit.

Marist tested the Democratic primary and potential general election match-ups:

  • In the Democratic primary, Rep. Anthony Weiner is narrowly ahead of Comptroller William Thompson, 38% to 30%, with city councilman Tony Avella coming in third at 9%. Most polls that have been released for now show Weiner with a similar, single-digit lead over Thompson.
  • Bloomberg wins all three of his match-ups by double-digits: 53% to 37% against Weiner, 53% to 36% against Thompson, 57% to 30% against Avella.
  • Yet, a full 55% of respondents say it is time to elect someone else; only 40% think that Bloomberg deserves re-election.

The contradiction between the last two findings is stark, but it is also not rare. Incumbents often perform better in head-to-head match-ups than they do in response to a “deserves re-election” query as actual challengers are not known by all voters or they do not correspond to the ideal candidate voters would like to see. In any case, the result is that Bloomberg continues to post solid general election numbes; that he remains above 50% is a good sign for him.

One area of concern for the incumbent is the possibility that he might face more than one candidate in the general election. If the Republican Party decides to punish Bloomberg for having left the GOP and fields a credible candidate of their own, that third contender could eat into Bloomberg’s totals by taking away some of his more conservative supporters. Sure, this is New York, but for a Republican candidate to reach just the high single-digits could give the Democratic nominee an opening.



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