Archive for the 'WI-Gov' Category

Poll watch: Democrats are strong in IL, have a shot in SD; Castle and Burr dominate

I wouldn’t go as far as to describe this week’s polling round-up as generally good for Democrats; after all, numerous of their House incumbents look vulnerable, Rob Portman retains a small lead in Ohio, Castle dominates, Richard Burr is up by double-digits and Pete Domenici is closer to Diane Denish than New Mexico Democrats would like. Yet, there is plenty for the party to point to as evidence that they are managing to stay afloat and that the GOP still has a lot of work to do to ensure they’ll benefit from as big a red wave as they’re hoping to. In particular, Research 2000’s Illinois poll and Quinnipiac’s Ohio survey find Democrats Alexi Giannoulias, Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in stronger positions than conventional wisdom dictates; Democrats look like they have an unexpectedly credible shot at South Dakota’s governorship; and Rep. Harry Teague is in a far more competitive position than you would expect given that he is often described as one of November’s surest Democratic losers (2 polls have him within the MoE against former Rep. Steve Pearce).


New Mexico: It’s rare enough to have one House survey a week that PPP’s decision to test all three of New Mexico’s House races was a one of the week’s treats. The results are encouraging for both parties, though the most poll’s most surprising finding will delight the NRCC: Rep. Ben Lujan, who represents a district Obama won by 23% and who I had never heard described as competitive, leads his two Republican challengers by decidedly underwhelming margins: 42% to 36% against Tom Mullins, 40% to 32% against Adam Kokesh. That’s not to say he will lose, nor that the race will be competitive come the fall, but it does speak to the probability that a number of Democratic districts that are now on no one’s radar screen should find themselves vulnerable in the campaign’s final stretch (see what happened to the GOP in 2006). Interestingly, Rep. Martin Heinrich, a more obvious target since he is a freshman, leads Jon Barela by a somewhat more solid 45% to 36%.

But the more interesting race is happening NM-02, which is not only the state’s most conservative seat (it went for Bush by 17%) but former Rep. Steve Pearce is running for his old seat after running for Governor in 2008. This has led many to think Rep. Teague is one of the fall’s surest losers, which makes Pearce’s 43% to 41% lead seem like it should be a relief for Democrats as it certainly shows Teague is far from a sure loser. (In particular, consider that the traditional rules about how a challenger topping an incumbent in an early poll is clearly favored does not apply here since Pearce is probably better-known than the incumbent.) On the other hand, the poll should not be spun as bad news for the GOP: The bottom-line is that NM-02 is one of the party’s top pick-up opportunities indeed. In fact, Pearce released an internal poll last week showing himself leading 48% to 44%.

SD-AL: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin remains on top of her Republican opponents in a new Rasmussen poll, but Secretary of State Chris Nelson is within striking distance since he holds the incumbent Democrat under 50% and within single-digit: She leads 45% to 38%. Herseth-Sandlin is far stronger against Kristi Noem (49% to 34%) and against state Rep Blake Curd (51% to 33%), which certainly suggests she is in a far stronger position than many of her fellow Democrats. As the poll’s gubernatorial numbers also speak to (see below), South Dakotans don’t look committed to ushering in GOP rule.


Ohio: Democrats might be losing ground in Senate races left and right, but they remain in striking distance of picking-up Ohio’s open seat according to Quinnipiac’s new poll. Republican Rob Portman is up within the margin of error (40-37) against Democrat Lee Fisher and he leads 40-35 against Jennifer Brunner. These margins are similar to those Quinnipiac found back in November, though it should be said that both Democratic candidates spent much of 2009 crushing Portman by double-digits - an advantage that was erased as the electorate soured on the the party in the latter half of the year. Despite their prominent stature, all three candidates have low name recognition so the next few months could be crucial - starting with the run-up to the Democratic primary.

Florida: Rasmussen found more evidence of Charlie Crist’s collapse this week by showing Marco Rubio crushing him 54% to 36% - an unthinkable result just a few months ago that is now already coming to be expected; the pollster also confirms that Crist’s decline is due to his rising unpopularity among the electorate-at-large and not just among Republicans, since his once impressive approval rating is now down to 52-45. In the general election, both men lead Kendrick Meek by large margins: Crist is up 48-32, Rubio is up 51-31. But is it time to start testing 3-way match-ups with Crist as an independent?

Delaware: For once, Rasmussen and Research 2000 have similar results! The former shows Republican Rep. Mike Castle in control 53% to 32% (though the margin has shrunk by 7% since January) while the latter has him leading 53% to 35%. That does little to change the race’s “likely Republican” rating (especially when we consider Castle’s formidable 65/30 and 65/32 favorability ratings) but given the two candidates’ chances of stature the trendline also confirms it is too early for Democrats to give up.

North Carolina: Rasmussen released the most favorable poll Richard Burr is gotten in quite a while - far more favorable, in fact, than the survey PPP released last week. Not only does the Republican senator have large leads, but he also reaches 50%: He’s up 50-34 against Elaine Marshall and 51-29 against Cal Cunningham. Of course, Democrats long ago realized defeating Burr is a top proposition in this environment, but these numbers are nonetheless ugly for the party. On the other hand, an Elon University poll finds that only 24% of North Carolinians think Burr deserves re-election, versus 51% who think he should be replaced.

Pennsylvania: Franklin & Marshall sends some very ugly numbers Democrats’ way, though the bizarrely high number of undecided makes it hard to do much else than point to the wide disparity between the match-ups among registered voters and among likely voters. In the former group, Arlen Specter leads Pat Toomey 33% to 29% while Joe Sestak is only 3% behind (25-22); in the latter group, Toomey crushes both Democrats - 44-34 against Specter, 38-20 against Sestak. Could there be clearer signs of the turnout gap that’s threatening to submerge Democrats this fall?


Illinois/Ohio: I mentioned Quinnipiac and Research 2000’s polls finding Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in the lead in an earlier post, but the results are counter-intuitive enough that they bear repeating. In Ohio, Quinnipiac shows Strickand leading John Kasich 44% to 39%, which is obviously an underwhelming margin but is nonetheless an improvement over the 40-40 tie Quinnipiac found in November and is a far more encouraging result for Democrat than the large deficits Rasmussen has found in recent months; Strickland had almost started to look like a lost cause, but these numbers from a respected pollster suggest Ohio is definitely still winnable for Democrats.

In Illinois, Research 2000 has Governor Pat Quinn leading state Senator Kirk Dillard and state Senator Bill Brady 46-35 and 47-32. He might remain under 50%, but remember that in early February Quinn looked so damaged that he seemed to be marching towards a primary defeat. Yet, this is now the second post-primary poll to find him in command of the general election (the first was released last week), especially if his opponent is the more conservative Bill Brady - as still looks likely since Dillard has failed to overtake Brady after weeks of provisional ballot.

South Dakota: Would you have expected the week’s polling surprise to be that Democrats have a strong shot at picking up the governorship of this conservative state? Yea, me neither - especially considering that this finding comes out of a Rasmussen poll. Matched-up against three Republicans, state Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepreim holds his own: While he trails Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard 41% to 32%, he is ahead against two other Republicans: 37% to 29% against state Senator Gordon Howie and 34% to 31% against state Senator Dave Knudson. That is of course nothing huge, but it certainly suggest that South Dakota voters aren’t desperate to jump in the GOP’s bandwagon.

New Mexico: It helps to have a famous name! While Pete Domenici Jr. has never been in the public spotlight before, he shares the first and last name of his father, former Senator Pete Domenici, which explains how his name recognition is so much higher in a new PPP poll than that of his fellow Republican candidates. The general election match-ups show that the contest is winnable by the GOP but that Democratic Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is the front-runner: She leads Domenici Jr. 45-40, state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones 47-33 and DA Susana Martinez 46-42. One important factor in this campaign is whether Denish can free herself from Bill Richardson’s shadow: The outgoing governor has a catastrophic approval rating (28% to 63%).

Nevada: Earlier this week, I highlighted a POS poll that showed Governor Jim Gibbons improving his position in the GOP primary, which he was long expected not to have a chance at winning. Now, a Mason-Dixon poll confirms that Gibbons is increasingly competitive against Brian Sandoval: He trails 37% to 30%, whereas he was behind by 17% in Mason-Dixon’s prior poll. Given Gibbons’s worst-in-the-country approval rating of 17%, whether he can find a way to survive the primary will obviously go a long way towards determining the general election: While Sandoval crushes Rory Reid 51% to 29%, the Democrat tops Gibbons 42% to 38%. (The fact that Gibbons is within 4% of Reid says a lot about the latter’s weakness.)

Massachussetts: Despite a weak approval rating (35-54), Deval Patrick manages to stay on top of Suffolk’s general election match-ups because many voters who are discontent with him are choosing to support Democrat-turned-independent Tom Cahill, who enjoys a 31/16 favorability rating. Patrick tops Republican Charlie Baker 33% to 25%, with Cahill receiving 23% and 3% going to Green Party candidate Stein; if the Republican nominee is Christy Mihos, which at the moment seems unlikely given baker’s 47-17 primary lead, Patrick leads Cahill 34% to 26%, with 19% for Mihos. The main reason Democrats can hope that Cahill will actually maintain his level of support and help Patrick survive (whereas Daggett collapsed in New Jersey) is that Cahill is the state Treasurer and is better-known than either Republican candidates.

Wisconsin: Rasmussen’s latest numbers are similar to its previous ones: Republican Scott Walker would dominate Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 49% to 40%, whereas the Democrat would be more competitive if he were to face former Rep. Mark Neumann (44% to 42%). While that’s nothing for Barrett to be ashamed of, the poll also suggests that Barrett is not starting out as the formidable contender Democrats were hoping for. On the other hand, Wisconsin is a state in which we have seen very few non-Rasmussen polls (only a November PPP survey that had Barrett stronger comes to mind), so it would be nice to have more polling firms test this race as well as Feingold’s vulnerability.

Georgia: Former Governor Barnes manages to stay competitive in Rasmussen’s latest poll, but the match-ups are not as favorable than the pollster found last month: Barnes now trails the three most prominent Republican candidates (45-37 against State Insurance Commissioner Oxendine, 43-37 against Rep. Deal, 45-36 against SoS Handel) while tying state Sen. Johnson at 37%. Barnes would have been better-served by a more favorable environment, but he remains in a competitive position.

Rhode Island: Brown University’s poll finds a wide-open race with an early edge for Republican-turned-independent Linc Chaffee. If the Democratic nominee is Frank Caprio, The former Senator leads 34% with 38%, with 12% to the Republican Robitaille; if the Democratic nominee is Patrick Lynch, Chaffee leads by a wider 33% to 18%, with 14% for the Republican.

Poll watch: Crist in free fall, Burr under 50, Alaska Republicans looking safe

Charlie Crist is in free fall. Just one week after Quinnipiac released the very first poll with Marco Rubio leading the Florida Governor in the GOP’s Senate primary, Rasmussen finds Crist even further down: Rubio leads 49% to 37%, a dramatic turnaround from the December tie and from Crist’s 22% August lead. Crist has sure not said his last word, but given that Rubio is just starting closing the name recognition gap the governor certainly has his work cut out for him.

It is important to keep in mind that Crist’s collapse has at least as much to do with the woes that are befell incumbent governors as with conservatives’ hostility: His approval rating among the electorate at large has fallen to 51% to 47%. That might be a respectable level, but it is nowhere near’s Crist 74-26 in December 2008, his 60-36 in June 2009 and his 52-45 in December - an undeniable downward trend that creates quite a conondrum for the governor: The hard right has long already turned against him, and Rubio has an excellent shot of winning the support of moderate Republicans who disapprove of Crist for reasons that little to do with conservatism.

Both Republicans crush Kendrick Meek in the general election: Rubio leads 49% to 32% and Crist leads 49% to 33%. As I have written before, Florida is undeniably not in the top-tier of Democratic opportunities, but it is worth waiting to see what the numbers will look like at the end of August, when Meek will have spent the summer introducing himself to voters while his two rivals will have poured in their millions into attacking each other.

Rasmussen’s gubernatorial poll of Florida’s Governor race confirms what Quinnipiac found last week: Republican Bill McCollum has opened a lead against Democrat Alex Sink: He is up 46% to 35%, whereas he had a 5% edge in December. While Sink’s name recognition is lower, her net favorability rating is surprisingly mediocre (39-34) while McCollum’s is solid (53-30). Sink will also have to struggle with Barack Obama’s dismal approval rating (42-58), which is all the more interesting considering Rasmussen’s North Carolina poll, which I discuss below, finds his rating at a stronger 48-52.

Alaska: Murkowski is safe, Young is strong

While PPP’s Alaska survey contains no surprise, it is newsworthy considering how rarely the state is polled. PPP found that both of the GOP’s federal incumbents - Senator Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young - enter 2010 in a strong position to secure an additional term.

Murkowski faced a very tough race in 2004, when she was plagued by nepotism charges since her father appointer her to the Senate. Yet, she has a decent approval rating in 2010: 52% to 36%. PPP did not test a named opponent, since none has emerged, by the senator does lead a generic Democrat by a solid 52% to 25% - a margin that bears no trace of vulnerability.

Young’s standing is not as solid but the representative enters 2010 in a far stronger position than he looked to be in 2008, when he barely survived the Republican primary and the general election. His approval rating is still mediocre (43% approve, 41% disapprove) but he has a large 49% to 34% lead against state Rep. Harry Crawford. While his failure to break 50% threshold does suggest he is not fully safe, he spent much of 2008 trailing Ethan Berkowitz by decisive margins before emerging as the victor in November so Democrats would understimate him at their peril. Furthermore, Young has long faced ethical questions but rumors that he might be indicted have been circulating long enough that it does not look like he has to worry about meeting Ted Stevens’s fate.

NC: Even Rasmussen has Burr under 50% while Civitas shows open primary

Senator Richard Burr is holding on to his dubious distinction of the cycle’s most (only?) endangered Republican Senator: A new Rasmussen poll has him under the 50% threshold against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, though he leads 47% to 37%. Against former state Senator Cal Cunningham, Burr is ahead by a larger 50% to 34%.

That said, it obviously says a lot about the shape of the cycle that the most vulnerable Republican is ahead by double-digits. Furthermore, Rasmussen has his approval rating far stronger than other pollsters: 56-32. This goes against the main finding of surveys like PPP and Civitas, which had shown that Burr was surprisingly little-known; for instance, PPP’s latest poll had Burr’s approval rating at 36/33. Don’t be surprised if the DSCC pays more attention to the state than Burr’s numbers might warrant: Democrats would be well-served to force the GOP to serve some of its resources in North Carolina, since that is money that cannot be used in states like California or Wisconsin.

For now, Democrats’ main hope is that their candidates gain notoriety in the run-up to the May primary, just as had happened to Kay Hagan in 2008. A Civitas poll released last week confirms that none are imposing figures: Marshall only gets 14%, Lewis gets 7% and Cunningham gets 4%, with 75% of respondents undecided. This means the next few months might be decisive as these Democrats will have a chance to monopolize the press coverage and the state’s airwaves without facing a barrage of GOP ads seeking to define them. (I would be surprised if the Marshall-Cunningham-Lewis showdown grows very negative, let alone as ugly as it would need to get for the nominee to emerge wounded out of the primary.)

WI: Disappointing poll for Tom Barrett

Democrats have been upbeat about their chances to defend Wisconsin’s governorship ever since Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett entered the race, but Rasmussen finds him trailing his two Republican opponents: 42% to 38% against former Rep. Mark Neumann and a decisive 48% to 38% against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. The favorability ratings confirm not only that Barrett might not be as popular as he has been touted to be, but also that Walker could be a formidable force: his rating is 56-27, compared to 46-35 for Neumann and 44-41 for Barrett.

These numbers might matter beyond the Governor’s race. I doubt there have been any public polls testing the Republican primary, but based on Rasmussen’s favorability ratings it certainly is not a stretch to describe Neumann as the underdog against Walker. That’s exactly what Republicans have been saying in making the case that Neumann should switch over to the Senate race if Tommy Thompson decides not to challenge Russ Feingold.

That said, a party often “wastes” candidates on one race while neglecting another so it would certainly not be surprising for Neumann to stick in the Governor’s race. (One precedent that comes to mind is North Carolina in 2008: The DSCC was pleading with Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore to have one of them challenge Elizabeth Dole rather than go after each other in the gubernatorial primary. At the end of the day, none of it mattered because of Kay Hagan but Democrats could not have known just how weak of an incumbent Dole would turn out to be.)

Gubernatorial polls confirm many questions left to answer in WI, AZ and NV

NC: Marshall might be ignored, but she starts with wide primary lead

The post’s title might allude to gubernatorial contests, but let’s start with a Senate poll. In recent weeks, I have repeatedly marveled at the way in which national Democrats and the national media have treated Secretary of State Elaine Marshall as a minor-league candidate. Few journalists have been as determined to ignore her as the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, who did it again this week by writing that managing to answer an entire question about Burr’s re-election prospects without once mentioning Marshall. “My guess is that Democrats wind up with Cal Cunningham as their candidate,” he wrote.

That would be an acceptable statement if he at least acknowledged that it would require Cunningham to succeed at beating Marshall, which a new PPP poll (conducted for the Marshall campaign) finds would require quite a come-from-behind effort: The Secretary of State leads the primary with 42% of the vote, with attorney Kenneth Lewis getting 7% (14% among African-American voters) and Cunningham receiving 5%.

As with any internal survey, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Also, these numbers do not show that Marshall has the race locked-up: Given her prominent position, her failure to get to 50% against two low-profile opponents suggests she could be vulnerable. Yet, it’s hard not to portray her as the clear frontrunner to get the nod whether or not Cunningham runs (especially since he would have to fight with Lewis for undecided voters’ attention). This gets to what I fail to understand about the DSCC’s attitude: Even if we grant that others would be stronger general election candidates, the odds that Democrats will have to target Burr with Marshall are significant enough that telegraphing distrust is a bizarre strategy.

Wisconsin: Might Thompson’s entry hurt the GOP?

So much for Tommy Thompson as the GOP’s dream candidate! A few days after it showed Russ Feingold leading the former Governor 50% to 41%, PPP released the gubernatorial part of its Wisconsin poll, finding that Thompson with meaningfully weaker numbers than two other Republicans when matched-up with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee: Barrett is tied with Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, 40% to 40%; against former Rep. Mark Neumann, Barrett edges ahead 41% to 39%; but against Thompson, Barrett grabs a lead outside of the margin of error: 41% to 36%.

That’s nothing dramatic, of course, but keeping in mind that Thompson is the highest-profile of these 4 candidates, the fact that he receives the lowest level of support is very significant - and it makes Feingold’s hold on his Senate seat look all the more solid: While the GOP is running strong candidates in the Governor’s race, Thompson is at this point the only prominent Republican who’s considering challenging Feingold.

The poll’s bottom line is that the race will be a toss-up whether the GOP nominates Walker or Neumann, and we should expect it to stay that way all the way through November 2010. While the results don’t allow us to test Barrett’s strength relatively to other Democrats (especially to Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton), they do confirm that Doyle’s decision not to seek re-election is one retirement Democrats have no reason to lament because Doyle had grown too unpopular to have much of a chance to win next year. This latest poll finds his approval rating at 29% - that’s approaching Gibbons-Paterson level.

Arizona: What if Joe Arpaio jumps in?

Arizona’s gubernatorial race looks confusing enough given how vulnerable incumbent Jan Brewer looks in the Republican primary, but Rasmussen decided to test a scenario that has been the source of some rumors lately: What if Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, hero of the anti-immigration hard-right, jumps in the Governor’s race? The poll’s answer: He would be overwhelmingly favorite to win not only the GOP nomination but also the entire prize!

In a primary, Arpaio crushes his well-known rivals with 47% of the vote; Treasurer Dean Martin gets 22% and Governor Jan Brewer only 10%, with 6% going to John Munger and Vernon Parker. That’s right, the incumbent is barely registering in double-digits in her party’s primary, leaving no doubt that she is under huge threat of losing the nomination even if Arpaio doesn’t run. In the general election, Arpaio leads Attorney General Terry Goddard 51% to 39%, a margin that’s all the more decisive when compared to Goddard’s 40% to 38% edge against Martin and his 44% to 35% lead against Brewer.

An Arizona State University poll also released this week confirmed that the GOP could very well be doomed if Brewer somehow makes it to general election: Goddard crushes her 47% to 28%. The survey also tested the Senate race, finding that McCain would start with a 50% to 41% lead over Napolitano - a surprisingly decisive margin that we can’t just explain by the sample’s GOP bias since the same respondents give Goddard a 21% lead in the gubernatorial race. Given that Democrats have no one nearly as prominent as Napolitano to field, this suggests McCain might not be as vulnerable as thought.

Nevada: Waiting for Goodman

In testing Nevada’s gubernatorial race, The Nevada News Bureau chose to only run one scenario: A 3-way race between Republican Brian Sandoval, Las Vegas Oscar Goodman (as an independent) and Democrat Rory Reid. The result is a disaster for the latter, as he trails both his rivals: Sandoval gets 35%, Goodman 28% and Reid closes the march with 21%. Reid’s results can certainly not be attributed to a deficit in name recognition, so there’s little conclusion to draw other than it’s going to be though for Reid to win the general election no matter who he faces since he has to share the spotlight with his unpopular and embattled father.

But the poll leaves a big question unanswered: What happens if Goodman runs as a Democrat rather than as an independent? I don’t believe any poll has tested that possibility for now, though it would be interesting to see the results. This poll gives an indication as to why the mayor might be looking to run as an independent - 49% of his supporters are Democrats and 36% are Republicans - but it’s hard to draw conclusions when other match-ups were not tested. Of course, Goodman hasn’t even decided to run at all.

Dems succeed in Wisconsin maneuver, left hoping they pull off Delaware’s too

Last month, Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton dropped out of Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race just hours after The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported the White House was pushing Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to run. Democrats who did not think Lawton was their best candidate were satisfied, but they had just taken a big risk by pushing their one candidate out of the race: What if Barrett chose not to run after all? Democrats would be left with no prominent politician to court, given that Rep. Ron Kind also ruled out a run.

This situation is reminiscent of the one that’s playing out in North Carolina, where national Democrats spent months snubbing Secretary of State Elaine Marshall while trying to convince Bob Etheridge and Cal Cunningham to jump in. Now that these two politicians have decided the race isn’t for them, Marshall looks like the front-runner; but imagine if she had followed Lawton’s lead and dropped out? Then the DSCC would be facing a real recruitment hole.

Thankfully for Democrats, Barrett did not leave them hanging: He announced yesterday that he would run for Governor, giving his party a top-tier candidate for what should be a tough seat to defend.

Barrett comes to the race with many assets (even beyond the glowing coverage he received when he tried to help a woman outside a state fair, only to find himself attacked so brutally that he ended up in the hospital for days). For one, he is well-known: He was a U.S. representative for 10 years and has been mayor of the state’s largest city since 2004. Second, he is experienced when it comes to high-stakes campaigns: Besides his House races and his first mayoral victory against an incumbent, he ran for Governor in 2002, losing a tight primary against Jim Doyle.

Perhaps most importantly, he is not directly connected to Jim Doyle’s unpopular administration. While incumbent governors everywhere are seeing their numbers collapse under the weight of the economic crisis (that’s especially the case in the Midwest, as we can see from with Culver and Strickland), Wisconsin Democrats have the chance to field a candidate who can run as an outsider next year, and they made the most of it. Barrett hasn’t even served in state government since 1992, when he left the state Senate to join Congress.

Wisconsin is too much of a swing state for either Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker or former Rep. Mark Neumann not to have a good shot at winning the general election, especially if the GOP enjoys strong political winds in the Midwest; but the state also signaled over and over again all decade that it ultimately preferred siding with Democrats, however narrowly. That gives Barrett a slight edge going forward.

Democrats can only hope to be be so successful in their Delaware maneuvers. Governor Ruth Ann Minner appointed a caretaker to Joe Biden’s Senate seat to keep it warm for Beau Biden, but the party has been increasingly anxious in recent months that the Attorney General might choose not to risk a loss to the one Republican who can possibly win a statewide race in the state.

Conventional wisdom remains that Biden will jump in, but he has been as non-committal as can be. (I mean by that he hasn’t been behaving like Andrew Cuomo, who denies any interest in a gubernatorial run while hiring top-notch campaign staff, acting in ways that strongly suggest he’s positioning himself for a competitive race, even trying to put his mark on the party’s entire state ticket, as The New York Times reported this morning.) The state party’s annual fundraiser, held last week, did not yield any more answers.

Perhaps the best solution to curing Biden of any cold feet he might be experiencing is to convince him he would be favored to win - and what better way to do that than to show him encouraging poll results?

Consider that Castle has held a lead in every single poll released up to today. Sure, they’ve been only four, but that’s four too many for a politician who is still young and has little reason not to play it safe. This is all the more significant considering one of those 4 polls - an April survey conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research - had Castle up by 21% (55-34). That survey always looked like an outlier (Castle’s lead wasn’t larger than 8% in the other polls) but it must have weighed on Biden’s mind.

But today brought the very first poll with Biden in the lead - and its a Susquehanna Polling and Research poll! Biden leads 45% to 40% - a 27% turnaround since April. This means that Susquehanna is once again out-of-step with every other pollster who’s tested the race, but that matters little since this is exactly the type of story Democrats are hoping to see right now: The poll is already getting a lot of play, so it might very well influence Biden if the Attorney General hasn’t made up his mind yet.

(Susquehanna attributes this polling turnaround to Castle’s vote against health-care reform, which might have convinced moderates who’ve been loyal to the congressman that he might not be as centrist as they thought; I am somewhat skeptical of this, since I doubt Castle’s vote has be covered so extensively in the absence of an opponent to attack him over it as to significantly move numbers. And if we agree that Susquehanna’s April poll was an outlier, there isn’t any reason to spend much time explaining the trendline.)

Obama’s involvement & Lawton’s exit shake up Wisconsin

Barack Obama has been getting increasingly involved in state races but he hasn’t always been successful: He couldn’t to keep Andrew Romanoff and Joe Sestak from challenging Democratic senators in Colorado and Pennsylvania, he did not persuade Roy Cooper to run for Senate and there is little indication for now that David Paterson was marked by the president’s message that he should retire.

In other contests, however, Obama’s intervention has proven decisive. Kirsten Gillibrand owes a lot to Obama’s pushing Steve Israel out of the Democratic primary, though we haven’t heard of any direct contact between the White House and Carolyn Maloney. And we can now add a new race to those bearing Obama’s signature: Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race.

This might not be the cycle’s highest-profile battle, but there is no reason to be surprised that the White House is keeping an eye on it: Wisconsin will be an important battleground in the 2012 presidential election. Whether the governor is a Democrat will obviously not determine who wins the presidential race, but it can nonetheless be a factor: Controlling a swing state’s gubernatorial mansion provides the party a high-profile surrogate, powerful photo-ops and an efficient network of local officials to rely on.

Add to this redistricting considerations. Democrats have a narrow majority in the state Assembly and the state Senate; if they can hold on to both and keep the governorship, they would be in a position to draw a map that would protect some of their vulnerable incumbents and endanger some sitting Republicans (check these SSP diaries for a contrast between a bipartisan map and a Democratic-drawn map).

It’s in that context that we learned over the week-end that Obama was trying to convince Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to enter the race, with The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writing that the White House “badly” wants Barrett to run.

I was a bit surprised to hear this because there already was a high-profile contender in the race: Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawson. She carried a big liability (Republicans would have tried to tie her to Governor Jim Doyle and thus make the 2010 race a referendum on Doyle’s unpopular legacy) but she is clearly a capable candidate who’s ran statewide before; a June Research 2000 poll showed her enjoying a strong favorability rating (35-17) and leads against Republican candidates.

In short: An argument can certainly be made that Barrett would be a stronger contender than Lawton, but not in the clear-cut way we can make it New York’s Governor’s race, the other contest in which Obama tried to push out a candidate who’s already running. (A side motivation here could be that Lawton was a Clinton surrogate in Wisconsin’s decisive primary, while Barrett backed Obama. But the president hasn’t shown much desire to punish Clinton backers since he came in office, quite the contrary, so I am not at all convinced this played a big part in his involvement.)

Whatever the White House’s motivation, the bottom line is that they seem to have gotten what they wanted: Lawton announced yesterday she was dropping out of the race! She cited “personal reasons” and there is no evidence that her decision is tied to the White House’s intervention or to the fact that their preference for Barrett spilled out in the public domain this week-end. At the very least, however, Lawton was damaged by her inability to get the state establishment to accept her as the front-runner for the nomination - a failure to which the White House and Doyle contributed.

The problem for Democrats: Lawton is now out of the race and Rep. Ron Kind ruled out a gubernatorial run a few weeks ago - but there is no sign that Barrett is ready to commit to a run

That same Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article said he might not decide until February, which could prove quite a dilemma for the party. Sure, it should be easier for Barrett’s drafters to convince him to jump in now that he won’t have to face the Lieutenant Governor. Also, the likelihood that an intra-party fight has been avoided should be a relief to Democrats since Wisconsin doesn’t hold its primary until September 14 - a late date that could have proven problematic. But what happens now if Barrett does not run?

Weekly 2010 update: Ron Kind’s decision and Jon Porter’s rumors dominate midterm news

This past week was relatively quiet on the midterm front, and there certainly were no game-changing announcements. The highest-profile 2010 news was arguably Rep. Ron Kind’s decision to run for re-election. That led me to reflect on House Democrats’ ability to hold the number of open seats they need to defend to a minimum, but Kind’s move also has obvious consequences in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race by solidifying Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton’s hold on the Democratic nomination; Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is the only politician who could make that race competitive, and he has yet to signal what he is thinking.

The contest that came closest to a radical makeover this week was Nevada’s Senate race as rumors suddenly erupted early this week that former Rep. Jon Porter was reconsidering his decision not to challenge Harry Reid. The GOP has been left with a B-list roster whose competitiveness entirely depends on Reid’s unpopularity. The senator’s numbers are dismal enough that it might very well not matter who Republican nominate, but there’s no question that recruiting Porter would have been a major get for the NRSC: It would ensure a strong nominee and potentially clear the primary field. Yet, the week ended as it had began: Porter reiterated that he would not run.

In other states, new GOP candidates jumped in already crowded races. In Arkansas, a bizarrely large list of low-profile Republicans are seeking to take advantage of Blanche Lincoln’s vulnerability and of the absence of a formidable GOP challenger: financial adviser Buddy Roggers became the sixth Republican to announce a run. In New Hampshire, it could become tough for conservatives to rally opposition to Kelly Ayotte if the field keeps getting more crowded; businessman William Bennie is the latest name to circulate as a potential candidate.

In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer landed her first official primary opponent - an unsurprising development given that Brewer did was elevated to her position and is burdened by a low approval rating: Paradise Valley mayor Vernon Parker officially announced his candidacy. He should be a credible contender, though it seems fairly certain that other Republicans will still jump in. More surprisingly, there is now buzz that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley could face a primary challenge from Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry; with few people betting on former Governor Bob Ehrlich attempting a comeback, Curry could be a more threatening challenger than anyone O’Malley might face in the general election.

As always, I list all the changes I have logged in during the week to the “retirement watch” and recruitment pages. Written in red are those politicians who announced their definite plans rather than simply expressed interest or stroke speculation. First, updates to Retirement Watch:

Will retire No one
Will not retire Rep. Ron Kind (D, WI-03)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

AR-Sen, GOP financial adviser Buddy Rogers announced run
MA-Sen, Dem City Year head Alan Khazei announced run
MA-Sen, GOP/Indie Curt Schelling will not run
NH-Sen, GOP businessman William Binnie added to list
NV-Sen, GOP former Rep. Jon Porter reconsiders run, rules it out again

Third, updates to gubernatorial recruitment:

AZ-Gov, GOP Paradise Valley mayor Vernon Parker announced run
MD-Gov, Dem Prince George’s Co. Exec. Wayne Curry added to list
PA-Gov, Dem ex-Rep. Joe Hoeffel plans to run
OR-Gov, Dem County Chairwoman Lynn Peterson ruled out run
WI-Gov, Dem Rep. Ron Kind ruled out run

Yet another open Governor’s race: Jim Doyle is set to retire

As of this morning, a remarkable 18 states were already set to host open Governor’s races in 2010: 16 incumbents are term-limited out of office while 2 chose not to run for re-election - Charlie Crist and Tim Pawlenty. We can now add a 19th departing governor: According to a Politico report, Wisconsin’s Jim Doyle has decided not to seek a third-term, instead leaving his seat open for the taking.

Doyle’s decision does not come as a shock. He was on everyone’s list of potential retirees since he had openly talked about the possibility earlier this year; yet, he looked genuinely undecided, making his decision noteworthy.

While it’s typically harder for a party to defend an open seat rather than run an incumbent, Doyle’s retirement does not dramatically alter the outlook of Wisconsin’s race since Republicans were already sure to mount a top-tier challenge to the increasingly unpopular Governor. Former Rep. Mark Neumann and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker did not wait to know Doyle’s intentions before jumping in the race - and both led the Governor in a PPP poll released mid-June.

While Doyle - unlike Bunning, Paterson or Gibbons - has not become so toxic as to be guaranteed a general election loss, the bottom line is that all incumbent Governors have a giant target on their back in this time of economic crisis and budgetary woes. We are seeing that trend play out across the country - and particularly in the Midwest where Strickland and Culver’s ratings are also rapidly declining.

Running against Doyle would have allowed Republicans to make use of the recession to attack the Governor’s economic record, blast his leadership, point to tax increases and cut furloughs. It’s still possible to implement such a strategy in an open race but Democrats then can hope that voters will determine themselves based on their usual partisan leanings rather than on their opinions of the incumbent or on their perception of the state’s fiscal condition.

That said, Wisconsin is not New Jersey, where getting rid of Jon Corzine would probably automatically boost Democratic fortunes. The Badger State is swing territory and Barack Obama’s 13% victory shouldn’t make us forget that the state barely went for Al Gore and John Kerry. As such, Republicans have a strong shot at winning any Wisconsin open race - especially if they have a national wind pushing them.

The GOP might be helped by the fact that Doyle’s heir apparent is Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton. While Lawton will undoubtedly be a formidable candidate (a recent Research 2000 showed her running at the same level as Doyle, always a good sign for a non-incumbent), her presence on the ballot should make it harder for Democrats to turn the page of Doyle’s two terms and will help Republican efforts to campaign as outsiders looking to reclaim Madison’s government - a message that should resonate in 2010 more than in other cycles.

(Michigan Democrats have a similar problem: It will be hard for the Democrats’ probable gubernatorial nominee Lieutenant Governor John Cherry to distance himself from the state’s economic and fiscal problems.)

It will be interesting to see whether the prospect of not having to face an incumbent attracts new candidates to this race. To be sure, Lawton, Walker and Neumann make up an already high-profile field; but could former Governor Tommy Thompson (R), Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen (R) or Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) now starting eying this race?

Whoever the parties nominate, the general election’s stakes will be high and extend beyond Wisconsin: Democrats hold very narrow edges in both chambers of the state legislature (52-46 in the House, 18-15 in the Senate). If they can hold on to both majorities in 2010, all they will need is the governorship to make the most of the next round of redistricting, perhaps better protect Steve Kagen or place Paul Ryan in a tougher district. If Republicans were to pick-up the Governor’s Mansion, they would allow them to force a compromise map.

Poll watch: Deeds leads (again), Doyle trails and Bloomberg dominates

A second poll has Deeds ahead

Last week, Rasmussen released the year’s first poll finding Creigh Deeds leading in the Virginia gubernatorial race - quite a dramatic bounce for the Democrats’ just anointed nominee to enjoy. A few days have passed, and we got some confirmation in the form of an Anzalone Liszt Research survey: Deeds leads McDonnell by a narrow margin (42% to 38%) and enjoys a slightly superior favorability rating (48%-14% compared to 43%-19% for the Republican).

The poll should be taken with a grain of salt since it is a poll conducted for the DGA by a Democratic firm. But Anzalone Liszt is a reputable outfit and the poll’s results resemble those of the Rasmussen survey. Furthermore, what I find to be the survey’s central finding is not Deeds’s lead but the fact that the two candidates - the Attorney General and the state Senator - enjoy the same level of name recognition.

This confirms what I already wrote last week is the obvious explanation for Deeds’s bounce: Over the past few weeks, Deeds was able to define himself with few interferences and high publicity; increased coverage of the Democratic primary (culminating in the tremendous free publicity of his victory) introduced him to voters who did not know him in a positive light - and that is being reflected in those polls. The question is whether Deeds can keep that up once (or is it if?) Republicans go on air hammering him; we will have to wait a few more weeks to get the answer to that question.

Wisconsin Democrats should not rest

If the Virginia survey confirmed last week’s findings, the same cannot be said of a new poll released from Wisconsin. Whereas Research 2000 had found a landscape favorable to Democrats, PPP finds a far more worrisome situation for the state party:

  • Governor Jim Doyle trails Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker 48% to 40% and he trails former Rep. Mark Neumann 42% to 41%.
  • Senator Russ Feingold is looking better: He has a solid approval rating (53% to 36%) and he leads Rep. Paul Ryan (who has already said he will not run) 51% to 39%. That might not be the most solid of margins, but it does put him above 50%.

Republicans don’t look like they’re positioning themselves to contest the Senate race - even if they got their wish and a top-tier candidate like Ryan entered, it does not look like they’d have much to work with - so the gubernatorial results are far more interesting. Just last week, R2000 found Doyle leading Walker and Neumann by 12% and 14%, respectively.

That makes for a big differential between these two surveys, what gives? Nothing in either poll screams out as a glaring problem, and it’s worth pointing out that Research 2000’s survey did not paint a particularly favorable landscape for the Governor either. His favorability rating was negative (43-48) and he was under 50% in these match-ups - both against mostly unknown Republicans; that’s not the position in which a two-term incumbent wants to be in. As such, PPP’s results are believable and it seems pretty clear that the Governor will be in for a huge fight next year - if he even seeks re-election!

I like and trust PPP polls, but I am disappointed that they once again chose to include a paragraph with unlikely spin: “The incumbent does have one great ally, and that is time. With November 2010 more than 16 months away he will certainly have an opportunity to rehabilitate his image.” This is not a convincing argument when we are talking about a well-known incumbent (a Governor stuck at 40% this early is generally considered to be in bad shape because of the poll’s timing, and these low-profile Republicans also will benefit from having the time to introduce themselves). And it’s a point PPP typically includes in its discussion of vulnerable Democrats (like Bennet) but not of vulnerable Republicans (like Burr, even when he led all his challengers by double-digits).

Bloomberg in command

A new Quinnipiac survey of New York finds that Mayor Mike Bloomberg is coasting towards a third term:

  • In a match-up against City Comptroller William Thompson, Bloomberg leads 54% to 32%. He is ahead among all partisan groups - including Democrats, 49% to 40% - and all racial groups - including African-Americans, 43% to 42%. Against Queens City Councilman Tony Avella, Bloomberg leads 57% to 27%.
  • Bloomberg’s approval rating (66% to 27%) and favorability rating (64% to 30%) remain formidable, while the two Democratic contenders are unknown: 63% have no opinion of Thompson, 87% have no opinion of Avela.

Yes, that last figure suggests Democrats have room to grow, but let’s not kid ourselves: With only 5 months to go before the election, it’s beyond worrisome for Democrats that their presumptive nominee is unknown to nearly two-thirds of city voters. Bloomberg is preparing to spend more than $70 million (!) from now until November, a sum that will be more than enough to get voters to think of Thompson as negatively as the Mayor sees fit.

Money doesn’t always win you elections, but when the wealthier candidate enjoys this type of poll numbers money can certainly ensure that no bad surprises occur.

Poll watch: Wisconsin tilts blue, Maloney internal suggests competitive primary

My attending wedding festivities made me gloss over two polls that were released this week. The first tests a state that had not yet been polled this cycle: Research 2000 surveyed Wisconsin’s senatorial and gubernatorial races and found Democrats in a strong position in both contests, though Republicans have a shot at the Governor’s Mansion.

First, let’s take a look at Senator Russ Feingold’s prospects:

  • Feingold leads Rep. Paul Ryan 53% to 32%; against former Rep. Mark Green, he is ahead 52% to 34%.
  • Feingold posts a solid favorability rating, 56% to 36%; among independents, his numbers stand at 57% to 34%. Half of respondents have no opinion of Ryan, but those who do view him favorably. As for Green, only 30% of respondents have no opinion - a good level of name recognition that is residual from his statewide race in 2006 - but

Feingold is strong on both fronts of the vulnerability test: He is above 50% and he leads by solid margins. As an added bonus, his favorability rating leaves nothing to be desired. And it’s not like the GOP is in any position to draw a top-tier challenger: Ryan has already declared he will not challenge Feingold while there is no buzz surrounding a potential Green candidacy. It might have been more interesting for Attorney General John Van Hollen to be tested - not that he looks likely to run, but he at least has not ruled out doing so.

Over in the gubernatorial race, Democrats look less solid:

  • If Governor Jim Doyle runs for re-election, he starts with a 48% to 36% lead against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and a 49% to 35% lead against former Rep. Mark Neumann. (Walker is already in the race, Neumann has said he is likely to jump in.) Against former Governor Tommy Thompson, however, Doyle trails 47% to 45%.
  • If Doyle retires and Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton becomes the Democratic nominee, she would start in a similar position: She leads Walker 44% to 35%, Neumann 43% to 35% and trails Thompson 46% to 44%.
  • Doyle’s favorability rating is negative - 43% have a favorable impression, 48% have an unfavorable one - while Thompson remains popular eight years after leaving office.

Whenever an incumbent polls only marginally better a potential replacement, it’s clear that his re-election race will be difficult; Doyle’s favorability rating only makes his situation more worrisome. On the other hand, he is able to stay within the margin of error against the far more popular Thompson: Voters might disapprove of Doyle, but most have not soured on him enough to turn towards the Republican Party.

This is a testament to Wisconsin’s blue state status, and the Democrats’ natural advantage in the state will help Lawton start with the upper-hand should the seat open up. As such, Thompson’s decision looks like it will be more consequential than Doyle’s; Democrats have more to fear from the former Governor’s comeback than from their incumbent’s retirement. (Thompson served for 14 years, making him the only Wisconsin Governor to be elected to four terms.)

Maloney releases an internal poll

Over in New York, Rep. Carolyn Maloney continues to hint that she is leaning towards challenging Senator Kirsten Gillirand in the Democratic primary. The latest sign: The congresswoman just released an internal poll showing her in a competitive position:

  • The survey shows Maloney narrowly leading Gillibrand 34% to 32%; in a three-way race involving Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (who said she would not run last week), Gillibrand is ahead 27% to 21% for Maloney and 17% for McCarthy.
  • Gillibrand’s favorability rating is mediocre (42-35) while Maloney’s is solid (39-11). [Important correction: I got Gillibrand's numbers wrong, and they're much stronger than I first wrote: 42% have a favorable view of her, 24% have an unfavorable view. Maloney's net rating is still superior, +28% versus +20%, but much less so.]
  • The poll also tested a potential gubernatorial primary, finding Andrew Cuomo crushing David Paterson 71% to 16%.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that internal polls should be taken with a big grain of salt. I believe this is the first survey to test a Gillibrand-Maloney match-up, so we should wait for public polls to be released before drawing conclusion. Yet, the numbers are believable: A poll released earlier this year found McCarthy in a similar position in a two-way race, so Maloney looks to be picking up where her fellow congresswoman left off.

What’s possibly most interesting in this poll is Maloney’s decision to publicize the gubernatorial numbers and a three-way match-up that show her trailing. With the three-way race, Maloney might be making the point that she stands to benefit from other Democrats’ withdrawal; Israel, Stringer or McCarthy would have split the anti-Gillibrand vote, whereas their disappearance from the ballot allows Maloney to vault from a 6% deficit to a 2% lead.

As for the inclusion of gubernatorial results, Maloney might first want to show that the poll’s results are in line with what other surveys are showing (it’s become routine for Paterson to trail primary surveys by more than 50%.) More interestingly, this might be a strategy to create a parallel between the senatorial and gubernatorial primaries: Given Paterson’s huge troubles and Cuomo’s popularity, Maloney’s best shot at beating Gillibrand is to make her a stand-in for the Governor while showcasing her own motivation to be equivalent to Cuomo’s.

Republicans jump in Wisconsin, Colorado statewide races

After four straight posts about Pennsylvania, it’s time to step away from the Specter story as there is plenty of action elsewhere in the country.

Two Wisconsin Republicans step in gubernatorial race

Governor Jim Doyle might not barred from seeking a third term as are so many of his colleagues, but he has not yet said whether he will seek re-election. That is not preventing the Republican field from getting crowded: Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker launched his gubernatorial bid today. Last week, former Rep. Mark Neumann all but declared his own candidacy. “Some time between now and October we’ll be getting into the race,” he said.

Like most of the country’s Governors, Doyle is an obvious target in the midterms; he is arguably more vulnerable than others since he already looked vulnerable in 2006 and only drew 52% in a strong year for Democrats. Given how eagerly Walker is already attacking Doyle for promoting “a grab bag of every left-wing idea out there,” it sure looks like the GOP is upbeat about his chances to defeat the incumbent, which might explain why Walker and Neumann are not waiting for Doyle to announce his 2010 plans.

A primary between Neumann and Walker could be very competitive, especially since other Republicans (former Rep. Mark Green, who lost to Doyle in 2006, and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen) are reportedly mulling a run.

Interestingly, Walker already ran for Governor in 2006 but he withdrew from the race citing the lack of funds. His electoral history suggests he could be a strong statewide candidate since he has served as the county executive of a heavily blue county since 2002. In 2008, Milwaukee County gave Barack Obama 67% of the vote; the same day, Walker won re-election against a Democratic state Senator with a solid 59%.

On the other hand, Walker’s ability to win over Democratic voters is in no way a reflection of centrist politics - quite the contrary. His early attacks on Doyle seem to be entirely based on ideological differences, and Walker was a strong opponent of Barack Obama’s stimulus funding - so much so that he resisted accepting congressional funds for his county. “The last thing you want to do is put money in hands of government,” he said in January. He also refused to submit a list of projects in his county that could be funded by the stimulus. That might play well in the GOP primary, but how about in the general election of a state that gave Barack Obama a 13% victory last fall?

Senator Bennet draws second opponent

Despite the fact that Michael Bennet is quite clearly vulnerable in 2010, Colorado Republicans have had a difficult time recruiting a strong candidate - and those who remain are not the strongest candidates the party could field.

Last week, Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier announced that he was forming an exploratory committee; while many Republicans tout him as a rising star for the party, he is also untested in anything resembling a large-scale political campaign and it would be a risk for the GOP to nominate him; furthermore, Frazier’s moderation on social issues could make it difficult for him to win a competitive GOP primary.

This week, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck announced that he would run against Bennet. Buck, who was hired by Dick Cheney in the 1980s, was first elected DA in 2004; before that, he served as a prosecutor in various offices, including the Colorado’s U.S. Attorney’s office. His name had been in the mix for the past few weeks, so this is not a surprise; however, there was still some speculation that Buck might choose to challenge Rep. Markey in CO-04 instead.

A third potential Senate candidate is former Rep. Beauprez (who is still mulling the race) would be the favorite to win the primary, but could he be a credible general election candidate four years after being crushed by 17% in an open gubernatorial race?

Buck might be a compromise candidate between Frazier and Beauprez: He has enough conservative credentials (especially on immigration) to win the primary, a bigger profile than Frazier, and he isn’t weighed down by a past catastrophic run as Beauprez. On the other hand, Buck lacks the stature and the political experience that would make him a top-tier challenger. While others with similar backgrounds have been elected to Congress, Buck will have to demonstrate enough familiarity with non-law-and-order issues to be a viable contender.

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