Archive for the 'WI-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.


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?


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.

Rare good news for Senate Dems: Coons enters in DE, Tomphson inches away in WI

Attorney General Beau Biden’s decision not to run for Senate left Delaware Democrats in a bind, with John Carney and Ted Kaufman soon adding to the party’s fear they would let Mike Castle coast to the Senate. Democrats immediately moved to plan D, New Castle County Chris Coons, and this time they were successful: Coons jumped in the Senate race yesterday.

I do not need to tell you Rep. Mike Castle is a formidable candidate. The presumptive Republican nominee was undeniably favored to pick-up this seat before Coons entered the race, and he remains the clear front-runner with Coons running. Since 1980, Castle has won 13 double-digit statewide victories, and the likeliest scenario for his match-up with Coons is that the number rises to 14. The most recent poll, released by Rasmussen, does show Castle crushing his opponent 56% to 27%.

The more interesting question is whether Coons has the potential to make the race competitive, and the answer is assuredly yes. For one, Coons is no random candidate: Since 2004, he has represented two-thirds of the state voters since New Castle is by far the state’s largest county.

Second, this is one Senate seat national Democrats are highly unlikely to give up, not only because Delaware is small enough that contesting it does not require that much money but also because this is Joe Biden’s former seat and the vice-president has already personally invested himself in keeping it in Democratic hands.

He asked Kaufman to reconsider, he urged Coons to run and for the past week he has been working zealously to convince the press that Castle is not a shoo-in. Not only did he insist yesterday that Coons would surprise us, but he reportedly personally lobbied electoral analyst Charlie Cook to change his rating from “Safe Republican” to a more competitive column! (Compare this to national Democrats relative indifference towards recruiting Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and ensuring she is competitive.)

While Castle has never trembled in his three-decade career, when is the last time Democrats seriously sought to damage him? When is the last time he faced a barrage of attack ads? This is not to say his numbers will collapse as soon as the DSCC buys air time, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on how Castle is impacted when Democrats finally try to appeal to Delaware voters’ typical partisan allegiance.

Third, the contrast between a 69-year old and a 47-year old could play to Coons’s favor, especially if the Democrat can appeal to voters’ desire to bring new faces to the elite. Coons could also run against Castle’s longtime tenure in Washington while touting his local office to prevent some of independent voters’ exodus towards the GOP. Relatedly, the Republican has been rumored to have health problems that were making him consider leaving politics altogether. Massachusetts showed what happens when a candidate lets herself be outworked; does Castle have what it takes to campaign full-time for months? If he chose to ran, the answer is presumably that he can invest himself enough to protect his lead, but this remains a question worth asking.

In short: Delaware’s seat clearly leans Republican, but it is not as far gone as North Dakota’s. At the very least, Democrats will do what it takes to put Coons in the position of scoring an upset.

Democrats got more good news on the recruitment front from Wisconsin: former Governor Tommy Thompson has signed up as an adviser to Peak Ridge Capital Group venture capital fund, which certainly suggests he is not seriously considering running for Senate this year.

This of course does not make it impossible for Thompson to jump in sometime in the spring, but why would he be looking for new positions if he was entertaining the notion of an electoral comeback? In particular, why would he choose an activity that would open him to obvious Democratic attacks, since voters don’t think warmly of venture capital funds right now.

Interestingly, this same scenario (our leaning a Republican is leaning against running when he signs up for another job) has played out repeatedly this cycle, most notably for Rudy Giuliani but also for Jon Porter and Gordon Smith. All three of these Republicans later confirmed they would pass on 2010. Needless to say, it would be a huge break for Senate Democrats if Thompson chooses not to challenge Russ Feingold.

NRSC smiling: Giannoulias undercut by family bank, Thompson & Grassley lead, Boxer struggles

Illinois: Giannoulias leads Kirk but is damaged by family bank’s woes

Democrats have been getting so many dismal Senate polls lately that PPP’s Illinois survey must have come as a breath of fresh air: Alexi Giannoulias has a 42% to 34% lead over Mark Kirk, an advantage that’s all the more significant since the two have comparable name recognition. While in normal circumstances it would be nothing unusual for a Democrat to lead by 8% in IL, the rare surveys that have been completed of this match-up have found a virtual tie. Kirk has slight leads against the two other Democrats in the race,  (38-36 over Cheryle Jackson, 37-36 over David Hoffman) but both have low name recognition and thus have room to grow among Democrats. Finally, Kirk’s favorability rating is weaker than I would have expected (27-22).

Yet, the Kirk campaign has reason to smile today: Giannoulias, who has always been surrounded by ethics questions, is now finding himself connected to a story that could easily have repercussions on his general election prospects. Financial regulators are clamping down on Broadway Bank, the bank owned by Giannoulias’s family at which he himself worked as a manager:

Broadway Bank… has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management… [Giannoulias has] faced criticism for his past role at the bank and the $70 million in dividends the family took out of the bank in 2007 and 2008 as the real estate crisis was becoming apparent.

In a cycle in which voter anger over politicians’ unwillingness to punish the financial sector’s irresponsibility is threatening to submerge Democrats, this story risks connecting Giannoulias to the very industry the electorate has turned against. Even if the controversy does not grow any more, this could give his opponents efficient ammunition to use in their ads - though this is more likely to profit Republicans than his Democratic rivals: the primary is taking place in only 5 days. If this story gets a lot of play in the coming days, it could cost Giannoulias but his opponents don’t have much time to take advantage.

On the other hand, Hoffman and Jackson had already been attacking Giannoulias over his banking background, so they could easily integrate this latest round of Broadway Bank questions in their campaign. In fact, Jackson called for Giannoulias’s withdrawal tonight, while Hoffman indicted his electability, saying that this story “provides further evidence of what a disaster Mr. Giannoulias would be as the Democratic nominee for Senate.”  At the very least, Kirk’s campaign will be watching to see how it can best take advantage of the Treasurer’s woes.

Wisconsin: Thompson leads Feingold as GOP looks for new options

In testing a match-up between Russ Feingold and Tommy Thompson, Rasmussen found the Republican leading 47-44; Feingold is weighed down by Obama’s mediocre approval rating (46%) and by his own rating’s dip in negative territory (47-48). It’s not the numbers that are remarkable (no one really doubted the race would become competitive if Thompson jumped in), but the fact that Thompson might actually run. In fact, the GOP is growing so confident it is now looking for back-ups: the latest rumor concerns the possible entry of Rep. Mark Neumann, who is currently in a contested gubernatorial primary. Yet, I believe Neumann wouldn’t be allowed to transfer his fundraising haul from one race to the other and he presumably would be reluctant to give up what he’s already raised.

California: Boxer struggles against Campbell

Last week, The Field Poll and Rasmussen gave us contrasting findings on Barbara Boxer’s vulnerability, with the latter showing the California senator managing only small leads against her Republican competitors. PPIC came out with its own poll today, and their results are in between Rasmussen’s an Field’s: Boxer only leads Campbell 45% to 41%, which is actually outside of the margin of error, and she is ahead of Fiorina and DeVore by 8%. In the GOP primary, Campbell leads 27% to Fiorina’s 16% and DeVore’s 8%. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Democrats have to start worrying about their California standing, especially if Campbell wins the Republican primary (we still have to see whether he can compete enough financially to do that).

Indiana: Pence was not the end the road

I proclaimed that the GOP was left in Stutzman and Hostettler’s hands too early, and Democrats breathed a sigh of relief too soon: Rep. Mike Pence’s decision not to run for Senate did not put Republicans off of Evan Bayh’s trail. They are now courting Secretary of State Todd Rokita, who has held statewide office since 2004. Rokita said yesterday that he was considering the race, which goes to show just how dramatically recruitment prospects can improve when the national environment looks so promising.

This reminds me of what happened in NC in 2008. After May polls found Kay Hagan with a surprise post-primary lead over Elizabeth Dole, the senator managed to grab large leads over the summer but Democrats had smelled blood and did not let go, committing millions to the state before seeing evidence the race would be competitive. Similarly, the GOP has smelled blood in Indiana. But there is a catch: The filing deadline comes in just three weeks (February 19th) and signatures have to be collected. This means Rokita will have to make up his mind quickly one way or another and that the NRSC will have little time to search for back-ups if he passes.

Iowa: Grassley crushes Democrats

If Democrats had some hope of challenging Senator Chuck Grassley, it has long become obvious that the perfect storm they would need to pull off such an upset cannot happen; the national environment makes it tough for Democrats to compete against unquestionably vulnerable incumbents like Burr, let alone against veteran lawmakers like Grassley. Today, Rasmussen gave us confirmation that there is next to nothing to see in this race: Not only does Grassley lead Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen 59% to 26% and 61% to 25%, respectively, but his margin against Democrats’ most touted candidate (attorney Roxanne Conlin) is almost as wide: 59% to 31%. We can’t not contrast those numbers with those of Democratic incumbents who are trailing challengers who are just as low-profile as Krause or Fiegen.

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.


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?)


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.

Checking in with Democratic senators who aren’t (yet?) GOP priorities

In recent weeks, Republicans have seen their prospects improve in a number of Senate races. 7 seats that Democrats must defend now look genuinely competitive: Nevada, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Colorado, Illinois and Pennsylvania? Can the NRSC put even more seats in play? New polls from the 4 Democratic seats that I currently rate “likely retention” (California, North Dakota, New York and Wisconsin) suggest it’s possible in some, less so in others.

(At the moment, there is no conceivable way for Indiana, Maryland, New York’s Schumer seat, Oregon, Vermont and Washington become vulnerable. Despite some early talk about a possible Inouye retirement and a potential Lingle candidacy, neither prospect is attracting any buzz so Hawaii looks safe as well.)

For the DSCC, the best news comes from Wisconsin: A week after Tommy Thompson opened the door to an electoral comeback in 2010, PPP finds that Senator Russ Feingold would easily survive a challenge by the former Governor: In what is the GOP’s dream match-up, the Democrat leads by a solid 50% to 41% margin. Feingold’s approval rating is far from formidable (45-37), but Thompson is too unpopular to topple an entrenched incumbent: His favorability rating stands at 38-45. Feingold leads two little-known Republicans (Terrence Wall and Dave Westlake) by 14% and 15%, though he is just below 50% in both match-ups.

More reassuring news for Democrats in California: Rasmussen finds Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina (46% to 37%) and Chuck DeVore (46% to 36%). That doesn’t mean Boxer is safe (any incumbent under 50% is deemed vulnerable) but at the moment Democrats don’t have much reason to worry about the Golden State. For one, Rasmussen’s California surveys have consistently found more GOP-friendly results than has the Field Poll, generally considered the golden standard of California polling. Second, Boxer’s approval rating remains solid enough (51% to 41%) that it’s tough to envision the state’s Democratic-leaning electorate might consider voting for a Republican: Corzine’s approval rating was stuck in the 30s, and even he managed to come close.

This doesn’t mean that Thompson’s entry would not make Wisconsin a must-watch race or that Fiorina will not end up catch fire (after all, a University of Wisconsin poll released in October found Thompson leading Feingold, 43% to 39%); both Wisconsin and California could still become headaches for the DSCC. Yet, what’s clear is that Feingold and Boxer are in a stronger position going forward than Kirsten Gillibrand and Byron Dorgan, who would quickly vault to the top of the list of endangered incumbents if the NRSC manages to recruit its top candidates.

There’s been enough discussion of the confusion surrounding Rudy Giuliani’s 2010 plans that I don’t need to provide much detail about New York’s situation. While convincing arguments can be made that the former mayor will not end up as strong as he polls and that he has repeatedly proven himself a poor campaigner, the bottom-line for now is that a general election between Giuliani and Gillibrand would start as a toss-up at best. A Marist poll released last week found Giuliani) would start with a 54% to 40% lead (if she were to face George Pataki, Gillibrand would trail by a less dramatic 47% to 45%; by comparison, Zogby’s new survey finds the senator far stronger (she only Giuliani trails 45% to 43% and she leads Pataki 43% to 38%), but it’s nothing for her to boast about.

As for North Dakota, a Zogby poll released over the week-end explains why the GOP is so eager to recruit Governor John Hoeven, who has reportedly accepted to think about the race. The survey finds that he would start with a 55% to 36% lead against Senator Byron Dorgan. The poll leaves no doubt that Dorgan’s vulnerability entirely stems from Hoeven’s strength: The incumbent’s favorability rating stands at an extremely solid 73% (a number most incumbents would die for) and he crushes low-profile Republican Dune Sand 60% to 28%, demonstrating that North Dakotans aren’t at all desperate to dump their senator. The trouble comes from the fact that nearly every respondent likes Hoeven, whose favorability is an absurd 93%.

Frankly, these favorability ratings should make us take this poll with a big grain of salt. Mountain States incumbents are known to remain very popular, but can Hoeven’s favorability rating really be 93%? My skepticism was increased when I saw another Zogby poll, which finds Maine’s two Senators with ridiculously high favorability ratings. I don’t doubt Snowe is popular but 84% in no way matches what other recent polls have found.

So how does Zogby’s poll compare to other North Dakota surveys? A summer poll conducted by a Republican firm found Hoeven leading by a similar margin (53% to 36%) but a Research 2000 released all the way back in February had the Democrat ahead by 22%. In short: If Hoeven jumps in we’ll certainly need to see more polling data before proclaiming him the frontrunner, but probably not to consider Dorgan endangered.

Thompson, Bailey, Wicker and Mahoney: Movement in 4 key Senate races

Wisconsin: The Tommy Thompson threat

The number of Senate seats Democrats have to defend is rising by the month, but one the party has managed not to worry about is Wisconsin: With Rep. Paul Ryan ruling out a bid and Attorney General John Van Hollen showing no interest, Republican hopes had fallen on businessman Terrence Wall, who would be in no position to endanger Russ Feingold. And yet, the possibility of a competitive Senate race in Wisconsin surfaced today.

Former Governor Tommy Thompson made it clear he had yet to rule out challenging Feingold - or even jumping in the gubernatorial contest, about which Democrats have been feeling better since Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joined the race last week. “I haven’t said no,” he said. “I’m looking at it. I’m looking at governor, I’m looking at senator and I’m looking at mayor of Elroy. One of the three.”

That seems like somewhat of a bizarre choice to me, since Elroy looks have less than 2,000 inhabitants and the mayorship is hardly the type of position you’d expect a former Cabinet Secretary to fall back on. So if Thompson is indeed leaning towards seeking one of those three offices, that would be worrisome to Democratic prospects of defending both their Senate seat or the governorship. A Research 2000 poll released in June found Thompson with a strong favorability rating (54% to 36%) and leading in two gubernatorial match-ups; a University of Wisconsin poll released last month had Thompson leading Feingold, 43% to 39%.

Kentucky: Road keeps getting tougher for Trey Grayson

The man who was presented as im Bunning’s heir apparent is finding an increasingly tricky path to the Republican nomination. As if Rand Paul was not proving a big enough threat, Secretary of State Tray Grayson might now have to deal with former Ambassador to Latvia Cathy Bailey, who is now expressing interest in the race in order to keep it “in true conservative hands.” She described Grayson as the “moderate choice” while criticizing Paul’s “extreme positions,” which suggests she is hoping to position herself as a consensus candidate - conservative enough for the base and electable enough for the general election.

I have seen little to suggest that Grayson is a moderate in any meaningful sense of the term; he is simply the GOP establishment’s candidate. The twist is that Cathy Bailey would also be an establishment candidate. She is well-connected in GOP circles (as we can expect from those Bush appointed ambassador) and she chaired Mitch McConnell’s 2008 campaign. As such, her entry in the race would delight Paul: While his rivals would be left fighting for the mainstream mantra, he would ride the anti-establishment sentiment among movement conservatives - and he’d have a better shot at scoring a plurality win (in a 3-way race) than reaching 50% against Grayson.

North Carolina: One more Democrat bows out

Strike one more name off of the list of North Carolina’s potential Democratic candidates: After spending a few months expressing interest in the race, former Lieutenant Governor Dennis Wicker announced today that he would not challenge Senator Richard Burr. While he was getting a lot of press over his indecision, Wicker has been out of office since 2001 so it’s doubtful he would have been the party’s top candidates; in polls, he typically came in very slightly weaker than Elaine Marshall and Bob Etheridge.

You might think this would mean that national Democrats would finally recognize that Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is their candidate, but the DSCC looks as inexplicably committed as ever to displaying total lack of confidence in the one prominent candidate they have in the race. I detailed this last week, so for this post suffice it to say that The News & Observer is reporting that DSCC officials have not given up on recruiting Cal Cunningham, even though the former state Senator ruled out a run last week. This is preventing Marshall from getting the media to acknowledge her as a worthwhile candidate. Writes The Hill in its post on Wicker’s withdrawal: “All eyes remain on Cal Cunningham.”

New Hampshire: Lamontagne could solidify conservative support

One of the big question marks surrounding Ovide Lamontagne’s Senate bid in New Hampshire is whether he can impose himself as the go-to candidate for conservatives looking to block Kelly Ayotte; indeed, the possibility that a multitude of Republicans go after Ayotte simultaneously would have all but certainly handed the nomination to the Attorney General. But Lamontagne’s most serious competitor (businessman Sean Mahoney) announced today that he would not run.

The publisher of BusinessNH magazine, Mahoney has significant financial resources he could have used. His candidacy could have split the conservative vote, prevented the emergence of a clear alternative to Ayotte and made it less likely that national organizations thought it worthwhile to get involved. As such, today’s development is good news for Lamontagne - and by extension to Democrats, who would much rather face him in the general election. (Note that Ayotte hasn’t yet fully antagonized the conservative intelligentsia, whether the Club for Growth or the New Hampshire Union-Leader, so Lamontagne still has a long way to go to make this primary look anything like Florida’s or Utah’s.)

Poll watch: Vitter and Burr up double-digits but under 50%, Brown and Campbell strong in Cali

Vitter and Burr under 50%, but Democrats have work to do

In polls taken so far, David Vitter and Richard Burr (arguably the only Republican senators who are vulnerable next year) are in a similar situation. Both lead their match-ups comfortably, yet both have a mediocre approval rating and are unable to break 50%. In short, they are showing early signs of vulnerability but Democrats have a lot of work to do to guarantee they face truly competitive contests next year.

Two new surveys confirm this situation. The first is a Rasmussen poll of Louisiana: Vitter leads 46% to 36% against Rep. Charlie Melancon. That’s certainly a decent margin, but 46% is not a particularly impressive level of support for a Republican incumbent in a red state. Interestingly, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne leads Melancon by a slightly larger margin - 46% to 33%; that’s not a major difference, but whenever an incumbent’s lead is smaller than that a fellow party member we know he is facing enough discontent to raise a red flag.

In North Carolina, PPP finds an uptick in Burr’s numbers. That is most dramatic when he is matched-up against a generic Democrat: He trailed by 4% in June, he now leads 45% to 34%. Against named opponents, his level of support has slightly increased. He now leads 44% to 33% against Bob Etheridge, 44% to 32% against Marshall, 44% to 30% against Dennis Wicker and Kenneth Lewis, 45% to 29% against Kevin Foy and 46% to 27% against Cal Cunningham.

Burr’s approval rating is mediocre enough for him to still be in trouble - 36% to 35% - but PPP is probably right to say he is benefiting from the national environment. That’s especially obvious in his match-up against a generic Democrat, but also in the large margin he manages to lead by against a low-profile Democrat like Cunningham. Sure, that respondents do not automatically rally against whoever the Democratic nominee is (the way Republicans are rallying against Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln’s opponents, whoever they might be) confirms that Democrats cannot expect to easily defeat Burr.

Carnahan ahead of Blunt within the margin of error

I’ll be rather surprised if one of Missouri’s Senate nominees takes a significant lead sometimes in the next few months. Both are well-known and the popularity of Robin Carnahan’s last name is counterbalanced by the state’s red lean. That’s what a new Momentum Analysis poll confirms: Carnahan has a far stronger favorability rating (54/28 as opposed to 44/33 for Blunt) and she is only ahead 48% to 45%. (Caveat: Momentum Analysis is a Democratic pollster; the poll is consistent with other numbers we have seen.)

Two ways to read these numbers. One is favorable to Democrats: Carnahan manages to keep a narrow edge at a time most polls find Democratic candidates in trouble, confirming a personal appeal that will not be sensitive to a Republican edge in the national environment. The other is favorable to Republicans: That Carnahan (who as Secretary of State is in a less exposed position than a congressman) fails to be further ahead when she is so much more popular bodes ill for her prospects once Republicans go on the attack.

CA: Brown crushes Republicans, Campbell should be taken (very) seriously

A new Field Poll tests California’s gubernatorial primaries, and the big surprise is on the Republican side. While the race is often portrayed as a two-way between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, but it is Tom Campbell who comes in a narrow second to Whitman - 22% to 20%, with Poizner coming in at 9%. With half of Republicans undecided, the race still has a long way to go but such numbers will help Campbell position himself on equal footing and hope to get enough media coverage to counterbalance the financial disparity from which he is bound to suffer against self-funding opponents.

On the Democratic side, San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is falling further behind against Attorney General Jerry Brown: 47% to 27%. (Speaking of the Brown-Newsom, this American Prospect article about Brown’s responsibility in the passage and implementation of Prop 13 is a must-read.) The good news for Newsom is that he at least leads his Republican opponents - something that was not the case in a recent Rasmussen poll: He leads Whitman 40% to 31%, Campbell 38% to 33% and Poizner 39% to 30%. But Brown’s leads are far larger: 50% to 29%, 48% to 28% and 50% to 25%, respectively.

Washington: Another November contest to watch

Maine’s gay marriage battle is the highest-profile initiative that will be on the ballot come November, but there’s another gay-rights initiative to watch in Washington: Referendum 71 asks voters whether they want to expand domestic partnerships, and the stakes are high. The issue here is not whether voters will invalidate already legal rights (or ban already illegal rights) but whether they will take the lead in strengthening gay rights. Just as it was major when a state legislature for the first time legalized gay marriage last spring, the referendum’s passage would be symbolically powerful.

A new SUSA poll - the first I have seen of this issue - suggests that the outcome is as suspenseful as that of Maine, with the yes ahead 45% to 42%. The bad sign for the “yes” is that undecided voters usually tend to break for the “no,” so the rule of thumb is that a referendum needs to have more than 50% in polls to pass. On the other hand, the sample contains twice as many undecided Democrats (5% of the sample) as undecided Republicans (2.6%), so there is certainly reason to think 50% is in reach.

At least one incumbent governor has little to worry about

Kelly Ayotte might be improving its position in New Hampshire’s Senate race, but it doesn’t mean the GOP has a chance to dislodge Governor John Lynch. UNH found Lynch enjoying an approval rating of 66% and posting a 50% to 37% lead against former Senator John Sununu. Since no one expects Sununu to even consider this contest, his inclusion is simply as an attempt to test Lynch’s vulnerability against the GOP’s best-case scenario. He should face even less trouble against the likes of businessman Jack Kimball or state Senator Chuck Morse.

If Thompson were to run for Senate…

Another unlikely match-up was tested by the University of Wisconsin, this time to test the worst-case scenario for Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. Against the strongest potential Republican - former Governor Tommy Thompson - Feingold trails 43% to 39%. Now, if we start hearing that Thompson is looking at the race, Democrats might have reason to worry. For now, I’ll refer you to a Research 2000 poll released back in June that had Feingold leading by 21% and 18% against other prominent Republicans.

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.

If you like the website...

... Support Campaign Diaries