Archive for the 'WI-08' Category

NRCC might not have shot at CA-32 but it is organizing elsewhere

Last night, Judy Chu won the Democratic nomination in the special election to replace Hilda Solis in California’s 32nd District. The vie-chairwoman of the state’s Board of Equalization edged out state senator Gil Cedillo by 9%. There were few ideological differences, with the contest largely focusing on the candidates’ experiences and racial background. (The race took a turn to the brutal last week when Cedillo launched an unjustifiably nasty attack against a third candidate, a 26-year old political novice who was threatening to cut into the state Senator’s hold on the Hispanic vote.)

Just as Mike Quigley in IL-05 earlier this year, Chu is now the overwhelming favorite to win the general election, which will take place on July 14th. CA-32 gave Barack Obama 68% of the vote and there will be no surprise in two months.

But many other House races are just starting to heat up and we haven’t been the only ones keeping track: Nearly a month after I published my analysis of 62 vulnerable GOP-held House seats, the NRCC finally unveiled the first 10 members of its Patriot Program, which regroups the most vulnerable Republican incumbents. (This is the equivalent of the DCCC’s Frontline Program, which Democrats created long ago and which worked very well in the 2008 cycle.)

In exchange with receiving special care and being helped with additional money and fundraisers, incumbents on the Patriot Program will be accountable to NRCC officials. They will have to meet fundraising guidelines, show that they are taking their re-election races seriously and demonstrate that they have a solid team in place. In short, the NRCC wants to avoid situations that arose in the final weeks of the 2006 and 2008 cycles, when the committee had to make tough choices because of some incumbents’ unpreparedness. This time, the NRCC is warning, raise funds early and show your serious or you won’t get any help down the line.

(Of course, the NRCC can always break its word in the fall of 2010, if it realizes that a few thousands spent helping an incumbent who has flunked out of the Patriot Program could save the GOP a seat. On the other hand, it’s not like the committee can afford to do that too often if it wants this program to be credible in future cycles.)

Given the circumstances of the program’s creation, incumbents who are added early are not necessarily those who are the most vulnerable. They can also be representatives who have not faced a competitive race for many cycles and whose campaign and fundraising skills might need some dusting off by the NRCC. A look at the list confirms this:

Incumbent Obama’s score Rating Notes
Judy Biggert (IL-13) 54% N/A Held to 10% win in ‘08
Brian Bilbray (CA-50) 51% Likely R Unexpectedly narrow ‘08 victory
Ken Calvert (CA-44) 50% Likely R Unexpectedly narrow ‘08 victory
Anh Cao (LA-02) 74% Toss-up Freshman
Thad McCotter (MI-11) 54% Lean R Hostile territory, no opponent
Dan Lungren (CA-03) 49% Lean R Unexpectedly narrow ‘08 victory
Leonard Lance (NJ-07) 51% Lean R Freshman
Chris Lee (NY-26) 46% Likely R Freshman
Erik Paulsen (MN-03) 52% Lean R Freshman
Dave Reichert (WA-08) 57% Toss-up Narrow victories in ‘06 and ‘08

While these do not represent the most vulnerable Republican seats, I am only (slightly) surprised by the inclusion of Chris Lee, who represents a red-leaning district and scored a solid victory in a very hostile environment last year. Even though Judy Biggert was not included in my House ratings, the GOP understandably wants to make sure she entrenches herself better after she was held to 54% by an underfunded and little-noticed challenger.

Interestingly, only 2 of the 6 races I identified as toss-ups are included on the list. This is not because the NRCC does not fear losing DE-AL, IL-10 and PA-06 but because the incumbents in each of these races are mulling leaving their seats for a Senate or gubernatorial run. Since the whole point of this program is to set strict fundraising goals and clear benchmarks, it makes no sense for Castle, Kirk and Gerlach to sign up before making up their minds. If they choose to stay in the House, there is virtually no doubt that they will be integrated in the program.

Of course, the NRCC is not just thinking about defense and it just got some recruitment news out of a Dem-held seat, WI-08: This is a swing district that gave Bush 55% in 2004 and Obama 54% in 2008. Rep. Steve Kagen is undoubtedly vulnerable, but the GOP will not get far if it does not recruit a top challenger. Until this week, the only candidate was Mike Savard, a member of the Door County Board of Supervisors; he will now face primary competition from a Republican who has a similar profile: Brown County Supervisor Andy Williams who was only elected in 2007 and who identified taxes as the focus of his campaign.

At the very least, this will allow Republican voters to try to figure out whether one of these two candidates has what it takes to unseat Kagen - but at first glance the Democrat still looks like he is in a good position as neither Savard nor Williams have the same stature as his opponent in the 2006 and 2008 races, former Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly John Gard.

Tracking potential House rematches in WI and SC

SC-01 and SC-02: Ketner sounds reluctant, Miller remains interested

Last year, Democrat Linda Ketner invested more than $1 million from her personal wealth to defeat Rep. Henry Brown in red-leaning SC-01. She ended up losing by 4%, an impressive showing given that few people were paying much attention to the district. Heading into the 2010 cycle, many expected Ketner to give it another try  but the wealthy heiress is sounding reluctant in a recent interview with Roll Call. “The economy has hit me as well,” she said. “I put a lot of money into that last one that I won’t be able to put in another bid.” Ketner also pointed out that she would not be likely to benefit from a boost in African-American turnout like in 2008.

Ketner passing on the race would hurt Democratic chances. In a conservative district like SC-01, it takes a perfect storm for a Democrat to win: money, top recruit, environment. Not only does Ketner have the money needed to mount a competitive run, but her 2008 run allowed her to build an infrastructure and increase her name recognition. Not only does it look like that increased stature might not get used in 2010, but Ketner is warning that she would not dump as much money even if she does run. (Roll Call points to other potential Democratic candidates: former state Rep. Robert Barber and state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis.)

In neighboring SC-02, Rep. Wilson suffered from just as surprising a slump last fall, when he won 54% to 46% against Iraq War veteran Rob Miller. Miller now sounds like he is seriously considering seeking a rematch. Given that he proved himself a worthy candidate in 2008, Miller should be able to attract the DCCC’s attention (unlike what happened last year) and at least put this district on our radar screen.

Yet, can Democrats really hope to get far in these districts? SC-01 and SC-02 are excellent examples of seats in which Democrats will probably not have opportunities like last year’s for a long time. These districts have a significant African-American populations and, as Ketner herself rightly points out, 2008’s unexpectedly narrow margins were largely due to the boost in black turnout.

That boost came on top of an environment that was already extremely favorable for Democrats while Republican incumbents were being dragged down by Bush’s stunning unpopularity. The DCCC can recruit as formidable candidates as it wants, but can any challenger possibly beat GOP incumbents in such conservative districts in the midterm election of a Democratic President?

A rematch is “highly unlikely” in WI-08

In 2006, Republican John Gard, the former Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, failed to win an open seat in red territory; two years later, he lost a rematch by 8%. Now, Gard is saying he is “highly unlikely” to seek yet another match-up against against Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen, who is expected to seek a third term in 2010.

Unlike in South Carolina, where Ketner’s reluctance to seek a rematch is bad news for her party, Gard’s decision will come as a relief to Republicans. Unlike SC-01, where it would take a perfect storm for the incumbent to be defeated, WI-08 is a swing district where any number of Republican officials can compete. Gard, however, would not have been a very credible threat: It is extremely unlikely for a candidate to come back from two consecutive defeats to score a victory. Not only is it difficult to convince voters they should keep an open mind, but it is also a challenge to persuade potential donors that you have a credible shot at winning.

With Gard all but out of the picture, the NRCC can concentrate on finding a fresh challenger to Kagen. One Republican is already in the race: Mark Savard, a member of the Door County Board of Supervisors and former Chairman of the county’s Republican Party. Savard could mount a competitive race, though the GOP might want to look a bit harder. WI-08 has colored itself blue enough that it will take a top-tier Republican to threaten Steve Kagen.

Guilty of dismal fundraising, NRCC spent whatever money it had well

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole briefly flirted with another stint as NRCC Chairman but decided not to oppose the candidacy of Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. The GOP’s campaign committee will thus start the 2010 battle with new leadership, eager to recover after two disastrous cycles that saw Democrats pick up more than 50 seats.

To mark the end of Cole’s rule, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the past two years - recruitment, fundraising, expenditures - and pinpoint a few areas Sessions will have to improve.

What is particularly depressing for the GOP is that its recruitment was not that terrible. For one, the NRCC had managed to recruit a number of top challengers to freshmen incumbents: Jim Sullivan in CT-02, Dean Adler in CA-11 or Tom Bee in AZ-08 were all highly touted early in the cycle. Lou Barletta in PA-11, Melissa Hart in PA-04, Mike Sodrel in IN-09, Anne Northup in KY-03 and Jeb Bradley in NH-01 were also huge threats. The NRCC similarly fielded unexpectedly strong contenders in many GOP-held open seats (Darren White in NM-01, for instance).

Needless to say, all the candidates on this list lost on November 4th; some of them had even completely disappeared from our radar screen - quite a stunning development given their early high-profile. Given the pro-Democratic political environment, however, non-incumbent Republicans had practically no hope of victory - and we all treated them as such.

The NRCC’s huge problem, of course, was its dismal fundraising performance that left the committee in an extremely precarious financial position. This forced the NRCC to pull the plug on some of its top challengers and then make even more painful decisions as to which incumbents it should abandon. It will not be easy for Sessions to do a better job: It is extremely unlikely that Republicans will regain control of the House in 2010, which means that lobbyists and donors are likely to keep filling Democratic coffers. This should guarantee that the DCCC enjoys yet another cycle of financial dominance.

Within this context of budgetary restrictions, it is worth taking a look at the NRCC’s fall expenditures to test whether Cole’s team made the right set of choices with whatever little money they had in hand.

The snubbed districts: First of all, here is the list of high-profile districts in which the NRCC invested nothing: AZ-03, CT-04, CA-04, IL-10, IN-09, KY-03, MD-01, MI-09, NC-08, NM-01, NM-02, OH-16, OR-05, PA-04. It is worth adding CO-04 to the list, as the NRCC pulled the plug on Rep. Musgrave two weeks before the election.

Some of these reflect very good calls on the NRCC’s part, particularly in AZ-03. Democrats made a lot of noise about that race, and the DCCC poured in about $2 million; yet, the NRCC did not take the bait and Rep. Shadegg prevailed by double-digits. Similarly, the NRCC was right to estimate that Reps. Knollenberg, Hayes and Musgrave as well as open seat candidates in NM-01, NM-02 and OH-16 were in particularly bad shape. Democrats picked-up all of these seats, and none of them were close. Finally, good for the NRCC to not delude itself into thinking that it could defeat Democratic incumbents in KY-03, IN-09 and PA-04.

However, the GOP’s refusal to fund McClintock in CA-04 and Harris in MD-01 was most definitely a mistake. Harris lost by 1% and McClintock’s race is still undecided. Both districts are heavily conservative, so there was no possible blow back for national Republicans getting involved (unlike, say, in CT-04).

Defensible investments: As for the races they did fund, the NRCC’s decisions are a mix between golden investments and wasted money. While the GOP lost AL-02, AL-05, FL-08, FL-25, ID-01, MI-07, NH-01, NJ-03, NY-29, OH-01, PA-03, PA-11, VA-02 and WI-08, for instance, it seems hard to argue with the NRCC’s determination to defend these seats, all of which ended up being relatively close. The NRCC should however be faulted for not having invested more in some of them (ID-01 and VA-02, in particular). In some of these districts, the GOP invested significant sums (more than $1 million each in MI-07 and OH-01, for instance) but the DCCC simply had enough money to always outspend its counterpart.

Similarly, the NRCC’s decision to heavily defend KY-02, MN-03, MO-09, NE-02, NJ-07 and WY-AL were an important factor in huge Election Day saves - and the committee’s investments in KS-02, LA-06 and TX-22 (more than $1 million in the latter) helped Republican challengers scored pick-ups. (The NRCC should have been a bit more aggressive in Kansas, even though Lynn Jenkins did end up winning.)

Mistakes: All in all, there were few obvious mistakes in the GOP’s investments - except the largely unnecessary $600,000 spent in MO-06, the decision to go after Rep. Murtha with half-a-million dollars at the last minute and the committee’s determination to help Rep. Porter in NV-03. Another small mistake was CO-04: Even though they did end up abandoning Rep. Musgrave, they first spent nearly $900,000 on a seat that leaned towards a Democratic pick-up early in the fall - but perhaps not enough to justify an NRCC snub in a what is still a conservative district.

The NRCC is guilty of a number of other miscalls, but it is hard to blame them given that the DCCC also miscalculated in the same same districts. Perhaps the biggest such mistake occurred in NY-24, where Democratic incumbent Arcuri won an extremely tight race in a district absolutely no one was paying attention to.

The second biggest mistake was FL-21, a GOP-held district everyone thought was highly competitive and in which the NRCC spent more than $1.5 million. Rep. Diaz-Balart ended up winning by 16% - but the DCCC had invested considerable sums as well, as both parties believed that Diaz-Balart was endangered. Similarly, the GOP spent more than $300,000 defending IN-03 and more than $600,000 in NY-26. Neither race was tight on Election Night; yet, the DCCC wasted much more money on those two districts so the mistake here belongs to Democrats.

Finally, the NRCC rushed into VA-05 much too late, spending more $140,000 at the last minute to save Rep. Goode (the race has not been called yet, but it appears that Goode will go down by a few hundred votes); few people saw Perriello has a big threat to Goode - and the DCCC’s expenditures suggest they had not either. Provided he remains in the lead, that makes Perriello’s into this cycle’s Shea-Porter and Loebsack.

NRCC’s new expenditures boost defense, play some offense

As expected, the NRCC posted most of their expenditures after the first round of spending I documented yesterday morning, and their decisions on where to spend money over the final week offers us a wealth of information on which districts Republicans thinks are still winnable, which they are resigned to losing, and which they are feeling some confidence in. Meanwhile, new expenditures posted by the DCCC confirm Democratic determination to expand the map.

First, Democrats are not giving up and Republicans are not feeling overconfident in two of the most endangered Dem-held seats: TX-22 and PA-11. Both are rated lean take-over in my latest ratings, but both parties are heavily investing. The NRCC poured more than $700,000 against Rep. Nick Lampson in Texas (bringing its total to more than $1 million) and more than $270,000 against Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania. Both districts have appeared to be gone for months now, so it is somewhat puzzling that the DCCC has not abandoned these incumbents; it just spent $600,000 in Texas (for a total of $1 million) and more than $200,000 in Pennsylvania (for a total of $2.3 million).

The NRCC played offense in a few more districts, spending more than $300,000 in KS-02 and LA-06 and around $100,000 in AL-05 and WI-08. The rest was devoted to defense: $506,000 was just spent in WA-08 (bringing the total above $1 million), more than $400,000 in FL-25 and MI-07 (bringing the total in the latter to $1.5 million), more than $300,000 on in FL-08, NJ-07, OH-15, more than $200,000 in NY-29, MN-03 and OH-02, and more than $100,000 in AL-02, ID-01, NJ-03, PA-03 and VA-02. (Note that the NRCC had already reported six figure buys yesterday in WY-AL, NE-02, IN-03, MO-06 and MO-09).

A few notes about these districts: This is the NRCC’s first ad buy in FL-08, a seat that I recently moved to the lean take-over category - albeit the race remains highly competitive. The DCCC just released its first ad for the race yesterday, meaning that both committees are moving in Orlando for a last-minute push. Furthermore, it is fascinating to see which highly endangered open seats the NRCC is contesting and which it is not: OH-15, NJ-07 and NJ-03 at one point looked like they would be easily Democratic pick-ups, but the GOP candidates have proved resilient and the NRCC is providing some help; open seats candidates in OH-16 or NM-01 have been completely abandoned. As for Erik Paulsen, he can thank Michelle Bachmann for her anti-Americanism rant, as that led the NRCC to move resources out of MN-06 and into MN-03.

In fact, even more interesting than the seats in which the NRCC is spending are the seats in which they are not: Given the NRCC’s budgetary constraints, they cannot afford to spend on seats in which there isn’t a very clear and accessible path to victory. As had already been reported but not yet confirmed, the NRCC is spending no new money in CO-04, all but abandoning Rep. Musgrave; there also appear to be no new ads in NV-03 and NH-01, which is more of a surprise. The NRCC’s new buy in KY-02 is two thirds smaller than it was the previous week, which is probably more of a sign of confidence than of despair. And the NRCC has still spent no money whatsoever in a number of highly competitive seats: AZ-03, IL-10, IL-11, FL-24, MD-01, NC-08 or NM-01, for instance. (The DCCC has spent more than $1 million in each of these districts.)

Meanwhile, the DCCC’s latest spree lavishes resources on two top contenders - Darcy Burner gets more than half-a-million in WA-08 and Kathy Dahlkemper gets almost $400,000 (for a total of more than $2 million) in PA-03. But as noticeable are the DCCC’s expenditures in long-shot districts in which they only started investing last week: $350,000 goes to VA-02, almost $300,000 to VA-05, to WV-02 and to WY-AL. Smaller sums go to playing defense in OR-05 and PA-10.

Not all publicity is good publicity, however. A day after Elizabeth Dole provoked the type of firestorm that is very likely to backfire with her ad “accusing” Kay Hagan of atheism, Minnesota’s GOP is facing similar bad press over allegations that they darkened the skin of Democratic candidate and Indian-American Ashwin Madia (MN-03). Such charges are unlikely to cause much movement if they remain topics of discussion on blogs, but at least one TV station devoted a segment to this in their local news (watch video here), getting independent experts to confirm that images of Madia were in fact darkened. Paulsen’s campaign got in trouble earlier this fall for insisting that Madia did not “fit the demographics” of the district, in what serves as a reminder that the presidential race could have gotten far uglier. [Update: Politico's Reid Wilson is far more skeptical of Democratic complaints than that TV station.]

In MN-06, finally, the DCCC’s second ad hitting Michelle Bachmann once again makes no mention of the anti-Americanism controversy - nor does it need to, since the comments have already gotten wide play in the district. What Democrats now need to do is convince voters that Bachmann is extremist on substantive issues as well, and for the second ad in a row the DCCC is focusing on one issue: regulation.

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q740nXMu0ZI"]

In the other district in which an incumbent’s recent words have gravely endangered his reelection prospects, the NRCC has released a very hard hitting ad against Rep. Jack Murtha (PA-12), playing footage of his declaring that Western Pennsylvania is “racist” and “redneck” to make the case that Murtha does not “respect us:”

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSmUQdZG2D4"]

Murtha and Bachmann’s races both appear to have turned into highly competitive seats over the past two weeks. Will they balance themselves out on Election Day? Given his seniority and the fact that he is a very entrenched incumbent, Murtha is far more likely to survive than his opponent - though he certainly is not helping himself.

Congress: NRCC spends money (!), Stevens trial enters final stage

Spending: After weeks of holding back on TV advertisements because of its meager budget, the NRCC finally unloaded over the past two days, buying more than $4 million worth of ads in a total of 20 districts. And some of these buys are quite large - perhaps unexpectedly so.

Over the past two days, the NRCC spent more than $400,000 in two red district (MN-03 and WA-08), $300,000 or more in CO-04, MI-07, NH-01 and PA-11, more than $200,000 in MO-09, NY-26, NY-29, OH-02 and OH-15, more than $100,000 in LA-06, MO-06, NJ-03, NJ-07, OH-01, PA-03 and WI-08 and less than $100,000 in AL-02 and AL-05. (Alabama media markets are inexpensive, so the NRCC’s spending those two districts is substantial.)

To this list should also be added districts in which the NRCC bought ad time at the end of last week, so that they will not have to invest more money to stay on air for a few more days. Those include: FL-21, ID-01, VA-02. Furthermore, Politico reports that the NRCC has just made expenditures it has not yet reported (and will likely do so by tonight) in three more districts, KY-02, IN-03 and NE-02 - three very conservative districts, the latter two of which were not expected to be competitive as of a month ago.

This spending offers a fascinating window into the GOP’s view of which blue seats are competitive and which red states are salvageable or deserve defending. Some omissions of vulnerable red seats continue to be glaring, particularly FL-24, NM-01, NC-08, NV-03, OH-16. That the NRCC is spending so much money helping Rep. Walberg in MI-07 while investing nothing in Rep. Knollenberg’s MI-09 is telling of the latter’s vulnerabilities. However, there are some surprises in the list.

The first is MN-03, the heated open seat in which the GOP has just poured in a huge amount of money: a week ago, the NRCC was reported to be moving out of the district and allocating that budget to MN-06 (Bachmann’s seat) instead. Clearly, the NRCC has since then decided that the district is still winnable. Similarly, Reps. Musgrave and Kuhl in CO-04 and NY-29 look to be trailing, so it is curious that the NRCC has decided to invest some of its limited expenditures into saving them. The calculation is surely that it is always easier to pull incumbents through rather than salvage open seats or help challengers.

Meanwhile, the DCCC posted far less expenditures yesterday than it usually does on Tuesday, including a strange omission of a number of seats in which it has been on air for weeks (the New Mexico, Ohio and New Jersey open seats, for instance). That suggests that there are still DCCC expenditures to come today, which will up the Democrats’ total (they have, after all, a lot of money to spend), but a few investments are very noteworthy.

The ease with which the DCCC invests amounts which appear prodigious when spent by the NRCC tells us all we need to know about the parties’ financial disparity. The DCCC just poured in a stunning $566K in IL-10. This is an extensive district to spend in because of the Chicago media market, certainly, but it is certainly a large buy - especially considering that Rep. Kirk appears to be gaining in recent polls. The committee spend more than $400,000 in NC-08, bringing its total investment in that district to nearly $2 million (the NRCC has spent nothing). The new spending is more than $300,000 in AZ-01, AZ-03, CO-04, MD-01 and almost reaches $200,000 in AL-02 (as I said, that is a lot of money to spend in an Alabama media market).

Given that nearly everyone has long expected AZ-01 to be among the easiest pick-ups for Democrats, it is somewhat bizarre that the DCCC is pouring that much money in the district, but that is their only defensive-looking move (if that can be said about a red district). Apart from that, the overall picture is as remarkable as last week: The NRCC is building a firewall in second-to-third tier seats while the DCCC is spending heavily on seats it should not even be thinking about: more than $700,000 of Democratic money spent in one day in AZ-03 and MD-01?! Who would have thought that would be possible just four weeks ago?

Alaska: Ted Stevens’s trial enters its final stage today, as the case will be handed to the jury which will start its deliberations. The always-useful Anchorage Daily News provides an overview of yesterday’s closing arguments - and through them a recap of what has happened in the trial over the past month. While Stevens’s defense made some important gains over the past month - in particular getting the judge to throw out some evidence - the trial’s last few days were not kind to the Alaska Senator. The government’s chief attorney got Stevens to lose his temper at times during his cross-examination, and she ridiculed his claim that a chair that had been in his house for seven years was a “loan” rather than “a gift.”

As soon as the jury returns, we shall have a much better idea of the dynamics of the race, as it is looking more likely every day that the trial’s verdict will also decide Stevens’ electoral fate. A new just-released Ivan Moore poll confirms that Stevens has closed the gap and that the race is now a dead heat; an acquittal would be likely to boost Stevens on top, while a guilty verdict would make it difficult for him to pull through. But what happens if the jury only partially acquits Stevens? He is, after all, being tried on seven different charges, so a guilty verdict might not be as damning as the prosecution would want it to be.

RNCC works on firewall, DCCC invests in new districts and passes $1 million mark in many

As the time comes for the party committees to buy time for the upcoming week, the DCCC’s ability to flex its financial muscle and will seats to become competitive once again makes itself felt. The DCCC spent more than $8 million on more than 40 districts, moved in four new races it had not yet spent any money on while seemingly withdrawing from two, and passed the $1 million mark in a number of these contests. The GOP, by contrast, appear to have largely given up on playing offense and are building a firewall around a few incumbents; the NRCC’s meager resources hardly allow it to dream of a better defense.

As always, the DCCC and NRCC decision to invest will not make a candidate, though a decision to pull out can certainly break an underfunded challenger or a swamped incumbent. But beyond illustrating the two parties’ financial disparities, a detailed look at where the two parties are spending money lays out the electoral map and tells us which seats people who are paid to track House races full-time (and who have inside information and polling we do not have access to) think will be competitive, or not.

With that said, let’s use our now familiar classification to break down the latest House expenditures:

  • Republican investments

The GOP is in such a difficult financial situation that its mere decision to spend money on a race says a lot about how they view (and how their private polling tells them to view) a race. If the GOP is spending money on a race that is supposed to be competitive, it means they think that this particular seat is more likely to be saved than others; if they spend money on a race that was not yet viewed as that competitive, it means we probably don’t have enough information and that district is indeed highly vulnerable.

In the latter category is FL-21, where the NRCC just spent more than $500,000. This district is in Miami’s media market, so advertising there is difficult. The DCCC has not spent any money on the district for now, however, so the GOP might be successful in building a firewall here. (More on the GOP’s FL-21 efforts below.) Also in the latter category is MO-06, where incumbent Sam Graves is not currently considered to be in as much trouble as other Republicans - but the NRCC is evidently worried about his prospects and intent on keeping him, as they spent more than $100,000 in one their only six-figure investments to date.

In the former category is NM-01, the open seat that I am currently rating lean take-over. The NRCC is not spending money here, but Freedom’s Watch and the Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico are each spending more than $200,000. (Democrats are spending heavily in both NM-01 and MO-06.) The NRCC also threw in modest amounts in LA-06, PA-03 and WI-08. (Update: It looks like the RNCC is looking to spend a lot of money in NH-01 - as much as $400,000, confirming its strategy of putting a lot of money in a handful of races.)

  • New DCCC investments

Democrats are now spending for the first time in four districts, two of which are obvious choices (CO-04 and NY-29) and two of which are true shockers (IN-03 and NE-02). While it might be surprising that the DCCC has not opened its wallet to hit Musgrave yet, the congresswoman has been hit by more than half-a-million worth of advertisement by the Defenders of Wildlife PAC, and that might have convinced the DCCC that its involvement was not (yet) needed. But now that the DCCC is moving in, it is clearly determined to make a splash: its first buy is an impressive $345,000.

As for IN-03 and NE-02, they demonstrate the Democrats’ determination to expand the map: neither of these seats was supposed to be even close to competitive, and I confess IN-03 isn’t even on my House ratings for now. That will be corrected soon, as the DCCC’s decision to invest a serious amount of money (it has already bought more than $150,000 and has committed about half-a-million) means that the district is indeed competitive. Democrats aren’t bluffing in NE-02 either, as they have brought more than $130,000 worth of ads.

  • Districts where the DCCC has now spent more than $1 million

This is not a guarantee that the Democratic candidate will, but it certainly means that the DCCC has put a high priority in winning these races: AK-AL, AZ-01, AZ-03 (!), AZ-05, MN-03, NC-08, NH-01, NJ-07, OH-15, OH-16. In other districts, the total passes $1 million when the DCCC’s investment is added to that of NARPAC (National Association of Realtors). In PA-11, for instance, that total reaches $1.8 million; if Rep. Kanjorski loses reelection, it will just how incredibly vulnerable he had become.

  • Districts the DCCC is playing defense

The DCCC continued to invest in AL-05 (now almost half-a-million total), CA-11, AZ-05 (nearly $250,000 this week, bringing the total to $1.2 million), LA-06, MS-01, NH-01 (the total now reaches $1.2 million), PA-10, TX-23 and WI-08. More surprising is the DCCC’s decision to dump huge resources in IN-09 (almost $300,000 this week), a district that looks increasingly safe for Baron Hill. However, the DCCC looks to have stopped advertising in FL-16 (Mahoney’s district…) and AZ-08, where Rep. Giffords looks relatively secure. Both districts could be moved accordingly in my upcoming rating changes.

  • Districts that were not so long ago considered long shots

I already mentioned IN-03 and NE-02, but those are just the tip of the iceberg as the DCCC continues to pour in money in races that were not considered that competitive as of this summer! New spending in AL-02 raises the total to more than half-a-million, an impressive sum for this relatively cheap media market. The DCCC’s spending totals in AZ-03 are truly staggering, as this is a district no one thought of as that competitive until ten days ago - and the DCCC just dumped in about $369,000. In MD-01, a large new buy brings the Democratic total to almost $900,000. (The Club for Growth is helping the Republican here with more than $200,000). Other noteworthy buys in this category are KY-02, MO-09, NM-02, PA-03, VA-02. In all these districts, the DCCC is not bluffing and is putting serious money behind its hopes of riding a blue tsunami.

  • Districts Democrats were expecting to pick-up more easily

Most of the DCCC’s biggest overall expenditures belong in this category, in what is at the same time good news for Democrats (it allows them to solidify their prospects) but also disappointing ones (since they would have liked to spend some of money elsewhere). Perhaps the most surprising development is the DCCC’s decision to invest nearly $350,000 in AZ-01 (bringing the total to $1.3 million), a race Democrats are expected to win relatively easily. The DCCC also just spent more than $200,000 in NM-01, OH-15 and OH-16 (bringing the total in each to more than $1 million), three open seats that Democrats are one point were hoping to have an easier time with. Other districts in this category are IL-11, NJ-03, NJ-07 and VA-11.

  • Districts that are and were expected to be competitive

This category contains the least surprising ad buys since the races were expected to be competitive since the beginning. Particularly noteworthy buys include the DCCC’s buy of about $300,000 in NC-08 (total of more than $1.3 million), more than $200,000 in MI-07, NV-03, NY-26, OH-01 and WA-08. Combined with AFSCME’s spending, the Democratic buys in MI-07 have an impressive size. The DCCC also spent in CT-04, FL-26, IL-10, MI-09, MN-03 and MO-06.

While it would be too long to take a detailed look at the committees’ new ads, it is worth taking a quick look at the themes these new spots are emphasizing. On the Democratic side, the day’s biggest news undoubtedly comes from the DCCC’s decision to heavily invest in IN-03 and attack longtime Representative Souder for having been changed by Washington:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eijpzkDXfIM"]

On the Republican size, the biggest news by far is the RNCC’s massive investment in FL-21. The GOP might have chosen this district because of the scandals that have long surrounded Democratic candidate Raul Martinez, a controversial figure who has enough baggage for the GOP to seize easily. The ad’s closer says it all - “We know Martinez is corrupt enough for Washington, but that doesn’t mean we should send him there:”

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JroM8wR1sCQ"]

House: NRCC finally opens wallet, still no match for DCCC

While Democrats have been pouring in millions in House races, the RNCC has been unable to follow suit. Armed with only $14 million as of the end of August (about $40 million less than its Democratic counterpart), the Republican committee had to save its resources for the final stretch. Last week marked the NRCC’s first fall advertising in two hotly contested districts (PA-03 and WI-08) and the committee once again opened its wallet yesterday, spending about $800,000 to buy in five districts.

Four of these districts are held by Republicans, and only in WI-08 is the NRCC on the offensive. The NRCC is also spending in AL-02, PA-03, MI-07 (more than $200,000) and OH-01 (more than $300,000). The two latter buys are very significant - perhaps surprisingly so given the NRCC’s low budget overall. Politico reports that the NRCC has budgeted more than $2 million for these two districts alone.

The committee thus appears to be focused on building a strong defense in its second-tier seats and concentrating its resources in a few districts rather than diluting them in many races and having an effect in none. Indeed, it is remarkable that the NRCC’s expenditures are not going to the party’s most endangered districts, even in the Ohio and New Jersey open seats where the GOP looks unexpectedly competitive. Instead, the NRCC is choosing to invest in districts that a few months ago looked relatively safe for the GOP: Who would have thought that AL-02 (a district Bush won 2:1) would be one of the NRCC’s first five media buys?

And even on the day in which the NRCC started to step up its expenditures, the DCCC’s expenditures served as a reminder of how significant a financial discrepancy there is between the two committees: the DCCC spent more than $7 million yesterday in 41 districts. That’s right, Democrats spent in 36 more districts than Republicans and outspent them more than 8:1! And some of these buys are very significant. A quick overview using our familiar classification (Swing State Project offers the full list):

  • AK-AL should be a category of its own, as the DCCC poured in a stunning $777,254 in the district. This is a relatively cheap market, so this probably (and hopefully for the DCCC’s budget) is intended to buy ad time throughout October all the way to Election Day.
  • Defense: The DCCC is taking nothing for granted, and continues to spend money in Dem-held seats, even those in which the incumbent is looking relatively comfortable. The DCCC spent almost $350,000 in NH-01 (bringing its total to more than a million), more than $230,000 in AZ-05, around $180,000 in FL-16 and IN-09, about $150,000 in LA-06, PA-10 and PA-11. The DCCC also bought time in: AL-05, AZ-08 and TX-23. The New Hampshire ad buy is especially significant, as two recent polls have shown Shea-Porter in a slightly better position than before and Democrats are looking to bury Jeb Bradley before he has a chance to financially recover from a truly bruising primary.
  • Surprising offense: The DCCC’s decision to continue pouring in money in AZ-03 (almost $300,000 yesterday) is surprising, given that this seat was in few people’s radar as of last week. And it might not be as surprising anymore to see the DCCC invest in AL-02, KY-02 and MO-09 (more than $100,000), MD-01 and NM-02 (more than $200,000), but don’t forget how conservative all of these seats are, and how unlikely it was as of two months that the DCCC would make such a prolonged play in them. The DCCC also took a substantial buy in VA-02, a district many thought would not be as competitive this year.
  • Expected offense: The DCCC might be pushing the GOP’s third tier, but it is still as committed to the first and second. Two new big buys in OH-15 and OH-16 put the DCCC’s total above $1 million! And the DCCC continues investing in other open seats that Democrats were once hoping to win more easily - NM-01, NJ-03, NJ-07, IL-11, VA-11. The DCCC is sparing no expenses in seats that are and were expected to be highly competitive, including MN-03 and NC-08 (almost $300,000), OH-01, FL-24, NV-03, NY-26 and MI-09 (more than $200,000), as well as MO-06, CT-04, IL-10, MI-07 and PA-03.

This might seem repetitive to say, and I certainly do not want to sound like a broken record, but the importance of this funding cannot be understated. House candidates do not get as much free media as presidential contenders, and not that many voters watch debates between House candidates… The ground game, direct mailers and a presence on TV airwaves are crucial to the fate of many of these districts, and committee spending can be very important in tipping the balance. While candidates themselves have substantial amounts of money, some of them cannot pull out a win by themselves and the DCCC can ensure that Democrats running in third-tier contests have a shot - while also blooding little-known Republican candidates in open seats.

In fact (via Swing State Project), the RNCC looks to have just secured an $8 million loan - a significant sum that should ensure that the Republican committee can invest in enough districts to avoid disaster, but certainly not enough to offset the Democrats’ advantage (which was $40 million as of the end of August). But Republicans might as well pull all the stops this year: it is unlikely they will face such a potential of a blue tsunami in 2010, making it worth getting indebted now.

Two other notes on House races through a state-level lens. In Michigan, the local GOP seems to be in a state of panic after McCain’s pull-out. I already noted this a few days ago, but Politico has a new story documenting Republican anxieties that Reps. Walberg and Knollenberg are now in graver danger as they cannot rely on McCain’s ground game. Keep in mind that Michigan was truly expected to be one of the ultimate battlegrounds of this presidential election, so these incumbents can hardly be blamed for assuming that McCain’s turnout operation would be in place on November 4th to rally the conservative base.

In New Jersey, Republicans are looking surprisingly competitive in two open seats that many thought Democrats would be favored to win. Recent polls have shown the GOP candidates in NJ-03 and NJ-07 leading within the margin of error. That might be due to New Jersey’s independent voters’ reluctance to vote Democratic in September before undecideds break for the blue team in October, but there will be one year in which voters’ distrust for Trenton will backfire on Democrats, and this could very well be it. The trial of a New Jersey Democrat is giving Republicans an opening to blast state Senator Adler for his connection with controversies surrounding earmarks. Adler recently had to say “I’m not corrupt” - and it’s never a good sign when a politician feels forced to utter such words. Adler has a substantial financial advantage (especially when combined with the DCCC), so Myers can use any free media he can get - and this could help.

Congress: Dems could sweep House rematches, Stevens trial at critical point

House: It is typically a luxury to get three or four independent House polls a week, so who knew eleven would be released in the first few hours after I published my latest House ratings?

None contradict my ratings, especially when combined with other polling data we have from the district, but Democrats do get stunningly good news in SUSA’s collection of surveys from seven districts that are hosting rematches of the 2006 contest. Democrats lead in all seven (three of which are currently held by Republican), and all margins are outside of the MoE! This could be a sign that the bottom is falling out of the GOP’s prospects, for if Republicans can’t even make these seven districts remotely competitive, they are bracing for historic losses:

  • In IL-10, Dan Seals leads Rep. Kirk 52% to 44%. Obama leads 62% to 36%, 10% better than Kerry.
  • In IN-09, Rep. Hill leads Mike Sodrel 53% to 38%. He led by 11% in an early September poll. McCain leads by 2% after Bush won the district 59% to 40%.
  • In NC-08, Larry Kissell leads Rep. Hayes 49% to 41%, with 6% for libertarian Thomas Hill. Obama leads 53% to 44%, a huge swing from Bush’s 9% victory.
  • In NH-01, Rep. Shea-Porter leads Jeb Bradley 50% to 41%. Obama leads 52% to 45% (Bush won the district by 3%).
  • In NY-29, Eric Massa leads Rep. Kuhl 51% to 44%. Obama leads 49% to 47% (Bush won the district by 14%).
  • In PA-04, Rep. Altmire leads Melissa Hart 54% to 42%. McCain leads by 8% (Bush had won the district by 9%).
  • In WI-08, Rep. Kagen leads 54% to 43%. Obama leads 52% to 45%, a huge swing from Bush’s 9% victory.

All three of the GOP-held districts (IL-10, NC-08 and NY-29) are rated toss-ups in my ratings, and they correspond to other results we have seen as of late in internal Democratic polling. A survey released yesterday had Massa leading by 5% in NY-29 and another released last week had Kissell leading by 9% in NC-08. Meanwhile, PA-04 and IN-09 are rated lean Democratic, while NH-01 and WI-08 are rated toss-ups. Other polls have found Shea-Porter and Bradley locked in a dead heat.

That said, there is reason to be skeptical of some of these results based on the results of the presidential match-up. While it is not surprising to see a 17% swing in Indiana (Obama is now competitive in the Hoosier State after Kerry lost by 21%) or even a 10% swing in NH-01, since the last three statewide polls have shown Obama leading by double-digits, an 18% swing in NC-08 and especially a 16% swing in WI-08 are larger than we ought to believe.

Meanwhile, four other House polls were released over the past 12 hours. While they are less satisfying for Democrats, they still hint at big opportunities for the DCCC. The first three polls of Florida (all held by Republicans running for re-election) were conducted by Telemundo/Carlos McDonald, and they have a big margin of error (5.7%):

  • In FL-18, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen leads Annette Taddeo 48% to 35%.
  • In FL-21, Lincoln Diaz-Balart leads Raul Martinez 48% to 43%.
  • In FL-25, Mario Diaz-Balart leads Joe Garcia 43% to 41%.
  • In NM-01, a GOP-held open seat, Democrat Martin Heinrich leads Darren White 43% to 41% in a poll by the Albuquerque Journal.

FL-21 and FL-25 are both rated toss-ups, and both the Diaz-Balart brothers lead within the margin of error and are under 50% - confirming their vulnerability but suggesting also that they have not fallen behind as some of their colleagues. NM-01 is one of the hottest races around, and Democrats were hoping to put it away months ago. Darren White has proved to be a strong contender for Republicans, but can he overcome the year’s Democratic lean in a Democratic district? Obama is expected to do well in this district, and he could carry Heinrich with him.

Senate: The Ted Stevens trial reached a critical point yesterday when the prosecution played a tape recording of a phone conversation between Ted Stevens and chief prosecution witness Bill Allen, one of Stevens’ best friend who agreed to cooperate with investigators and let them record his conversation with the Senator. I am not following the details of the trial, and would be unable to say how convincing the Department of Justice’s evidence has been (and there is little doubt that the prosecution has not respected the defense’s rights), but this tape is certainly a key element of the case, as Stevens acknowledges his awareness that he could go to jail for his dealings with Allen.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Mark Udall attempts humor in his latest ad rebutting Republican attacks. The ad begins with the Democrat telling viewers to be scared and run because “it’s Mark Udall” - and given some of the NRSC’s recent ads zooming in frightening shots of Udall, his imitation isn’t that far off. He proceeds to explain that he is kidding and urges voters to know better:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ele7eUbq8oA"]

Republicans have not managed to hurt Udall enough that he feels compelled to answer specific charges being levelled at him (mostly, that he is a “Boulder liberal” with a leftist record), but it is a telling sign that he is now on the defensive. The Colorado Senate race has attracted a large number of independent groups, and the airwaves have become a hard-hitting free-for-all. But the polls have barely moved for over a year now: Udall is in a good position to win the race, and he hasn’t trailed in a single poll for months - but he hasn’t put it away either, and he has to be careful at not letting his negative ratings go up.

House: Bailout politics and the NRCC’s first expenditures

Expenditures: The DCCC has spent millions of dollars in dozens of seats across the country… and the NRCC is finally up with its first advertisements of the fall campaign, with substantial ad buys in GOP-held PA-03 and Dem-held WI-08!

It is somewhat surprising that the GOP chose these two districts as its first targets. While first-term Democratic Rep. Kagen is certainly vulnerable, there are plenty of Democratic incumbents who are in far greater trouble - Reps. Kanjorski, Mahoney, Lampson, Cazayoux or Shea-Porter, for instance.  And the DCCC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in all of these districts, damaging Republican challengers who sometimes do not have enough money to respond. Every day that passes helps the DCCC define the Republican candidates in those districts, and it seems much more urgent for the NRCC to go up against those incumbents than against Kagen.

Similarly, it is remarkable that the NRCC’s first and (for now only) defensive move has occurred in PA-03. Rep. English was long on the list of vulnerable Republicans, but was not considered a priority for Democrats until a few weeks ago, when public and private polls showed him in trouble (a recent SUSA poll has him trailing by 4%). PA-03 has now emerged as one of the hottest House battlegrounds of the cycle, and it is understandable that the NRCC is rushing to English’s rescue to try and discredit his opponent before it is too late. But here again: we are only one month from the election, and the NRCC hasn’t made a single move in any of the highly endangered open seats (NM-01, OH-15, OH-16, NJ-03, NJ-07, IL-11). The DCCC has poured in millions already and it will be fascinating to see whether the NRCC ever follows suit.

Some GOP candidates are being helped by outside groups, however. Club for Growth is now up on air on behalf of Rep. Walberg in MI-07, Freedom’s Watch is targeting some select districts, and the NRA is now moving in to 16 House districts, 14 of which are held by Republicans (including FL-24 and CO-04) and two by Democrats (NH-01 and CA-11).

Meanwhile, the DCCC is continuing its multi-million spending program, as it dumped nearly $5 million this week alone. Some of the buys were expected - the Ohio open seats, for instance, where Democrats have been airing spots for weeks - other testify to the DCCC’s determination to expand the map as much as possible and leave no rock unturned. I already marveled over the past two week’s at the Democrats’ willingness to invest money in AL-02, KY-02, MD-01 (the DCCC added money in each of these three seats this week), and we now have two more seats in which Democrats have unexpectedly moved in: NM-02 and AZ-03 (more than $200,000). The latter district is home to conservative star Rep. Shadegg. Bush won it with 58% of the vote in 2004, and this is certainly not a seat Democrats were expected to compete.

Bailout politics: Meanwhile, endangered incumbents continue to sweat over the bailout. On Monday, most vulnerable representatives chose to vote against the bailout, with some exceptions such such as Reps. Kanjorski, Kirk, Shays and Marshall. Confirming that this is an issue on which incumbents are worried they will be hit on the campaign trail, Marshall is now running an ad in GA-08 explaining himself:

And I’m not interesting in bailing out the irresponsible people who dragged us into this credit mess,” a sober-looking Marshall says in the ad.

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOjRKYeEx6Y"]

Marshall’s language will surely be used by other incumbents over the next few weeks. First, acknowledge that this is a bad bill (“I don’t like this rescue plan any better than you do”); second, argue that it was the only responsible thing to do (”But I’m not going to stand by and let this crisis undermine our economy and damage the financial future of everyone in America.”) Marshall’s opponent has come out in opposition to the bailout, though he only did so after the first House vote.

Now that a second House vote was held, some endangered representatives who had voted no on Monday chose to change their mind and support the bailout. This means they are now not only vulnerable on their yes vote, but also on the fact that they flipped over a matter of days - so there are two different tracks their challengers can use. These representatives include Joe Knollenberg (MO-09), Harry Mitchell (AZ-05), Randy Kuhl (NY-29), John Shadegg (AZ-03) and Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-08).

Poll watch: Obama leads big in Colorado, Oregon; tight races in IL-11, WI-08

In the day’s second wave of polls, the news continues to be good for Obama, who gets his third Colorado lead in a row that is outside of the margin of error. After an Insider Advantage survey found him leading by 10% (a 7% bounce) and Quinnipiac showed him ahead by 4% (a 5% bounce), it is now PPP’s turn to show Obama jumping by 6% in two weeks to settle in a comfortable 51% to 44% advantage.

Combined with Iowa and New Mexico (two Bush states that are already leaning Obama) Colorado would be enough to get Obama over the top, so McCain cannot afford to fall behind in this state. He would then be forced to play catch-up and have to pour resources to get on the offensive in blue states. But one blue state in which Obama looks surprisingly secure is Oregon, where he posts yet another double-digit lead today. As his margin has decreased in other blue states like Washington, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Obama has not trembled in Oregon. What does that say about Gordon Smith’s chances to survive his Senate race?

  • The day’s tracking have McCain regaining some of his footing: He continues to trail 48% to 42% in Research 2000, gains 1% in Gallup (Obama leads 47% to 44%), Rasmussen (a tie at 48%) and Diego Hotline (Obama leads 47% to 43%).
  • Obama leads 48% to 46% in an ARG national poll. McCain lead by 3% in a poll conducted last week.
  • Obama leads 51% to 44% in PPP’s poll of Colorado. He led by 1% in a poll taken two weeks ago. Palin’s favorability rating has collapsed, contributing to Obama’s gains.
  • The candidates are tied at 46% in an Insider Advantage poll of Ohio. McCain had a 1% edge last week. McCain’s support has decreased among independents.
  • Obama leads 50% to 46% in an ARG poll of Pennsylvania. Obama’s lead is just within the margin of error; McCain leads among independents.
  • Obama leads 52% to 41% in an ARG poll of Oregon.
  • Obama leads 56% to 39% in a Rasmussen poll of California. Last month, he “only” led 51% to 37%. Obama’s winning in margin here will be crucial to determining the popular vote winner.
  • McCain leads 53% to 41% in an ARG poll of Arkansas.
  • McCain leads 57% to 38% in a SUSA poll of Kentucky.
  • Obama leads 55% to 39% in an ARG poll of Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, in down-ballot polls:

  • Mark Udall leads 48% to 40% in PPP poll from the Colorado Senate race. He led by 6% in August.
  • Jeanne Shaheen only leads Sen. Sununu 48% to 44% in a UNH poll of New Hampshire.
  • Dueling polls in IL-11, where an internal poll for Democratic candidate Debbie Halvorson finds her leading 43% to 35%; an internal poll for Republican candidate Marty Ozinga finds Halvorson leading 38% to 36%, which is a 5% improvement for the Republican since August. In both polls, the trendline favors Ozinga.
  • In NY-26, an internal DCCC poll has Alice Kryzan leading Christopher Lee 39% to 29%, with 32% undecided. That the DCCC chose to release numbers in which undecideds are not pushed implies that the numbers would have been better for the Republican candidate if they had been.
  • In MN-01, Republican Brian Davis has taken the somewhat unusual step of releasing a poll in which he trails significantly. Democratic incumbent Tim Walz leads 50% to 32%.
  • In WI-08, an internal poll for the Gard campaign conducted by POS finds Democratic Rep. Kagen barely ahead, 46% to 45%. The margin was the same in a July poll.
  • In NH-02, surprising numbers from an internal poll for the Horn campaign, also conducted by POS. Rep. Hordes (usually favored to win re-election) only leads Jennifer Horn 43% to 39%.
  • Pat Roberts maintains a solid race in Rasmussen’s poll of the Kansas Senate race, 58% to 38%.
  • I will discuss this survey in more detail later, but Mitch McConnell’s lead has fallen to only 3% in SUSA’s latest release from Kentucky’s Senate race. He led by 12% last month.

It is always difficult to know what to make of internal polls, which is why it is helpful to have two internal surveys from the same district at once. Though the numbers are slightly different, the two polls from IL-11 are telling the same story, one that we have long known based on how much money the DCCC is pouring in this district: Debbie Halvorson was once a prized Democratic recruit, and IL-11 seemed in the bag for Democrats - but that is no longer the case. The DCCC has been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars against Ozinga for months now, but Halvorson’s lead has decreased in the internals of both camps, which is never a good thing. Halvorson remains slightly favored, but the GOP can certainly still hope to save that seat.

In Colorado, this is the day’s second poll to find Udall’s lead in the high single-digits - pretty much where it has been for the past few months. As I said this morning, Udall has not closed the deal yet but given how static the race has been for months, Democrats should feel good about the race. As for New Hampshire, other recent polls have shown that Shaheen has maintained a high single-digits to low double-digits lead, and that Sununu has been unable to recover. The presidential match-up of this UNH poll was also more skewed towards McCain than usual, so it will be interesting to see other polling data from the state.

Monday polls: Obama leads in Ohio, Begich distances Stevens

After a few days of relative polling calm, a wave of presidential and congressional surveys were released today, starting with Gallup’s latest tracking poll that finds a sudden Obama rise. We will know in the coming days whether that is statistical noise or a sign that Obama’s trip is having an effect. As for state polls:

  • A new PPP survey of Ohio finds Obama ahead 48% to 40%. The previous poll showed the Democrat leading 51% to 38%. Note that this is the first poll in a month from this swingiest of swing states.
  • The very reputable University of New Hampshire poll brings us rare numbers from that state and finds Obama ahead within the margin of error, 46% to 43%, despite leading by 11% among the all-important New Hampshire independents. The previous UNH poll had McCain leading by 9%.
  • Three polls were also released from Alaska, Georgia and North Carolina. I will devote an entire post to them in the coming hours, with a discussion of Obama’s red state strategy. For those who have not yet seen the numbers and are impatient to find out, McCain leads by 5%, 9% and 3% respectively.

It is difficult to know what to make of PPP’s Ohio poll in the sense that there are very few surveys of the state and we lack recent data points to compare PPP’s polls to. The only other poll from Ohio released within the past month showed Obama leading 48% to 46% in June; earlier that month, Quinnipiac, PPP and Rasmussen had found Obama leading by 6%, 11% and McCain leading by 1%. Obama thus does seem to have an edge in the state that broke Democrats’ hearts four years ago - not that this is a surprising finding: With the electorate shifting leftward over the past four years, it is expected that one of the closest Bush states of 2004 will now find itself narrowly Democratic. And given how much defense McCain has to play elsewhere, it goes without saying that he would have a very difficult time finding an electoral college majority without Ohio’s 20 electoral votes.

New Hampshire is similarly rarely polled, and no poll had been released for about 5 weeks. Two surveys at the beginning of June (Rasmussen and ARG) found Obama leading by double-digits. In any case, this is one state that the McCain campaign will strongly contest - as they should given that it is the Kerry state that looks the most vulnerable now that Michigan and Pennsylvania seem to be inching ever so slightly towards the Democratic column. McCain has had a lot of success in his primary races in New Hampshire, and it is because independent voters that were supposed to vote for Obama on January 8th ended up voting for him that he triumphed over Romney and Obama narrowly lost to Clinton on that suspenseful day.

That said, New Hampshire’s turn leftward in 2006 was as big as in any state and the historic Republican registration edge has almost disappeared: it is down to about 4,000 voters as of June 08, versus more than 35,000 in 2004. That might not seem like a big shift, but Kerry won the state by 9,000 votes against Bush…

And that gets us to the day’s congressional surveys:

  • In what is major polling news, Rasmussen finds that Mark Begich has opened an 8% lead in Alaska’s Senate race, 50% to 41%. The three previous Rasmussen polls had Begich and Ted Stevens in a toss-up. Stevens is clearly taking the toll of the scandals he is ensnared in, as his favorablity rating is much lower than Begich’s (50% versus 63%).
  • In North Carolina’s Senate race, Civitas finds Elizabeth Dole keeping her clear lead against Kay Hagan but she is back within single-digits, 48% to 39%.
  • In Georgia’s Senate race, Saxby Chambliss is ahead of his two competitors but by widely differing margins. Against Vernon Jones, he leads 59% to 29%; against Jim Martin, 51% to 40%.
  • In AZ-08, two internal polls tell widely differing stories - though they were both taken weeks ago. The campaign of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords released a Greenberg Quinian Rosner poll from June finding her ahead 59% to 35% while the Tim Bee campaign responded with a poll taken in May by Arizona Opinion that found a 47% to 40% race.
  • Finally, in WI-08, an internal poll for the campaign of Republican John Gard finds him trailing incumbent Steve Kagen by a narrow 46% to 42% in a rematch of their 2006 race.

The numbers from the Alaska race could potentially mark a turning point in the race. Ted Stevens has been ensnared in a corruption scandal for months and has been at best tied with Democratic challenger Mark Begich for months now. A few polls have already found Begich leading outside of the margin of error, confirming that this most entrenched of incumbents is in trouble. Now that Begich has started airing his first advertisements of the race, and that could be allowing him to inch ahead of Stevens. Of course, this is only one poll and we will need further confirmation to suggest that Begich is gaining a clear edge. After all, a Research 2000 poll released on Friday found a 2% margin between the two candidates.

The Georgia poll is also interesting in the wide margin of performance between the two Democrats. Given that Jim Martin’s name recognition does not appear to be that high, the reason appears to be Vernon Jones’ weakness rather than Martin’s strength. Jones is a controversial figure once accused of rape. Another explanation might simply be that Georgia voters might be more reluctant to elect an African-American Senator. The primary runoff between Martin and Jones will be held on August 5th. Jones (who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004) got 41% in the first round, versus 35% for Martin.

Finally, the internal polls from AZ-08 are a textbook example of why internal polls ought to be taken with a grain of salt: we never know what questions were asked before the congressional match-up, nor why the May number are being released as opposed to more recent data. Taking the two polls together with what we already know about the race, Giffords remains favored to win the election: She is one of the best fundraisers among incumbent Democrats and Bee is handicapped by the decision of former Rep. Kolbe to not campaign with him. Democrats have more to worry in WI-08, a race many Republicans feel they ought to never have lost and that they rate at the top of their pick-up lists.



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