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House landscape: An ever-expanding and uncertain field

The (very) bad news for Democrats: Just when we thought the map couldn’t possibly expand any more, still more of their incumbents find themselves on the GOP’s ever-expanding target list. Solomon Ortiz, Carolyn McCarthy, Peter DeFazio - these Democrats were considered vulnerable as the month began, but confident Republicans are now setting their sights on scoring upsets against such longtime incumbents.

The most emblematic district of the GOP’s success at expanding the map is undoubtedly AZ-7, however, where  the DCCC has now been forced to rush to Rep. Raul Grijalva. And while DeFazio, Ortiz or even Barney Frank remain elusive targets for Republicans, other districts that weren’t anywhere in the top-tier of GOP targets are looking increasingly vulnerable - districts like OH-6 and TN-4, for instance.

Let’s be clear on what this means: Even the most optimistic Republicans don’t expect to unseat all these powerful Democrats. But in a volatile election like this one in which many districts have never been the subject of a public poll and are barely covered by the press, there are bound to be a number of major surprises on Election Night. I now have 34 Dem-held districts in the “likely Democratic” column. While I have restrained that category enough that a GOP win in any of these districts would be considered a huge upset, I firmly expect at least a couple of these to fall in Republican hands on November 2nd.

And that doesn’t get us to the massively large pool of 83 Democratic seats that are truly in play (listed no better than “lean Dem”)!

Now, the better news for Democrats: With 2 weeks to go, 24 of their seats are leaning towards Republicans - a large number, but one that is not quite as catastrophic as you might think. Furthermore, this is no longer simply a fact of us lacking sufficient information about toss-up districts to know what to do with them. In fact, at-times extensive polling information and party spending patterns suggests that Democrats have a solid chance of winning many of the districts that I have listed as “toss-up.” NH-2, in particular, was long considered lost for Democrats but progressive blogosphere favorite Ann Kuster is mounting a strong campaign.

The same goes for districts listed as “lean Dem.” All of them are clearly in play, but polling in many of them shows that the bottom has not fallen out for Democratic incumbents - I’m for instance thinking of recent polls in CA-18, IA-3, NY-1.

The other piece of good news for Democrats is that a few opportunities are popping up for them to pick-up Republican seats: I long thought capturing 5 seats would be a good accomplishment, but new developments open the door to a larger number. For one, IL-10 finally looks like it is leaning towards Democrats. Second, to the pool of 5 races we have been looking for months (DE-AL, LA-2, IL-10, HI-1 and FL-25) should now be added 3 districts.

The first is CA-3, where the GOP is growing worried enough that Karl Rove’s American Crossroads is spending about $700,000 to help Rep. Lungren. I have moved the other two based on polling information: WA-8, where 2 public polls find a competitive race, and AZ-3, where a PPP survey just found the Democrat leading Ben Quayle by 2%. And we cannot entirely rule out a surprise upset in one of the 8 GOP districts I have listed as “likely GOP,” and from which we generally have very little information.

Likely Dem
(34D, 2R)

Lean Dem
(34D, 2R)

Toss-up
(25D, 1R)
Lean GOP
(15D, 3R)
Likely GOP
(8D, 10R)
Dem
seats

AR-4
AZ-8
IL-8
GA-12
IA-1
IL-12
KY-3
KY-6
MA-4
MA-5
MA-7
ME-2
MI-15
MN-7
MN-8
NC-2
NM-3
NY-2
NY-4
NY-13
NY-22
NY-25
PA-4
PA-17
OH-13
OR-4
RI-1
TX-23
TX-27
VA-9
VA-11
UT-2
WA-9
WV-3

AZ-7
AZ-8
CA-18
CA-20

CA-47
CO-7
CT-4
CT-5

FL-22
GA-2
IN-2
IA-2
IA-3
ID-1
IL-17
MA-10
MI-9
MO-4
MN-1
MS-4
NC-7
NC-8
NC-11
NJ-3
NM-1
NY-1
NY-20
NY-24
OH-6
OR-5
PA-12
SD-AL
TN-4
WA-2
AL-2
AZ-5
CA-11
CO-3
FL-2
FL-8
GA-8
IL-14
IN-9
MI-7
MS-1
NV-3
NH-1
NH-2
NY-19
NY-23
NM-2
OH-16
OH-18
PA-7
PA-8
PA-10
SC-5
WV-1
WI-8
AR-1
AZ-1
CO-4
IN-8
KS-3
MI-1
MD-1
ND-AL
OH-15
PA-3
PA-11
VA-2
VA-5
WA-3
WI-7
AR-2
FL-24

IL-11
LA-3
NY-29
OH-1
TN-6
TN-8
TX-17

GOP seats DE-AL
LA-2
HI-1
IL-10
FL-25 AZ-3
CA-3
WA-8


CA-45
FL-12
KS-4
MN-6
NE-2
PA-6
PA-15
PA-16

I have changed the ratings of 19 districts:

AR-1, toss-up to lean Republican: While this race is still in play, defending an open seat in a district that gave John McCain 59% was always a tough proposition for Democrats. Chad Causey has mounted a stronger than expected campaign and Democrats have released a number of internal polls showing a dead heat. However, two independent polls recently showed Rick Crawford up by 8% and 12% - what you would expect given the district’s conservative lean and Arkansas’s shift towards the GOP this year.

AZ-1, toss-up to lean Republican: Democrats long insisted that Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick would be saved by what is certain to be high-turnout among Native-Americans (Navajo Nation is also hosting elections on the same day), but add up Democrats’ pronounced Arizona pains, public polls finding Paul Gosar ahead, and the DCCC’s September decision to downscale their investment in the race - and Kirkpatrick has become an underdog. The race remains competitive, however.

AZ-3, likely Republican to lean Republican: The district might be clearly Republican, but voters don’t seem eager to embrace GOP nominee Ben Quayle, son of the former vice-president who won the primary with just 23% of the vote. Due to his lack of public record, much of the attention has been devoted to Quayle’s denials of having participated in the creation of the website TheDirty.com under the pseudonym Brock Landers. Still, the year seemed too tough for Arizona Democrats for John Hulburd to have a chance - until a PPP poll found Hulburd leading 46% to 44% and showed Quayle’s favorability rating at a rough 34/52.

AZ-7, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Few developments capture the GOP’s success at expanding the map as well as the precipitous collapse in Rep. Raul Grijalva’s fortunes. While it was still possible to doubt the race’s competitiveness after the GOP released two polls indicating a dead heat, the DCCC chose to get involved this week - which probably means they went in the field and confirmed that this had become a headache. The main reason I am not moving this to the toss-up column is that Democrats might have identified the problem just in time to boost Grijalva and focus on turning out district voters; but national Republican stars have rallied around Ruth McClung.

CA-18 and CA-20, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: While Democrats remain favored to keep both districts, Rep. Costa and Rep. Cardoza are both sweating more than their party would like. The DCCC has had to get involved to boost Costa in CA-20, while Cardoza is getting substantial help from the National Association of Realtors in CA-18. A recent SUSA poll found Cardoza up 50% to 44%, to which the incumbent replied with an internal showing him up double-digits.

FL-24, lean Republican to likely Republican: Rep. Suzanne Kosmas was always near the top of the GOP’s target list, but there was a point over the summer at which it looked like the Republicans vying to challenge her were so weak she could still pull it out. But that looks to be a thing of the past: Kosmas was among the first 3 incumbents to be abandoned by the DCCC earlier this month - and while we haven’t seen many polls that seems a clear indication that internal Democratic numbers have Adams in a strong position.

IL-10, toss-up to lean Democratic: After twice failing to win this blue-leaning district in very favorable years, can Dan Seals pull it off in a cycle far more hostile to his party? The race is still very much in play, but he appears to have opened up lead against an opponent who is more conservative than was advisable for the GOP to nominate.

ID-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: I am not sure why I had Rep. Walt Minnick quite as strong as “likely Democratic,” so this move should not be interpreted as a sign of momentum for GOP state Rep. Labrador, who has proven one of the cycle’s weakest Republican candidates. But it would be foolish to rule out the possibility he might ride a GOP wave in a district that voted for Bush by 39%.

MA-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Not only is this a district that voted for Barack Obama by 29%, but Barney Frank is one of the most powerful House Democrats. But the GOP is now feeling emboldened enough to dream of ousting Frank, who was reduced to releasing an internal poll showing him up double-digits.

MN-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Just like in CA-20, the bad news for Democrats is that recent polling vindicates the GOP’s hope that the wave is endangering Rep. Tim Walz. The better news is that it finds Walz is still ahead; still, we can’t forget that Walz himself in an upset after a late surge in 2006.

NY-4 and NY-22, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Andrew Cuomo might be heading towards a landslide victory, but that should not be enough to insulate down-ballot Democrats. Given the GOP’s unexpected victories in local elections in 2009, it would not be surprising if a Democratic incumbent somewhere in the state was safer than thought - and Reps. Hinchey and McCarthy are obvious candidates. The GOP released a poll showing McCarthy leading by only 1%, and there is reason to believe Long Island could be rough for her party.

OH-06, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: This is one of those districts that was not expected to be competitive until this fall. But as Ohio became a disaster zone for Democrats, Bill Johnson’s odds of scoring an upset increased. GOP internal polls show a tight race, and the NRCC got involved in early October.

OR-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Peter DeFazio caught a break in 2009 when highly-touted NRCC recruit Sid Leiken’s campaign imploded, but his race against the little-known Art Robinson has suddenly gotten very heated. After the GOP released an internal poll with DeFazio leading by 6%, the incumbent replied with a 14% lead in his own internal - a healthy margin, but not one large enough to rule out that Robinson’s late entry in the news will not lead to a stunning upset.

TN-4, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Democrats were long hoping that Lincoln Davis would survive easily, but that was probably too much to ask for in a district that gave John McCain 64% of the vote. Republicans have released polling finding Davis in a tied race.

TN-8, lean Republican to likely Republican: While holding either of Tennessee’s open seats was always a tough proposition for Democrats, they at least managed to recruit a strong candidate in TN-8 - which is much more than can be said of TN-6. But there is so much that Roy Herron could do in a district that has been shifting Republican in federal races - Al Gore by 3% in 2000, George Bush by 6% in 2004 and John McCain by 13% in 2008. TN-8 became one of the first races the DCCC abandoned in early October.

TX-27, safe Democratic to likely RepublicanDemocratic: One of the most unexpected races to end up on the chart is TX-27, where Rep. Solomon Ortiz is suddenly attracting attention after a GOP internal showed him trailing little-known Blake Farenthold. The DCCC quickly went on the offensive - but the closely divided TX-27 could very one of those districts in which an unconcerned incumbent falls in a stunning upset.

WA-8, likely Republican to lean Republican: After surviving the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008, GOP Rep. Dave Reichert looked like he should be fine in 2010. But recent bad press, concerns about his brain surgery and the Seattle Times’s surprising decision to turn against a politician they had praised for years have combined to make the race unexpectedly competitive: PPP and SUSA both recently found Suzan DelBene in striking distance.

I’ll end this post with a note on the Senate: Joe Miller’s bodyguard’ handcuffing a journalist at a public event is one of the most chilling events of the year.

Senate landscape: Four battlegrounds going into the final stretch

For much of the cycle, an unusually large number of competitive Senate races has made it difficult to discern  the lay of the land or to identify those contests that were most important in deciding the composition of the next Senate.

We are now mid-October - and there finally is a fairly uncontroversial sense of the key Senate battlegrounds: If you must focus your attention on just 4 states, look at Colorado, Illinois, Nevada and West Virginia.

The first three states have been stable since early in the summer. In CO, Ken Buck’s slight advantage has remained within the margin of error; in IL, whatever tiny edge Mark Kirk might have opened at some point has disappeared; and in NV, I doubt there has been more than a couple independent polls since the June primary with either candidate outside the margin of error - making it arguably the most stable Senate race in the county.

Moving WV to the toss-up column, however, has been a big accomplishment for Republicans. (Of course, they were helped by Joe Manchin’s decision to move the election to 2010.) The state’s hostility to national Democrats has proven just as strong as Manchin’s popularity (remember voters would keep Manchin as Governor Mansion if they elect Joe Raese to the Senate), though Manchin appears to have stopped the bleeding, partly because of the controversy over the NRSC hiring actors to play “hickeys.” But this is the Senate race Democrats should care the least about since Manchin has been sending clear signals that he would model himself on the Ben Nelsons of the Senate by airing a campaign ad showing him shooting a literal gun at cap-and-trade reform and denouncing “Obamacare.”

Elsewhere: Washington and Wisconsin now clearly lean towards Democrats and Republicans, respectively. There could definitely be movement in either race - especially in WA, though Patty Murray’s advantage over Dino Rossi is more decisive than in other contests because voters are going to start voting within days in the state’s all-mail system. In WI, it is stunning to think that Russ Feingold was hardly considered vulnerable at the start of 2010; even over the summer, people thought he was no worse than Boxer and Murray. But Johnson’s spending spree combined with the Midwest’s economic hardships has dramatically altered the race; Feingold is now consistently trailing by a daunting high single-digits margin.

While I’d be less surprised if Pennsylvania and California grow more competitive, there is no question that Pat Toomey and Barbara Boxer now enjoy an unquestionable advantage. But Pennsylvania has grow increasingly heated, with the NRSC now on air; and Boxer’s edge in California remains small, though the large number of polls showing her around the 50% mark make it hard to see how Carly Fiorina could reach that threshold.

With less than three weeks to go, the suspense is mostly gone in the other Democratic-held seats: While Connecticut and Delaware were long considered either competitive (CT) or sure Republican pick-ups (DE), Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons are now in a solid position - as is Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.

The landscape among GOP-held seats is even clear: I would be surprised if Democrats picked-up any. That of course is a huge collapse of fortunes since mid-2009, when the party had a lot of promising opportunities. In fact, Democrats’ best shot at a pick-up is now arguably a candidate few people had heard of before August: Scott McAdams. While it would still be a huge surprise if he won in Alaska, there is mounting evidence that the unexpected 3-way race with Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski gives him an opening to eek out a narrow victory: three polls over the past 24 hours have found the three candidates within 6% to 9% of each other.

Add to that the imprecision of measuring a write-in vote, and I’d be less surprised at a McAdams victory than I would be at a Robin Carnahan (MO), Paul Hodes (NH) or Jack Conway (KY) comeback - though all three still deserve to be watched, especially Kentucky. I have also moved Florida to the likely Republican column, as Marco Rubio has looked like the prohibitive favorite for so many months it’s hard to believe this once looked like it would be the cycle’s highest-profile race.

To recap: CO, IL, NV and WV are the four key Senate battlegrounds heading in the final stretch, while California, Washington and Pennsylvania could still grow tighter. It is also worth keeping an eye on Alaska and Kentucky.

To take control of the Senate, the GOP needs to win in all the states in which it now has a clear lead (including PA and WI), sweep the four battlegrounds (CO, IL, NV and WV) and score an upset in one of the Pacific Coast states (WA, CA). Given that most Senate toss-ups tend to go to the same party, this is not an implausible scenario; but Boxer and Murray’s ability to defend their leads has given Democrats some breathing room.

Note that I am changing the ratings of six races today. 2 favor Democrats: Alaska (likely Republican to lean Republican), Connecticut (lean Democratic to likely Democratic). And 4 favor Republicans: Florida (lean Republican to likely Republican), Indiana (lean Republican to likely Republican), New Hampshire (toss-up to lean Republican), Wisconsin (toss-up to lean Republican). Thus:

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held ND AR
IN
PA
WI
CO
IL
NV
WV
CA
WA
CT
DE
NY-B
HI
MD

NY-A
OR
VT
GOP-held AL
AZ
GA
IA
KS
ID
OK
SC
SD
UT
FL
LA
NC
OH
AK
KY
MO
NH

This gets us to the following breakdown:

  • Safe Democratic: 45
  • Safe/Likely Democratic: 48 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 49 50
  • Toss-ups: 4 (-2)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 46 (+2)
  • Safe/Likely Republican: 40 (+1)
  • Safe Republican: 34

House ratings: It helps to be a Republican

I don’t need to tell you that the bottom has fallen out for House Democrats since my last attempt to offer ratings, back in February. My 6-month absence surely didn’t prevent you from figuring out just how many Democratic districts were trending towards Republicans - and how dramatically.

Suffice it to say, the expectations have shifted considerably over the past year: At this point, anything less than a House takeover would disappoint Republicans.

In fact, the more relevant question at this point is whether the GOP can triumph in a big enough landslide to go way beyond the 39 seats it needs to pick-up to win the House. Can it reach, say, the 50-60 range? (Some Republicans like Dick Morris who clearly have no idea of what it means to manage expectations have been hinting at even higher numbers, but that seems far-fetched.) A grand total of 107 Democratic-held seats are now on the chart - 49 on which are rated no better than “toss-ups” and an incredible 74 of which are considered seriously in play (that means they are no better than “lean Democratic”).

Making matters worse for Democrats is that many of these ratings are more likely to move towards the GOP than towards Democrats, and this for very simple reasons. House races are dramatically underpolled and it is difficult to come by other types of reliable district-by-district information. As such, it’s often tough to get a sense of just where a House contest stands. Since these are individual ratings, it makes it difficult to determine which districts the GOP wave will submerge and which Democratic incumbents are managing to hold on better than others.

In short: There are only 22 Democratic districts rated as “lean GOP” or “likely GOP” in this chart, but that does not make it plausible for Republicans to not win more than that. The national generic ballot as well as tales of epic struggles from countless Democratic incumbents nationwide leave no doubt Republicans will succeed in many more districts.

That is not to say that Democrats are sure to lose the majority, far from it: Republicans have yet to put away many districts which they thought would have been the first to fall. Polls have shown that districts like NV-3, PA-7, NH-2, NM-2, OH-16 and MD-1 (rated as toss-ups) all remain within the margin of error, while the GOP advantage in districts like ND-AL and CO-4 (here rated as lean GOP) is still manageable. Meanwhile, and despite the understandable panic over the ridiculously high number of Democratic seats that are now considered in play, many of the endangered incumbents are for now still narrowly ahead - fragile leads, to be sure, but nothing to guarantee humongous Republican gains.

A slight improvement in Democratic voters’ interest in going to the polls would go a long way towards closing the gap in a number of these districts; it would not save the party from historic losses, but saving incumbents like Patrick Murphy, Dina Titus, Gabrielle Giffords and Phil Hare would at least allow Democrats to hang around the 217 mark.

Furthermore, some Democrats have been successful in their attempts to throw the spotlight on their challengers and using oppo research to discredit them; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL) and Betty Sutton (OH-13) are two incumbents who look to be in a better position today than they were over the summer. Finally, Democrats do have enough pick-up hopes of their own to raise the bar of GOP pick-ups: DE-AL and LA-02 look like sure gains; HI-01, FL-25 and IL-10 are promising; and CA-03 is still on the table. This could require the GOP to pick-up at least 42-43 seats just to secure the narrowest of House majorities.

But there is no question that all the momentum is on the Republican side. For one, and this is the most obvious thing to expect in a wave election, open seats in swing districts are just too difficult for a party to defend when Republicans have such a clear generic advantage. The two Arkansas districts, the two Tennessee districts, MI-1, KS-3, WI-7 - Democrats would have been able to win a lot of these in a balanced year, but in 2010 Democratic incumbents’ late retirements in these districts have given the GOP golden opening they probably won’t miss.

The DCCC’s much-touted financial advantage has faded and that conservative outside groups with anonymous donors have been spending millions of dollars in dozens of districts, helping the NRCC make the most of new opportunities in a way Democrats could not enjoy back in 2006. Indeed, a large number of districts are now on the chart that were not even conceivably competitive six months ago: Phil Hare’s IL-17, Gene Taylor’s MS-4, Dave Loebsack’s IA-2 and, perhaps most shockingly, John Dingell’s MI-15.

In fact, every day brings a new poll showing a Democratic incumbent I had in a relatively good position trailing by double-digits. Last week, it was a WI-8 survey with Rep. Steve Kagen down by almost 20% (it might have been a GOP poll, but Democrats have yet to release a response); yesterday, it was NY-23, where Doug Hoffman’s surprise decision to halt his campaign heightened Bill Owens’ vulnerability. Republicans really have nothing to complain about.

Likely Dem
(33D, 2R)

Lean Dem
(25D, 1R)

Toss-up
(27D, 2R)
Lean GOP
(16D, 1R)
Likely GOP
(7D, 11R)
Dem
seats

AR-4
AZ-7
CA-18
CA-20
IL-8
GA-12
IA-1
ID-1
IL-12
KY-3
KY-6
MA-5
MA-7
ME-2
MI-15
MN-1
MN-7
MN-8
NC-2
NM-3
NY-2
NY-13
NY-25
PA-4
PA-17
OH-6
OH-13
RI-1
TN-4
TX-23
VA-9
VA-11
UT-2
WA-9
WV-3


AZ-8
CA-47
CO-7
CT-4
CT-5
FL-22
GA-2
IN-2
IA-2
IA-3
IL-17
MA-10
MI-9
MO-4
MS-4
NC-7
NC-8
NC-11
NJ-3
NM-1
NY-1
NY-20
NY-24
OR-5
PA-12
SD-AL
WA-2
AL-2
A4-1
AZ-1
AZ-5
CA-11
CO-3
FL-2
FL-8
GA-8
IL-14
IN-9
MI-7
MS-1
NV-3
NH-1
NH-2
NY-19
NY-23
NM-2
OH-16
OH-18
PA-7
PA-8
PA-10
SC-5
WV-1
WI-8
CO-4
FL-24
IN-8
KS-3
MI-1
MD-1
ND-AL
OH-15
PA-3
PA-11
TN-8
VA-2
VA-5
WA-3
WI-7
AR-2
IL-11
LA-3
NY-29
OH-1
TN-6
TX-17

GOP seats DE-AL
LA-2
HI-1 FL-25
IL-10
CA-3
AZ-3
CA-45
FL-12
KS-4
MN-6
NE-2
PA-6
PA-15
PA-16
WA-8

Once upon a time, I would have offered district-by-district explanations of my ratings, but I am unable to do so now for obvious time reasons; but I will have the opportunity to take closer looks at districts once I start changing ratings - just as I have been doing for Senate and Governor’s races.

One last note: It is difficult to project House results. But considering the cycle’s dynamics, a good measure would be to project that, were the election held today, the GOP would win any district that is rated “lean Republican” or “likely Republican,” at least half of the districts that are listed as toss-ups and even a substantial share of districts listed as “lean Democratic.” Using that metric, I’d project a Republican gain of at least 41 seats - but I would love to hear what you make of the House landscape.

Gubernatorial rating changes: Arkansas is now the sole safe governorship for Democrats

We are down to only one safe Democratic governorship anywhere in the country.

With New York moving to the “likely Democratic” column due to a series of developments (Rick Lazio’s withdrawal, polls showing a single-digit race, questions about Attorney General-fatigue) and with Governor Lynch looking increasingly shaky in New Hampshire’s until-recently safe governorship, Democrats don’t have much left to hang onto. And they should be grateful key governorships like Missouri, Washington and North Carolina are not in play this year.

And yet, despite the large number of contests that have moved towards the GOP in recent months, Democratic odds continue to brighten in the country’s biggest prize: California. Despite Jerry Brown’s many gaffes (I still find it hard to believe he let himself be baited into attacking Bill Clinton) and Meg Whitman’s record spending, the Democrat looked like he was finally opening up a lead in recent weeks - and that was before Whitman’s former housekeeper shook-up the race with her accusatory press conference. Whitman has been on the defensive ever since, even offering to take a polygraph test before retracting herself. I am leaving the race in the toss-up section for now, but it’s certainly tilting Democratic - something I would certainly not had said two weeks ago.

And Democrats got good news from a far more unlikelier place this week: the Midwest! While the entire region looked all but lost for Democratic candidates, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have suddenly rebounded in a series of polls (3 Ohio polls showing a 1%-race within 24 hours whereas we hadn’t since that type of margin since June, and 2 Illinois surveys showing a toss-up); they both remain “lean Republican” for now, but whereas two weeks ago both states were close to moving further towards the GOP they are now very much in play. Also in the Midwest, there is now enough evidence that Minnesota looks good for Democrats that I am moving the race out of the toss-up column.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the other big “toss-up” prize is going the other direction. Rick Scott’s millions look to be having the same effect in the general election as they did in the GOP primary, as he has erased the consistent advantage Alex Sink enjoyed since late August. This is a race Democrats should really focus on - both because of Florida’s size and because the contest remains very much winnable given Scott’s obvious vulnerabilities. In other good news for the GOP, Georgia and New Mexico move to “lean Republican” while Iowa and Oklahoma move to “likely Republican.”

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held Kansas
Wyoming
Iowa
Michigan
Oklahoma
Tennessee
Illinois
NM
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Wisconsin
Maine
Maryland
Oregon
Massachusetts Colorado
NH
New York
Arkansas
GOP-held Idaho
Nebraska
SD
Utah
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Nevada
SC
Georgia
Texas
California
Florida
Vermont
Connecticut
Hawaii
Minnesota
Rhode Island

Georgia, toss-up to lean Republican: While Roy Barnes remains very much in contention, Georgia has become too GOP-friendly a state for a Democrat not to be an underdog - especially when it doesn’t appear that turnout among African-Americans (a key constituency for Democrats in any state, let alone in Georgia) will be anywhere as high as in 2008. Add to that the fact that the race will go to a December runoff if neither candidate reaches 50%, and the very least we can say is that Barnes will not be the victor on November 2nd. That said, it is fairly likely he’ll be able to hold former Rep. Nathan Deal under that threshold too. Deal might have taken a consistent albeit narrow lead in the polls, but he has a lot of baggage (remember that he resigned from the House in the hopes of avoiding the release of a damning ethics report) that might get wider exposure in a runoff campaign.

Iowa, lean Republican to likely Republican: It’s hard to remember, but Governor Culver actually started the cycle in a fairly comfortable position; that was before the electorate turned against Democrats, before the Midwest became ground zero of the party’s nightmare and before Terry Branstad announced he would seek his old position back. Culver trailed Branstad massively from the beginning of the campaign, and the more we approach Election Day the more hopeless his situation becomes. It’s one thing for an incumbent to trail by double-digits a year before the election; quite another six weeks prior. At the moment, Iowa no longer appears to be in play - and Branstad is probably going to become king-maker as head of the state that is going to lunch the 2012 Republican primaries.

Minnesota, toss-up to lean Democratic: Minnesota is one relatively bright spot for Democrats. Since Democrats nominated Mark Dayton to be their nominee, the former Senator has enjoyed a decent lead in a series of polls - typically in the high single-digits. This can be attributed to a number of factors. For one, the incumbent Governor is a Republican - a rare sight in the Midwest, and one that seems to be diminishing voters’ desire to turn to the GOP to achieve changeover.

Second, Republican nominee Tom Emmer is very conservative, especially on social issues - more than is advisable for a GOP nominee in a swing state that typically tilts to the left. While many other conservatives are highly competitive in blue states (think of Brady in Illinois), the fact that this an open race means Emmer cannot just deflect attention to an incumbent’s unpopularity. Furthermore, the presence of Independent Party nominee Tom Horner gives moderates who do not want to vote for a Democrat this year a place to go other than Emmer. And we certainly cannot rule out Horner becoming a contender for the win; he is flirting with the 20% bar in polls.

New Mexico, toss-up to lean Republican: Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish has to be all the more pained at the collapse of her gubernatorial prospects that she was so close from becoming Governor at the end of 2008: Obama had appointed Governor Bill Richardson to his Cabinet, and had Richardson not withdrawn from consideration Denish would have replaced him in the Governor’s Mansion. But that only seemed to delay her coronation, as Denish started off in a strong position to win the open Governor’s race in 2010.

That was before it became clear just how powerful the GOP wave had become - and just how much Democrats would suffer in states in which they are unpopular at the local level on top of the national level. New Mexico is one of these states. While it looked to have swung decisively blue in 2008, Richardson’s ethical struggles combined and the state’s economic difficulties transformed the political landscape - and what was unimaginable 18 months ago is now very much true: Denish is undeniably trailing her Republican opponent, DA Susana Martinez, who has been highly-touted by GOP officials ever since she won her primary. Going forward, remember that New Mexico is one of those states Obama has to defend in 2010.

New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Governor Carl Paladino… That’s such a difficult notion to entertain I have trouble upgrading the GOP’s prospects in this race, but there is no question that what long looked like an Andrew Cuomo juggernaut has weakened. His 40% leads are no more, and while all polls still show he remains the clear favorite, two post-primary surveys have found that the race is down to single-digits. Perhaps the sight of a Governor-in-waiting annoyed New Yorkers and perhaps there is something to the argument that an Attorney General’s popularity is shallow and can easily be punctured (as was demonstrated with Martha Coakley and to a lesser extent with Richard Blumenthal); or perhaps the margin was always bound to shrink given that suburban New Yorkers already signaled in November 2009 just how much they were ready to oust Democrats (Tom Suozzi can speak to that). Add to that Rick Lazio’s decision to drop out of the race, allowing Paladino to consolidate the Conservative Party line on top of the GOP line, and a path to victory opens up for the Republican nominee.

That said, New York is still a reliably Democratic state and Paladino (a millionaire best-known for sending out racist emails, for getting in a physical altercation with a New York Post reporter and for proposing to house welfare recipients in prisons) is so extremist that a number of Republicans have looked uncomfortable campaigning for him. The mere fact that we’re considering a victory by Paladino  possible is a testament to the GOP’s success this year; it’s hard to imagine Republicans can hope for more

Oklahoma, lean Republican to likely Republican: On paper, Democrats should have a good chance to defend this governorship: Not only do they have a strong candidate in Lieutenant Governor Jeri Askins but they won the last open race, which held in 2002 - no bright year for their party. But the electorate is far more hostile towards Democrats this year than it was eight years ago. Oklahoma is simply too conservative a state for Republicans not to be clearly favored in these circumstances, and Republican Rep. Mary Fallin (a former Lieutenant Governor) is not the type of politician to blunder her way out of front-running status. One thing is clear: Oklahoma will have its first female Governor come 2011.

Senate ratings changes: Dems catch a break in California, give it right back in West Virginia

6 rating changes at the Senate level - and all but one favors the GOP. Democrats have caught a major break as Barbara Boxer has created some breathing room in California, but that doesn’t mean they should feel much comfort since West Virginia has gone the opposite way, unexpectedly entering toss-up status.

Keep in mind that Governor Joe Manchin voluntarily scheduled this special election this November when it was supposed to be held in 2012; and he did this knowing just how rough the political environment would be for his party. He thought his popularity would get him through, but enough West Virginia voters seem to prioritize turning Congress Republican that all bets are now off in a state that has turned sharply against Democrats over the past decade.

Meanwhile, Democratic hopes of picking-up a GOP-held Senate seat continue to fade, with Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina all shifting one column towards Republicans.

And as if the landscape wasn’t bad enough for Democrats, I was tempted to downgrade their chances in several more races (Wisconsin, Connecticut, New Hampshire) rather than upgrading them anywhere.

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held ND AR IN
PA
CO
IL
NV
WI
WV
CA
CT
WA
DE
NY-B
HI
MD

NY-A
OR
VT
GOP-held AL
AZ
GA
IA
KS
ID
OK
SC
SD
UT
AK
LA
NC
OH
FL
KY
MO
NH

This gets us to the following breakdown:

  • Safe Democratic: 45 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely Democratic: 47 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 50
  • Toss-ups: 6 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 44 (+1)
  • Safe/Likely Republican: 39 (+2)
  • Safe Republican: 34

California, toss-up to lean Democratic: This is one of the only statewide races in the country that has been trending towards Democrats over the past few weeks - and what a relief for Democrats. Sure, the whack-the-mole game that the Senate landscape has become (hat-tip to Swing State Project for suggesting that metaphor) means that Barbara Boxer’s improving fortunes don’t cement her party’s majority since the state has been replaced by West Virginia as the site of a potential upset, but Democrats will get any positive development they can get - and there is no doubt Boxer has been gaining: Rasmussen and SUSA have both shown her bouncing back from a deficit to take a substantial lead, while PPP, CNN/Time, the Field Poll and the Los Angeles Times have her up between 6% and 9%. CNN/Time even has her leading by 19% among registered voters!

Add to that the fact that the NRSC has canceled the time it had reserved on California airwaves in the final week before the election, and Carly Fiorina sure isn’t feeling the momentum. (On a more positive note for the GOP, that’s more airtime for Meg Whitman to saturate.) The race remains competitive, however; Boxer has been outspending Fiorina on the airwaves, so we’ll have to see what happens once (if?) the Republican manages to hit back. Also, the turnout gap seems less dramatic in California than elsewhere but any improvement in the GOP’s fortunes could be fatal to the 3-term incumbent.

Missouri, toss-up to lean Republican: I should have put this race in the lean Republican column weeks ago, but Robin Carnahan has looked like a strong enough candidate all year that I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt for a while longer. After all, Roy Blunt seems in many ways to be the type of candidate voters are looking to oust this year - longtime incumbent, party leadership, bailout architect, not to mention the father of an unpopular former Governor - but his party affiliation is enough to give him a narrow but consistent lead. Carnahan remains within striking distance, but she is acting too defensively for now.

New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Joe DioGuardi might be a former representative, but his entry wasn’t a recruitment coup for Republicans who were long hoping for Rudy Giuliani. Still, New York’s suburbs look so intent on punishing Democrats that statewide upsets can no longer be ruled out. Polls have shown conflicting results in this race; Marist and Siena have recently come out with big Gillibrand leads, Rasmussen has shown her advantage cut in half to a 10% lead; and Quinnipiac and SUSA claim she is only leading up 6% and 1%, respectively. Call it likely Democratic for now, but the race could still shift towards the GOP.

North Carolina, lean Republican to likely Republican: In 2008, Richard Burr would probably have been a goner. Few voters seem to feel affection for him and his poll numbers have long been remarkably low. But Democrats are having trouble enough winning even their safest seats of the year to have much hope of ousting an incumbent in a state that, even in the friendliest of years, is no better than swing. And if that’s not enough, the DSCC sent clear and loud signals it puts no trust in Elaine Marshall from the day she announced her candidacy. That attitude was unexplainable since Marshall was polling competitively and since she always looked like the party nominee (sure, don’t give her support but at least don’t make it clear you think she’ll lose) and it undermined her bid: Why would the press and party donors take Marshall seriously if her national party isn’t? Any chance Democrats had of taking advantage of Burr’s massive vulnerability was destroyed with the DSCC’s behavior.

Ohio, lean Republican to likely Republican: One of Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities just a year ago, Ohio’s Senate race long resisted the GOP trend we were seeing in other races; at a time Blanche Lincoln, Robin Carnahan and Harry Reid were already dipping, Lee Fisher remained on top of Rob Portman. But Ohio has turned hard against Democrats - and the party is bound to feel the consequences in an open seat race: Democrats were hoping to use Portman’s close association to George W. Bush to their advantage, but Portman looks and acts too much like a generic Republican for him not to benefit from the Midwest’s shift to the GOP. This contest is way over-polled; many surveys have been released over the past two weeks with Portman up double-digits.

West Virginia, likely Democratic to toss-up: In a week full of bad news for Democrats, the worst is undoubtedly West Virginia’s sudden entry in the ranks of competitive Senate races. Remember that the state party chose to hold this election this year rather than in 2012, under the belief that Governor Joe Manchin is popular now and would stand a good chance at being elected. With West Virginia voters clearly turned against Democrats, that is now looking like a disastrous calculation. It’s not just that PPP and Rasmussen suddenly released polls showing wealthy Republican nominee Joe Raese narrowly ahead leading, but there’s also clear indication that the party’s internal information points to a close race: The NRSC just poured in $1,2 million in a 2-week ad campaign, something they would not have done if they weren’t confident this is a winnable race.

Gubernatorial ratings: Dems aim to compensate colossal Midwestern losses with big prizes (CA, FL)

I don’t need to tell you that things aren’t looking good for Democrats in congressional races. And it certainly does not look like the party will gain much comfort from state races - quite the contrary: Putting aside the prospect of huge losses in state legislatures, the gubernatorial landscape is brutal for Democrats.

governor-race-2010-09-21

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held Kansas
Wyoming
Michigan
Tennessee
Illinois
Iowa
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Wisconsin
Maine
Maryland
NM
Oregon
Massachusetts Colorado
NH
Arkansas
New York
GOP-held Idaho
Nebraska
SD
Utah
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Nevada
SC
Texas California
Florida
Georgia
Minnesota
Vermont
Connecticut
Hawaii
Rhode Island

If my Democratic readers want to feel depressed, they should compare the map of gubernatorial ratings I prepared in February 2009 to the one the party is facing today. The blue has almost entirely disappeared from the map, especially as the entire Midwest has dramatically shifted towards the GOP and the West’s red hue has become far more pronounced.

Then, 16 of the year’s 37 races favored Democrats; now that number is just 8. Another striking sign of how much the landscape has shifted to the GOP’s favor: In February 2009, 7 races were likely/safe Democratic while 9 were likely/safe Republican; today, those number are incredibly unbalanced: There are just 4 states Democratic are likely to hold compared to 13 Republican states. In fact, Democrats are left clinging to Arkansas and New York as their only two safe states!

However brutal the map looks, however, Democrats have the potential to save their Election Night by winning a few big prizes that would by themselves balance out huge losses elsewhere. Sure, the loss of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania (the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th-largest states population-wise) would be quite a blow, but Democrats remain in a good position to pick-up California and Florida - home to more than 55 million people (18% of the country).

Throw in the fact that Democrats’ best shot at unseating an incumbent is in Texas, that Georgia (the 9th largest state) is looking like a toss-up and that New York is one of just two “safe Democratic “seats”, and Democrats do have a clear path to balancing the number of their (many) losses with the size of their (fewer) victories. Even if it is now all but certain that the GOP will hold a clear majority of governorships come 2011 (they now trail 30-20), Democrats have a shot at controlling 3-4 of the largest five and 5-6 of the largest 10.

Sure, Meg Whitman’s record self-financing ($118 million and counting) has kept California highly competitive for Republicans; Florida’s Rick Scott is roughly even with Alex Sink despite his innumerable flaws; and Georgia’s Nathan Deal typically holds a narrow lead despite his ethical problems. But given how much the landscape has been altered in most other states, it has to be a huge relief for Democrats that they remain highly competitive in each of these races.

That said, it’s just as likely they’ll end up with just 2 0f the largest 10: New York and North Carolina, which isn’t on the ballot this year. And nothing can erase what is shaping to be an utter disaster for Midwestern Democrats, who currently control most of the region’s governorships: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin. Republicans control Minnesota and Indiana.

Republicans are currently in a good position to control all of these states but Missouri, which isn’t holding a contest this year (Democrats should be very thankful of that). Democrats’ clearest shot at preventing a GOP sweet of the Midwest is Minnesota, and it’s no coincidence that it is the only state that’s holding a Governor’s race this year with a Republican Governor. The GOP has had to bear some of the insider mantle as well; add to that the fact that Republican nominee Tom Emmer is conservative politician, and Democrats have a good shot at bucking the region’s trend.

But Democrats are running out of time to change the dynamics in other states. Michigan and Pennsylvania have long looked like they would be tough for the party to hold, but the Democratic nominees haven’t even looked competitive for months - a situation that should affect Democratic chances in down-ballot races.

Illinois, Iowa and Ohio looked good for Democrats as 2009 started, but the party has long ago given up on Iowa Governor Chet Culver; Illinois Governor Pat Quinn trails by consistently substantial margins; and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has been own for months amidst his state’s pronounced economic decline - though he still looks competitive. Besides Ohio, Democrats have their best shot in Wisconsin, where Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is a strong candidate for Democrats ; but an open race in a swing states between two credible candidates this year is bound to favor the Republican.

Outside of these 7 Midwestern states, Republicans are in good shape to pick-up four additional governorships. They’re highly likely to win Kansas, Wyoming and Tennessee. (Tennessee offers an interesting situation, since Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam was unquestionably the most moderate candidate in the GOP primary; this is the second straight statewide Tennessee primary won by a moderate.) And while it’s worth keeping an eye on Oklahoma, since the Democratic nominee is a statewide official who enjoyed a strong finish in her primary, it’s hard to see how she could pull it off.

The GOP also solidified its positions in states it is defending that once looked like they would be competitive: Alabama, South Carolina, Arizona and Nevada. The latter two states are particularly tough pills for Democrats to swallow, as they had high hopes just a year ago. In Nevada, at least, it always seemed likely the GOP would be on a better footing once it kicked out Governor Jim Gibbons in the primary; but Brian Sandoval’s dominance is surely more than Republicans were hoping for. But in Arizona, it’s easy to forget just how vulnerable Jan Brewer looked in the first six months after she took over for Janet Napolitano. She trailed big in the GOP primary and in the general election; but she then signed SB 1070 and hasn’t looked back since - she became a darling of the hard-right, cruised through the primary and took a decisive lead over Terry Goddard.

Testifying to the fact that the Southwest is no longer the favorable territory it was for Democrats in 2006 and 2008 is New Mexico, not so long ago a likely Democratic hold but now a tough proposition for Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish. (Remember, Denish once believed she was a few weeks away from becoming Governor until Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination for Obama’s Cabinet.) In the Northwest, former Governor John Kitzhaber was long expected to win the race but former NBA player Chris Dudley has tied up the race; Kitzhaber seems to be running a slow-moving campaign like his California colleague Jerry Brown, but Oregon isn’t blue enough to pull that off.

Democrats do have a few bright spots, however - and I don’t mean California, Florida and Minnesota, all of which are toss-ups that could easily go for the GOP.

The brightest is undoubtedly Colorado: Here’s a swing state in a region that has been trending Republican this year, but the GOP managed to completely mess up its strong pick-up chances The Scott McInnis plagiarism scandal followed by Dan Maes’s nomination and Tom Tancredo’s bid have set up a 3-way race that clearly favors Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper. This would be an important victory for Democrats, as Colorado is a growing state in a region of the country that is key to Democrats’ national ambition.

Another relatively bright spot is Massachusetts: Deval Patrick is hardly out of the woods but his numbers have remained stable over the past year - unlike those of many of his colleagues. And Democrats are also in good shape in GOP-held Connecticut and Hawaii, though both races remain competitive. (I have rated Rhode Island a “lean Democratic” pick-up to reflect the fact that the GOP is sure to lose the Governor’s Mansion; but the race is currently a toss-up between Democrat Frank Caprio and independent Linc Chaffee, who some say has ran to Caprio’s left and who has earned the SEIU’s endorsement.)

One last note: In July, I published an analysis of who is likely to control the redistricting process in every state - and what November elections will determine that. Part of the equation is gubernatorial races, of course, but state legislatures are obviously crucial, so check out that piece to detailed information. The bottom-line is that Democrats are facing the daunting prospect of GOP-gerrymandered maps in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania; and are hoping to force a divided map in all-important Florida.

Senate landscape: Delaware’s abrupt flip is small compensation for many seats’ drift towards GOP

After years of daily blogging, I didn’t update this blog for six months. I resisted through the many thrilling primary nights - from Arlen Specter’s loss and Blanche Lincoln’s survival to Rick Scott and Joe Miller’s triumphs; I resisted through the deterioration of Democrats’ electoral outlook and the entry of still-new candidates, which made much of the rankings I had written in early 2010 obsolete; I resisted through game-changing developments like Charlie Crist’s departure from Florida’s GOP primary and Scott McInnis’s Colorado collapse; I resisted even as the playing field of truly competitive House races doubled from around 40 to around 80.

But now that we have entered the campaign’s final stretch - and what a way to close the primary season last night! - I cannot resist any longer.

This is in many ways a bad idea. For one, I have even less time to devote to such writing now than I did in March, so the wisest course would be to stay out of this. Second, I think my blog was a good read because it offered daily and detailed analysis, something I will not even try to replicate. I have little hope of posting more than standard looks at the overall outlook - but it will hopefully not be too boring.

Nonetheless: the time has come to chime in with my impressions of what the political landscape looks like. Let’s start with the Senate.

I am writing this the day after Christine O’Donnell scored what I’d argue is the year’s biggest primary upset, so at this very moment Democrats are feeling far more giddy about their Senate prospects than they have in months. Delaware’s Senate seat was rated as a ‘likely Republican’ pick-up ever since Rep. Mike Castle entered the race while Beau Biden declined to run last year, but last night’s stunning result took the race and threw it all the way to the ‘likely Democratic’ column - as abrupt a change as you’ll ever see.

Given all that has gone wrong for Senate Democrats since January 19th, this represents a huge break - and one that will have major consequences in next year’s balance of power.

But looking back at the past six months, there is no absolutely no question that Senate Democrats are in a far worse position than was thought possible when 2010 started - even if we account for the latest Delaware situation. Republicans might no longer have a clear shot at winning a Senate majority this November, but the mere fact that this remains in the realm of possibilities is just stunning considering where we were in January.

senate-race-15-sep-10

Which translates to the following ratings (any race in the “lean” category is one that looks very much competitive):

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held ND AR IN
PA
CA
CO
IL
NV
WI
CT
WA
DE
WV
HI
MD

NY-A
NY-B
OR
VT
GOP-held AL
AZ
GA
IA
KS
ID
OK
SC
SD
UT
AK
LA
FL
KY
NC
OH

MO
NH

This gets us to the following breakdown:

  • Safe Democratic: 46
  • Safe/Likely Democratic: 48
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 50
  • Toss-ups: 7
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 43
  • Safe/Likely Republican: 37
  • Safe Republican: 34

First of all, I want to note that the playing field of competitive Senate races is double the size it was in the last cycle. In September 2008 - the comparable point of the cycle - I had just 8 races listed in the toss-up or lean columns. Today, I have 15!

And while many of those are Republican (6), Democratic seats are obviously more precarious.

After Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election, Republicans started whispering that they could win anywhere - and so I looked at whether the NRSC had any hope of expanding the map in 7 states that were at the time considered safely Democratic: Connecticut, New York, California, Wisconsin, Indiana, Washington and Hawaii.

Today, one of these seven seats looks like a Republican pick-up (Indiana) while three are highly competitive (Washington, Wisconsin and California).

While Democrats were blindsided by Evan Bayh’s retirement, in most years Brad Ellsworth would have had a better chance against a candidate with as much baggage as Dan Coats. In Washington, Dino Rossi would not have considered jumping in the race had it not been for the Massachusetts precedent; and while he did lose two gubernatorial races, he has as strong a candidate as the party could have fielded, though I believe Patty Murray is in a stronger position than her colleagues from California and Wisconsin.

Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold are indeed looking quite weak; while they were sometimes listed as vulnerable in 2009, I doubt that many Democrats took the threat that seriously - especially when Campbell and Thompson lost the nomination and declined to run, respectively. And I question how viable Ron Johnson would be in most cycles, though the millions of self-funding he’s pouring in never hurt. I’d say the Democratic position in these two states is now more endangered than their chances in any GOP-held seat is promising. Which is quite a turn of events.

Add to that Arkansas (which now looks as gone as North Dakota), Pennsylvania (where Joe Sestak is now trailing Pat Toomey rather consistently, though Democrats remain very much committed to winning this race), Colorado, Illinois and Nevada (all of which are shaping to be toss-ups to the end), and Democrats are staring at big losses.

But it should be a relief for Democrats that Colorado, Illinois and Nevada have all stabilized into toss-up status: There was a point at which each of them looked like it would slip away, none more so than Nevada. Harry Reid’s prospects looked to be as low as can be from the summer of 2009 through May 2010, and I just don’t see how the Majority Leader could have survived had the GOP nominated anyone but Sharron Angle. Does this mean Reid will win? No: Nevada is no Delaware and Harry Reid is no Chris Coons. The race will remain close, and Angle could still win it for Republicans. But the race’s outlook is far more favorable for Reid than I’d have thought possible when I left in March.

Colorado, meanwhile, might very well be the ultimate toss-up, with a little-known but not that unpopular politician facing a conservative who isn’t quite as controversial as some of his fellow Tea Party nominees; one factor that should help Democrats is the state GOP’s utter collapse in the Governor’s race. The McInnis-Maes-Tancredo debacle will lead to a runaway victory for Denver Mayor Hickenlooper - and it leaves Buck entirely unable to rely on the other candidate’s at the top of his party’s ticket.

Things could also have been worse for Democrats in Illinois, where Alexi Giannoulias’s prospects looked increasingly bleak until repeated scandals suggesting he had exaggerated various parts of his resume stopped any momentum Mark Kirk might have had; the race is now in a holding pattern, with both candidates polling at atrociously low levels given their high profile. And in Pennsylvania, I still think the seat would have been more comfortably Republican had Specter survived the Democratic primary.

So what remains? Democrats did salvage Hawaii, where Senator Dan Inouye did not retire, and New York, where the NRSC suffered a rare recruitment failure, likely ensuring an easy victory for Kirsten Gillibrand. In Connecticut, Blumenthal remains favored, but he’s hardly as invincible as he looked in the spring; in Delaware, Coons has to be careful not to let O’Donnell pull another stunner; and another must-win seat was added for Democrats: West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin is heavily favored to win the special election this November, but we cannot entirely rule out an upset.

Meanwhile, Democrats have watched their chances at GOP-held seats slip away.

Republican candidates in Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire and Missouri have opened leads. That’s hardly surprising: Voters are even more likely to vote based on their party preferences in open seat races - and given that all of these states are closely divided (or even pro-GOP, in Missouri’s case) in balanced circumstances, it’s logical to expect the GOP to have a solid edge in a year in which conservatives are in the upswing.

In Florida, Charlie Crist’s independent bid muddied the waters for a bit, but at this point I’d argue he looks most likely to compete with Kendrick Meek to avoid coming in 3rd. In Ohio, national Democrats are down enough on Lee Fisher’s chances that I suspect they might give up on the state - a reverse scenario from 2006, where national Republicans gave up on Senator Mike DeWine weeks before Election Day.

I’m not sure which of New Hampshire and Missouri offers Democrats their best shot. It’s a testament to Robin Carnahan’s strength that she has remained viable and the DSCC’s first expenditure was in Missouri, indicating they believe in her chances; and in New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte remains an undefined candidate, and the GOP primary (in which she relied on Sarah Palin’s endorsement) might have hurt her in the general election electorate. The bottom-line is that New Hampshire independents are likely to swing en bloc while Missouri didn’t go for Obama in 2008, but all these races are worth following.

Remain Kentucky and Alaska, two red states which wouldn’t have been part of the discussion had establishment pick Tray Greyson and incumbent Lisa Murkowski survived their primaries. Rand Paul and Joe Miller’s primary victories created a stir, however, and make the fall races more interesting than they would have been otherwise.

Kentucky has a history of voting Democratic in non-presidential races, but it might be much to expect them to do so in 2010 - even though Attorney General Jack Conway is a strong candidate and Rand Paul has endangered himself with some of his libertarian views. And Alaska proved itself quite conservative in 2008, though its dependence on federal funds will make it interesting to see how voters respond to Miller’s extreme fiscal conservatism - and it’s worth mentioning that Sitka (the town Dem nominee Scott McAdams is the mayor of) was larger than Wasilla at the time of the 2000 census.

As for North Carolina and Louisiana, they might have been top pick-up opportunities in 2008 given Richard Burr’s unimpressive numbers and David Vitter’s baggage - and there’s an argument to be made Elaine Marshall has a better chance to turn voters against an incumbent than Democratic candidates from open seats have of escaping the cycle’s generic dynamic. But it’s hard to see either Marshall or Charlie Melancon succeeding without help from the DSCC, and the national committee is unlikely to pay much attention to either of them.

All of this gets me to a projection of about a 7 seat pick-up for the GOP. But what do you guys think - if I have any readers left after a six months hiatus?

Ratings update: The landscape isn’t done shifting away from Dems

I first want to thank all those who wrote very kind words after I announced I would end regular blogging, either in the comments section, via e-mail or Twitter. It was very heart-warming to know how much Campaign Diaries meant to so many people. As I promised then, I am now thinking about the best way to put together a weekly update system. Perhaps it would be best to keep it open so I have the flexibility to do what I think fits the week best, though I will try to be regular.

This week, I am posting a “ratings update”, as many of my race assesments grew stale over the past month - most notably in Indiana and upstate New York. The races that are written in red are those in which the rating is changing towards Republicans; those that are written in blue are those in which the rating is changing towards Democrats.

Senate

Indiana, lean Democratic to toss-up: All hell broke loose in the Hoosier State when Evan Bayh announced his retirement just 24 hours from the filing deadline, but Democrats have managed to stabilize the situation by convincing Rep. Brad Ellsworth to give up his relatively safe House seat for a tough statewide campaign. (To be clear: Ellsworth has not yet been officially tapped by the party committee, but there is little doubt he will be the nominee.) If Ellsworth manages to defend this conservative-leaning state in an environment that is this toxic for his party, it will largely be because Bayh’s timing prevented Republicans from securing as formidable a nominee as they would have otherwise: It would have been harder to imagine Ellsworth prevailing against Mitch Daniels, Todd Rokita or Mike Pence than against former Senator Dan Coats, a former lobbyist who moved away from the state and hasn’t faced voters since 1992, or against former Rep. John Hostettler, who has always ran poor campaigns and has a very rough relationship with national Republicans. The GOP nonetheless starts with a slight edge, but Indiana is sure to host a highly competitive campaign.

Governor

Illinois-Gov, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Not only is Pat Quinn running as the incumbent Governor of a Midwestern state - a sure way to face electoral trouble this year - but he cannot even count on one of the biggest assets of incumbency - voter familiarity: He came to become Governor upon Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment rather than through a victory of his own. Add to this the possibility that Blagojevich’s summer trial reflects badly on state Democrats, and the GOP has reason to hope it can oust Quinn. Yet, state Senator Bill Brady’s apparent victory should prevent Republicans from making full use of Governor Pat Quinn’s vulnerabilities as the relatively conservative state Senator could have trouble making himself acceptable to this blue state’s electorate. The fact that he is from downstate could boost GOP turnout across the state, but it might cause moderate voters in the Chicago suburbs not to support him. Furthermore, Brady has been denied the bounce primary winners typically get because it took a month for his victory over state Senator Kirk Dillard to be confirmed, while Quinn displayed strong survival skills in the Democratic primary.

Pennsylvania, toss-up to lean Republican: This is one of the most bizarre races of the cycle because of Democrats’ inability to recruit a strong candidate in what should have been one of the party’s priority. Former Rep. Joe Hoeffel, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Auditor General Jack Wagner might make decent candidates, but none of them appears to have much name recognition nor a preexisting popularity that would help them beat back the electorate’s current hostility towards Democrats. Attorney General Tom Corbett, on the other hand, has been a dominant force in the GOP primary and polls show he is well-known and relatively well-liked.

Ohio, lean Democratic to toss-up: Governor Ted Strickland entered the cycle in a very comfortable position. He had triumphed in the 2006 open seat race, he enjoyed strong approval ratings and it did not look like Ohio Republicans could recover from years of dismal showings in time to mount a credible challenge. Yet, the recession has hit Midwestern states with particular ferocity, and it is no shock that Strickland’s poll numbers have fallen along with Ohioans’ economic condition. Republicans are high on former Rep. John Kasich, and Ohio’s status as one of the premier swing states should ensure national parties prioritize this race. While polls differ as to where it stands (Quinnipiac has Strickland leading outside of the margin of error, Rasmussen shows Kasich leading by large margins), there is no doubt it’s one of the country’s most competitive contests.

Texas, likely Republican to lean Republican: Rick Perry displayed amazing political resilience throughout 2009, dispatching popular Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison with an ease no one could have foreseen a year ago. Yet, he did so by using a strategy that should be ill-fitted to beat former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general election: The electorate Perry needs to court should be less amused by his talk of secession and his refusal to take federal funds and White will not suffer from anti-Washington sentiment the way Hutchison did. Add to that Perry’s clear vulnerabilities - not only is it not good to be an incumbent governor this year, but his approval rating is decidedly mediocre and he won re-election with only 39% of the vote in 2006 - and White has a clear shot at winning Democrats’ first major victory in Texas since 1990.

Utah, safe Republican to likely Republican: Are Republicans trembling with fear at the thought of facing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon in the general election? No: Utah is too conservative a state for a Democrat to ever have that credible a shot at winning a statewide victory. Yet, Coroon does represent one third of the state’s population in a capacity that ensures he is visible and recent polls show he could score an upset if Gary Herbert (an unelected incumbent) stumbles.

House

FL-21, safe Republican to likely Republican: While candidates who try to succeed family members are more often than not successful, Mario Diaz-Balart’s announcement that he would run to replace his retiring brother Lincoln was so bizarre that it is worth keeping an eye on whether Democrats can recruit a strong candidate, attack Mario’s credibility and make the most of Southern Florida’s growing openness to voting for Democrats (Gore lost the district by 16%, Obama by 2%).

FL-25, likely Republican to lean Republican: Mario Diaz-Balart decided to switch districts because he felt FL-21 was a safer bet for a Republican than his FL-25, which covers western Miami-Dade County. While that means concentrating on FL-21 might not be advisable for Democrats, it also signals that an open seat in FL-25 is a real opportunity - even in a tough environment. Yet, much will depend on Democratic recruitment. While Republicans have already lined up top candidates (state Rep. David Rivera is running and state Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz will probably join him), Democrats are waiting for 2008 nominee Joe Garcia to make up his mind; Garcia, who now works in the Obama administration, came close to defeating Diaz-Balart two years ago.

IN-08, safe Democratic to toss-up: Evan Bayh’s retirement caused open seat headaches not only for Senate Democrats but also for their House counterparts, as Brad Ellsworth withdrew his name from the IN-08 ballot hours before the filing deadlne in the expectation that he’d be chosen to replace Bayh. Thankfully for the DCCC, the timing of Ellsworth’s exit might very well save the party: the GOP did not have time to recruit a top candidate. Heart surgeon Larry Bucshon would be a credible nominee, but you can be sure Republicans would have been able to find a far stronger candidate had IN-8 become an open seats weeks before - not to mention Bucshon can’t be sure to win the 8-way primary! Ellsworth, meanwhile, was able to orchestrate a transition with state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, who thus has a stronger shot at defending the district. All of this said, IN-8 remains red-leaning, the DCCC’s first choice (Evansville Mayor Jon Weinsapfel) passed on the race and the environment is tough enough that this open seat is no better than a toss-up for Democrats.

KS-03, toss-up to lean Republican: While Democrats can never expect to have it easy in Kansas, this is one open seat they should not have let get this compromised: KS-03 voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and the party had a reasonable bench from which to pick a candidate. Yet, one by one Democrats have ruled out running - the biggest blow being Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon - while the GOP field leaves nothing to be desired. The DCCC is now reduced to hoping that Rep. Dennis Moore’s wife Stephene Moore runs, as reports suggest she might; while she might be able to keep the party competitive, it’s hard to see how an inexperienced political spouse can get elected in a swing district in the absence of any sympathy factor.

MA-10, safe Democratic to lean Democratic: Rumors that Rep. Delahunt was preparing to retire started swirling in early 2010, but you can bet the DCCC was hoping they would not come to be true. MA-10 might be the state’s less Democratic seat, but this is likely the only cycle in which the GOP would have a real chance of winning an open race in a district that gave Gore, Kerry and Obama double-digit victories. Yet, MA-10 also decisively voted for Scott Brown, proving that voters are open to backing a Republican - and the NRCC is confident that former state Treasurer Joe Malone will make the most of this opportunity. Democrats in the running at the moment are state Sen. Robert O’Leary and Norfolk Co. DA William Keating.

MS-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Gene Taylor has easily held a district that gave John McCain 68% of the vote since 1989, convincing tens of thousands of conservative voters to support him: he received more than 75% in six of his last last seven races. His electoral track record make him a solid bet for re-election, but if there is any year the GOP could unseat him, it’s in 2010. State Rep. Steven Palazzo has announced he will challenge Taylor, which is as serious a challenge as any the staunchly conservative Democrat has received recently.

NY-29, lean retention to toss-up: What is going on in the Empire State? Rep. Eric Massa became the latest New York politician to self-implode in a bizarre scandal involving harassment claims, unwanted tickling sessions and allegations that he was pushed out due to his opposition to the health-care bill. Even after the first headlines appeared, Massa’s abrupt decision to resign came as a surprise, though it simultaneously helps Nancy Pelosi find the votes to pass the health-care bill and gives the DCCC the headache of worrying about yet another problematic special election on top of May’s PA-12 and HI-01. In fact, the NY-29 special will be New York’s third in a single cycle - a number that matches the record set by far larger California a few cycles back! While Democrats pulled unlikely triumphs in NY-20 and NY-23 in 2009, NY-29 is more conservative since it is one of only three state districts to have voted for McCain. Furthermore, the Democratic nominee will have to run under the clout of the Paterson and Massascandals at a time the new York electorate has shown signs of being exasperated with the party. Finally, the GOP will not be weighed down by the two factors that doomed its NY-20 and NY-23 candidates (too much of a connection to Albany and intraparty fighting), as Corning Mayor Tom Reed is emerging as a consensus choice. That said, Reed, who was already running before Massa’s resignation, had never come to look as that formidable a candidate and the GOP might have been better off with a stronger contender. It remains to be seen who Democrats pick.

OH-02, likely Republican to safe Republican: While Democrats threw a lot at Rep. Jean Schmidt in 2005, 2006 and 2008, they never fielded the type of prominent candidate whose local ties could have overcome the district’s staunchly conservative lean. They thought they would finally be able to do so in 2010, but the state legislator whose candidacy the DCCC spent months touting dropped out in November. The Democratic nominee will be Surya Yalamanchili, a political novice whose claim to fame comes from a bout on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, or David Krikorian, who got double-digits running as an independent in 2008. While they might have been promising candidates in other years, voters seem too reluctant to oust a GOP incumbent this year for a Republican holding a 59%-McCain district to have much to worry about - however controversial her profile.

OH-13, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: For car dealer Tom Ganley to defeat Rep. Betty Sutton would be one of the biggest upsets of Election Night, and yet it is no longer possible to rule out such results. While OH-13 gave John Kerry and Barack Obama double-digits victories, Ganley is reportedly willing to spend as much as $1 million of his money funding his race and Sutton is too junior a lawmaker for Democrats to be confident she can resist voters’ hostility towards her party. At the very least, OH-13 could emerge as a late headache for the DCCC, forcing the party committee to spend precious resources defending Sutton rather than more obviously vulnerable Democrats.

RI-01, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Democrats were sure not expecting to spend as much as a minute worrying about a district that gave Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama more than 62% of the vote, but Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s retirement has given the GOP hope that state Rep. John Loughlin can make the race competitive. The Democratic field is made up of two prominent contenders with a relatively progressive reputation - Providence Mayor David Cicilline and state Democratic Party chairman William Lynch; an ugly race could open the door to Loughlin, since the primary will not be held until September 14th. A wild card is the possible candidacy of former Providence MayorBuddy Cianci, who recently spent four years in federal prison but has now said he is considering an independent run.

Movement in Dem primaries: Harold Ford out, Bill Halter in

While it was initially difficult to take the possibility Harold Ford Jr. might run for Senate in New York seriously, the former Tennessee congressman had come to look determined to pursue the race. That makes his announcement tonight that he will not challenge Senator Kirsten Gillibrand somewhat of a surprise.

For a politician to make an unabashed defense of Wall Street his most recognizable campaign issue does not appear to be the best idea after all - if you even believe Ford was serious about running, which I remain doubtful about. Given that he has gotten The New York Times to cover his exit as a sacrifice for the good of the party, it would not surprise me if there is more at play here.

This is the third time over the past twelve months that a Democrat seemingly on the brink of running in New York’s Senate primary pulled back at the last minute. First was Rep. Steve Israel; next was Rep. Carolyn Maloney; and now Ford, who has chosen to make his decision known to the breathless world in an op-ed to be published in The New York Times. Of course, the stakes changed quite a bit: While the left was encouraging Maloney and Israel to get in, Gillibrand became progressives’ champion when she was compared to the conservative Ford.

It now seems safe to say that the senator’s only primary opponent will be labor activist Jonathan Tasini, who drew 17% in his challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2006. While Tasini might very well receive more in September, Gillibrand is overwhelmingly favored to prevail. Now, she would also have been the front-runner had Ford jumped in, but that match-up would have set off a media frenzy that would have kept Democrats busy right up to the September primary, potentially opening the door for Republicans to contest the seat. Indeed, Marc Ambinder reported last month that former Governor George Pataki was signaling potential interest in the race, but only if he saw Ford was in a position to substantially harm the incumbent before the general election.

Let us not forget that Ford had refused to rule out an independent bid, a possibility that is now apparently also out the door. That is one less nightmarish scenario for the DSCC to worry about.

As such, Ford’s exit is a rare blow to Republican efforts to expand the Senate map, as it makes it all the harder to see what could go wrong with Gillibrand’s image for her to lose to the GOP’s sole candidate Bruce Blakeman or for the NRSC to convince Pataki to run. This leaves Wisconsin and Washington as the two Dem-held Senate seats that are currently not competitive but might be depending on recruitment.

If Gillibrand dodged yet another primary bullet today, Blanche Lincoln landed an opponent: Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, whom I first wrote about eleven months ago, announced today he will challenge her in May’s Democratic primary.

My one-sentence take on this development: Given how low Lincoln’s re-election prospects have sank, Democrats have nothing to lose but trying out their luck with another candidate.

When a very well-known incumbent trails even low-profile challengers by double-digits, an open seat might very well be all that is left for a party to save itself - a consideration that’s all the more true given the electorate hostility towards incumbents and towards the federal government. At the very least, for Halter to win the nomination could free the DSCC from its commitment to spending millions in Arkansas: Even if Labor Day polls were to show Boozman with an overwhelming lead, national Democrats might still not be able to deny Lincoln money that could go to other states, whereas they presumably would be less

Naturally, the obstacles to Halter’s bid are stark. If he were to win the general election, he would start as the clear underdog given Boozman’s strength, Arkansas’s red hue and the cycle’s anti-Democratic winds; all these reasons are also dooming Lincoln, but at least she has money to try to surmount them, the name recognition to get voters to pay attention to her and more electoral experience.

Before he can even think of the general election, Halter has to get out of the primary - and here again he faces a very steep climb. Lincoln might have grown into Democrats’ main nemesis for much of 2009 - she not only was one of the public option’s biggest opponents but was also the first (and I believe to this day only) Democrat to announce opposition to EFCA and pushed a huge tax break on the estate tax - but state Democrats are to the right of the national party’s and Arkansas’s incumbent Senators fairly rarely lose primary fights, especially when they have already won before rather than been elected. A key to the Halter-Lincoln match-up will be African-Americans: To have a chance at defeating the incumbent, Halter will need to capitalize on black voters’ potential frustrations with Lincoln and he will need enough organizational muscle to get supporters out of the polls.

One question I have: Given that he was publicly mulling a challenge to Lincoln as early as last spring, why did he wait until 10 weeks before Election Day to make his launch his campaign? He might already be a statewide official, but he is not high-profile enough to have the luxury to wait like Andrew Cuomo, especially considering Lincoln is a very well-funded incumbent who has millions at her disposal to pour in attacks against Halter. The Lieutenant Governor might get a lot of help from the netroots - he had raised $500,000 within hours of his candidacy - but will that compensate Lincoln’s cash-on-hand and her deep ties to the Democratic establishment? (The White House wasted no time before confirming it would support Lincoln.)

[Update: Well, here's one answer as to how Halter can put together a full campaign in such a short period of time: Turns out killing EFCA doesn't endear one to labor groups. The AFL-CIO is already endorsing Halter and a coalition of unions has already committed to spending $3 million to ousting Lincoln.]

There has been a lot of talk today about the effects Halter’s bid might have on Lincoln’s positioning in the Senate, but I doubt this is a meaningful story at this point. Had he announce a year ago, Lincoln might have acted differently at various points of 2009, but the next ten weeks should hardly be the occasion for Halter to pressure the incumbent to move leftward. Yes, the Senate might be called to vote on the health-care vote, but Harry Reid is unlikely to need Lincoln’s vote to pass a reconciliation sidecar: In the quest for 50 votes rather than 60, the names of the senators under the spotlight are Russ Feingold, Kent Conrad and Jim Webb rather than Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln.

Where the House stands on health-care

A lot of attention has been devoted to the Senate in recent months, but as we approach make-or-break time in the health-care debate it has become clear that the suspense lies in the House.

The approach Democrats are now openly pursuing (get the House to pass the Senate bill, get both chambers to pass legislation containing fixes using the reconciliation the process) does not require them to ever put together more than 50 Senate votes. While even that could grow complicated, it’s tough to see Harry Reid losing 10 of his senators given that even centrists like Mary Landrieu sound open to voting for reconciliation. Besides Landrieu, all eyes are on Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Jim Webb, Mark Pryor, Michael Begich, Kent Conrad, Russ Feingold - how likely is it all of these join the GOP in killing a small fix bill?

Meanwhile, the House has gotten far trickier. For one, many Democrats dislike the Senate bill and have insisted they would not vote for it without the upper-chamber passing the fix bill first. Second is the abortion issue: The Senate bill does not contain language as tough as the Stupak amendment and the sidecar is not expected to add it. This should not only lead Stupak to bolt but could also give conservatives Democrats who supported the original bill cover to change their vote. After all, the Senate bill is to the right of the House bill on most other issues, making abortion a rare issue centrists can point to in order to justify a switch.

Third, Democrats have gotten more scared about their electoral prospects than they were in the fall. Why this should push them to kill the bill is hard to discern. Adopting it would generate weeks of positive coverage about the party’s epic achievement, whereas letting it die would generate more stories about Democrats’ failure to govern. As importantly, anyone who voted for health-care reform in the fall will be attacked however they vote this second time. What will their response be: “I voted for it before I voted against it”? Yet, there’s no question that electoral terror has gripped Democrats.

Once you add up all of these factors, the math becomes tough. The House voted to pass the original health-care bill 220 to 215 this fall. Since then:

  • 4 representatives have left the House - 3 Democrats who had voted “yes” and 1 Republican who had voted “no”. (Jack Murtha passed away; Robert Wexler, Neil Abercrombie and Nathan Deal resigned.) This alone shrinks the margin to 217-214.
  • Rep. Anh Cao, the one Republican who voted for the original bill, has made it clear he will oppose any new legislation. That makes it 216-215.
  • Rep. Bart Stupak has left little doubt he’d vote against the bill if his anti-abortion language is not included. Given that the Senate bill already contains tough anti-abortion provisions, it appears Stupak is not open to compromise and his threat sounds all the more credible given Politico’s revelation that the Michigan Democrat was working with Senator Mitch McConnell to derail the Senate bill back in December. With Stupak gone, that leaves the math at 216-215 against the bill.

In short: Pelosi has to convince at least one of the 39 Democrats who voted “no” to the original bill to switch to a “yes” - a tough proposition that should be all the more tougher considering that it’s more likely than not that other Democrats follow Cao and Stupak’s lead and switch from “yes” to “no.”

Before going through the list of the 39 Democrats who opposed the bill to see who Pelosi might hope to convince,  let’s first consider who might go the other way. One factor to consider: Many Democrats voted “yes” knowing perfectly well they would face very tough races in 2010 (think Baron Hill and Tom Perriello), so why would they now suddenly change their mind? Relatedly, as long as centrists who voted “yes” to the House bill are not motivated by abortion, how would they justify voting against the more conservative Senate bill? Accounting for those questions, I think 5 Democrats are especially likely to switch their vote because their circumstances have changed:

Name
District
Competitive race?
Obama-McCain
Junior?
Comment
Marion Berry
AR-01
Retiring
38-59
No
While you would think his retirement would make him unlikely to vote “no,” Berry has certainly been sounding like he’s considering doing so.
Steve Driehaus
OH-01
Yes
55-44
Freshman
He was one of Stupak’s allies during the fall’s abortion debates, and Democrats seem worried about losing him. His district did vote for Obama by 11% though.
Brad Ellsworth
IN-08
Yes
47-51
Sophomore
He was considered safe back in the fall. Now, he’s running for Senate. All the more likely to switch that he voted for the GOP’s motion to recommit.
Earl Pomeroy
ND-AL
Yes
45-53
No
Back in the fall, he wasn’t expected to face a competitive race - but now he does.
Bart Stupak
MI-01
No
50-48
No
Abortion

But the list of Democrats the leadership should worry about goes much further than these 5. Here is a much longer list of representatives who have been mentioned as possible switchers:

Name
District
Competitive race?
Obama-McCain
Junior?
Comment
Michael Arcuri
NY-24
Yes
51-48
Sophomore
Blue Dog
Tom Bishop
NY-01
Yes
52-48
No
Dennis Cardoza
CA-18
No
59-39
No
Blue Dog
Chris Carney
PA-10
Yes
45-54
No
Blue Dog
Jim Cooper
TN-05
No
56-43
No
Blue Dog
Jim Costa
CA-20
No
60-39
No
Blue Dog
Jerry Costello
IL-12
No
54-44
No
Abortion
Harry Cuellar
TX-28
No
56-44
No
Blue Dog
Kathy Dahlkemper
PA-03
Yes
49-49
freshman
Abortion; Blue Dog
Joe Donnelly
IN-02
perhaps
54-45
sophomore
Abortion; Blue Dog
Baron Hill
IN-09
Yes
49-50
sophomore
Blue Dog; more vulnerable than he looked in the fall
Steve Kagen
WI-08
Yes
54-45
sophomore
Paul Kanjorski
PA-11
Yes
57-42
No
Marcy Kaptur
OH-09
No
62-36
No
Abortion
Dan Kildee
MI-05
No
64-35
No
Abortion
Dan Lipinski
IL-14
No
64-35
No
Abortion
Harry Mitchell
AZ-05
Yes
47-52
No
What would have been the point of voting “no” in the fall if he votes “yes” now?
Alan Mollohan
WV-01
Yes
42-57
No
Dennis Moore
KS-03
Retiring
51-48
No
Bill Owens
NY-23
Yes
52-47
Freshman
Tom Perriello
VA-05
Yes
48-51
Freshman
What would have been the point of voting “no” in the fall if he votes “yes” now?
Gary Peters
MI-09
Yes
56-43
Freshman
Nick Rahall
WV-03
probably not
42-56
No

John Salazar
CO-03
Yes
47-50
No
More vulnerable than he looked in the fall
Mark Schauer
MI-07
Yes
52-46
Freshman
Zach Space
OH-18
No
45-52
Sophomore
John Spratt
SC-05
No
46-53
No
High-ranked
Charlie Wilson
OH-06
No
48-50
No

This is not to say that most of these Democrats will switch - as I said, how will they justify doing so given their fall votes - but the party leadership will have to key an eye on all of them. So where might Pelosi pick-up votes? Of the 39 Democrats who voted “no” in the fall, one is now a Republican (Parker Griffith).  Of the remaining 38, 15 seem to be lost causes:

Dan Boren, Bobby Bright, Travis Childers, Artur Davis, Lincoln Davis, Chet Edwards, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Dennis Kucinich, Jim Marshall, Charlie Melancon, Walt Minnick, Mike Ross, Heath Shuler, Gene Taylor, Harry Teague

Never say never, but these congresspeople look as certain as can be to vote “no.” They are either at the far-right of the caucus (Boren, Bright, Childers, Marshall, Ross, Taylor), in over their head in tough re-election battles (Minnick), seeking higher office in red states (Davis, Melancon) or committed to voting for nothing but single-payer (Kucinich). I thought Herseth Sandlin might be open to supporting a more centrist bill, but recent comments make it unlikely. That leaves 23 Democrats, 5 of which seem more open than others to switching:

Name
District
Competitive race?
Obama-McCain
Junior?
Comment
Brian Baird
WA-03
Retiring
52-46
No
He’s retiring, making him immune to GOP pressure. He recently said he was totally “undecided.”
John Boccieri
OH-16
Yes
48-50
Freshman
Boccieri has turned out to be a lesser priority for the NRCC than fellow Ohio freshmen Kilroy and Driehaus. He has recently sounded open to supporting the bill.
Bart Gordon
TN-06
Retiring
37-62
Sophomore
He’s retiring, which puts him right at the top of the Democrats’ priority list since the GOP can’t pressure him with electoral reasons. He is a Blue Dog. A very important detail: He voted for the bill in the Energy & Commerce Committee before opposing it on the floor, which certainly suggests he’d be open to voting for it now.
Larry Kissell
NC-08
Yes
53-47
freshman
Faces a competitive race, though he represents one of the bluest districts among the 39 who voted ‘no’ in the fall.
Scott Murphy
NY-23
Not for now
51-48
freshman
Murphy looks safer than he did this fall

That leaves us with 18 Democrats whose support for a final bill is plausible, albeit still tough to envision. It will at the least require some very heavy pushing for Pelosi to convince any of these:

Name
District
Competitive race?
Obama-McCain
Junior?
Comment
Jason Altmire
PA-04
Yes
44-55
Sophomore
Despite a few hints of openness to supporting a bill, he has sounded very hostile to health-care reform and the abortion issue should seal his “no.” He’s a Blue Dog.
John Adler
NJ-03
Yes
52-47
Freshman
Adler has done his best to position himself as a centrist over the past few months and he is facing a tricky race. Yet, he is less vulnerable than many others on this list and he represents a district that clearly voted for Obama. He should be right at the top of Pelosi’s target list.
John Barrow
GA-12
No
54-45
No
Allen Boyd
FL-02
In primary
45-54
No
At this point, this Blue Dog has more to worry about in the Dem primary than in the general election. He’s a Blue Dog.
Rick Boucher
VA-09
Yes
40-59
No
Boucher looks far more vulnerable now than he did in the fall, which will complicate Pelosi’s outreach.
Ben Chandler
KY-06
Probably not
43-55
No
The filing deadline has passed in Kentucky, and while the race could heat up Chandler doesn’t have to worry about facing a top-tier Republican. Will this encourage him to vote “yes”? He did support cap-and-trade. He’s a Blue Dog.
Tim Holden
PA-17
Yes
48-51
No
He’s a Blue Dog, and he is facing his first tough re-election race in some time.
Suzanne Kosmas
FL-24
Yes
49-51
freshman
She has emerged as a fairly centrist Democrat, so I’d be somewhat surprised if she switches; but her district is not as red as others on this list.
Frank Kratovil
MD-01
Yes
40-58
freshman
If Pelosi convinces him that he will lose anyway, perhaps?
Betsy Markey
CO-04
Yes
49-50
freshman
She’s a Blue Dog. The Democratic leadership let her be the main sponsor of the bill repealing the anti-trust exemption; might she repay them by voting “yes”?
Eric Massa
NY-29
Probably
48-51
freshman
He is fundraising off his initial vote for health-care, but he is one of the most obvious votes for the leadership to target.
Jim Matheson
UT-02
Probably not
39-57
No
Would be surprised if he votes “yes,” but in recent comments he was less hostile than other Blue Dogs. He’s a Blue Dog.
Michael McMahon
NY-03
Perhaps
49-51
freshman
Mike McIntyre
NC-07
No
47-52
No
The filing deadline passed in North Carolina, and the GOP failed to recruit a credible challenger despite the district’s red lean. Despite McIntyre’s conservatism, that alone makes him a target to leadership pressure. He’s a Blue Dog.
Glenn Nye
VA-02
Yes
51-49
freshman
He’s a Blue Dog, a freshman and he faces a tough race in November - a tough combination for Pelosi. But he also represents one of the few Obama districts on this list, so he is sure to face more pressure than others.
Colin Peterson
MN-07
Probably not
47-50
No
Committee chairman. He’s a Blue Dog.
Ike Skelton
MO-04
Yes
38-61
No
He’s a Blue Dog. The abortion issue could prevent Pelosi from convincing him.
John Tanner
TN-08
Retiring
43-56
No
His retirement is prompting talk he might be more wiling to help his party, though he looks likely to do so than Baird and Gordon. He’s a Blue Dog.

I’ve surely forgotten some Democrats whose votes might also be up in the air and I’ve surely missed comments by many that would suggest they’re clearly committed to one camp or the other. But keep in mind that as long as it’s not even clear whether they’ll even ever be a vote, Democrats on this list have no reason to make their intentions.


Update: The AP just published a story identifying 10 Democrats open to switching from a “no” to a “yes:” Baird, Gordon, Tanner, Boucher, Kosmas, Kratovil, McMahon, Minnick, Murphy and Nye. The only one that is a surprise to me is Minnick, and I’ve update my charts accordingly. The others are certainly not shockers, though I am surprised Boccieri was not included in the story since he has publicly been open to changing.

Update 2: The AP updated its story ruling out Minnick as a switch option, just as I had expected when I placed him in the “lost causes” column. Also, this Slate article contains a few details I had not thought about and which I am adding to my charts. In particular, Rep. Bart Gordon voted for the bill in committee before opposing it on the floor. While he is already in my top-tier of potential switchers, this certainly makes it seem even more possible.

North Carolina’s filing deadline has passed

North Carolina’s filing deadline passed yesterday - the 9th state in which this occurred- and this is one state in which Democrats suffered no last-minute surprise. All of their incumbents are running for re-election, which was not a given that three of them were once eying the Senate race and one of them was the subject of some retirement rumors in recent months.

In fact, all fourteen of the state’s congresspeople are seeking another term: Senator Richard Burr and 13 House members (8 Democrats, 5 Republicans). While the GOP’s 5 House districts should be safe, Burr is arguably the country’s only vulnerable Republican senator. Meanwhile, Democrats don’t look like they’ll have to seriously worry about more than one district, freshman Larry Kissell’s NC-08. While some Republicans might hope to target NC-11, NC-07 and NC-07, the party appear to have missed opportunities to put itself in a strong position in these Bush districts, especially in the latter two. While Democrats dominate the state’s congressional delegation, it’s unlikely North Carolina will contribute to the fall’s GOP gains to a significant extent - unlike, say, states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The 8 Democratic seats

The most vulnerable Democratic incumbent is NC-08’s Rep. Larry Kissell, and it’s no coincidence that he is the state delegation’s only freshman. Compared to the NRCC’s hopes of recruiting Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory or former Rep. Robin Hayes, the final GOP field is certainly weaker than it could have been, but Kissell nonetheless remains vulnerable;. 5 Republicans have filed to run: former sportscaster Harold Johnson, businessman Hal Jordan, veteran Lou Huddleston, businessman Timothy D’Annunzio and Darrell Day. The front-runner appears to be D’Annunzio, for no other reason than the half-a-million of his own money he has poured into his campaign. Yet, the NRCC-favorite appears to be Huddleston, an African-American who has been added to the committee’s “Young Gun program” and has secured a number of important party endorsements.

Next is Rep. Heath Shuler in Western North Carolina’s NC-11. While his district voted for McCain, he cruised to his first re-election last year. He now has to face 6 Republicans, none of which appear particularly threatening: businessman Kenneth West, former Hendersonville mayor Greg Newman, businessman Jeffrey Miller, attorney Ed Krause, James Howard and eye doctor Dan Eichenbaum. Against one of the best-funded Democratic incumbents in the country, none of these candidates could get far without the NRCC’s help - and they’re going to have to prove themselves before national Republicans target Schuler. None of these candidates are at the moment on the NRCC’s long list of Young Gun candidates, which includes challengers from 54 Dem-held districts.

In NC-02, three Republicans filed for the right to run against Rep. Bob Etheridge in a district that twice voted for George W. Bush before choosing Obama by 5%: Frank Deatrich, car dealer Todd Gailas (who was recently featured in a CNN story for his troubles during the recession) and Renee Ellmers. None seems in a position to topple the 6-term incumbent; after all, North Carolina’s historically Democratic voters have remained more loyal to the party than in most other Southern states, which means the GOP can’t hope defeating such entrenched incumbents without a top-tier effort - not to mention that Etheridge has more than $1 million of cash-on-hand in the bank.

In NC-07, a more conservative district that gave McCain a 5% victory, three Republicans want to face Rep. Mike McIntyre, one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus. While the first two are low-profile (William Breazeale, the 2008 nominee who lost 69% to 31% to McIntyre and now has $2000 in the bank, and Randolph Crow), the third attracted national attention a few years ago. While serving in Iraq, Ilario Pantano was accused of premedited murder in Fallujah but a military tribunal cleared him of the charges; he later wrote an autobiography that got a fair amount of publicity and also served as Deputy Sheriff in Wilmington. But Pantano will have to answer Breazeale’s criticism that he only became a Republican on November 25th, not to mention that he has very little time left to mount a political operation against an entrenched and well-funded incumbent who has never shown a sign of vulnerability. Had the NRCC been committed to putting this district in play, they would have wanted to find another candidate; given that so many other Democrats in similar districts are facing top-tier opposition, it looks McIntyre has dodged a bullet.

Rep. Butterfield (NC-01), Rep. Price (NC-04) and Rep. Watt (NC-12), Rep. Miller (NC-13) represent heavily Democratic districts and they should safe. However, it is remarkable to see that each one has drawn 3 or 4 Republican challengers; that says a lot not only about the GOP’s confidence but also about the Republican base’s determination to take on Democrats and go all-out politically. If the red wave gets truly gigantic, could any of these seats grow competitive? I’d keep an eye on the Wake County-based NC-13, which might have given Obama a 59% victory but also voted for Bush back in 2000 - but Republicans did not recruit a candidate in a position to take advantage of the environment. Bernie Reeves is a magazine publisher, Dan Huffman is a conservative businessman, Bill Randall is a veteran who has set up a website and I can’t find any information about Frank Hurley.

The 5 GOP seats

Given that Democrats already control 8 of 13 districts, it is no surprise that the 5 remaining Republicans represent heavily conservative district and should be safe. They are: Rep. Jones (NC-03), Rep. Foxx (NC-05), Rep. Coble (NC-06), Rep. Myrick (NC-09) and Rep. McHenry (NC-10).

It’s worth saying a few words about NC-03. Walter Jones has faced a lot of Republican opposition in recent years, as he became one of the GOP’s few staunchly anti-war voices and survived a strong primary challenge in 2008 with just 58%. He doesn’t have much to worry about in 2010, however. Two Republicans have filed against him. One is Craig Weber, who was his Democratic opponent in 2006 and 2008 - not someone who will excite conservatives; the other is Robert Cavanaugh about whom I am unable to find any. In the general election, ones is sure to face Johnny Rouse, the party chairman in Pitt County, a relatively populous county of nearly 170,000 inhabitants. That doesn’t mean he can beat Jones in a district that voted for John McCain by 18%, but he should have enough experience and connections to at least help bring out his party’s base to the polls - thus helping in other races.

In fact, Democrats have filed at least one candidate against all of these Republicans, which is always a good sign for a party’s overall competitiveness and something they had fallen well short on in Texas. In the NC-05 and NC-06, the only Democratic candidates are William Kennedy and Gregory Scott Turner; I have not found information about either of them. In NC-10, Jeff Gregory and 2004 nominee Anne Fischer will square off for the right to represent Democrats in a district that gave Obama 36%.

The only Democratic challenger in the state to have set up a website is Jeff Doctor, a businessman who is running in NC-9 against Sue Myrick. (The former Mayor of Charlotte, Myrick has attracted most attention in recent years for her extremely anti-Muslim views, most notably when she called on the US to revoke Jimmy Carter’s passport over his ties with Palestinians and when she linked terrorist threats with the high number of Muslims running convenience stores.) Interestingly, NC-09 is the state’s GOP-held district that gave McCain the smallest margin of victory: 55% to 45%. As of the end of 2009, Doctor had raised $53,000, which is already more than any Democrat raised against Myrick this past cycle except for her 2008 opponent Harry Taylor, who lost 62% to 38%, significantly underperforming relatively to Obama. I suspect Doctor might have at some point drawn Democrats’ attention in 2008-like circumstances, but it’s a very different situation this year.

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

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

House

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

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

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

Senate

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

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

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

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

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

Governor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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