Monthly Archives: September 2012

Two Long Shot Races Turning

A pair of under-the-radar Senate races are now becoming competitive, recent polls indicate. In Arizona and Pennsylvania new publicly released surveys put a Democratic and Republican underdog in the national spotlight for the first time.

In the Grand Canyon State for the seat of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R), polling results from Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, the former U.S. Surgeon General under President George W. Bush, places him in a virtual tie with his favored Republican opponent, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6). Anzalone Liszt Research, polling for the Carmona campaign, surveyed 600 likely voters over Sept. 18-23 period and projected 44-43 percent results. Other recent surveys also put the Arizona seat in play, but their margins still favor Flake beyond the margin of error. Rasmussen Reports publicized a study earlier this week giving the congressman a six-point, 47-41 percent lead, and the international research firm YouGov posted mid-September data that projected the Republican nominee to be enjoying a similar 43-37 percent margin.

Flake, a six-term congressman from Mesa, Ariz., is best known as one of the leaders of the movement to end spending earmarks. Opposed in the late August Republican primary, he easily defeated wealthy businessman Wil Cardon. Many Democratic strategists believe that Dr. Carmona, an Independent-turned-Democrat who President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid encouraged to run, can score an upset win. While current polling is beginning to show serious competition, voting history nonetheless yields a conclusion that the seat will stay red.

In the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, we see another Senate race growing tighter as we inch closer to Election Day. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. has maintained a sizable lead throughout the campaign, however, his challenger, a self-funding former Democrat, appears to be making a move. Recently the seat has moved from “likely” to “lean Democratic” proving that GOP nominee Tom Smith is gaining ground against the incumbent. With President Obama polling well in Pennsylvania, Smith will have to run substantially ahead of his own presidential nominee to record a surprise win, making his uphill task even more difficult.

Tom Smith is a former coal company chief executive officer who handily won the Republican primary with multi-million dollars in personal expenditures. Smith is making a strong issue of his coal background and using recent plant closings as a way to draw a contrast between himself and Casey. Smith will attempt to take advantage of Obama’s Cap & Trade legislative initiative that proved so lethal to Democrats in the 2010 elections. Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth largest coal producer, providing over 5 percent of the nation’s aggregate total.

Recent polls do suggest positive movement for Smith, leaving the Democrats a bit uneasy. A Quinnipac University poll (1,180 likely voters, +/- 2.9% error factor) released this Wednesday showed Sen. Casey leading the Republican just 49-43 percent, a drop all the way from 55-37 percent (a net swing of 12 points) in late July. Another contemporary Susquehanna Research survey published in the Pittsburgh Review Tribune newspaper also showed a similar split with Casey only leading 46-41 percent.

It’s clear from the political metrics that Smith is making gains, but is it too little, too late? With Obama consistently leading Mitt Romney here and Sen. Casey maintaining at least a small edge over challenger Smith, the patterns still suggest the Pennsylvania Senate seat will remain in the blue column.

Rep. Jim Matheson

Matheson Gets No Love

Rep. Jim Matheson

A new internal Public Opinion Strategies poll for Utah congressional candidate Mia Love shows the challenger opening up a huge lead over six-term incumbent Jim Matheson (D-UT-2). The two contenders are running for the state’s new 4th Congressional District, a seat awarded the state in the 2010 reapportionment formula. The new UT-4 stretches from the southern Salt Lake City suburbs to the center of the state and includes such communities as South Salt Lake City, Millcreek, West Jordan and South Jordan, and Love’s home town of Saratoga Springs. Matheson only represents 33 percent of the new district, but it does contain the most Democrats of the state’s four congressional seats. Still, President Obama could only register 41 percent support here in 2008 and figures to do worse this time with semi-favorite son Mitt Romney leading the Republican ticket.

The new POS data for the Love campaign (Sept. 10-11; 400 likely UT-4 voters) gives the Republican a whopping 51-36 percent lead over Rep. Matheson. Though the congressman still has a positive image (57:33 percent favorable to unfavorable), a full 50 percent of those questioned now say they want a new representative.

Mia Love, 36, born of Haitian parents and elected to the city council and now mayor of her home town, received a prime speaking position at the Republican National Convention and scored rave reviews for her message and performance. The address jump-started her campaign and this new poll evidences that she is one of the country’s top Republican challengers. Expect to see a Matheson counter poll released shortly. Failure to do so will silently confirm the POS results.

The Conflicting Trends

Though we spend a great deal of time writing about and analyzing polls, it is important to remember that even though individual ballot test data is helpful and allows us to gauge campaign trends, the isolated individual polls themselves can be misleading. Today’s examples coming from Nevada and Ohio are a case in point. In both states, polls conducted during the same sampling period are producing considerably different results.

In Nevada, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 18-20; 501 likely Nevada voters) and Public Opinion Strategies (Sept. 19-20; 500 likely Nevada voters) can’t even agree on which Senatorial candidate is leading the race. A similar range conflict is found in the Ohio Senate race between Gravis Marketing (Sept. 21-22; 594 likely Ohio voters) and the Washington Post (Sept. 19-23; 759 likely Ohio voters), though the incumbent, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), leads in both studies.

Looking at the Silver State, PPP projects Democrat Shelley Berkley to have a 48-44 percent lead over appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). But POS is posting Heller to the opposite position, as they show the Senator topping Berkley 44-39 percent. Among the Buckeye State likely voters (the Washington Post poll provides separate results for their larger sampling universe of 934 registered voters and the whittled down cell segment of 759 likely voters), the WP Poll gives Sen. Brown a substantial 51-43 percent advantage, while Gravis sees only a one-point difference (Brown over state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) 44-43 percent) between the two candidates.

Examining the aggregate for all four polls, the net swing in Nevada is D minus 7 points from PPP to POS, while both show the same level of support for Republican Heller (44%). Interestingly, the Gravis and Washington Post Ohio polls reveal a similar effect. While Democrat Brown swings seven points between the two surveys, Republican Mandel scores the same level of support in both, 43 percent.

The presidential numbers in both states also show similar divisions. PPP gives President Obama a 52-43 percent lead over Mitt Romney in Nevada, while POS shows the two candidates tied at 46 percent. In this case, PPP is six points higher for the Democratic candidate and three points lower for the Republican for a net swing of nine points. In Ohio, the Washington Post gives Mr. Obama a 52-44 percent edge among likely voters while Gravis Marketing projects only a one-point 45-44 percent margin in the President’s favor. Again, the two polls detect the same level of support for the Republican candidate, but vary rather substantially (once more, a difference of seven points) for the Democratic contender.

All four of these polls are live interview surveys, as compared to those using the Interactive Voice Response method, so these studies are all in the “apples to apples” comparison category. All are making their own unpublished determination as to what they define as a “likely voter.” The pollsters weight the responses to mirror the state’s population and voter registration and preference history but don’t reveal their particular weighting equations. And, clearly, this distinction is key in relation to the Democratic scale because the Republican numbers among these various studies remains constant, or virtually constant (GOP presidential number in Nevada is different).

What does this tell us? Again, looking beyond the original ballot test numbers, we are seeing clear variance, particularly on the Democratic side. This is more than likely the result of the particular pollster’s sample selection, weighting equation, and likely voter determination while, of course remembering that all polls are a mere snap shot in time of a very small group of people. This is why contrasting multiple polls to obtain a picture of a particular campaign is so important, because the comparison tells a much different story than looking at any one of these polls individually.

Throughout this election cycle, pollsters have been detecting an electorate that is inconsistent and can abruptly swing. The polls we compare today certainly continue to show such characteristics. This means, to a large extent, that we are flying blind into Election Day, and that the final determining factors either haven’t yet happened or are not fully cemented.

Mitt Romney

Battleground Poll: Favorable Romney Trends

Mitt Romney

The Battleground Poll, now in partnership with George Washington University, released a new survey (Sept. 16-20; 1,000 likely voters) yesterday that contains some surprising trends. The Battleground survey is a joint, long-standing, non-partisan effort from Republican pollster Tarrance & Associates and the Democratic survey firm of Lake Research. Their new data posts Republican Mitt Romney to a substantial lead within critical swing demographic segments despite President Obama scoring a 50-47 percent national advantage.

Rather stunningly, Romney has a nine-point lead among white women and a seven-point advantage among people 45 years of age and older. Considering the Obama campaign strategy has been to paint the Romney-Ryan ticket as the enemy of senior citizens, this poll suggests that this tactic has not gained any traction within the targeted segment. A bit less surprising are Romney’s 14-point positive numbers with married respondents.

But, perhaps the most significant part of the data pertains to the candidates’ middle-class performance. According to Battleground, it is Romney, despite all of the middle-class emphasis put forth from the Obama campaign, who has a 14-point edge within this economic demographic sector.

If the Battleground data is accurate, it is telling us that the Obama campaign is failing in two of its core strategic objectives: creating the Romney negative image they want voters to envision as it relates to cutting Medicare, and middle-class tax policy. If true, the ballot test numbers should soon begin swinging Romney’s way.

Republican House Prospects Looking Strong

Last week, Anne Brady, former finance director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, analyzed the House races from her perspective. Today, Jeff Burton, the Deputy Executive Director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, offers the GOP analysis.

House Democrats held a press conference last Thursday where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi proclaimed that her party has a “very excellent chance” of winning the majority in the upcoming general election. There’s just one problem – just about every pundit disagrees. Even other Democrat Party leaders fail to share their former Speaker’s opinion. Whoops. Last Monday, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (IL) said he expects the House to remain in Republican hands, and Robby Mook, Executive Director of the DCCC, said just a few weeks ago, “Today, we are in a neutral environment. It is a pretty steep climb in a neutral environment. It’s tough.”

Democrats need to pick up a net of 25 seats to take control. With a month and a half before Election Day, Republicans stand an excellent chance of not only keeping control, but also gaining seats and expanding our majority in the House.

Here’s why:

History is on Our Side – Only once since WWII has the party holding the White House gained more than 15 House seats in a presidential election year. That was in President Johnson’s 1964 landslide win over Sen. Barry Goldwater. President Obama’s negatives (ObamaCare, Cap & Trade, stimulus, economy & jobs) are so ingrained with voters that there is virtually no chance of a Democratic landslide.

Republicans on Offense – In 2010, the NRCC spent over 98 percent of our election money on offense. Going in to 2012, our strategy was to stay on offense and not let the Democrats spend the bulk of their money in Republican seats. Currently, of the $50+ million that the NRCC has reserved for TV this fall, we are spending 40 percent of it on offense, with Democrats following us in most places in an attempt to defend their endangered seats. Needless to say, a majority is not won by spending the bulk of your resources playing defense.

Message – Recent polling shows voters are putting more and more blame for the bad economy on President Obama. The Obama economy has precipitated the worst economic recovery in our nation’s history, and voters aren’t ready to let Democrats get away with it. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, ObamaCare is still an albatross around the necks of congressional Democrats. The Congressional Budget Office just upped both the overall cost of ObamaCare and the commensurate amount of Medicare cuts for current seniors that offset the massive new federal expenditure. Our message of reducing spending & debt, creating jobs, and repealing and replacing ObamaCare continues to resonate with voters. Our incumbents and candidates have done a great job of communicating this message.

Resources – The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) talks a lot about how they have out-raised the NRCC for the cycle. But, as any small business owner will say, ‘you can’t spend gross, you can only spend net’. According to the last report (end of August), the NRCC had $10 million more cash-on-hand than the DCCC. What does $10 million buy? It buys a month of television in Chicago, Sacramento, Denver and Las Vegas: all expensive markets where both parties are playing both offense and defense in multiple districts.

The Drive for 25 – This was the slogan the Democrats came up with after they lost the majority in record-breaking fashion back in 2010. Their math, however, doesn’t add up. Because of redistricting and key Democrat retirements in seats like OK-2 (R+14), AR-4 (R+9) and NC-13 (R+10), Republicans have a number of “gimmies” that we should pick up without spending any money. This, coupled with DCCC recruiting failures in seats in New York, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Florida, and redistricting victories in North Carolina and across the country, provides the basis for every non-partisan political analyst (and even the liberal New York Times) to say that Democrats really need to pick up somewhere between 35-40 Republican seats to win the majority.

All these factors lead to a neutral political environment. Head to head, I would take our incumbents and challengers over theirs any day. So Nancy Pelosi’s “very excellent chance” to take back the House is nothing more than a pipe dream. She won’t be wielding the Speaker’s gavel anytime soon. Hopefully, she never will again.

Angus King, Independent

A Senate Shift to the Left? Not Quite

Angus King, Independent

Several surveys were released this week that revealed a leftward polling shift in key Senate races, but new data publicized late yesterday returned to the previous pattern.

With only six-plus weeks left until Election Day, Democratic Senate candidates have made considerable gains, and earlier this week national trends were showing a clear shift in races that are pivotal to a Senate majority.

With 51 seats needed to maintain the Senate majority, a current combination of returning senators and candidates leading in 2012 contests would give the Democrats 48 members. One Independent candidate (Angus King), should he win the open seat three-way race in Maine, is likely to caucus with the Democrats, while another six races where neither candidate has led consistently are considered toss-ups. In three of the too-close-to-call states – Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia – the Democratic candidates appear to have made gains since the national convention period, and early week polls showed a definite change in voter support. But, studies released late yesterday afternoon projected the Republican candidate to now be gaining in all three of those particular places.

In Wisconsin, the battle between former governor Tommy Thompson and Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin continues to make news. Polling completed after the Democratic gathering in Charlotte, N.C., ended showing a major shift in the race. A New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac University survey projected Rep. Baldwin to have drawn into a tie with Thompson, after trailing him by six percentage points in August. Additionally, a Marquette University poll, also released Wednesday, revealed Rep. Baldwin catapulting from a nine-point deficit all the way into a nine-point lead. The new CBS/Quinnipiac poll, however, brings the race back to an even footing.

In the Old Dominion, we see another slight shift to the left as two polls give the Democrat, former governor Tim Kaine, leads of four and seven percentage points over Republican ex-senator George Allen. The polls, including one from the Washington Post, found that Kaine has an eight percentage point lead over Allen, 51-43 percent. That’s a significant shift since May when their last poll found the two candidates – both universally known in Virginia politics – tied. The second poll, a Quinnipac University/CBS News/New York Times study released Wednesday found Kaine to hold a seven percentage point lead over Allen, 51-44 percent, but their respondent universe contained a substantial over-sampling of Democrats. Previously, the same partnering organizations’ poll conducted in late July posted Kaine to a smaller, two percentage point lead.

In New England, we see more movement. On Wednesday, a fourth consecutive poll was published putting Democrat Elizabeth Warren ahead of Sen. Scott Brown (R). The incumbent, who recently distanced himself from GOP nominee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and continues to battle for the opportunity to win a full six-year term in office, must overcome the highest hurdle of adverse political voting history of any Republican candidate in the country.

The Republicans may be coming through their down polling period because of the positive consistency associated with the numbers released yesterday. This tells us it is too soon to tell if a pro-Democratic pattern is beginning to crystallize, or whether the recent upturn was a mere blip in the ebb and flow of the election cycle.

With only 46 days until Election Day it is a certainty that each of the long-term close Senate races will continue to help define which of the two parties will claim majority status when the new Congress convenes in January.

Angus King Fading in Maine

Ever since Independent former Gov. Angus King announced his candidacy for the open Maine Senate seat, he has been considered a strong favorite to win. And, there is a realistic scenario suggesting that he alone would decide who controls the Senate if by caucusing with one party or the other he either breaks a tie or creates one. Now, however, two new polls both show King to be in a weaker position in his three-way battle with GOP Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill.

According to the liberal Maine’s People’s Resource Center (Sept. 15-17; 856 likely Maine voters) that polled the race now and earlier in the year, King still posts a lead but it’s only about half as strong as it was in June. Today, they project King to have a 44-28-15 percent advantage over Summers and Dill, respectively. Public Policy Polling (Sept. 17-18; 804 likely Maine voters), surveying in the same time period, shows an even closer race. They have King leading only 43-35-14 percent.

Outside organizations have recently spent almost $2 million attacking King, and the operation appears to be working. The key to denying the state’s former governor victory is actually the Cynthia Dill number, which is more important than Summers’ support level. If Dill can break 20 percent, then King has trouble. In that scenario, all Summers has to do is hold the Republican base vote and he might have enough support to win. All of a sudden, the Maine campaign is knocking on the door of becoming a real race.

Rep. Mary Bono Mack - in trouble?

A Quintet of Close New House Polls

Rep. Mary Bono Mack

Now that we’ve passed Labor Day, congressional polls are going to be released at a fast and furious pace. Yesterday several surveys came into the public domain, each revealing close races for the tested subjects. Some of the new data appears surprising, but considering the redistricting or political situation surrounding the incumbent such results should have been expected.

Around the horn, close races are confirmed for Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA-36), Mike Coffman (R-CO-6), Bill Johnson (R-OH-6), David Rivera (R-FL-26) and the open WA-1 campaign between Republican John Koster and Democrat Suzan DelBene.

Polling for the liberal advocacy group Democracy for America, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 12-13; 1,281 likely CA-36 voters via automated interviews) gives California Rep. Bono Mack only a 47-44 percent lead over physician Raul Ruiz (D). The Riverside County district favors Republicans in registration by a 40.3 to 38.6 percent margin and the PPP sampling universe showed a 41-40 percent Republican to Democrat ratio. Therefore, the poll accurately reflects the desert district’s political division. This is the second poll that has projected the campaign to be within the margin of error. Such is not a surprise because this district can be competitive and Dr. Ruiz is proving to be a formidable opponent.

In Colorado, when the court re-drew the 2011 congressional map, the incumbent receiving the most adverse district was sophomore Rep. Mike Coffman. His 6th District went from 53-46 percent McCain to a 54-45 percent Obama, a net swing of 16 points toward the Democrats. So, it’s no surprise that he would be in a tough 2012 campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released another of their methodologically questionable interactive voice response polls, this one of only 350 people. The results show Coffman leading 42-39 percent, which on this type of survey, and being unaware of the types of questions asked, may not be a bad result for the Republican incumbent. The new confines of the district will yield a close race, but it is reasonable to conclude that the DCCC three-point Republican advantage conclusion most likely understates Rep. Coffman’s true support.

The 6th District in Ohio is a Democratic-leaning district at the very least. Freshman Rep. Bill Johnson’s upset of two-term Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) was one of the biggest surprises of the 2010 cycle. Therefore, it was expected that the re-match would be close. According to an Anzalone-Liszt survey for the Wilson campaign (Sept. 9-12; 500 likely OH-6 voters), the results confirm such a prediction. The Democratic internal data projects the race to be a 46-46 percent tie. Both candidates are accusing the other of voting to cut Medicare. The 6th, Ohio’s largest coal-producing district, could well vote based upon energy policy. The Cap & Trade issue was a major reason for Johnson’s 2010 win, even though Wilson had opposed the bill when he was in the House. This race appears to be a pure toss-up.

In Florida, Public Policy Polling, again for Democracy for America (dates and sample size not released) fielded a survey that was basically in the push-poll category as it asked several questions regarding the FBI investigating freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-FL-26). The pre-push result showed two-time former congressional nominee Joe Garcia (D) leading the first-term representative 46-39 percent. After the push questions were asked and recorded, the secondary ballot test gave Garcia a 49-36 percent lead. There is no doubt that Rivera has political problems, and since the new 26th CD is politically marginal the six point Democratic lead is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Finally, in Washington state, a Survey USA poll (Sept. 13-15; 593 likely WA-1 voters) gives Republican John Koster a 46-42 percent lead over Democrat Suzan DelBene. Both individuals are former congressional nominees. The new 1st is much different from the current CD-1 that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Inslee formerly represented. Fifty-two percent of the territory is new to the 1st District, but it’s an area largely comprised of places Koster represented during his tenure in the legislature and on the Snohomish County Commission. While 56 percent of the CD-1 voters supported President Obama in 2008, such a number represents a swing of 12 points toward the Republicans from WA-1’s former configuration. The S-USA poll shows Koster trailing DelBene by just one point among female voters, which is likely to expand in DelBene’s favor as the campaign continues toward Election Day. This race is expected to be close, but in a presidential year, the Democrats should command at least a slight edge.

Three Senate Races Turn Again

Yesterday we reported on recent Senate trends that looked favorable for Republicans, but new just-released polling shows a trio of races producing positive Democratic numbers. Within the last week Republican candidates were pulling ahead in Indiana, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Now Democratic sources say those races have abruptly turned around.

In the Hoosier State, the Global Strategy Group, polling for the Joe Donnelly campaign (Sept. 8-10; 800 likely Indiana voters), reports that their candidate is leading Republican nominee Richard Mourdock by a 45-42 percent count.

Western New England University (Sept. 6-13; 545 registered Massachusetts voters), which has previously polled the Massachusetts Senate race and posted Sen. Scott Brown to a lead, now shows challenger Elizabeth Warren to be opening up a six-point, 50-44 percent advantage. This poll has a small sample and a long interview period, both negative reliability factors. Additionally, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 13-16; 876 likely Massachusetts voters) also puts Warren ahead of Brown, but by a smaller, and probably more realistic, 48-46 percent margin.

Turning to the Badger State of Wisconsin, where all post-August primary polls have shown former governor Tommy Thompson to be enjoying leads of varying sizes over Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), the Democrats are producing new surveys touting a different result. The Feldman Group for the Baldwin campaign (Sept. 9-12; 800 likely Wisconsin voters) gives their candidate a 50-45 percent lead over the Republican nominee. Public Policy Polling, conducting a survey for the liberal organization Democracy for America (Sept. 12-13; 959 likely Wisconsin voters) gives Baldwin a three-point, 48-45 percent slight edge. This poll also shows President Obama clinging to the barest of leads over Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, a 49-48 percent count.

The campaigns are fluid, so these snap-shot numbers could be accurate, at least in the short term. The Indiana data is internally sourced from the Democratic campaign, which is always suspect without viewing the entire questionnaire. On the other hand, the Mourdock campaign has yet to release countering data of its own. The Western New England University poll likely has a large error factor and should be discounted. The Wisconsin studies could have validity because Thompson has not yet countered two solid weeks of heavy negative advertising against him. Expect more twists and turns in all of these races before November arrives.

Todd Akin

Senate Trends

Rep. Todd Akin

More is becoming known about the nation’s US Senate races, and trends are forming. With seven full weeks to go until Election Day, much can still change but at this point, both parties could be headed to the 50-seat mark. Ironically for Republicans, it could well be Todd Akin’s fate in Missouri, the candidate national GOP leaders attempted to replace because of his unintelligent comments, that will decide which party controls the body in the new Congress.

As we know, of the 33 in-cycle seats, Democrats are defending 23. Today, they appear safe in 10 of those: California (Feinstein), Delaware (Carper), Maryland (Cardin), Minnesota (Klobuchar), New Jersey (Menendez), New York (Gillibrand), Pennsylvania (Casey), Rhode Island (Whitehouse), Washington (Cantwell), and West Virginia (Manchin).

Two more are headed toward the Independent column, and those winners will either caucus or vote with the Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) runs as an Independent but joins the Democratic conference. Angus King, the Independent former governor, is strong favorite for Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) seat as the campaign turns into the home stretch. He is projected to caucus with the Democrats, but has yet to commit to do so. If the fate of the majority comes down to King, it is unclear what might happen.

Trending toward the Democrats appears to be the races in Hawaii (open seat – Rep. Mazie Hirono), Michigan (Stabenow), New Mexico (open seat – Rep. Martin Heinrich), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown).

Hawaii polls have been erratic, but the preponderance of polling data gives Rep. Mazie Hirono a clear lead. Same is true in Michigan for two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow and first-term incumbent Sherrod Brown. Though polling shows Rep. Martin Heinrich well ahead of former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), this is another race that could turn. Wilson’s strength with Independents in the state could make a difference if Democratic turnout is even slightly low.

Republicans are safe in fives seats: Mississippi (Wicker), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch), and Wyoming (Barrasso).

Trending toward the GOP are the races in Indiana (open seat – Richard Mourdock), Massachusetts (Scott Brown), Nebraska (open seat – state Sen. Deb Fischer), Nevada (Heller), North Dakota (open seat – Rep. Rick Berg), and Wisconsin (open seat – former governor Tommy Thompson).

The Indiana race is tight – some polls show it about even – but Richard Mourdock has not made any mistakes in his battle with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). Hoosier State voting trends at the top of the ticket – Mitt Romney appears headed for victory over the President here and Rep. Mike Pence is a solid favorite in the governor’s race – should help pull Mourdock across the finish line.

Recent polling in Massachusetts and Nevada is giving senators Scott Brown and Dean Heller small, but consistent and discernible leads over Elizabeth Warren (D) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), respectively.

While the North Dakota seat has been tight for most of the campaign, more recent polling indicates that Rep. Rick Berg is opening up a lead well beyond the margin of error.

All post-primary polls in Wisconsin give former governor Tommy Thompson a lead over Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). All of these races could turn away from the Republicans before Election Day, but today, the GOP candidates look to be in the winning position.

Questions abound in the following campaigns:

• Arizona (open seat): Though Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is favored here, some polls are detecting a close race and Democratic nominee Richard Carmona is making this campaign a battle.

• Connecticut (open seat): A combination of factors have come together to make this race, at least in the short term, more competitive than expected. GOP nominee Linda McMahon being awarded the Independent Party ballot line, new polling showing the two candidates running close, and a personal financial situation involving Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) are all minor individual items that taken in the aggregate could become significant.

• Florida: Polling has been extremely inconsistent in the Sunshine State, but more surveys favor Sen. Ben Nelson than Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14). The campaign is trending Nelson’s way now, but the presidential final wave will have a lot to say about its final outcome.

• Missouri: Right after the August primary, Rep. Todd Akin made rape-related abortion comments that stirred a national hornet’s nest. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) jumped well into the lead, but the margin has since dissipated and the race is back in toss-up range. McCaskill is the most vulnerable of all Democratic incumbents standing for re-election, and Akin is the Republicans’ weakest national challenger. This one is far from over.

Montana: The political battle between first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has been close for months. In the past eight weeks, the polling was detecting a slight Rehberg advantage. A new survey released last week, however, showed Tester regaining the lead. The presidential election will weigh heavily on this race, and Mitt Romney seems to be enjoying a healthy advantage in Big Sky Country. This race will likely go down to the wire.

• Virginia: Possibly the closest race in the country, the campaign between former senator George Allen (R) and ex-governor Tim Kaine (D) has been dead even for the better part of a year. As in Florida and Montana, the presidential race looms large in the Virginia Senate race. The result is too close to call.

To recap, if this analysis is correct, the Democrats are safe or ahead in 16 races, including the two Independent candidates, and Republicans are safe in 11. Under this model, the GOP would attain the majority 51 number if they win any three of the six questionable races isolated above.

House 2012: The Democratic Perspective

I’m introducing Anne W. Brady as a guest columnist today. Anne is the former Finance Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and offers her party’s perspective about the upcoming election. Next week, we will have a guest Republican express the countering opinion.

Two years ago the Republican Party rebounded mightily from two lean election years and claimed a new majority in the House of Representatives. The Tea Party movement energized the GOP and many seats flipped from blue to red. Now, just two short years later with a presidential election in full swing, the questions being asked are whether the GOP will maintain control of the House and how the political landscape will be configured after Election Day, Nov. 6.

For House Republicans, the challenge to maintain the seats won in 2010 and their ability to increase the size of their conference is a more difficult task than many believe. With President Obama campaigning for a second term, we will invariably see a significant uptick in Democratic voter turnout. The GOP is defending more than 50 districts that voted for Obama in 2008 while Democrats must protect only 15 seats that backed Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee.

In order for the House to change party control this year the Democrats would have to gain a net 25 seats, which most political pundits say is challenging to say the least. This is particularly true in a redistricting year that the GOP largely controlled. In contrast, however, it is clear that some of the new Republican incumbents who swept to victory in 2010 may have tougher than expected re-election campaigns come this November. Greater Democratic turnout and very low congressional approval ratings, hovering around 10 to 11 percent, are two key factors that will cut against Republicans.

The real target in the swing regions is the Independent voter, who in many districts supported Obama four years ago but then switched to GOP candidates in the mid-term elections, thus proving they are open to messaging from both parties. With this in mind, we have seen some Republican incumbents focusing less on attacking Mr. Obama and more on trumpeting their independence, pragmatism and bipartisanship. On the national level, at least in the presidential race, the conversation has taken a much different tone and each party has largely focused their turnout strategy upon energizing their base and communicating with ideologically driven voters.

In a poll released last month by the liberal advocacy group Democracy Corps, it was conceded that the Democrats may not have the net gain of the 25 seats they need to regain the House majority, but they do stand a chance to win in approximately two dozen blue seats now under Republican control. The poll tested 54 targeted GOP-held districts and it showed Democrats leading on a hybrid generic ballot test question by an average of 50 percent to 44 percent in the 27 most vulnerable GOP-held districts as identified by the pollsters. It is also worth noting that freshmen represent many of the more vulnerable districts. Many of these first-termers rode the Tea Party wave into office and don’t yet have years in office building the good will to protect them from voter concerns about Congress.

While it’s clear the 2012 election isn’t going to create a Democratic wave like the one we saw in 2006 or commensurately for Republicans in 2010, it is evident that the House is in play and every seat will count come Election Day.

Rep. Chris Murphy

Connecticut Comes Alive

Rep. Chris Murphy

The Connecticut Senate race may be twisting in a new direction. After several post-primary polls have shown Republican challenger Linda McMahon pulling closer to Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), a personal financial situation could potentially put some wind at her back.

The McMahon campaign has filed an outside ethics complaint against Congressman Murphy, saying that he received preferential loan consideration in return for supporting TARP, the creation of which eventually led to a multi-million dollar loan for the bank in question. The Stamford Advocate, a publication supporting Murphy, details the financial history of the congressman missing some mortgage payments before his election to the House, which resulted in foreclosure process initiation. He later received a home equity loan, but only after the original loan was paid in full. According to financial professionals that the Advocate interviewed, nothing appeared improper about Murphy’s loan and the bank’s action in his regard. McMahon’s people counter that an average citizen who earlier faced foreclosure proceedings would not have qualified for another loan.

In addition to the Murphy finances controversy, McMahon also secured the Connecticut Independent Party designation, so her name will appear twice on the Senatorial ballot. This development could well mean more than a day or two of soon-forgotten media coverage over Murphy’s loan history, as the Independent line can account for several percentage points.

Though McMahon lost to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) 55-43 percent two years ago, she does appear to be trending upward now. Rep. Murphy remains the favorite, however, regardless of the budding financial controversy. The Democratic nature of the state, particularly in a presidential election year, will pay major dividends for the congressman. The race should still be rated as Lean Democratic, but it does merit further attention at least in the short term.

Cicilline Wins in RI; NH Gov. Results

Rhode Island freshman Rep. David Cicilline won a 62 percent victory in the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary last night, a number not usually viewed as a strong performance for an incumbent before his own party’s voters, but was better than some people believed would be the final result.

Cicilline was running against marketing executive Anthony Gemma who placed second to the future congressman when the pair battled in a crowded open seat contest two years ago. Gemma attempted to attack Cicilline from the right, billing himself as a conservative – an unusual approach for an Ocean State Democrat. Not surprisingly, before a group of liberal primary voters the more conservative political strategy failed.

The congressman will now face former Rhode Island state police colonel Brendan Doherty, who was unopposed for the Republican nomination. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so Doherty must overcome a major challenge in a presidential year from a seat that President Obama will carry in a landslide. Still, the eastern Rhode Island district, stretching from Woonsocket, through part of Providence, and down through Newport, does merit watching in the general election.

Delaware and New Hampshire also hosted primaries last night. No races were seriously contested in the First State, but the New Hampshire gubernatorial race was of interest.

New Hampshire is one of two states, neighboring Vermont is the other, that limits its governor’s to two-year terms. Retiring incumbent John Lynch (D), who won four consecutive elections to the Governor’s Mansion, still only served eight years in office.

In the Democratic primary, former state Senate majority leader Maggie Hassan, as expected, won the nomination but her margin of victory was larger than most predicted. She defeated former state Sen. Jackie Cilley 54-39 percent. Hassan will now face Republican Ovide Lamontagne, who captured a strong 68 percent in his party primary. Approximately 99,000 people voted in the Republican primary versus the 78,000 neighborhood for the Democrats.

The New Hampshire general election is projected to be tight across the board. It could be a determining state in the presidential campaign; the two congressional races are expected to be close; and the governor’s contest, of which the finalists were decided last night, begins with a slight Republican tilt.

GOP incumbents Frank Guinta in the 1st District and Charlie Bass in NH-2 secured renomination with more than 82 percent of the vote. Both general election campaigns are re-matches from their 2010 battles. Guinta again faces former representative Carol Shea-Porter, whom he unseated. Similarly, Bass once more takes on Democratic lobbyist Ann McLane Kuster. In 2010, the two fought to a one-point final decision.

New-Mexico-poll2

New Land of Enchantment Numbers

The Albuquerque Journal released the results of their Research & Polling, Inc. survey of 667 likely New Mexico voters over the Sept. 3-6 period, and it reveals an improved position for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. New Mexico, along with New Hampshire and Iowa, has performed as a pure swing state in national elections since 2000, but surveys to date have consistently given President Barack Obama double-digit leads.

In this poll, Obama has only a 45-40 percent advantage over Romney, with former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for President, drawing 7 percent. With just a five-point gap now, the results show substantial movement for Romney, who had been trailing by as many as 15 points in previous surveys. The poll also shows that Johnson could play spoiler for Obama and not Romney. According to the Albuquerque Journal, “Johnson gets 12 percent of the Independent vote in the state, leaving Romney with a 38-35 lead over Obama among the key group.”

The study was conducted after the Republican convention but before the President made his official acceptance speech last week in Charlotte. According to the pollsters, about half of the respondents were questioned subsequent to First Lady Michelle Obama’s address.

In another race, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) leads former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) by a 49-42 percent count. This is consistent with other polls that have shown both candidates in the 40-percentile range, with Heinrich leading. The numbers break down regionally as one would expect, except that Wilson, tied with Heinrich in the southwestern corner of the state, should be performing better in the region south of Albuquerque.

This poll suggests that the “lean Democrat” rating assigned to this campaign is correct, but also shows a growth pattern available to Wilson. The fact that she leads Heinrich 53-37 percent among Independents is highly encouraging for her campaign effort.

Last Primaries Tomorrow

Tomorrow marks the last regular primary election of this political cycle, as voters go to the polls in Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Louisianans also haven’t chosen their nominees and will do so in their unique version of the jungle primary that occurs on general election day, Nov. 6. In the Bayou State, if no 2012 candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, then the top two finishers will run-off on Dec. 1.

Tomorrow, however, will decide two key races: choosing gubernatorial nominees in the open New Hampshire statewide race, and whether freshman Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI-1) survives his competitive Democratic primary challenge.

The 1st Congressional District of Rhode Island encompasses the eastern part of the state, beginning at the Massachusetts border with the city of Woonsocket, taking part of the city of Providence, and then traveling south all the way through the upscale city of Newport and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Though the seat is heavily Democratic in nature (Obama ’08: 67 percent), Rhode Island voters do tend to send Republicans to Washington from time to time. Therefore, with former state police colonel Brendan Doherty (R) waiting in the wings for tomorrow’s winner, determining the Democratic nominee, especially in the person of a beleaguered Rep. Cicilline, will not end the battle for this seat.

Cicilline has problems tomorrow not so much for what he has done in Congress, but rather as a hangover from his tenure as Providence mayor. The city is teetering on bankruptcy, and Cicilline has been taking major hits in the local media for his expenditure budgets while he was the city’s chief executive. The Providence Journal newspaper has detailed the waste and abuse in city spending over the course of months, and popular local radio talk show host Buddy Cianci, the former Providence mayor who spent time in federal prison for his improprieties in office, uses Cicilline as his regular whipping boy.

The prolonged attention has caused the congressman grief and though he will likely be renominated tomorrow night, the margin between he and Democratic challenger Anthony Gemma could provide a clue as to how the general election will unfold.

Gemma is a marketing executive who ran two years ago when the seat was open, placing second to Cicilline in a four-person Democratic primary field with 23.3 percent to the winner’s 37.7 percent. Despite Cicilline being so well-known and facing three people who were largely unfamiliar to the voting populace, more than 62 percent of 2010 Democratic primary voters chose another candidate. He then won an unimpressive 51-45 percent victory in the general election. With increased negatives since that time, tomorrow’s race should be considered a serious challenge despite Gemma only raising slightly over $300,000 for the campaign.

The most competitive New Hampshire primary race is the Democratic battle for the right to succeed retiring four-term Gov. John Lynch (D). New Hampshire and Vermont are the only two states who still utilize two-year terms for their governors. So, even though Lynch has won four elections, the first New Hampshire chief executive in the modern era to do so, he has only served eight years.

Two former state legislators are squaring off for their party’s nomination, Democratic former state Senate majority leader Maggie Hassan and ex-state senator Jackie Cilley. The winner – and Hassan is only a slight favorite tomorrow – will likely face GOP former gubernatorial nominee and ex-chairman of the state Board of Education, Ovide Lamontagne. The November contest will likely be as close as the presidential election here will be, in what will prove to be a tight and politically pivotal state.

At the congressional level, the general election contests are virtually set as Rep. Frank Guinta (R) defends his 1st District seat against the woman he unseated two years ago, former representative Carol Shea-Porter (D). The 2nd District contest will also feature a re-match of the 2010 campaign, a fierce one-point race between current Rep. Charlie Bass (R) and lobbyist Ann McLane Kuster (D). An equally close contest is forecast for this year. The two Republican incumbents face multiple primary opponents tomorrow, but none are serious. Both Democratic candidates are unopposed.