May 15, 2015 — One place where the early campaign has gone poorly for Senate Democrats is Pennsylvania. With state and national party leaders in an open feud with former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7), the 2010 Senate nominee who held Republican Pat Toomey to a 51-49 percent victory, the race has the potential to spin out of control.
Pennsylvania Democratic Party leaders and those from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in Washington are attempting to recruit Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro to oppose Sestak. In addition, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (D) has announced his candidacy. Pawlowski entered the 2014 gubernatorial race but didn’t fare well, and dropped his bid even before the candidate filing deadline expired.
A new Harper Polling survey (May 6-7; 503 registered Pennsylvania voters) adds to the Democrats’ problems, as Sen. Toomey appears to be in strong shape at the beginning of the race. Harper finds his personal favorability index to be a strong 54:32 percent positive to negative.
In ballot test questions pairing Toomey individually against Sestak, Shapiro, and Pawlowski, the incumbent performs very well. Toomey leads ex-Rep. Sestak 53-32 percent, clearly the strongest numbers the senator has registered to date in what is a difficult state for any Republican to win. He scores a 55-30 percent margin against Pawlowski. Ironically, though Shapiro seems to be the top choice of Democratic leaders, Toomey does best against him. The senator would lead the local Montgomery County Commission chairman, 55-27 percent.
Though this race will undoubtedly tighten, it doesn’t appear possible that Sen. Toomey could be in better political position heading into what will clearly evolve into a very tough re-election contest.
Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) was supposed to draw official Democratic opposition for next year’s open Senate race this week, but it’s not going to happen … at least not for now.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), who had been strongly considering entering the race, now says definitively that he will not run. Having assumed the position as Ranking Minority Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in January, Schiff says he does not want to leave the post this early. He indicated that he could consider running statewide at a different time. He stressed the need for a strong southern California candidate to emerge.
It then appeared that we would have the missing southern California contender late this week, as a campaign communication coming from Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s (D-CA-46) camp indicated that an official Senate campaign announcement event would be occurring today. That message was quickly contradicted, however, and Rep. Sanchez remains as merely “seriously considering” the bid.
This is the second time that Sanchez was in the process of setting a date for an announcement only to back away. While Harris has had the early field all to herself, the population dominant southern California still has no regional candidate. A Hispanic southern California Democrat would be a formidable contender, but no one has stepped forward. Though Sanchez remains as a possible contestant, her credibility after several bouts of public indecision is waning.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA-34), who many believe would be Harris’ strongest opponent, continues to say he will decide whether to run by the summer. The longer Harris has to continue to build support, however — and she has already made major southern California inroads — the tougher she will be to catch.
The San Francisco Bay Area has a lock on the key California statewide elected official positions. Both senators Dianne Feinstein (D) and the retiring Barbara Boxer (D) hail from the city and metro area, as does Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and AG Harris. The last time someone from a different part of the state became a California senator was back in 1991-92, when Orange County’s John Seymour was appointed to fill a vacancy. The last person to win a Senate election from outside San Francisco is Pete Wilson (R) who captured his seat more than 30 years ago, in 1982.