Tag Archives: Chris Murphy

House: IE Money Flying

The American left and right, including their respective major party organizations, are again spending abundantly in certain House races as we enter the final week of the campaign. In fact, according to new Federal Election Commission independent expenditure (IE) filings just made public, the two sides (House party organizations coupled with outside group spending) have combined to spend $26.4 million during just the Oct. 27-29 period. Of this total, Republican/conservative groups have spent a tick under $14 million, while the Democrats and liberal organizations have spent $12.5 million. Remember, all of these expenditures cover only a three-day period.

The top two races receiving monetary attention in this critical time frame are in New Hampshire, where Rep. Frank Guinta (NH-1-R) is defending the seat he won from ex-Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) in 2010. In just the past three days, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has laid down $1.037 million on Shea-Porter’s behalf, mostly for media expenditures on negative ads against Rep. Guinta. Countering that number is the American Action Network, which dropped $637,000 to fund either positive Guinta or negative Shea-Porter ads.

The top Republican recipient is Illinois Rep. Judy Biggert who is having a difficult time in a radically redistricted seat that Democratic leaders designed to defeat her. She opposes former Rep. Bill Foster (D), who lost his 14th District seat in 2010. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spent $837,000 on Biggert’s behalf, while the DCCC countered with $743,000 to help Foster.

At least one other incumbent race is seeing combined party and group spending exceed seven figures for this short period. Minnesota Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN-8) has witnessed the NRCC and the American Action Network (AAN) combine to spend more than $1 million in his heavily Democratic district. Another such CD is the open IL-13 seat that Rep. Tim Johnson (R) is vacating. Republicans and the AAN dropped more than $850,000 here for Rodney Davis as compared to the DCCC’s $329,000 to help their nominee, Dr. David Gill.

The AAN spent more than $500,000 apiece in California (Rep. Jeff Denham, R-CA-10) and Nevada (Rep. Joe Heck, R-NV-3), in addition to the Guinta and Cravaack races, while the House Majority Fund dropped major six-figure expenditures to help New York Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY-1) hold his Long Island CD and over $400,000 to help Connecticut Democrat Elizabeth Esty fend off a strong challenge from Republican state Sen. Andrew Roraback in the seat that Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) is vacating to run for the Senate.

A couple of surprise protects are popping up late for both sides. Democrats, particularly when seeing almost $1 million go toward independent expenditures in Michigan’s 1st CD that contains the state’s Upper Peninsula, believe they have a strong chance to unseat freshman Rep. Dan Benishek. Another strong sleeper campaign might be found in the Orlando area, as the DCCC is dropping more than $427,000 in order to help elect former police chief Val Demings over freshman Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL-10) in Florida.

Democrats are surprisingly spending copiously in Arizona and New York to fend off what they see are serious threats to freshman Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ-2) and two-term Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY-21).

Republicans believe they have a great closing shot to maintain the new 1st District in Arizona, and to defeating Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Critz (D-PA-12) who won a brutal primary battle against fellow Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4), only to find himself in a relatively strong Republican seat.

No surprise that the IL-17 contest between freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) and local East Moline official Cheri Bustos (D) is hotly contested, as is the inter-party pairing in Ohio between Reps. Betty Sutton (D-OH-13) and Jim Renacci (R-OH-16). Both of these campaigns are considered toss-ups.

Of the top 10 races where Democrats are spending, three are to protect incumbents. On the Republican board, five of their top 10 expenditure races are for individuals already serving in the House.

Poll-watching

The Shifting October Winds

Poll-watching

October is generally determination month for hot-race candidates, and now that it has begun prepare for some major swings in several political venues.

Recently, with Election Day coming in less than five weeks, we have seen polling that detects significant change in several Senate campaigns, all showing a shift away from the initial leader. With the Senate up for grabs, each race becomes critical and could itself determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the body in the new Congress. Today, we isolate four such campaigns.

In Connecticut, Quinnipiac University released its latest poll (Sept. 28-Oct. 2; 1,696 likely Connecticut voters, +/- 2.0 percent error factor) that finds Democrat Chris Murphy now trailing Republican Linda McMahon 47-48 percent. This is a surprising result and much different from the 48-42 percent Murphy lead that Public Policy Polling found just a week ago (801 likely voters, +/- 3.5 percent error factor). It is important to note that both polling firms have surveyed this race repeatedly. Having the opportunity to study another reputable firm’s results in order to bring a fresh perspective might provide us a better directional indicator.

Shifting to another hot race, we turn to Massachusetts and a recent poll by Opinion Dynamics for the consulting firm Mass Insight Global Partnerships. This rather flawed poll – because the sample size is less than 350 respondents statewide and the survey period is a long five days – posts Democrat Elizabeth Warren over GOP Sen. Scott Brown by a 48-44 percent clip. This same polling firm gave Brown a large 52-42 percent lead back in January. Last week, Rasmussen Reports also released their poll showing the candidates to be in a statistical tie at 48-48 percent (Sept. 24; 500 likely voters, 4.5% +/- error factor). Conversely, that very day, the Boston Globe publicized their data projecting Warren to be holding a five-point advantage over the freshman senator, 43-38 percent (502 likely voters, 4.4% +/- error factor). With continuous polling producing conflicting results it is clear this race is going to come down to the final hours.

Wisconsin continues to provide us with a close and hard-fought Senate race. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) received a measurable bump in the wake of her speech at the Democratic Convention followed by an extensive early media advertising blitz, and polling indicates that the tide has turned in her favor. At least in the short term, Rep. Baldwin is now the clear front-runner over former four-term governor Tommy Thompson (R), after he consistently posted an advantage before and after the mid-August primary. Two recent polls show Baldwin leading: the first by Marquette University Law School showing a four-point edge, 48-44 percent (894 likely voters), and Real Clear Politics revealing a five-point advantage, 49-44 percent. Republicans, at one point, thought this seat would be a clear pickup opportunity, however, it is currently trending more Democratic. This polling trend could just as quickly snap back toward Thompson once he responds to the current line of attack being put forth against him.

Joining this see-saw Senate campaign group is the open seat race in Arizona. For months, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) had held a significant lead in all polling against Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General in the George W. Bush administration. After consistently gaining ground on Flake after the Aug. 28 primary, Public Policy Polling, in their Oct. 1-3 poll of 595 likely Arizona voters, puts Carmona into the lead for the first time, albeit by a scant 45-43 percent margin.

It is clear, differing from what we have witnessed in the past four election cycles, that no tsunami wave is emerging for either party this year. As we turn the corner into the homestretch of campaign 2012, it is important to monitor all momentum changes as a barometer for predicting final outcomes.

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The Stretch Drive Begins for Senate, House Races

October is here and the political stretch drive is beginning, so it is appropriate to examine where the Senate and House campaigns stand from an aggregate party division perspective.

For most of the election cycle, Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of capturing the Senate majority, taking it away from Harry Reid and the Democrats. But, new swings in momentum show a more Democratic trend.

Recently, Democratic incumbents in Florida and Ohio have gained strength and open seat contender Tammy Baldwin has seized the initiative in the open Wisconsin campaign. Sunshine State polls have been erratic, but Sen. Bill Nelson now seems to have built a consistent and sustained advantage. First-term Sen. Sherrod Brown has also seen the polls ebb and flow, but his mid to high single digit edge over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel is stabilizing, at least for the short term. Baldwin’s ad offensive and Republican former governor Tommy Thompson’s recent comments about dismantling entitlements has posted the Democratic nominee to a slight lead.

After some flirtation with breaking toward the Democrats, the pure toss-up campaigns in Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester opposing Rep. Denny Rehberg), and Virginia (ex-senator George Allen and former governor Tim Kaine) have re-established themselves as dead heat campaigns. All three of these races will likely go down to the wire.

Additionally, there is movement toward Republicans in at least two long shot states, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, while Democrats are making Arizona a race. By most polls, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) still leads Republican Linda McMahon, but the gap is closing and the latter has gained the offensive.

The sleepy Pennsylvania Senate race has finally arisen, and Republican Tom Smith’s recent ad blast appears to be bringing him to within a single-digit deficit of first-term incumbent Bob Casey Jr. Democrats are still likely to prevail here and in Connecticut, but there is no question that Republican candidates in both places have created some current positive momentum.

Democrat Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General, is pulling much closer to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in their open seat battle according to most polls. As in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the Democratic candidates, Flake still must be considered the favorite to prevail.

The Missouri campaign between Sen. Claire McCaskill who, at the beginning of the cycle appeared to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent standing for re-election, and the mistake-ridden Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) is still in toss-up territory. Most believe, however, that activity in the final stretch will favor the Democratic Senator.

Republicans were thought early to be clear favorites in North Dakota and Indiana, but polling is still indicating that both of these campaigns remain close. The GOP appears to be a lock to convert Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) open Nebraska seat, and Independent Angus King continues to maintain the inside track in retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine, though the numbers are closing.

Today, Democrats look to be ahead in enough states to give them a 49-47 aggregate lead in the Senate, with four races in the toss-up column; three of which are currently Democratically held. Hence, the majority remains in abeyance.

The House has been the most stable of the federal political entities in the 2012 cycle. Post-census redistricting will prove to be the determining factor here and that favors the Republicans. It appears the partisan swing will deviate between a +/- three seat margin in terms of aggregate gains and losses for the two parties, but Republican control seems secure.

Democrats could be gaining as many as three seats in Florida and potentially the same or more in Illinois. Republicans are positioned to score similarly in North Carolina. New York and California remain as wild cards.

While the GOP appeared to be in position to gain seats up until the last two weeks, Democrats are enjoying a swing in some House races, too. The best estimate indicates Republicans will comfortably retain control, but Democrats could make an aggregate gain in the low single digits.

Today, it appears that 233 seats are safely or trending Republican as compared to 186 headed to the Democrats. Sixteen seats are considered too close to call, with 11 of the 16 being in GOP currently held districts.

The Senate Scorecard

With most of the primary season now behind us and all of the Senate match-ups in place, sans Arizona and Wyoming, it’s time to examine the national outlook.

After seeing several competitive primaries decided in the past several weeks, we now sit on the cusp of the final short sprint to Election Day with Senate control still considered to be in “toss-up” mode. As we know, 33 Senate races are standing for election in November with 11 of those seats being open due to retirement and defeat, thus giving more conversion opportunities for each side. Of the 33 Senate races, a little under half of them are considered safe for the respective incumbent and, according to our count, six of the races are rated as toss-ups (Ind., Mass., Mo., Mont., Va., and Wis.).

If the Democrats were to win all of the “lean Dem” and toss-up races, and Independent former governor Angus King clinches the Maine race and decides to caucus with them, the Senate Democrats would actually add a net of three seats to their conference, bringing the total majority number to 56. Early in the election cycle it looked extremely unlikely that the Democrats would pick up any seats, however, as this year has unfolded, more Republican-held seats have come into play and some of the Democratic seats initially thought to be potentially vulnerable like Connecticut, Washington, and Pennsylvania are all trending more solidly leftward. Democrats also are in much better shape in North Dakota, as former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp continues to perform well against at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R), who began the race as a big favorite.

Conversely, if Republicans sweep the toss-ups and “lean R” races they would have a net gain of eight seats, bringing their total to 55 seats, even if King wins and caucuses with the Democrats. Thus, 56D to 55R appear to be the extreme swing parameters for the two parties.

While most political pundits still can’t say with any certainty who is going to control the Senate come January, it is becoming obvious that the ratio will be close. Neither party has so far broken out with the kind of drive to create a sweep, and several other campaigns have unfolded differently than originally predicted. It seems when one party makes a gain or falls behind, the other experiences a similar action, thus keeping the balance between the two in check.

For example, the political climate has become better for Republican candidates in Nebraska and Florida, while Democrats are approaching lock-down positions in Connecticut and Washington.

In the Cornhusker State we see that former senator Bob Kerrey’s return to politics after a 12-year absence while living in New York City has not been well received. GOP nominee Deb Fischer consistently holds polling leads that exceed the 18-20 point range. The best poll, from a Nebraska Democratic perspective, is the June Garin Hart Yang survey that put Kerrey within 12 points of his Republican opponent.

Turning to the Sunshine State, two-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, who has a substantial campaign resource advantage over his new official Republican opponent, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14), fresh from his solid primary victory earlier in the week, has failed to establish a firm lead. Polling consistently shows this race moving much closer to toss-up status, and while Sen. Nelson maintains a slight advantage, his edge is minimal and this campaign is quickly becoming as hot as a typical Florida summer.

In Connecticut earlier this week, GOP primary voters, by an overwhelming 73-27 percent margin, again fielded their losing 2010 candidate, former wrestling company executive Linda McMahon, this time to compete against newly nominated Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5). The two are vying for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s open seat. In recent polling, Murphy has opened up a strong lead when paired against McMahon. Former Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) consistently polled better in general election match-ups with Murphy, but he fared poorly in his nomination battle. With President Obama sure to run well in Connecticut and thus setting the tone for the entire Nutmeg State Democratic ticket, Rep. Murphy has established himself as the clear front-runner. Seeing him fall would now be considered a major upset.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, who serves the Evergreen State of Washington, has historically not been the most popular of incumbents. Her re-election prospects have improved considerably, however, since drawing a second-tier opponent in the person of state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. The senator placed almost 26 percentage points ahead of Baumgartner in the jungle primary earlier this month. While Washington originally had the potential of becoming a competitive race, Sen. Cantwell has considerably strengthened her position and this contest is virtually out of reach for the GOP.

As Election Day draws nearer, we continue to see a Senate that is still very much in play for both parties. Right now, it appears the Democrats are safe, likely, or lean winners in 18 states, while Republicans have that same status in nine. This means the Democrats are hovering around the 48 mark and the GOP is closer to 46. Of the six toss-ups, Democrats currently hold four states and Republicans two. Remember, Democrats must defend 23 of the in-cycle seats versus just 10 for their counterparts.

Poll Results: Fla., Wis., Conn., Minn.

Voters in four states went to the polls yesterday and two more congressional incumbents were denied renomination.

 Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-6), who was placed in Florida’s new 3rd District as a result of redistricting, was upended in a crowded primary, losing 34-33 percent to veterinarian Ted Yoho who spent less than $400,000 to win the race. The new 3rd, which stretches from the Gainesville area all the way to the Georgia border, is safely Republican so it is a virtual certainty that Yoho will be joining the freshman class. Rep. Stearns, who ranks third in seniority on the Energy & Commerce Committee and chairs its Oversight & Investigations subcommittee, was originally elected in 1988 and was running for a 13th term. He becomes the 12th incumbent to lose renomination and fifth in a non-paired situation.

Just to the south in the new 7th District, Rep. John Mica (R) easily defeated freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL-24) despite representing fewer constituents than she in the newly configured CD. Mica’s winning percentage was 61-39 percent. Polling had been predicting a big Mica win for weeks, which clearly came to fruition last night.

Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) turned back a late challenge from ex-representative Dave Weldon (R-FL-15) and two others, securing a strong 59 percent of the vote. He wins the right to challenge two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in what looks to be a very competitive political battle.

Former state Senate minority leader Al Lawson who came within two points of defeating then-Rep. Allen Boyd in the 2010 Democratic primary, won the party nomination last night and will now square-off with 2nd District freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R). The nature of the district favors a Southerland re-election. In the new open 6th District, attorney and Iraq War veteran Ron DeSantis, backed with Club for Growth support, won a big Republican primary victory in the Daytona Beach seat and will claim the safe GOP region in November. An upset occurred in the Orlando area’s 9th District as Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones lost the GOP nomination to attorney Todd Long. Quinones was being touted as a Republican challenger who could defeat former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-8), who is attempting a comeback in this largely Hispanic and Democratic district.

Other Florida primary winners are Rep. Allen West (R-FL-22) in the new 18th District, and radio talk show host and Club for Growth-backed Trey Radel in Connie Mack’s open seat (the Mack family had also endorsed Radel). Chauncey Goss, son of former Rep. and CIA Director Porter Goss, placed second in a crowded field. In the new 22nd District, also as expected, former West Palm Beach mayor Lois Frankel (D) will face former state House majority leader Adam Hasner (R) in a race that will favor the Democrat. In the new 26th District, former two-time congressional candidate Joe Garcia won a decisive Democratic primary victory and will again face freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-FL-25).

Turning to the hotly contested Wisconsin Republican Senatorial primary, as expected by most, former governor Tommy Thompson won the nomination even though almost two-thirds of the Republican primary voters chose another candidate. As is often the case in crowded fields, the best-known candidate often wins without majority support. Thompson defeated businessman Eric Hovde, former representative Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald by a 34-31-23-12 percent margin. The former four-term governor and US Health and Human Services secretary will now face Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) in a highly competitive general election that could conceivably determine which of the two parties controls the Senate in the next Congress.

• Connecticut voters also chose nominees in their open Senate race. As expected, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) easily defeated former secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz 67-33 percent. On the Republican side, 2010 nominee Linda McMahon crushed former Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4), 73-27 percent. Murphy is rated as a clear favorite in the general election. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) is retiring.

In the House, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty upset state House Speaker Chris Donovan who was besieged with problems over campaign finance irregularities in the open Democratic primary. Esty will be favored against the new Republican nominee, state Sen. Andrew Roraback in what has the potential of developing into a competitive campaign. The winner replaces Rep. Murphy.

Finally, in Minnesota, state Rep. Kurt Bills won the Republican nomination and essentially the right to lose to first-term Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) in November. On the House side, all incumbents won renomination and former Rep. Rick Nolan (D), who left office in 1980, will challenge freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack (R) in the Iron Range 8th District. Nolan won a 39-32 percent victory over former state Sen. Tarryl Clark who actually was the 2010 Democratic nominee in the 6th District against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R). It was clear that Iron Range Democrats rejected Clark’s carpet bagging maneuver. The Cravaack-Nolan race will be hotly contested in November.

Four More States Vote Tomorrow

Voters head to the polls on Tuesday in four states with each featuring some close primary elections.

Connecticut voters will determine nominees for their open Senate seat (Sen. Joe Lieberman retiring). On the Republican side, 2010 Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon looks to top her opponent, former representative Chris Shays (R-CT-4). The Democrats feature Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) who is favored over his intra-party opponent, former secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz. The Democrat nominee becomes the decided general election favorite on Wednesday morning.

In the Connecticut congressional races, Murphy’s open 5th District features a tough battle among Democrats as Speaker of the House Chris Donovan has been bloodied by all sides in this campaign but is still rated as the favorite. He battles PR executive Dan Roberti and former state representative Elizabeth Esty. For Republicans, 2010 lieutenant governor candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and moderate state Sen. Andrew Roraback appear to be the top contenders. The Democratic nominee will have the inside track in November.

• Turning to the Sunshine State of Florida, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) is the prohibitive favorite to secure the GOP Senatorial nomination and oppose two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in the fall.

Redistricting has changed the shape of many races across the state, and several competitive races will be decided tomorrow. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-6) is trying to repel a challenge for the new 3rd District, of which he currently represents only 66 percent of the new territory. Opponents include state Sen. Steve Oelrich, veterinarian Ted Yoho, and Clay County Clerk of Court James Jett. Because of his overwhelming financial advantage, Stearns is favored. The new FL-6, which contains 72 percent of Rep. John Mica’s (R-FL-7) current constituency, is currently open and features a competitive Republican primary. The stronger candidates include state Rep. Fred Costello, attorney Ron DeSantis, chain restaurant former CEO Craig Miller, and Jacksonville City Councilman Richard Clark.

In the Orlando area’s 7th District, another incumbent pairing is occurring, this time between Mica and freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL-24). Though Adams represents a bit more of the new district (51 percent of the constituency to 42 percent for Mica), the veteran congressman and House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman is likely to prevail. In the new 9th District, Republicans are fielding four candidates but most of the hype centers around Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones, who is expected to give former representative Alan Grayson (D-FL-8) a strong challenge in November despite this being a Democratic district.

Another open and safely Republican Ft. Myers area seat yields a formidable list of Republican candidates, including state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, Chauncey Goss, son of ex-representative and CIA Director Porter Goss, state Rep. Paige Kreegal, and conservative radio talk show host Trey Radel. Tomorrow’s winner will become the new 19th District congressman. Finally, in District 26, the “lean Republican” seat of freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-FL-25), several Democrats are competing for what could become a valuable nomination. The two strongest candidates are businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses and former two-time congressional nominee Joe Garcia.

• The most interesting Minnesota race comes in freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack’s (R) 8th District. The strongly Democratic nature of the seat makes this a highly competitive race in the fall, and is currently considered as a “toss-up.” Cravaack is challenged to his left by three viable candidates, including former 6th District nominee Tarryl Clark, former US representative Rick Nolan, and Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson. Clark is the best funded candidate but lacks any local Iron Range ties as her previous congressional attempt was against Rep. Michele Bachmann in a Twin Cities suburban district. Nolan, who left Congress in 1980, enjoys local Democratic establishment support but hasn’t run for public office in 34 years.

Wisconsin is a state that has gotten plenty of attention during the past few days because of Rep. Paul Ryan’s, (R-WI-1) selection as the Republican vice presidential nominee. The Badger State features a highly competitive Republican Senate primary to be decided tomorrow in plurality fashion, featuring former four-term governor Tommy Thompson. A “toss-up” general election will begin for the winner on Wednesday morning against Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), the consensus Democratic candidate.

Top Wisconsin congressional races occur in the 2nd District and the northern 7th and 8th CDs. Rep. Baldwin vacating her seat leaves the Democratic primary to decide her successor. The battle is between two state representatives, Mark Pocan and Kelda Helen Roys. Freshmen Rep. Sean Duffy (R), defending his marginal WI-7 seat, will be challenged by former state senator Pat Kreitlow (D). The contest favors the Republican by only a slim margin. Freshman Rep. Reid Ribble defends his WI-8 seat against business consultant Jamie Wall. Voting history makes the new incumbent a decided favorite. Keep an eye on these two races as the general election draws closer.

DSCC Chair Patty Murray’s Favorites

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made some statements that clearly indicates who she believes are her party’s strongest candidates in three key campaigns when she spoke during an informal session with reporters.

The senator stopped short of committing the DSCC to officially support and help any particular candidate in the Democratic primaries, but did offer her personal endorsement to a pair of open-seat contenders and spoke glowingly of a third.

Murray said that Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) are the best Democratic candidates for their states, that she personally supports both, and expects each to win their own general elections.

Not surprisingly, Murphy and Hirono’s opponents shot back when hearing the news. Former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz responded to Murray’s statements by saying that, “My opponent is the favorite of K Street, and my supporters are on Main Street.”

Former Hawaii Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) responded in a similar way about the senator’s comments praising Hirono. He claims that his top opponent is “selling her candidacy to the DC insiders.”

Murray also praised Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) as being the superior candidate in the New Mexico open-seat contest. She stopped short of personally endorsing him, however, and again did not commit any DSCC resources to Heinrich or any of the aforementioned candidates.

The New Mexico congressman is running against state Auditor Hector Balderas, who will likely draw well in the state’s substantial Hispanic community. Since these votes are critically important to the Democrats in the general election, both Murray and Heinrich are treading very carefully with respect to how they draw a contrast with Balderas.

The frankness of Murray’s comments is a bit unusual for a major party committee chair, particularly this early in the election cycle. Normally, the official response is to remain publicly neutral even if they help particular contenders behind the scenes. Often times public endorsements from Washington political committees do more harm than good for the people the party establishment wants to help, so they usually keep as silent as possible.

There is no question that Murphy, Hirono, and Heinrich are the early favorites in their respective states. If the election were today, each would almost assuredly win the nomination, so it makes sense that, from a general election “winability” perspective, Murray would want to further their candidacies. The fact that she is at least personally on board is a clear signal to outside liberal groups and labor union financial communities that they should be backing each campaign.

Much time remains in each of the three situations, so it is curious that Sen. Murray would be publicly picking favorites this early. The New Mexico primary is scheduled for June 5th. Hawaii and Connecticut do not choose nominees until Aug. 11 and 14, respectively.

In the Land of Enchantment, Heinrich and Balderas are fighting for the right to succeed retiring five-term Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez are dueling for the Republican nomination. The Democrats begin the campaign as early favorites, but this race could become a toss-up before people go to the polls next November.

The Democrats also appear strong in Connecticut, though ex-Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) does match-up well with Bysiewicz in early ballot test polling. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman is retiring.

The Hawaii situation may be different. With former Gov. Linda Lingle in the race and already the consensus Republican candidate in a late primary state, it is important that the Democrats avoid a divisive nomination fight. With Case having been on the ballot so many times before in the state (he’s previously had runs for governor, US senator, and three times as a representative for the US House), he has the potential of causing Hirono problems; so Murray attempting to give Rep. Hirono a boost should help the party’s general election standing. Four-term Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring.

New Poll Out in the Connecticut Senate Race

A new Quinnipiac University poll (Sept. 8-13; 1,230 registered Connecticut voters; 447 Democrats; 332 Republicans) suggests that next year’s open Senate race could become competitive.

According to the Q-Poll results, several candidate match-ups may evolve into a fierce contest. The top participants, two from each party, are Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz on the Democrat side, and 2010 Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon and ex-Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) for the Republicans.

Mr. Shays is the most competitive potential GOP nominee, but he fares poorly in the Republican primary. When paired with Murphy, Shays trails only by six points, 37-43 percent. The Republican former congressman, who was defeated for re-election in 2008 after serving 21 years in the House, actually leads Ms. Bysiewicz 42-40 percent when matched with her in a hypothetical general election.

The Republican primary, however, spells trouble for Shays. According to the Q-Poll survey, Ms. McMahon opens with a 15-point, 50-35 percent advantage. Though the former representative has been a strong fundraiser in his past congressional elections, McMahon’s personal resource advantage ensures that she can outspend her primary opponent regardless of the dollar number he posts. Though not assured of victory in an August 2012 primary by any means, McMahon certainly begins the race in the stronger position.

Ms. McMahon’s problem is that she doesn’t fare as well as Shays against either Democrat, particularly Rep. Murphy. Opposite the Cheshire congressman, McMahon trails 38-49 percent. When paired with Bysiewicz, she climbs a bit closer but still lags behind 38-46 percent. Neither margin is insurmountable, but consider that: she lost to current Sen. Richard Blumenthal by a 43-55 percent count in the strongest of Republican years after polling in much closer range, President Obama (Connecticut ’08 performance: 61-38 percent) will be on the ballot to help drive Democratic turnout, Republicans tend to poll better in the northeast than they run — and it’s not hard to add up the cumulative effect of all these signs pointing to a 2012 Connecticut Democrat victory.

All of the candidates except McMahon do fairly well on the personal favorability question. Shays does the best of all, posting a 41:14 percent positive to negative ratio. Murphy scores 38:16 percent; Bysiewicz a more mediocre 39:27 percent. Ms. McMahon, on the other hand, is upside down at 38:45 percent.

The Q-Poll also asked the Republican respondents their GOP presidential candidate preference. Here, Massachusetts former Gov. Mitt Romney still enjoys a commanding lead. Connecticut, which sends 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention, is a winner-take-all state, thus making it more important than a commensurate place of its size that uses a proportional delegate allocation system.

Mr. Romney is staked to a strong 37-19-8 percent edge over Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), respectively. The general election match-ups again show the President in strong position. He would defeat Mr. Romney 49-36 percent and records a 52-33 percent margin over Gov. Perry. The bad news for Mr. Obama is that even as he posts strong numbers against the top Republicans, he can do no better than a 48:48 percent job approval rating.

In the end, Connecticut will almost assuredly back the President for re-election and elect the Democrat nominee as its next US senator. But, the latest Quinnipiac result suggests that political fireworks will fly before that eventual result is achieved.

Senate Financials Tell Interesting Stories

The second quarter US Senate financial disclosure summaries are now available and in almost all cases, the incumbents have prepared adequately for their re-election campaigns. Obviously, the size of the state dictates the money range needed to run a viable effort, so the benchmark cash on hand figures differ greatly. All in-cycle incumbents have more than $1.5 million in assets with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who possesses $1.279 million. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has the most money in the bank, $9.628 million. The next closest cash on hand figure is Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) $6.057 million.

The only incumbent with less cash on hand than a challenger is Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) has $2.476 million in her campaign account versus Heller’s $2.272 million. The comparison is a bit unfair, however, because Heller is an appointed incumbent, replacing the resigned Sen. John Ensign (R). Therefore, his Senate incumbency is short-lived and should not be measured comparably to the other in-cycle full-term Senators.

The Senate incumbents having the strongest fundraising cycle to date are Scott Brown ($3.739 million), Bill Nelson ($3.695 million), and Democrat New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez ($3.581 million). The strongest open seat/challenger fundraisers are Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who still has yet to announce his Senate candidacy, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who is seeking retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) open seat, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) challenging one-term Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Mandel raised $2.339 million, Murphy $2.012 million, and Rehberg $1.964 million.

The fundraising and resource components provide some idea as to how competitive some of the projected close races might become. Sen. Nelson, for example, continues to prove he is in solid shape by every measuring instrument. His $6.057 million cash on hand is more than seven times as great as his closest financial opponent, GOP former interim Sen. George LeMieux. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), commonly viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election, raised only $111,000 more than Attorney General Jon Bruning, but leads his chief Republican opponent $2.916 million to $1.265 million in the cash on hand category.

The competitive race that is proving to be the closest, at least in resources, is the Nevada Senate race. There Rep. Berkley shows $2.476 million compared with Sen. Heller’s $2.272 million cash on hand. This race could turn out to be the most hotly contested in the country. Nevada is a tight swing state, both candidates are equally well-known, and they both possess the same quantity of campaign resources. With turnout expected to be high in the presidential election year, the final wave will likely decide this campaign. The same can be said for the Virginia Senate race. There, former Sen. George Allen (R) has raised $2.615 million with $1.649 million on hand. Tim Kaine, the former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, has raised a similar, but smaller, $2.266 million but has slightly more in the bank, $1.875 million.

As we know, finance tells only part of any political story, but no one denies that the dollar count is a highly important factor of any campaign effort.

Below is a link to a PDF spreadsheet containing the relevant financial numbers for all 33 Senate races being contested in 2012. The only state not recording any figures is Wisconsin. Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring, and no one has yet formally declared their candidacy for the open seat.

Candidate Financials: Senate Financial Disclosure – 2nd Qtr 2011
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New Polling Shows Interesting Results in Montana, Conn., W.Va.

Three pollsters released a trio of different polls yesterday, all in races of note.

Montana: Mason-Dixon Polling & Research surveyed the Montana electorate (March 14-16; 625 registered Montana voters) for the Lee Newspaper chain and found Sen. Jon Tester (D) to be in a dead heat with at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in the 2012 Senatorial race. The senator clung to a one-point 46-45 percent lead over his future GOP opponent. Tester received 94 percent support from Democrats compared to Rehberg’s 89 percent among Republicans. Independents broke 49-37 percent for the incumbent. Among men, Rehberg held a 53-40 percent advantage; Tester led 51-38 percent among female respondents.

Montana probably will support the Republican presidential nominee against Pres. Barack Obama, though the latter performed well here in 2008. John McCain managed to carry the state by a razor-thin 49-47 percent margin, but Obama led here during most of the ’08 presidential campaign. Assuming an improved Republican performance, Rehberg could get a slight bounce from the presidential race. The strong union presence in Montana, however, could prove to be a counter-balance in Tester’s favor. Union workers are likely to be highly energized due to the collective bargaining controversies happening in several states, which should provide positive synergy for Tester. Thus, the 2012 Montana Senate race will be a difficult campaign for both men. Count on the Tester-Rehberg race to be in toss-up mode all the way to the general election.

Connecticut: Public Policy Polling (March 17-20; 400 Connecticut registered self-identifying Democratic voters), for the Daily Kos national liberal blog, shows a very tight Connecticut Democratic Senatorial primary between Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. The eventual Democratic winner will have the inside track to replace the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman. According to PPP, Murphy leads Bysiewicz 40-38 percent. The congressman has a favorability index of 51:14 percent positive to negative; Bysiewicz is not quite as strong, scoring 45:27 percent.

In a general election match-up, tested from an enlarged sample of 822 registered Connecticut voters, Democrats win every pairing against well-known GOP potential contenders. The Republicans’ best ballot test featured former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2). He pulled to within 39-42 percent of Bysiewicz and 34-49 percent against Murphy. The Democrats perform much better against every other tested Republican.

West Virginia: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted a study for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, one of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates running in West Virginia’s May 14 special primary election. According to this data (March 10-15; 400 registered West Virginia Democratic voters), Tennant has a reasonable chance of denying acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin the Democratic nomination. Tomblin leads Tennant 31-27 percent within the at-large sample but, among respondents who know both individuals, Tennant scores a 34-31 percent advantage. State Treasurer John Perdue follows the leaders with 14 percent; state House Speaker Rick Thompson, who was just recently endorsed by some of West Virginia’s most powerful labor unions, and state Senate President Jeff Kessler each receive 5 percent.

The winner of the May 14 primary will face a Republican nominee in the Oct. 4 special election. The next governor will only serve through next year, but is eligible to run for a full four-year term when the position comes up for regular election in November of 2012. The state house became vacant when then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV). Manchin, too, will run for a full six-year Senatorial term in the next regular general election, as the 2010 special election was only for the balance of the existing term. With a long May-October special general cycle, it is clear that anything can happen in what promises to be an exciting governor’s race.
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Senate Contests Already Taking Shape

With announcements from senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and John Ensign (R-NV) earlier this week that they will retire at the end of the current term, becoming the seventh and eighth such in-cycle senators to do so, it’s time to re-cap who is jockeying for position to succeed all the outgoing incumbents.

Arizona: (Sen. Jon Kyl) – Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is an announced Senatorial candidate. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) is considering running, as is ex-Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ-1). For the Democrats, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) says he is looking at the race, but has taken no action to begin assembling a campaign as yet. Not much movement yet for the Dems, but they will have a credible nominee and this will likely become a competitive campaign.

Connecticut: (Sen. Joe Lieberman) – Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) is an announced candidate and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) will challenge him in the primary. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2), after considering the race, says he will seek re-election. Republican 2008 nominee Linda McMahon is considering running, but the Ds have the inside track in what is a reliable state for them.

Hawaii: (Sen. Daniel Akaka) – Democrats are looking at a crowded field, as this is the first open Senate seat there since 1976. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) and Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) are potential candidates. Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and former Honolulu mayor and defeated gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann are other possibilities, as is ex-Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2). Republicans have two potential candidates in former Gov. Linda Lingle, who is likely to run, and ex-Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI-1). Some Democrats are urging Akaka to resign before the term ends and allow Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) to appoint a replacement, thus avoiding what could become a difficult and nasty Democratic primary late in September of 2012. Akaka, however, has given no signal that he favors such an idea. Much action will occur here in the coming months.

Nevada: (Sen. John Ensign) – Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is the key person here. It is expected that he will soon enter the race. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and 2010 Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle are also making statements of interest, but both could also run for Heller’s open House seat if he does in fact vacate. The Republicans will need a clean primary to win in what is becoming a very marginal state for them. Democrats have several options. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will decide over the summer as to what she will do. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is a likely candidate. Secretary of State Ross Miller is expressing interest but says he wants to see what Berkley will do first before he makes a final decision. Should she run statewide, Miller could become a candidate for what will likely be her open safe Democratic House seat. This race will be in the toss-up category all the way to election day.

New Mexico: (Sen. Jeff Bingaman) – Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) is officially a Republican candidate. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) is making noises that he might run, setting up the same type of toxic primary that defeated Wilson in 2006 and gave Sen. Tom Udall (D) an easy run in the general election. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM-2), the man who defeated Wilson for that nomination and came back to re-claim his House seat against an incumbent in 2010, hasn’t ruled out another Senatorial run, but he’s likely to seek re-election instead. Democratic state Auditor Hector Balderas is virtually certain to run. Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) is a potential candidate. Should Wilson win the primary, this could become a competitive race.

North Dakota: (Sen. Kent Conrad) – Republicans are poised to convert this open seat, just as they did in 2010 with Sen. John Hoeven. The GOP has multiple options, including freshman at-large Rep. Rick Berg, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk, among others. Democrats have a weak bench and are unlikely to field a top tier candidate.

Texas: (Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison) – Texas will feature a crowded Republican primary and a sure run-off. In the race are recently resigned Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, along with former Secretary of State Roger Williams and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is expected to run but will likely announce after the legislative session concludes in June. Democrats have already coalesced around former state Comptroller John Sharp, who has lost his last two statewide races, to current Gov. Rick Perry and Dewhurst, both for Lt. Governor. Republicans have the inside track to holding the seat regardless of who eventually becomes their nominee.

Virginia: (Sen. Jim Webb) – All eyes are on former Gov. Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Clearly a person who could become the party’s consensus candidate, Kaine has still not made any announcement and reportedly is truly undecided about running. The more time elapses, the less likely it becomes that Kaine will become a candidate. Defeated Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5) is someone to whom the Democrats will likely turn without Kaine in the field. Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA-9) is being mentioned as a potential contender, but he’s unlikely to run. Former Sen. and Gov. George Allen, the man Webb unseated in 2006, is back for another run and should easily capture the Republican nomination. Allen’s numbers are still relatively weak, as he ties Kaine in early polling and leads the others by only small, single-digit margins. This will be another tough Senatorial contest.

To secure a new majority in 2012, Republicans will have to convert at least two of these aforementioned seats and hold all of the ones they are risking. The GOP needs a minimum switch of four net seats to return to majority status. Democrats must defend 23 of the 33 in-cycle races.
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Senate Race Tight in Montana; Dems to Make Connecticut Intersting

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) will officially announce his challenge to first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) this coming weekend in what will become one of the nation’s top statewide campaigns. In 2006, Tester unseated three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R), in a strong Democratic year running against a scandal-tainted incumbent. Burns was scrutinized by the Justice Department as part of its exhaustive Abramoff lobbying scandal investigation. Soon after the election, the defeated Senator received a DOJ letter fully clearing him of any wrongdoing. Tester won the election by seven-tenths of one percentage point, or 2,847 votes, one of the closest results in the nation.

Rehberg originally won the at-large House seat in 2000. He had previously served as the state’s lieutenant governor and won three elections to the Montana House of Representatives. The congressman begins his challenge with more than $500,000 in the bank, according to his just-released year-end disclosure statement. Sen. Tester reported just under $503,000 cash-on-hand at the end of September. In a race with major national implications, money will be no object for either candidate, particularly when campaigning before such a small electorate.

Along with his pre-announcement indication that he would run for the Senate, Rep. Rehberg also released the results of his internal statewide poll. The Opinion Diagnostics study was conducted of 400 Montana registered voters on Jan. 5, and gave the Republican congressman a 49-43% advantage over the Democratic senator. Count on this being a difficult election. Rehberg feels the presidential year helps him, but Pres. Obama was competitive in Montana during the 2008 campaign. John McCain ended up carrying the state, but barely, 49-47%. Rate this campaign as an early cycle toss-up.

Connecticut: The open Connecticut Senate race is already turning into a mad dash for the finish even though we are more than a year from crowning a winner. As in Texas among the Republicans, the new senator will be determined in the Democratic primary, but an intra-party war is about to commence. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz already officially running, it appears that Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) is also making decided moves to join the field of senatorial candidates. To make matters even more interesting, Ted Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Massachusetts Senator, is making public appearances in Connecticut.

Nebraska: A new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 26-27; 977 registered Nebraska voters) is confirming a mid-December Magellan Strategies poll that reveals Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is in deep political trouble. According to the data, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) enjoys a 50-39% advantage over Sen. Nelson. State Treasurer Don Stenberg leads by four points, 45-41%. These numbers are similar to the Magellan findings, suggesting that Nelson’s situation continues to lag without improvement. Along with the open North Dakota seat, Nebraska continues to be one of the GOP’s best national conversion opportunities.

Arizona: Not yet quelling retirement rumors, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) says he will announce whether or not he will seek a fourth term in mid-February. Kyl has not been running his traditionally aggressive pre-election fundraising operation, causing some to speculate that he may be leaning toward retirement. Democrats would immediately contest Arizona in an open seat situation, as the state is continues to stray to the political middle. Depending upon candidates, this race will probably start in the toss-up column.
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Our 2012 Senate Outlook

With three new Senate vacancies already present in the 2012 election cycle, it’s time to update our election grid. Democrats, including the two Independent senators who caucus with the party, must defend 23 states compared to just 10 for Republicans. The GOP needs a net gain of four seats to claim the outright majority, but 13 to reach 60, the number needed to invoke cloture on any issue.

Democratic Seats – Most Vulnerable

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad’s retirement gives the Republicans their best shot at converting a Democratic state. The GOP political bench here is robust and strong, thus the eventual Republican nominee will enter the general election as the favorite.

Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson, a retirement possibility, is politically damaged. He already trails at least two potential GOP candidates in polling, Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Right now, in this very early going, the Republicans are favored to convert the state.

Lean Democrat

Florida – The politically marginal Sunshine State suggests that Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will face a highly competitive 2012 election challenge. The GOP field is yet to be determined, but Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) appears to be the only Congressman positioning himself for a run. Right now, Nelson must be viewed as the favorite, but this will become a serious race.

Michigan – The Republican resurgence here, and the early polling, suggests that Sen. Debbie Stabenow has a difficult road to re-election. GOP candidates have yet to come forward, thus the current Lean D rating is attached. Michigan is certainly a state to watch. The presidential election year turnout model is a plus for Stabenow.

Toss-ups

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill is polling in the dead heat range against former Sen. Jim Talent (R), the man she defeated in 2006. Talent is not a sure candidate, but former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman is. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also is reportedly considering entering the contest, particularly if Talent remains on the sidelines. All would be very competitive against McCaskill in a state that is trending a bit more Republican during the past two elections.

Montana – Sen. Jon Tester can also expect a very competitive GOP challenge in what is normally a Republican state in a presidential year. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has not yet committed to the Senate race. Former Lt. Governor nominee Steve Daines is an official candidate and actively raising money.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown faces tough sledding presumably against newly elected Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R). Ohio will again assume its normal role as a battleground state for the presidential campaign, which, in 2012, could help Taylor. This may become the most hotly contested Senate race in the country.

Virginia – The actions of former governor and Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine and defeated gubernatorial candidate and ex-DNC chair Terry McAuliffe (both saying they won’t run for Senate in 2012 under any circumstances) suggests that Sen. Jim Webb will seek re-election, even though the incumbent has yet to confirm his intentions. Former senator and governor George Allen (R) will soon announce his candidacy, setting up a re-match with Webb. The Democrat won by 7,231 votes of more than 2.3 million cast five years ago. Early polling suggests a dead heat.

Questions

Hawaii – Speculation is prevalent that Sen. Daniel Akaka, who will be 88 at the time of the 2012 election, will retire. If so, the Republicans will be competitive with former Gov. Linda Lingle. If Akaka runs, and early indications suggest he will, the Democratic incumbent should have little trouble winning again.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez is polling below 50% in early survey trials but comfortably ahead of all potential Republican rivals. Though the senator is the decided favorite today, this race could become one to watch. Republicans may be looking most favorably toward entrepreneur John Crowley, who appears to have the potential of generating measurable political strength.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) is in strong position for re-election and is viewed as a heavy favorite. Republican former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), always a good vote-getter, could make challenging Bingaman a competitive race. She is said to be seriously considering launching a bid.

Wisconsin – Though he has been mum on his re-election intentions, Sen. Herb Kohl is another retirement possibility. If he chooses not to run, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings to run again. Should the senator seek re-election, he will likely face only a minor challenge.

Likely Democrat

Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) retirement, thereby avoiding an unpredictable three-way race, greatly improves the Democrats’ chances. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and ex-Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz are announced Democratic candidates. Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, is rumored as a possibility. The two losing 2010 nominees, Tom Foley in the governor’s race and Linda McMahon for the Senate, are both mentioned as possible candidates; so is former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

Pennsylvania – Until the Republicans field a top-tier candidate, something they have yet to do, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is a strong favorite for re-election. A serious campaign could develop, but not unless a stronger Republican joins the current field of candidates.

Rhode Island – The Republicans could move this state into the competitive category if former Gov. Don Carcieri (R) decides to run. In a presidential year, it is unlikely he will, so Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is a solid favorite for re-election. 2010 gubernatorial nominee John Robitaille (R) has already closed the door on a senatorial challenge.

Vermont – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is another strong favorite for re-election, but state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) is making noises about challenging the first-term senator. A statewide official would give the Republicans the opportunity of making this a competitive race.

Safe Democrats

California – Dianne Feinstein (D)
Delaware – Tom Carper (D)
Maryland – Ben Cardin (D)
New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
Washington – Maria Cantwell (D)
West Virginia – Joe Manchin (D)

Republican Questions

Arizona – Retirement rumors are swirling around Sen. Jon Kyl. The senator has yet to begin an active re-election effort, thus suggesting he may decide to call it a career. The seat is competitive in an open situation.

Nevada – This is clearly the most vulnerable Republican seat, should scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign win re-nomination. Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is considering a Republican primary challenge. Heller would have a good chance of winning the nomination and the seat. Democrats are in strong shape if Ensign qualifies for the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) is a potential Democratic candidate and promises to make her intentions known in mid-February.

Lean Republican

Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R), elected in an early 2010 special election, must stand for a full term in 2012. Despite Massachusetts being one of the most reliable of Democratic states, Brown’s numbers appear strong and he has a legitimate chance to win again. Once the Democratic field gels, a better assessment can be made.

Likely Republican

Indiana – Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the 2012 general election, has already announced that he is seeking re-election. A predicted Tea Party primary challenge could be his biggest problem. Lugar looks strong in a general election, but the GOP primary situation could change the outlook.

Maine – Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) has some of the better general election approval ratings of any 2012 in-cycle senator but, she too, has Tea Party problems in the Republican primary. Her situation in that regard has improved of late, however.

Safe Republicans

Mississippi – Roger Wicker (R)
Tennessee – Bob Corker (R)
Texas – Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Open Seat
Utah – Orrin Hatch (R) – Potential Tea Party convention challenge
Wyoming – John Barrasso (R)

Analyzing this initial line-up, it appears the Republicans’ chances of gaining an outright majority are good today, though there is no chance the net increase could be so high as to score filibuster-proof control.
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Dominos Fall in Connecticut

Only a day after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) announced that he would not run for re-election, the field of replacement candidates already is beginning to form. Prior to the announcement, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz had said publicly that she would seek the Democratic senatorial nomination. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who also was expected to enter the race regardless of what Lieberman ultimately decided, went ahead and publicized his intention to run now that the seat is formally open, complete with a new promotional campaign video. Finally, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) has reportedly not closed the door on launching his own senatorial bid.

The Republicans are lining up a familiar cast of characters: 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley, 2010 senatorial nominee Linda McMahon, and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2). None have yet committed to the race, and others are likely to surface.

The Democrats clearly are in the driver’s seat for this campaign. Lieberman was facing job approval ratings that put him at the bottom of the list of all 2012 in-cycle senators, and his chances of winning again as an Independent appeared slim. In a three-way contest, the Republicans would have had a better chance of securing their base vote, and that alone might have been enough to win — if the liberal candidates more evenly divided their votes. However, the Democrats have the clear advantage with this race returning to a conventional two-way open seat campaign.

Though the 2010 campaigns throughout the Nutmeg State appeared competitive throughout the last election cycle, the end result showed that only one race, the governor’s race, actually ended up being close.

In the House races, both districts 4 and 5 were polling as toss-ups, even as the campaigns entered their final days. But, in the end, freshman Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-4) won a second term by a 53-47% margin over state Sen. Dan Debicella (R); respectable, but not close. In the 5th district, Rep. Murphy pulled away from state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R) by a 54-46% count, again after polling was suggesting this race was a dead heat, or even that the Republican held the slightest of advantages as Election Day dawned. Clearly, the voters said something different from the pollsters.

It is against this backdrop that allows us to predict that Democrats will have little trouble in securing the open senate seat regardless of who the Republicans finally nominate, particularly when the left-of-center vote will assuredly be higher for the presidential election.

Look for the winner of the Democratic senatorial primary to become the prohibitive favorite in the 2012 general election; a result that can be confidently predicted even this far away from the actual vote.

Conrad and Lieberman to Retire

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D) ended speculation about his political future yesterday with his announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2012. Actually, this is the second time in his career that Conrad said he was retiring from the Senate. In his original 1986 campaign, Mr. Conrad said he would not seek a second term should the federal deficit not be eradicated during his first six years in office. He went on to upset then-Sen. Mark Andrews (R) later that year.

But he kept his word, announcing in April 1992 that he would not seek a second term because the federal deficit was still in existence. As the year progressed, however, veteran Sen. Quentin Burdick (D) passed away and Conrad then entered the special election campaign to replace him for North Dakota’s other seat. He won the special just one month after Byron Dorgan succeeded him in the 1992 general election. Thus, Sen. Conrad retired, but had no break in his Senate service. Ironically, in that special election of 19 years ago, he easily defeated Republican state legislator Jack Dalrymple, the man who just assumed the Governorship upon John Hoeven’s election to the Senate.

As with the retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) during the last election cycle, the Republicans are presented with a conversion opportunity. Though the 2010 race virtually ended upon Gov. Hoeven’s campaign announcement, the Republicans are not quite in the same position this year. Since they currently hold all of the statewide elected offices with the exception of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the GOP certainly starts the open seat campaign as the favorites — but not as prohibitive favorites like they were when Hoeven was the candidate. The musical chairs will begin in earnest now that Conrad’s semi-expected announcement has been officially made.

This race now moves to ‘Lean Republican.’

In Connecticut, Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who went from being the Democratic nominee for Vice-President in 2000, to Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, to losing his own renomination battle in 2006 only to win the seat in the general election without a party, and then coming full circle to be featured as a speaker at the 2008 Republican National Convention, officially will announce his retirement today after four six-year terms.

Sen. Lieberman was at the bottom of the job approval list for 2012 incumbents, as Democrats in particular were registering highly unfavorable opinions of his performance in office during this current term. It was clear he could not return to the Democratic Party and again win their nomination, and would go no where in the general election as a Republican. Thus, his only chance to remain a senator was to again try the Independent route, but the road to victory this time appeared more fraught with peril than it did in 2006. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) beginning to gear up a senatorial effort, Lieberman was unlikely to attract the more moderate Democratic voter as he did last time when ultra-liberal Ned Lamont was the party nominee. Furthermore, with Republican Linda McMahon looking like she would also enter the race, thus making the contest a legitimate three-way affair, Lieberman’s chances of winning were viewed to be slim. Most believed a campaign highlighting the differences among all three of the candidates would close the senator’s opportunity window even tighter.

Without Lieberman in the race, the Democrats will assume an even stronger electoral position and will likely return the seat to their party’s column. As an open seat, rate Connecticut as ‘Likely Democratic.’

Sens. Conrad and Lieberman join Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) on the retirement list, already bringing the total of 2012 open seats to three; a very large number at this point in an election cycle.
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