Tag Archives: Claire McCaskill

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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.

Rep. Todd Akin

GOP Panic Premature in Missouri?

Rep. Todd Akin

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2), who won the Republican Senatorial nomination and the right to oppose Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) on Aug. 7 and then turned around and made what most said were ludicrous abortion-related rape comments during a St. Louis TV station interview 12 days later, is surprisingly clawing his way back into contention.

You will remember that the Akin interview gained prolonged national media coverage and was swiftly denounced with outrage from Democrats, as well as many Republicans. The race, which GOP strategists initially believed to be a contest against the weakest of Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, seemed to snap strongly in favor of McCaskill as Akin immediately took a nosedive in the polls following the interview.

The GOP establishment was quick to respond by publicly pushing Akin to exit the campaign, however he refused to do so. Now running without the institutional support he once had from the party and business allies in Washington, as well as having seen many state and local candidates separate themselves from his comments, new polls are revealing increased viability despite his troubles.

According to polls released this week, the Missouri Senate race could be returning to “toss-up” status. Public Policy Polling released a research study yesterday showing McCaskill to be holding only the slightest 45 percent to 44 percent edge over Akin. PPP surveyed 621 likely Missouri voters Aug. 28-29 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. The study revealed that approximately 77 percent of Missouri Republicans say they accept Akin’s apology. While only 33 percent of voters view Akin favorably, even that number is up 11 points from the PPP survey released the week before.

Another poll by the Family Research Council, a socially conservative group supporting Akin, actually projects the embattled congressman to be leading McCaskill 45 percent to 42 percent (surveyed Aug. 27-28; 828 likely Missouri voters; +/- 3.38 percent error margin). Conversely, however, Rasmussen Reports released their poll on Aug. 26 posting the senator to a 10-point, 48-38 percent, advantage (surveyed Aug. 22; 500 likely Missouri voters; 4.5 percent error margin).

Now national Republican leaders are in a quandary. Immediately upon Akin making his comments, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn (R-TX) publicly called for him to withdraw from the race. Karl Rove, who had previously promised a substantial advertising campaign to support Akin and disparage McCaskill, quickly said his American Crossroads organization was canceling their Missouri media reservations. Democrats are, of course, left with video tape of the Republican leaders’ comments, which will assuredly air in commercials as we head down the stretch. As a result, Akin’s own campaign fundraising apparatus came to a screeching halt.

Though the first deadline to withdraw from the Missouri ballot without cause has come and gone, Akin still has until Sept. 25 to formally decide if he will step down and allow his party to nominate a new candidate. At this point, now armed with more encouraging polling data, it appears that he is even less likely to exit. With his seeming rebound, will those aforementioned Republican leaders so willing to pile on him before the dust settled now be in a position to absorb as much criticism as Akin himself? While the seat still appears winnable, even for Akin, the Republican brain trust has made that task all the more difficult.

There is no question that Rep. Akin has taken a substantial hit from the comments he made over a week ago, but the damage may be subsiding. His own massive stumbles, and those of the Republican Party leaders’, have made Akin’s return to credibility much more difficult; however, it appears this race is not yet over. Continued polling results as we have seen in the past few days will shortly force this campaign back into the “toss-up” domain.

Can a Weak McCaskill Hold Onto Missouri?

The Missouri Senate race is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in the country. With the Senate majority hanging in the balance, all of the closest election competitors in the 14 states where campaign action is most furious can legitimately lay claim to the argument that their own campaign can determine which party controls the body in the next Congress. The Show Me State of Missouri is certainly in this category, as first-term incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, who may be the weakest of all Democrat candidates standing for re-election, fights for her political life.

Earlier this week, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) surprised many political pundits by defeating wealthy businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman 36-30-29 percent, to capture the Republican Senatorial nomination. Akin rode a strong wave at the end of the campaign, peaking at exactly the right time. After trailing for most of the race, he finished a step ahead of both Brunner and Steelman as the trio almost simultaneously crossed the political finish line.

Interestingly, Akin had help from an unlikely source. McCaskill and her Democratic allies pejoratively repeated their belief that Akin is the most conservative candidate in the Republican field, ironically a message that the congressman himself was also trying to sell to the GOP electorate. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) actually advertised in the Republican primary to that effect, saying Akin is too conservative for the state. It is clear the Democratic leadership and activist organizations, along with McCaskill herself, believe Akin to be the weakest candidate in the Republican field and desire him as their general election opponent. It remains to be seen if their analysis proves correct.

For several decades, Missouri was known as a political bellwether. Now, however, the state seems to be trending more Republican. After 14 statewide races between 2000 and 2008 that were decided by less than two percentage points, with each party winning seven times, John McCain’s razor-thin 2008 victory here and then-Rep. Roy Blunt’s big win in the 2010 Senate contest could be a Missouri realignment harbinger. In fact, in voting for McCain, the state failed to support the winning presidential candidate for only the second time since 1900.

With this backdrop, we enter the 2012 general election campaign. Since Team Obama does not have Missouri high on its target list, there may be less of a presidential presence here than in previous years. The state is a must-win for Republican Mitt Romney, so expect him to be more active here than President Obama. Outside groups are expected to play a major role, as a highly competitive Senate race in what is perceived to be a toss-up campaign will precipitate a great deal of action from many issue perspectives.

But it may be Akin who becomes the beneficiary of the greater outside group spending. McCaskill, who wrapped herself around candidate Barack Obama in 2008 appears to be running away from him in 2012, going so far as to say she won’t even attend the Democratic National Convention. While voting for all of the early Obama initiatives and now trying to create distance between herself and the party’s liberal wing, leftward activist groups may find other places to expend advocacy dollars.

Small business groups, church organizations steamed at the Obama Administration for the health care law that forces them into expenditures that conflict with many of their religious tenets, and the coal industry could become major players in this race, all on Akin’s behalf.

For example, the National Mining Association, through its Count on Coal program, is expected to be highly active in Missouri educating the constituency on the mineral’s importance to daily life. The state ranks sixth nationally in coal usage, as 81 percent of its electrical power is generated from the substance. Count on Coal is taking it to the Obama Administration for what the NMA believes are its destructive energy policies. Regardless of whether they actively enter the Senate race, McCaskill is likely to be put on the defensive and absorb political damage from the coal program’s aggressive contrast effort toward the Obama Administration.

Sen. McCaskill has been polling poorly against all general election configurations. Now that she has Rep. Akin as her November opponent, expect a hard-hitting campaign from both sides. The race is a toss-up, and has to be considered a must-win for the Republicans. It is clearly one of the most important Senate races of the year.

Primary Tipping Points: Mo., Mich., Wash.

Missouri: The polling was right. During the final week of the Missouri Senate Republican primary, late surveys from research organizations such as Public Policy Polling detected Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) mounting a serious come-from-behind surge. Akin, who billed himself as the campaign’s “true conservative,” had not led for any substantial period of time, but his campaign peaked at exactly the right moment. Last night, Akin notched a 36-30-29 percent GOP nomination win over St. Louis businessman John Brunner and ex-state treasurer Sarah Steelman, respectively.

The victory sends Akin to the general election against first-term incumbent Claire McCaskill (D), who may be the weakest Democrat incumbent currently seeking re-election. While Sen. McCaskill’s party leaders and political activists believe Akin is the best Republican for her to run against, the Missouri voting trends may tell a different story come November. This will be a hard-fought campaign and one in which the presidential contest will play a major role. The real race begins today.

Turning to the paired House races, in Missouri’s St. Louis-anchored 1st Congressional District, veteran Rep. Lacy Clay (D) easily turned back a challenge from fellow Democrat, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) who chose to run in a contested primary after his seat was collapsed in reapportionment. Clay was renominated 63-34 percent, amongst a turnout of about 90,000 voters. Late polling was predicting a decisive Clay win and such occurred mostly due to overwhelming support within the African-American community.

Michigan: As expected, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) scored an easy 54-34 percent victory over charter school advocate Clark Durant in the contest for the Senate. The retired congressman will now face two-term incumbent Debbie Stabenow in what will be a major uphill battle. Sen. Stabenow is the clear favorite for re-election.

In Detroit, also as local polling predicted, two-term Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-9), who was paired with veteran Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI-12) in the new 9th District but chose to run in the Detroit/Oakland County CD because he believed he could take advantage of a split within the African-American community, saw his strategy bear fruit last night. Mr. Peters defeated freshman Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI-13) 46-36 percent in a field of five candidates, three of whom are African-American.

In the adjacent 13th District, 24-term Rep. John Conyers, who will now likely complete at least 50 years of service in the House, defeated a field of four challengers, garnering a clear majority 57 percent of the vote. State Sen. Glenn Anderson, Mr. Conyers’ strongest opponent, only managed 15 percent, again just as the late polls were predicting.

North of Detroit in suburban Oakland County, former state Senate majority leader Nancy Cassis’ (R) late-developing write-in campaign fell way short as reindeer rancher and staunch Ron Paul supporter, Kerry Bentivolio, the only person who officially qualified for the Republican primary ballot, looks to be in the 65 percent range when all of the votes are finally counted. Physician Syed Taj won the Democratic primary and this has the potential of becoming a hotly contested general election campaign. Incumbent Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11), reeling from a disastrous six-week presidential campaign, failed to qualify for the congressional ballot and then subsequently resigned his seat. This will be an interesting general election race between two people, neither of whom was expected to be a serious candidate. Democrats have a chance to snatch this seat even though it historically votes Republican.

Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) will face state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R) in her bid for a third term. Such is not expected to be a highly competitive race. In House races, all incumbents secured a general election ballot position in this top-two primary format. As in California and Louisiana, the candidates finishing first and second, regardless of political party preference, advance to the general election. All seven incumbents seeking re-election placed first with percentages exceeding 50 percent.

In the three open seats, Republican John Koster placed first in the new 1st District that gives the GOP a much better chance of securing a general election victory. He will face Democratic former congressional nominee Suzan DelBene who placed ahead of two-time congressional nominee Darcy Burner.

With Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA-6) retiring after 36 years of congressional service, it appears that Democrat state Sen. Derek Kilmer, as predicted, will become his successor. Kilmer placed first in the jungle primary and becomes the prohibitive favorite in what is a heavily Democratic district.

In the new 10th District, awarded the fast-growing state in reapportionment, former state House majority leader and 2010 congressional nominee Denny Heck (D) placed first in the low 40-percentile range and will face Pierce County Councilor Dick Muri (R) in what shapes up as a reliable Democratic district. The Washington delegation is likely to split with five Democrats, four Republicans, and one marginal district (the 1st to be decided in the tough Koster-DelBene contest).

Missouri, Michigan Highlight Another Primary Day

Voters in four more states go to the polls tomorrow, and the most exciting races are in Missouri and Michigan. In the Show Me State, Sen. Claire McCaskill, quite possibly the most vulnerable of Democratic incumbents standing for re-election, will soon know who she will face in the fall. A close Republican contest among three candidates is trending toward an uncertain result even the day before the vote. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2), former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, and St. Louis businessman John Brunner vie for the nomination.

Brunner is by far spending the most money, already over $7 million; Steelman is attempting to run furthest to the right and now brandishes Sarah Palin’s endorsement; and Rep. Akin emphasizes his conservative record as a six-term veteran member of the House. All three are leading McCaskill in the latest polling.

In the St. Louis-based 1st Congressional District, a Democratic incumbent pairing is occurring because the national reapportionment formula cost Missouri a seat. Reps. Lacy Clay (D-MO-1) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) are pitted against each other in the city district, a re-draw that clearly favors the former. Rep. Clay has consolidated the dominant African-American constituency and enjoys the support of most of the local political establishment including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Former Republican National Committee co-chair Ann Wagner will capture the GOP nomination in Rep. Akin’s open 2nd District and is expected to win the general election, as well.

In Michigan, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) is the heavy favorite in the Senate Republican primary, but he will be a decided underdog in the general election against two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D).

But the bigger Michigan story is likely to be in the Detroit area congressional districts, particularly in new Districts 11 and 14.

The resignation of Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R) has ignited a free-for-all in the Oakland-Wayne County 11th District. Since McCotter did not qualify for the ballot, only Tea Party activist and reindeer rancher Kerry Bentivolio’s name will officially appear. Former state Senate majority leader Nancy Cassis is running an establishment-backed write-in campaign in hopes of taking the nomination and giving the GOP a stronger chance of holding the seat in November. Local physician Syed Taj is the favored Democratic candidate. The situation here is chaotic. Tomorrow’s vote will provide some answers but the 11th, which should be a reliable Republican district, is now likely to host a competitive general election.

In the Detroit-based 14th CD, another incumbent Democratic pairing will be decided. Reps. Gary Peters (D-MI-9) and freshman Hansen Clarke (D-MI-13) face each other along with three other candidates. Peters, who was originally paired with veteran Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI-12) in the new 9th CD, decided to run in the 14th with the idea of splitting the majority African-American vote among the three significant black candidates, including his colleague Clarke. The strategy may work, as Peters appears poised to win the Democratic nomination tomorrow according to several late polls.

In Rep. Dale Kildee’s (D) open 5th District, Dan Kildee, a former Genesee County official in several positions and nephew of the congressman, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Since the 5th is a heavily Democratic district, the younger Kildee will virtually clinch victory in November with his win tomorrow night.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI-6) again faces a Republican primary challenge from former state representative Jack Hoogendyk, the man who held him to a 57 percent victory two years ago. It appears Upton will win by a much larger margin this time.

Finally, in the new 13th District, 24-term Rep. John Conyers (D) finds himself facing four strong primary challengers, two state senators, a state representative, and a school board trustee. As is often the case in races where a group of candidates run in a system without a run-off, the incumbent normally wins because the pro-challenger vote is split among too many contenders.

In the state of Washington, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) stands for election to a third term in what should be a relatively easy campaign bid. The Republicans will nominate a candidate on Tuesday. In the state’s two open congressional seats, Democrats will choose state Sen. Derek Kilmer to succeed veteran Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA-6). In the new 10th District, the additional seat awarded to the state in reapportionment, former state House majority leader Denny Heck is poised to win the Democratic nomination, which is tantamount to election in November.

Kansas is also holding a primary election tomorrow, but all federal incumbents lack serious competition.

The Strangest of Polls

Public Policy Polling just finished surveying the Missouri electorate (Jan. 27-29; 582 registered Missouri voters) and found results that likely qualify as a quirky mathematical anomaly. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), one of the more endangered in-cycle incumbents from either party, actually ties all three of her Republican challengers according to this data. And, to make this even more eye-opening, all candidates post exactly the same level of support, 43 percent.

So, when former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) and Sen. McCaskill are paired, each candidate scores 43 percent. Likewise for McCaskill and Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2). And, yes, lesser-known St. Louis businessman John Brunner, when he is matched head-to-head with McCaskill, also evenly splits the vote 43-43 percent. This likely tells us that opinions about McCaskill are so steadfast that no movement occurs regardless of her named opponent. Her job approval stands at 42:49 percent positive to negative, but obviously both segments strongly believe their opinion.

The Republicans favorability impressions? You guessed it, virtually dead even. Ms. Steelman scores 22:24 percent favorable to unfavorable, Akin does better at 28:19 percent, while Brunner records an even 18:18 percent. Thus, none of the four candidates is in particularly strong position. Obviously, this race is a pure toss-up. It is a top national campaign, and the outcome could determine which party controls the Senate majority.

Wisconsin Rep. Baldwin Announces Senate Bid

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

As expected, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) formally announced her bid for Wisconsin’s open U.S. Senate seat yesterday. The congresswoman has been preparing a statewide bid for months, but only kicked her fledging operation into high gear when former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) decided not to become a candidate. Vacating the safely Democratic 2nd district means that 41 seats are now open due to an incumbent announcing he or she will not seek re-election, or because reapportionment or redistricting creates an incumbent-less district.

The Wisconsin campaign has been slow-moving. Incumbent Sen. Herb Kohl (D) announced back on May 13 that he would not seek a fourth term next year, yet official candidate announcements began only last week. Rep. Baldwin now becomes the third person to enter the field of contenders. On the Republican side, former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald both say they are in the race. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson is expected to soon join the Republican contestants. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) and ex-Congressman Steve Kagen (D-WI-8) are potential Democratic nomination opponents to Ms. Baldwin.

The Wisconsin Senate race is likely to be one of the closest statewide political contests in the nation next year. The outcome could well decide the Senate majority, as projections suggest that both parties will likely be at parity after the next election. Currently, the Democrats hold a 53-47 spread. Republicans are already likely to gain two seats – North Dakota open and Nebraska – thus bringing the party division to 51D-49R. Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill), Virginia (open – Sen. Jim Webb retiring), and Montana (Sen. Jon Tester) are all toss-up Democratic seats in addition to Wisconsin. All other races remaining constant, the Republicans would have to win two of the latter four to take the majority; Democrats would have to hold three of four to retain power.
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Senate Candidates Coming Forward

The political situation surrounding three U.S. Senate states became clearer yesterday. With Friday’s announcement from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) saying he would not seek a fourth term next year, the Wisconsin political merry-go-round immediately began circling and an old familiar face came forward.

After House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) decided to remain in his current position, former Gov. Tommy Thompson began making it known that he is interested in running for the open seat. Thompson served four terms as governor from 1987 to 2001 and then became Pres. George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. He made an ill-fated run for the presidency in 2008, failing to even get out of the starting blocks. The 69-year-old Thompson’s entry would be a bit of a surprise, since he considered running statewide several times after leaving the state house and then repeatedly stated his disinclination to initiate another political campaign.

Should he get back into the game in 2012, Mr. Thompson may draw serious primary opposition. Former Reps. Mark Green (R-WI-8) and Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who have both previously lost statewide campaigns, have not ruled out running for the Senate. The state legislature’s brother tandem of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and House Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald have also been mentioned as potential Senate contenders.

Wisconsin Democrats will have a strong field of potential candidates from which to choose. Leading the group is former Sen. Russ Feingold who was defeated for re-election in 2010. Before Sen. Kohl announced his retirement, Feingold said he was not considering running in 2012 even if the Senate seat were to open. Now that Kohl is stepping aside, Feingold has a real decision to make. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) and former Milwaukee mayor and congressman Tom Barrett, who lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November, are both potential candidates. Regardless of who ultimately chooses to run, this open seat contest is likely to become 2012’s premier Senate race.

In Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) has finally indicated that he will run for the Senate, ending weeks of speculation. Since two Republicans have already announced they are running for his congressional seat, as if it were already open, Akin’s Senate announcement seems anticlimactic. He enters a primary against former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman of Springfield and possibly healthcare company CEO John Brunner from St. Louis. Steelman has the potential of becoming a strong candidate, so an Akin nomination should not be considered a foregone conclusion.

The winner of the Missouri Republican Senatorial primary will face vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), seeking her first re-election to the post she originally won in 2006. Missouri’s recent voting history plus her failure to pay property taxes on an airplane that her husband partially owns has brought this race into the toss-up zone. Missouri was the closest state in the 2008 presidential campaign as John McCain slipped past Pres. Obama by just 3,903 votes. It was only the second time since 1900 that Missouri failed to side with the winner in the presidential contest. Last election, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO-7) scored an impressive 13-point victory over Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), sister of current Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3). Hence, the last two elections may signal that Missouri voters are moving decidedly to the right.

The open North Dakota seat also saw its first major entry. Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) announced via video on Monday that he will run for the retiring Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D) open seat. Berg should coast to the Republican nomination and becomes the prohibitive favorite to convert the seat for his party in the general election. Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk had already announced for the Republican Senatorial nomination, but he is expected to drop down to the open House race. Most of the North Dakota political action will now center around Berg’s vacated at-large House district.
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Florida’s Mack Won’t Run for Senate

Late last week a story surfaced in Politico that Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) would today officially announce a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) for the seat Nelson has held since 2001. Such is not the case.

Understanding that the reporter never discussed Mack’s intentions personally with the congressman, but rather quoted an ‘anonymous source close to the Mack campaign,’ it was written that an announcement of candidacy would be imminently forthcoming. Mr. Mack corrected the story retorting that he would indeed make a statement but only to detail his reasons for not running statewide. He says family concerns and wanting to continue his service in the House influenced the decision not to engage Nelson. Rep. Mack, 43, first won his House seat in 2004 and will seek re-election next year.

This leaves state Senate President Mike Haridopolos as the only significant Republican currently in the race against Nelson. The veteran Democratic senator, commonly viewed to be at least marginally vulnerable in the next election, has confirmed that he will seek a third term. Haridopolos has been active on the fundraising trail and promises to report more than seven figures in receipts on his 2011 first quarter Federal Election Commission disclosure report due April 15. Nelson had over $3 million cash-on-hand according to his year-end 2010 filing.

Mack was viewed as having very strong potential as a statewide candidate, polling atop all preliminary Florida Senate Republican primary surveys. This is likely because of his name familiarity with voters. His father, Connie Mack III, served in the Senate for the 12 years prior to Nelson and spent three terms in the House. Connie Mack, Sr., who shortened his name from Cornelius McGillicuddy, is a legendary Hall of Fame baseball owner and manager.

Without Rep. Mack on the statewide ballot, the Republicans will likely be looking for a candidate stronger than Haridopolos to wage a potentially winning campaign against Nelson. In his two Senate general election victories (2000 and 2006), Mr. Nelson posted winning totals of 51 and 60 percent, defeating then-Rep. and future Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) and then-Rep. and former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, respectively. Nelson spent six terms in the House, spanning 1979-1991. He was twice elected as Florida treasurer, insurance commissioner & fire marshal (1994; 1998).

Other potential Republican candidates include former interim Sen. George LeMieux, who had said repeatedly during his 18-month stint in the Senate, filling the unexpired term of Mel Martinez (R), that he planned to challenge Nelson in 2012 but seemed to back away from those intentions upon leaving office. Mack’s decision not to enter the race could now lead to LeMieux becoming a candidate. The ex-majority leader of the Florida State House, Adam Hasner, is also a likely Senatorial contender.

It’s also possible that Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-13) may reconsider previous statements saying he was unlikely to run statewide in 2012. The congressman mused recently that being appointed as a member of the important House Ways & Means Committee was quelling his desire to run for Senate, but Mack’s decision could become an impetus for him to re-focus on a battle against the 68-year-old Nelson.

The Florida seat figures prominently in any Republican scenario to gain control of the Senate next year. Down 47-53, the GOP needs a minimum net conversion of four seats to wrest away the Democratic majority. Only having to defend 10 of the 33 in-cycle seats, with three that are open (Arizona-Kyl; Nevada-Ensign; Texas-Hutchison), the Republicans are in strong position to turn several Democratic states, such as the open seats in North Dakota (Conrad) and Virginia (Webb). Democrats are heavy favorites to hold their incumbent retirement seats in Connecticut (Lieberman-I), Hawaii (Akaka), and New Mexico (Bingaman), though the latter two could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.

In terms of incumbent Democratic vulnerabilities, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson tops the list and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Montana’s Jon Tester will also face toss-up re-election challenges. Going hard after Bill Nelson certainly expands the GOP political playing field but, without Mack as a candidate, the Republican task of converting the Sunshine State clearly becomes more difficult.
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New Missouri Senate Numbers

With the presidential race soon to take the political center stage, it’s clear that we will have an exciting side-show, too. Eight senators already announced their retirement, and as many as 20 of the 33 statewide campaigns could become competitive. One of the races that is sure to be hotly contested is Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D) re-election battle in Missouri. Though some of the more well-known politicians are taking a pass on the race, a new poll continues to show that she is in a dogfight even against opponents who have not fully established themselves as recognizable statewide candidates.

Public Policy Polling (March 6; 612 registered Missouri voters) just released the results of their new Show Me State poll. It shows McCaskill failing to break 46% against any of the Republican candidates taking action to run against her. McCaskill’s lead is tight, already putting the race in toss-up range. Against former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman, the senator leads only 45-42%. When paired with former gubernatorial chief of staff and ex-congressional candidate Ed Martin, McCaskill does better but still can’t break away; she’s ahead 46-40%. PPP also tested Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2), who’s tip-toeing around the idea of running, according to reports. There, the McCaskill lead closes to just one point, 45-44%.

The senator’s job approval rating, according to this new data, is also troubling for her. The favorable to unfavorable count breaks down at 45:44%. Though her ratio is virtually even, the fact that 89% have an opinion, and half of that is negative, clearly makes her vulnerable to outside challenge. Expect this race to remain a toss-up until the end.
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Missouri Senate Candidate Field Takes Shape

The hotly contested GOP Missouri U.S. Senate campaign where the eventual winner will face vulnerable incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) became better defined this week as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO-8) announced she will not become a statewide candidate. Ms. Emerson will instead run for re-election. The congresswoman, 60, of Cape Girardeau won an eighth term in November. She has held the seat since her husband, the late Rep. Bill Emerson, died in 1996. Mr. Emerson was in Congress for 15 years before his passing.

On Feb. 3, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also announced that he would not run for the Senate as he, too, is opting to stay in the House. Previously, former Sen. Jim Talent (R), who McCaskill narrowly defeated in 2006, said he was declining to run again because he landed a top position in the Mitt Romney for President campaign.

Two Republicans have announced plans to seek their party’s nomination and are already lining up campaign organizers and contributors. Ed Martin, a former chief of staff to Gov. Matt Blunt, raised $229,000 in December alone. Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, the other official Republican candidate, had pulled in $208,000 by the end of the same month.

But all of Missouri’s federal political action will not be in the Senate race. With the state losing a district in reapportionment, the St. Louis suburban 3rd district, formerly held by House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, could be collapsed as Missouri recedes from nine congressional districts to eight. The city of St. Louis has failed to keep pace with the national growth rate, thus necessitating a huge population increase for Rep. Lacy Clay’s (D-MO-1) district. The 1st district will require 161,547 additional people to comply with the one person-one vote deviation directives. In order to protect Mr. Clay’s African-American voting base, its population gain almost assuredly will come from Rep. Russ Carnahan’s (D-MO-3) district, which is 123,365 people under-populated. Ten years ago, the situation was reversed as voters from the 1st district were transferred into Gephardt’s seat to provide the then-legislative leader with a stronger political seat.

The “Show Me State” may be the show-down state in 2012. The Senate race is expected to be highly competitive with Sen. McCaskill’s job approval ratings hovering only in the low to mid-40s and the state being high on the national Republican conversion list. Missouri is also always a battleground state in Presidential election years and usually swings toward the winner of that contest (choosing only two presidential campaign losers in the last century in Adlai Stevenson and John McCain) so both parties will spare no expense in trying to capture the state’s ten electoral votes. McCaskill has to be given a slight advantage for re-election today, but moving into the toss-up realm as Election Day 2012 approaches is a distinct possibility.
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Graves Won’t Run for Senator in Missouri

Quelling speculation that he might jump into the GOP contest for the right to face Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) next year, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) announced today that he will instead stay in the House. Graves, the new chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said he is the first committee chairman in the history of his district and feels he will have a greater effect on policy from that position than he would as a first-term senator.

Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and ex-gubernatorial chief of staff and congressional nominee Ed Martin already are official Republican senatorial candidates.

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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Our 2012 Senate Outlook

Though we are just at the beginning stage of the 2012 election cycle, action already is beginning to occur in certain Senate races. Below is a quick look at the situation in some of the first half of the in-cycle states. More will be covered in the near future.

Arizona – Sen. Jon Kyl (R) – Retirement rumors are swirling. Should Mr. Kyl decide not to seek a fourth term, look for a free-for-all in both parties. If he does run, the state becoming more politically marginal suggests a competitive campaign battle.

California – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) – The senator is safe if she runs again, but turning 79 before the next election, retirement considerations are a factor. The seat should remain in Democratic hands regardless of the situation, however.

Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) – The senator is already discussing re-election plans, but his favorability ratings are among the lowest of any 2012-cycle incumbent. He will have strong Democratic opposition, possibly in the person of Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5). It’s unclear what the Republicans will do. Defeated GOP nominee Linda McMahon is talking about running again. Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2) is also a potential GOP alternative.

Delaware – Sen. Tom Carper (D) – Right now, the senator is in strong shape for re-election. Defeated GOP nominee Christine O’Donnell is not yet out of the public eye, so another Senatorial run for her is not out of the question. Carper becomes the prohibitive favorite if O’Donnell enters the race.

Florida – Sen. Bill Nelson (D) – Mr. Nelson begins the cycle in relatively strong shape, leading all potential opponents in early polling but only scoring mediocre approval ratings. State Senate President Mike Haridopolos has announced his intentions to run. Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) is a potential candidate. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has already dismissed a Senate candidacy.

Indiana – Sen. Richard Lugar (R) – Another octogenarian at the time of the next election, Sen. Lugar says he will seek re-election. A Tea Party challenge could be on the horizon, however. Democrats will take a wait and see approach here.

Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R) – With Republican Sen. Brown facing the voters for a full term in 2012, it appeared earlier that he might be the most vulnerable of GOP incumbents. The early numbers suggest a different story, however. He leads all potential Democratic opponents by comfortable margins and enjoys high job approval ratings.

Michigan – Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) – Considering the strong Republican sweep here in 2010, Sen. Stabenow has to be rated in the vulnerable category. Former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2) is mentioned as a possible challenger. This is a race to watch.

Mississippi – Sen. Roger Wicker (R) – After winning the special election in 2008, Sen. Wicker will try for a full term in 2012. He should have no trouble in a state that is proving to be a national Republican stronghold.

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) – This is shaping up to be another close statewide contest in the Show Me State. Former Sen. Jim Talent is a potential Republican candidate. Ex-state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman has already announced her intention to run. A toss-up all the way.

Montana – Sen. Jon Tester (D) – Sen. Tester must defend the seat he won in a close contest over an incumbent back in 2006. At-large Rep. Denny Rehberg is a top Republican potential candidate. Former lieutenant governor candidate Steve Daines (R) has already announced his candidacy.

Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson (D) – With the senator’s favorability ratings among the lowest of those standing for re-election and trailing two statewide Republican office holders, Nebraska is the most endangered Democratic seat. Should Nelson not seek re-election, this becomes an easy Republican conversion.
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New Senate Polls a Mixed Bag For Democrat Incumbents

Over the holiday period, several polls were taken around the country that produced mixed results for a trio of Democratic senators who routinely appear on Republican target lists. First, the new Magellan Strategies survey of Nebraska voters (12/15; 1,789 Nebraska registered voters via automated calls) confirms that beleaguered Sen. Ben Nelson (D) is highly vulnerable. In fact, the data reveals that he already trails two GOP statewide officials.

The Senator has seen his popularity ratings drop ever since he became identified as one of the key swing votes for the Obama healthcare program. His public concession to vote for the bill in exchange for substantial new Nebraska-based earmarks was a move that has clearly backfired within his constituency.

According to Magellan, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R), already officially in the Senate race, would defeat Nelson by a substantial 52-38% margin. Newly elected state Treasurer Don Stenberg, himself a former Nelson opponent and frequent statewide candidate, leads him 46-40%. The senator’s favorability ratio is upside down at 43:52% positive to negative. Bruning enjoys a 58:31% mark and Stenberg posts 48:34%.

Perhaps most troubling for Nelson is the voters’ opinion of the Obama healthcare legislation and their view of the Senator’s actions. By a 29-63% count, Nebraska voters oppose the healthcare law. Only 26% say Nelson did the right thing for the state, versus 64% who say his actions are indicative of what is wrong with Washington.

The Florida Public Policy Polling numbers (12/17-20; 1,034 FL registered voters via automated calls) are much better for the Democrats’ other Sen. Nelson. According to this data, no likely GOP candidate comes particularly close to Sen. Bill Nelson on the early ballot test questions. The two-term incumbent would defeat former Sen. George LeMieux (R), appointed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist to fill Sen. Mel Martinez’s unexpired term, 47-36%.

State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, already saying publicly that he will oppose Nelson, trails 32-44%. Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) does a bit better, facing only a 36-44% deficit. One Republican does poll ahead of Sen. Nelson, but he’s not running: former Gov. Jeb Bush. Though Bush says he has no desire to enter elective politics again, the PPP data indicates he would begin such a hypothetical race with a 49-44% lead.

Turning to Missouri, Wilson Strategies is currently releasing a poll fielded in early December (11/30-12/1; 500 registered MO voters via live phoner interview) that predicts Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is headed for another typically close Show Me State election battle.

The Wilson Strategies numbers show Sen. McCaskill to be in a more vulnerable position that Public Policy Polling did in their similar survey conducted around the same general time. Disparate polling is not particularly surprising when testing the Missouri electorate because the state tends to feature so many tight elections.