Tag Archives: Herb Kohl

Photo: Hovde Campaign

Hovde Surges Past Thompson in Wisconsin

Photo: Hovde Campaign

Public Policy Polling (July 5-8; 1,057 registered Wisconsin voters; 564 “usual” Republican primary voters) just confirmed what two previous campaign surveys claimed last week. That is, upstart hedge fund manager Eric Hovde is gaining in the Wisconsin Senate race and now is a legitimate top-tier candidate.

According to PPP, Hovde has actually overtaken former governor Tommy Thompson in the Republican primary. Ex-representative Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald have dropped back into a clear second tier. The numbers give Hovde a 31-29-15-9 percent lead over Thompson, Neumann, and Fitzgerald, respectively. If Hovde and Thompson were in a two-way race, the newcomer would lead the former Wisconsin chief executive 46-39 percent.

Though the spread is virtually even between Hovde and Thompson, the momentum is not. When compared to PPP’s April 13-15 poll, one that did not test Hovde, Thompson has fallen 10 points. Neumann has dropped seven points in support, and Fitzgerald 13. Two other research studies released last week, one from Democratic candidate Tammy Baldwin and the other from Hovde’s campaign, also showed a change in the Republican field. Baldwin’s data showed Hovde leading Thompson. The businessman’s own poll had him close to, but still behind, the former four-term Governor.

Mr. Hovde has been dominating the airwaves with a series of ads focusing on government spending and the debt crisis, while others offered a vigorous defense of Gov. Scott Walker. As you will remember, the governor successfully repelled a recall effort that gained national attention.

In his best series of spots, Hovde’s daughters talk about their father in the family kitchen with the candidate in the background reading the newspaper at the counter. They banter back and forth about how Hovde won’t be liked in the Senate because he won’t vote for increased debt and more government spending, at which point Hovde chimes in about not caring if he’s liked but certainly approves of their message.

Clearly Mr. Hovde’s campaign strategy is working as evidenced by his move past the other candidates and because his substantial personal favorability rating, at 50:9 percent positive to negative, is better than all of the other candidates including Democrat Baldwin.

The Wisconsin Senate race, open because four-term incumbent Herb Kohl (D) is retiring, is one of the most important in the nation and its result will go a long way toward determining which party will control the chamber in January.

The current Public Policy Polling survey, as found in other polls, continues to detect weakness for Tammy Baldwin. The consensus Democratic candidate, a seven-term congresswoman from Madison, again fails to take command on the general election ballot test. A Democrat leading in the early going of a Wisconsin general election is expected. The fact that Baldwin is virtually tied with all four GOP candidates is a troublesome sign for her. In the latest PPP poll, Hovde leads the Madison Representative 45-44 percent. Thompson and Baldwin are tied at 44 percent. The congresswoman leads both Neumann and Fitzgerald by only four points apiece.

Clearly the conglomeration of polls is making several things clear. First, whether he has overtaken Thompson or not, Hovde clearly has positive momentum in the Republican race. Second, Rep. Baldwin is under-performing for a Democrat at this point in a Wisconsin statewide race, and third, the GOP has a strong chance of winning this open seat, which would constitute a major step in wresting the Senate majority away from the Democrats.

The Wisconsin primary is Aug. 14, and its result will be significant in shaping the national political landscape.

Poll Shows Thompson with Advantage in Wisconsin

The open Wisconsin Senate race has been close ever since incumbent Herb Kohl (D) announced that he would not seek re-election. Now, Rasmussen Reports just released a new survey (May 9; 500 likely Wisconsin voters) showing former four-term governor Tommy Thompson to be holding a substantial advantage for the first time over Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). According to the RR data, Thompson would lead the general election 50-38 percent if he and the congresswoman win their respective party nominations. Baldwin is the consensus Democratic candidate while Thompson faces three potentially strong Republican opponents. Virtually every other poll has shown the race to be within very small margins.

Pitting Baldwin against the other Republicans, Rasmussen also finds very close spreads. Against former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), Baldwin trails 42-45 percent. Opposing state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R), the congresswoman leads 45-41 percent.

The Wisconsin race, along with four others, could very well decide which party will control the Senate majority in the next Congress.

New Wisconsin Poll Shows Weakness for Romney, Thompson

A new Public Policy Poll of Wisconsin Republicans (Oct. 20-23; 650 Wisconsin Republican primary voters) provides even more evidence that retired business executive Herman Cain is continuing to gather serious momentum in his quest for the Presidency. The results give Mr. Cain a 30-18-12-12 percent Badger State lead over Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, respectively.

As further evidence of Cain’s strong standing, he even leads on the follow-up question about being the respondents’ second choice. When asked, “Who would be your second choice for President?”, it is again Cain who places first, this time with 18 percent. Gingrich is second at 16 percent; Romney scores 14 percent; Perry 12 percent; and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) 10 percent.

Turning to the upcoming open Wisconsin Senate race, it is former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson who is not faring quite as well among the Republican faithful as one might expect. The ex-governor and former US Health and Human Services Secretary leads former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, but by a rather unimpressive 35-29-21 percent margin.

What may be most troubling for Thompson, is that it is within the party’s dominant conservative wing where his weakness is greatest. When asked if the respondents would prefer Mr. Thompson or a more conservative candidate, the latter was preferred by a 51-35 percent margin. When paired with Neumann on a one-on-one basis, Thompson’s lead shrinks to just four points, 43-39 percent. If the race came down to a Thompson-Fitzgerald battle, the former governor’s edge is a more substantial 47-35 percent margin. Even this is not a particularly good sign for Thompson, however, because the former governor is known by 86 percent of those questioned versus just the 50 percent who could identify Fitzgerald. Mr. Neumann’s name ID is 61 percent. All three men have strong favorability ratios.

The Wisconsin presidential primary will be held April 3, and will distribute 42 delegates to the GOP candidates. The state employs a winner-take-all by district and statewide system as is used in seven other states, two of which are mega-delegate California and Florida. (Though the latter will likely lose half of its delegation as a penalty for moving their primary before Super Tuesday in violation of Republican National Committee rules.)

The Wisconsin system awards 10 delegates to the candidate who wins the statewide vote, regardless of percentage garnered. Three delegates apiece are given for carrying each of the state’s eight congressional districts. A sweep at the district level would yield one candidate 24 more delegate votes. The remaining eight are party officer and bonus delegates who can vote as they please. As in the vast majority of states – there are only seven winner-take-all places under the new party rules – multiple candidates will likely win some Wisconsin delegates. The primary is open to all voters.

The Wisconsin Senate race is likely to be one of the most important statewide contests in the country. With majority control of the body possibly coming down to one state, Wisconsin could be that one, and both parties are placing the highest priority upon this open-seat campaign. Four-term Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring. The consensus Democratic nominee is becoming Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). The race is expected to have a “toss-up” rating all the way to Election Day.

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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Interesting Wisconsin Senate Numbers

Now that ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has made his decision not to enter the 2012 open US Senate race in Wisconsin with Sen. Herb Kohl (D) retiring, the real campaign will now get underway. In particular, potential Democratic candidates were deferring to Feingold and holding back officially announcing their own campaigns in order to determine if the former senator would again enter the electoral fray. Now that he is officially out of the race, we can expect a series of people to soon announce for the seat.

In anticipation of the building candidate field from both parties in what will be a highly competitive campaign, Public Policy Polling released the results of their latest Wisconsin survey that handicaps the field in both party primaries.

For the Republicans, all eyes are on the 69-year-old former governor, Tommy Thompson, who was elected to four consecutive terms beginning in 1986. He left midway through his final term to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. Though he still has not officially announced his Senatorial campaign, Mr. Thompson has openly talked about getting into the race. He is likely to be opposed by former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who was first elected to the House for two terms in 1994 and ’96 before challenging and losing to Sen. Feingold in 1998, 48-51 percent.

On the Republican side of the ledger, PPP (Aug. 12-14; 362 “usual” Wisconsin GOP primary voters) tried a different approach, actually asking voters a “push” question after they indicated which candidate they would support. Predicting some of the attack points Neumann, and even the Democrats, will likely use against Thompson, the study produced interesting results.

In the straight ballot test question, Thompson leads Neumann 47-39 percent. The former governor’s personal approval rating among the Republican respondents is 74:17 percent positive to negative. Neumann’s is a sound 43:14 percent.

When PPP asked their loaded push question against Thompson, however, the results sharply turned. The question posed to the respondents was:

While Tommy Thompson was governor, he more than doubled state spending and increased government bureaucracy. Then he endorsed Obamacare, President Obama’s $1-trillion-dollar government takeover of health care. Given this information, would you vote for Mark Neumann or Tommy Thompson if the primary for Senate was today?

After hearing this question, Thompson dropped almost half of his previous support, from 47 percent all the way down to 26 percent. Neumann shot up from 39 percent to 59 percent. Thompson will have to respond hard to neutralize what are sure to be negative attacks of this type in both the primary and general elections.

Looking at the Democrats, the three most likely candidates are Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), who will likely announce within days, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3), who is not necessarily going to enter the race, and defeated Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI-8).

When PPP tested these names before 387 “usual” Wisconsin Democratic primary voters, Ms. Baldwin captured the decided advantage, leading 37-21-15 percent over Kind and Kagen, respectively. If Kind does not become a candidate, Baldwin then enjoys a 48-19 percent edge over Mr. Kagen.

Regardless of the outcome of both primaries, the Wisconsin Senate race will be one of the most hard-fought political battles in the 2012 election. The outcome of this race could conceivably decide which party will control the Senate majority in the next Congress.
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Feingold is a No-Go in Wisconsin

Defeated Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who lost his seat to Republican Ron Johnson last November, officially closed the door Friday on an imminent return to elective politics during this current election cycle.

With Sen. Herb Kohl (D) saying he will not seek re-election in 2012, all eyes in both parties turned toward Feingold, since he is the most logical Democrat to attempt to keep the seat in his party’s column. Early polling was suggesting that the former senator would defeat all potential Republicans and Democrats if he were to enter the field of candidates. Though Feingold said in his public statement that he may again seek elective office, he will not do so in 2012. Instead, he wants to continue in his teaching duties at Marquette University and chairing the issue advocacy group that he founded, Progressives United.

The Wisconsin open seat Senate race has been unique because of the lack of early activity among potential candidates. The others reportedly considering the race, particularly among Democrats, seemed paralyzed as they waited for Mr. Feingold to make a decision; most unusual for a political figure who only months ago lost a major election when in the incumbent’s position.

With the former senator now out of the 2012 race, expect the candidate announcements to soon be forthcoming. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) is now a virtual sure entrant. Though she hasn’t committed to the statewide race in deference to Feingold, she has been actively raising money in her congressional account, which is transferable to a Senate race because both are federal campaigns. Through June 30th, Ms. Baldwin raised over $601,000 but has more than $1.1 million in the bank.

Polling suggests that Rep. Baldwin assumes the position of early leader for her party’s nomination. Back in July, Magellan Strategies (July 12-13; 627 Wisconsin Democratic primary voters) gave the Madison congresswoman a 41-19 percent lead over 3rd District Rep. Ron Kind, and a 45-21 percent advantage over defeated 8th District Rep. Steve Kagen.

But the recent Public Policy Polling survey (Aug. 12-14; 830 registered Wisconsin voters) tells a much different story as it relates to the general election. Upon Sen. Kohl’s announcement, former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson, now 69 years old, said immediately that he was serious about entering the race as a candidate. Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) who lost 48-51 percent to Sen. Feingold in 1998, also said he would likely hop into the race. Neumann had even been actively considering a challenge to Kohl. The latest PPP data actually shows both Republicans to have slight leads over the potential Democratic field, in what now has to be considered a top GOP conversion opportunity.

According to the Public Policy Polling data, Thompson would lead Baldwin 50-42 percent and Neumann would enjoy a 44-40 percent edge over the congresswoman. If Kind were to win the Democratic nomination, Thompson would lead him 48-41 percent, while Neumann clings to a 43-40 percent margin. Should Kagen rise to the top of the Democratic field, he too would trail both Republicans. In the latter case, Thompson is up 49-41 percent; Neumann 45-38 percent.

The Wisconsin electorate, possibly because of the negativity surrounding the state’s public employee labor unrest and subsequent recall elections, view all of the potential candidates unfavorably, with the exception of Thompson. Former Sen. Feingold was also in positive numbers.

Thompson scores a 44:42 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio. Feingold did better than anyone else tested, but even his numbers weren’t overwhelming. He posted 49:43 percent.

All others are in an upside down position. Neumann registers 25:27 percent; Baldwin, a similar 26:28 percent. Rep. Kind is down 18:26 percent, while Kagen has the worst numbers by far, 12:23 percent.

In what will likely become a similar Wisconsin story in the presidential race, expect this Senate campaign to be difficult, hard-fought, and close. Though the action has been slow to start, it will soon become fast and furious. The Wisconsin Senate will likely be in the toss-up category all the way to the November 2012 Election Day and could very well be the deciding state in determining which party assumes the US Senate majority in the next Congress.
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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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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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Huckabee, McCotter Say ‘No’; Succeeding Sen. Kohl; W.Va. Gov. Results

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee officially took himself out of the 2012 presidential race Saturday night, announcing his decision on the Fox News television program that he hosts. Despite performing very well in preliminary presidential polling, Mr. Huckabee simply stated that his heart was not in another run. Instead, he will devote his time to the “Huckabee” television program and will continue with radio commentaries, speeches, and public appearances. Mr. Huckabee further committed to actively supporting conservative and pro-life candidates for public office.

The decision was not particularly surprising. Though included in virtually every national and early state primary poll, Huckabee had done nothing to operationally construct a campaign apparatus, a sure sign that a candidate is not serious about running. The effect on the rest of the field is unknown, but his sizable base of support will likely disperse to some of the more conservative candidates.

Michigan Senate

As quickly as speculation was beginning to surface suggesting that Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) might challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) next year, the five-term congressman made public his quick and definitive decision. In a statement over the weekend, Mr. McCotter said he will not run for the Senate in 2012. All nine GOP members of the Michigan congressional delegation have now taken themselves out of competition against Stabenow. Though appearing vulnerable, the Republicans have yet to field a strong candidate.

Wisconsin Senate

Turning to Wisconsin, on Friday afternoon Sen. Herb Kohl (D) made public his intention not to seek a fourth term next year. This sets up what could be a very competitive Badger State open seat political campaign. Kohl is the ninth in-cycle senator to announce a return to private life. Eight of these particular seats will be open in 2012. Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) has already resigned with Dean Heller (R) replacing him for the remainder of the current term. Hence, Sen. Heller’s new status for his 2012 political run will be that of an appointed incumbent.

There is likely to be a great deal of speculation surrounding potential candidates for the Wisconsin Senate seat. On the Democratic side, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold will be the person most discussed. Feingold, before Sen. Kohl opted out of another campaign, said he had no intention of running in 2012, even if the seat came open. Now that it has, Feingold will quickly be pressed for a decision. He served three six-year terms, originally being elected in 1992. He was defeated in 2010 by now-Sen. Ron Johnson (R) 47-52 percent.

Should Mr. Feingold not return to elective politics, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) will be a person who attracts noticeable attention as a potential Senatorial candidate. Second District Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) is saying she will consider running statewide, too. Likewise for defeated Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett. Prior to his run for governor, Mr. Barrett was mayor of Milwaukee and a former congressman.

On the Republican side, all eyes will preliminarily be on House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1), who also is not ruling out a Senatorial bid. The author of the Ryan budget, which the Democrats are excoriating as the vehicle that destroys Medicare, will be a huge political target no matter what office he chooses to seek. Ryan has more than $3 million in his campaign account, so he starts any campaign in very strong financial shape.

West Virginia Governor

The special West Virginia gubernatorial primary was held on Saturday. As expected, Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin easily won the Democratic nomination. He tallied 40 percent of the vote over state House Speaker Rick Thompson who was strongly backed by organized labor and placed a surprising second (24 percent). Secretary of State Natalie Tennant who, early in the race was believed to be Tomblin’s strongest challenger, finished a disappointing third with 17 percent.

An upset occurred on the Republican side, proving again that virtually unknown candidates are still performing better in GOP primaries than more familiar politicians. Businessman Bill Maloney, who polling showed was gaining momentum toward the end of the race, took advantage of the political wind at his back and claimed an easy 45-31 percent win over former Secretary of State Betty Ireland. Total voter turnout was only 16 percent of the statewide registered voters pool. Tomblin and Maloney will now square-off in a special general election scheduled for Oct. 4. The nomination of Maloney now turns this contest into a potentially interesting campaign.
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Wisconsin’s Sen. Kohl To Retire

News reports breaking in Wisconsin say that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) has scheduled a retirement announcement at noon Central time. If this proves accurate, Mr. Kohl will be the ninth Senator elected in 2006 not to seek re-election in 2012.

Open Seats – (8)
1. Arizona (Kyl-R)
2. Connecticut (Lieberman-I-D)
3. Hawaii (Akaka-D)
4. New Mexico (Bingaman-D)
5. North Dakota (Conrad-D)
6. Texas (Hutchison-R)
7. Virginia (Webb-D)
8. Wisconsin (Kohl-D)

Note: Nevada, which was on the open seat list is no longer so. Sen. John Ensign (R) resigned and has been replaced by Sen. Dean Heller (R), so this seat returns to the incumbent column.

Derailing the Ryan Express in Wisconsin?

Liberal activists are beginning to tout a new congressional candidate who they believe has a chance of unseating House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) next year. The Swing State Project, a national liberal campaign blog, is reporting that Kenosha County Supervisor Rob Zerban is taking concrete steps toward assembling a 2012 electoral challenge against the popular Republican incumbent.

Paul Ryan is an up-and-coming national Republican political figure. Now in his 7th term in the House, he was elected in 1998 at the young age of 28. Mr. Ryan was appointed ranking member of the Budget Committee in the last Congress and became the panel’s chair with the Republican sweep back into the majority in the last election. Ryan’s name has popped up as a long shot presidential candidate, and also a possible Senate contestant if Wisconsin’s senior Sen. Herb Kohl (D) decides to retire. For his part, Rep. Ryan is committed only to running for re-election in 2012, saying he wants to finish his allotted terms as Budget chairman in order to make progress toward the goal of reducing the federal deficit before running for another office.

Zerban undoubtedly looks better on paper to the Democratic candidate recruitment team than he does face-to-face against Ryan. Though he is an elected local supervisor, Kenosha County represents only 25 percent of the 1st CD total population, and the Board of Supervisors has 28 single-member districts. Therefore, Zerban’s entire constituency is just short of 5,500 people, only about 7.5% of the total congressional district population.

The liberals also opine that Ryan is too conservative for what should be a marginal congressional district, and that redistricting really won’t greatly affect his seat. They say this because the territory occupies the southeast corner of the state, bordering Illinois on the south and Lake Michigan to the east, so it doesn’t appear much can change.

Both arguments are incorrect. First, WI-1 is a much different district than when former Armed Services Committee chairman and future US Defense Secretary Les Aspin (D-WI-1) represented the seat during his 22-year congressional career (1971-1993). Pres. Barack Obama did carry the 1st in 2008, but only with 51% of the vote. Former Pres. George Bush performed well there in 2004, winning a 54-46 percent victory. Bush also carried the 1st with 51% in 2000.

For his part, Ryan has been a huge vote-getter during his congressional tenure. He has averaged an impressive 64.4 percent through his seven elections, four times breaking 65 percent of the vote. He is a strong fundraiser, too. In 2010, when he romped to victory with 68 percent, Ryan raised more than $3.9 million for his re-election. His year-end 2010 report shows he finished the campaign cycle with over $3 million cash-on-hand, one of the best financial entries for the entire House.

In terms of redistricting, the 1st district must shed 17,169 people. Since Republicans are in total control of the Wisconsin redistricting process, the swing between Ryan’s district and those of neighboring Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2; +40,296 over-populated) and Gwen Moore (D-WI-4; -41,858 under-populated) will result in Ryan receiving a few more Republicans and the two Democrats also getting a bit stronger. Thus, the new WI-1 is likely to be even better for Ryan than the current district configuration he has dominated over the past 10 years.

While the controversy over Wisconsin’s public employee labor policy continues toward a political meltdown, thus throwing the state’s politics into chaos, Rep. Ryan appears completely secure for his 2012 election. Though Supervisor Zerban may well be preparing for a run against him, such a battle will likely sputter and become another easy ride for the veteran Republican. National Democrats will likely find more tempting targets in other locations than Chairman Paul Ryan’s southern Wisconsin district.
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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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After Hutchison, Who’s Next?

At the end of last week, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) became the first 2012 re-election cycle senator to announce her retirement. Who else may follow her lead?

At first glance, considering the senators who are either elderly, already trailing in pre-election polling, or about whom retirement speculation has publicly abounded, several have not yet committed to seeking re-election.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R), originally elected in 1994, always runs hard-charging political campaigns. At the end of September, he uncharacteristically had $620,000 in his campaign account, a low number for someone who spent over $15.5 million during his 2006 campaign. We will have a strong sense about whether Sen. Kyl is running when the 2010 year-end financial reports are entered into the public domain, something we can count on seeing in early February.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will be 79 at the time of the 2012 election. The fact that she did not enter the 2010 California Governor’s race when her road to Sacramento would have been a relatively easy one, suggests that she is winding down her career. Her campaign account is rather flush, holding $3.7 million at the end of September. In 2006, she only had to spend $8 million, so if 2012 is anything like her competitive state six years ago, and it appears to be, the decision of whether to run again will likely be a personal and not a political one.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is telling supporters that he will seek a fourth term in 2012, despite being 88 at the time of the next election. He had $76,000 in his September bank account, which isn’t a telling factor since action happens late in Hawaii politics.

Speculation continues to center around Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), and the fact that he has not announced a 2012 campaign. His circumspect statements about re-election lead people to question whether he will retire from elective politics after just one term. Sen. Webb will turn 65 in February. He is promising a definitive announcement in the next few weeks. Webb’s September financial filing revealed $471,000 cash-on-hand. He spent $8.6 million in 2006.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), another incumbent who will be closing in on 80 at the time of the next election (he turns 76 in February), also has not committed to seeking a fifth term in 2012. This is of particular importance because just-defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings and will clearly run if Sen. Kohl decides to retire. With the late Wisconsin primary, the senator has the luxury of waiting for most of this year to make a final decision. Mr. Kohl had only $26,000 in his account in September but, being a multi-millionaire, his campaign financial situation is not particularly indicative of what may be his ultimate political plan.

There is another group of three senators who are actively seeking re-election, but whose political fortunes appear challenging. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and John Ensign (R-NV) all trail substantially either in primary (Ensign) or general election (Lieberman, Nelson) polling. Should their political outlook fail to improve, it is not out of the realm of possibility that some or all from this group could decide to drop out of the race prior to the candidate filing deadline.

Right now, it is difficult to project just which states beyond Texas will feature open senate races, but you can believe that several will evolve in that manner.
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Our 2012 Senate Outlook – Part II

Continuing our early analysis of the 2012 election cycle, we now look at some more select states featuring a senate race next year. Be sure to read through our post on Jan. 5 for our analysis of the initial group of states that we looked at.

Nevada – Sen. John Ensign (R) – The fallout from a highly publicized sex scandal still leaves Sen. Ensign in a vulnerable position both in the Republican primary and the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will announce by mid-February whether she will run for the Senate. This is the GOP’s most tenuous situation in the country.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez (D) – New Jersey political insiders suggest that bio-tech entrepreneur John Crowley (R) will challenge Sen. Menendez next year. Crowley, currently president and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics headquartered in Cranbury, NJ, is the inspiration for the 2010 movie “Extraordinary Measures” starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser. The film depicts Mr. Crowley’s efforts directing his previous company to find a cure for Pompe Disease, a serious and life-threatening muscular disorder that infected two of his three children. Although he has significant personal resources, Crowley’s business connections and “star power” put him in position to raise the necessary funds to be competitive. If Crowley runs, the NJ Senate campaign becomes a race to watch.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) – Recently, former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) made some public statements suggesting that she is considering challenging Sen. Bingaman, a five-term incumbent. Her entry into the race would certainly give the Republicans a credible candidate, but Mr. Bingaman appears to be in strong political shape. He will have the edge against all comers.

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad (D) – With strong Republican victories at the Senatorial and congressional level in 2010, the GOP will mount a strong challenge to Sen. Conrad, particularly noting the fate of his Budget Committee counterpart, defeated Rep. John Spratt (D-SC-5). Conrad chairs the Senate Budget Committee; Spratt held the same position when the Democrats controlled the House. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem are the names most often mentioned as potential Conrad opponents.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) – The stage appears set for newly elected Lt. Governor Mary Taylor to take a shot at Sen. Brown next year. For her part, Taylor is uncommitted to such a race, but the other potential candidates, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH-4), appear to be either dropping out or taking no action to run. This will be a highly competitive race.

Rhode Island – Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) – Despite the Republicans’ current poor position in the Ocean State, they are not without some credible potential candidates to oppose Sen. Whitehouse. Outgoing Gov. Don Carcieri (R) is not closing the door on a future political run and has not ruled out challenging Whitehouse next year. John Robitaille, who did surprisingly well in the 2010 Governor’s race – placing second to Independent Lincoln Chafee but ahead of Democrat Frank Caprio – is also a possibility. Though the Democratic nature of Rhode Island, particularly in a presidential election year, lends considerable strength to the Whitehouse campaign, either Carcieri or Robitaille could give him a run for the money. Whitehouse is the favorite in 2012 against all potential opponents, but this race could get interesting.

Texas – Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Despite saying she would resign her seat before her run for governor that ended in a stinging defeat, it is still not clear whether she will seek another term in the Senate. Most believed Texas would feature an open seat election in 2012, but such may not be the case. If she does retire, then look for a mega-Republican primary that will contain several statewide elected officials and maybe a congressman or two. The Democrats seem pretty set with former state Comptroller John Sharpe as their candidate. He has lost two races for lieutenant governor since leaving his post. Whatever happens on the Republican side, the GOP will be heavy favorites to win in November 2012. As in most every year, the Democrats will claim to have a chance, brandish polls showing them in good position, but then lose by 12 points.

Virginia – Sen. Jim Webb (D) – This promises to be one of the top races in the country. Sen. Webb has curiously not yet committed to seeking re-election and murmuring even among Democrats suggests that it’s possible he will retire after just one term. If he does, watch for Democratic National Committee chairman and former Gov. Tim Kaine to enter the race. Ex-Gov. and Sen. George Allen (R), the man Webb beat in 2006, is gearing up for a re-match. He appears to have the inside track to the Republican nomination. Polling shows a tight Webb-Allen race. The Democrats will likely be stronger with Kaine as their nominee.

West Virginia – Sen. Joe Manchin (D) – Like Sen. Gillibrand, newly elected Sen. Manchin must also stand for election again in 2012, as he won only the right to serve the final two years of the existing term in the last general election. With all of the focus on the state’s basically open gubernatorial race, the position Manchin vacated to run for Senate, he begins the current election cycle as a prohibitive favorite.

Wisconsin – Sen. Herb Kohl (D) – There has been intense speculation that Sen. Kohl, who will be nearing his 78th birthday at the time of the next election, will retire. If he does, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings. Should Kohl seek re-election to a fifth term, he will be a heavy favorite and likely escapes a strong challenge. Most Republicans are looking to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) to run if the seat opens, but he may decide the stakes are too high to risk defeat in a state that normally trends Democratic, 2010 notwithstanding. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is another potential Republican candidate.
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New Senate Numbers in Wisconsin and Ohio

Public Policy Polling continues their early polling of major Senate races with surveys in Wisconsin and Ohio. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) must decide whether to seek a fifth term in 2012. He will be 77 at the time of the next election, but the PPP data shows him to be in relatively good political position. In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) stands for his first re-election in what figures to be a competitive battle and one of the more important national races for both parties.

The Wisconsin poll (Dec. 10-12; 702 registered voters) pits Sen. Kohl against three of the bigger Republican names in the state regardless of whether or not they have expressed any interest in running. Among former Gov. Tommy Thompson, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1), it is Congressman Ryan who fares the best in the early trial runs. He would trail Kohl only 42-48%. Thompson is behind 40-49%, while Kohl polls best against Van Hollen, leading him 51-38%. The senator’s job approval score is 50:43% favorable to unfavorable.

Should Kohl decide to retire, most people believe that defeated Sen. Russ Feingold would be first in line to attempt a comeback. PPP tested him against the same trio of Republicans and found him to be leading them all. His numbers are strikingly similar to Sen. Kohl’s. Interestingly, Feingold’s favorability ratio is exactly the same as Kohl’s: 50:43%.

In Ohio, the incumbent’s numbers aren’t quite as strong as either Sens. Kohl or Feingold. PPP (Dec. 10-12; 510 registered voters) conducted a small-sample poll of the Ohio electorate and tested four Republicans against Sen. Brown. Newly elected Attorney General and former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine fares the best, actually pulling into a tie with Brown at 43%. Newly elected Lt. Governor and former state Auditor Mary Taylor trails only by two points, 38-40%. The new Secretary of State, Jon Husted, is behind 38-43%, and 4th district Rep. Jim Jordan is eight points down at 35-43%.

At this time, it does not appear that DeWine will enter the Senate race, nor does Husted. Earlier this week Jordan indicated he is much more inclined to seek re-election to the House than running for the Senate. Ms. Taylor, on the other hand, may be the GOP’s top option. She has strong support among the Republican Party’s conservative base, which would likely give her the inside track for the 2012 nomination should she choose to run.