Tag Archives: Jon Bruning

With NC Primary Results Still Unclear, Crisco Dies; Aiken Looks to be Nominee – Late Nebraska Numbers Show a Changing Race

The North Carolina primary was held on May 6, but the 2nd District Democratic result is still not official. There, singer Clay Aiken has a slight lead over businessman Keith Crisco as the official canvas is proceeding to conclusion. Unfortunately, yesterday after an apparent fall in his home, the 71-year-old Crisco died suddenly.

Aiken’s 369-vote lead on election night is likely to hold up, but the final result may have been close enough that Crisco could have been entitled to a recount. Should the count turnaround and the late Crisco’s vote totals exceed those of Aiken, the Democratic Party would then be empowered to nominate a candidate through a caucus process.

In any event, it appears that one way or another Aiken will become the party nominee and face sophomore Rep. Renee Ellmers (R). However, the Republican nature of the district gives the congresswoman a major general election  Continue reading >

Four New Senate Polls

Four pollsters released new data in four different Senate states, each giving us some previously unknown information. Most of the results show an undefined electorate, but the one covering the upcoming Bay State special election shows a widening chasm between the two candidates.

Massachusetts

With the special senatorial election now four weeks away on June 25, New England College (June 1-2; 786 registered Massachusetts voters via automated interviews) released the findings of their latest poll. Their results show Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA-5) increasing his lead over Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez. According to the automated results, Markey now enjoys a 53-40 percent advantage, up from the single-digit spreads that previous surveys had projected.

The two candidates are vying for the right to succeed veteran Sen. John Kerry (D), who was appointed US Secretary of State earlier in the year. The winner serves the remaining segment of the current term, which ends when the 113th Congress adjourns. The new senator can then stand for a full six-year term in November of 2014.

Michigan

Public Policy Polling (May 30-June 2; 697 registered Michigan voters; 334 Republican primary voters) tested the open Senate race and found good news and bad news for Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14). The good news is that he leads all Republican potential candidates. The bad news is that he is unknown to two-thirds of the polling respondents.

Earlier this week, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) announced her senatorial candidacy and she fares best against the Detroit congressman. According to PPP, Peters sports a 41-36 percent advantage over Land. He leads representatives Dave Camp (R-MI-4) 43-31 percent; Mike Rogers (R-MI-8) 42-32 percent; and Justin Amash (R-MI-3) 42-30 percent. In the Republican primary, Land finishes behind the three Congressmen (Camp 21 percent; Rogers 18 percent; Amash 16 percent; Land 15 percent), but it  Continue reading >

Fischer Surges to Win Nebraska Primary

font size=”2″>It seemed like a 20-plus point swing in less than 10 days was too much to possibly be true, but the We Ask America poll that detected Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer moving ahead of Attorney General Jon Bruning in the Republican Senatorial primary proved accurate. Despite leading all the way until the very end of the campaign, Bruning fell to Fischer 41-36 percent, with 19 percent going to state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

The victorious state legislator will now face former senator Bob Kerrey, who won the Democratic primary with 81 percent of the vote. Both will vie for the right to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in November.

Once again, conservative outside groups and individual Super PAC backers were able to bring down a front-runner who they deemed unacceptable. Yet, this election campaign is different. In the 2010 and early 2012 primary elections, in places like Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and Indiana, the incumbent or perceived favored candidate failed because they were to the left of the preferred candidate; but not last night in Nebraska.

Clearly the onslaught of ads aimed at perceived front-runner Bruning, probably totaling over $1 million in a small media market state, took their toll against him. The killer attack point was the charge he gained ownership in companies that he regulated in his official position and, as a result, became personally wealthy. With all sides pounding Bruning, the issue stuck, though he vehemently argued that all of his actions were completely legitimate.

And with Fischer gaining the endorsements of Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and former governor Kay Orr, she got the credibility she needed not only to overcome Bruning, but also Stenberg, as well. Stenberg, a perennial candidate who won a statewide election in 2010, attracted the support of Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, which accounted for more than $700,000 of the outside money infused into the race. The Senate Conservatives goal was to boost Stenberg ahead of Bruning. While we now know that Bruning fell, Stenberg moved little.

Democrats will now make the argument that since the GOP early favorite again failed their party is now in better shape to make a run in the general election. Clearly, with former senator Kerrey as their official nominee, they have a credible candidate. But, in actuality, because the ethical issues dogging Bruning proved lethal to him, the attorney general coming through this campaign, damaged, and limping across the finish line with a close win would have been the least favorable position for Republicans. Now, with the most conservative nominee in this most conservative of states, Kerrey and the Democrats no longer have the issues they had against Bruning.

Oregon and Idaho also held congressional primaries last night, and the results produced no surprises as all incumbents easily won their renomination contests.

A Wild Ending Looms in the Nebraska Senate Race

The Nebraska Republican Senate race, culminating in a primary vote tonight, has exploded in its final days. At issue is whether Attorney General Jon Bruning, the undisputed leader in the race up until this past weekend, will hold on for victory, or will state Sen. Deb Fischer nip him at the finish line. Fischer – aided by endorsements from Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), former governor Kay Orr, and an outside expenditure of more than $200,000 from TD Ameritrade founder and Chicago Cubs baseball team owner Joe Ricketts – has forged into the lead according to one political poll. The We Ask America automated survey (May 13; 1,109 likely Nebraska Republican primary voters) shows the state legislator now ahead of Bruning 39-34 percent. Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg, despite receiving as much as $700,000 in outside spending from Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, continues to lag behind at 18 percent.

It is hard to know if the poll is reliable. Fischer has moved an aggregate 21 points since May 6, according to consecutive We Ask America polls. This seems like too great a swing in too short a period. Even the WAA published analysis concedes as much. Additionally, this fully automated poll was conducted on the Mother’s Day holiday, further skewing the results. Plus, We Ask America’s recent track record isn’t too strong. A week before the Illinois primary, WAA projected 16th District Rep. Don Manzullo to be holding about a half-point lead (42.6-42.2 percent) over fellow Rep. Adam Kinzinger in their incumbent Republican pairing battle. Kinzinger won going away, 54-46 percent.

It is clear that the Nebraska trends are moving toward Fischer and away from Bruning. Whether or not this break is too late will be answered in just a few hours.

A Nebraska Horse Race

Republicans will have a Senatorial nominee to oppose former Sen. Bob Kerrey tomorrow night as Nebraska voters head for the polls. Right now, retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat appears to be the Republicans’ best national conversion opportunity since the North Dakota race shows continued signs of serious competition.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has been leading the Republican side since day one. He is still the decided favorite tomorrow, but the campaign momentum may have swung to state Sen. Deb Fischer who appears to have grabbed second place over state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

A series of polls have detected the Fischer momentum and the fact that Bruning has unleashed a late campaign ad attacking both of his opponents jointly suggests that his own internal data also shows movement away from him.

The two most recent released polls still register leads for the attorney general, but of varying margins. The We Ask America independent survey (May 6; 1,173 Nebraska Republican primary voters; automated calls) posts Bruning to a 42-26-22 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg, respectively.

The Fischer campaign responded to We Ask America by releasing its own Singularis Group poll, the reliability of which is drawing questions. According to the analysis, the Fischer internal survey was conducted of 400 GOP primary voters on a Sunday night, an unusual night to form a reliable sampling universe and one-night data accumulation is often frowned upon, as well. For whatever they’re worth, the numbers gave Bruning only a 30-26-18 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg.

The Fischer data is likely skewed. Only spending slightly over $100,000 so far on electronic media voter contact and not much over $300,000 in total, it is improbable that she could be making up so much ground in a short amount of time. For his part, Stenberg agrees that Bruning is falling but the treasurer says it is he, and not Fischer, who is surging. Stenberg is spending in the $600,000-plus range, and Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) Senate Conservatives Fund has dropped an additional $700,000 in advertisements boosting his effort. Bruning has expended more than $1 million on television and well over $2.5 million for his primary campaign.

Low-turnout elections are difficult to predict, but there appears little foundation to support the idea that Bruning has, almost overnight, lost the lead he has held throughout the campaign. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow night.

Analyzing Shocker Senate Polls in Ohio and Nebraska

Two polls hit the public domain yesterday that give the Democrats reason to pause. According to Rasmussen Reports, Ohio GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who many political professionals have long believed possesses the best candidate skills of all Republican contenders, has pulled into a 43-43 percent dead heat with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). Mandel scored 63 percent of the Republican vote in the March 6 primary, so he is already the official GOP nominee.

This new Rasmussen Reports poll, (March 26; 500 registered Ohio voters) is not the first to show Mandel getting close to Brown, but certainly is the survey turning in the best Republican numbers to date. Fifteen polls have been commissioned here since March 2011, and the only other one showing the campaign even in the realm of a toss-up was Rasmussen’s Feb. 8 survey that put Mandel within four points of Brown, 40-44 percent. Another study that had Mandel even within ten points of the senator was Public Policy Polling’s Oct. 13-16 survey that revealed a 48-40 percent spread.

The one finding that all 15 polls have in common, however, is that none show Brown over, or even at, 50 percent. A polling axiom has always been that incumbents are in political trouble when they fall below the majority mark. Such does not always prove to be the case in practice, but it is interesting that Sen. Brown’s poll numbers remain stagnant between a relatively small 43-49 percent segment in 15 polls from four different pollsters over a 12-month period. This data, coupled with Mandel’s strong fundraising ability (he had raised $5.8 million to Brown’s $6.5 million by year’s end, clearly the best of any Republican challenger nationally) does suggest that the Ohio Senate race will become more competitive as the campaign progresses.

Many Democrats claim that Rasmussen Reports, largely because of their small sample draws and employing an automated questionnaire model, tend to skew their results toward their own conservative bias. Comparing RR polls, however, to actual results generally does not support such criticism. The Democrats certainly howled when Rasmussen released the first Nebraska poll after former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) returned from New York to enter the 2012 open seat Senate race. The RR data (March 5; 500 registered Nebraska voters) gave GOP Attorney General Jon Bruning, the leading Republican senatorial contender, a 55-33 percent lead over the former Democratic senator.

Yesterday, the Democratic survey research firm Public Policy Polling (March 22-25; 1,028 registered Nebraska voters via automated calls) surveyed the Cornhusker State electorate and actually found a similar result to the Rasmussen study. According to PPP, Bruning enjoys a 54-37 percent advantage, certainly within the same range as the RR conclusion. Obviously, this is not good news for former Sen. Kerrey and the Democrats, who know the former statewide office holder is their best chance of keeping the seat in the Democratic column.

Compounding Kerrey’s problem is that he trails even lesser known and lightly supported Republican primary candidates. Against state Sen. Deb Fischer (R), who is unfamiliar to more than 60 percent of the electorate, Kerrey trails 38-48 percent. When paired with state Treasurer Don Stenberg, who himself trails Bruning 18-46 percent in the commensurate GOP nomination poll of Nebraska voters, the former senator is behind 38-52 percent. On top of that, he is viewed favorably by just 36 percent of the people as compared to 51 percent who possess an unfavorable opinion of him.

At least in the early going, the Kerrey re-entry into the Nebraska Senate race has certainly not tipped the balance of power toward the Democrats.

Is Kerrey In After All?

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), who hasn’t lived in Nebraska since leaving office in early 2001, may be reconsidering the decision he made two weeks ago to jettison a political comeback attempt in the Cornhusker State. Kerrey is reportedly now telling Democratic leaders that he has changed his mind and will enter the race as a candidate for the Senate. The former Senator served two terms from 1989 through 2001. Prior to his service in Washington, Mr. Kerrey logged one term as Nebraska’s governor. In 1992, he ran an ill-fated campaign for president.

The Kerrey decision may be more than simple equivocation, however. This could be a well-planned and shrewd move. Under Nebraska’s candidate filing law, current office holders must file for re-election or another office by Feb. 15 during this particular election cycle. Non-office holders have until March 1. The unique law allowed Kerrey the luxury of standing back to see what popular Gov. Dave Heineman (R) actually decided about his own Senatorial candidacy. Heineman never appeared serious about running for federal office, but he also failed to publicly close the door on a bid. Polling showed that the governor would be the strongest candidate in either party.

With Heineman out and no strong Democrat on the horizon, the way is clear for Kerrey to return to political action. Should he run, he will face either Attorney General Jon Bruning or state Treasurer Don Stenberg in the general election. Even against Kerrey, the Republicans still might have a slight edge. With Sen. Ben Nelson (D) retiring, the GOP is in prime conversion position as President Obama, at the top of the ticket, is not projected to run strong here. The Nebraska seat is critical for both parties in terms of winning majority status.

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 Race Tight in Montana; Dems to Make Connecticut Intersting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democratic Seats – Most Vulnerable

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

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

Lean Democrat

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

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

Toss-ups

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

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

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

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

Likely Democrat

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

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

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

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

Safe Democrats

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

Republican Questions

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

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

Lean Republican

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

Likely Republican

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

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

Safe Republicans

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

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