Tag Archives: Jon Kyl

Senate Poll Shockers

A series of surveys was just released for key US Senate races in several states. Two studies produced especially surprising results, those in Florida and North Dakota.

Rasmussen Reports (Nov. 17; 500 likely Florida voters) now gives Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) an unexpected 43-39 percent lead over Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D). This is the first poll of the election cycle that shows Nelson in a deficit position to any potential Republican opponent.

After saying he would not run in March, Rep. Mack did an about-face late last month and his decision appears to be paying off, at least in the short term. Prior to recent polls showing Rep. Mack within two, six, and now leading by four points, Sen. Nelson posted consistent 15-point margins against the other two main Republican candidates, former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.

It was always believed that the Ft. Myers congressman and son of former Sen. Connie Mack III could make this race competitive, and the last three polls certainly confirm that supposition.

In North Dakota, The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released the results of the Mellman Group poll (Nov. 12-16; 600 likely North Dakota voters) it commissioned for newly announced candidate Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general. The data give Ms. Heitkamp a 47-42 percent lead over Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL). This is a stunner in that Berg is thought to be the prohibitive favorite to convert the open seat (Sen. Kent Conrad is retiring) for the GOP. North Dakota is projected to be the Republicans’ best opportunity to take a Democratic seat.

Since this tabulation conflicts with other North Dakota polls, it is possible that the survey is an anomaly. In its defense, however, are the presidential numbers. As one would expect, a prospective Republican nominee is ahead of President Obama in the Peace Garden State, even according to these same Mellman Group numbers. Mitt Romney has a 47-33 percent advantage over the President within this polling universe, which is perfectly in line with North Dakota presidential election voting behavior. If further surveys show a similar pattern in this Senate race, a new competitive race could be on the horizon.

According to a brand new Epic MRA poll of the Michigan Senate race (Nov. 13-16; 600 registered Michigan voters), former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) has decreased his deficit against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). Their latest survey shows only a six-point 48-42 percent advantage for the two-term Democratic incumbent. This is a net gain of three points for Hoekstra over the firm’s August poll that gave Stabenow a 47-38 percent edge.

The Michigan race is another critical contest for the GOP. Thought to be vulnerable at the beginning of the year, the Republicans were slow to find a credible opponent against the senator, finally convincing Hoekstra to launch a campaign after the former congressman had publicly announced that he would not run.

One of the slower races to take shape is the open Arizona seat of retiring Senate Majority Whip Jon Kyl (R). New polling information is now available for the Republican primary in this state and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is off to a big lead, as expected. According to a new Public Policy Polling survey (Nov. 17-20; 400 registered Arizona Republican voters), Flake has a huge 53-7 percent lead over businessman Wil Cardon. Magellan Strategies found a similar pattern. Their latest Arizona study (Nov. 16; 722 registered Arizona Republican voters) gives Flake a similar 55-3 percent margin against Cardon.

Democrats have a large field in the Grand Canyon State, including former Surgeon General Richard Carmona and ex-Arizona Democratic Party chairman Don Bivens. Right now, it appears the race is Flake’s to lose.

Rep. Giffords Leads in New Ariz. Senate Poll

Public Policy Polling (April 28-May 1; 623 registered Arizona voters) surveyed the Arizona electorate and found Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), who is still recovering from the senseless Jan. 8 shooting that severely wounded her, to be leading the top Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Phoenix area Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6), by a 48-41 percent count. She would top former congressman and 2010 Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth (R) by an even more substantial 57-31 percent.

Terry Goddard, the Democratic former attorney general who lost to Jan Brewer (R) in the 2010 governor’s race, pulls even with Flake (45-45 percent), and would defeat Hayworth 51-33 percent. Mr. Flake would easily defeat Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (47-33 percent) and Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) 46-34 percent. None of the Democrats tested have announced their candidacies. It is unclear when Rep. Giffords will have the ability to make any decisions regarding her immediate political future. Rep. Flake is the only official Republican contender. Sen. Jon Kyl (R) is retiring.

Interestingly, of all the aforementioned potential candidates, only Giffords (57:17 percent) and Goddard (43:36 percent) have favorable images. All of the others register negatives that exceed their positive scores. Former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was also included in this poll under the absurd idea that the former Alaska governor and current Last Frontier State resident would run for the Senate in Arizona. Not surprisingly, Palin performs very poorly on all questions under this ill-conceived polling scenario.
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Senate Update: One In, One Out

Two U.S. Senate announcements were made over the weekend. In New Mexico, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) released a video saying he is running for the retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D) open seat. One state to the west in Arizona, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) also made an official announcement, but a much different one. He won’t run statewide next year.

Heinrich’s electronic release, featuring the congressman cooking a meal for his family in their home, emphasizes his commitment to working families and job creation. His decision to run statewide means the marginal 1st congressional district will become an open seat, and highly competitive battles are expected for both the Senate and the House.

Mr. Heinrich stating his political intentions early in the election cycle means the New Mexico map drawers (Democrats control the legislature; Republicans have the governor’s office) can radically change his congressional seat if they so desire. The Land of Enchantment, remaining constant with three U.S. House districts for the ensuing decade, normally features a Democratic northern district encompassing the capital city of Santa Fe (NM-3), and a more Republican southern seat (NM-2), again represented by Rep. Steve Pearce (R) after he vacated it in 2008 to run unsuccessfully for the Senate. The 1st, anchored in the state’s dominant Albuquerque metropolitan area, is politically marginal. Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) held the latter seat in the early part of the decade; Heinrich won it in 2008 (56-44%) and was re-elected 52-48% in 2010.

The Albuquerque congressman becomes the first Democrat to officially launch a campaign to succeed Sen. Bingaman, though state Auditor Hector Banderas says he will run. Ms. Wilson is announced for the Republican nomination and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) is also seriously considering running for the seat. The New Mexico Senate race has the potential of becoming one of the hottest campaigns in the country.

State Sen. Eric Griego (D) wasted no time in following Heinrich’s lead. He immediately formed a congressional exploratory committee for the newly opened 1st district, but stopped short of saying that he will run for sure.

In Arizona, the public announcement was different than predicted. It was believed that Rep. Franks would unveil his Senate plans this weekend, which he did, but most thought he would proclaim himself as an official statewide candidate. Instead, he did the opposite, saying, “I have sincerely concluded that mounting a Senate bid at this time would not be what is best for my family, nor what would best allow me to serve my country at this critical time in her history.” Therefore, Mr. Franks will not launch a Senatorial bid and looks to a House re-election campaign in what promises to be a much different 2nd district. Needing to shed 262,615 people, AZ-2 is the second-most over-populated congressional district in the nation.

Franks’ decision, at least for now, leaves 6th district Rep. Jeff Flake as the lone announced Republican in the Senatorial contest to succeed the retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R). Democrats have yet to see an individual come forward to formally state their own candidacy. Once the field is defined, the Arizona Senate race will also become highly competitive.
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2012 Senatorial Candidate Announcements Coming Soon

Although no one has yet officially declared his or her candidacy for the nation’s highest office, several people are moving closer to making an announcement for the Senate. It is being reported from both public and private sources that Arizona Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) will announce a Senatorial run as soon as this weekend or early next week. Franks will oppose fellow Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in the Republican primary. Sen. Jon Kyl (R) is retiring. Both men running statewide will have a huge effect upon Arizona congressional redistricting. The two have the most over-populated seats in the state (both have more than 261,000 people to shed) and with no incumbent influence for either district, both seats can be disassembled. The result could lead to a radical re-draw. Complicating matters even further, Arizona also gains a new seat.

Turning to the Midwest and Indiana, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) is sounding more like a Senatorial candidate. He is seriously considering challenging Sen. Richard Lugar (R) next year in hopes of taking advantage of what appears to be a difficult Tea Party-induced challenge for the six-term senator in the GOP primary. That Donnelly is still publicly flirting with the Senate almost assures that he will run. The congressman’s statements to-date already give Republican map drawers the impetus they need to re-craft his northern Indiana congressional district into a more Republican-friendly seat. Former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R), who held Donnelly to a one-point win in 2010, has confirmed that she will run again, thus pressuring the congressman even further.
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Senate Contests Already Taking Shape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To secure a new majority in 2012, Republicans will have to convert at least two of these aforementioned seats and hold all of the ones they are risking. The GOP needs a minimum switch of four net seats to return to majority status. Democrats must defend 23 of the 33 in-cycle races.
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Franks Flirting with Arizona Senate; All House Races Potentially Competitive

Reports continue to emanate from Arizona that Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) will soon join the Republican primary battle for Sen. Jon Kyl’s Senate seat. Mr. Kyl already has announced that he will not seek a fourth term in 2012. So far, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is the only major office holder officially in the race.

Should Franks and Flake square-off, it is likely that the latter will be the better funded of the two as the Phoenix-area congressman has become a prolific national fundraiser without the aid of PAC contributions. Mr. Flake ended 2010 with just over $627,000 in the bank. Franks, on the other hand, has not performed as well in the money-gathering arena. Also originally elected in 2002, he continues to carry a debt of more than $264,000 and reports only $15,658 cash-on-hand at the end of last year.

If he is to upset Flake for his party’s Senate nomination, Franks will have to become the Arizona Tea Party’s cause celeb and generate a large volume of financial contributions from conservatives most concerned with social issues. Both men are among the most conservative House members, though Flake drifts toward the Libertarian philosophy on several issues.

Franks’ appearance in the race could change the equation dramatically and will be a significant factor in determining the outcome. He begins in the underdog position against Flake in a one-on-one race but, if the field becomes crowded, the candidate with the most fervent support within a political base is the most likely person to win, particularly in places like Arizona that don’t feature a post-election run-off between the top two primary finishers.

Democrats have yet to make many moves to field a candidate, largely because it is so early in the cycle. A group of stronger contenders entering the Republican side leads to a tougher primary battle, thus increasing the chances of a fractured outcome that could produce a weak nominee as we saw in places like Colorado and Nevada during the 2010 campaign. Arizona Democrats are hoping such will happen here resulting in an improved opportunity in the general election.

The Senate race will become increasingly interesting, but so will House delegation developments. With Flake already vacating his seat, and Franks potentially following suit and run for the Senate, at least three Arizona congressional seats, and maybe four, will be open. Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) also said this week that he is assessing his own chances of running in the statewide contest. In addition to the vacating members, reapportionment has expanded the state’s representation to nine seats, meaning one new district will be electing a congressman for the first time.

Aside from the competitive open seats, three freshmen incumbents, Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1), Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3), and David Schweikert (R-AZ-5), will all be seeking their first re-election and can expect credible opponents.

But the political upheaval is not confined to the Republicans. Obviously, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), who is still recovering from being shot in the head earlier in the year, is not yet in any condition to determine what future political moves she will make, if any. All scenarios involving her potential candidacy for any office is pure speculation at this point. And the possibility that her 8th district may be open next year must be considered.

Finally, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7) also is in a potentially vulnerable situation. Despite representing a Voting Rights Act district, Grijalva found himself competitively challenged by GOP scientist Ruth McClung in 2012, and won with only 50% of the vote. Redistricting will change southern Arizona, but it remains to be seen who will be the initial beneficiaries of the new boundaries.

In conclusion, should all of the House members considering the Senate race actually run, it is possible, particularly when the Arizona Redistricting Commission actions pertaining to the state’s new congressional map are considered, that all nine of the state’s seats could host significant campaigns. In what used to be one of the most quiet and politically stable states in the Union, Arizona politics are moving in the exact opposite medium in the 21st Century. A great deal of attention will again be paid to this state in the 2012 election cycle.
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New Political Heat in the Arizona Desert

Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R-6)

More torrid political action is coming to Arizona. As expected, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) announced yesterday that he will leave the House at the end of next year to run for the Senate, now that Republican Whip Jon Kyl (R) has made his retirement plans known. Flake, who attracts some national attention for opposing earmarks and his fervent support of reducing government spending, may have the right message for a like-minded constituency at exactly the proper time. He certainly will be formidable in a Republican primary and, today, must be cast as the general election favorite too.

The Congressman’s short-term objective is to discourage other top Republicans from challenging him, thus making his road to the GOP nomination smooth and easy. Several already have officially declined to run, including former Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ-3) and freshmen Reps. Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3) and David Schweikert (R-AZ-5), in addition to retired NFL quarterback Kurt Warner. Another office-holder previously thinking about the Senate race has reportedly altered his plans. Russell Pearce, the Arizona Senate president, is said to be mounting a campaign for Flake’s open House seat, wherever it might be drawn, rather than enter the statewide fray.

The Flake decision also impacts redistricting. With an incumbent-less suburban Republican seat unprotected, it becomes easier for map drawers to make drastic changes in the congressional map.

Politics in the Grand Canyon State are still in a relative state of chaos, rendering it almost impossible to accurately forecast future elections. Considering this tentative back-drop, it appears that Mr. Flake’s decision to run for Senate is a sensible one.
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What’s Next in New York and Arizona?

The surprise resignation of Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY-26) will soon set off yet another special congressional election in New York. The 26th district, stretching from the Buffalo suburbs to the outlying Rochester area, is strongly Republican. With a new, short-term incumbent, however, the district stands a chance of being collapsed in the 2012 redistricting plan, since the state loses two congressional seats in reapportionment. Therefore, redistricting is certainly a factor for the potential candidates assessing their special election chances and prospects for a long tenure in the House. Republicans will have the advantage in this short-term contest.

Previously, when then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY-20) was appointed to the Senate, a special election was held to choose a replacement for the House seat. Democrat Scott Murphy prevailed, but current Rep. Chris Gibson (R) subsequently defeated him in November. Rep. John McHugh’s (R-NY-23) appointment as Army Secretary led to a divisive special election allowing Democrat Bill Owens to slip through a three-way contest to capture the normally Republican seat. Owens went on to win a full term last November in similar fashion.

The major political parties will caucus and select a nominee; thus, there will be no primary election. Early reports suggest that Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin is already beginning to assemble a campaign operation. Among Democrats, Erie County legislator Kathy Konst has the potential of quickly becoming a consensus candidate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has a wide time frame in which to schedule the vote but once he does, the election will be held just 30-40 days from his official call.

In Arizona, Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R) announcement yesterday that he will not seek a fourth term sets the state’s political apparatus in motion. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) previously indicated interest in making a statewide bid should Kyl retire. The five-term Representative is a nationally known budget hawk, and has a strong following in the state. He has over $627,000 in the bank according to his year-end financial statement. The only other veteran Republican congressman in the Arizona delegation, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) is more likely to remain in the House.

For the Democrats, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-AZ-8) name is already surfacing, but the congresswoman, recovering from a senseless assassination attempt, is not currently in a position to run a grueling statewide campaign. Had it not been for the tragic Tucson shooting that injured her and killed six others, Rep. Giffords would very likely have joined the field of Senate candidates and been among the favorites to capture not only the Democratic nomination, but possibly the seat itself. Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is also being mentioned as a person having interest in running. But recent polling indicates that her stint in Washington has cost her dearly among her former constituents.

Turning to other potential Senate candidates, former Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ-3) is saying he might have interest in such a race. Former Attorney General Grant Woods, known as a liberal Republican, is another mentioned as a potential candidate. Ex-Democratic Party state chairman and 2006 Senatorial nominee Jim Pederson will also find his name prominently on a list of potential office seekers. Former state Treasurer Dean Martin (R), who briefly challenged Gov. Jan Brewer in the Republican primary, is another GOP possibility.

This race will be hard-fought, as the state is rife with controversial issues and the voting base becomes ever more marginal and competitive. Republicans will start out with an advantage, but this race will be one to watch throughout the 2012 election cycle.
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Arizona Speculation: Is Kyle In or Out?

Public Policy Polling (Jan. 28-30; 599 registered AZ voters) just completed a survey of the new in-cycle senate race featuring three-term incumbent Jon Kyl (R). Disregarding the burgeoning rumors that the senator may decide to retire, the poll shows him to be in sound political position. The retirement conjecture gains more credibility, however, when observing that the normally cautious Kyl is not engaged in any overt action to formulate a 2012 campaign structure.

If he runs, the senator fares well against every potential Democratic opponent. The person doing best against him, former Attorney General Terry Goddard, fell victim to Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in the 2010 election. Goddard trails Kyl 40-50% according to the PPP data. The senator does even better against Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (54-33%) and defeated Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1; 51-35%). He posts a healthy 53-41% margin over Homeland Security Secretary and former Gov. Janet Napolitano. The Secretary’s job performance in Washington has clearly turned her own electorate against her. Riding a wave of Arizona popularity when she headed to Washington, PPP now detects her personal approval rating to be a miserable 40:55% favorable to unfavorable. These numbers represent a huge negative turnaround and suggest she would fare very poorly in an Arizona statewide race.

If Sen. Kyl decides to retire, who might run in his place? Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) already is saying that he considers the Senate an option if the seat is open. He’s the logical person from the congressional delegation to make the attempt to run statewide. He has solid conservative/libertarian credentials and has made a national name for himself as a spending/anti-earmark hawk at precisely the right time. Three of the other congressional Republicans are freshmen who more than likely would not yet be ready to make a statewide bid. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) has never been noted as a powerful fundraiser or campaigner, so it is also doubtful that he would take the plunge.

Democrats are much weaker. Goddard, who appears to be their best candidate, already lost a race to Brewer by a substantial margin. Gordon, as the mayor of the state’s dominant city — a position that usually does not prove itself as a good launching pad to higher office in any state — has poor favorability ratings. According to the PPP poll, his personal approval ratio is 19:37%.

Normally, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) would certainly be in the conversation as a top potential statewide candidate. But, the tragic and senseless shooting that leaves her recovering in a Houston medical facility almost assuredly takes her out of any 2012 statewide conversation, thus leaving the Democrats in a bind. Judging from the approval ratings of the other well-known Arizona political names, Giffords would probably have been the party’s strongest candidate.

Sen. Kyl promises to make and announce a re-election decision before February ends. Either way, Republicans will be favored to hold the seat in November of 2012, but their road to their victory will likely be smoother if the incumbent seeks another term.
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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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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

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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