Tag Archives: Linda McMahon

The Shifting October Winds

Poll-watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stretch Drive Begins for Senate, House Races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecticut Comes Alive

Rep. Chris Murphy

The Connecticut Senate race may be twisting in a new direction. After several post-primary polls have shown Republican challenger Linda McMahon pulling closer to Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), a personal financial situation could potentially put some wind at her back.

The McMahon campaign has filed an outside ethics complaint against Congressman Murphy, saying that he received preferential loan consideration in return for supporting TARP, the creation of which eventually led to a multi-million dollar loan for the bank in question. The Stamford Advocate, a publication supporting Murphy, details the financial history of the congressman missing some mortgage payments before his election to the House, which resulted in foreclosure process initiation. He later received a home equity loan, but only after the original loan was paid in full. According to financial professionals that the Advocate interviewed, nothing appeared improper about Murphy’s loan and the bank’s action in his regard. McMahon’s people counter that an average citizen who earlier faced foreclosure proceedings would not have qualified for another loan.

In addition to the Murphy finances controversy, McMahon also secured the Connecticut Independent Party designation, so her name will appear twice on the Senatorial ballot. This development could well mean more than a day or two of soon-forgotten media coverage over Murphy’s loan history, as the Independent line can account for several percentage points.

Though McMahon lost to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) 55-43 percent two years ago, she does appear to be trending upward now. Rep. Murphy remains the favorite, however, regardless of the budding financial controversy. The Democratic nature of the state, particularly in a presidential election year, will pay major dividends for the congressman. The race should still be rated as Lean Democratic, but it does merit further attention at least in the short term.

The Senate Scorecard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Poll Out in the Connecticut Senate Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate 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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In Conn., Redistricting Could Make Things Very Interesting

Connecticut is already shaping up to be one of the more interesting political states for 2012. Redistricting adds a wild card to the picture that will likely favor the Democrats, but also provides the Republicans an opportunity to potentially take advantage of a majority party in transition. Watch for major action here.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), an announced candidate for Joe Lieberman’s open Senate seat, just released the results of an internal campaign poll but with data accumulated from a few weeks ago. Obviously anticipating Lieberman’s exit from the race, the Gotham Research Group, for the Murphy campaign, surveyed 502 registered Connecticut voters during the January 3-5 period. Not surprisingly, the results showed Rep. Murphy faring very well against the two most likely 2012 GOP entries, just-defeated Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

According to Gotham, Murphy would defeat McMahon 54-35%, while holding a smaller 46-34% advantage over Simmons. These are believable numbers since Connecticut performed well for the Democrats in the Republican year of 2010, and both McMahon and Simmons lost the Senate race. But it’s the Democratic primary numbers that are the most interesting factor in the released data. According to the study, Murphy leads former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz 40-31% with 29% undecided.

The primary numbers are worth noting for a couple of reasons. First, the questions were asked of only 257 Democrats, a very small sample considering the number of such voters in the state, thus the error factor is high. Second, the poll did not include Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) who is now seriously considering entering the Senate race in his own right. This poll should encourage Courtney because neither of his prospective opponents is close to 50%, and almost 1/3 of the voters describe themselves as undecided. Thus, a competitive race with a trio of credible candidates lasting until August of 2012 could formulate in many different ways. In this situation, a reasonable victory scenario can be crafted for each of the three candidates.

Aside from a free-for-all Senatorial primary to potentially contend with, the Democrats might also be left in a precarious situation regarding the House races. With Murphy already vacating his seat and Courtney a possibility to do so, the Democrats would face some redistricting and political challenges necessary to keeping all five of the state’s congressional seats in the party’s column. Remember, Republicans won both the 2nd (Courtney) and 5th (Murphy) districts in their current configuration up until 2006.

Though they are highly Democratic seats (CT-2, Obama ’08: 59% – Bush ’04: 44%. CT-5, Obama ’08: 56% – Bush ’04: 49%.), Republicans proved they can win in both places. While Courtney had an easy re-election in 2010 (winning 59-39% against an opponent who spent less than $250,000), Murphy fought off a tough challenge from state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R). Additionally, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-4) also had a tough battle in his first re-election, winning 53-47% in a race similar to Murphy’s.

Obviously, in open seat situations the 2nd and the 5th are going to be more competitive, thus the party may need to roll a few more Democratic voters to both the east (2nd) and west (5th), taking them from the 1st (Rep. John Larson – Hartford) and 3rd (Rep. Rosa DeLauro – New Haven) districts. The 4th, which elected Republican Chris Shays until 2008 and is located in the southwestern tail of the state that borders New York, also might need a slight increase in Democratic voters and that would drain a few more from the neighboring 3rd. Thus, we could find Dem redistricting specialists facing what could be a tricky task of rolling voters from their middle districts in both directions. This would certainly make the 1st and 3rd less Democratic, but would theoretically strengthen districts 2, 4, and 5.

The most positive end redistricting result would mean five Democratic seats that can be maintained throughout the decade. On the other hand, opening up all districts for significant change often brings unintended consequences, and this could help the Republicans.
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Our 2012 Senate Outlook

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

Democratic Seats – Most Vulnerable

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

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

Lean Democrat

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

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

Toss-ups

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

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

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

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

Likely Democrat

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

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

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

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

Safe Democrats

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

Republican Questions

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

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

Lean Republican

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

Likely Republican

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

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

Safe Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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