Tag Archives: Rick Berg

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.

Warning Signs in Va., N.D.

Two GOP Senate candidates who are probably re-assessing their respective post-primary campaign strategies are former Virginia senator George Allen and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg (R-AL). Both easily won their nomination elections on Tuesday night, but even their individual landslide victory margins are arguably under-performances. Both men finished with 66 percent of the vote on June 12, but for two consensus party candidates, their base support number should have been higher. A better position from which to launch each general election campaign would have been in the 75th percentile.

Allen faces former governor Tim Kaine (D) in the Old Dominion, and the race has been in the toss-up category since the middle of 2011 and continues to languish with neither candidate showing any signs of breaking out. The Republican primary vote tells us that Allen still needs to tack right to completely firm up his GOP base for what promises to be a bruising general election in a presidential battleground state.

Rep. Berg, whose North Dakota electorate will likely support Mitt Romney over President Obama by a substantial margin, also needs to cement his political base to the maximum level in order to take advantage of what should be a regional GOP tide.

Berg’s 66 percent of the vote in his battle against frequent candidate Duane Sand also warrants attention, because in addition to the primary result, we now see a third general election poll that projects him to be trailing former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp. The latest survey, (Mason-Dixon Polling & Research; June 4-6; 625 registered North Dakota voters) gives the new official Democratic nominee a one point, 47-46 percent, razor-thin November edge. Additionally, the primary prediction done by Mason-Dixon actually placed Berg further ahead of where he finished on Tuesday. The poll showed him beating Sand 73-16 percent, but the actual result was 66-34 percent.

Warning signs, indeed.

Is a Surprise Coming in the North Dakota Senate?

Since Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced that he would not seek re-election this year, both Republican and Democratic election analysts forecasted that the GOP would convert the open seat. These rankings even held when a November poll gave Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general and defeated gubernatorial nominee, a five-point lead over at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) soon after she announced her candidacy. The results of a new just-released survey means the supposed Heitkamp advantage can no longer be dismissed.

DFM Research (April 18-26; 478 registered North Dakota voters), polling for the North Dakota Democratic Party, now stakes Heitkamp to a 49-44 percent lead over Berg. Though the long nine-day sampling period suggests reliability questions, the same polling sample returns a 51-32 percent lead for Mitt Romney over President Obama, thus largely dispelling claims of a Democratic skew. Furthermore, though Berg and the Republicans have reported investing campaign dollars into polling, no public releases have yet been forthcoming. This again suggests that Heitkamp leading is an accurate depiction of where the race stands today.

Much will happen between now and Election Day to alter the outcome of this Senate race, and Berg is still in good position to win when considering the state’s voting history in presidential elections. But, it is now clear that the North Dakota Senate race can no longer be considered an easy Republican win and we can expect a competitive general election campaign.

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.

Senate Candidates Coming Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

The open North Dakota seat also saw its first major entry. Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) announced via video on Monday that he will run for the retiring Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D) open seat. Berg should coast to the Republican nomination and becomes the prohibitive favorite to convert the seat for his party in the general election. Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk had already announced for the Republican Senatorial nomination, but he is expected to drop down to the open House race. Most of the North Dakota political action will now center around Berg’s vacated at-large House district.
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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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House Freshmen Debt

While all the talk in Washington is about fiscal responsibility, the new House freshman class seems to command better standing than many other past first-term groups when comparing their public policy rhetoric to campaign practices.

Looking at the 2010 campaign finance statistics, 158 of 435 winning candidates ended their electoral cycle carrying some amount of campaign debt, slightly more than 1/3 of all victorious candidates, according to the year-end financial disclosure reports as published by the Federal Election Commission. Ninety-three are from veteran member campaigns, meaning much of their debt may be from previous election cycles.

Of the 63 freshmen carrying debt, not including members with a break in service or those elected in post-2008 special elections, the great preponderance are Republicans (56R-7D), mostly because GOP candidates won so many more races. Of the pure freshmen in the current 112th Congress, 87 are Republican compared to just nine Democrats.

Only two freshmen have over $1 million in campaign debt. Rep. Quico Canseco (R-TX-23) is showing the highest amount of red ink, but 52% of the $1.146 million is owed to himself in the form of a candidate loan. The second member to carry a seven-figured debt is Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-6). Her total is $1.046 million, but the entire amount is owed to herself.

Just five new members are carrying more than $500,000 in debt. They are:
• Bill Flores (R-TX-17) – $739,872
• David McKinley (R-WV-1) – $670,000
• Bill Hanna (R-NY-24) – $536,515
• David Schweikert (R-AZ-5) – $523,000
• Nan Hayworth (R-NY-19) – $504,902

A dozen first-term members hold debts of between $200,000 and $499,999. They are:
• Justin Amash (R-MI-3) – $408,200
• Mike Kelly (R-PA-3) – $382,720
• Scott Rigell (R-VA-2) – $378,000
• Jim Renacci (R-OH-16) – $375,222
• Joe Walsh (R-IL-8) – $361,740
• Jon Runyan (R-NJ-3) – $338,529
• Lou Barletta (R-PA-11) – $258,495
• Chuck Fleishmann (R-TN-3) – $250,000
• Cedric Richmond (D-LA-2) – $236,826
• Tim Griffin (R-AR-2) – $232,897
• Tim Mulvaney (R-SC-5) – $210,000
• Joe Heck (R-NV-3) – $203,000

An additional 13 are between $100,000 and $199,999 in the red:
• Reid Ribble (R-WI-8) – $173,009
• Vicky Hartzler (R-MO-4) – $163,406
• Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) – $158,687
• Dan Benishek (R-MI-1) – $157,000
• Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27) – $156,643
• Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) – $154,250
• Frederica Wilson (D-FL-17) – $154,750
• Bob Dold (R-IL-10) – $143,609
• David Rivera (R-FL-25) – $137,474
• Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) – $121,959
• David Cicilline (D-RI-1) – $120,000
• Cory Gardner (R-CO-4) – $103,062
• Sandy Adams (R-FL-24) – $100,850

An additional 31 freshmen members have debt, but all are below $100,000 in dollars owed, and 24 have no debt at all.

It appears that the vast majority of freshmen will be debt-free and in strong financial position when the first quarter reporting period draws to an end on March 31. Maintaining such a status is crucial when preparing for the all-important first re-election campaign.

The rise of the independent organizations that put millions of dollars into specific, candidate-related political messages may be largely responsible for reducing not only candidate campaign spending to some degree, but also the individual members’ campaign debts. The final year-end financial figures are just one more indication that the world of campaign finance continues to evolve in new and very different ways. These results again underscore the fundamental changes in free expression that the Citizens’ United Supreme Court ruling has brought to the political marketplace.
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The Won’t Runs

Several people being considered as potential candidates for a 2012 campaign made definitive statements quashing such talk over the weekend. Boston Mayor Tom Menino (D), recovering from knee surgery, said he will not run for US Senate in Massachusetts against incumbent Scott Brown (R) or for any other office besides the one he currently holds. He also publicly stated his belief that no Democrat can beat Brown next year.

Minnesota Rep. John Kline (R-MN-2) said he has no plans to challenge Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D). Kline’s name never was mentioned prominently as a possible senatorial candidate, so his decision to stay in the House is not surprising.

Defeated Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden (R) says she will not launch a 2012 campaign unless both Sen. John Ensign (R) and Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) choose to step aside. Ensign appears to be preparing for re-election; Heller has not made his plans clear. In another Nevada-related story, Sharron Angle, the 2010 Republican Senatorial nominee, says she will not run for a newly open state Senate seat despite the vacancy occurring in her home district.

Defeated Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND-AL) and Harry Teague (D-NM-2) both say they have no plans to ever again seek political office, thus taking re-match possibilities with Reps. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) and Steve Pearce (R-NM-2) off the table.