Monthly Archives: January 2011

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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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

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.

Dewhurst Begins with Advantage in Texas

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is the man to beat according to a new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 14-16; 892 registered Texas voters) among the people most often mentioned as candidates for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R) open seat in 2012. Dewhurst leads defeated Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX-17) 50-31%; his advantage is 49-31% when paired with former state Comptroller John Sharp (D), whom he defeated to become lieutenant governor in 2002; and 53-29% against San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (D). Only Sharp has made definitive moves to run for the Senate among the aforementioned Democrats.

Other Republicans fare similarly in hypothetical general election pairings. Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones has a 44-30% edge over Sharp; Jones’ RR Commission colleague Michael Williams leads the former state Comptroller 42-30%; while Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert registers the exact same margin over Sharp as does Williams. Matching the other Republicans against Edwards and Castro produces similar results to Dewhurst’s.

Turning to approval ratings, it is, rather surprisingly, only the Lt. Governor who scores in positive numbers (34:28%) among the tested candidates of both parties. The fact that only one potential candidate is rated favorably among the nine office holders and former office holders suggests that unrest still exists within the Texas electorate, meaning this race is far from being decided.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

Conrad and Lieberman to Retire

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D) ended speculation about his political future yesterday with his announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2012. Actually, this is the second time in his career that Conrad said he was retiring from the Senate. In his original 1986 campaign, Mr. Conrad said he would not seek a second term should the federal deficit not be eradicated during his first six years in office. He went on to upset then-Sen. Mark Andrews (R) later that year.

But he kept his word, announcing in April 1992 that he would not seek a second term because the federal deficit was still in existence. As the year progressed, however, veteran Sen. Quentin Burdick (D) passed away and Conrad then entered the special election campaign to replace him for North Dakota’s other seat. He won the special just one month after Byron Dorgan succeeded him in the 1992 general election. Thus, Sen. Conrad retired, but had no break in his Senate service. Ironically, in that special election of 19 years ago, he easily defeated Republican state legislator Jack Dalrymple, the man who just assumed the Governorship upon John Hoeven’s election to the Senate.

As with the retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) during the last election cycle, the Republicans are presented with a conversion opportunity. Though the 2010 race virtually ended upon Gov. Hoeven’s campaign announcement, the Republicans are not quite in the same position this year. Since they currently hold all of the statewide elected offices with the exception of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the GOP certainly starts the open seat campaign as the favorites — but not as prohibitive favorites like they were when Hoeven was the candidate. The musical chairs will begin in earnest now that Conrad’s semi-expected announcement has been officially made.

This race now moves to ‘Lean Republican.’

In Connecticut, Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who went from being the Democratic nominee for Vice-President in 2000, to Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, to losing his own renomination battle in 2006 only to win the seat in the general election without a party, and then coming full circle to be featured as a speaker at the 2008 Republican National Convention, officially will announce his retirement today after four six-year terms.

Sen. Lieberman was at the bottom of the job approval list for 2012 incumbents, as Democrats in particular were registering highly unfavorable opinions of his performance in office during this current term. It was clear he could not return to the Democratic Party and again win their nomination, and would go no where in the general election as a Republican. Thus, his only chance to remain a senator was to again try the Independent route, but the road to victory this time appeared more fraught with peril than it did in 2006. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) beginning to gear up a senatorial effort, Lieberman was unlikely to attract the more moderate Democratic voter as he did last time when ultra-liberal Ned Lamont was the party nominee. Furthermore, with Republican Linda McMahon looking like she would also enter the race, thus making the contest a legitimate three-way affair, Lieberman’s chances of winning were viewed to be slim. Most believed a campaign highlighting the differences among all three of the candidates would close the senator’s opportunity window even tighter.

Without Lieberman in the race, the Democrats will assume an even stronger electoral position and will likely return the seat to their party’s column. As an open seat, rate Connecticut as ‘Likely Democratic.’

Sens. Conrad and Lieberman join Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) on the retirement list, already bringing the total of 2012 open seats to three; a very large number at this point in an election cycle.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

Ron Paul for President … or Senate?

With Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s retirement announcement becoming official last week, would-be successors already are lining up fast and furiously. A new name has surfaced in addition to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Secretary of State Roger Williams, Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams, ex-Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert who all are jockeying for position on the Republican side. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), whose son Rand Paul was elected to the Senate from Kentucky last year, has floated a poll on his website (www.ronpaul.com) that includes the choice of running for Senate as a potential option for his supporters to choose.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14)

Running for president, re-election to the House, and “something else” are the other three choices.

Chances are that this is a gimmick to show just how strongly his people feel about him running for president as opposed to any other office. So far, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 votes being cast, 82% of those participating say he should again run for the nation’s highest office. But, 15% opted for him to become a Senatorial candidate, which is 15 times higher than only the 1% who are telling him to keep his present position. It’s clear we can expect much more from Mr. Paul in the coming year.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.