Monthly Archives: October 2012

Is Maine’s King Losing His Luster?

Angus King

Perhaps until right now, it had been a foregone conclusion that Maine’s Independent former governor Angus King was the prohibitive favorite to replace the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). After the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and other outside advocacy organizations unleashed heavy anti-King media spending, however, the former two-term state chief executive’s polling numbers have come back to earth. And, in a three-way race where the majority of voters will likely vote for someone other than the eventual winner, virtually anything can happen.

The race pits King against GOP Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill. King, who champions liberal causes as indicated by his support from the trial lawyers PAC, the Council for a Livable World, and Google PAC, is portraying himself as an independent moderate, even going so far as having actor Sam Waterston appear in a television commercial to echo his campaign theme.

A new GS Strategy Group survey conducted for the NRSC shows King’s lead diminishing severely. Though he continues to place first, his margin is now only 37-33-17 percent over Summers and Dill. In another poll released to MaineToday Media on Sept. 20, King leads 50-28-12 percent. But, driving below the original ballot test numbers for that particular survey, the King supporters who say they are definitely voting for him register only 32 percent.

Maine has a penchant for electing candidates who don’t belong to either major political party. In addition to King, Independent Jim Longley was elected governor in 1974. Two years ago, Independent Eliot Cutler finished a strong second to Republican Paul LePage, losing by less than two points. It is the latter election that Charlie Summers is hoping to emulate. Assuming he holds the base Republican vote of 37-39 percent, Democrat Dill topping 20 percent would give him a chance to slip past King. This would be virtually identical to the vote dispersion that elected LePage.

The Maine Senate race is an interesting one, because if President Obama is re-elected and the Republicans hit 50 in the Senate, both of which are quite possible, it would be King alone who would decide which party would assume majority control. Most believe that he will caucus with the Democrats, which is most likely, but stressing his independence certainly makes it more difficult for him to immediately fall into the Democratic fold. Even his slogan, “… as Independent as Maine,” stresses that Mr. King is not inclined to easily conform to Washington’s over-heated partisan divisions.

The Chamber of Commerce has run a series of ads playing upon King’s name, referring to him as “the King of spending” during his tenure as governor. The claim that he over-spent and then left the state with a huge deficit is resonating in this political climate and is a probable reason for King’s decline. The former governor retorts that he cut taxes, improved education, and protected Maine’s open space.

But the more intriguing part of the campaign revolves around Dill. She has little in the way of campaign funding, so outside organizations are trying to improve her standing. The NRSC, in a negative way, but designed to improve her standing among Democrats, is illustrating that she is even more liberal than King. Meanwhile, outside groups are driving home the message that King is flawed and Dill is the preferred progressive candidate.

The dynamics of the Maine Senate race are the most unusual in the nation, and much more is potentially riding upon the election outcome than who represents the state in Washington. Under the proper circumstances, the entire Senate majority may rest upon this one campaign.

The Battle for California

The 17 California House races are showing varying levels of competition, and the US Chamber of Commerce just laid down the gauntlet to help Republican candidates in 10 of the districts. The Chamber publicly disclosed they will spend upwards of $3.3 million just in the 10 Golden State districts. Among the group are three GOP incumbents, Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA-36), and Brian Bilbray (R-CA-52). These ads feature a positive message.

In three others, Democratic incumbents are hit with negative ads. They are Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA-3), Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9), and Lois Capps (D-CA-24).

Three new open seats are in the next group: CA-26 (Tony Strickland-R vs. Julia Brownley-D), CA-41 (John Tavaglione-R vs. Mark Takano-D) and CA-47 (Gary DeLong-R vs. Alan Lowenthal-D).

Finally, another Republican incumbent, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA-7), also is receiving help but the ads in his Sacramento County district focus negative attention on his Democratic opponent, physician and 2010 congressional nominee Ami Bera.

All of the political ads begin with Darlene Miller, owner of the 2008 US Chamber Small Business of the Year, talking about the necessity of understanding which candidate to support. The graphics and voice-over then transition into the individual message for the particular district. The most creative of the ads may be their spot against Jose Hernandez, Rep. Denham’s Democratic opponent and former NASA astronaut whose own ads highlight his career exploring space. Based upon his announced support for Obamacare, the tag line asks “Jose, what planet are you on?”

Expect more outside organization media buys to now surface from all sides of the ideological spectrum.

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.