Category Archives: Senate

A Nebraska Horse Race

Republicans will have a Senatorial nominee to oppose former Sen. Bob Kerrey tomorrow night as Nebraska voters head for the polls. Right now, retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat appears to be the Republicans’ best national conversion opportunity since the North Dakota race shows continued signs of serious competition.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has been leading the Republican side since day one. He is still the decided favorite tomorrow, but the campaign momentum may have swung to state Sen. Deb Fischer who appears to have grabbed second place over state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

A series of polls have detected the Fischer momentum and the fact that Bruning has unleashed a late campaign ad attacking both of his opponents jointly suggests that his own internal data also shows movement away from him.

The two most recent released polls still register leads for the attorney general, but of varying margins. The We Ask America independent survey (May 6; 1,173 Nebraska Republican primary voters; automated calls) posts Bruning to a 42-26-22 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg, respectively.

The Fischer campaign responded to We Ask America by releasing its own Singularis Group poll, the reliability of which is drawing questions. According to the analysis, the Fischer internal survey was conducted of 400 GOP primary voters on a Sunday night, an unusual night to form a reliable sampling universe and one-night data accumulation is often frowned upon, as well. For whatever they’re worth, the numbers gave Bruning only a 30-26-18 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg.

The Fischer data is likely skewed. Only spending slightly over $100,000 so far on electronic media voter contact and not much over $300,000 in total, it is improbable that she could be making up so much ground in a short amount of time. For his part, Stenberg agrees that Bruning is falling but the treasurer says it is he, and not Fischer, who is surging. Stenberg is spending in the $600,000-plus range, and Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) Senate Conservatives Fund has dropped an additional $700,000 in advertisements boosting his effort. Bruning has expended more than $1 million on television and well over $2.5 million for his primary campaign.

Low-turnout elections are difficult to predict, but there appears little foundation to support the idea that Bruning has, almost overnight, lost the lead he has held throughout the campaign. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow night.

Conflicting Texas Senate Polls

A Super PAC supporting Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s (R) US Senate bid has released its own polling data to counter Public Policy Polling’s latest survey that showed the Texas GOP battle tightening.

According to the Dresner Wickers Barber Sanders polling firm, conducting a survey for the Conservative Republicans for Texas organization, Dewhurst enjoys a 51-16-7-2 percent advantage over former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, Dallas ex-mayor Tom Leppert, and college football ESPN analyst Craig James, respectively. The poll was taken over the April 27-30 period of 400 likely Texas Republican primary voters.

The Public Policy Polling data, as previously released and reported, showed the same candidate order but in a much different numbering sequence. According to their 400-person study (also of likely Texas Republican primary voters) taken a little over a week before, April 19-22, Dewhurst had only a 38-26 percent lead over Cruz with Leppert scoring 8 percent and James 7 percent.

Both polls were taken over a weekend period, though the PPP survey completed more calls during weekdays. Polling results tend to differ when asked of people on a weekend versus during the work week because a different pool of respondents are typically available. Additionally, the Dresner poll was taken after Dewhurst ran some pointed negative ads against his opponent, Cruz, who is seemingly gaining the strongest foothold against the lieutenant governor.

The difference in the two polls suggest a net 23 point swing in Dewhurst’s favor. This is seemingly too large a movement in too short a time with too little action to support such a turn.

Public Policy Polling, known as a Democratic firm but one that now releases regular independent polls from around the country, represents no particular candidate in the Texas Senate race. The Conservative Republicans for Texas back Dewhurst, which leads to questions about methodology and further asks at what point did the questions appear in the interview schedule. In other words, and this is something that we do not know from the available information, were these figures derived from the answers to push questions? If so, then the results should be discounted.

The key question is not whether Dewhurst finishes in first place, because he very likely will. The point the polling cannot definitively determine is whether he can win the nomination outright on May 29, or whether Cruz forces him into a July 31 run-off election. Dewhurst likely will not fare well in a run-off, since the most well-known candidate being forced to a second election – by definition because a majority of the people chose someone else – often leads to defeat. It is this type of an invariably low turnout run-off scenario that scares the Dewhurst people.

Watch Dewhurst make a major outright victory push between now and May 29th, which, if successful, will clinch the Republican nomination. In all practicality, because the Democrats appear weak in the general election, such a victory would also secure the Senate seat itself.

In terms of resolving the conflict between the Public Policy Polling and Dresner surveys, it is more likely that the PPP data comes closer to accurately depicting the actual campaign picture than does the Dewhurst Super PAC prognostication. Their methodological consistency and reliability appears to be superior.

Lugar Trounced in Indiana

The final weeks of the Indiana Senatorial campaign showed six-term Sen. Dick Lugar spiraling downward in his Republican primary battle with state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and it ended last night with an emphatic 61-39 percent victory in the challenger’s favor. Turnout exceeded 665,000 voters, which is high. This is nowhere near the 1.2 million plus voters who participated in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, but much more than the 412,000 who voted in the Republican presidential primary of that same year.

The general election will now feature Mourdock and Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) who was unopposed in last night’s Democratic primary. The Republican outcome now suggests a competitive race here in the fall, though Mourdock is a much stronger candidate than those conservative challengers who defeated 2010 Republican incumbents or nomination favorites in various states, and then proceeded to lose their respective general elections.

Though President Obama became the first Democrat to carry Indiana since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, it does not appear the state will be a major target in 2012. In fact, Indiana isn’t even on the first list of states where the President’s campaign is buying television advertising time. That translates to less of a boost for Donnelly as we turn toward November.

The biggest Indiana surprise of the evening, however, was former Rep. David McIntosh (R), the favorite coming into Indiana’s open 5th District primary race, failing to win his party’s nomination. He lost a 30-29 percent decision to ex-US Attorney Susan Brooks. Ms. Brooks is also an Indianapolis former deputy mayor. She will be the heavy favorite to defeat state Rep. Scott Reske who won the Democratic nomination.

As expected, former state Rep. Luke Messer was an easy winner in the 6th District Republican open seat primary. He becomes the prohibitive favorite to replace Rep. Mike Pence in November. Pence, unopposed tonight, is now the state’s official GOP gubernatorial nominee. In Donnelly’s open 2nd District, as expected, Democratic businessman Brendan Mullen will face former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) in a competitive general election. Because of redistricting, Walorski has to be considered at least a slight favorite. All other Indiana incumbents won renomination last night.

Poll Shows Trouble in Indiana

Two ominous signals, both suggesting Sen. Dick Lugar’s impending defeat in today’s Indiana Republican primary, surfaced over the weekend.

First, the Democratic polling firm of Garin Hart Yang Research teamed up with Republican Bellwether Research on behalf of DePauw University to survey 700 likely Indiana Republican primary voters over the April 30-May 1 period. They detected a major swing toward GOP Senatorial challenger Richard Mourdock. According to the results, Mourdock leads Lugar by a huge 48-38 percent margin. Among people who said they had definitely made up their minds, Mourdock led 37-30 percent. The pollsters found Lugar to be saddled with a 43:43 percent positive to negative impression as compared to Mourdock’s 47:25 percent. Lugar releases no counter polling data of his own, itself a telling indication of where the race is headed.

Secondly, the senator made a weekend public statement encouraging all to vote in the open primary that illuminates desperation. “I’m just saying positively register your vote, because if you do not, I may not be able to continue serving you. At this point, help.”

The winner of today’s primary contest faces Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) in the general election in what now must be considered a competitive campaign irrespective of tonight’s outcome.

Our Indiana Primary Preview

Tuesday features two congressional primary elections: Indiana and North Carolina. Today, we preview the Indiana races; on Monday, North Carolina.

Governor: Incumbent Mitch Daniels (R) is term-limited, so an open-seat contest will occur in the fall. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN-6) and former state House Speaker John Gregg (D) will be the general election combatants, with Pence beginning the race as a heavy favorite.

Senate: We all know that six-term Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who ran unopposed just six years ago, is in the fight for his political life against fellow Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. The race has been hard-fought, with each man and their outside group supporters running a spate of negative ads. The focal points have been Lugar straying too far from his conservative base, the fact that he does not have a residence in Indiana, and that he has lost touch with his Hoosier State roots. Lugar counters with criticism of the way Mourdock has managed both the taxpayers’ public funds and his office.

The key to determining a victor in this contest, as is most often the case, is turnout. Indiana has an open primary law, meaning any registered voter, regardless of previous primary voting history, may participate in the party primary of his or her choice. Therefore, with little in the way of contested campaigns in the Democratic primary, it is likely the preponderance of voters will choose to cast their ballot on the Republican side. This could affect the Senate race in two ways: first, Democrats and Independents supportive of Lugar can vote for him and potentially provide enough of a margin to overcome Mourdock’s strong support among conservatives; second, activist Democrats, believing that Mourdock would be the weaker candidate in the general election against consensus Dem candidate Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2), could vote for the challenger and potentially weaken the non-Republican support that Lugar might attract.

Tuesday will host a close race with several uncontrollable factors positioned to decide the final outcome. It’s too close to call.

  • IN-1: Rep. Peter Visclosky (D) is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
  • IN-2: This is an open seat, with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) running for Senate. The open seat battle will be hot and heavy in November, but Tuesday’s vote looks secure for Republican former state Rep. Jackie Walorski and Democratic businessman Brendan Mullen.
  • IN-3: Freshman Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R) is unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary and will find out which of six Democrats will win the right to oppose him in November. This should be a relatively easy re-election run for Stutzman.
  • IN-4: Freshman Rep. Todd Rokita (R), Indiana’s former Secretary of State, gains 35 percent new territory but the Obama number is only 45 percent. He is safe in November.
  • IN-5: Rep. Dan Burton (R) is retiring, making this an open seat. With 30-year veteran Rep. Burton not seeking a 16th term, eight Republicans, including former congressman and 2000 gubernatorial nominee David McIntosh (R-IN-2), vie for the new 5th District. McIntosh is the clear favorite to win the nomination. Democratic state Rep. Scott Reske is favored for his party’s nomination.
  • IN-6: Rep. Mike Pence (R) is running for governor, making this an open seat. Seven Republicans and five Democrats are running for the right to succeed Pence, with Tuesday’s GOP nominee becoming the prohibitive favorite in a district that gave 55 percent of its votes to John McCain in 2008. Former state representative and Republican Party executive director Luke Messer is the leading candidate for the nomination.
  • IN-7: Three Democrats, seven Republicans, and two Independents are opposing Rep. Andre Carson (D), but that’s rather irrelevant. The congressman will win again in November.
  • IN-8: First-term southwestern district congressman, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R), faces a Republican primary opponent, Kristi Risk, who held Bucshon to only a 33-29 percent victory margin two years ago. But Bucshon is the favorite in a district that contains 88 percent of his previous constituency. Democrats will nominate former state representative and broadcaster Dave Crooks.
  • IN-9: Five Democrats, none of whom had even raised $100,000 prior to the two-week financial reporting deadline, are fighting for the right to take on yet another Indiana freshman congressman, southeastern district Rep. Todd Young (R). This shouldn’t be much of a contest in the fall, as Rep. Young is cruising toward a second term.

Sen. Lugar Back in Front

A new Magellan Strategies poll (May 1; 400 likely Indiana GOP primary voters) for the Lunch Pail Republicans, an outside group supporting Sen. Richard Lugar, gives the embattled six-term incumbent a 44-42 percent lead over challenger Richard Mourdock, the Indiana state Treasurer. As a cautionary note, this is a one day poll with a small statewide sample, but Magellan had a stellar record in predicting 2010 victories. The good news here for Lugar is that his downward trend over the past several weeks may have ended. The bad news is he is still considerably below 50 percent, the mark that most analysts and politicos use as the benchmark to determine incumbent strength.

It is now becoming almost an accepted fact that Lugar is likely to lose Tuesday’s primary, as his polling numbers have long been lagging and the attacks he and his supporters have launched against Mourdock suggest that the Lugar internal data confirms the public data. But Indiana utilizes an open primary system, meaning Independents and Democrats who request a Republican ballot may vote adding a wild card to Tuesday’s election. The turnout mechanism for both sides is also an unknown factor and could be what determines the final outcome.

The closeness of this race, regardless of whether Lugar or Mourdock wins, now means there will be a serious general election battle against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). It appears that Tuesday’s primary vote may only prove to sound the starting gun.

Tester, Heller Rebound in Montana and Nevada

Just-released polling data is bringing good news for two western senators. After trailing at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) by 2-3 points consistently since last June, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has clawed back into the Montana campaign lead according to Public Policy Polling. The survey of 934 Montana voters over the April 26-29 period gives the senator a 48-43 percent advantage over the GOP congressman.

This is obviously a positive result for Tester, a first-term senator who defeated incumbent Conrad Burns (R) by the closest statewide margin in the country six years ago – a difference of 2,847 votes. The timing of the poll compliments a new media push from Tester that features light, humorous commercials designed to promote a positive image. One of the ads plays upon Tester’s habit of bringing his own Montana steaks back with him to Washington. The ad shows Tester sending the steaks through the airport metal detectors and ends with the senator’s wife cooking him a meal in their Montana home. The theme of the ad reinforces Tester’s strategic point that the senator has not “gone Washington.”

It is not uncommon for a series of ads, particularly well-done, positive spots that are unchallenged, to drive polling data. The five-point Tester lead represents a seven-point swing from PPP’s Nov. 28-30 study. Rehberg was ahead 47-45 percent in the previous poll, meaning he has dropped four points while the senator gained three.

Turning to the southwest, in the similarly close Nevada senatorial contest between appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), Rasmussen Reports gives Heller his strongest showing of the cycle, a 51-40 percent spread against Ms. Berkley, as shown in their new April 30 poll (500 likely Nevada voters).

This is the third consecutive poll to show Sen. Heller with the advantage. He was up 46-43 percent in Public Policy Polling’s March 29-April 1 survey and 47-40 percent in Rasmussen’s March 19 study. Prior to March, Heller last led in data recorded in July 2011.

Nevada, unlike Montana, will be a presidential battleground state with an unstable electorate. Despite being the fastest growing state during the last decade (35 percent real growth rate), poor economic conditions have led to somewhat of an exodus from Nevada. How this will affect 2012 politics is open to question. Therefore, the presidential race’s progression and its effect on the turnout drive will have a lot to say about the final Senate results.

In the end, these two small states, Montana and Nevada, could be determining factors in deciding which party controls the Senate come 2013. The two highly competitive races will draw much national attention. The current volleys being traded among the candidates right now are only the beginning.