Category Archives: Senate

Feingold is a No-Go in Wisconsin

Defeated Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who lost his seat to Republican Ron Johnson last November, officially closed the door Friday on an imminent return to elective politics during this current election cycle.

With Sen. Herb Kohl (D) saying he will not seek re-election in 2012, all eyes in both parties turned toward Feingold, since he is the most logical Democrat to attempt to keep the seat in his party’s column. Early polling was suggesting that the former senator would defeat all potential Republicans and Democrats if he were to enter the field of candidates. Though Feingold said in his public statement that he may again seek elective office, he will not do so in 2012. Instead, he wants to continue in his teaching duties at Marquette University and chairing the issue advocacy group that he founded, Progressives United.

The Wisconsin open seat Senate race has been unique because of the lack of early activity among potential candidates. The others reportedly considering the race, particularly among Democrats, seemed paralyzed as they waited for Mr. Feingold to make a decision; most unusual for a political figure who only months ago lost a major election when in the incumbent’s position.

With the former senator now out of the 2012 race, expect the candidate announcements to soon be forthcoming. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) is now a virtual sure entrant. Though she hasn’t committed to the statewide race in deference to Feingold, she has been actively raising money in her congressional account, which is transferable to a Senate race because both are federal campaigns. Through June 30th, Ms. Baldwin raised over $601,000 but has more than $1.1 million in the bank.

Polling suggests that Rep. Baldwin assumes the position of early leader for her party’s nomination. Back in July, Magellan Strategies (July 12-13; 627 Wisconsin Democratic primary voters) gave the Madison congresswoman a 41-19 percent lead over 3rd District Rep. Ron Kind, and a 45-21 percent advantage over defeated 8th District Rep. Steve Kagen.

But the recent Public Policy Polling survey (Aug. 12-14; 830 registered Wisconsin voters) tells a much different story as it relates to the general election. Upon Sen. Kohl’s announcement, former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson, now 69 years old, said immediately that he was serious about entering the race as a candidate. Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) who lost 48-51 percent to Sen. Feingold in 1998, also said he would likely hop into the race. Neumann had even been actively considering a challenge to Kohl. The latest PPP data actually shows both Republicans to have slight leads over the potential Democratic field, in what now has to be considered a top GOP conversion opportunity.

According to the Public Policy Polling data, Thompson would lead Baldwin 50-42 percent and Neumann would enjoy a 44-40 percent edge over the congresswoman. If Kind were to win the Democratic nomination, Thompson would lead him 48-41 percent, while Neumann clings to a 43-40 percent margin. Should Kagen rise to the top of the Democratic field, he too would trail both Republicans. In the latter case, Thompson is up 49-41 percent; Neumann 45-38 percent.

The Wisconsin electorate, possibly because of the negativity surrounding the state’s public employee labor unrest and subsequent recall elections, view all of the potential candidates unfavorably, with the exception of Thompson. Former Sen. Feingold was also in positive numbers.

Thompson scores a 44:42 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio. Feingold did better than anyone else tested, but even his numbers weren’t overwhelming. He posted 49:43 percent.

All others are in an upside down position. Neumann registers 25:27 percent; Baldwin, a similar 26:28 percent. Rep. Kind is down 18:26 percent, while Kagen has the worst numbers by far, 12:23 percent.

In what will likely become a similar Wisconsin story in the presidential race, expect this Senate campaign to be difficult, hard-fought, and close. Though the action has been slow to start, it will soon become fast and furious. The Wisconsin Senate will likely be in the toss-up category all the way to the November 2012 Election Day and could very well be the deciding state in determining which party assumes the US Senate majority in the next Congress.
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More Senate Chaos in Michigan

When former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) announced that he had reversed course and decided to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) after originally saying he wouldn’t, it appeared the Republicans finally had the candidate they wanted to make a run at what should be a vulnerable incumbent. But such is apparently not the case. Clark Durant, a prominent Detroit attorney and Republican stalwart in addition to becoming private school entrepreneur, is likely to enter the GOP primary.

Further complicating matters for Hoekstra is the type of support that Durant can bring to the race. Already, former Republican National Committeewoman Betsy DeVos, wife of former GOP gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos (who is also the son of billionaire Amway founder Richard DeVos), says she will back Hoekstra’s opponent. So will former US senator and energy secretary Spence Abraham and ex-state Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis.

Should Durant actually enter the race, the nomination will be contested, meaning that serious Republican resources will be spent in the primary instead of against Stabenow. Such a situation would further insulate the senator for the general election and be yet another intangible that has gone her way since the beginning of this year. Continue to rate the Michigan 2012 Senate race as Likely Democratic.
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Senate Primary Challenges Getting Serious

Two states where veteran Senators are virtually assured of facing serious GOP primary challengers are Indiana and Utah, and news was made in both places over the weekend. Both incumbent sentaors Richard Lugar (IN) and Orrin Hatch (UT) were elected in 1976 and are each seeking a seventh six-year term.

The Lugar camp just released its own internal survey of the Indiana Republican electorate, in response to the Club for Growth’s late July poll that posted challenger Richard Mourdock, Indiana’s state treasurer, to a 34-32 percent lead. Lugar’s own data gives him a double-digit lead, but the 45-31 percent spread still suggests trouble for the long time incumbent. Failure to exceed 50 percent amongst one’s own political base is a warning sign for any office holder. Lugar’s American Viewpoint poll was taken during the same time as the Club for Growth survey, but was only now released publicly.

In Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3), long talked about as a challenger to Sen. Hatch, said this weekend that he was moving from “maybe” to “probably” in terms of making the challenge. He says he will finally decide after Labor Day. Both Hatch and Chaffetz must first obtain at least 40 percent of the Utah Republican Convention’s nominating ballots just to secure one of the two primary ballot positions. If a candidate reaches 60 percent of the convention vote, such person is officially nominated and there is no primary election. It is unlikely that either Hatch or Chaffetz can reach the nominating plateau. Hatch will have a huge resource advantage for the June primary — the Senator possesses $3.43 million in his campaign account compared to Chaffetz’s $227,145.
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Senate Financials Tell Interesting Stories

The second quarter US Senate financial disclosure summaries are now available and in almost all cases, the incumbents have prepared adequately for their re-election campaigns. Obviously, the size of the state dictates the money range needed to run a viable effort, so the benchmark cash on hand figures differ greatly. All in-cycle incumbents have more than $1.5 million in assets with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who possesses $1.279 million. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has the most money in the bank, $9.628 million. The next closest cash on hand figure is Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) $6.057 million.

The only incumbent with less cash on hand than a challenger is Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) has $2.476 million in her campaign account versus Heller’s $2.272 million. The comparison is a bit unfair, however, because Heller is an appointed incumbent, replacing the resigned Sen. John Ensign (R). Therefore, his Senate incumbency is short-lived and should not be measured comparably to the other in-cycle full-term Senators.

The Senate incumbents having the strongest fundraising cycle to date are Scott Brown ($3.739 million), Bill Nelson ($3.695 million), and Democrat New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez ($3.581 million). The strongest open seat/challenger fundraisers are Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who still has yet to announce his Senate candidacy, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who is seeking retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) open seat, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) challenging one-term Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Mandel raised $2.339 million, Murphy $2.012 million, and Rehberg $1.964 million.

The fundraising and resource components provide some idea as to how competitive some of the projected close races might become. Sen. Nelson, for example, continues to prove he is in solid shape by every measuring instrument. His $6.057 million cash on hand is more than seven times as great as his closest financial opponent, GOP former interim Sen. George LeMieux. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), commonly viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election, raised only $111,000 more than Attorney General Jon Bruning, but leads his chief Republican opponent $2.916 million to $1.265 million in the cash on hand category.

The competitive race that is proving to be the closest, at least in resources, is the Nevada Senate race. There Rep. Berkley shows $2.476 million compared with Sen. Heller’s $2.272 million cash on hand. This race could turn out to be the most hotly contested in the country. Nevada is a tight swing state, both candidates are equally well-known, and they both possess the same quantity of campaign resources. With turnout expected to be high in the presidential election year, the final wave will likely decide this campaign. The same can be said for the Virginia Senate race. There, former Sen. George Allen (R) has raised $2.615 million with $1.649 million on hand. Tim Kaine, the former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, has raised a similar, but smaller, $2.266 million but has slightly more in the bank, $1.875 million.

As we know, finance tells only part of any political story, but no one denies that the dollar count is a highly important factor of any campaign effort.

Below is a link to a PDF spreadsheet containing the relevant financial numbers for all 33 Senate races being contested in 2012. The only state not recording any figures is Wisconsin. Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring, and no one has yet formally declared their candidacy for the open seat.

Candidate Financials: Senate Financial Disclosure – 2nd Qtr 2011
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Michigan’s Sen. Stabenow Unfazed

Last week the big news emanating from Michigan was that former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2) had changed his mind about entering the Senate race and will challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) next year, after all. Public Policy Polling immediately decided to survey Wolverine State voters to see what effect the Hoekstra candidacy will have on the race.

At least in the preliminary stages, the answer is: very little.

Stabenow has consistently enjoyed double-digit leads against all potential Republican candidates, but none have Hoekstra’s qualifications. According to PPP (July 21-24; 593 registered Michigan voters) Sen. Stabenow enjoys a 50-41 percent lead over the former congressman and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, not quite double-digits, but far beyond the margin of error.

The PPP poll is also reporting that neither candidate has particularly strong approval ratings. The senator scored only a 46:40 percent favorable to unfavorable, weak for an incumbent but much better than the EPIC-MRA poll (July 9-11; 600 registered Michigan voters) where she recorded a poor 38:51 percent rating. Hoekstra’s personal image proved weak on the latest survey, scoring only a 31:30 percent positive to negative response.

The Republicans had hoped to put the Michigan Senate race into serious play after their strong 2010 success in the state, and still might, but their challenge effort is off to a slow start. The GOP will now put all their eggs in Mr. Hoekstra’s basket in hopes that he can quickly position himself into upset range. This race merits a “watch” rating.
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Indiana Poll Shows Indiana’s Lugar Trailing in Primary

A new small-sample poll (July 23-24; 500 likely Indiana GOP primary voters) forecasts six-term Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar (R) to be trailing his Republican primary opponent for the first time. According to Basswood Research, conducting the survey for the Club for Growth (which claims not to be currently endorsing anyone in this race but cannot be considered favorable toward Sen. Lugar), state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) has a 34-32 percent lead over the incumbent with a huge 34 percent responding as undecided.

The poll also asked their respondents to answer the following question: “Would you say the following statement is true or untrue? Richard Lugar has done some good things for Indiana, but after 35 years in Washington, it’s time for a change.” In a most troubling result for the Senator, 69 percent of the Republican polling sample answered “True.”

Mourdock has only raised money in the $300,000 range for the campaign, but independent expenditure and issue advocacy groups like the Club for Growth will bring added resources to the Lugar challenge. A poll that shows the incumbent polling only at 32 percent, regardless of the opponent’s level of support, is a sure sign of serious political weakness.

Democrats have their own credible candidate in the person of Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). Should the Republican primary turn ugly and Lugar or Mourdock win a close and divisive nomination, Donnelly could be well-positioned to pick up the pieces and snatch the seat away from the Republicans in the general election.

Much will happen here in the remaining ten months before the Indiana primary.
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Michigan’s Hoekstra Changes Course; He Will Run

Former Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2) abruptly changed his political course yesterday and now says he will challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) next year for her Senate seat. Previously, the ex-congressman who lost the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010, had removed himself from consideration as a potential candidate. Up to this point, the Michigan Senate race had been a recruitment disappointment for Republicans because they had not drafted a top tier challenger against Stabenow. Earlier in the year the Senator appeared to be vulnerable, mostly as a carry-over from the Republicans’ record showing in the 2010 Michigan elections.

Hoekstra is undoubtedly encouraged by a new EPIC-MRA Michigan poll that showed poor job approval numbers for Ms. Stabenow. According to their July 9-11 poll (600 Michigan registered voters), only 38 percent of those sampled approve of the job she is doing in the US Senate, versus 51 percent who disapprove. This is down from the 41:43 percent ratio she received from the firm’s May poll. Even though Stabenow’s numbers are poor, they are not as bad as President Obama’s 39:60 percent rating and Gov. Rick Snyder’s 34:57 percent. The President has taken a nose dive in popularity since the May poll, dropping a net of 20 points, when his ratio registered 49:50 percent. Mr. Snyder’s ratings, on the other hand, have actually improved over the past eight weeks when his EPIC-MRA positive to negative job approval score was 27:60 percent.
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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.