Category Archives: Senate

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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New Missouri Senate Numbers

With the presidential race soon to take the political center stage, it’s clear that we will have an exciting side-show, too. Eight senators already announced their retirement, and as many as 20 of the 33 statewide campaigns could become competitive. One of the races that is sure to be hotly contested is Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D) re-election battle in Missouri. Though some of the more well-known politicians are taking a pass on the race, a new poll continues to show that she is in a dogfight even against opponents who have not fully established themselves as recognizable statewide candidates.

Public Policy Polling (March 6; 612 registered Missouri voters) just released the results of their new Show Me State poll. It shows McCaskill failing to break 46% against any of the Republican candidates taking action to run against her. McCaskill’s lead is tight, already putting the race in toss-up range. Against former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman, the senator leads only 45-42%. When paired with former gubernatorial chief of staff and ex-congressional candidate Ed Martin, McCaskill does better but still can’t break away; she’s ahead 46-40%. PPP also tested Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2), who’s tip-toeing around the idea of running, according to reports. There, the McCaskill lead closes to just one point, 45-44%.

The senator’s job approval rating, according to this new data, is also troubling for her. The favorable to unfavorable count breaks down at 45:44%. Though her ratio is virtually even, the fact that 89% have an opinion, and half of that is negative, clearly makes her vulnerable to outside challenge. Expect this race to remain a toss-up until the end.
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Ensign Out in Nevada; What’s Next?

In a story many believed to be inevitable, scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

Embroiled in an extra-marital affair with his former chief of staff’s wife, Ensign could never rebound from the extensive negative publicity even though he was actively attempting to prepare for a 2012 campaign. Polling showed Ensign faring poorly in both the Republican primary and the general election. It was clear that the senator’s road to re-election was a rocky one, making him a decided underdog to win either election.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2), commonly viewed as the GOP’s best candidate-in-waiting, is expected to soon announce his senatorial bid. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is another potential Republican candidate. Democrats also have a good bench in the state, as they control four statewide constitutional offices. Their most likely candidates are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), who originally said she would decide whether to run for the Senate by the middle of last month, now says she will do so by summer. Ms. Berkley says the Ensign announcement is not a factor is her decision to run statewide or for re-election.

This will be a tough race for both sides. Nevada is now a swing state, but Pres. Obama ran well here in 2008, defeating John McCain 55-42%. Obama will again be on the ballot in 2012, which will undoubtedly boost the Democratic turnout model. Republicans rebounded nicely in 2010, though failed to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They did win a convincing victory for governor after ousting their own incumbent in the GOP primary. The new open Senate race begins as a toss-up. Ensign is the eighth senator to announce retirement, already a quarter of the in-cycle members standing for election next year.
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Franks Flirting with Arizona Senate; All House Races Potentially Competitive

Reports continue to emanate from Arizona that Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) will soon join the Republican primary battle for Sen. Jon Kyl’s Senate seat. Mr. Kyl already has announced that he will not seek a fourth term in 2012. So far, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is the only major office holder officially in the race.

Should Franks and Flake square-off, it is likely that the latter will be the better funded of the two as the Phoenix-area congressman has become a prolific national fundraiser without the aid of PAC contributions. Mr. Flake ended 2010 with just over $627,000 in the bank. Franks, on the other hand, has not performed as well in the money-gathering arena. Also originally elected in 2002, he continues to carry a debt of more than $264,000 and reports only $15,658 cash-on-hand at the end of last year.

If he is to upset Flake for his party’s Senate nomination, Franks will have to become the Arizona Tea Party’s cause celeb and generate a large volume of financial contributions from conservatives most concerned with social issues. Both men are among the most conservative House members, though Flake drifts toward the Libertarian philosophy on several issues.

Franks’ appearance in the race could change the equation dramatically and will be a significant factor in determining the outcome. He begins in the underdog position against Flake in a one-on-one race but, if the field becomes crowded, the candidate with the most fervent support within a political base is the most likely person to win, particularly in places like Arizona that don’t feature a post-election run-off between the top two primary finishers.

Democrats have yet to make many moves to field a candidate, largely because it is so early in the cycle. A group of stronger contenders entering the Republican side leads to a tougher primary battle, thus increasing the chances of a fractured outcome that could produce a weak nominee as we saw in places like Colorado and Nevada during the 2010 campaign. Arizona Democrats are hoping such will happen here resulting in an improved opportunity in the general election.

The Senate race will become increasingly interesting, but so will House delegation developments. With Flake already vacating his seat, and Franks potentially following suit and run for the Senate, at least three Arizona congressional seats, and maybe four, will be open. Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) also said this week that he is assessing his own chances of running in the statewide contest. In addition to the vacating members, reapportionment has expanded the state’s representation to nine seats, meaning one new district will be electing a congressman for the first time.

Aside from the competitive open seats, three freshmen incumbents, Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1), Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3), and David Schweikert (R-AZ-5), will all be seeking their first re-election and can expect credible opponents.

But the political upheaval is not confined to the Republicans. Obviously, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), who is still recovering from being shot in the head earlier in the year, is not yet in any condition to determine what future political moves she will make, if any. All scenarios involving her potential candidacy for any office is pure speculation at this point. And the possibility that her 8th district may be open next year must be considered.

Finally, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7) also is in a potentially vulnerable situation. Despite representing a Voting Rights Act district, Grijalva found himself competitively challenged by GOP scientist Ruth McClung in 2012, and won with only 50% of the vote. Redistricting will change southern Arizona, but it remains to be seen who will be the initial beneficiaries of the new boundaries.

In conclusion, should all of the House members considering the Senate race actually run, it is possible, particularly when the Arizona Redistricting Commission actions pertaining to the state’s new congressional map are considered, that all nine of the state’s seats could host significant campaigns. In what used to be one of the most quiet and politically stable states in the Union, Arizona politics are moving in the exact opposite medium in the 21st Century. A great deal of attention will again be paid to this state in the 2012 election cycle.
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Hawaii’s Sen. Akaka to Retire

As we discussed earlier in the week, questions were being posed as to whether 86-year-old Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) would seek re-election next year. Mr. Akaka provided answers last evening as he made public his intention to retire at the end of his current term, becoming already the seventh Senator to make such an announcement. This will lead to a competitive open Hawaii Senate race for the first time in decades. With a large number of Democratic potential candidates it’s hard to see how the party avoids a crowded and potentially divisive late September primary in 2012.

For the Republicans, former Gov. Linda Lingle is likely to declare her candidacy and should coast through the nomination process. This will give her months to prepare for a six-week general election against a strong Democrat, but one who will have survived a difficult and draining long-term intra-party war. Possible Dem candidates include both US Representatives, Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2), Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, and potentially former Honolulu mayor and defeated gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann as well as ex-Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2), who challenged Akaka in the Democratic primary back in 2006. Case went on to lose to Hanabusa during the special election early in 2010 after then-Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI-1) resigned to concentrate on his successful campaign for governor. Even with Lingle running, Democrats have the voting history edge and will benefit from favorite son Pres. Barack Obama being on the 2012 ballot to help drive turnout.
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Questions About Hawaii’s Akaka

A surprising source has some interesting things to say about Sen. Daniel Akaka’s (D-HI) lack of re-election preparation for his 2012 re-election, a battle the 86-year old senator says he plans on waging. Senate President Pro Tempore Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the Aloha State’s senior senator, and a person who has been in Congress since Hawaii became a state, is saying his responsibilities in Senate leadership and as chairman of the Appropriations Committee will not allow him to raise the six-figure amounts for Akaka that he did in 2006 when the latter faced a serious primary challenge from then-Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2).

Inouye said that Akaka should be much further along in fundraising — his year-end cash-on-hand total was only $66,278 — and intimated that his seat mate may not be ready for another tough race. Hawaii could come into play for Republicans if former Gov. Linda Lingle were to run. Lingle is well positioned to do so and almost certainly will take a shot if Akaka retires. Inouye then listed no fewer than seven Democrats, including both Hawaii Reps. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) as potentially strong Senate candidates, as well as Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) and four others.

For at least the short term, Hawaii is becoming a state to watch.
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Donnelly Considers Senate Run in Indiana

The U.S. Senate race in Indiana already is shaping up to be a potential barn-burner. Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the next election, has announced his intention to run again and it appears he will be a 2012 Republican primary Tea Party target. Already state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) is launching an official challenge to the six-term senator and others could join the fray, as well. Though Mourdock will be attacking Lugar from the right, he is not necessarily a bona-fide Tea Party candidate.

Lugar has positioned himself as center-right for quite some time, and many of his votes and public statements on both fiscal and foreign policy issues has engendered opposition from activists with a strict conservative ideological bent. He is publicly defiant in response to the Tea Party possibly fielding a candidate against him, meaning the eventual primary battle will include some raucous political fireworks.

Attracting more than one opponent, however, could help the senator survive. Indiana has no run-off law, so scoring only a plurality of votes wins a nomination for both parties. A crowded field could produce a result like we saw in the Hoosier State’s 5th congressional district last year when Rep. Dan Burton (R) was re-nominated even though 70.3% of voters chose another candidate. If Lugar’s personal approval numbers drop, a low turnout primary could cause him a problem similar to what several other Republican senators faced in 2010. Lugar’s vulnerability increases if he has just one credible primary opponent.

With this backdrop, the Democrats have to consider their own general election moves. If Lugar falls in the primary, will Indiana then look something like Nevada and Colorado did last year when Republicans nominated candidates who were too weak to defeat a Democrat? Such thoughts must be crossing Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D-IN-2) mind. He confirmed on Friday that he is mulling a run for the Senate. Usually voting the party line, but moving to the center often enough to protect himself politically at home, Donnelly might be a Democratic candidate who could win an Indiana general election despite the conservative voting patterns traditionally demonstrated in the state.

But the three-term Congressman has other considerations beyond his ability to defeat Sen. Lugar in making a decision to run statewide. His 2nd district is marginal and typically bounces back and forth between the parties in terms of congressional preference. Donnelly unseated incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Chocola in 2006, beating him by a considerable 54-46% margin. He was easily re-elected in 2008, a Democratic sweep year, 67-30%. But, when the Republicans rebounded last November, Donnelly’s victory percentage dropped well below 50%, and he avoided defeat by just one percentage point. He slipped past state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) by a scant 48-47% count. So, winning again in what could be another Republican year, at least in Indiana, might not be a given.

Rep. Donnelly’s bigger consideration with regard to his future political plans is redistricting, however. With the Republicans in complete control of the process, the congressman has to weigh whether his opponents will concede him a safe district or attempt to change the map in order to give the next GOP congressional nominee a better chance at victory. It might seem like an obvious answer to respond that the Republicans will try to grab the 2nd district for themselves, but such might not be the case. Over-reaching, as we saw in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio during 2001 redistricting, can result in an entire map collapsing when a bad political year strikes for the majority party. Republicans will have to decide between protecting a 6R-3D map for the decade or trying to reach for a seventh seat, even if some of their current districts become weaker as a result.

Indiana is certainly a place to watch, as action here will soon be forthcoming. Right now, Republicans are the decided favorites to hold the Senate seat, but if Donnelly enters the statewide contest much uncertainty will come to the entire Hoosier State political picture.
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