Category Archives: Senate

What’s Next in New York and Arizona?

The surprise resignation of Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY-26) will soon set off yet another special congressional election in New York. The 26th district, stretching from the Buffalo suburbs to the outlying Rochester area, is strongly Republican. With a new, short-term incumbent, however, the district stands a chance of being collapsed in the 2012 redistricting plan, since the state loses two congressional seats in reapportionment. Therefore, redistricting is certainly a factor for the potential candidates assessing their special election chances and prospects for a long tenure in the House. Republicans will have the advantage in this short-term contest.

Previously, when then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY-20) was appointed to the Senate, a special election was held to choose a replacement for the House seat. Democrat Scott Murphy prevailed, but current Rep. Chris Gibson (R) subsequently defeated him in November. Rep. John McHugh’s (R-NY-23) appointment as Army Secretary led to a divisive special election allowing Democrat Bill Owens to slip through a three-way contest to capture the normally Republican seat. Owens went on to win a full term last November in similar fashion.

The major political parties will caucus and select a nominee; thus, there will be no primary election. Early reports suggest that Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin is already beginning to assemble a campaign operation. Among Democrats, Erie County legislator Kathy Konst has the potential of quickly becoming a consensus candidate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has a wide time frame in which to schedule the vote but once he does, the election will be held just 30-40 days from his official call.

In Arizona, Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R) announcement yesterday that he will not seek a fourth term sets the state’s political apparatus in motion. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) previously indicated interest in making a statewide bid should Kyl retire. The five-term Representative is a nationally known budget hawk, and has a strong following in the state. He has over $627,000 in the bank according to his year-end financial statement. The only other veteran Republican congressman in the Arizona delegation, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) is more likely to remain in the House.

For the Democrats, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-AZ-8) name is already surfacing, but the congresswoman, recovering from a senseless assassination attempt, is not currently in a position to run a grueling statewide campaign. Had it not been for the tragic Tucson shooting that injured her and killed six others, Rep. Giffords would very likely have joined the field of Senate candidates and been among the favorites to capture not only the Democratic nomination, but possibly the seat itself. Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is also being mentioned as a person having interest in running. But recent polling indicates that her stint in Washington has cost her dearly among her former constituents.

Turning to other potential Senate candidates, former Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ-3) is saying he might have interest in such a race. Former Attorney General Grant Woods, known as a liberal Republican, is another mentioned as a potential candidate. Ex-Democratic Party state chairman and 2006 Senatorial nominee Jim Pederson will also find his name prominently on a list of potential office seekers. Former state Treasurer Dean Martin (R), who briefly challenged Gov. Jan Brewer in the Republican primary, is another GOP possibility.

This race will be hard-fought, as the state is rife with controversial issues and the voting base becomes ever more marginal and competitive. Republicans will start out with an advantage, but this race will be one to watch throughout the 2012 election cycle.
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Graves Won’t Run for Senator in Missouri

Quelling speculation that he might jump into the GOP contest for the right to face Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) next year, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) announced today that he will instead stay in the House. Graves, the new chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said he is the first committee chairman in the history of his district and feels he will have a greater effect on policy from that position than he would as a first-term senator.

Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and ex-gubernatorial chief of staff and congressional nominee Ed Martin already are official Republican senatorial candidates.

Arizona Speculation: Is Kyle In or Out?

Public Policy Polling (Jan. 28-30; 599 registered AZ voters) just completed a survey of the new in-cycle senate race featuring three-term incumbent Jon Kyl (R). Disregarding the burgeoning rumors that the senator may decide to retire, the poll shows him to be in sound political position. The retirement conjecture gains more credibility, however, when observing that the normally cautious Kyl is not engaged in any overt action to formulate a 2012 campaign structure.

If he runs, the senator fares well against every potential Democratic opponent. The person doing best against him, former Attorney General Terry Goddard, fell victim to Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in the 2010 election. Goddard trails Kyl 40-50% according to the PPP data. The senator does even better against Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (54-33%) and defeated Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1; 51-35%). He posts a healthy 53-41% margin over Homeland Security Secretary and former Gov. Janet Napolitano. The Secretary’s job performance in Washington has clearly turned her own electorate against her. Riding a wave of Arizona popularity when she headed to Washington, PPP now detects her personal approval rating to be a miserable 40:55% favorable to unfavorable. These numbers represent a huge negative turnaround and suggest she would fare very poorly in an Arizona statewide race.

If Sen. Kyl decides to retire, who might run in his place? Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) already is saying that he considers the Senate an option if the seat is open. He’s the logical person from the congressional delegation to make the attempt to run statewide. He has solid conservative/libertarian credentials and has made a national name for himself as a spending/anti-earmark hawk at precisely the right time. Three of the other congressional Republicans are freshmen who more than likely would not yet be ready to make a statewide bid. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) has never been noted as a powerful fundraiser or campaigner, so it is also doubtful that he would take the plunge.

Democrats are much weaker. Goddard, who appears to be their best candidate, already lost a race to Brewer by a substantial margin. Gordon, as the mayor of the state’s dominant city — a position that usually does not prove itself as a good launching pad to higher office in any state — has poor favorability ratings. According to the PPP poll, his personal approval ratio is 19:37%.

Normally, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) would certainly be in the conversation as a top potential statewide candidate. But, the tragic and senseless shooting that leaves her recovering in a Houston medical facility almost assuredly takes her out of any 2012 statewide conversation, thus leaving the Democrats in a bind. Judging from the approval ratings of the other well-known Arizona political names, Giffords would probably have been the party’s strongest candidate.

Sen. Kyl promises to make and announce a re-election decision before February ends. Either way, Republicans will be favored to hold the seat in November of 2012, but their road to their victory will likely be smoother if the incumbent seeks another term.
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Ins and Outs

While the presidential race seems to be getting off to a slow start, action is already moving at a fast and furious pace on the congressional front. As we reported yesterday, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) is entering the Senate race against first-term incumbent Jon Tester (D). Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), rumored as a retirement possibility, just transferred $1 million of his personal assets into his campaign fund. This suggests he’s ready to ignite another campaign, so odds favor Sen. Kohl being in. Vermont state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) says he is moving toward forming an exploratory committee to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders (I). Chances appear strong that Salmon will eventually get in the race. In Missouri, former gubernatorial chief of staff Ed Martin (R), who came within one point of upsetting Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) in 2010, announced that he will enter the senatorial field of candidates for the right to battle Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in the general election. Also in the GOP race is former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Reps. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO-8) are possible entries. In Indiana, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) is taking steps to challenger Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) in the GOP primary.

Turning to the “out” side of the equation, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) says he will make a decision about whether to run for another six-year term before February ends. His fundraising is on hold for now, not a move someone would make if he were intending to launch another campaign. Odds favor Kyl opting out. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), also promising to make a re-election decision in February, reports only raising $12,000 in the fourth quarter of 2010, an unimpressive amount for someone staring at another tough political fight. It’s hard to say what Sen. Webb will do at this point, but him deciding to retire would not be a shocking development. Finally, despite running a competitive race against a very tough incumbent in 2010, state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R-CT-5) says he will not run for Congress again even though the seat will be open. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) has already officially become a senatorial candidate.
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Senate Race Tight in Montana; Dems to Make Connecticut Intersting

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) will officially announce his challenge to first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) this coming weekend in what will become one of the nation’s top statewide campaigns. In 2006, Tester unseated three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R), in a strong Democratic year running against a scandal-tainted incumbent. Burns was scrutinized by the Justice Department as part of its exhaustive Abramoff lobbying scandal investigation. Soon after the election, the defeated Senator received a DOJ letter fully clearing him of any wrongdoing. Tester won the election by seven-tenths of one percentage point, or 2,847 votes, one of the closest results in the nation.

Rehberg originally won the at-large House seat in 2000. He had previously served as the state’s lieutenant governor and won three elections to the Montana House of Representatives. The congressman begins his challenge with more than $500,000 in the bank, according to his just-released year-end disclosure statement. Sen. Tester reported just under $503,000 cash-on-hand at the end of September. In a race with major national implications, money will be no object for either candidate, particularly when campaigning before such a small electorate.

Along with his pre-announcement indication that he would run for the Senate, Rep. Rehberg also released the results of his internal statewide poll. The Opinion Diagnostics study was conducted of 400 Montana registered voters on Jan. 5, and gave the Republican congressman a 49-43% advantage over the Democratic senator. Count on this being a difficult election. Rehberg feels the presidential year helps him, but Pres. Obama was competitive in Montana during the 2008 campaign. John McCain ended up carrying the state, but barely, 49-47%. Rate this campaign as an early cycle toss-up.

Connecticut: The open Connecticut Senate race is already turning into a mad dash for the finish even though we are more than a year from crowning a winner. As in Texas among the Republicans, the new senator will be determined in the Democratic primary, but an intra-party war is about to commence. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz already officially running, it appears that Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) is also making decided moves to join the field of senatorial candidates. To make matters even more interesting, Ted Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Massachusetts Senator, is making public appearances in Connecticut.

Nebraska: A new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 26-27; 977 registered Nebraska voters) is confirming a mid-December Magellan Strategies poll that reveals Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is in deep political trouble. According to the data, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) enjoys a 50-39% advantage over Sen. Nelson. State Treasurer Don Stenberg leads by four points, 45-41%. These numbers are similar to the Magellan findings, suggesting that Nelson’s situation continues to lag without improvement. Along with the open North Dakota seat, Nebraska continues to be one of the GOP’s best national conversion opportunities.

Arizona: Not yet quelling retirement rumors, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) says he will announce whether or not he will seek a fourth term in mid-February. Kyl has not been running his traditionally aggressive pre-election fundraising operation, causing some to speculate that he may be leaning toward retirement. Democrats would immediately contest Arizona in an open seat situation, as the state is continues to stray to the political middle. Depending upon candidates, this race will probably start in the toss-up column.
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In Conn., Redistricting Could Make Things Very Interesting

Connecticut is already shaping up to be one of the more interesting political states for 2012. Redistricting adds a wild card to the picture that will likely favor the Democrats, but also provides the Republicans an opportunity to potentially take advantage of a majority party in transition. Watch for major action here.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), an announced candidate for Joe Lieberman’s open Senate seat, just released the results of an internal campaign poll but with data accumulated from a few weeks ago. Obviously anticipating Lieberman’s exit from the race, the Gotham Research Group, for the Murphy campaign, surveyed 502 registered Connecticut voters during the January 3-5 period. Not surprisingly, the results showed Rep. Murphy faring very well against the two most likely 2012 GOP entries, just-defeated Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

According to Gotham, Murphy would defeat McMahon 54-35%, while holding a smaller 46-34% advantage over Simmons. These are believable numbers since Connecticut performed well for the Democrats in the Republican year of 2010, and both McMahon and Simmons lost the Senate race. But it’s the Democratic primary numbers that are the most interesting factor in the released data. According to the study, Murphy leads former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz 40-31% with 29% undecided.

The primary numbers are worth noting for a couple of reasons. First, the questions were asked of only 257 Democrats, a very small sample considering the number of such voters in the state, thus the error factor is high. Second, the poll did not include Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) who is now seriously considering entering the Senate race in his own right. This poll should encourage Courtney because neither of his prospective opponents is close to 50%, and almost 1/3 of the voters describe themselves as undecided. Thus, a competitive race with a trio of credible candidates lasting until August of 2012 could formulate in many different ways. In this situation, a reasonable victory scenario can be crafted for each of the three candidates.

Aside from a free-for-all Senatorial primary to potentially contend with, the Democrats might also be left in a precarious situation regarding the House races. With Murphy already vacating his seat and Courtney a possibility to do so, the Democrats would face some redistricting and political challenges necessary to keeping all five of the state’s congressional seats in the party’s column. Remember, Republicans won both the 2nd (Courtney) and 5th (Murphy) districts in their current configuration up until 2006.

Though they are highly Democratic seats (CT-2, Obama ’08: 59% – Bush ’04: 44%. CT-5, Obama ’08: 56% – Bush ’04: 49%.), Republicans proved they can win in both places. While Courtney had an easy re-election in 2010 (winning 59-39% against an opponent who spent less than $250,000), Murphy fought off a tough challenge from state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R). Additionally, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-4) also had a tough battle in his first re-election, winning 53-47% in a race similar to Murphy’s.

Obviously, in open seat situations the 2nd and the 5th are going to be more competitive, thus the party may need to roll a few more Democratic voters to both the east (2nd) and west (5th), taking them from the 1st (Rep. John Larson – Hartford) and 3rd (Rep. Rosa DeLauro – New Haven) districts. The 4th, which elected Republican Chris Shays until 2008 and is located in the southwestern tail of the state that borders New York, also might need a slight increase in Democratic voters and that would drain a few more from the neighboring 3rd. Thus, we could find Dem redistricting specialists facing what could be a tricky task of rolling voters from their middle districts in both directions. This would certainly make the 1st and 3rd less Democratic, but would theoretically strengthen districts 2, 4, and 5.

The most positive end redistricting result would mean five Democratic seats that can be maintained throughout the decade. On the other hand, opening up all districts for significant change often brings unintended consequences, and this could help the Republicans.
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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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