Category Archives: Senate

Wisconsin’s Sen. Kohl To Retire

News reports breaking in Wisconsin say that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) has scheduled a retirement announcement at noon Central time. If this proves accurate, Mr. Kohl will be the ninth Senator elected in 2006 not to seek re-election in 2012.

Open Seats – (8)
1. Arizona (Kyl-R)
2. Connecticut (Lieberman-I-D)
3. Hawaii (Akaka-D)
4. New Mexico (Bingaman-D)
5. North Dakota (Conrad-D)
6. Texas (Hutchison-R)
7. Virginia (Webb-D)
8. Wisconsin (Kohl-D)

Note: Nevada, which was on the open seat list is no longer so. Sen. John Ensign (R) resigned and has been replaced by Sen. Dean Heller (R), so this seat returns to the incumbent column.

Even Newer Virginia Senate Poll: Still Close

Public Policy Polling (May 5-8; 547 registered VA voters) went into the field among Virginia voters on the heels of the recently released Washington Post poll and arrived at virtually the same conclusion: The race between former Sen. and Gov. George Allen (R) and ex-DNC Chairman and Gov. Tim Kaine (D) is a dead heat. According to PPP, Kaine has the slightest of leads over Allen, 48-46 percent. The Post’s poll from a few days before (April 28 – May 4; 1,040 VA registered voters) gave both candidates 46 percent. Each posts rather weak numbers on the PPP favorability scale, however. Kaine scored a 42:41 percent favorable to unfavorable versus Allen’s upside down 36:42 percent. The Post’s numbers were considerably better for both men (Kaine 56:28 percent; Allen 51:26 percent), suggesting that the two pollsters implemented different sample selection methodologies. Interestingly, even with these highly divergent favorability ratings, both sets of respondents reported virtually the same ballot test numbers.

The PPP data shows that 50 percent of the polling sample respondents report voting for President Obama in 2008 compared with 44 percent who said they supported John McCain. This is close to the 53-46 percent Obama margin officially recorded during the election, thus providing another point of verification for the PPP study even though their sample size is much smaller.
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The Ins and Outs of Candidates

A snapshot look at who’s in and who’s out:

IN
Indiana – Donnelly:
Authoritative reports say that Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) will announce his candidacy for the United States Senate today. The move does not come as a surprise, since the new redistricting map gives Donnelly a very marginal congressional seat. Because he won by only a single percentage point in the last election (48-47 percent) in a better district for him, Mr. Donnelly’s decision to run statewide became predictable.

Donnelly will face Sen. Richard Lugar (R) who, at 79 years old, is running for a seventh six-year term. The congressman is banking on the fact that Lugar may have trouble in the Republican primary as the veteran senator has seemingly gone out of his way to alienate the Tea Party wing of the GOP electorate. Already, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock is challenging Mr. Lugar for the party nomination, but the challenger’s lackluster fundraising so far seems to diminish what were higher expectations for an upset. Even if the Lugar primary contest becomes moderately close, Donnelly may be the beneficiary. Though Sen. Lugar is rated as the favorite for both the primary and general election – he didn’t even draw a Democratic opponent in 2006 – this will likely be a competitive race all the way through the November general election.

Turning to the House, Republicans would begin as slight favorites to capture Donnelly’s vacated IN-2 district, particularly when considering the recent re-draw that was just enacted into law. Still, Pres. Barack Obama received 49 percent of the vote under the new boundaries so, despite being eight points better for Republicans, the 2nd is marginal in nature and both parties can win here. Former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R), who held Donnelly to the one-point victory in 2010, has already said she will run again. Walorski must be considered the early favorite to convert this seat for the Republicans.

OUT
Nevada – Krolicki:
Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R), who most believed would enter the special congressional election to replace now-Sen. Dean Heller (R), announced that he will not run. Krolicki entering the race would have set up a tough jungle-ballot campaign with 2010 Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle (R) and at least one Democrat, state Treasurer Kate Marshall.

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) ruled last week that the jungle-ballot system, where all candidates compete with each other and the person garnering the most votes, regardless of percentage, is elected outright, will be utilized for the Sept. 13 special election. With Angle, Krolicki, and possibly several others diluting the Republican vote, it is was judged that the Democrats, in the person of Marshall, could slip through and steal what should be a Republican seat in the jungle format. Without Krolicki competing, Angle now stands a better chance of finishing first, but in a multi-candidate race anything can still happen. The special election will be conducted in the current NV-2, drawn in the 2001 redistricting plan, but the 2012 full-term battle will be held in what is likely to be a vastly different 2nd district.

Michigan – Land: Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land said over the weekend that she will not challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) next year. Despite Stabenow being viewed as vulnerable, though recent polling places her in an improved position against potential GOP candidates, no strong Republican has yet to come forth to declare a Senate candidacy. Ex-Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2), who placed second in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary and was polling best against Sen. Stabenow, took himself out of consideration two weeks ago.

It is unlikely any member of the congressional delegation will run, though Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) now seems to be the most logical congressman to consider a Senate race. Deciding not to seek re-election as House Republican Policy Chairman after two terms, McCotter would have a largely unencumbered opportunity to run statewide in 2012.
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Rep. Giffords Leads in New Ariz. Senate Poll

Public Policy Polling (April 28-May 1; 623 registered Arizona voters) surveyed the Arizona electorate and found Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), who is still recovering from the senseless Jan. 8 shooting that severely wounded her, to be leading the top Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Phoenix area Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6), by a 48-41 percent count. She would top former congressman and 2010 Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth (R) by an even more substantial 57-31 percent.

Terry Goddard, the Democratic former attorney general who lost to Jan Brewer (R) in the 2010 governor’s race, pulls even with Flake (45-45 percent), and would defeat Hayworth 51-33 percent. Mr. Flake would easily defeat Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (47-33 percent) and Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) 46-34 percent. None of the Democrats tested have announced their candidacies. It is unclear when Rep. Giffords will have the ability to make any decisions regarding her immediate political future. Rep. Flake is the only official Republican contender. Sen. Jon Kyl (R) is retiring.

Interestingly, of all the aforementioned potential candidates, only Giffords (57:17 percent) and Goddard (43:36 percent) have favorable images. All of the others register negatives that exceed their positive scores. Former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was also included in this poll under the absurd idea that the former Alaska governor and current Last Frontier State resident would run for the Senate in Arizona. Not surprisingly, Palin performs very poorly on all questions under this ill-conceived polling scenario.
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Thaddeus McCotter – The Unconventional Candidate

In recent days Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) has experienced something of a boomlet in terms of media coverage. Propelled by the admiration of Greg Gutfeld, the host of Fox News’ late night comedy show, “Redeye with Greg Gutfeld”, and a New York Daily News profile of the lanky Michigan lawmaker, McCotter is raising Republican eyebrows with a disarming manner and an unconventional approach to political popularity. The recent Daily News piece by conservative columnist S.E. Cupp goes so far as to suggest McCotter as a dark horse candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.

Gutfeld has called attention to McCotter’s keen wit and unflinchingly populist brand of conservatism on his show. McCotter’s atypical approach to his job as a member of Congress includes playing in a rock band, having posters of John Lennon and The Pogues decorate the walls of his office and lacing his conversations with historical, cultural and comic references that even comedian Dennis Miller, a McCotter friend, might find obscure.

While the five-term Representative just recently drove himself from his working class suburb of Detroit to a conservative political conference in Des Moines to speak and sell copies of his recently released book, “Seize Freedom! American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age,” don’t mistake his jaunt to Iowa as a prelude to a fledgling presidential campaign. The chances of him announcing the formation of a 2012 national exploratory committee are highly remote.

What appears more possible is the Republican Party turning to McCotter as a candidate to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow in her 2012 reelection campaign. With the Senate majority hanging in abeyance, the GOP has so far fallen short in recruiting strong candidates in Ohio (against first-term Sen. Sherrod Brown) and Michigan. It will be difficult for the party to re-claim firm Senate control if they concede these two important Midwest states, places where their candidates performed very well in 2010.

With a new GOP governor, a majority in both houses of the state legislature, and Michigan losing a House seat in reapportionment as a result of its declining population, Michigan Republican congressmen are hopeful that their new district lines will cement their recent electoral gains and their considerable power as a delegation within the GOP majority committee structure. Therefore, most of the members would risk much in attempting to become a freshman Senator.

Stabenow’s job approval rating continues to hover in the mid-40s in most polls, and Michigan’s unemployment rate is still far worse than the national average, complicating the task of any incumbent running for re-election. Although Pres. Barack Obama will head the Democratic ticket in November 2012, and although he carried Michigan easily three years ago, the lingering recession and Stabenow’s lackluster job approval numbers certainly could cast doubt upon her easy re-election.

As of this year’s first quarter filing with the FEC, McCotter reports more than $478,000 cash on hand while Stabenow’s disclosure shows a much more robust $3.034 million. If McCotter decides to run against Stabenow, however, his financial capacity would soar and the subsequent campaign would be anything but conventional. The stylistic differences between the two candidates and Michigan’s still-troubled economic circumstances would likely make a Stabenow-McCotter race one of the more interesting and talked about campaigns in all of America.
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Heller has Narrow Lead in Nevada

Public Policy Polling (April 21-24; 491 registered NV voters), surveying the Nevada electorate at the exact time Sen. John Ensign (R) announced he would resign his seat in early May, finds Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) leading fellow Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) 47-43 percent. Heller is the man most believe Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) will appoint to replace Ensign, thus providing him with incumbent status before the 2012 election. When answering whether the respondents would favor holding a special election to replace the senator or having Gov. Sandoval appoint an interim office holder as current law dictates, by a margin of 53-44 percent, the group prefers the election option.

The 4-point Heller lead over Berkley is a net 9-point improvement for the Democrats since the last PPP was conducted. In early January, Heller held a 51-38 percent edge over Berkley, who was, at that time, not an announced Senatorial candidate. The small 4-point edge is also a bit of a surprise when seeing both candidates’ favorability ratings. Heller scores a 43:29 percent favorable to unfavorable personal image response, while Berkley registers a less impressive 34:31 percent. Should Heller be appointed to the Senate, the polling data will undoubtedly change, perhaps drastically, over the course of the 17 months remaining before the next election, but it is unclear as to what extent. Therefore, we can again expect another very difficult Nevada campaign for both participants.
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Nevada: A Potential GOP Quagmire

Nevada's congressional districts.

Though it appears that Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is the obvious choice to replace outgoing Sen. John Ensign (R), who will resign May 3rd, the selection will ignite a series of moves that could be troubling for Silver State Republicans. Heller, a three-term congressman from the rural district – Nevada currently has three CDs, two in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, and one, NV-2, that touches a corner of Clark County (Las Vegas) and encompasses the rest of the state – is already the consensus Senatorial candidate for the party to maintain the swing-state Senate seat in 2012.

But, it is Heller’s House seat that could become problematic for the GOP if the congressman immediately replaces Sen. Ensign. Under Nevada law, the state party central committees choose nominees in the event of vacancies, and not the electorate through a direct primary vote. The law, however, is a bit sketchy. It does allow for independents to qualify for the ballot in addition to the major party nominees, and Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller says he will decide the particulars of gaining ballot access. Miller himself could become a candidate for a different office in 2012, too. He was considering the Senate race, but deferred to Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), once she announced for the seat. Running for the US House, however, is a possibility for him because Nevada will have at least two open seats next year. So, it is conceivable his rulings for this special election could in some way affect his own short-term political plans.

Redistricting is yet another factor in this complicated situation. Because Nevada gains a new 4th district from reapportionment, the 2nd district will drastically change. Since the current Clark County population figure is only about 20,000 people short of qualifying for three complete CD’s, it is probable that none of the Vegas area will be in the new 2nd. But, the special general election will be run in the current 2nd, which does include a section of the metro area. Democrats control the legislature and will draw the initial congressional map, but Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, will have veto power over whatever is eventually sent him. If the two sides deadlock, then a court will draw the new congressional and legislative maps. Should the process find its way to federal court, the most liberal 9th Circuit of the Federal District Courts will come into play, as Nevada sits in that particular region. Therefore, even eventual court action is unclear.

Already, Sharron Angle, the controversial 2010 US Senate nominee who lost to Majority Leader Harry Reid 44-50 percent, has announced that she will run for the 2nd congressional district in the regular 2012 election. Back in 2006, Mrs. Angle, then a state assemblywoman, lost the Republican congressional nomination to Heller by just 421 votes. She will not be chosen as the Republican nominee in the special election by the party structure, and Secretary of State Miller’s ballot access rulings could factor prominently into her decision as to whether or not to seek the seat in the special election. Ideally, from a Democratic Party perspective, Miller will want to make it easy for Angle to enter the race. She will be a strong Independent candidate and could split the vote to the Democratic nominee’s advantage.

Democrats looking at the political picture here will certainly want to do what they can to encourage an Angle candidacy, hoping for a similar result as what happened in the Senate race. It is important to note, however, that Angle did beat Sen. Reid in the 2nd district portion of the state, which is a sobering fact for Democratic partisans thinking they can take advantage of a fractured 2nd district GOP and steal a victory. With Democratic control in the legislature, however, the party leadership could definitely draw a new 2nd district that would help Angle win a GOP primary, especially if another Republican wins the special election, thus throwing the seat into further chaos in the 2012 regular campaign.

Events will begin to unfold quickly after Ensign officially leaves office and Heller secures the Senatorial appointment.

No matter what eventually happens here, many twists and turns can be expected before the final votes are cast.
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