Category Archives: Senate

Senate Picture Changes Again

Hawaii

The passing of venerable Senator Dan Inouye (D-HI) has brought yet another vacancy to the Senate. Mr. Inouye, first elected to Congress as Hawaii’s original member of the House of Representatives in 1959, won his first senatorial term in 1962. He served continuously until yesterday. Along with retiring seat-mate Daniel Akaka (D), Hawaii had the most senior delegation in the nation. With Inouye’s death and Akaka leaving in January, the state will now have two freshman senators, losing a combined 70 years in seniority.

The Hawaii seat now becomes the 35th in the 2014 election cycle. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) will choose an interim appointment who will serve until a 2014 special election is held concurrently with the regular November vote. The winner will then serve the remaining two years of Inouye’s term, meaning the seat will be contested for a full six-year stint in 2016. Should Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) be appointed Secretary of State, as many believe will soon happen, the Massachusetts, Hawaii, and South Carolina seats will all be going to special election in 2014 with a regular election for the same seat following two years later.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley (R), surprising many who believed would act after the first of the year, announced that she will appoint Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1) to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R). Continue reading>

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Replacing Sen. Kerry?

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Since US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has withdrawn from consideration as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s replacement, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) now appears to top the list of appointment candidates. Assuming Pres. Barack Obama chooses Kerry, speculation on Capitol Hill is already percolating about who will succeed the 28-year senatorial veteran.

Liberal Massachusetts and conservative Texas have at least one thing in common. They share the same uncommon way of replacing senators when a vacancy occurs. In each state, the respective governor appoints an individual to serve only until a special election can be held; the winner of which then serves the remainder of the term. Most states empower the governor to appoint an interim-senator until the next regular election, therefore bypassing a special vote. Continue reading>

Campaign McConnell Strikes Back

Yesterday we reported about a new Public Policy Polling survey that rated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) as having the worst job approval ratio of any senator in the country, 37:55 percent favorable to unfavorable. The McConnell campaign quickly issued a strongly worded reaction.

According to a fundraising letter sent to supporters from campaign manager Jesse Benton, Team McConnell has some harsh words for PPP and the Democrats.

The following is an excerpt from Benton’s response letter:

“The partisan PPP polling company, which has been used as a tool for Obama Democrats to manufacture circumstances that don’t exist all across the country, descended upon Kentucky to proclaim that Senator McConnell has a 37 percent approval rating. The poll is laughable. But, the liberal press is gobbling it right up.

No other polling, public or private, has shown anything even resembling these numbers. In fact, the Courier Journal, a newspaper that editorializes against Leader McConnell on a near weekly basis, released polls not long ago showing Leader McConnell’s favorability over 50 percent.

What was really surprising was that even cooked books couldn’t produce a Democrat candidate who could beat Senator McConnell head to head. Mind you, most of the folks they tested have already taken a pass on running against a Senator who Continue reading>

Southern States Polling Results

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)

Public Policy Polling, fresh from setting the mark as one of the most accurate pollsters in the 2012 election cycle, went into the field in three key southern states — Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina — to project some very early Senatorial numbers. Here’s what they found:

Kentucky

Among the incumbents tested was Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who won his last election (2008) with 53 percent.

Looking ahead to 2012 in the Bluegrass State, the PPP data (Dec. 7-9; 1,299 registered Kentucky voters) produced unusual results. In their analysis, the organization’s president, Tom Jensen, claims that McConnell’s 37:55 percent job approval ratio is the worst of any senator. But, he still leads all hypothetical foes in isolated ballot tests.

The senator tops three well-known Democrats by identical 47-43 percent margins. Two of the three, Attorney General Jack Conway and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, already have said they have no intention of challenging McConnell. The third tested candidate is actress Ashley Judd. She also has made public statements downplaying her desire to run but is the favorite of liberal activists, nonetheless, because many of them want a celebrity challenger to the Republican leader.

The other two Democratic figures who come within single-digits of the senator are Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (trailing McConnell 41-46 percent) and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (behind 40-47 percent).

Though McConnell is not particularly popular in his home state, he remains one of the best campaigners in the Republican stable. Should the Democrats actually convince Judd to run, she might find going against McConnell much more difficult than it appears on paper. It is unlikely that she will run. Right now, the Democrats have no viable option, but expect them to field a credible challenger.

North Carolina

Looking ahead to 2014, first-term North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D) appears to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents facing re-election. Hagan won in the high turnout year of 2008, defeating then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) who made many strategic campaign mistakes and had clearly lost touch with her constituency. In the upcoming mid-term election, considering the assured lower turnout when compared with a presidential year and that the state was one of two (Indiana was the other) that failed to support President Obama in 2012 after doing so in 2008, the stage is already set for a highly competitive Republican challenge race against her.

Looking at the early hypotheticals, Public Policy Polling (Dec. 6-9; 578 registered North Carolina voters) tested several North Carolina Republicans, not including any of the newly elected statewide officials. Among various members of the congressional delegation, Hagan scores in similar territory. Paired with GOP Reps. Renee Ellmers (down 39-45 percent), Virginia Foxx (trailing 39-49 percent), Patrick McHenry (behind 40-48 percent), and just-elected George Holding (Hagan leading 48-39 percent), the senator scores in a consistent range. Her totals suggest vulnerability. Though leading all of the congressmen, she doesn’t break 50 percent against any and, despite none of them having statewide name identification, all are within early striking distance. This will prove to be one of the hardest fought of the 2014 Senate races.

South Carolina

With all the talk surrounding Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R) resignation and potential replacement, less attention is being paid to the state’s senior senator who also must face the voters in 2014. While the conventional wisdom has been that Sen. Lindsey Graham is vulnerable in a South Carolina Republican primary, the new PPP polls paints a completely different picture.

According to the Public Policy Polling Republican primary data (Dec. 7-9; 506 South Carolina Republican voters), Sen. Graham enjoys a 66:26 percent favorable to unfavorable job approval ratio and crushes selected members of the congressional delegation in individual ballot tests.

Of the potential congressional challengers that PPP tabbed, Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1) fares the best, but even he trails 32-54 percent. Graham is well above 50 percent against all potential comers, and scores 51-40 percent when asking whether the respondent would favor the senator or another candidate who is more conservative. Continued similar results will soon remove Sen. Graham from the primary vulnerability list.

Haley Narrows Her List

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s (R) visit to the Charleston area yesterday did not result in her naming a replacement for outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R) as some thought it might, but reports from her office suggest that her short list contains five names.

Top Choice: Rep. Tim Scott

Most believe the leading contender is freshman Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1), who won a big re-election in November and was subsequently appointed to the House Ways & Means Committee. Aside from being a capable replacement for DeMint, Rep. Scott scores political points for the governor in several ways. Haley is standing for re-election in 2014 with upside down approval ratings, and along comes a new Public Policy Polling survey (Dec. 7-9; 520 registered South Carolina voters) that posts her two points behind (44-46 percent) the man she defeated in 2010, Democratic state Sen. Vincent Shaheen. This tells us that the governor needs political strengthening.

Among other benefits, the Scott appointment would allow her to take credit for appointing the first African-American senator in the state’s post-Reconstruction history. Secondly, since Scott enjoys strong support from South Carolina’s Tea Party movement, selecting him would help Haley with the very group that could bring forth a challenger against her in the Republican primary. Third, by appointing the Charleston area congressman, she can restore the Upcountry/Low Country balance that the state traditionally featured. Both current senators, DeMint and Lindsey Graham (R), are from the northwestern sector of the state. Thus, she could theoretically increase her Charleston area support with this move. Fourth, Haley would gain kudos from national conservatives who are also pushing Scott for the appointment, possibly including Sen. DeMint himself. Though he claims not to be lobbying for anyone, most observers believe that the outgoing incumbent favors Rep. Scott as his successor.

The Remaining Four Options

Others on what is believed to be her short list of contenders are Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4), state cabinet officer Catherine Templeton, former Attorney General Henry McMaster (R), and Jenny Sanford, the state’s former First Lady, who handled herself so positively during her husband’s — former Gov. Mark Sanford — nationally publicized extra-marital affair.

Rep. Gowdy, also a freshman who just won a big re-election, brings little to the table for Haley. Though conservative, he represents DeMint’s former congressional district, so he fails to bring any geographic balance. He is unknown outside of the Greenville-Spartanburg region, so it’s difficult to see how the governor improves her own standing through his appointment.

Templeton is a confidant of the governor who already has received appointments to a pair of statewide cabinet posts. She currently is in charge of the South Carolina Department of Health. She hails from the Charleston area, thus bringing geographical balance but has little in the way of a political base. Furthermore, Templeton has no legislative experience, so starting her career as a legislator in the United States Senate will require a rather large learning curve that could put her well behind in preparing for a statewide election. This could make her vulnerable in what would likely transform itself into a messy primary confrontation — something Haley will certainly want to avoid.

McMaster is a former two-term attorney general and chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. He ran against Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC) in 1986, and for governor against Haley, herself, in 2010. McMaster finished a distant third in the gubernatorial primary contest, failing to secure the second run-off position. That fell to Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-SC-3), who Haley defeated in a landslide. McMaster, from Columbia, does not appear to be a good fit for Haley, but including him on her short list does throw a bone to the state’s Republican establishment.

Jenny Sanford is a popular figure with obviously high name identification. She, too, is from Charleston and highly identified with the city, since she maintained the family home there instead of moving to the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia when her husband was elected. Sanford is not closing the door on accepting the appointment, saying she is “honored” to be considered. What is probably more likely than her being appointed to the Senate is running in the special election for the 1st Congressional District – her husband’s former House seat – should Scott receive the appointment.

The Likely Outcome

The prevailing political winds point toward Gov. Haley appointing Rep. Scott. Expect this action to occur immediately upon Sen. DeMint’s official resignation. All of the prospective candidates on this list would be competent Senators for the state, so making a credible selection is not an issue. Since Scott is the best political pick, and the governor needs a political boost, the odds are strong that she will soon turn in his direction.