Category Archives: Senate

Senate Update: One In, One Out

Two U.S. Senate announcements were made over the weekend. In New Mexico, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) released a video saying he is running for the retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D) open seat. One state to the west in Arizona, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) also made an official announcement, but a much different one. He won’t run statewide next year.

Heinrich’s electronic release, featuring the congressman cooking a meal for his family in their home, emphasizes his commitment to working families and job creation. His decision to run statewide means the marginal 1st congressional district will become an open seat, and highly competitive battles are expected for both the Senate and the House.

Mr. Heinrich stating his political intentions early in the election cycle means the New Mexico map drawers (Democrats control the legislature; Republicans have the governor’s office) can radically change his congressional seat if they so desire. The Land of Enchantment, remaining constant with three U.S. House districts for the ensuing decade, normally features a Democratic northern district encompassing the capital city of Santa Fe (NM-3), and a more Republican southern seat (NM-2), again represented by Rep. Steve Pearce (R) after he vacated it in 2008 to run unsuccessfully for the Senate. The 1st, anchored in the state’s dominant Albuquerque metropolitan area, is politically marginal. Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) held the latter seat in the early part of the decade; Heinrich won it in 2008 (56-44%) and was re-elected 52-48% in 2010.

The Albuquerque congressman becomes the first Democrat to officially launch a campaign to succeed Sen. Bingaman, though state Auditor Hector Banderas says he will run. Ms. Wilson is announced for the Republican nomination and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) is also seriously considering running for the seat. The New Mexico Senate race has the potential of becoming one of the hottest campaigns in the country.

State Sen. Eric Griego (D) wasted no time in following Heinrich’s lead. He immediately formed a congressional exploratory committee for the newly opened 1st district, but stopped short of saying that he will run for sure.

In Arizona, the public announcement was different than predicted. It was believed that Rep. Franks would unveil his Senate plans this weekend, which he did, but most thought he would proclaim himself as an official statewide candidate. Instead, he did the opposite, saying, “I have sincerely concluded that mounting a Senate bid at this time would not be what is best for my family, nor what would best allow me to serve my country at this critical time in her history.” Therefore, Mr. Franks will not launch a Senatorial bid and looks to a House re-election campaign in what promises to be a much different 2nd district. Needing to shed 262,615 people, AZ-2 is the second-most over-populated congressional district in the nation.

Franks’ decision, at least for now, leaves 6th district Rep. Jeff Flake as the lone announced Republican in the Senatorial contest to succeed the retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R). Democrats have yet to see an individual come forward to formally state their own candidacy. Once the field is defined, the Arizona Senate race will also become highly competitive.
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2012 Senatorial Candidate Announcements Coming Soon

Although no one has yet officially declared his or her candidacy for the nation’s highest office, several people are moving closer to making an announcement for the Senate. It is being reported from both public and private sources that Arizona Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) will announce a Senatorial run as soon as this weekend or early next week. Franks will oppose fellow Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in the Republican primary. Sen. Jon Kyl (R) is retiring. Both men running statewide will have a huge effect upon Arizona congressional redistricting. The two have the most over-populated seats in the state (both have more than 261,000 people to shed) and with no incumbent influence for either district, both seats can be disassembled. The result could lead to a radical re-draw. Complicating matters even further, Arizona also gains a new seat.

Turning to the Midwest and Indiana, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) is sounding more like a Senatorial candidate. He is seriously considering challenging Sen. Richard Lugar (R) next year in hopes of taking advantage of what appears to be a difficult Tea Party-induced challenge for the six-term senator in the GOP primary. That Donnelly is still publicly flirting with the Senate almost assures that he will run. The congressman’s statements to-date already give Republican map drawers the impetus they need to re-craft his northern Indiana congressional district into a more Republican-friendly seat. Former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R), who held Donnelly to a one-point win in 2010, has confirmed that she will run again, thus pressuring the congressman even further.
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Derailing the Ryan Express in Wisconsin?

Liberal activists are beginning to tout a new congressional candidate who they believe has a chance of unseating House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) next year. The Swing State Project, a national liberal campaign blog, is reporting that Kenosha County Supervisor Rob Zerban is taking concrete steps toward assembling a 2012 electoral challenge against the popular Republican incumbent.

Paul Ryan is an up-and-coming national Republican political figure. Now in his 7th term in the House, he was elected in 1998 at the young age of 28. Mr. Ryan was appointed ranking member of the Budget Committee in the last Congress and became the panel’s chair with the Republican sweep back into the majority in the last election. Ryan’s name has popped up as a long shot presidential candidate, and also a possible Senate contestant if Wisconsin’s senior Sen. Herb Kohl (D) decides to retire. For his part, Rep. Ryan is committed only to running for re-election in 2012, saying he wants to finish his allotted terms as Budget chairman in order to make progress toward the goal of reducing the federal deficit before running for another office.

Zerban undoubtedly looks better on paper to the Democratic candidate recruitment team than he does face-to-face against Ryan. Though he is an elected local supervisor, Kenosha County represents only 25 percent of the 1st CD total population, and the Board of Supervisors has 28 single-member districts. Therefore, Zerban’s entire constituency is just short of 5,500 people, only about 7.5% of the total congressional district population.

The liberals also opine that Ryan is too conservative for what should be a marginal congressional district, and that redistricting really won’t greatly affect his seat. They say this because the territory occupies the southeast corner of the state, bordering Illinois on the south and Lake Michigan to the east, so it doesn’t appear much can change.

Both arguments are incorrect. First, WI-1 is a much different district than when former Armed Services Committee chairman and future US Defense Secretary Les Aspin (D-WI-1) represented the seat during his 22-year congressional career (1971-1993). Pres. Barack Obama did carry the 1st in 2008, but only with 51% of the vote. Former Pres. George Bush performed well there in 2004, winning a 54-46 percent victory. Bush also carried the 1st with 51% in 2000.

For his part, Ryan has been a huge vote-getter during his congressional tenure. He has averaged an impressive 64.4 percent through his seven elections, four times breaking 65 percent of the vote. He is a strong fundraiser, too. In 2010, when he romped to victory with 68 percent, Ryan raised more than $3.9 million for his re-election. His year-end 2010 report shows he finished the campaign cycle with over $3 million cash-on-hand, one of the best financial entries for the entire House.

In terms of redistricting, the 1st district must shed 17,169 people. Since Republicans are in total control of the Wisconsin redistricting process, the swing between Ryan’s district and those of neighboring Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2; +40,296 over-populated) and Gwen Moore (D-WI-4; -41,858 under-populated) will result in Ryan receiving a few more Republicans and the two Democrats also getting a bit stronger. Thus, the new WI-1 is likely to be even better for Ryan than the current district configuration he has dominated over the past 10 years.

While the controversy over Wisconsin’s public employee labor policy continues toward a political meltdown, thus throwing the state’s politics into chaos, Rep. Ryan appears completely secure for his 2012 election. Though Supervisor Zerban may well be preparing for a run against him, such a battle will likely sputter and become another easy ride for the veteran Republican. National Democrats will likely find more tempting targets in other locations than Chairman Paul Ryan’s southern Wisconsin district.
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Florida’s Mack Won’t Run for Senate

Late last week a story surfaced in Politico that Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) would today officially announce a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) for the seat Nelson has held since 2001. Such is not the case.

Understanding that the reporter never discussed Mack’s intentions personally with the congressman, but rather quoted an ‘anonymous source close to the Mack campaign,’ it was written that an announcement of candidacy would be imminently forthcoming. Mr. Mack corrected the story retorting that he would indeed make a statement but only to detail his reasons for not running statewide. He says family concerns and wanting to continue his service in the House influenced the decision not to engage Nelson. Rep. Mack, 43, first won his House seat in 2004 and will seek re-election next year.

This leaves state Senate President Mike Haridopolos as the only significant Republican currently in the race against Nelson. The veteran Democratic senator, commonly viewed to be at least marginally vulnerable in the next election, has confirmed that he will seek a third term. Haridopolos has been active on the fundraising trail and promises to report more than seven figures in receipts on his 2011 first quarter Federal Election Commission disclosure report due April 15. Nelson had over $3 million cash-on-hand according to his year-end 2010 filing.

Mack was viewed as having very strong potential as a statewide candidate, polling atop all preliminary Florida Senate Republican primary surveys. This is likely because of his name familiarity with voters. His father, Connie Mack III, served in the Senate for the 12 years prior to Nelson and spent three terms in the House. Connie Mack, Sr., who shortened his name from Cornelius McGillicuddy, is a legendary Hall of Fame baseball owner and manager.

Without Rep. Mack on the statewide ballot, the Republicans will likely be looking for a candidate stronger than Haridopolos to wage a potentially winning campaign against Nelson. In his two Senate general election victories (2000 and 2006), Mr. Nelson posted winning totals of 51 and 60 percent, defeating then-Rep. and future Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) and then-Rep. and former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, respectively. Nelson spent six terms in the House, spanning 1979-1991. He was twice elected as Florida treasurer, insurance commissioner & fire marshal (1994; 1998).

Other potential Republican candidates include former interim Sen. George LeMieux, who had said repeatedly during his 18-month stint in the Senate, filling the unexpired term of Mel Martinez (R), that he planned to challenge Nelson in 2012 but seemed to back away from those intentions upon leaving office. Mack’s decision not to enter the race could now lead to LeMieux becoming a candidate. The ex-majority leader of the Florida State House, Adam Hasner, is also a likely Senatorial contender.

It’s also possible that Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-13) may reconsider previous statements saying he was unlikely to run statewide in 2012. The congressman mused recently that being appointed as a member of the important House Ways & Means Committee was quelling his desire to run for Senate, but Mack’s decision could become an impetus for him to re-focus on a battle against the 68-year-old Nelson.

The Florida seat figures prominently in any Republican scenario to gain control of the Senate next year. Down 47-53, the GOP needs a minimum net conversion of four seats to wrest away the Democratic majority. Only having to defend 10 of the 33 in-cycle seats, with three that are open (Arizona-Kyl; Nevada-Ensign; Texas-Hutchison), the Republicans are in strong position to turn several Democratic states, such as the open seats in North Dakota (Conrad) and Virginia (Webb). Democrats are heavy favorites to hold their incumbent retirement seats in Connecticut (Lieberman-I), Hawaii (Akaka), and New Mexico (Bingaman), though the latter two could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.

In terms of incumbent Democratic vulnerabilities, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson tops the list and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Montana’s Jon Tester will also face toss-up re-election challenges. Going hard after Bill Nelson certainly expands the GOP political playing field but, without Mack as a candidate, the Republican task of converting the Sunshine State clearly becomes more difficult.
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Allen and Kaine Likely to Square Off in Virginia

The stage appears to be set in the Commonwealth of Virginia for a 2012 political campaign that could determine the partisan balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) retirement vacancy after a single six-year term likely will be filled by either former GOP senator and governor George Allen or Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair and former governor Tim Kaine. The race promises to pit two candidates who have each won statewide office twice:

  • Allen – Governor, 1993; U.S. Senator, 2000
  • Kaine – Lt. Governor, 2001; Governor, 2005

In this pairing, however, control of the Senate could realistically be the ultimate prize for the victor’s party.

After the 2010 mid-term elections were over, Allen wasted little time in declaring his intention to reclaim the Senate seat he barely lost to Webb in 2006. The former Republican senator and governor announced that he would again run more than two weeks before Webb announced his retirement on Feb. 9. Since becoming an official candidate in January, Allen has been in full campaign mode, traveling the state and staking out positions on issues likely to surface in the general election. He will face only token opposition in the Republican primary.

By contrast, Kaine has been taking a very cautious approach toward a Senate race, only recently letting it slip to a University of Richmond law school class that he was “increasingly likely to run.” Still, the DNC chair insists he has made no final decision on his potential candidacy as of yet.

The former governor would clearly be the Democratic Party’s strongest nominee in terms of name recognition and fundraising capability. If Kaine doesn’t run, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), who just lost his Fifth District congressional seat in November, seems likely to enter the race, but the ex-representative says he won’t oppose Kaine.

It appears that the pressure on Kaine to become a candidate is enormous. The early 2012 cycle Democratic Senate retirements of Akaka (HI), Bingaman (NM), Conrad (ND), Lieberman (I-CT), and Webb (VA), and the large number of Democratic seats to defend (23 of the 33 in-cycle contests) has put the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) recruiting efforts in the spotlight.

Virginia is a critical state from a national perspective. The White House is fully aware of the benefits of a strong Virginia Democratic ticket, as Pres. Barack Obama became the first Democrat since Hubert Humphrey in 1968 to carry the Old Dominion. It is a must-win state for the GOP if the 2012 Republicans are to seriously contest the President’s re-election. Therefore, Obama blunting the GOP offensive in Virginia could clinch his second national victory.

With Kaine as a candidate, the Virginia contest is likely to be one of the most closely watched Senate campaigns in the nation. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted Feb. 24-27 of 524 Virginia voters showed Allen and Kaine in a dead heat with 47% support for each. Call this race a toss-up with colossal stakes for now, and it will likely remain as such all the way to Election Day.
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New Polling Shows Interesting Results in Montana, Conn., W.Va.

Three pollsters released a trio of different polls yesterday, all in races of note.

Montana: Mason-Dixon Polling & Research surveyed the Montana electorate (March 14-16; 625 registered Montana voters) for the Lee Newspaper chain and found Sen. Jon Tester (D) to be in a dead heat with at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in the 2012 Senatorial race. The senator clung to a one-point 46-45 percent lead over his future GOP opponent. Tester received 94 percent support from Democrats compared to Rehberg’s 89 percent among Republicans. Independents broke 49-37 percent for the incumbent. Among men, Rehberg held a 53-40 percent advantage; Tester led 51-38 percent among female respondents.

Montana probably will support the Republican presidential nominee against Pres. Barack Obama, though the latter performed well here in 2008. John McCain managed to carry the state by a razor-thin 49-47 percent margin, but Obama led here during most of the ’08 presidential campaign. Assuming an improved Republican performance, Rehberg could get a slight bounce from the presidential race. The strong union presence in Montana, however, could prove to be a counter-balance in Tester’s favor. Union workers are likely to be highly energized due to the collective bargaining controversies happening in several states, which should provide positive synergy for Tester. Thus, the 2012 Montana Senate race will be a difficult campaign for both men. Count on the Tester-Rehberg race to be in toss-up mode all the way to the general election.

Connecticut: Public Policy Polling (March 17-20; 400 Connecticut registered self-identifying Democratic voters), for the Daily Kos national liberal blog, shows a very tight Connecticut Democratic Senatorial primary between Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. The eventual Democratic winner will have the inside track to replace the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman. According to PPP, Murphy leads Bysiewicz 40-38 percent. The congressman has a favorability index of 51:14 percent positive to negative; Bysiewicz is not quite as strong, scoring 45:27 percent.

In a general election match-up, tested from an enlarged sample of 822 registered Connecticut voters, Democrats win every pairing against well-known GOP potential contenders. The Republicans’ best ballot test featured former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2). He pulled to within 39-42 percent of Bysiewicz and 34-49 percent against Murphy. The Democrats perform much better against every other tested Republican.

West Virginia: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted a study for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, one of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates running in West Virginia’s May 14 special primary election. According to this data (March 10-15; 400 registered West Virginia Democratic voters), Tennant has a reasonable chance of denying acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin the Democratic nomination. Tomblin leads Tennant 31-27 percent within the at-large sample but, among respondents who know both individuals, Tennant scores a 34-31 percent advantage. State Treasurer John Perdue follows the leaders with 14 percent; state House Speaker Rick Thompson, who was just recently endorsed by some of West Virginia’s most powerful labor unions, and state Senate President Jeff Kessler each receive 5 percent.

The winner of the May 14 primary will face a Republican nominee in the Oct. 4 special election. The next governor will only serve through next year, but is eligible to run for a full four-year term when the position comes up for regular election in November of 2012. The state house became vacant when then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV). Manchin, too, will run for a full six-year Senatorial term in the next regular general election, as the 2010 special election was only for the balance of the existing term. With a long May-October special general cycle, it is clear that anything can happen in what promises to be an exciting governor’s race.
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Calif. Special Election Called; Ron Klein, Dean Heller In

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has called the special election to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36) who resigned at the end of February. The “jungle” primary will be held on May 17 with the general election, if necessary, on July 12. This will be the first test of California’s new election law that allows members of the same party to square-off in a general election. Before, the top vote-getter from each party qualified for the main election. In a special vote, a run-off election is only required if no candidate receives an absolute majority.

In the CA-36 situation, the run-off is a virtual certainty. The two top Democrats, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen, are the favorites to qualify for the special general. Republicans are fielding several candidates, but Hahn and Bowen have the name familiarity to punch through a crowded field. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so it would be surprising to see anyone but the two most well-known Dems qualify for the run-off election. The nation’s other special congressional election, with nominees chosen by party caucus, is in NY-26, and will be held May 24. Republicans, in the person of Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, are likely to hold this position.

In Florida, it appears that defeated Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL-22) will not seek a re-match with Rep. Allen West (R), as reports are surfacing that Klein will soon announce the acceptance of a lobbying firm position. Klein was first elected in 2006, defeating then-Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R). He was subsequently re-elected in 2008, beating West, but went down 46-54% in the re-match. This south Florida district will be drastically reconfigured in redistricting. The GOP map drawers will need to give West an influx of Republicans since his seat is marginal. It is the only congressional district held by a Republican in both 2004 and 2000, in which President George W. Bush did not perform better. It’s long, craggy north to south design from West Palm Beach into greater Broward County will likely be re-set into a more traditional layout.

In Nevada, Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) made official his plan to run for Sen. John Ensign’s (R) open seat. Heller will be the favorite for the Republican nomination. No Democrat has yet stepped forward to announce his or her candidacy, but Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will make her decision about a Senate race by early summer. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller are waiting for the congresswoman to make a decision, but could find themselves entering the race. With Nevada becoming an ever more marginal state and Pres. Obama on the general election ballot in a place he carried 55-43% in 2008, the eventual Democratic nominee will be highly competitive.

Heller vacating the 2nd district, currently a decidedly Republican district that touches all 17 of the state’s counties, will mean a free-for-all occurs in the succeeding primary. Already GOP state chairman Mark Amodei, a former state senator who briefly ran for US Senate in early 2010 before dropping out, says he will run for Congress. Sharron Angle, who became the GOP Senatorial nominee against Majority Leader Harry Reid because of strong Tea Party support, could run here, or against Heller statewide. Angle lost a close congressional primary to Heller back in 2006 before running for Senate in 2010. Depending upon the shape of the re-draw, former Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV-3) is also someone who could jump into such a crowded primary with the ability to do well.

Democrats could find themselves in a similar position if Berkley vacates the safe, Las Vegas-based 1st district. Expect a major Democratic primary there if she decides to run statewide, which could be one reason Masto and Miller are both waiting to see what she does. If districts 1 and 2 are open, and with the state gaining a 4th district, Nevada could see three open seat congressional campaigns next year. Adding the fact that Rep. Joe Heck’s (R) 3rd district already has over 1 million inhabitants, the entire Nevada congressional map could easily be re-crafted.

The Silver State is very important in national redistricting and could become even more if the multiple vacancies actually occur.
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