Category Archives: Senate

Is Kerrey In After All?

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), who hasn’t lived in Nebraska since leaving office in early 2001, may be reconsidering the decision he made two weeks ago to jettison a political comeback attempt in the Cornhusker State. Kerrey is reportedly now telling Democratic leaders that he has changed his mind and will enter the race as a candidate for the Senate. The former Senator served two terms from 1989 through 2001. Prior to his service in Washington, Mr. Kerrey logged one term as Nebraska’s governor. In 1992, he ran an ill-fated campaign for president.

The Kerrey decision may be more than simple equivocation, however. This could be a well-planned and shrewd move. Under Nebraska’s candidate filing law, current office holders must file for re-election or another office by Feb. 15 during this particular election cycle. Non-office holders have until March 1. The unique law allowed Kerrey the luxury of standing back to see what popular Gov. Dave Heineman (R) actually decided about his own Senatorial candidacy. Heineman never appeared serious about running for federal office, but he also failed to publicly close the door on a bid. Polling showed that the governor would be the strongest candidate in either party.

With Heineman out and no strong Democrat on the horizon, the way is clear for Kerrey to return to political action. Should he run, he will face either Attorney General Jon Bruning or state Treasurer Don Stenberg in the general election. Even against Kerrey, the Republicans still might have a slight edge. With Sen. Ben Nelson (D) retiring, the GOP is in prime conversion position as President Obama, at the top of the ticket, is not projected to run strong here. The Nebraska seat is critical for both parties in terms of winning majority status.

Wisconsin Poll: Good for Obama, Bad for Baldwin

The Marquette Law School polled voters on the presidential race and upcoming open US Senate contest in what will be a pivotal 2012 political state. The survey (Feb. 16-19; 716 likely Wisconsin voters) finds President Obama faring well in at least one of several Great Lakes states that could foretell the final national election result.

According to the Marquette survey, Obama would lead former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who does best among the Republican contenders, by a 51-40 percent margin. He enjoys a 53-38 percent edge over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and even larger spreads when paired with ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (56-33 percent) and Rep. Ron Paul (52-36 percent).

Zeroing in on the Republican primary, it is Santorum who has a big lead in a state that will likely matter greatly in the GOP nomination contest (primary: April 3). The Pennsylvanian leads Romney 34-18 percent. Rep. Paul attracts 17 percent support and Gingrich 12 percent. Since the state has same-day voter registration and an open primary, all Wisconsinites will have the opportunity to participate in the Republican selection process. In sampling those who self-identify as Republicans, Santorum’s lead over Romney is even greater. Among this group, support for Santorum more than doubles over that for Romney, 44-20 percent.

Turning to the Senate race, the news is not overly good for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), who is the consensus Democratic candidate. Though Baldwin actually leads two of the three announced Republican candidates (she slips past former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) 44-40 percent and enjoys a bigger edge, 45-37 percent, over state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald) her level of consistent support in all scenarios suggests a stagnant candidacy. When paired with former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson, she trails. The former Wisconsin chief executive holds a 48-42 percent lead over Ms. Baldwin.

Notice that in all instances, even against Mr. Fitzgerald who has a low statewide name ID and fares the worst of all GOP candidates on the ballot test, the congresswoman falls within the same 42-45 percent support range. Opposing an extremely well-known Republican, but one with relatively high unfavorable ratings (Thompson), she scores 42 percent. Against an opponent with a hard name ID factor of less than 50 percent (Fitzgerald), she moves only to 45 percent. Paired with a former congressman and statewide candidate (Neumann) who hasn’t been on a general election ballot since 1998, she notches just 44 percent.

Her static performance against a rather diverse group of Republican candidates suggests that she may have an early support ceiling far below what will be necessary to win a general election.

Adding the recall election for Gov. Scott Walker (R) that will occur sometime between April and June, depending upon the resolution of several legal challenges to the presidential and senatorial contests, Wisconsin promises to be the hottest political state in the Union this year. How Wisconsin goes, so could the country.

Pennsylvania Congressional Candidates Underwhelming

The Pennsylvania candidate filing deadline closed this week (Feb. 14), and the word to describe the new crop of congressional candidates may just be “underwhelming.” It appears that both parties have left opportunities to capture districts on the table.

Surprisingly, just one state legislator throughout the entire Keystone State is running for congress: York County Rep. Scott Perry (R) has declared for the lone open seat, that of retiring Rep. Todd Platts in the 4th CD. This, in a state featuring four freshmen Republicans (Reps. Mike Kelly, PA-3; Pat Meehan, PA-7; Tom Marino, PA-10; and Lou Barletta, PA-11), one Democrat member serving slightly more than a term (Rep. Mark Critz, PA-12) and a Republican who had previously been defeated only to rebound in 2010 (Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, PA-8).

No particularly strong Republican challenger stepped forward in the Senate race, where first-term Democratic incumbent Bob Casey Jr. is seeking re-election. After the last election, with a victory in the governor’s race, the addition of five congressional seats, and converting the state House to majority status, the Republicans had high hopes of bringing down Casey. However, with little in the way of political fire power for the 2012 Senate race, Pennsylvania must go down as the Republicans’ biggest national recruiting disappointment.

But it is the Democrats who appear to have failed at the candidate recruiting game for House races. Against Rep. Mike Kelly, who defeated freshman Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper 56-44 percent less than two years ago, only a college professor, an attorney and a defeated candidate are coming forward to run. That’s not to say one of these men couldn’t transform themselves into a strong contender, but the first impression suggests that Kelly is in the driver’s seat.

A bright spot for the Republicans is Lou Barletta, who knocked off veteran Rep. Paul Kanjorski by a full 10 points in a district where the President notched 57.5% two years earlier; Barletta now sees his seat improve tremendously. Under the new PA-11 lines, Mr. Obama would have scored only 47.7 percent. Two Democrats, a pharmacy wholesale store owner, and a defeated state representative candidate are the only ones to file against the new congressman and former Hazelton mayor.

But District 12 is a Republican recruiting disappointment. With Pennsylvania losing a seat in reapportionment, the GOP legislature combined Democratic incumbents Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into a new 12th District that a Republican could win (Obama: 45.2 percent). After recruitment overtures were turned down by state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, and a local county official, the Republicans will have to settle for 2010 nominee, Keith Rothfus, to go against Altmire. Rothfus only lost 49-51 percent in the last go-around, but his campaign was less than stellar. We’ll see if he steps it up this time around.

Finally, though Rep. Charlie Dent’s Allentown-Bethlehem 15th District improves 3.5 points in the Republicans’ favor, the President still gained an outright majority here, registering 52.8 percent. Dent racked up his largest career re-election percentage in 2010 (53-39 percent) against strong competition, John Callahan, the mayor of Bethlehem. This largely explains why the Democrats are fielding only the Lehigh County Democratic chairman and a former congressional aide.

For a place with so many marginal seats, and one that will be a key presidential battleground state, the congressional elections now appear much tamer than originally anticipated. In the current Pennsylvania political world, this ultimately means good news for the Republicans.

New Senate Numbers in Hawaii, Massachusetts

Hawaii

The Hawaii US Senate campaign is turning crazy. Now, another new poll reports starkly different results to some others already in the public domain. Ward Research, a Hawaii-based survey research firm, conducted a new poll with an abnormally long sampling period for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper (Jan. 26-Feb. 5; 771 registered Hawaii voters) and found Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) to be enjoying a huge lead in both the Democratic primary and the general elections.

This contrasts with the latest Merriman Group independent study (Jan. 18-19), which showed only a six-point split between Hirono and former Gov. Linda Lingle (R). It further depicted the congresswoman trailing former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) by two points in the intra-party vote.

The Ward numbers give Hirono a huge 57-37 percent lead over Lingle when the two are matched in what many predict could become a hotly contested general election. Additionally, the Democratic congresswoman maintains a 56-36 percent lead over Case, according to this latest survey. For her part, Hirono’s own pollster, The Benenson Strategy Group, released a survey in November posting her to a similar 54-36 percent lead over Case.

But the Merriman poll is not the only one reporting a much different result than Ward. Public Policy Polling’s October survey showed Hirono besting Lingle 48-42%, and the Republican former governor leading Case 45-43%. Hirono’s Democratic primary advantage was just five points over Case, 45-40%.

With so much discrepancy already existing among the pollsters, it is difficult to get a true read on this race. Since President Obama will run extremely well in Hawaii, the Democratic nominee will likely get a boost in the November general election. On the other hand, Lingle’s huge $1.767 million fourth quarter in fundraising puts her ahead of any other candidate, financially. It is clear she will have the monetary backing to run a strong campaign to compliment her almost universal name identification. Expect this race to become competitive, but the intangibles still favor Ms. Hirono and the Democrats.

Massachusetts

The MassInc Polling Group conducted a statewide Senatorial survey (Feb. 6-9; 503 registered Massachusetts voters) for WBUR radio in Boston, a National Public Radio station. They find former Obama Administration Consumer Affairs Advocate Elizabeth Warren (D) leading Sen. Scott Brown (R) 46-43 percent. Several previous polls have also shown Warren to be ahead, and by more than two points.

The data again illustrates how difficult it is for any Republican to win in the Bay State. Despite trailing, Sen. Brown’s favorability ratings are quite high. A full 50 percent of those interviewed say they have a positive opinion of Sen. Brown versus just 29 percent who registered an unfavorable comment. By contrast, Ms. Warren’s ratio is 39:29 percent.

The poll asked eight preference comparison questions about the candidates’ backgrounds, their views toward the middle class, who would perform better on economic issues, etc. Brown scored below Warren on only one substantive issue question, and on that by just one point. By a margin of 32-31 percent, the sampling universe said that Ms. Warren would better relate to the middle class. An additional 21 percent indicated the two candidates were equal in understanding the needs of middle class families.

The only question where Brown trailed by a relatively large percentage (34-24 percent) was in response to which candidate seems to have campaign momentum.

Therefore, despite the favorable reviews, Brown still trails on the ballot test question. These results are similar to those found in Florida, where Rep. Connie Mack IV is challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D). There, Nelson’s personal numbers appear to be as good as Brown’s, but he too finds himself pitted in a close election battle.

With both candidates being heavily funded – Brown has already raised $8.6 million with $12.9 million in the bank; Warren has gathered slightly more, $8.9 million, but has considerably less, $6.14 million, cash-on-hand – it is clear this campaign will play out over a long course of time. The intangibles definitely favor Warren because a candidate uniting the Democratic Party will be very difficult to derail in one of the most Democratically-loyal states in the entire country. Sen. Brown is the right candidate to hold the seat for his party, but even he may not have enough ability to stem what could possibly be a very strong tide against him.

New Mexico Senate: Sanchez Out, Wilson Clear

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) dropped his bid to become the New Mexico Republican Senate nominee yesterday, thus virtually ensuring that former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) will qualify for the general election. Sanchez was having difficulty raising funds and gathering sufficient support. Many believed he would enter the open 1st District campaign, but he decided against that political course, too.

Democrats still feature a primary between Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) and state Auditor Hector Balderas. The battle, should it become highly contentious, could greatly benefit Wilson.

According to the year-end campaign financial totals, Wilson had raised $1.66 million with $1.064 million in the bank. Sanchez collected $581,710 and had only $109,638 on hand.

Rep. Heinrich is the top fundraiser. He pulled in $1.97 million and has $1.37 million in his campaign account. Balderas raised much less: $776,115, with $433,965 cash-on-hand.

Expect this race to be close. Considering the historical voting trends here, Heinrich, the likely Democratic nominee, will have a slight lead going into the general election, but a now unopposed Wilson will be quickly nipping at his heels.