Category Archives: Senate

DSCC Chair Patty Murray’s Favorites

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made some statements that clearly indicates who she believes are her party’s strongest candidates in three key campaigns when she spoke during an informal session with reporters.

The senator stopped short of committing the DSCC to officially support and help any particular candidate in the Democratic primaries, but did offer her personal endorsement to a pair of open-seat contenders and spoke glowingly of a third.

Murray said that Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) are the best Democratic candidates for their states, that she personally supports both, and expects each to win their own general elections.

Not surprisingly, Murphy and Hirono’s opponents shot back when hearing the news. Former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz responded to Murray’s statements by saying that, “My opponent is the favorite of K Street, and my supporters are on Main Street.”

Former Hawaii Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) responded in a similar way about the senator’s comments praising Hirono. He claims that his top opponent is “selling her candidacy to the DC insiders.”

Murray also praised Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) as being the superior candidate in the New Mexico open-seat contest. She stopped short of personally endorsing him, however, and again did not commit any DSCC resources to Heinrich or any of the aforementioned candidates.

The New Mexico congressman is running against state Auditor Hector Balderas, who will likely draw well in the state’s substantial Hispanic community. Since these votes are critically important to the Democrats in the general election, both Murray and Heinrich are treading very carefully with respect to how they draw a contrast with Balderas.

The frankness of Murray’s comments is a bit unusual for a major party committee chair, particularly this early in the election cycle. Normally, the official response is to remain publicly neutral even if they help particular contenders behind the scenes. Often times public endorsements from Washington political committees do more harm than good for the people the party establishment wants to help, so they usually keep as silent as possible.

There is no question that Murphy, Hirono, and Heinrich are the early favorites in their respective states. If the election were today, each would almost assuredly win the nomination, so it makes sense that, from a general election “winability” perspective, Murray would want to further their candidacies. The fact that she is at least personally on board is a clear signal to outside liberal groups and labor union financial communities that they should be backing each campaign.

Much time remains in each of the three situations, so it is curious that Sen. Murray would be publicly picking favorites this early. The New Mexico primary is scheduled for June 5th. Hawaii and Connecticut do not choose nominees until Aug. 11 and 14, respectively.

In the Land of Enchantment, Heinrich and Balderas are fighting for the right to succeed retiring five-term Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez are dueling for the Republican nomination. The Democrats begin the campaign as early favorites, but this race could become a toss-up before people go to the polls next November.

The Democrats also appear strong in Connecticut, though ex-Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) does match-up well with Bysiewicz in early ballot test polling. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman is retiring.

The Hawaii situation may be different. With former Gov. Linda Lingle in the race and already the consensus Republican candidate in a late primary state, it is important that the Democrats avoid a divisive nomination fight. With Case having been on the ballot so many times before in the state (he’s previously had runs for governor, US senator, and three times as a representative for the US House), he has the potential of causing Hirono problems; so Murray attempting to give Rep. Hirono a boost should help the party’s general election standing. Four-term Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring.

Senate Poll Shockers

A series of surveys was just released for key US Senate races in several states. Two studies produced especially surprising results, those in Florida and North Dakota.

Rasmussen Reports (Nov. 17; 500 likely Florida voters) now gives Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) an unexpected 43-39 percent lead over Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D). This is the first poll of the election cycle that shows Nelson in a deficit position to any potential Republican opponent.

After saying he would not run in March, Rep. Mack did an about-face late last month and his decision appears to be paying off, at least in the short term. Prior to recent polls showing Rep. Mack within two, six, and now leading by four points, Sen. Nelson posted consistent 15-point margins against the other two main Republican candidates, former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.

It was always believed that the Ft. Myers congressman and son of former Sen. Connie Mack III could make this race competitive, and the last three polls certainly confirm that supposition.

In North Dakota, The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released the results of the Mellman Group poll (Nov. 12-16; 600 likely North Dakota voters) it commissioned for newly announced candidate Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general. The data give Ms. Heitkamp a 47-42 percent lead over Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL). This is a stunner in that Berg is thought to be the prohibitive favorite to convert the open seat (Sen. Kent Conrad is retiring) for the GOP. North Dakota is projected to be the Republicans’ best opportunity to take a Democratic seat.

Since this tabulation conflicts with other North Dakota polls, it is possible that the survey is an anomaly. In its defense, however, are the presidential numbers. As one would expect, a prospective Republican nominee is ahead of President Obama in the Peace Garden State, even according to these same Mellman Group numbers. Mitt Romney has a 47-33 percent advantage over the President within this polling universe, which is perfectly in line with North Dakota presidential election voting behavior. If further surveys show a similar pattern in this Senate race, a new competitive race could be on the horizon.

According to a brand new Epic MRA poll of the Michigan Senate race (Nov. 13-16; 600 registered Michigan voters), former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) has decreased his deficit against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). Their latest survey shows only a six-point 48-42 percent advantage for the two-term Democratic incumbent. This is a net gain of three points for Hoekstra over the firm’s August poll that gave Stabenow a 47-38 percent edge.

The Michigan race is another critical contest for the GOP. Thought to be vulnerable at the beginning of the year, the Republicans were slow to find a credible opponent against the senator, finally convincing Hoekstra to launch a campaign after the former congressman had publicly announced that he would not run.

One of the slower races to take shape is the open Arizona seat of retiring Senate Majority Whip Jon Kyl (R). New polling information is now available for the Republican primary in this state and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is off to a big lead, as expected. According to a new Public Policy Polling survey (Nov. 17-20; 400 registered Arizona Republican voters), Flake has a huge 53-7 percent lead over businessman Wil Cardon. Magellan Strategies found a similar pattern. Their latest Arizona study (Nov. 16; 722 registered Arizona Republican voters) gives Flake a similar 55-3 percent margin against Cardon.

Democrats have a large field in the Grand Canyon State, including former Surgeon General Richard Carmona and ex-Arizona Democratic Party chairman Don Bivens. Right now, it appears the race is Flake’s to lose.

Florida’s Rep. Mack Within Two Points of Sen. Nelson

On Friday, Quinnipiac University released the results of their latest regular large-sample Florida poll (Oct. 31-Nov. 7; 1,185 registered Florida voters; 513 self-identified Republicans), the first public statewide survey fielded since Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) announced his challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D). The results are quite promising for the Ft. Myers/Naples representative. According to the Q-Poll, Sen. Nelson holds only a two-point (42-40 percent) lead over Rep. Mack.

Late last month the congressman reversed his previous Senate decision, doing an about-face on his March decision not to run. After state Senate Pres. Mike Haridopolos dropped out of the race and it became clear that former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner were showing no signs of exciting the GOP electorate, Mack began reconsidering his decision. With his party still needing a strong Senatorial candidate, and with the Republicans currently looking relatively strong in Florida against President Obama, suggesting a potential positive GOP push for the down-ballot elections, Mack felt his best chance to win statewide is in the current election.

With the new Q-Poll supporting the assertion that Mack would be Nelson’s strongest challenger, the numbers are indeed encouraging for the GOP because the Democratic senator has positive approval ratings. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed approve of his job performance. Just 27 percent disapprove, which is one of the better ratios of all senators standing for re-election in 2012. Florida’s other senator, freshman Republican Marco Rubio, has a similar rating. His ratio is 49:29 percent favorable to unfavorable. Therefore, if Mack is within two points of Nelson when the incumbent’s favorability is high, then the challenger’s ability to grow will be substantial once the contrast strategy begins to take hold.

In previous polls testing LeMieux and Hasner against Nelson, the senator enjoyed a substantial lead. Usually, the spread was in the 15-point range with the incumbent hovering around the 50 percent mark. The latest Q-Poll results already bring Mack within two points, and place both candidates in the low 40s, which casts this race in a new competitive light. For the GOP to recapture the Senate majority and reach even a moderate level of strength within the body, the Florida seat will have to move into the highly competitive realm.

While Mack’s late start puts him behind in the money contest, he is clearly the strongest Republican both in the GOP primary and against Nelson. The candidates’ financial standing, however, should be of concern to Mr. Mack. The senator has more than $7.5 million in his campaign account. LeMieux has raised $1.3 million and Hasner just over $1 million. Rep. Mack has $347,000 in the bank, by contrast. His long period of deciding to run has certainly hurt him in fundraising.

If this poll is an accurate depiction of the Florida electorate, and Quinnipiac has a reliable record in the state, then it looks like this Senate race is on the precipice of becoming as competitive as many believed it would when the election cycle begun.

Election Night 2011: Something for Everyone

Both parties scored major victories last night in the odd-year election results. Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear scored, as predicted, an easy 56-35 percent win over state Senate Pres. David Williams to secure a second term in office. Democrats, except for the Office of Agriculture Commissioner, swept the statewide races. There were no state legislative elections held.

In Mississippi, the reverse occurred, except in a bigger way, as the Republicans may have captured both houses of the legislature in addition to holding the open governor’s seat. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R), also as expected, romped to a 61-39 percent win over Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D). Except for the attorney general’s office, the Republicans swept all of the statewide posts.

However, it was the legislative elections where change occurred. Republicans reversed the Democrats’ 27-25 majority in the state Senate as they have secured or are discernibly ahead in 29 districts to the Democrats’ 22, with one seat still being too close to call. But the bigger turnaround came in the state House, where the Dems have apparently lost their 74-48 margin. Republicans appeared to have claimed or were leading in 59 races as compared to the Democrats 57, with six races still too close to call. If the GOP splits the six undeclared campaigns, they will assume the state House majority. Controlling both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion will mean the 3R-1D split in the congressional delegation will likely hold in the new redistricting map.

It appears the Republicans may have also gained a majority in the Virginia state Senate. Right now, it appears the body has fallen into a 20-20 tie, which is a gain of two seats for the GOP on the Democrats’ own Senate redistricting map. The final seat, District 17 in Fredericksburg, is extremely close. The Republican challenger and Democratic incumbent are separated by only 86 votes, meaning a series of recounts. The state Senate majority will literally hang on these few ballots. The GOP assumes the majority in an even chamber because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will cast the tie-breaking vote. In the House of Delegates, the GOP increased their majority by eight seats, and now have a huge 67R-32D-1I advantage. Taking the state Senate would be big for congressional Republicans, too, since the federal redistricting map is not yet completed. If the tenuous majority holds, it is likely the current 8R-3D congressional delegation split will carry over onto the new map.

The Virginia legislative elections illustrates the importance of redistricting. The Republicans drew the state House map, and the Democrats authored the Senate plan. The GOP was able to win two-thirds of the seats in their chamber, while the Democrats came away with a split, even though the elections were all held on the same day among the same voters.

In Ohio, the labor union-backed referendum to undo Gov. John Kasich’s (R) public employee benefit reduction law was easily struck down by a 61-39 percent margin as polling had predicted. This is an obvious victory for Big Labor and the Ohio Democrats.

Turning to the west and the one special congressional election in the country, the 1st District of Oregon’s special primary election also went as polling predicted. State Sen. Suzanne Bonamici captured 66 percent in the Democratic primary to easily claim her party’s nomination. On the Republican side, 2010 congressional nominee Rob Cornilles racked up 73 percent to secure a position in the special general. The deciding vote will be held on Jan. 31. The winner serves the remaining portion of resigned Rep. David Wu’s (D) final term in office, and will be on the regular general election ballot in November to try for a full term. As the new Democratic nominee, Bonamici is rated as a heavy favorite to retain the seat for the national Dems.

Virginia: A Battlefield Again

Gen. Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown. Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Now, more than a century and a half later, the Old Dominion may again be the site of further history-making battles; but this time the participants are Republicans and Democrats instead of military heroes.

The election of 2008 had Democrats speaking openly of Virginia being permanently converted from a “red” to a “blue,” or at least evolving into a swing “purple” state. Barack Obama carried the state, once designated as the capital of the Confederacy, by a wide 235,000-vote margin over John McCain. As a result of this success, Virginia’s Gov. Tim Kaine became Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Additionally, the state claimed six Democrats in its congressional delegation and both of the party’s U.S. senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, recently converted Republican seats and were considered rising stars.

But, the Democrats’ success proved to be short-lived. Just a year later in 2009, then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell led a sweep of the state’s constitutional offices, returning the governor’s mansion to the GOP after eight years of Democratic rule. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli joined McDonnell in Richmond and began filling the party’s coffers with treasured campaign dollars, much to the delight of veteran GOP state party chair Pat Mullins.

Another year later, on Election Day 2010, the GOP re-captured the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 9th congressional District seats and gave 11th District Congressman Gerry Connolly the scare of his political life.

Next week, Election Day 2011 will feature a down-to-the-wire contest for partisan control of Virginia’s 40-member state Senate. Controlling the legislature will give the GOP control of the congressional redistricting pen. The Republicans need to capture three seats to gain a working majority and Mullins is spending heavily on his targeted races to accomplish this goal.

But, of even greater importance, are the headline events for 2012. At stake: Virginia’s thirteen presidential electoral votes and control of the US Senate. As one of the key states nationally, the Commonwealth is clearly in play for the presidential nominees of both parties. Because the Senate races are expected to be tight across the country, control of the body could conceivably come down to how the Old Dominion votes. The Commonwealth’s senior senator, Jim Webb (D), was one of the first to announce his retirement during this election cycle, and the race to succeed him has been locked in a dead heat ever since former governor and DNC chair Tim Kaine decided to jump into the race and oppose the GOP’s likely nominee, former governor and senator, George Allen. The polling throughout the summer and as recently as last week continues to show the race to be in a statistical tie, and even their Q3 financial reports reveal that both have raised nearly identical amounts of campaign funds ($3.5 million).

The contests on Election Day 2011 and 2012 may not be quite as historic or dramatic as what happened in Yorktown or Appomattox, but it is clear that Virginia is once again front and center for key political developments. Both the Presidency and the Senate potentially could be decided here, which means that this swing state could become the epicenter of Campaign 2012, and once again be a focal point for American political change.