Category Archives: Senate

Is Calif. Sen. Feinstein Vulnerable?

According to a new poll released late last week by the California-based Field survey research organization, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is suffering from the lowest approval ratings of her nearly two-decade tenure in the U.S. Senate. The survey comes as troubling news for the former San Francisco mayor, just 14 months before she must again face the voters in the nation’s most populous state.

The Field Poll of 1,001 registered California voters (Sept. 1-12; 3.2% error factor) shows 44 percent of voters surveyed would not send Feinstein back to Washington for a full fourth term if the election were held today. Forty-one percent indicated that they would support the senator’s reelection bid. This is the first time in Feinstein’s senatorial career, which began in 1993, that her re-elect rating has been “upside down.”

For the past two decades, Ms. Feinstein’s job approval ratings, according to Field’s research, have been consistently positive by comfortable and sometimes impressive margins. Currently, however, they have shrunk to worrisome levels. Forty-one percent of the respondents said that they approve of the job she is doing in the Senate while 39 percent disapprove. The +2 margin is the slimmest of Feinstein’s career. Her approval/disapproval numbers are 60-21 percent among Democrats, but just 40-32 percent among unaffiliated and independent voters.

Feinstein’s California Senate colleague, Barbara Boxer, who won reelection by 10 percentage points in 2010, is also experiencing an approval ratings decline. Boxer’s latest job approval score is upside down at 39-42 percent.

California voters give Congress as a whole its lowest rating since 1992 with just a 9 percent approval and an overwhelming 86 percent disapproval score.

However, the fact that California is one of the nation’s most reliable Democratic states obviously cuts in Sen. Feinstein’s favor, as it did for Boxer in 2010 when she faced the most serious challenge of her career against former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R).

Potential opposition is also an obvious vulnerability factor and this is where California Republicans normally suffer. Finding a candidate with a high enough name identification to become a viable statewide candidate is a difficult task. With a population of 37.2 million people, 23.6 million of whom are registered to vote, a Republican challenger either must begin with virtually universal name identification, such as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, or have so much money that they can spend their way into familiarity.

In a race against Feinstein, one such GOP candidate could possibly be emerging. Michael Reagan, the adopted son of President Ronald Reagan and a former national talk show host, is reportedly considering launching his candidacy. The latest Field numbers will undoubtedly capture his interest, but he is reportedly a long way from committing to a statewide race. The Senator, for her part, hasn’t yet announced that she will even run for re-election. Now 78 years old, Ms. Feinstein decided against running in the open governor’s race last year, a job she always coveted, even when it looked to be hers for the taking.

Though a Feinstein-Reagan race would clearly be competitive, and give the Republicans at least a chance at scoring a huge upset, neither candidate is firmly in the race. In the end, Feinstein will clearly be favored, but these new Golden State developments are at least worthy of serious attention.

Thompson Signals Intent to Run in Wisconsin

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) confirmed in a local radio interview yesterday that he will soon announce his candidacy for the state’s open US Senate seat. Thompson, who would be 71 when he takes office if elected, served 3-1/2 terms as governor, originally ousting Democratic incumbent Anthony Earl in 1986. He left in 2001 to become Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush.

The race for Senate will be his third quest for federal office. Aside from his failed 2008 presidential bid, which didn’t progress beyond the Iowa Straw Poll, Thompson ran in the 1979 special congressional election for the 6th District and placed second to Tom Petri, who continues to hold the seat today. Gov. Thompson also spent 20 years in the state assembly, rising to the position of minority leader five years prior to his first statewide victory. His average margin of victory in his four gubernatorial runs is 59.4 percent, an impressive number considering that he faced an incumbent in one of the campaigns.

The Wisconsin Senate race will be one of the hottest in the country. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) is in for the Democrats and, unless former Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI-8) opposes her, she will become a consensus candidate. The Republicans are likely to have a tight race that will last all the way to the September primary. Aside from Thompson, ex-Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), also a former Senate nominee and gubernatorial candidate, and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald are joining the field of candidates. The race is considered to be a general election toss-up.

New Poll Out in the Connecticut Senate Race

A new Quinnipiac University poll (Sept. 8-13; 1,230 registered Connecticut voters; 447 Democrats; 332 Republicans) suggests that next year’s open Senate race could become competitive.

According to the Q-Poll results, several candidate match-ups may evolve into a fierce contest. The top participants, two from each party, are Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz on the Democrat side, and 2010 Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon and ex-Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) for the Republicans.

Mr. Shays is the most competitive potential GOP nominee, but he fares poorly in the Republican primary. When paired with Murphy, Shays trails only by six points, 37-43 percent. The Republican former congressman, who was defeated for re-election in 2008 after serving 21 years in the House, actually leads Ms. Bysiewicz 42-40 percent when matched with her in a hypothetical general election.

The Republican primary, however, spells trouble for Shays. According to the Q-Poll survey, Ms. McMahon opens with a 15-point, 50-35 percent advantage. Though the former representative has been a strong fundraiser in his past congressional elections, McMahon’s personal resource advantage ensures that she can outspend her primary opponent regardless of the dollar number he posts. Though not assured of victory in an August 2012 primary by any means, McMahon certainly begins the race in the stronger position.

Ms. McMahon’s problem is that she doesn’t fare as well as Shays against either Democrat, particularly Rep. Murphy. Opposite the Cheshire congressman, McMahon trails 38-49 percent. When paired with Bysiewicz, she climbs a bit closer but still lags behind 38-46 percent. Neither margin is insurmountable, but consider that: she lost to current Sen. Richard Blumenthal by a 43-55 percent count in the strongest of Republican years after polling in much closer range, President Obama (Connecticut ’08 performance: 61-38 percent) will be on the ballot to help drive Democratic turnout, Republicans tend to poll better in the northeast than they run — and it’s not hard to add up the cumulative effect of all these signs pointing to a 2012 Connecticut Democrat victory.

All of the candidates except McMahon do fairly well on the personal favorability question. Shays does the best of all, posting a 41:14 percent positive to negative ratio. Murphy scores 38:16 percent; Bysiewicz a more mediocre 39:27 percent. Ms. McMahon, on the other hand, is upside down at 38:45 percent.

The Q-Poll also asked the Republican respondents their GOP presidential candidate preference. Here, Massachusetts former Gov. Mitt Romney still enjoys a commanding lead. Connecticut, which sends 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention, is a winner-take-all state, thus making it more important than a commensurate place of its size that uses a proportional delegate allocation system.

Mr. Romney is staked to a strong 37-19-8 percent edge over Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), respectively. The general election match-ups again show the President in strong position. He would defeat Mr. Romney 49-36 percent and records a 52-33 percent margin over Gov. Perry. The bad news for Mr. Obama is that even as he posts strong numbers against the top Republicans, he can do no better than a 48:48 percent job approval rating.

In the end, Connecticut will almost assuredly back the President for re-election and elect the Democrat nominee as its next US senator. But, the latest Quinnipiac result suggests that political fireworks will fly before that eventual result is achieved.

Massachusetts Senate Poll

The Mass Inc. polling organization surveyed the Bay State electorate for NPR radio station WBUR in Boston (Aug. 30-Sept. 1; 500 likely Massachusetts voters). For the first time, a poll is showing Sen. Scott Brown (R) ahead by less than a double-digit spread. Despite Obama Administration Consumer Advocate Elizabeth Warren only scoring a 17:13 percent positive to negative favorability ratio, she pulls to within 35-44 percent of Sen. Brown.

Against the other potential Democratic contenders, however, Brown still remains firmly in control. When paired with author and Episcopal priest Bob Massie, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994, the senator leads 45-29 percent. Against businessman and former US Senate candidate Alan Khazei, Brown’s advantage is a full 15 points, 45-30 percent. Finally, in a one-on-one contest with Newton Mayor Setti Warren, the first-term Senatorial incumbent pulls away by an even greater 46-28 percent margin. Brown’s favorability index is a strong 54:25 percent.
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Wisconsin Rep. Baldwin Announces Senate Bid

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2)

As expected, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) formally announced her bid for Wisconsin’s open U.S. Senate seat yesterday. The congresswoman has been preparing a statewide bid for months, but only kicked her fledging operation into high gear when former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) decided not to become a candidate. Vacating the safely Democratic 2nd district means that 41 seats are now open due to an incumbent announcing he or she will not seek re-election, or because reapportionment or redistricting creates an incumbent-less district.

The Wisconsin campaign has been slow-moving. Incumbent Sen. Herb Kohl (D) announced back on May 13 that he would not seek a fourth term next year, yet official candidate announcements began only last week. Rep. Baldwin now becomes the third person to enter the field of contenders. On the Republican side, former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald both say they are in the race. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson is expected to soon join the Republican contestants. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) and ex-Congressman Steve Kagen (D-WI-8) are potential Democratic nomination opponents to Ms. Baldwin.

The Wisconsin Senate race is likely to be one of the closest statewide political contests in the nation next year. The outcome could well decide the Senate majority, as projections suggest that both parties will likely be at parity after the next election. Currently, the Democrats hold a 53-47 spread. Republicans are already likely to gain two seats – North Dakota open and Nebraska – thus bringing the party division to 51D-49R. Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill), Virginia (open – Sen. Jim Webb retiring), and Montana (Sen. Jon Tester) are all toss-up Democratic seats in addition to Wisconsin. All other races remaining constant, the Republicans would have to win two of the latter four to take the majority; Democrats would have to hold three of four to retain power.
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