Category Archives: Senate

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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Sen. Scott Brown Cruising in Mass.

A new Western New England College Institute poll (March 6-10; survey sample size not disclosed) puts Sen. Scott Brown (R) in a very favorable position for his first re-election next year.

Brown won a special election in Massachusetts in 2010, replacing the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D), who passed away before his final term was complete. Originally, a host of Democratic leaders were being mentioned as possible opponents for Sen. Brown, but as he continues to post strong numbers, they are peeling away one-by-one. It is likely that one of the 10 Democratic Congressmen eventually will run, especially with the state losing a seat in reapportionment. The man most often mentioned as a likely Senate candidate, Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA-8), still isn’t announcing, however, and this new poll suggests he would fare poorly. According to the Western NE College data, Brown would defeat Capuano 51-38%. When paired with Elizabeth Warren, the assistant to the president and special advisor to the treasury secretary on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Brown leads 51-34%.

But it’s in the favorability ratings where the senator’s strength is underscored, particularly when remembering he is a Republican from Massachusetts. His personal approval is 53:27% and his job approval, surprisingly, is even higher at 57:24%. In comparison, Sen. John Kerry scores 57:34%.

A Republican winning in this most loyal of Democratic states is uncommon, but it’s not unprecedented. Since 1980, Brown is actually the seventh Massachusetts Republican to win a statewide race. Ronald Reagan twice carried the Bay State in his presidential bids, and three gubernatorial candidates won four consecutive elections prior to Brown’s special election victory last year.

Already one pre-2012 election prediction has been proven wrong: we now know the Massachusetts Senate race won’t be an easy Democratic conversion as previously thought.
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Senate Contests Already Taking Shape

With announcements from senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and John Ensign (R-NV) earlier this week that they will retire at the end of the current term, becoming the seventh and eighth such in-cycle senators to do so, it’s time to re-cap who is jockeying for position to succeed all the outgoing incumbents.

Arizona: (Sen. Jon Kyl) – Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is an announced Senatorial candidate. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) is considering running, as is ex-Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ-1). For the Democrats, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) says he is looking at the race, but has taken no action to begin assembling a campaign as yet. Not much movement yet for the Dems, but they will have a credible nominee and this will likely become a competitive campaign.

Connecticut: (Sen. Joe Lieberman) – Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) is an announced candidate and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) will challenge him in the primary. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2), after considering the race, says he will seek re-election. Republican 2008 nominee Linda McMahon is considering running, but the Ds have the inside track in what is a reliable state for them.

Hawaii: (Sen. Daniel Akaka) – Democrats are looking at a crowded field, as this is the first open Senate seat there since 1976. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) and Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) are potential candidates. Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and former Honolulu mayor and defeated gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann are other possibilities, as is ex-Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2). Republicans have two potential candidates in former Gov. Linda Lingle, who is likely to run, and ex-Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI-1). Some Democrats are urging Akaka to resign before the term ends and allow Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) to appoint a replacement, thus avoiding what could become a difficult and nasty Democratic primary late in September of 2012. Akaka, however, has given no signal that he favors such an idea. Much action will occur here in the coming months.

Nevada: (Sen. John Ensign) – Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is the key person here. It is expected that he will soon enter the race. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and 2010 Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle are also making statements of interest, but both could also run for Heller’s open House seat if he does in fact vacate. The Republicans will need a clean primary to win in what is becoming a very marginal state for them. Democrats have several options. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will decide over the summer as to what she will do. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is a likely candidate. Secretary of State Ross Miller is expressing interest but says he wants to see what Berkley will do first before he makes a final decision. Should she run statewide, Miller could become a candidate for what will likely be her open safe Democratic House seat. This race will be in the toss-up category all the way to election day.

New Mexico: (Sen. Jeff Bingaman) – Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) is officially a Republican candidate. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) is making noises that he might run, setting up the same type of toxic primary that defeated Wilson in 2006 and gave Sen. Tom Udall (D) an easy run in the general election. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM-2), the man who defeated Wilson for that nomination and came back to re-claim his House seat against an incumbent in 2010, hasn’t ruled out another Senatorial run, but he’s likely to seek re-election instead. Democratic state Auditor Hector Balderas is virtually certain to run. Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) is a potential candidate. Should Wilson win the primary, this could become a competitive race.

North Dakota: (Sen. Kent Conrad) – Republicans are poised to convert this open seat, just as they did in 2010 with Sen. John Hoeven. The GOP has multiple options, including freshman at-large Rep. Rick Berg, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk, among others. Democrats have a weak bench and are unlikely to field a top tier candidate.

Texas: (Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison) – Texas will feature a crowded Republican primary and a sure run-off. In the race are recently resigned Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, along with former Secretary of State Roger Williams and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is expected to run but will likely announce after the legislative session concludes in June. Democrats have already coalesced around former state Comptroller John Sharp, who has lost his last two statewide races, to current Gov. Rick Perry and Dewhurst, both for Lt. Governor. Republicans have the inside track to holding the seat regardless of who eventually becomes their nominee.

Virginia: (Sen. Jim Webb) – All eyes are on former Gov. Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Clearly a person who could become the party’s consensus candidate, Kaine has still not made any announcement and reportedly is truly undecided about running. The more time elapses, the less likely it becomes that Kaine will become a candidate. Defeated Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5) is someone to whom the Democrats will likely turn without Kaine in the field. Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA-9) is being mentioned as a potential contender, but he’s unlikely to run. Former Sen. and Gov. George Allen, the man Webb unseated in 2006, is back for another run and should easily capture the Republican nomination. Allen’s numbers are still relatively weak, as he ties Kaine in early polling and leads the others by only small, single-digit margins. This will be another tough Senatorial contest.

To secure a new majority in 2012, Republicans will have to convert at least two of these aforementioned seats and hold all of the ones they are risking. The GOP needs a minimum switch of four net seats to return to majority status. Democrats must defend 23 of the 33 in-cycle races.
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New Missouri Senate Numbers

With the presidential race soon to take the political center stage, it’s clear that we will have an exciting side-show, too. Eight senators already announced their retirement, and as many as 20 of the 33 statewide campaigns could become competitive. One of the races that is sure to be hotly contested is Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D) re-election battle in Missouri. Though some of the more well-known politicians are taking a pass on the race, a new poll continues to show that she is in a dogfight even against opponents who have not fully established themselves as recognizable statewide candidates.

Public Policy Polling (March 6; 612 registered Missouri voters) just released the results of their new Show Me State poll. It shows McCaskill failing to break 46% against any of the Republican candidates taking action to run against her. McCaskill’s lead is tight, already putting the race in toss-up range. Against former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman, the senator leads only 45-42%. When paired with former gubernatorial chief of staff and ex-congressional candidate Ed Martin, McCaskill does better but still can’t break away; she’s ahead 46-40%. PPP also tested Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2), who’s tip-toeing around the idea of running, according to reports. There, the McCaskill lead closes to just one point, 45-44%.

The senator’s job approval rating, according to this new data, is also troubling for her. The favorable to unfavorable count breaks down at 45:44%. Though her ratio is virtually even, the fact that 89% have an opinion, and half of that is negative, clearly makes her vulnerable to outside challenge. Expect this race to remain a toss-up until the end.
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Ensign Out in Nevada; What’s Next?

In a story many believed to be inevitable, scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

Embroiled in an extra-marital affair with his former chief of staff’s wife, Ensign could never rebound from the extensive negative publicity even though he was actively attempting to prepare for a 2012 campaign. Polling showed Ensign faring poorly in both the Republican primary and the general election. It was clear that the senator’s road to re-election was a rocky one, making him a decided underdog to win either election.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2), commonly viewed as the GOP’s best candidate-in-waiting, is expected to soon announce his senatorial bid. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is another potential Republican candidate. Democrats also have a good bench in the state, as they control four statewide constitutional offices. Their most likely candidates are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), who originally said she would decide whether to run for the Senate by the middle of last month, now says she will do so by summer. Ms. Berkley says the Ensign announcement is not a factor is her decision to run statewide or for re-election.

This will be a tough race for both sides. Nevada is now a swing state, but Pres. Obama ran well here in 2008, defeating John McCain 55-42%. Obama will again be on the ballot in 2012, which will undoubtedly boost the Democratic turnout model. Republicans rebounded nicely in 2010, though failed to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They did win a convincing victory for governor after ousting their own incumbent in the GOP primary. The new open Senate race begins as a toss-up. Ensign is the eighth senator to announce retirement, already a quarter of the in-cycle members standing for election next year.
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