Category Archives: Senate

Suspect PA Senate Numbers

Public Policy Polling just released new data from their most recent Pennsylvania Senate poll (1/3-5; 547 registered PA voters), but the small size of the sampling universe leads us to question the validity of the results.

The survey shows Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) easily defeating all potential opponents including former Sen. Rick Santorum (R), the man he ousted from the seat in 2006. Though Santorum has made no overt move to seek a re-match, he actually polls the best in the field of potential Republican candidates. Mr. Santorum, however, is the only person in the Republican field who has significant statewide name identification.

What makes the poll suspect, however, is not that it shows Sen. Casey to be performing well — that’s believable, since Pennsylvania still favors Democrats in statewide races (the election of 2010 notwithstanding), and he has not been the focal point of any controversy or scandal during his first term in office. Rather, it is his potential opponents’ favorability scores that seem wildly out of whack.

According to the PPP poll, Casey would defeat Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA-15) 51-31%; Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA-6) 49-33%; Santorum 48-41%; former Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker 47-34%; and unknown attorney Mark Scaringi, the only announced Republican candidate, 50-27%. For an incumbent re-election race, especially in a situation where the senator is a member of the state’s majority party, these seem to be credible numbers. But, the depicted views of his opponents are not.

In our opinion, the poll’s accuracy factor seriously deteriorates when looking at the potential Casey opponents. Both Republican congressmen, Dent and Gerlach, score very poorly within this sampling universe. Dent gets an incredibly low 6:18% favorability rating, and Gerlach is only slightly better at 9:17%. The fact that 3/4 of the respondents haven’t heard of them is believable, but what could each have done to make them so unpopular?

The answer is nothing, hence, these numbers make little sense. The likely reason for the faulty results is that only 136 members of the polling universe could even identify them. In raw number terms, it is likely that only eight people said something positive about Dent versus just 24 who viewed him unfavorably. These are far below the minimum cell size to accurately forecast a result, especially in a state the size of Pennsylvania. Thus, the poll is trying to suggest that the opinions of 32 people are accurately depicting the feelings of an electorate of almost nine million voters.

Small-sample polling can be tricky because it bases conclusions upon very small pools of data. Though the Casey ballot test numbers certainly are in the realm of the possible, it is unlikely that all of the potential Republican candidates are viewed so negatively, especially when name ID is exceedingly low and their party just scored a big victory. More Pennsylvania polls will have to be taken before an accurate picture of Sen. Casey’s political health can be determined.

Our 2012 Senate Outlook – Part II

Continuing our early analysis of the 2012 election cycle, we now look at some more select states featuring a senate race next year. Be sure to read through our post on Jan. 5 for our analysis of the initial group of states that we looked at.

Nevada – Sen. John Ensign (R) – The fallout from a highly publicized sex scandal still leaves Sen. Ensign in a vulnerable position both in the Republican primary and the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will announce by mid-February whether she will run for the Senate. This is the GOP’s most tenuous situation in the country.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez (D) – New Jersey political insiders suggest that bio-tech entrepreneur John Crowley (R) will challenge Sen. Menendez next year. Crowley, currently president and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics headquartered in Cranbury, NJ, is the inspiration for the 2010 movie “Extraordinary Measures” starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser. The film depicts Mr. Crowley’s efforts directing his previous company to find a cure for Pompe Disease, a serious and life-threatening muscular disorder that infected two of his three children. Although he has significant personal resources, Crowley’s business connections and “star power” put him in position to raise the necessary funds to be competitive. If Crowley runs, the NJ Senate campaign becomes a race to watch.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) – Recently, former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) made some public statements suggesting that she is considering challenging Sen. Bingaman, a five-term incumbent. Her entry into the race would certainly give the Republicans a credible candidate, but Mr. Bingaman appears to be in strong political shape. He will have the edge against all comers.

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad (D) – With strong Republican victories at the Senatorial and congressional level in 2010, the GOP will mount a strong challenge to Sen. Conrad, particularly noting the fate of his Budget Committee counterpart, defeated Rep. John Spratt (D-SC-5). Conrad chairs the Senate Budget Committee; Spratt held the same position when the Democrats controlled the House. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem are the names most often mentioned as potential Conrad opponents.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) – The stage appears set for newly elected Lt. Governor Mary Taylor to take a shot at Sen. Brown next year. For her part, Taylor is uncommitted to such a race, but the other potential candidates, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH-4), appear to be either dropping out or taking no action to run. This will be a highly competitive race.

Rhode Island – Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) – Despite the Republicans’ current poor position in the Ocean State, they are not without some credible potential candidates to oppose Sen. Whitehouse. Outgoing Gov. Don Carcieri (R) is not closing the door on a future political run and has not ruled out challenging Whitehouse next year. John Robitaille, who did surprisingly well in the 2010 Governor’s race – placing second to Independent Lincoln Chafee but ahead of Democrat Frank Caprio – is also a possibility. Though the Democratic nature of Rhode Island, particularly in a presidential election year, lends considerable strength to the Whitehouse campaign, either Carcieri or Robitaille could give him a run for the money. Whitehouse is the favorite in 2012 against all potential opponents, but this race could get interesting.

Texas – Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Despite saying she would resign her seat before her run for governor that ended in a stinging defeat, it is still not clear whether she will seek another term in the Senate. Most believed Texas would feature an open seat election in 2012, but such may not be the case. If she does retire, then look for a mega-Republican primary that will contain several statewide elected officials and maybe a congressman or two. The Democrats seem pretty set with former state Comptroller John Sharpe as their candidate. He has lost two races for lieutenant governor since leaving his post. Whatever happens on the Republican side, the GOP will be heavy favorites to win in November 2012. As in most every year, the Democrats will claim to have a chance, brandish polls showing them in good position, but then lose by 12 points.

Virginia – Sen. Jim Webb (D) – This promises to be one of the top races in the country. Sen. Webb has curiously not yet committed to seeking re-election and murmuring even among Democrats suggests that it’s possible he will retire after just one term. If he does, watch for Democratic National Committee chairman and former Gov. Tim Kaine to enter the race. Ex-Gov. and Sen. George Allen (R), the man Webb beat in 2006, is gearing up for a re-match. He appears to have the inside track to the Republican nomination. Polling shows a tight Webb-Allen race. The Democrats will likely be stronger with Kaine as their nominee.

West Virginia – Sen. Joe Manchin (D) – Like Sen. Gillibrand, newly elected Sen. Manchin must also stand for election again in 2012, as he won only the right to serve the final two years of the existing term in the last general election. With all of the focus on the state’s basically open gubernatorial race, the position Manchin vacated to run for Senate, he begins the current election cycle as a prohibitive favorite.

Wisconsin – Sen. Herb Kohl (D) – There has been intense speculation that Sen. Kohl, who will be nearing his 78th birthday at the time of the next election, will retire. If he does, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings. Should Kohl seek re-election to a fifth term, he will be a heavy favorite and likely escapes a strong challenge. Most Republicans are looking to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) to run if the seat opens, but he may decide the stakes are too high to risk defeat in a state that normally trends Democratic, 2010 notwithstanding. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is another potential Republican candidate.
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Our 2012 Senate Outlook

Though we are just at the beginning stage of the 2012 election cycle, action already is beginning to occur in certain Senate races. Below is a quick look at the situation in some of the first half of the in-cycle states. More will be covered in the near future.

Arizona – Sen. Jon Kyl (R) – Retirement rumors are swirling. Should Mr. Kyl decide not to seek a fourth term, look for a free-for-all in both parties. If he does run, the state becoming more politically marginal suggests a competitive campaign battle.

California – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) – The senator is safe if she runs again, but turning 79 before the next election, retirement considerations are a factor. The seat should remain in Democratic hands regardless of the situation, however.

Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) – The senator is already discussing re-election plans, but his favorability ratings are among the lowest of any 2012-cycle incumbent. He will have strong Democratic opposition, possibly in the person of Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5). It’s unclear what the Republicans will do. Defeated GOP nominee Linda McMahon is talking about running again. Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2) is also a potential GOP alternative.

Delaware – Sen. Tom Carper (D) – Right now, the senator is in strong shape for re-election. Defeated GOP nominee Christine O’Donnell is not yet out of the public eye, so another Senatorial run for her is not out of the question. Carper becomes the prohibitive favorite if O’Donnell enters the race.

Florida – Sen. Bill Nelson (D) – Mr. Nelson begins the cycle in relatively strong shape, leading all potential opponents in early polling but only scoring mediocre approval ratings. State Senate President Mike Haridopolos has announced his intentions to run. Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) is a potential candidate. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has already dismissed a Senate candidacy.

Indiana – Sen. Richard Lugar (R) – Another octogenarian at the time of the next election, Sen. Lugar says he will seek re-election. A Tea Party challenge could be on the horizon, however. Democrats will take a wait and see approach here.

Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R) – With Republican Sen. Brown facing the voters for a full term in 2012, it appeared earlier that he might be the most vulnerable of GOP incumbents. The early numbers suggest a different story, however. He leads all potential Democratic opponents by comfortable margins and enjoys high job approval ratings.

Michigan – Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) – Considering the strong Republican sweep here in 2010, Sen. Stabenow has to be rated in the vulnerable category. Former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2) is mentioned as a possible challenger. This is a race to watch.

Mississippi – Sen. Roger Wicker (R) – After winning the special election in 2008, Sen. Wicker will try for a full term in 2012. He should have no trouble in a state that is proving to be a national Republican stronghold.

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) – This is shaping up to be another close statewide contest in the Show Me State. Former Sen. Jim Talent is a potential Republican candidate. Ex-state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman has already announced her intention to run. A toss-up all the way.

Montana – Sen. Jon Tester (D) – Sen. Tester must defend the seat he won in a close contest over an incumbent back in 2006. At-large Rep. Denny Rehberg is a top Republican potential candidate. Former lieutenant governor candidate Steve Daines (R) has already announced his candidacy.

Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson (D) – With the senator’s favorability ratings among the lowest of those standing for re-election and trailing two statewide Republican office holders, Nebraska is the most endangered Democratic seat. Should Nelson not seek re-election, this becomes an easy Republican conversion.
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New Senate Polls a Mixed Bag For Democrat Incumbents

Over the holiday period, several polls were taken around the country that produced mixed results for a trio of Democratic senators who routinely appear on Republican target lists. First, the new Magellan Strategies survey of Nebraska voters (12/15; 1,789 Nebraska registered voters via automated calls) confirms that beleaguered Sen. Ben Nelson (D) is highly vulnerable. In fact, the data reveals that he already trails two GOP statewide officials.

The Senator has seen his popularity ratings drop ever since he became identified as one of the key swing votes for the Obama healthcare program. His public concession to vote for the bill in exchange for substantial new Nebraska-based earmarks was a move that has clearly backfired within his constituency.

According to Magellan, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R), already officially in the Senate race, would defeat Nelson by a substantial 52-38% margin. Newly elected state Treasurer Don Stenberg, himself a former Nelson opponent and frequent statewide candidate, leads him 46-40%. The senator’s favorability ratio is upside down at 43:52% positive to negative. Bruning enjoys a 58:31% mark and Stenberg posts 48:34%.

Perhaps most troubling for Nelson is the voters’ opinion of the Obama healthcare legislation and their view of the Senator’s actions. By a 29-63% count, Nebraska voters oppose the healthcare law. Only 26% say Nelson did the right thing for the state, versus 64% who say his actions are indicative of what is wrong with Washington.

The Florida Public Policy Polling numbers (12/17-20; 1,034 FL registered voters via automated calls) are much better for the Democrats’ other Sen. Nelson. According to this data, no likely GOP candidate comes particularly close to Sen. Bill Nelson on the early ballot test questions. The two-term incumbent would defeat former Sen. George LeMieux (R), appointed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist to fill Sen. Mel Martinez’s unexpired term, 47-36%.

State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, already saying publicly that he will oppose Nelson, trails 32-44%. Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) does a bit better, facing only a 36-44% deficit. One Republican does poll ahead of Sen. Nelson, but he’s not running: former Gov. Jeb Bush. Though Bush says he has no desire to enter elective politics again, the PPP data indicates he would begin such a hypothetical race with a 49-44% lead.

Turning to Missouri, Wilson Strategies is currently releasing a poll fielded in early December (11/30-12/1; 500 registered MO voters via live phoner interview) that predicts Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is headed for another typically close Show Me State election battle.

The Wilson Strategies numbers show Sen. McCaskill to be in a more vulnerable position that Public Policy Polling did in their similar survey conducted around the same general time. Disparate polling is not particularly surprising when testing the Missouri electorate because the state tends to feature so many tight elections.

Bachmann for Senate?

Given her tops-in-the-House fundraising performance during the 2010 election cycle ($13.2 million raised; $12.8 from individuals, with $1.97 million remaining in her campaign account) and polling showing her easily beating all other potential Minnesota Republican statewide candidates including Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) is now saying that nothing is “off the table” for the 2012 election. Previously she said she was concentrating only on running for re-election. Though the early December Public Policy Polling data shows her to be the favorite of the Minnesota GOP, she and all other Republicans fare poorly against Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D). The Senator, who will be seeking her first re-election, breaks 50% against all potential Republican opponents, posting double-digit leads.

But there is another potential reverberation to Bachmann running for the Senate. If Minnesota loses a congressional district to reapportionment, as may happen in the Census Bureau announcement tomorrow, it would be easy for map-makers to collapse Bachmann’s congressional seat into a neighboring Republican district, thus costing the GOP a seat. Should a court draw the map, a likely scenario since the Democrats will control the governor’s mansion and Republicans the legislature, thus causing a political stalemate, a different option (among many) is to draw the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul into one seat, since it would be a sound legal argument to suggest the region is a community of interest. This would cost the Democrats a seat. So there is much more risk for the GOP than meets the eye should Bachmann take the statewide plunge.