Tag Archives: Angus King

The Senate Scorecard

With most of the primary season now behind us and all of the Senate match-ups in place, sans Arizona and Wyoming, it’s time to examine the national outlook.

After seeing several competitive primaries decided in the past several weeks, we now sit on the cusp of the final short sprint to Election Day with Senate control still considered to be in “toss-up” mode. As we know, 33 Senate races are standing for election in November with 11 of those seats being open due to retirement and defeat, thus giving more conversion opportunities for each side. Of the 33 Senate races, a little under half of them are considered safe for the respective incumbent and, according to our count, six of the races are rated as toss-ups (Ind., Mass., Mo., Mont., Va., and Wis.).

If the Democrats were to win all of the “lean Dem” and toss-up races, and Independent former governor Angus King clinches the Maine race and decides to caucus with them, the Senate Democrats would actually add a net of three seats to their conference, bringing the total majority number to 56. Early in the election cycle it looked extremely unlikely that the Democrats would pick up any seats, however, as this year has unfolded, more Republican-held seats have come into play and some of the Democratic seats initially thought to be potentially vulnerable like Connecticut, Washington, and Pennsylvania are all trending more solidly leftward. Democrats also are in much better shape in North Dakota, as former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp continues to perform well against at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R), who began the race as a big favorite.

Conversely, if Republicans sweep the toss-ups and “lean R” races they would have a net gain of eight seats, bringing their total to 55 seats, even if King wins and caucuses with the Democrats. Thus, 56D to 55R appear to be the extreme swing parameters for the two parties.

While most political pundits still can’t say with any certainty who is going to control the Senate come January, it is becoming obvious that the ratio will be close. Neither party has so far broken out with the kind of drive to create a sweep, and several other campaigns have unfolded differently than originally predicted. It seems when one party makes a gain or falls behind, the other experiences a similar action, thus keeping the balance between the two in check.

For example, the political climate has become better for Republican candidates in Nebraska and Florida, while Democrats are approaching lock-down positions in Connecticut and Washington.

In the Cornhusker State we see that former senator Bob Kerrey’s return to politics after a 12-year absence while living in New York City has not been well received. GOP nominee Deb Fischer consistently holds polling leads that exceed the 18-20 point range. The best poll, from a Nebraska Democratic perspective, is the June Garin Hart Yang survey that put Kerrey within 12 points of his Republican opponent.

Turning to the Sunshine State, two-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, who has a substantial campaign resource advantage over his new official Republican opponent, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14), fresh from his solid primary victory earlier in the week, has failed to establish a firm lead. Polling consistently shows this race moving much closer to toss-up status, and while Sen. Nelson maintains a slight advantage, his edge is minimal and this campaign is quickly becoming as hot as a typical Florida summer.

In Connecticut earlier this week, GOP primary voters, by an overwhelming 73-27 percent margin, again fielded their losing 2010 candidate, former wrestling company executive Linda McMahon, this time to compete against newly nominated Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5). The two are vying for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s open seat. In recent polling, Murphy has opened up a strong lead when paired against McMahon. Former Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) consistently polled better in general election match-ups with Murphy, but he fared poorly in his nomination battle. With President Obama sure to run well in Connecticut and thus setting the tone for the entire Nutmeg State Democratic ticket, Rep. Murphy has established himself as the clear front-runner. Seeing him fall would now be considered a major upset.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, who serves the Evergreen State of Washington, has historically not been the most popular of incumbents. Her re-election prospects have improved considerably, however, since drawing a second-tier opponent in the person of state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. The senator placed almost 26 percentage points ahead of Baumgartner in the jungle primary earlier this month. While Washington originally had the potential of becoming a competitive race, Sen. Cantwell has considerably strengthened her position and this contest is virtually out of reach for the GOP.

As Election Day draws nearer, we continue to see a Senate that is still very much in play for both parties. Right now, it appears the Democrats are safe, likely, or lean winners in 18 states, while Republicans have that same status in nine. This means the Democrats are hovering around the 48 mark and the GOP is closer to 46. Of the six toss-ups, Democrats currently hold four states and Republicans two. Remember, Democrats must defend 23 of the in-cycle seats versus just 10 for their counterparts.

King Leading in Maine Poll

A new MassINC Polling Group political survey (June 13-14; 506 likely Maine voters for television station WBUR) gives Independent former governor Angus King a huge 50-23-9 percent lead over newly nominated Republican candidate Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill, respectively.

The Maine Senate race could become nation’s most important, because there are two scenarios where King alone would decide if Republicans or Democrats control the majority in the next Congress, should he be elected. To date, the former governor, though a liberal, has not committed to joining either party. Should President Obama be re-elected and Senate Republicans reach 50, King caucusing with either side would make that party the majority. The same would be true if Mitt Romney unseats the President and the Democrats claim 50 seats.

State Sen. Dill has the most difficult path to victory in the three-way scenario. According to the MassINC data, Democrats choose King 60-17 percent over the now-official Democratic nominee. Interestingly, his mark among Democrats is even better than within the Independent sample cell. Of those claiming to affiliate with neither party, King records 57 percent. Though his margin is strong, it is not insurmountable, particularly in a three-way race. Gov. Paul LePage (R) was elected from a similar configuration two years ago with just 37.6 percent of the vote. If the Senate majority truly reverberates on Maine’s outcome, then expect the race to become heated as Election Day nears.

A Look at Key June 12 Results

In addition to the Arizona election noted in our previous blog post, several key states hosted primary and run-off elections last night. Two Democratic run-offs were held in Arkansas, and freshman incumbent Rick Crawford (R-AR-1) and open-seat nominee Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) now have official Democratic challengers.

In the 1st District, a seat made even more Democratic in redistricting, District Attorney Scott Ellington slipped past state Rep. Clark Hall 51-49 percent, despite the latter having the financial advantage. This will be an interesting contest since the 1st District is even more Democratic, but Arkansas figures to be one of President Obama’s worst states. The evolution of this campaign will be worth watching.

In retiring Rep. Mike Ross’ 4th District, state Sen. Gene Jeffress romped to an easy 61-39 percent win, despite primary first place finisher Q. Byrum Hurst outspending him. Jeffress will now face Cotton in the general election. Despite the lopsided run-off win last night, this district is a prime GOP conversion opportunity.

In Maine, state Sen. Cynthia Dill (D) scored a strong 45-35-12 percent victory over former secretary of state Matt Dunlap and state Rep. Jon Hinck, respectively. Dill will face the GOP winner, former secretary of state Charlie Summers, and Independent former governor Angus King. In Dill, the Democrats have a candidate who will run a credible campaign, which, ironically, will help Summers. The only way the Republicans have a chance in a Maine statewide race is to win a close three-way race, and the groundwork is now laid for such a contest. King is still the overwhelming favorite, but it is the Dill campaign that will now help determine how this race progresses in November. This campaign has the potential of becoming quite interesting.

The North Dakota Republican electorate chose a congressional nominee different from the party-endorsed candidate. Former at-large congressional nominee Kevin Cramer upended public service commissioner and Republican convention-endorsed candidate Brian Kalk by a 55-45 percent score. Cramer will face former state representative Pam Gulleson who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. He now becomes the prohibitive favorite to win the open seat in the November election.

In South Carolina’s new 7th District, as expected, former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer and Horry County Commission Chairman Tom Rice advanced from the primary and will decide the Republican nomination in a June 26 run-off election. Bauer placed first with 32 percent of the vote as compared to Rice’s 27 percent, but the former’s margin may not be enough to hold the lead in the secondary campaign. On the Democratic side, former Georgia state representative Gloria Tinubu scored an outright 52 percent win over attorney Preston Brittain and three others. Tinubu resigned her seat in the Georgia legislature earlier in the year to come to South Carolina and run for the state’s new congressional district, an unusual situation to say the least. The Republican nominee will be the heavy favorite to win the seat in November.

Finally, in Virginia, former senator George Allen (R) was renominated with a somewhat disappointing 66 percent of the vote for the right to reclaim the seat he lost six years ago. The ex-senator defeated three minor GOP candidates. Allen will now face former governor Tim Kaine (D) in a general election campaign that promises to go down to the wire.

A Skeptical Look at Maine’s MPRS Poll Results

The left-wing Maine People’s Resource Center released their new survey (March 31-4/2; 993 registered Maine voters) of the state Senate and House races with results that are, let’s say, susceptible to a reliability scrutiny. Since the newly open Senate contest is of critical importance in determining which party will control the majority in the next Congress, it is this campaign that demands the most analysis.

According to MPRC, Independent former Gov. Angus King is staked to a commanding lead in the hypothetical general election ballot test. In the one intra-party match-up surveyed, King leads Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) and former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) by a whopping 56-22-12 percent margin, respectively. But, the poll appears to have methodology flaws.

Angus King, after developing some statewide name identification as the Maine PBS spokesman, was elected governor in 1994 as an Independent and easily won re-election four years later. He established himself as a liberal, but also as someone who will take conservative positions under certain circumstances. For example, he endorsed George W. Bush for President in 2000, but backed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

King has said several times that if elected to the Senate he may not caucus with either party, but will do what “is in the interest of the people of Maine.” He further said that he will caucus with the Democrats on some issues and the Republicans on others. He will eventually come to the conclusion, as both senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have publicly advised him, that he cannot succeed without caucusing with one of the major parties for organizational purposes, including the rendering of committee positions. King will also realize that having such assignments will be “in the interest of the people of Maine,” so expect him to join the Democratic conference.

Returning to the Maine People’s Resource Center poll, the data appear to have two principal problems. First, the sample is tilted in favor of the Democrats, and the methodology description admits the result data is not weighted to reflect an accurate political party dispersion. Of those polled, 39 percent are Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent Independents. Considering that the actual Maine electorate divides into a 32 percent Democratic-28 percent Republican split, with 37 percent Independent (officially labeled as “unenrolled”), the polling sample is unbalanced.

Secondly, the MPRC general election ballot test is only asked with Mr. Dunlap as the hypothetical Democratic nominee. But, even in their own poll of Democratic primary contenders, state Sen. Cynthia Dill outperforms the former secretary of state 20-17 percent. Therefore, to only test the second-place finisher against the top-performing Republican and King unfairly skews the results away from the Democratic Party ballot position even though it is they who have the greater number of respondents.

MPRC also tested the state’s two House races, which are now more conventional campaigns since neither Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) nor Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) are seeking their party’s Senatorial nomination. According to the study, Pingree leads state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney (R) by a huge 61-28 percent count. This finding, too, is likely skewed in Pingree’s favor especially when contrasting her 2010 re-election result (55-42 percent) in virtually the same district.

The ME-2 campaign is expected to be more seriously contested because the Republicans are fielding state Senate President Kevin Raye as their candidate. Raye ran for the seat when it was last open in 2002 and lost to Michaud 52-48 percent. According to this latest data, the Congressman leads 53-37 percent. Again, considering the sample skew, it is virtually certain that the incumbent has a substantial lead, but it is reasonable to conclude that this poll probably skews it a few points more in his favor than what is the actual margin.

The Maine Event: Michaud Out, Pingree In?

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME-2), despite being the first person to begin circulating US Senate nominating petitions in the wake of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) retirement announcement, said last night that he will not run statewide but is seeking re-election to his 2nd District House seat. According to high-level Democratic insiders, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) will run for the Senate.

This is a surprising move since Michaud was quick to jump into the race and seemed to be the most committed of the potential Democratic candidates. But Pingree is far from home-free in the battle for the Senate nomination. Former Gov. John Baldacci, who spent four terms in the House before winning his statewide election in 2002, also has begun to circulate nominating petitions for the Snowe seat. His entry would mean a very expensive and potentially bloody Democratic contest.

Though the Republican field of candidates is slow to form, another possible candidate is lurking in the background and has the luxury of waiting. Independent former Gov. Angus King, who served as Maine’s chief executive for the eight years preceding Baldacci’s two terms in office, says he is seriously considering running. His advantage as an Independent candidate is not having to file until June. Currently, unless the legislature takes action on Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) suggestion to extend the filing deadline, the major party candidates must return their qualification papers by March 15. The extended period would give King ample time to determine the strength of both the Democratic and Republican candidates before making a final decision whether to become a candidate.

Another ramification from Michaud’s decision is that several other Democratic politicians may again have to reverse course. Former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had announced his Senate candidacy long before Ms. Snowe decided not to run. When Michaud jumped at the open Senate seat, Dunlap immediately turned around and began circulating petition signatures in what he thought was an open 2nd Congressional District. State House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D), who ruled out a Senate run long ago, also jumped into the 2nd District race when she heard Michaud was vacating. Same for ex-state Sen. Bruce Bryant. With Michaud back in the House race, all of these individuals are placed in an uncomfortable political box.

Republicans began moving toward the 2nd District race, too. Kevin Raye, the state Senate president who lost to Michaud when the seat was last open in 2002, had already announced his congressional campaign even before the seat came open for two days. Speculation has been rampant, however, that he might declare for the Senate upon Snowe’s retirement decision. Michaud returning to the House race may lead to that eventuality for Raye. State Sen. Debra Plowman and 2010 nominee Jason Levesque also hopped into what they thought was an open House seat race. It remains to be seen how many of these Republican contenders stay in the congressional race, now that it is back to challenger status.

But the statewide race becomes all the more interesting with the latest developments. Michaud is a better fit for the state because he doesn’t take as extreme ideological positions as Pingree, the former national president of Common Cause. Should King enter as an Independent, and the Republicans field a viable candidate, such as Raye, perhaps, the general election takes on a whole different feel. King is truly independent, holding positions that at times are favorable to both Democrats and Republicans. He endorsed, for example, George W. Bush in 2000, but went with John Kerry in 2004. He followed with an endorsement of President Obama in 2008. Such a scenario would lead to a tight three-way campaign.

The developments during this past week has turned Maine politics on its head. While Democrats begin the open Senate race in the favorite’s position, Republicans are certainly viable, most likely in the person of state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, in Pingree’s open 1st District, though the seat leans decidedly Democratic. Still, Maine voters are known for their independent streak.

All of a sudden, what appeared to be a very quiet political year in the Pine Tree State is now anything but that.