Tag Archives: Ben Nelson

The Stretch Drive Begins for Senate, House Races

October is here and the political stretch drive is beginning, so it is appropriate to examine where the Senate and House campaigns stand from an aggregate party division perspective.

For most of the election cycle, Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of capturing the Senate majority, taking it away from Harry Reid and the Democrats. But, new swings in momentum show a more Democratic trend.

Recently, Democratic incumbents in Florida and Ohio have gained strength and open seat contender Tammy Baldwin has seized the initiative in the open Wisconsin campaign. Sunshine State polls have been erratic, but Sen. Bill Nelson now seems to have built a consistent and sustained advantage. First-term Sen. Sherrod Brown has also seen the polls ebb and flow, but his mid to high single digit edge over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel is stabilizing, at least for the short term. Baldwin’s ad offensive and Republican former governor Tommy Thompson’s recent comments about dismantling entitlements has posted the Democratic nominee to a slight lead.

After some flirtation with breaking toward the Democrats, the pure toss-up campaigns in Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester opposing Rep. Denny Rehberg), and Virginia (ex-senator George Allen and former governor Tim Kaine) have re-established themselves as dead heat campaigns. All three of these races will likely go down to the wire.

Additionally, there is movement toward Republicans in at least two long shot states, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, while Democrats are making Arizona a race. By most polls, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) still leads Republican Linda McMahon, but the gap is closing and the latter has gained the offensive.

The sleepy Pennsylvania Senate race has finally arisen, and Republican Tom Smith’s recent ad blast appears to be bringing him to within a single-digit deficit of first-term incumbent Bob Casey Jr. Democrats are still likely to prevail here and in Connecticut, but there is no question that Republican candidates in both places have created some current positive momentum.

Democrat Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General, is pulling much closer to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in their open seat battle according to most polls. As in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the Democratic candidates, Flake still must be considered the favorite to prevail.

The Missouri campaign between Sen. Claire McCaskill who, at the beginning of the cycle appeared to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent standing for re-election, and the mistake-ridden Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) is still in toss-up territory. Most believe, however, that activity in the final stretch will favor the Democratic Senator.

Republicans were thought early to be clear favorites in North Dakota and Indiana, but polling is still indicating that both of these campaigns remain close. The GOP appears to be a lock to convert Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) open Nebraska seat, and Independent Angus King continues to maintain the inside track in retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine, though the numbers are closing.

Today, Democrats look to be ahead in enough states to give them a 49-47 aggregate lead in the Senate, with four races in the toss-up column; three of which are currently Democratically held. Hence, the majority remains in abeyance.

The House has been the most stable of the federal political entities in the 2012 cycle. Post-census redistricting will prove to be the determining factor here and that favors the Republicans. It appears the partisan swing will deviate between a +/- three seat margin in terms of aggregate gains and losses for the two parties, but Republican control seems secure.

Democrats could be gaining as many as three seats in Florida and potentially the same or more in Illinois. Republicans are positioned to score similarly in North Carolina. New York and California remain as wild cards.

While the GOP appeared to be in position to gain seats up until the last two weeks, Democrats are enjoying a swing in some House races, too. The best estimate indicates Republicans will comfortably retain control, but Democrats could make an aggregate gain in the low single digits.

Today, it appears that 233 seats are safely or trending Republican as compared to 186 headed to the Democrats. Sixteen seats are considered too close to call, with 11 of the 16 being in GOP currently held districts.

A Nebraska Horse Race

Republicans will have a Senatorial nominee to oppose former Sen. Bob Kerrey tomorrow night as Nebraska voters head for the polls. Right now, retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat appears to be the Republicans’ best national conversion opportunity since the North Dakota race shows continued signs of serious competition.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has been leading the Republican side since day one. He is still the decided favorite tomorrow, but the campaign momentum may have swung to state Sen. Deb Fischer who appears to have grabbed second place over state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

A series of polls have detected the Fischer momentum and the fact that Bruning has unleashed a late campaign ad attacking both of his opponents jointly suggests that his own internal data also shows movement away from him.

The two most recent released polls still register leads for the attorney general, but of varying margins. The We Ask America independent survey (May 6; 1,173 Nebraska Republican primary voters; automated calls) posts Bruning to a 42-26-22 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg, respectively.

The Fischer campaign responded to We Ask America by releasing its own Singularis Group poll, the reliability of which is drawing questions. According to the analysis, the Fischer internal survey was conducted of 400 GOP primary voters on a Sunday night, an unusual night to form a reliable sampling universe and one-night data accumulation is often frowned upon, as well. For whatever they’re worth, the numbers gave Bruning only a 30-26-18 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg.

The Fischer data is likely skewed. Only spending slightly over $100,000 so far on electronic media voter contact and not much over $300,000 in total, it is improbable that she could be making up so much ground in a short amount of time. For his part, Stenberg agrees that Bruning is falling but the treasurer says it is he, and not Fischer, who is surging. Stenberg is spending in the $600,000-plus range, and Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) Senate Conservatives Fund has dropped an additional $700,000 in advertisements boosting his effort. Bruning has expended more than $1 million on television and well over $2.5 million for his primary campaign.

Low-turnout elections are difficult to predict, but there appears little foundation to support the idea that Bruning has, almost overnight, lost the lead he has held throughout the campaign. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow night.

Is Kerrey In After All?

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), who hasn’t lived in Nebraska since leaving office in early 2001, may be reconsidering the decision he made two weeks ago to jettison a political comeback attempt in the Cornhusker State. Kerrey is reportedly now telling Democratic leaders that he has changed his mind and will enter the race as a candidate for the Senate. The former Senator served two terms from 1989 through 2001. Prior to his service in Washington, Mr. Kerrey logged one term as Nebraska’s governor. In 1992, he ran an ill-fated campaign for president.

The Kerrey decision may be more than simple equivocation, however. This could be a well-planned and shrewd move. Under Nebraska’s candidate filing law, current office holders must file for re-election or another office by Feb. 15 during this particular election cycle. Non-office holders have until March 1. The unique law allowed Kerrey the luxury of standing back to see what popular Gov. Dave Heineman (R) actually decided about his own Senatorial candidacy. Heineman never appeared serious about running for federal office, but he also failed to publicly close the door on a bid. Polling showed that the governor would be the strongest candidate in either party.

With Heineman out and no strong Democrat on the horizon, the way is clear for Kerrey to return to political action. Should he run, he will face either Attorney General Jon Bruning or state Treasurer Don Stenberg in the general election. Even against Kerrey, the Republicans still might have a slight edge. With Sen. Ben Nelson (D) retiring, the GOP is in prime conversion position as President Obama, at the top of the ticket, is not projected to run strong here. The Nebraska seat is critical for both parties in terms of winning majority status.

Ben Nelson’s “Independent” Ad

A year away from the 2012 election, embattled Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D) already has embarked on a rather interesting strategic course. If the logic behind his new television ad ultimately prevails, a new chapter in campaign finance law could be opening. If the Republicans directly counter-attack, Nelson may have prematurely opened a door that he would have preferred kept closed.

The Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee is paying for an ad that attacks all three of Nelson’s Republican opponents, graphically portraying them as three peas in a pod. The Senator’s campaign claims that this ad is part of an independent issue expenditure and should not count against the coordinated expenditure limit between party and candidate. What’s different about this “independent” ad – one that cannot be coordinated with a campaign – is that the senator himself appears in the spot and says he approves of its message. If this is considered “independent,” then we could have a whole new approach to all other independent expenditure campaigns.

In the body of the ad, Nelson and his party claim the Republican candidates want to cut Medicare and Social Security and that he (Nelson) will protect them both. Yet, when the senator became the deciding vote on the Obama healthcare plan that led to the infamous “Cornhusker Kick-back” attack, now the source of Nelson’s current political trouble, he himself supported a $500 million cut in Medicare by voting for the bill. The counter-argument to this point seems an easy one for the GOP candidates to make.

The new party ad, independent or not, may prove to cause Sen. Nelson more trouble than it might be worth. His taking such bold action at this time clearly confirms the public polls that show him trailing his Republican opponents.

Senate Financials Tell Interesting Stories

The second quarter US Senate financial disclosure summaries are now available and in almost all cases, the incumbents have prepared adequately for their re-election campaigns. Obviously, the size of the state dictates the money range needed to run a viable effort, so the benchmark cash on hand figures differ greatly. All in-cycle incumbents have more than $1.5 million in assets with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who possesses $1.279 million. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has the most money in the bank, $9.628 million. The next closest cash on hand figure is Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) $6.057 million.

The only incumbent with less cash on hand than a challenger is Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) has $2.476 million in her campaign account versus Heller’s $2.272 million. The comparison is a bit unfair, however, because Heller is an appointed incumbent, replacing the resigned Sen. John Ensign (R). Therefore, his Senate incumbency is short-lived and should not be measured comparably to the other in-cycle full-term Senators.

The Senate incumbents having the strongest fundraising cycle to date are Scott Brown ($3.739 million), Bill Nelson ($3.695 million), and Democrat New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez ($3.581 million). The strongest open seat/challenger fundraisers are Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who still has yet to announce his Senate candidacy, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who is seeking retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) open seat, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) challenging one-term Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Mandel raised $2.339 million, Murphy $2.012 million, and Rehberg $1.964 million.

The fundraising and resource components provide some idea as to how competitive some of the projected close races might become. Sen. Nelson, for example, continues to prove he is in solid shape by every measuring instrument. His $6.057 million cash on hand is more than seven times as great as his closest financial opponent, GOP former interim Sen. George LeMieux. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), commonly viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election, raised only $111,000 more than Attorney General Jon Bruning, but leads his chief Republican opponent $2.916 million to $1.265 million in the cash on hand category.

The competitive race that is proving to be the closest, at least in resources, is the Nevada Senate race. There Rep. Berkley shows $2.476 million compared with Sen. Heller’s $2.272 million cash on hand. This race could turn out to be the most hotly contested in the country. Nevada is a tight swing state, both candidates are equally well-known, and they both possess the same quantity of campaign resources. With turnout expected to be high in the presidential election year, the final wave will likely decide this campaign. The same can be said for the Virginia Senate race. There, former Sen. George Allen (R) has raised $2.615 million with $1.649 million on hand. Tim Kaine, the former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, has raised a similar, but smaller, $2.266 million but has slightly more in the bank, $1.875 million.

As we know, finance tells only part of any political story, but no one denies that the dollar count is a highly important factor of any campaign effort.

Below is a link to a PDF spreadsheet containing the relevant financial numbers for all 33 Senate races being contested in 2012. The only state not recording any figures is Wisconsin. Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring, and no one has yet formally declared their candidacy for the open seat.

Candidate Financials: Senate Financial Disclosure – 2nd Qtr 2011
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