Public Policy Polling is already releasing new and rather interesting data on proposed 2012 U.S. Senate match-ups. The firm is testing two first-term Democrats, both of whom appear vulnerable because they are from states that tend to vote Republican in national elections. Though the polls certainly show incumbent vulnerability and foretell close races, each Democratic Senator is in better political shape that one might guess considering the results of our most recent election.
In Virginia, the clear choice among Republicans to challenge Sen. Jim Webb (D) is none other than the man who lost the seat in 2006, former Senator and Governor George Allen (R). When asked of 400 “usual” GOP VA primary voters, 46% answered that Allen would be their choice. Eighteen percent prefer soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-7), though there is no indication that the Congressman would entertain a statewide race since he will already be one of the top congressional leaders. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli places third with 16%, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA-11) are tied with 4% apiece.
In hypothetical general election match-ups (11/10-13; 551 registered VA voters) Webb leads Allen 49-45%; the Senator has a 49-38% advantage over Bolling; and the margin is 49-39% in a Webb-Cuccinelli pairing.
Since Sen. Webb has been somewhat circumspect when answering questions about whether or not he will run for re-election, PPP tested former Gov. and current Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine in his stead. The Democrat leads each of the potentially serious Republican contenders. Kaine’s advantage over Allen is 50-44%; 48-41% against Bolling; and 50-40% when paired with AG Cuccinelli.
The third Democrat tested was Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), who just lost his seat to Rep-Elect Bob Hurt on November 2nd. In these trial heats, two of the three Republicans lead the outgoing Congressman, but even here the margin is very tight. Allen tops Perriello 47-42%; Bolling leads him by a single point, 42-41%; but Perriello manages to maintain a slight 44-41% advantage over Cuccinelli.
This particular small-sample poll does not have very positive opinions about any of the contenders. Kaine scores the best with a 43:40% favorable to unfavorable personal approval ratio. All of the others are hung with negative ratings above their positive scores.
Considering that the Republicans just gained three House seats in the Virginia delegation, these results are basically welcome news for the Democrats. Since Virginia, along with New Jersey and New York, each led the nation in turnout drop-off from 2008 (each state registered more than 47% drop-off; that is, 47% of the people who voted in the 2008 presidential election did not return to cast a ballot in 2010), still suggests that the Democrats are more than competitive in a high turnout election, such as would be expected in the next presidential election. It looks like a long Senate campaign ahead for Old Dominion voters and it appears that either side can win.
The other state PPP tested is Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D) faces the voters for the first time after unseating three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R) back in 2006. Here, Tester does not fare as well as his colleague Sen. Webb, but is certainly in position for a strong re-election bid.
According to the Public Policy Polling results (10/11-13; 1,176 registered MT voters), at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) leads Sen. Tester 48-46%. The Senator leads former Lt. Gov. nominee Steve Daines (R) 48-37%, but trails former Governor and Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot 42-49%.
This early data suggests that Montanans, too, can expect another close, rough and tumble campaign season in 2012. Protecting only 10 of 33 seats in the next cycle, the GOP would need a net gain of four to secure a new majority. Along with Nebraska, Virginia and Montana are top states on the potential Republican conversion list.