Tag Archives: Missouri

The Senate: Post-Labor Day

Now that we have moved past the Labor Day weekend, the traditional general election cycle has officially begun. That being the case, what is the current status of our nation’s Senate races especially now that all 33 campaigns have official, or soon-to-be official, nominees?

According to our latest PRIsm Information Network count, the majority Democrats, who must defend 23 of the 33 in-cycle seats, are ahead in 18 races. Republicans, who need to gain four net seats in order to establish a new majority, lead in nine states. Six feature races that are too close to call. If the ratings prove correct, Democrats would control 48 seats and Republicans 46 with the six “toss-ups” coming from a trio apiece of Republican and Democratic states.

Starting with the toss-ups, even though the Missouri race between Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) has been the topic of recent political conversation; the polling swing seems to be reverting back to the Republican, so the race must again be placed in the outcome unclear column. McCaskill is the weakest Democratic incumbent standing for re-election and Akin stumbled badly, as did the national Republican leaders who immediately pounced on him, but the polls are again showing an even race despite major controversy over his rape-related abortion comment.

The Virginia (open: Tim Kaine-D, vs. George Allen-R), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester-D vs. Rep. Denny Rehberg-R) and Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown-R vs. Elizabeth Warren-D) contests are all dead even and have been for some time. Recently, the Bay State race has turned in more favorable numbers for Sen. Brown, but the Democratic voting history here clearly will give Warren a strong push.

The Indiana and North Dakota races are proving interesting. Both should be solidly Republican this year, but polling consistently shows neither performing as such.

The defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary has certainly opened the door for Democrat Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2), but how far? With Lugar losing a landslide renomination effort to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, it has become apparent that the congressman would have likely fared better had Lugar eked out a close victory. More traditional voting patterns should take hold here as we move closer to Election Day, especially with President Obama not targeting the state. This should help Mourdock.

When Sen. Kent Conrad (D) announced his retirement early this year, it was assumed that at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) would succeed him with little fanfare. Quite the opposite is occurring as popular Democratic nominee Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, continues to perform well in polling. After being rated as decidedly lean Republican, this race now must be considered a toss-up.

Six more states are in the lean Democratic column, two of which show signs of heading toward toss-up status. Both the Florida and Ohio contests feature Democratic incumbents that polling shows are in competitive races in states that will probably play a defining role in the presidential contest. Senators Bill Nelson (FL) and Sherrod Brown (OH) may see their own political futures determined by an end-of-campaign wave either for President Obama or challenger Mitt Romney. The flow of the campaign currently suggests that both of these Senate races will be subjected to final trends.

The Connecticut open (Rep. Chris Murphy-D vs. Linda McMahon-R), Hawaii (Rep. Mazie Hirono-D vs. former Gov. Linda Lingle-R), Michigan (Sen. Debbie Stabenow-D vs. former Rep. Pete Hoekstra-R), and New Mexico (Rep. Martin Heinrich-D vs. former Rep. Heather Wilson-R) campaigns are also trending close but decidedly toward the Democrats. They are each competitive enough where significant movement could occur late in the cycle.

Three seats are in the Lean Republican column, one of which, the Wisconsin open (former Gov. Tommy Thompson-R vs. Rep. Tammy Baldwin-D), just recently moved from the toss-up category. The other two lean R states are Arizona, where Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ-6) overwhelming victory in the GOP primary makes him a clear favorite over former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D), and Nevada where appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) continues to hold a defined edge, though one that is becoming slimmer according to the latest surveys, over Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1).

Four Democratic seats are in the Likely D column, including those in New Jersey (Sen. Bob Menendez), Pennsylvania (Sen. Bob Casey Jr.), and Washington (Sen. Maria Cantwell). Maine’s Independent former Gov. Angus King should win retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) seat, and it is likely that he will caucus with the Democrats. Polling suggests some competition exists in this quartet of states, but the voting history supporting the current numbers gives an even more decided advantage to each Democratic incumbent. Sen. Cantwell, in her race against state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R), is moving closer to the safe Democratic category.

Just one race is in the Likely Republican category, the open Nebraska (Sen. Ben Nelson retiring) campaign between former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) and state Sen. Deb Fischer (R). All polling gives Fischer overwhelming leads, suggesting that the most likely outcome here is a Republican conversion.

Thirteen states are rated as safe: eight for the Democrats (CA, Feinstein; DE, Carper; MD, Cardin; MN, Klobuchar; NY, Gillibrand; RI, Whitehouse; VT, Sanders (I); and WV, Manchin), and five for the Republicans (MS, Wicker; TN, Corker; TX-open, Cruz; UT, Hatch; and WY, Barrasso).

GOP Panic Premature in Missouri?

Rep. Todd Akin

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2), who won the Republican Senatorial nomination and the right to oppose Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) on Aug. 7 and then turned around and made what most said were ludicrous abortion-related rape comments during a St. Louis TV station interview 12 days later, is surprisingly clawing his way back into contention.

You will remember that the Akin interview gained prolonged national media coverage and was swiftly denounced with outrage from Democrats, as well as many Republicans. The race, which GOP strategists initially believed to be a contest against the weakest of Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, seemed to snap strongly in favor of McCaskill as Akin immediately took a nosedive in the polls following the interview.

The GOP establishment was quick to respond by publicly pushing Akin to exit the campaign, however he refused to do so. Now running without the institutional support he once had from the party and business allies in Washington, as well as having seen many state and local candidates separate themselves from his comments, new polls are revealing increased viability despite his troubles.

According to polls released this week, the Missouri Senate race could be returning to “toss-up” status. Public Policy Polling released a research study yesterday showing McCaskill to be holding only the slightest 45 percent to 44 percent edge over Akin. PPP surveyed 621 likely Missouri voters Aug. 28-29 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. The study revealed that approximately 77 percent of Missouri Republicans say they accept Akin’s apology. While only 33 percent of voters view Akin favorably, even that number is up 11 points from the PPP survey released the week before.

Another poll by the Family Research Council, a socially conservative group supporting Akin, actually projects the embattled congressman to be leading McCaskill 45 percent to 42 percent (surveyed Aug. 27-28; 828 likely Missouri voters; +/- 3.38 percent error margin). Conversely, however, Rasmussen Reports released their poll on Aug. 26 posting the senator to a 10-point, 48-38 percent, advantage (surveyed Aug. 22; 500 likely Missouri voters; 4.5 percent error margin).

Now national Republican leaders are in a quandary. Immediately upon Akin making his comments, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn (R-TX) publicly called for him to withdraw from the race. Karl Rove, who had previously promised a substantial advertising campaign to support Akin and disparage McCaskill, quickly said his American Crossroads organization was canceling their Missouri media reservations. Democrats are, of course, left with video tape of the Republican leaders’ comments, which will assuredly air in commercials as we head down the stretch. As a result, Akin’s own campaign fundraising apparatus came to a screeching halt.

Though the first deadline to withdraw from the Missouri ballot without cause has come and gone, Akin still has until Sept. 25 to formally decide if he will step down and allow his party to nominate a new candidate. At this point, now armed with more encouraging polling data, it appears that he is even less likely to exit. With his seeming rebound, will those aforementioned Republican leaders so willing to pile on him before the dust settled now be in a position to absorb as much criticism as Akin himself? While the seat still appears winnable, even for Akin, the Republican brain trust has made that task all the more difficult.

There is no question that Rep. Akin has taken a substantial hit from the comments he made over a week ago, but the damage may be subsiding. His own massive stumbles, and those of the Republican Party leaders’, have made Akin’s return to credibility much more difficult; however, it appears this race is not yet over. Continued polling results as we have seen in the past few days will shortly force this campaign back into the “toss-up” domain.

Several Stunning Polls

Across the nation, some eye-opening new polls have cast several races in a different light. Except for the Missouri debacle involving Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) and his quest for the US Senate seat, which has blown up on the Republicans over their candidate’s rape-related abortion comments, some other recently released data is decidedly breaking the GOP’s way.

In Florida, Foster McCollum White & Associates, in conjunction with the public affairs firm Douglas Fulmer & Associates, surveyed 1,503 registered Florida voters on Aug. 17 and found not only Mitt Romney leading President Obama by a heretofore unheard of 54-40 percent count, but Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14), fresh from his strong Aug. 14 Republican primary victory, also jumped out to a 51-43 percent advantage over his opponent, two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Mack has proved to be a stronger than anticipated candidate, thus paving the way for what is becoming a highly competitive campaign. This is the Republicans’ best Florida poll to date.

From an internal campaign survey taken over a month ago (OnMessage; July 16-17; 400 registered Colorado 7th District voters) for candidate Joe Coors Jr. (R) but just released now, the Republican challenger leads veteran Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) 45-36 percent. No data has shown anything close to this margin so far and the spread here doesn’t fit the district’s normal voting patterns. More data showing a similar trend will have to be released before such a result is confirmed as being accurate. Expect the Perlmutter campaign to shortly counter with a different set of numbers.

In Nevada’s new 4th District, another seat created via reapportionment, Public Opinion Strategies (Aug. 7-9; 400 likely NV-4 voters) polling for the American Action Network, gives GOP nominee Danny Tarkanian a 46-35 percent lead over state House Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D). Like the set of numbers mentioned above in Colorado, these numbers seem to paint a more rosy Republican picture than how the region normally votes. A Democrat candidate should have the advantage in this northern Las Vegas area CD, so more will have to be learned before such a result is fully accepted.

Finally, countering last week’s internal campaign poll from New York GOP nominee Chris Collins, which showed the Republican jumping out to a double-digit lead, Siena College (Aug. 12-14; 628 registered NY-27 voters) finds the former Erie County Executive to be leading freshman Rep. Kathy Hochul (D) 47-45 percent. Since the new 27th CD is the safest Republican seat in New York, it is plausible that the Democrat incumbent would be trailing here. This race is a hotly competitive campaign and a must-win for New York Republicans.

If Akin Drops Out

Conflicting stories abound as to whether Missouri Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) will end his Senatorial bid against incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) today. Over the weekend, the congressman made rape-related abortion statements that set off a firestorm causing many Republicans to call for him to stand down. Akin won the Aug. 7 Senatorial primary in an upset, defeating St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, 36-30-29 percent, respectively.

Today is a deadline day. Under Missouri law, a nominated candidate may freely withdraw from a race prior to 5:00 pm CDT on the 11th Tuesday before the actual general election date, which is today. Should said nominee withdraw, the respective state party committee would have the power to name a replacement. Pressure is intense on Akin. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement strongly suggesting he wants Akin to depart. So did Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS organization has pulled its Missouri ads. State and local Republican leaders are exerting pressure, too.

If he departs the race, who is waiting in the wings? Missouri insiders point to Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO-8) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO-3) as people who could gain strong state party support. Others will undoubtedly arise, as well. On the other hand, it is unlikely that former senators Kit Bond, Jim Talent or John Ashcroft would offer themselves for consideration. Same for 2nd District congressional candidate Ann Wagner, whose path to victory in Akin’s open CD is virtually assured.

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.

Can a Weak McCaskill Hold Onto Missouri?

The Missouri Senate race is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in the country. With the Senate majority hanging in the balance, all of the closest election competitors in the 14 states where campaign action is most furious can legitimately lay claim to the argument that their own campaign can determine which party controls the body in the next Congress. The Show Me State of Missouri is certainly in this category, as first-term incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, who may be the weakest of all Democrat candidates standing for re-election, fights for her political life.

Earlier this week, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) surprised many political pundits by defeating wealthy businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman 36-30-29 percent, to capture the Republican Senatorial nomination. Akin rode a strong wave at the end of the campaign, peaking at exactly the right time. After trailing for most of the race, he finished a step ahead of both Brunner and Steelman as the trio almost simultaneously crossed the political finish line.

Interestingly, Akin had help from an unlikely source. McCaskill and her Democratic allies pejoratively repeated their belief that Akin is the most conservative candidate in the Republican field, ironically a message that the congressman himself was also trying to sell to the GOP electorate. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) actually advertised in the Republican primary to that effect, saying Akin is too conservative for the state. It is clear the Democratic leadership and activist organizations, along with McCaskill herself, believe Akin to be the weakest candidate in the Republican field and desire him as their general election opponent. It remains to be seen if their analysis proves correct.

For several decades, Missouri was known as a political bellwether. Now, however, the state seems to be trending more Republican. After 14 statewide races between 2000 and 2008 that were decided by less than two percentage points, with each party winning seven times, John McCain’s razor-thin 2008 victory here and then-Rep. Roy Blunt’s big win in the 2010 Senate contest could be a Missouri realignment harbinger. In fact, in voting for McCain, the state failed to support the winning presidential candidate for only the second time since 1900.

With this backdrop, we enter the 2012 general election campaign. Since Team Obama does not have Missouri high on its target list, there may be less of a presidential presence here than in previous years. The state is a must-win for Republican Mitt Romney, so expect him to be more active here than President Obama. Outside groups are expected to play a major role, as a highly competitive Senate race in what is perceived to be a toss-up campaign will precipitate a great deal of action from many issue perspectives.

But it may be Akin who becomes the beneficiary of the greater outside group spending. McCaskill, who wrapped herself around candidate Barack Obama in 2008 appears to be running away from him in 2012, going so far as to say she won’t even attend the Democratic National Convention. While voting for all of the early Obama initiatives and now trying to create distance between herself and the party’s liberal wing, leftward activist groups may find other places to expend advocacy dollars.

Small business groups, church organizations steamed at the Obama Administration for the health care law that forces them into expenditures that conflict with many of their religious tenets, and the coal industry could become major players in this race, all on Akin’s behalf.

For example, the National Mining Association, through its Count on Coal program, is expected to be highly active in Missouri educating the constituency on the mineral’s importance to daily life. The state ranks sixth nationally in coal usage, as 81 percent of its electrical power is generated from the substance. Count on Coal is taking it to the Obama Administration for what the NMA believes are its destructive energy policies. Regardless of whether they actively enter the Senate race, McCaskill is likely to be put on the defensive and absorb political damage from the coal program’s aggressive contrast effort toward the Obama Administration.

Sen. McCaskill has been polling poorly against all general election configurations. Now that she has Rep. Akin as her November opponent, expect a hard-hitting campaign from both sides. The race is a toss-up, and has to be considered a must-win for the Republicans. It is clearly one of the most important Senate races of the year.

Primary Tipping Points: Mo., Mich., Wash.

Missouri: The polling was right. During the final week of the Missouri Senate Republican primary, late surveys from research organizations such as Public Policy Polling detected Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) mounting a serious come-from-behind surge. Akin, who billed himself as the campaign’s “true conservative,” had not led for any substantial period of time, but his campaign peaked at exactly the right moment. Last night, Akin notched a 36-30-29 percent GOP nomination win over St. Louis businessman John Brunner and ex-state treasurer Sarah Steelman, respectively.

The victory sends Akin to the general election against first-term incumbent Claire McCaskill (D), who may be the weakest Democrat incumbent currently seeking re-election. While Sen. McCaskill’s party leaders and political activists believe Akin is the best Republican for her to run against, the Missouri voting trends may tell a different story come November. This will be a hard-fought campaign and one in which the presidential contest will play a major role. The real race begins today.

Turning to the paired House races, in Missouri’s St. Louis-anchored 1st Congressional District, veteran Rep. Lacy Clay (D) easily turned back a challenge from fellow Democrat, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) who chose to run in a contested primary after his seat was collapsed in reapportionment. Clay was renominated 63-34 percent, amongst a turnout of about 90,000 voters. Late polling was predicting a decisive Clay win and such occurred mostly due to overwhelming support within the African-American community.

Michigan: As expected, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) scored an easy 54-34 percent victory over charter school advocate Clark Durant in the contest for the Senate. The retired congressman will now face two-term incumbent Debbie Stabenow in what will be a major uphill battle. Sen. Stabenow is the clear favorite for re-election.

In Detroit, also as local polling predicted, two-term Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-9), who was paired with veteran Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI-12) in the new 9th District but chose to run in the Detroit/Oakland County CD because he believed he could take advantage of a split within the African-American community, saw his strategy bear fruit last night. Mr. Peters defeated freshman Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI-13) 46-36 percent in a field of five candidates, three of whom are African-American.

In the adjacent 13th District, 24-term Rep. John Conyers, who will now likely complete at least 50 years of service in the House, defeated a field of four challengers, garnering a clear majority 57 percent of the vote. State Sen. Glenn Anderson, Mr. Conyers’ strongest opponent, only managed 15 percent, again just as the late polls were predicting.

North of Detroit in suburban Oakland County, former state Senate majority leader Nancy Cassis’ (R) late-developing write-in campaign fell way short as reindeer rancher and staunch Ron Paul supporter, Kerry Bentivolio, the only person who officially qualified for the Republican primary ballot, looks to be in the 65 percent range when all of the votes are finally counted. Physician Syed Taj won the Democratic primary and this has the potential of becoming a hotly contested general election campaign. Incumbent Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11), reeling from a disastrous six-week presidential campaign, failed to qualify for the congressional ballot and then subsequently resigned his seat. This will be an interesting general election race between two people, neither of whom was expected to be a serious candidate. Democrats have a chance to snatch this seat even though it historically votes Republican.

Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) will face state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R) in her bid for a third term. Such is not expected to be a highly competitive race. In House races, all incumbents secured a general election ballot position in this top-two primary format. As in California and Louisiana, the candidates finishing first and second, regardless of political party preference, advance to the general election. All seven incumbents seeking re-election placed first with percentages exceeding 50 percent.

In the three open seats, Republican John Koster placed first in the new 1st District that gives the GOP a much better chance of securing a general election victory. He will face Democratic former congressional nominee Suzan DelBene who placed ahead of two-time congressional nominee Darcy Burner.

With Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA-6) retiring after 36 years of congressional service, it appears that Democrat state Sen. Derek Kilmer, as predicted, will become his successor. Kilmer placed first in the jungle primary and becomes the prohibitive favorite in what is a heavily Democratic district.

In the new 10th District, awarded the fast-growing state in reapportionment, former state House majority leader and 2010 congressional nominee Denny Heck (D) placed first in the low 40-percentile range and will face Pierce County Councilor Dick Muri (R) in what shapes up as a reliable Democratic district. The Washington delegation is likely to split with five Democrats, four Republicans, and one marginal district (the 1st to be decided in the tough Koster-DelBene contest).