Tag Archives: Rick Berg

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.

Warning Signs in Va., N.D.

Two GOP Senate candidates who are probably re-assessing their respective post-primary campaign strategies are former Virginia senator George Allen and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg (R-AL). Both easily won their nomination elections on Tuesday night, but even their individual landslide victory margins are arguably under-performances. Both men finished with 66 percent of the vote on June 12, but for two consensus party candidates, their base support number should have been higher. A better position from which to launch each general election campaign would have been in the 75th percentile.

Allen faces former governor Tim Kaine (D) in the Old Dominion, and the race has been in the toss-up category since the middle of 2011 and continues to languish with neither candidate showing any signs of breaking out. The Republican primary vote tells us that Allen still needs to tack right to completely firm up his GOP base for what promises to be a bruising general election in a presidential battleground state.

Rep. Berg, whose North Dakota electorate will likely support Mitt Romney over President Obama by a substantial margin, also needs to cement his political base to the maximum level in order to take advantage of what should be a regional GOP tide.

Berg’s 66 percent of the vote in his battle against frequent candidate Duane Sand also warrants attention, because in addition to the primary result, we now see a third general election poll that projects him to be trailing former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp. The latest survey, (Mason-Dixon Polling & Research; June 4-6; 625 registered North Dakota voters) gives the new official Democratic nominee a one point, 47-46 percent, razor-thin November edge. Additionally, the primary prediction done by Mason-Dixon actually placed Berg further ahead of where he finished on Tuesday. The poll showed him beating Sand 73-16 percent, but the actual result was 66-34 percent.

Warning signs, indeed.

Is a Surprise Coming in the North Dakota Senate?

Since Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced that he would not seek re-election this year, both Republican and Democratic election analysts forecasted that the GOP would convert the open seat. These rankings even held when a November poll gave Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general and defeated gubernatorial nominee, a five-point lead over at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) soon after she announced her candidacy. The results of a new just-released survey means the supposed Heitkamp advantage can no longer be dismissed.

DFM Research (April 18-26; 478 registered North Dakota voters), polling for the North Dakota Democratic Party, now stakes Heitkamp to a 49-44 percent lead over Berg. Though the long nine-day sampling period suggests reliability questions, the same polling sample returns a 51-32 percent lead for Mitt Romney over President Obama, thus largely dispelling claims of a Democratic skew. Furthermore, though Berg and the Republicans have reported investing campaign dollars into polling, no public releases have yet been forthcoming. This again suggests that Heitkamp leading is an accurate depiction of where the race stands today.

Much will happen between now and Election Day to alter the outcome of this Senate race, and Berg is still in good position to win when considering the state’s voting history in presidential elections. But, it is now clear that the North Dakota Senate race can no longer be considered an easy Republican win and we can expect a competitive general election campaign.

Senate Poll Shockers

A series of surveys was just released for key US Senate races in several states. Two studies produced especially surprising results, those in Florida and North Dakota.

Rasmussen Reports (Nov. 17; 500 likely Florida voters) now gives Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) an unexpected 43-39 percent lead over Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D). This is the first poll of the election cycle that shows Nelson in a deficit position to any potential Republican opponent.

After saying he would not run in March, Rep. Mack did an about-face late last month and his decision appears to be paying off, at least in the short term. Prior to recent polls showing Rep. Mack within two, six, and now leading by four points, Sen. Nelson posted consistent 15-point margins against the other two main Republican candidates, former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.

It was always believed that the Ft. Myers congressman and son of former Sen. Connie Mack III could make this race competitive, and the last three polls certainly confirm that supposition.

In North Dakota, The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released the results of the Mellman Group poll (Nov. 12-16; 600 likely North Dakota voters) it commissioned for newly announced candidate Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general. The data give Ms. Heitkamp a 47-42 percent lead over Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL). This is a stunner in that Berg is thought to be the prohibitive favorite to convert the open seat (Sen. Kent Conrad is retiring) for the GOP. North Dakota is projected to be the Republicans’ best opportunity to take a Democratic seat.

Since this tabulation conflicts with other North Dakota polls, it is possible that the survey is an anomaly. In its defense, however, are the presidential numbers. As one would expect, a prospective Republican nominee is ahead of President Obama in the Peace Garden State, even according to these same Mellman Group numbers. Mitt Romney has a 47-33 percent advantage over the President within this polling universe, which is perfectly in line with North Dakota presidential election voting behavior. If further surveys show a similar pattern in this Senate race, a new competitive race could be on the horizon.

According to a brand new Epic MRA poll of the Michigan Senate race (Nov. 13-16; 600 registered Michigan voters), former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) has decreased his deficit against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). Their latest survey shows only a six-point 48-42 percent advantage for the two-term Democratic incumbent. This is a net gain of three points for Hoekstra over the firm’s August poll that gave Stabenow a 47-38 percent edge.

The Michigan race is another critical contest for the GOP. Thought to be vulnerable at the beginning of the year, the Republicans were slow to find a credible opponent against the senator, finally convincing Hoekstra to launch a campaign after the former congressman had publicly announced that he would not run.

One of the slower races to take shape is the open Arizona seat of retiring Senate Majority Whip Jon Kyl (R). New polling information is now available for the Republican primary in this state and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is off to a big lead, as expected. According to a new Public Policy Polling survey (Nov. 17-20; 400 registered Arizona Republican voters), Flake has a huge 53-7 percent lead over businessman Wil Cardon. Magellan Strategies found a similar pattern. Their latest Arizona study (Nov. 16; 722 registered Arizona Republican voters) gives Flake a similar 55-3 percent margin against Cardon.

Democrats have a large field in the Grand Canyon State, including former Surgeon General Richard Carmona and ex-Arizona Democratic Party chairman Don Bivens. Right now, it appears the race is Flake’s to lose.

Senate Candidates Coming Forward

The political situation surrounding three U.S. Senate states became clearer yesterday. With Friday’s announcement from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) saying he would not seek a fourth term next year, the Wisconsin political merry-go-round immediately began circling and an old familiar face came forward.

After House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) decided to remain in his current position, former Gov. Tommy Thompson began making it known that he is interested in running for the open seat. Thompson served four terms as governor from 1987 to 2001 and then became Pres. George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. He made an ill-fated run for the presidency in 2008, failing to even get out of the starting blocks. The 69-year-old Thompson’s entry would be a bit of a surprise, since he considered running statewide several times after leaving the state house and then repeatedly stated his disinclination to initiate another political campaign.

Should he get back into the game in 2012, Mr. Thompson may draw serious primary opposition. Former Reps. Mark Green (R-WI-8) and Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), who have both previously lost statewide campaigns, have not ruled out running for the Senate. The state legislature’s brother tandem of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and House Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald have also been mentioned as potential Senate contenders.

Wisconsin Democrats will have a strong field of potential candidates from which to choose. Leading the group is former Sen. Russ Feingold who was defeated for re-election in 2010. Before Sen. Kohl announced his retirement, Feingold said he was not considering running in 2012 even if the Senate seat were to open. Now that Kohl is stepping aside, Feingold has a real decision to make. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) and former Milwaukee mayor and congressman Tom Barrett, who lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November, are both potential candidates. Regardless of who ultimately chooses to run, this open seat contest is likely to become 2012’s premier Senate race.

In Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) has finally indicated that he will run for the Senate, ending weeks of speculation. Since two Republicans have already announced they are running for his congressional seat, as if it were already open, Akin’s Senate announcement seems anticlimactic. He enters a primary against former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman of Springfield and possibly healthcare company CEO John Brunner from St. Louis. Steelman has the potential of becoming a strong candidate, so an Akin nomination should not be considered a foregone conclusion.

The winner of the Missouri Republican Senatorial primary will face vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), seeking her first re-election to the post she originally won in 2006. Missouri’s recent voting history plus her failure to pay property taxes on an airplane that her husband partially owns has brought this race into the toss-up zone. Missouri was the closest state in the 2008 presidential campaign as John McCain slipped past Pres. Obama by just 3,903 votes. It was only the second time since 1900 that Missouri failed to side with the winner in the presidential contest. Last election, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO-7) scored an impressive 13-point victory over Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), sister of current Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3). Hence, the last two elections may signal that Missouri voters are moving decidedly to the right.

The open North Dakota seat also saw its first major entry. Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) announced via video on Monday that he will run for the retiring Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D) open seat. Berg should coast to the Republican nomination and becomes the prohibitive favorite to convert the seat for his party in the general election. Public Utilities Commissioner Brian Kalk had already announced for the Republican Senatorial nomination, but he is expected to drop down to the open House race. Most of the North Dakota political action will now center around Berg’s vacated at-large House district.
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