Tag Archives: Washington

Senate Trends

Rep. Todd Akin

More is becoming known about the nation’s US Senate races, and trends are forming. With seven full weeks to go until Election Day, much can still change but at this point, both parties could be headed to the 50-seat mark. Ironically for Republicans, it could well be Todd Akin’s fate in Missouri, the candidate national GOP leaders attempted to replace because of his unintelligent comments, that will decide which party controls the body in the new Congress.

As we know, of the 33 in-cycle seats, Democrats are defending 23. Today, they appear safe in 10 of those: California (Feinstein), Delaware (Carper), Maryland (Cardin), Minnesota (Klobuchar), New Jersey (Menendez), New York (Gillibrand), Pennsylvania (Casey), Rhode Island (Whitehouse), Washington (Cantwell), and West Virginia (Manchin).

Two more are headed toward the Independent column, and those winners will either caucus or vote with the Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) runs as an Independent but joins the Democratic conference. Angus King, the Independent former governor, is strong favorite for Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) seat as the campaign turns into the home stretch. He is projected to caucus with the Democrats, but has yet to commit to do so. If the fate of the majority comes down to King, it is unclear what might happen.

Trending toward the Democrats appears to be the races in Hawaii (open seat – Rep. Mazie Hirono), Michigan (Stabenow), New Mexico (open seat – Rep. Martin Heinrich), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown).

Hawaii polls have been erratic, but the preponderance of polling data gives Rep. Mazie Hirono a clear lead. Same is true in Michigan for two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow and first-term incumbent Sherrod Brown. Though polling shows Rep. Martin Heinrich well ahead of former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), this is another race that could turn. Wilson’s strength with Independents in the state could make a difference if Democratic turnout is even slightly low.

Republicans are safe in fives seats: Mississippi (Wicker), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch), and Wyoming (Barrasso).

Trending toward the GOP are the races in Indiana (open seat – Richard Mourdock), Massachusetts (Scott Brown), Nebraska (open seat – state Sen. Deb Fischer), Nevada (Heller), North Dakota (open seat – Rep. Rick Berg), and Wisconsin (open seat – former governor Tommy Thompson).

The Indiana race is tight – some polls show it about even – but Richard Mourdock has not made any mistakes in his battle with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). Hoosier State voting trends at the top of the ticket – Mitt Romney appears headed for victory over the President here and Rep. Mike Pence is a solid favorite in the governor’s race – should help pull Mourdock across the finish line.

Recent polling in Massachusetts and Nevada is giving senators Scott Brown and Dean Heller small, but consistent and discernible leads over Elizabeth Warren (D) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), respectively.

While the North Dakota seat has been tight for most of the campaign, more recent polling indicates that Rep. Rick Berg is opening up a lead well beyond the margin of error.

All post-primary polls in Wisconsin give former governor Tommy Thompson a lead over Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). All of these races could turn away from the Republicans before Election Day, but today, the GOP candidates look to be in the winning position.

Questions abound in the following campaigns:

• Arizona (open seat): Though Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is favored here, some polls are detecting a close race and Democratic nominee Richard Carmona is making this campaign a battle.

• Connecticut (open seat): A combination of factors have come together to make this race, at least in the short term, more competitive than expected. GOP nominee Linda McMahon being awarded the Independent Party ballot line, new polling showing the two candidates running close, and a personal financial situation involving Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) are all minor individual items that taken in the aggregate could become significant.

• Florida: Polling has been extremely inconsistent in the Sunshine State, but more surveys favor Sen. Ben Nelson than Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14). The campaign is trending Nelson’s way now, but the presidential final wave will have a lot to say about its final outcome.

• Missouri: Right after the August primary, Rep. Todd Akin made rape-related abortion comments that stirred a national hornet’s nest. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) jumped well into the lead, but the margin has since dissipated and the race is back in toss-up range. McCaskill is the most vulnerable of all Democratic incumbents standing for re-election, and Akin is the Republicans’ weakest national challenger. This one is far from over.

Montana: The political battle between first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has been close for months. In the past eight weeks, the polling was detecting a slight Rehberg advantage. A new survey released last week, however, showed Tester regaining the lead. The presidential election will weigh heavily on this race, and Mitt Romney seems to be enjoying a healthy advantage in Big Sky Country. This race will likely go down to the wire.

• Virginia: Possibly the closest race in the country, the campaign between former senator George Allen (R) and ex-governor Tim Kaine (D) has been dead even for the better part of a year. As in Florida and Montana, the presidential race looms large in the Virginia Senate race. The result is too close to call.

To recap, if this analysis is correct, the Democrats are safe or ahead in 16 races, including the two Independent candidates, and Republicans are safe in 11. Under this model, the GOP would attain the majority 51 number if they win any three of the six questionable races isolated above.

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).

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.

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).

Missouri, Michigan Highlight Another Primary Day

Voters in four more states go to the polls tomorrow, and the most exciting races are in Missouri and Michigan. In the Show Me State, Sen. Claire McCaskill, quite possibly the most vulnerable of Democratic incumbents standing for re-election, will soon know who she will face in the fall. A close Republican contest among three candidates is trending toward an uncertain result even the day before the vote. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2), former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, and St. Louis businessman John Brunner vie for the nomination.

Brunner is by far spending the most money, already over $7 million; Steelman is attempting to run furthest to the right and now brandishes Sarah Palin’s endorsement; and Rep. Akin emphasizes his conservative record as a six-term veteran member of the House. All three are leading McCaskill in the latest polling.

In the St. Louis-based 1st Congressional District, a Democratic incumbent pairing is occurring because the national reapportionment formula cost Missouri a seat. Reps. Lacy Clay (D-MO-1) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) are pitted against each other in the city district, a re-draw that clearly favors the former. Rep. Clay has consolidated the dominant African-American constituency and enjoys the support of most of the local political establishment including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Former Republican National Committee co-chair Ann Wagner will capture the GOP nomination in Rep. Akin’s open 2nd District and is expected to win the general election, as well.

In Michigan, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) is the heavy favorite in the Senate Republican primary, but he will be a decided underdog in the general election against two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D).

But the bigger Michigan story is likely to be in the Detroit area congressional districts, particularly in new Districts 11 and 14.

The resignation of Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R) has ignited a free-for-all in the Oakland-Wayne County 11th District. Since McCotter did not qualify for the ballot, only Tea Party activist and reindeer rancher Kerry Bentivolio’s name will officially appear. Former state Senate majority leader Nancy Cassis is running an establishment-backed write-in campaign in hopes of taking the nomination and giving the GOP a stronger chance of holding the seat in November. Local physician Syed Taj is the favored Democratic candidate. The situation here is chaotic. Tomorrow’s vote will provide some answers but the 11th, which should be a reliable Republican district, is now likely to host a competitive general election.

In the Detroit-based 14th CD, another incumbent Democratic pairing will be decided. Reps. Gary Peters (D-MI-9) and freshman Hansen Clarke (D-MI-13) face each other along with three other candidates. Peters, who was originally paired with veteran Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI-12) in the new 9th CD, decided to run in the 14th with the idea of splitting the majority African-American vote among the three significant black candidates, including his colleague Clarke. The strategy may work, as Peters appears poised to win the Democratic nomination tomorrow according to several late polls.

In Rep. Dale Kildee’s (D) open 5th District, Dan Kildee, a former Genesee County official in several positions and nephew of the congressman, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Since the 5th is a heavily Democratic district, the younger Kildee will virtually clinch victory in November with his win tomorrow night.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI-6) again faces a Republican primary challenge from former state representative Jack Hoogendyk, the man who held him to a 57 percent victory two years ago. It appears Upton will win by a much larger margin this time.

Finally, in the new 13th District, 24-term Rep. John Conyers (D) finds himself facing four strong primary challengers, two state senators, a state representative, and a school board trustee. As is often the case in races where a group of candidates run in a system without a run-off, the incumbent normally wins because the pro-challenger vote is split among too many contenders.

In the state of Washington, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) stands for election to a third term in what should be a relatively easy campaign bid. The Republicans will nominate a candidate on Tuesday. In the state’s two open congressional seats, Democrats will choose state Sen. Derek Kilmer to succeed veteran Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA-6). In the new 10th District, the additional seat awarded to the state in reapportionment, former state House majority leader Denny Heck is poised to win the Democratic nomination, which is tantamount to election in November.

Kansas is also holding a primary election tomorrow, but all federal incumbents lack serious competition.