Monday, August 31, 2009

Number of Appointed Senators Growing but Not Nearly a Record

By Nathan L. Gonzales

With four appointed Senators seated and at least one, if not two more, on the way, a growing number of unelected officials are going to have a significant voice in major legislation in the 111th Congress. But even though six appointed Senators is nowhere near the most to ever serve together, it would be the largest number in more than 40 years.

Earlier this year, Sens. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) were appointed to fill the vacant seats of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden. And Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) took office when Sens. Ken Salazar (D) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) left for President Obama’s Cabinet.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) selected George LeMieux as the appointee to replace Sen. Mel Martinez (R), who initially announced he would not seek re-election and recently announced he would be resigning. LeMieux is a former Crist chief of staff.

Now, after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), it appears that the Massachusetts Legislature is ready to change the law to give Gov. Deval Patrick (D) the authority to appoint a successor to serve until a special election can be held early next year, instead of having the seat remain vacant until the election.

Six appointed Senators would be the most since 1961-1962, when seven appointed Senators served in the 87th Congress. That class included Sen. Benjamin Smith (D-Mass.), who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by John F. Kennedy when he was elected president. Smith was just a placeholder, and Ted Kennedy won the seat in 1962.

Thirteen appointed Senators served in the 79th Congress, spanning 1945-1946, which is the largest number, according to the Senate Historical Office. Ten appointed Senators served in both the 65th (1917-1918) and 83rd (1953-1954) Congresses. In the first half of the 20th century, appointed Senators were much more common, with an average of six from 1913 through 1954.

Between the six appointed Senators in the 87th Congress and this 111th Congress, the average number of appointed Senators in a Congress has been two. Part of the reason is that the chamber is growing younger. There were nine deaths in the 83rd Congress and seven in the 87th.

In some cases, the large number of appointments is adding to a growing slate of Senate races in the 2010 cycle. And both parties’ campaign committees are facing an expansive and expensive set of races

The Obama, Salazar, and Martinez seats were already scheduled to be up for election for next year, but the seats formerly held by Biden and Clinton will have special elections next November to fill out the remainder of their terms, growing the total number of seats up in 2010 from 34 to 36.

Even if Gov. Patrick is allowed to appoint a replacement, there will still be a special election, likely in early 2010, to fill out the remainder of Kennedy’s term, which expires in 2012.

And there will also likely be a special election in Texas next year if, as is expected, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) resigns in order to focus on her gubernatorial run. That vacancy would be filled by special election and not appointment.

Thirty-eight Senate seats would be the most in a cycle since 1962, when 39 Senate seats were in play.

A race in Texas adds another costly contest to go with expected races in expensive advertising states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as potentially competitive races in Florida, California and New York.

While Republicans may very well take a pass on the Massachusetts special because of the Democratic nature of the state and circumstances surrounding the vacancy, Texas will be a must-win for National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas).

The NRSC had $4.43 million in the bank at the end of July and no debt. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had $7.15 million on hand but is still carrying $3.33 million in debt from last cycle.

This story first appeared on on August 28, 2009 at 11:57am. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Print Edition: New York 23 & California 45

The August 21, 2009 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers.

The print edition of the Report comes out every two weeks. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.

Here is a brief preview of introduction to this edition:

N.Y. 23: Democrats Flying High Again?
By Nathan L. Gonzales

It’s déjà vu all over again in Upstate New York. Less than six months after Democrats held onto the 20th District in a special election when Kirsten Gillibrand (D) left for the Senate, the neighboring 23rd District seat is set to become vacant.

President Obama reached across the aisle to nominate Cong. John McHugh (R) to be Secretary of Army conveniently leaving his congressional seat open and ripe for Democratic picking. Democrats successfully defended Gillibrand’s seat and are now on the offensive in what is arguably a more Democratic district.

Democratic strategists are practically Xeroxing their playbook from the 20th C.D. race in an effort to replicate the magic. They nominated attorney Bill Owens, a registered Independent, and utter the phrase “created jobs” at every opportunity. Republicans are looking to moderate state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava to keep the seat in GOP hands. She has broader appeal than the GOP candidate in the 20th, but she can’t afford to lose too many voters to Republican Doug Hoffman, who is running on the Conservative Party line. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

California 45: It Never Rains in Southern California

After winning over 50 congressional seats over the past two cycles, Democratic targets are harder to come by these days. But after Barack Obama’s dominating performance in California and overall voter registration efforts, Democrats believe Cong. Mary Bono Mack is one of handful of vulnerable Republican incumbents in the Golden State.

Even though Bono Mack has coasted to reelection in the face of two Democratic waves, Democrats believe Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet is the well-financed challenger that can defeat the congresswoman. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New York 23: Parties Make Tactical Choices in Special

By Stuart Rothenberg

Like generals preparing to fight the last war, party leaders in New York’s 23rd Congressional district apparently have decided that the results of the special election in the state’s nearby 20th district is all the information they need.

On the surface, the two parties have repeated their selections from 20th district, with Republicans picking a veteran legislator, state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, and Democrats selecting a political neophyte who isn’t burdened with a legislative record to defend and who has some personal resources, Attorney Bill Owens.

But, in fact, Republicans, hoping to avoid another special election loss, have done a significant about-face, picking a politically moderate woman with significant appeal to Independent voters and even to Democrats.

The key questions now are whether Scozzafava’s liberal record on abortion rights and gay rights, as well as doubts about her position on the Employee Free Choice Act, will drive conservatives to the Conservative Party line and the party’s nominee, Doug Hoffman.

And, will Democrats be as successful beating up the Assemblywoman and demonizing her record as they were in the 20th district special election, when they kept the focus on state Sen. Jim Tedisco’s (R) long record in the state Legislature? Owens has already stressed that he is not “a career politician” — an obvious shot at his Republican opponent.

Party registration figures — always a lagging indicator — favor the GOP in the district, but the Republican advantage in the 23rd district is less than the GOP advantage in the 20th district, where Democrat Scott Murphy narrowly won a late-March special election.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of April 1, 43.1 percent of active voters were Republicans in the 23rd, while 31 percent were Democrats — a 12.1-point advantage for the GOP.

In contrast, in the 20th district, Republicans held a larger 14.7-point advantage, 41.5 percent to 26.8 percent.

In both districts, the GOP edge has been eroding. In the 23rd, the Republican registration advantage was 14.6 points in November 2006 and 16.2 points in November 2002. So, recent registration trends clearly favor Democrats.

President Barack Obama carried the district last year with 52 percent, compared to 47 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

But geography may not be in Owens’ favor.

The district, which includes all of or parts of 11 counties, is a sprawling one, taking in the state’s most northern counties along the St. Lawrence Seaway and including two long “arms” that stretch south, one of which reaches almost all the way to Schenectady. The other arm stretches south between Syracuse and Utica.

Owens comes from Plattsburgh, in the extreme northeast corner of the district, while Scozzafava represents a geographically large Assembly district right in the middle of the Congressional district. Owens’ home county, Clinton, is only the fourth most populous county in the district.

In 2008, Rep. John McHugh (R), who is presumably leaving the seat when he is confirmed as secretary of the Army, won re-election by rolling up huge majorities in three counties: Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence — parts of which are all represented in the Assembly by Scozzafava. Scozzafava’s husband, Ron McDougall, is president of the Jefferson/Lewis/St. Lawrence Counties Central Labor Council.

Democrats came out of the gate quickly trying to define Owens, who downplays his partisanship by asserting that he has been registered as an Independent since age 18, as another Scott Murphy.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) praised Owens, a former Air Force captain, for his military service and for “creating jobs in New York,” a message that worked well for Murphy in his special election. Van Hollen was apparently referring to Owens’ work on the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp., which was created to redevelop a military base closed by the Air Force in 1995.

Democrats are signaling that they will make an issue of a company with which Scozzafava has been associated and which, through subsidiaries, has numerous tax liens. Republicans counter that her own business has no such problems but acknowledge that her brother’s business has problems.

Scozzafava may also prove to be a tougher target for Democrats than Tedisco was. Observers say she is well-liked in the area, and moderate Republican women have been successful politically in Upstate New York.

“She’s a tough Republican for the Democrats to campaign against. She is a very good grass-roots politician,” said one longtime New York observer who thinks that her appeal with independent voters will be a great asset in the race.

Scozzafava has already won the Independence Party line, which proved crucial in Murphy’s special election victory in March. The Working Families Party has not yet picked its nominee.

But even GOP insiders are concerned about a possible revolt on the right. The Assemblywoman has been strongly criticized by conservative bloggers who see her as nothing more than a Democrat in Republican clothing, and Republican loyalists are concerned about possible defections to Hoffman, the Conservative Party nominee.

Republican insiders admit they know little about Owens right now, and his lack of a record means they may have little to shoot at. That could keep the focus on Scozzafava.

Of course, the national political environment is different now than it was when Murphy won his special election. Obama is more controversial now, and opposition to his health care initiative, particularly among many seniors, and to heavy federal spending has changed the landscape. Also, Democrats don’t have a popular local politician like now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to give cover to their nominee.

The special election has not been set because McHugh has not been confirmed to his new post, but a Nov. 3 contest is expected. That would put it on the same day as gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, adding to its potential importance.

A sweep of all three races would not necessarily say much about 2010, but it would give Republicans a welcome new storyline that could boost their morale, fundraising and overall prospects.

Plenty of questions exist about the two major party nominees and about the extent of the conservative Hoffman’s campaign. As Murphy’s victory earlier in the year demonstrated, the performance of the candidates matters, as does the behavior of outside groups and the commitment of the parties’ campaign committees.

“This race is classic jigsaw puzzle politics. The district is so dispersed geographically that the winner will need to put together a diverse partisan and geographic coalition. That’s particularly challenging in a special election,” said Bruce Gyory, a New York State political consultant who has advised Democratic and Republican candidates.

Scozzafava should start out ahead in polling because of her name identification, but given what happened in New York’s 20th, as well as recent trends in the district, the special election should be very much worth watching.

This story first appeared on on August 12, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Print Edition: Florida Senate & New Mexico 2

The August 10, 2009 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers.

The print edition of the Report comes out every two weeks. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.

Here is a brief preview of introduction to this edition:

Florida Senate: A Political Cristening?
By Nathan L. Gonzales

For once, a Republican resignation is neither a surprise nor a source of frustration for the GOP.

Last week, Sen. Mel Martinez (R) announced his intention to resign his Senate seat, but the news isn’t earth shattering since he previously announced he would not run for reelection in 2010 and Republicans already lined up their best possible candidate to replace him: Gov. Charlie Crist (R).

The political landscape in the Sunshine State remains virtually the same as it was before Martinez’s recent announcement. Crist will likely choose a placeholder to fill the remainder of Martinez’s term so that the governor can continue his Senate campaign without the baggage of a self-appointment. And Crist still faces a primary challenger from conservative former state House speaker Marco Rubio.

Meanwhile, Cong. Kendrick Meek (D) is the likely Democratic nominee after state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) disappointed national Democrats by running for governor instead of the Senate.

Crist has maintained good job approval numbers even with rising unemployment numbers and overall economic uncertainty. And he is favored to win both the primary and general elections. There’s still over a year to go, but thus far, this is one Senate seat Republicans feel better about than they did six months ago. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

New Mexico 2: Don’t Call it a Comeback

Cong. Steve Pearce wasn’t defeated for reelection like many of his Republican colleagues, but he’s trying to reclaim his 2nd District seat in New Mexico next year.

When Pearce ran for the U.S. Senate last cycle, he left behind a competitive district he had held since 2002. Former Lea County Board Chairman Harry Teague (D) got into the open seat race, won a competitive Democratic primary, and took over the seat for the Democrats.

Since Pearce’s statewide run was unsuccessful, he’s back running for Congress. But this race won’t be a rematch; it is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races in the country, as both men vie for votes against their toughest opponent yet. Subscribers get the rest of the story in the print edition.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nothing But Name-Calling

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While President Barack Obama is trying to change the tone in Washington, Democrats and Republicans inside the Beltway can’t resist calling each other names and needling one another.

“These town-hall meetings have been orchestrated by the tea baggers and the birthers to just be free-for-alls, make a lot of noise, go on YouTube and show discord,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday after a meeting at the White House.

In one sentence, the Majority Whip got in two barbs: “tea baggers,” a derogatory sexual term meant to poke fun at the Taxed Enough Already, or TEA, Party rally attendees, and “birthers,” a term manufactured by Democrats to describe people who question the legitimacy of Obama’s natural-born citizenship.

Over the past four years, Democrats successfully used their “culture of corruption” label to brand Republicans, which in turn helped them pick up more than 50 seats in the House and 14 seats in the Senate. And now that they’re in the majority, Democrats have shifted to using “Republican Party of No” as their GOP brand of choice.

But Republicans are not innocent victims in the name-calling game.

Earlier this year, there was a Republican National Committee proposal to label the Democrats as the “Democrat Socialist Party.” Republicans dropped that idea but continue to drop the end of the Democratic Party’s official name.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele referred to the “ wing of the Democrat Party” in an early July fundraising e-mail. But that’s just one example of consistent use of “Democrat Party” by the GOP campaign committees and other Republicans.

The precise origin of “Democrat Party” is unclear, but according to a 2007 New Yorker article by Hendrik Hertzberg, the term was used by Harold Stassen, a former Minnesota governor, in his 1940 Republican National Convention keynote speech because he felt the tactics of the Democratic machines were undemocratic. Subsequently, “Democrat Party” has been used by a bevy of Republicans from Bob Dole in the 1976 vice presidential debate and former President George W. Bush to Rush Limbaugh and the GOP leadership today.

“The very usage of that word is intended as an insult, and it’s received as such,” said Markos Moulitsas, publisher of the liberal blog Daily Kos. “As long as people know that Republicans have little more to offer than childish schoolyard taunts, their standing with the public won’t improve.”

For some Republicans, the usage is intentional; for others, it’s ingrained. “I know it drives them insane,” one Republican strategist said.

To Democrats, it’s more than a grammatical slip; it’s an epithet or a slur.

After Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) invoked the “Democrat Party” during a Budget Committee hearing in March, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) took offense. “I’d like to begin by saying to my colleague from Texas that there isn’t a single member on this side of the aisle that belongs to the ‘Democrat Party.’ We belong to the Democratic Party. So the party you were referring to doesn’t even exist. And I would just appreciate the courtesy when you’re referring to our party, if you’re referring to the Democratic Party, to refer to it as such.”

But not all Democrats are quite as jumpy about the term, particularly those outside the Beltway or the blogosphere.

Just two hours from Kaptur’s Ohio district lies Huntington, Ind., where the sign outside the Democrats’ base of operation reads: “Huntington County Democrat Headquarters.”

According to local Democrats, the sign has been around since the 1980s, when the party moved into the old antique shop after being scattered about multiple locations in town.

“It’s never come up here,” Huntington County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Long said about the sign. “I’ve never heard of anyone being sensitive about it.”

Huntington is far from a Democratic bastion; in fact, it’s the hometown of Vice President Dan Quayle.

The party headquarters is just blocks away from the Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center and across the street from the Huntington Herald-Press, the newspaper formerly owned by the Quayle family where Dan Quayle had a second-floor apartment early in his political career.

Last year, an Obama campaign representative in charge of a handful of surrounding counties set up in the Huntington headquarters, bringing in additional phones and computers.

“We’d never seen anything like it before,” said longtime local party activist Wanda Wolf, one-time vice chairwoman and treasurer of the party who also served terms as county recorder and auditor. Wolf couldn’t remember as much party excitement since then-Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) visited the region during his presidential run.

In the end, Obama received only 36 percent in the county, but it was a marked improvement from Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 25 percent four years earlier. Maybe with a different sign, the contest would have been closer.

“If a local party did that today, I’d call them stupid or clueless, but not malicious. And the GOP usage, as a schoolyard taunt, is malicious,” Moulitsas said. “The context is important. If you use it intending an insult, then it’s an insult.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brian Walsh said: “There is nothing malicious about it. However, if it bothers them and party operatives want to waste time complaining about it instead of working, all the better.”

This story first appeared in Roll Call on August 6, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It’s Time for All to Recharge Their Batteries

By Stuart Rothenberg

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photograph on the cover of this newspaper’s July 28 edition is worth an entire library.

The photo, showing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) looking straight ahead in a trance-like state and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), slightly out of focus, standing just behind her, is a modern political version of “American Gothic,” the famous 1930 Grant Wood painting.

But it’s more than that. It perfectly captures where the country and the Congress are after the first six months of the Barack Obama administration.

Almost every time that I have seen Pelosi either in person or on TV since she became Speaker, she has looked bright-eyed, often with a big smile on her face. Like Hoyer, her deputy and sometimes adversary, she is an energetic legislator who clearly relishes the spotlight and the day-to-day grind of politics.

But the Roll Call photograph reveals a very different side of the Speaker — as a 69-year-old woman who looks just plain worn out. Hoyer, who turned 70 in June, looks as serious and as fatigued at Pelosi. Together, they are a couple of senior citizens who have had an unusually hectic six months.

It has been 11 months since the nation’s financial services industry began to implode, leading to a dramatic increase in government intervention in the banking sector and then the automobile industry.

During that time, we’ve had a presidential election and inauguration, multiple bailouts, a massive economic stimulus package and a Supreme Court vacancy and nominee. We’ve also had multiple developing political scandals featuring Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a close Pelosi ally.

Then there has been the cacophony of chatter about cap-and-trade legislation, health insurance and health care reform, taxes, and spending. And I didn’t even mention Cabinet appointees who dropped out, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Bernie Madoff, Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney.

The White House has been in “crisis” mode for the past six months, in part as a way to ram controversial legislation through Congress. But while that strategy helped bring swift passage of the stimulus bill, it has lost much of its steam.

Both legislators and many in the public are simply tired of all of the chaos, and waiting an extra month or two or three to get the best health care bill possible doesn’t seem like a huge price to pay. And, of course, it isn’t — except that delay increases the chances that Republicans will be able to derail the entire package.

One of the problems Democrats now face, and this includes the strategists at the White House, is that there have been so many estimates, promises, warnings, deadlines and projections that it’s hard to take any of them very seriously at this point.

Does anybody really believe the president when he talks about how many jobs will be “saved” or created by the passage of a particular bill? Does anyone really know whether the Congressional Budget Office’s projections about savings (or the lack of savings) from a House Democratic health care bill are on the money? Would any sensible person really believe projections coming out of the Center for American Progress on the left or the Heritage Foundation on the right?

Often I don’t know what to believe, so I don’t believe any of them. And I’m willing to bet that a lot of Americans feel the same way.

It’s certainly not that voters have any greater faith in the Republicans these days. Polling doesn’t show dramatically increased confidence in the GOP or in Republican leaders.

It’s simply that all of the activity of the first six months of the Obama administration has created enough skepticism and doubt around the country and on Capitol Hill to make things much harder for the president and Congressional leaders than things were in February or March.

Democrats continue to have a couple of considerable advantages. While the president’s job approval numbers have slipped, they remain good. And he is still a strong communicator. Voters still have greater confidence in the Democratic Party than in the GOP on most of the key issues of the day — though no longer on the deficit and taxes.

A month away from Washington, D.C., even to try to “sell” the Democratic health care agenda, could well re-energize Pelosi and Hoyer. And given the intensity of the legislative sprint that started at Obama’s inauguration, both parties — as well as the American public — could use a breather.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 6, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sizing Up the 2010 Senate Contests in the Summer of 2009

By Stuart Rothenberg

Six months ago, the 2010 Senate battlefield looked relatively bare, with a few obvious skirmishes mostly in states with GOP incumbents. Three months later, the outlook had brightened dramatically for Democrats, largely the result of a number of GOP retirements and solid Democratic recruiting on those open seats.

But now, as the dog days of summer begin, the landscape has shifted again, this time improving significantly for Republicans.

Democrats no longer have the momentum they once possessed. Even more important, signs of some Democratic vulnerability have appeared, giving the National Republican Senatorial Committee opportunities to shoot at, rather than forcing it to play an entirely defensive game, as it has the past two cycles.

Fifteen months before the midterms, Democrats have major problems in two states — Illinois and Connecticut — while a third, Nevada, remains a potential headache. Republicans, on the other hand, have serious vulnerabilities in four states — Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio — and potential problems in two others. But of late, even those Republican vulnerabilities look less daunting than they once did.

The announcement by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) that she will seek re-election rather than run for the Senate (or governor) immediately boosted Republican prospects in what remains a very difficult state for the GOP. But Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) should be a formidable candidate, while Democrats have a field that is less than intimidating.

And in Connecticut, veteran Sen. Chris Dodd (D) has aired multiple TV ads in an attempt to remind Constitution State voters what he has accomplished and what he stands for — an open acknowledgment that he has work to do to repair his image. Republicans now worry that Dodd, who just announced he will have surgery for prostate cancer, will retire rather than seek re-election, thereby damaging their prospects of winning the seat.

Democrats have two formidable candidates in Kentucky, while Republicans recently received a gift from Sen. Jim Bunning (R) when the endangered two-term incumbent announced that he would not seek a third term. That means Secretary of State Trey Grayson will likely be the GOP nominee, dramatically increasing the chances that Republicans can retain the seat.

Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) is moving toward a Senate bid in the Granite State’s open-seat contest, and while she is not yet a proven campaigner, insiders who know her speak effusively about her abilities and appeal. Democrats once viewed their likely nominee, Rep. Paul Hodes, as a solid favorite to win the seat, but the race now looks like a tossup, at best, for Democrats.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama’s sliding popularity is at least a troubling sign for Democrats in both Missouri and Ohio, where Republican Senate candidates may benefit from the public’s growing concerns about federal spending, possible tax hikes and bigger government.

Republicans still lack a top-tier challenger to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) recent personal troubles certainly don’t boost Republican prospects next year. Still, as the president’s point man in the Senate, Reid simply makes himself a juicy target in the midterm elections.

Democrats have potential opportunities in North Carolina and Louisiana, but they still have work to do in both. The party has not yet recruited a serious threat to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and while Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) is widely rumored to be leaning toward a challenge to Sen. David Vitter (R), the state’s fundamentals and the midterm environment raise questions about the viability of the challenge.

Republicans have three longer-shot opportunities that shouldn’t yet be completely discounted — Arkansas, Colorado and Pennsylvania — though in each case the Democratic incumbent has a considerable advantage. Pennsylvania, in particular, is intriguing, since a truly nasty Democratic primary seems likely and the GOP nominee, former Rep. Pat Toomey, is not without appeal.

Eleven Republican and 12 Democratic Senate seats up next year now look safe. But if Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) decides to run for the Senate, as some GOP insiders now believe he will, another of those safe Democratic seats suddenly becomes a tossup.

Republicans would be wise not to celebrate just yet. Their diminished vulnerability is, in part, the result of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s leaving the GOP, which cost them a seat that they probably were going to lose next year. And with Democrats controlling 60 of the Senate’s 100 seats going into next year’s elections, any additional Republican losses would add to the party’s existing woes.

The widely expected resignation of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) in the fall, which will lead to a special election in the first half of 2010, also creates some uncertainty. While Republicans will have a strong nominee and the NRSC will spend what it takes to hold the seat, the special election is at least a major distraction for the national GOP.

If politics is about momentum and message, then the outlook for ’10 has changed considerably over the past couple of months. Democrats still have a wealth of opportunities and some advantages, but Republicans now have momentum and an improving issue mix. For the first time this cycle, I can imagine a scenario where Democrats do not gain Senate seats in 2010.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 3, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, August 03, 2009

New Jersey Governor: You Have 4 Months To Learn to Say ‘Gov. Chris Christie’

By Stuart Rothenberg

The raid last week in New Jersey that resulted in the arrest of 44 people, including a number of officeholders, probably is the straw that breaks Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s back in November. When I asked one longtime Democratic insider about the race, it took him all of two words to assess Corzine’s prospects: “It’s over.” Another Garden State Democrat was more cautious, saying only, “It’s almost over.”

All eyes will now be on the governor, to see whether he follows the lead of former Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), who dropped his Senate candidacy late in 2002 when he and party insiders came to believe that he could very well lose his seat to the Republican challenger. Party leaders then picked former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) to replace him on the ballot, and Lautenberg went on to win in the fall.

Corzine’s ethics are not the issue, of course. His major problem is the state’s economy, which includes the budget.

But after the raid, Garden State voters are now more likely to kill two birds with one vote — expressing their disappointment with the governor’s economic performance while also finally making a statement about ethics, corruption and good government. That’s exactly what happened in Louisiana in 2007, when Bobby Jindal (R) was elected governor.

During the July FBI raid, authorities arrested a number of former and current officeholders, including Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega, all Hudson County Democrats. Ocean County Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt was the lone Republican arrested in the sting.

For months, polls have shown Christie holding anywhere from a 6-point to a 12-point lead over Corzine, who served five years in the Senate before winning the governorship in 2005. Polls have shown the governor draws 38 percent to 41 percent in ballot tests, a sign of his weak position, and he is losing too much support among blue-collar Democrats and independent voters.

“Independents,” one veteran New Jersey Democrat told me, “have stopped listening to the governor. He is well-known to them, and they are ready to move on.”

Christie is perfectly positioned to benefit from growing voter embarrassment with the state’s reputation as an ethical cesspool. He recently added Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno, a 50-year-old former federal prosecutor, to his ticket as lieutenant governor.

Guadagno is a former assistant U.S. attorney (where she was deputy chief of the Corruption Unit) and deputy director of the state Division of Criminal Justice. She favors abortion rights.

Over the weekend, Corzine made his picket for his running mate, selecting state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, 74, of Bergen County.

Weinberg, who has served for more than a decade in the Assembly, is known as a hard campaigner and a reformer (as well as an adversary of a former powerful Bergen County Democratic leader who is awaiting trial on corruption charges). The state Senator, who lost much of her savings in the Bernie Madoff investment scam, is also regarded as very liberal.

Weinberg’s reputation as a reformer ordinarily would be an asset. But with state Democrats buried under an avalanche of bad news, her nomination isn’t likely to change the foul odor coming from state party circles. And Weinberg is widely disliked by Democratic county chairmen, who traditionally are responsible for running the all-important county organizations in the state and for getting Democratic voters to the polls on Election Day.

“County [party] leaders don’t like Loretta. They find her anti-party-structure. They feel that she’s unable to do anything but complain,” one Democrat told me recently.

It didn’t take long for the New York Times to report that Rep. Frank Pallone and Newark Mayor Cory Booker were expressing interest in replacing Corzine as the Democratic nominee if the governor were to announce that he had decided against running for re-election.

But Corzine, who didn’t come up through the state Democratic machine and now has a running mate, insists that he is in the race until November. Unlike Torricelli, who, one Garden State Democrat observed, needed to find work after the election and knew that he couldn’t afford to just blow up the party, Corzine is financially secure and can afford to ignore the consequences of remaining in the contest.

The comeback by then-Gov. Brendan Byrne (D), who trailed his GOP opponent by an even bigger margin in 1977 than Corzine now trails Christie, is certain to give Corzine at least a faint hope of victory. That hope and the governor’s stubbornness argue against a quick exit. Most insiders see only about a 1-in-5 chance that the governor will end his re-election bid.

Democratic strategists aren’t yet certain what kind of a year their party will have in November, though they think a 5-point loss by Corzine and modest losses downballot is the most likely scenario. But they acknowledge that a much bigger Corzine defeat (in the order of 10 or 12 points) is possible, along with correspondingly larger losses in the Assembly and in local races.

Whatever the outcome, 2009 will be at the very least a decent year for Garden State Republicans, and possibly something much better. The result, one Democrat told me recently, is that the message of November will be that New Jersey once again is a two-party state. And Republicans are likely to trumpet that comeback nationally.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 30, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.