Thursday, December 31, 2009

With 10 Months to Go, Is the House Playing Field Set?

By Nathan L. Gonzales

When it comes to politics, a year may not be an eternity after all. That’s not good news for House Democrats who are already playing defense this cycle.

Using the last four election cycles as a guide, the playing field of competitive House races is unlikely to change dramatically in the months from the winter of the off-year to Election Day. If anything, the playing field is more likely to include more Democratic territory, barring a dramatic change in the political environment.

According to the Rothenberg Political Report, there are 61 competitive House seats in the country, including 47 Democratic seats and 14 Republican seats. According to CQ-Roll Call, the playing field is wider (102 seats) but similarly proportional (70 Democratic seats and 32 Republican seats).

Any way you look at it, Democratic targets are few. But party strategists believe that offense is one of the best defenses and are determined to keep Republicans on their heels.

“We here at the DCCC we are very much on offense this cycle,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said recently. “Obviously we have a smaller playing field as a result of having won 55 seats over the last two cycles. So, in that sense, we have less territory to compete in.”

Past Democratic success has limited the party’s opportunities to go on offense (even though Van Hollen’s list of 55 seats includes Louisiana’s 6th district, which they lost last December after winning it in a special election earlier in the year). But the party’s defensive posture also has to do with the changing mood of the country in President Barack Obama’s first year.

Two years ago, the playing field didn’t change all that much, when it came to the number of competitive seats, from the winter of the off-year until Election Day, but it did shift dramatically against Republicans.

On Jan. 16, 2008, Republicans held 35 of the 61 competitive seats, while Democrats held 26. Over the course of the next 10 months, the political environment continued to deteriorate for the Republicans. In the end, Republicans held 52 of the 63 competitive seats on Election Day.

This cycle, Democrats are facing a similar problem.

The DCCC is trying to put 25 Republican-held seats into play. But Democrats will start 2010 with roughly half that number in play and as the cycle goes on, it could be difficult to maintain the offensive intensity. The bulk of the committee’s resources are more likely to be tied up protecting incumbents and defending or challenging open seats.

This cycle is a shift for Democrats, who had become used to playing offense when President George W. Bush was in office. In 2008, Democrats used their “Red to Blue” program to target 63 Republican-held seats. Fifteen additional races were on their “Emerging Races” and “Races to Watch” lists.

This cycle, Republicans are taking the Democratic playbook and running with it.

“Between candidate recruitment and Democrat retirements, we believe we can expand the playing field and potentially put up to 80 races into play,” National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Ken Spain said. The NRCC is promoting candidates through the “Young Guns” program in the same way the DCCC has used the Red to Blue program.

Similar to the Democrats the last two cycles, Republicans are trying to broaden the House playing field by competing in as many districts as possible. The goal is to get as many races in play as possible in order to lower the percentage of competitive seats necessary to win in order to get the majority.

Republicans are still a long way from getting 80 seats into play and recapturing the majority is not yet in sight. But even though Congressional campaign committees can’t create a wave election, strategists can put candidates in place to take advantage of one.

On Jan. 17, 2006, there were 42 seats in play, including 31 Republican-held seats and 11 Democratic-held seats, according to the Rothenberg Political Report. As the sentiment continued to shift against Bush and the Republicans, the playing field broadened and tilted further into GOP territory.

By early November 2006, the number of competitive seats jumped by 20 to 62, and Republicans were defending a whopping 57 of them. Only five Democratic seats were considered to be vulnerable, and in the end, Democrats didn’t lose any of their own seats and picked up 30 GOP seats.

The two previous elections were status quo elections where the House playing field hardly changed in the final 10 months and a limited number of seats changed party hands.

In the 2004 cycle, there were 38 competitive House seats in November 2003 and 38 competitive seats a year later on Election Day, and the proportion between the two parties was basically unchanged. Republicans gained three seats that year.

In 2002, the playing field shifted only slightly from the winter of the off-year (48 seats) to Election Day (54 seats) and Republicans gained eight seats.

Both the 2002 and 2004 cycles were complicated by redistricting and featured some competitive seats that were newly created or jointly held by both parties.

There is some good news for Democrats. They will start next year with two almost sure takeovers of Republican-held seats: Louisiana’s 2nd district, now held by Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, and Delaware’s open at-large district.

But the party will need the political environment to improve in order to change the trajectory of the cycle. If voters are more satisfied with the direction of the country come next fall, that could lead to a status quo election, where few seats are gained or lost. And Democrats would be fine with that.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on December 22, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Another Year, Another Set of Nominations for the Best and the Worst ...

By Stuart Rothenberg

It’s another year down the drain, so I’m sure all Roll Call readers are clamoring for another one of those best/worst, winners/losers columns. Well, clamoring may be a little too strong.

Anyway, though 2009 wasn’t a major election year, there were a few races and plenty of politics, so here goes ...

Best Campaign

The nominees:

• Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.)
• Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.)
• Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R)
• Accenture’s Tiger Woods ad campaign

Both New York Democratic campaigns deserve plenty of credit, given the competitive nature of their districts, but McDonnell’s effort was remarkable, especially given recent GOP struggles in Virginia. McDonnell stayed focused on jobs and transportation, never allowing himself to get drawn into a lengthy battle over cultural issues. Looks like a clear win in this category for the Virginian.

Most Exciting Sports-Related Candidate Entering 2010

The nominees:

• Former NFL player Jay Riemersma (R)in Michigan
• Columbus Destroyers (Arena Football League) co-owner Jim Renacci (R) in Ohio
• Former Iowa State University wrestling coach Jim Gibbons (R) in Iowa
• World Wrestling Entertainment co-owner Linda McMahon (R) in Connecticut
• Wichita Wild (Indoor Football League) owner Wink Hartman (R) in Kansas
• San Diego Chargers offensive tackle Jon Runyan (R) in New Jersey
• Tiger Woods

Actually, Tiger Woods isn’t running for anything but cover. Indoor football is a made-up game and therefore doesn’t qualify as a sport, while pro wrestling is scripted entertainment, not sports. That leaves a college wrestler/coach and two professional football players worthy of consideration.

College wrestling is a big deal in Iowa, and Gibbons was head wrestling coach at Iowa State University for seven years. His team won the NCAA championship in 1987. During his undergraduate days, Gibbons was a three-time All-American. He won the NCAA championship in his weight class in 1981.

Riemersma played football at Michigan and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 7th round of the 1996 NFL draft. A tight end, he played six years for the Bills and two for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Runyan, also a product of the University of Michigan, was drafted by the Houston Oilers in the fourth round of the 1996 NFL draft. He played with the Oilers (who later became the Tennessee Titans) until he was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2000. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2002.

Riemersma and Runyan played on the same college team and were in the same NFL draft, with the tight end going as the 244th pick and the offensive tackle being taken with the 109th pick. It isn’t close between the two pro football veterans; Runyan gets the nod between the two of them.

So is Runyan the most exciting sports-related candidate of 2010, or is it Gibbons? It’s a close call, but my winner is Runyan, mostly because the 6-foot-7, 330-pound lineman is still active, and I’ve watched Runyan on TV over the years.

Most Embarrassing Political Story

The nominees:

• South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), straying
• Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), straying
• Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), the ongoing saga
• Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), finances
• Tiger Woods, straying

I’m going to have to go with Sanford on this one, since it was so, so bizarre. Hiking on the Appalachian Trail? Argentina?

Most Over-Covered Story

The nominees:

• Sarah Palin, the book tour
• Nadya Suleman and her octuplets
• Oprah’s “retirement” two years from now
• Tiger Woods, straying
• Michael Jackson, R.I.P.
• “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” the saga continues

Any of these would be good choices as the most over-covered story of the year. I’m going for Michael Jackson, I think, because of the sheer magnitude of the coverage and the late performer’s rather odd life choices.

The Worst Campaign

The nominees:

• Virginia gubernatorial loser Creigh Deeds (D)
• Congressional loser Dede Scozzafava (R — sort of) in New York
• Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi (D) in New York
• Congressional loser Jim Tedisco (R) in New York
• Accenture’s Tiger Woods ad campaign

Tedisco and Deeds were unimpressive, but nothing compared to Scozzafava, who couldn’t raise any money and ultimately dropped out of the race. But as bad a fit as Scozzafava was for 23rd district Republicans, she was easily outpaced in my mind by Suozzi, a one-time rising star in New York Democratic politics, who lost re-election by 386 votes yet ended the race with a little more than $2 million in the bank. It’s hard to believe that spending even some of that leftover cash couldn’t have gotten Suozzi enough votes to win.

The Worst Decision

The nominees:

• New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) runs for re-election
• Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn’t start Cliff Lee in Game 4 of the World Series
• Republican County chairmen nominate Dede Scozzafava in the special election in New York’s 23rd district
• Kanye West disses Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards
• Roll Call continues to publish Rothenberg columns throughout the year

Thank goodness Scozzafava is nominated or else I might have to vote against myself.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 17, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 2010 Elections Are Closer Than You May Think

By Stuart Rothenberg

For political junkies everywhere, and particularly for those who like reading electoral tea leaves, the midterm elections start in less than a month — Jan. 19, to be exact, when the special election in Massachusetts to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D) seat will take place.

While even the thought that state Sen. Scott Brown (R) might upset state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) is probably too much for anyone to consider, true political junkies will be keeping their eyes on Coakley’s margin.

Does Coakley pile up a “normal” win, or does Brown do better than expected? Given Democratic problems last month in Virginia and New Jersey, a disappointing showing by Coakley, even if she were to win the election, would certainly set off another round of Democratic grumbling and media tongue-wagging.

Over the past decade, Democratic nominees for president have been carrying Massachusetts with about 60 percent of the vote, while no Republican has come close to the 40 percent mark since President George H.W. Bush drew more than 45 percent of the total vote against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Last year, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) drew 36 percent against then-Sen. Barack Obama (D), about the same showing that President George W. Bush had against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

Democratic Senate candidates have also been rolling up big numbers for years. The last GOP Senate nominee to draw at least 40 percent of the vote in the state was former Gov. William Weld, who drew 45 percent against Kerry in 1996.

If Brown can crack the 40 percent mark against Coakley, it would be noteworthy.

In February, Illinois voters will head to the polls to nominate a slew of candidates.

Democratic strategists have been arguing that Republican primaries — and particularly the ideological split within the GOP — will severely hurt Republican prospects in the midterm contests. But a solid win in his party’s Senate primary by Rep. Mark Kirk (R) could undermine that Democratic message.

Attorney Patrick Hughes, a first-time candidate, is generally regarded as Kirk’s main challenger from the right, since he has been endorsed by Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, the Joliet Tax Day Tea Party and a long list of “movement conservatives.”

Through Sept. 30, however, Hughes had raised less than $129,000 from individuals and political action committees (plus put in $250,000 of his own), far less than Kirk’s $2.9 million raised at the same point.

If Kirk wins convincingly, he can undercut the Democratic argument. But if Hughes gets uncomfortably close to the Republican Congressman, his showing will both provide further talking points to Democrats and embolden conservative insurgents who care more about making a statement than winning an election.

The Democratic Senate race is also worth watching. State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination, but he faces two primary opponents, former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman and former Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Robinson Jackson. How the three place — and how well the state treasurer does in the balloting — will affect how the general election is viewed.

Of course, observers are certain to compare the relative showings of Kirk and Giannoulias in their respective primaries.

Primaries in two Illinois Congressional districts are also worth watching.

In the open-seat contest to succeed Kirk, Republican voters will choose from two wealthy conservative businessmen, Dick Green and Bob Dold, and state Rep. Beth Coulson, who is much more in the Kirk mold. Democrats will select either state Rep. Julie Hamos or Dan Seals, who made credible but unsuccessful races against Kirk in 2006 and 2008.

In the state’s 14th district, Republicans must choose a nominee to take on Rep. Bill Foster (D). Ethan Hastert, son of the former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), faces state Sen. Randy Hultgren for the GOP nomination.

Foster narrowly defeated businessman/investment guru Jim Oberweis in a 2008 special to replace Dennis Hastert, and later that same year he polished off Oberweis again, though more comfortably. Now, with the national mood having shifted and Republicans likely to be more united behind their 2010 nominee than they were behind Oberweis, Foster is likely to face a more difficult challenge.

Finally, early March brings the Texas primaries, and all eyes are sure to be on the Republican battle for governor. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) is challenging Gov. Rick Perry (R), and while she began her bid with strong personal ratings and upbeat poll numbers, her prospects now look more uncertain.

Democrats hope that the bitter GOP primary will give their likely nominee, outgoing Houston Mayor Bill White, a shot to win a high-profile statewide office for the first time since 1990, when Democrat Ann Richards beat Republican Clayton Williams to become the state’s last Democratic governor. No Democrat has won a U.S. Senate, gubernatorial or presidential election in the Lone Star State since then.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 21, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Print Edition: 2010 House Overview

The December 18, 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 updated 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 excerpt from this edition:

House Outlook for 2010

As we noted three months ago, this cycle now looks like a typical midterm election, with the majority party (in this case the Democrats) trying to localize elections by beating up their Republican opponents, and the out-party (in this case the GOP) trying to ride a wave of change and dissatisfaction – and seeking to have voters “send a message” to President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Substantial Republican gains now look almost inevitable, with net Democratic losses likely to exceed a dozen. While Democratic control of the House is not yet at risk, losses of 15-20 seats are likely, and that target range could well grow with additional Democratic retirements and voter anger.

Subscribers get the rest of the overview and a state-by-state look at the candidates in the most competitive House races.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stu on the GOP's Tactics on Healthcare

The GOP's stalling tactics on the health care bill are Politics 101. You can watch the video below or by clicking this link to the CBS web site.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What a Difference a Year Makes: the 2010 Senate Outlook

By Stuart Rothenberg

As “Saturday Night Live” character Emily Litella (played by the late Gilda Radner) would say, “Never mind.”

Eleven months ago, still in the shadow of Barack Obama’s presidential victory over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats looked likely to gain anywhere from two to as many as five additional Senate seats.

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) was in trouble, while GOP open seats in Florida and Missouri were clearly at risk. Doubts about the prospects of at least four other Republican incumbents — North Carolina’s Richard Burr, New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg, Louisiana’s David Vitter and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter (who has since switched parties) — ranged from uncertain to unsettling for party strategists. And that was before Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) announced he would not run again.

But since then, GOP recruiting successes and a change in the national political environment have shifted the outlook for next year’s Senate contests. Suddenly, Democratic seats started to look more and more vulnerable.

As 2009 draws to a close, Democrats now could lose seats, a dramatic change from January that could end the party’s 60-seat majority in less than two years. And GOP gains could be large enough to sink any major Democratic initiatives not passed before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections.

The national Republican brand shows no signs of improving dramatically, but polling conducted in a number of the states with Senate contests next year shows GOP candidates doing better in hypothetical matchups recently than they were a few months earlier.

In Arkansas, for example, a Nov. 30-Dec. 2 Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos (D) showed Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) with a single point advantage over state Sen. Gilbert Baker, the apparent favorite for the GOP nomination. In early September, Lincoln had a much more substantial 44 percent to 37 percent advantage over Baker in another Daily Kos survey.

In Connecticut, a Nov. 3-8 Quinnipiac University poll showed former Rep. Rob Simmons, one of two serious contenders for the Republican Senate nomination, leading Sen. Chris Dodd (D) by 11 points, a larger lead than Simmons had in September (5 points), in July (9 points) or in May (6 points).

In New Hampshire, a Sept. 25-Oct. 2 University of New Hampshire survey found former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, probably the favorite for the GOP Senate nomination, leading Rep. Paul Hodes (D) by 7 points (40 percent to 33 percent), while a June 24-July 1 UNH poll had Ayotte up by 4 points, 39 percent to 35 percent.

In Ohio, a Nov. 5-9 Quinnipiac poll found former Rep. Rob Portman (R) leading Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) 39 percent to 36 percent in a very competitive Senate trial heat pitting the two primary frontrunners against each other. In a Jan. 29-Feb. 2 Quinnipiac survey, Fisher held a commanding 42 percent to 27 percent advantage over Portman.

You can certainly quibble with any of these surveys or note that in some cases the movement is small, but the trend appears to be clear.

Other races, where there hasn’t been such movement, remain tight, with the race a statistical dead heat (in Missouri, for example), or with the Republican nominee holding a narrow advantage in most polling (including Kentucky, North Carolina, Illinois and Louisiana).

And in some contests, where there hasn’t been enough independent polling (or the same ballot tests repeated over time), Republicans look to be in much better shape than they ever could have hoped. Colorado is a good example, as is Pennsylvania.

Delaware remains an excellent GOP opportunity, and until Attorney General Beau Biden (D) actually announces that he will take on Rep. Mike Castle (R) in the open-seat Senate race, Democrats have to be at least a wee bit nervous.

Finally, I am struck how much Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) ballot test numbers resemble those of former Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.), as well as soon-to-be-former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D). All three, of course, lost re-election bids.

Since a late July GOP poll, Reid has not exceeded 43 percent in a ballot test against a potential opponent, and he has generally drawn around 41 percent of the vote against his two most likely Republican challengers. His last lead was in a late November 2008 Daily Kos poll in which he had a 46 percent to 40 percent advantage over former Rep. Jon Porter (R), who has since taken himself out of consideration.

The overall shift in the psychology of the cycle may keep Democrats on the defensive and help Republican fundraising. And GOP nominees could well benefit from the fact that late tossups often break to one party, not evenly between the two parties.

A little more than four months ago, I wrote in this space (“Sizing Up the 2010 Senate Contests in the Summer of 2009,” Aug. 3) that for the first time this year I could “imagine a scenario where Democrats do not gain seats in 2010.” That has changed again, so that Republican Senate gains are now looking likely.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 14, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Print Edition: Colorado Senate & New York 1

The December 11, 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 updated 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 the introduction to this edition:

Colorado Senate: Proving Ground
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Former Denver Public Schools chief Michael Bennet (D) is on a steep learning curve about what it means to be a United States senator.

After President Barack Obama appointed Sen. Ken Salazar (D) to be his secretary of the Interior, Gov. Bill Ritter (D) appointed Bennet to fill the vacancy. At the time, Bennet was largely a political unknown and has never been a candidate himself. But now he could face both a competitive primary and general election in his first trip down the campaign trail.

Former state Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff is viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party, but he has his work cut out for him against the party-backed Bennet. And once he’s nominated, Bennet will likely face former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton (R) and maybe more importantly, a large group of independent voters in the general election.

Subscribers get the lay of the land, candidate bios, consulting teams, and how it plays out- all in the print edition.

New York 1: Job Security
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days, but strategists from both parties agree that jobs will be the top issue in New York’s 1st District next year.

After winning the seat in 2002, Cong. Tim Bishop (D) hasn’t faced much of a challenge. But this cycle, Republicans are excited about wealthy entrepreneur Randy Altschuler and believe he has the resources and resume to win the Long Island district.

Democrats are anxious to talk about Altschuler’s skill creating jobs overseas while Republicans are more than happy to highlight the Democratic Party’s disappointing record of job creation at home. It remains to be seen what shape the economy is in next fall, but this race demonstrates the Republicans’ ability to broaden the playing field from the last couple of cycles.

Subscribers get the lay of the land, candidate bios, consulting teams, and how it plays out- all in the print edition.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Are Democrats Trying to Follow Past GOP Leaders Off the Cliff?

By Stuart Rothenberg

When the GOP controlled Congress and the White House, many Democrats and their allies in the media complained that Republicans were more interested in pursuing a narrow ideological agenda intended to transform government and society rather than in solving the nation’s problems.

Whether you agreed with that assessment, the charge wasn’t completely unreasonable. Tax cuts to strangle government, deregulation for the sake of deregulation and social policy to advance the conservative agenda at any cost (e.g., Terri Schiavo) seemed among the rules of the day, no matter what the problem or the public’s desire.

During 2007 and 2008, Capitol Hill Democrats were careful not to emulate the approach of GOP Congressional leaders in 1995 and 1996. But since President Barack Obama’s election, those same Democrats seem to have forgotten what happened when Republicans pushed too far, too fast for change.

Increasingly, party leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue seem more interested in pushing an ideological agenda to transform the nation and the federal government rather than in dealing with the nation’s problems.

Until a handful of Senate Democrats negotiated a new health care reform deal that does not include a public option, that seemed more important to Democratic leaders than portability of insurance, ending denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions and a variety of proposals to lower costs and expand coverage.

Some have argued that only something as dramatic as a public option will truly deal with the nation’s health care “crisis,” but that’s hard to swallow considering the sizable Democratic opposition to the idea in the House and the newly crafted Senate package.

Yes, we have seen this before. After the 1994 elections, GOP leaders interpreted the results as an invitation — even a demand by most Americans — to change the country fundamentally by cutting government.

Of course, that wasn’t the case any more than last year’s presidential and Congressional elections were a mandate for a public insurance option in health care reform or a cap-and-trade bill or the enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Normal people don’t think that way, but politically active ideologues do, and after a sweeping election victory those elites try to impose their collective will on the American people, couching their proposals as the public’s.

Then-Texas Republican Reps. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey’s arrogance allowed President Bill Clinton to “triangulate,” and he was re-elected two years after the Republican tsunami that was supposed to change how Washington worked. Even Clinton’s re-election victory didn’t convince the GOP’s leaders that their constant pedal-to-the-metal strategy was the wrong approach, and DeLay, in particular, continued to look for ways to move his revolution forward on Capitol Hill until he left Congress.

During the DeLay years, Republican Congressional leaders spent much of their time talking to their contributors, media allies (such as Rush Limbaugh) and public policy soulmates at the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform. No wonder they got a distorted view of what they needed to do on Capitol Hill.

Now, the players are different. It’s the Center for American Progress, big labor unions, Planned Parenthood and liberal bloggers — but the result is the same: a Democratic agenda that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.); Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.), Ed Markey (Mass.) and George Miller (Calif.); and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) want.

It’s fair, of course, to observe that Democratic leaders are in a bind. They are being pulled by party moderates on Capitol Hill toward the center and to the left by the party’s base. But let’s not be naive. The Waxmans and Millers of the world aren’t being pulled toward the party’s base despite their own political judgment. That’s where they want to go.

Putting all of the blame on the Democratic base for the party’s ideological agenda in 2009 would have been like asserting that DeLay and Armey merely were pawns of the party’s ideologues in 1995. Congressional leaders then, and now, are part of that base.

If Congress really wanted to take important steps to reforming health care, broadening coverage and bending the cost curve, they could have started to make real progress before Wednesday.

The strategic political argument that Democrats had to stake out a position far to the left so that they could negotiate the best deal possible was reasonable up until Labor Day. But now, with the end of the year fast approaching, Congressional Democrats should be celebrating passage rather than scrambling to find new ideas that would be acceptable to moderates and liberals in both the House and the Senate.

Coming up with a new idea three weeks before Christmas and jamming it through the Senate may well be what party leaders do best. But it’s no way to write important legislation.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 10, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2010 Gubernatorial Outlook Shows Voters’ Desire for Change

By Stuart Rothenberg

Voters were angry in 2006, frustrated with the costs of the war in Iraq, dissatisfied with the Bush administration (particularly its response to Hurricane Katrina) and responding to Democratic calls for change. Four years later, the public’s mood is even worse, as kitchen table issues have moved to the forefront of public concern.

With unemployment at 10 percent nationally and significantly higher in many states — to say nothing of state budgets being squeezed by greater needs and lower revenues — most state electorates are once again responding to calls for change.

That has created something of an anti-incumbent — or anti-incumbent-party — mood in many states, likely resulting in far more party switches in gubernatorial races next year than we have seen in a long time.

Four years ago, the number of total party switches was small, and voter anger was directed primarily at the GOP.

In the 2006 elections, only six of 36 gubernatorial seats switched parties, all of them flipping from Republican to Democrat. Republicans held onto control of 16 of 22 governorships that they started with, while Democrats held onto all 14 of their states.

This cycle, 12 to 18 seats could turn. And unlike four years ago, each party could lose at least half a dozen seats, reflecting the bipartisan nature of voter dissatisfaction.

The 2006 flips occurred disproportionately in open seats and in states that were normally Democratic but had a Republican chief executive. Only one incumbent lost, Bob Ehrlich in Maryland, and the GOP lost governorships in states such as New York and Massachusetts, which strongly favor Democrats in normal times.

This time, most of the turnout will again occur in open seats. Ten of the 12 seats currently most likely to flip parties don’t have incumbent governors seeking re-election, in most cases because state law prevents them from running again.

Only two incumbents seeking election next year look to be in very serious trouble, Chet Culver (D) in Iowa and Jan Brewer (R) in Arizona, who ascended to the state’s top office after Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) joined President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.

A couple of other incumbents could still find themselves in the same shape next year (Colorado’s Bill Ritter and Ohio’s Ted Strickland, both Democrats), while two other incumbents, Nevada Republican Jim Gibbons and New York Democrat David Paterson, will either lose in primaries or drop out of their re-election bids before that happens.

And as in 2006, many (though certainly not all) of the expected flips will occur in states where a member of the minority party is giving up the governorship. For example, Democrats are well-positioned to pick up the top offices in California, Connecticut, Hawaii and Vermont, while Republicans are favored in Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming (if the governor doesn’t seek another term). Democratic Rhode Island would also fall Democratic, though former Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s Independent candidacy for governor is a complicating factor.

In difficult economic times, and with the “wrong” party controlling the governorship, it’s easy for voters to both switch parties and support the nominee from the party with which they are normally more comfortable anyway.

Only nine of this cycle’s 37 gubernatorial races are currently regarded as “safe” (less than one-quarter of all the seats up), compared with 2010 Senate races, where as of Oct. 30, 22 of 37 Senate races (almost 60 percent) fell into the “safe” category for one party or the other.

The greater vulnerability among governors is important to note, and it also explains why it is incorrect to read the anti-incumbent attitude among voters in gubernatorial contests also as an anti-incumbent attitude among voters regarding Members of Congress.

Governors are like presidents. As the state’s chief executives, they are seen by voters as “in charge.” Except in relatively rare circumstances, it is difficult for them to avoid responsibility for state issues, including state budgetary problems. They cannot simply blame the national economy, though it certainly is a factor that is playing out in individual states.

At times, sitting governors have blamed state legislators or the White House, just as presidents in the past have tried to blame Congress for the nation’s ills. But that doesn’t work very often, particularly during an extended economic downturn. In most cases and for most voters, the governor is seen as in charge and responsible for the direction of the state.

Congress and Congressmen are viewed differently by voters. Members of Congress can blame their colleagues, the opposition party or even the executive branch for the nation’s problems. And as we’ve seen for years, constituents can have a low opinion of Congress as an institution and yet see their own Member of Congress much more favorably.

Democratic gubernatorial defeats last month in Virginia and New Jersey reflect voters’ desire for change, as well as their inclination to blame the party of the incumbent governor. That was a clear warning for ’10 in gubernatorial races, but it does not extend, at least to this point, to Congress, where partisan affiliation, not incumbency, is likely to be the main factor in voter decisions.

This column
first appeared in Roll Call on December 7, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hulu’s On First?

By Nathan L. Gonzales

It’s hard to imagine a place with millions of eyeballs and no political advertising.

Last cycle, the on-demand video Web site was only in its infancy, but with a growing audience, it could be difficult to ignore in future elections. This year, there has been a trickle of online video advertising on other news Web sites, and Hulu could be next.

“It’s another good way to get people who are spending more and more of their time on the Internet,” said Democratic media consultant Julian Mulvey, who is working with Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca in the special Massachusetts Senate primary on Dec. 8.

Last week, the Pagliuca campaign began running 15-second pre-roll ads (video ads running before desired content) on across the Bay State.

The National Rifle Association ran 15-second pre-roll ads on in selected markets in this year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia.

“More people are watching TV with a laptop on their lap,” said Republican media consultant Brad Todd, whose firm OnMessage Inc. produced the NRA spots. “You’d like to be in both places and catch them in both directions.”

In the future, media consultants may be wrestling with potential voters who are watching television on their computer with the regular TV set off. Hulu is one place the voters are likely to go.

Launched in March 2007 as a joint venture with heavyweight media partners including NBC Universal, News Corp., which owns Fox, and Disney-ABC, Hulu has grown to the 30th most-visited Web site in the United States, according to Alexa, a Web information company. Hulu has more than 5.5 million page views per day, CubeStat, which follows Web traffic, has found.

On Hulu, people can view episodes or clips from hundreds of television shows (including “The Daily Show,” “The Office” and “The Simpsons”), and movies for free because of commercials placed before and throughout the programming.

Thus far, Hulu has been a refuge from the deluge of candidate ads. There have been no political ads on the site, according to a representative of the company, unless you count the 1988 Willie Horton ad and a few dozen other historic ads in the site’s archives.

Just as they do with television advertising, campaigns can target geographically and they can attempt to target demographically by choosing specific programs or Web sites.

But there are some unique advertising options on Hulu. Campaigns could utilize users’ demographic information, if they’ve registered with the site, and feedback on their ads in order to fine-tune future buys. Also, instead of a traditional 15- or 30-second ad, a campaign could sponsor an entire show and pay for the rights to blanket a particular episode with all video and banner advertising.

Jean-Paul Colaco, Hulu’s senior vice president of advertising, told Fast Company magazine in its November profile of the company that blanketing doubles recall rates compared to traditional broadcast advertising. It also allows Hulu to charge more for its ads, potentially affecting campaign budgets.

Unlike Pagliuca or other personally wealthy candidates, most campaigns are dealing with finite resources. Running pre-roll ads on the Internet are left to campaigns with “Cadillac budgets,” in the words of one Democratic consultant, and that tactic is often scrapped at the first sign of fundraising difficulty.

All campaigns have to balance cost, affordability and viewership when it comes to ad buys, and there is concern that money spent on Hulu is wasted because the ads reach young people who are less likely to vote.

Forty-one percent of Hulu viewers are ages 18-34 and 39 percent are ages 35-49, according to Quantcast. Even if older voters start watching Hulu, there are other proven tactics to reach them, one Democratic strategist said.

Another challenge for consultants is finding a race where using Hulu and other Web sites will work effectively. Even though Hulu starts with millions of viewers, once it starts breaking down to the state or Congressional district level, then registered voters, then likely voters, the slice of the pie gets smaller and smaller and advertising on the site becomes less efficient.

Online video advertising is not immune to some of the challenges that ad-makers have with television, such as the mute button or multi-tasking. Rather than changing the channel, a person might be e-mailing in another window during the ad.

For now, candidates who can’t afford it may choose to run a single ad on Hulu in an effort to get traditional media attention. Political reporters are more likely to write a story about a produced ad (particularly the novelty of an ad on Hulu) rather than regurgitate another news release.

Some media consultants only talk casually about Hulu around the kitchen table with their kids rather than talking strategy on a conference call with a candidate.

“This cycle, it’s considered,” said Democratic media consultant John Lapp of Ralston Lapp Media about advertising on Hulu, “where last cycle it was thrown out out-of-hand.” For all campaigns, it comes down to priorities.

“It has a place and has some value, but it wouldn’t be where I start,” said Paula Hambrick, a media buyer for Chicago-based Democratic consulting firm Adelstein Liston. “You still have to do the fundamentals.”

Campaign strategists agree that broadcast television advertising is still the critical component of a successful campaign.

For example, Pagliuca’s $10,000 ad buy on pales in comparison to the millions of dollars he’s spending on broadcast television. Online ad spending (including nonpolitical ads) is growing by more than 40 percent annually and totals about $1 billion, but it’s minuscule compared with $46 billion for broadcast ad revenue, according to Fast Company.

“It was a lot easier to be a media planner in 1952,” Hambrick joked. “Everyone wants to be on top of a trend, but you have to make sure you cover your bases.”

As advertising on the Internet gains more attention, campaigns can’t forget the fundamentals of buying television ads during the news and morning shows. The first wave of pre-roll ads online is likely to mirror that strategy. Depending on their level of sophistication, local news Web sites could be one of the first hot spots for online advertising.

“No one is sure if it will work,” said one Democratic media consultant, whose firm considered a Hulu buy for a local race but decided to increase its cable TV buy instead.

Overall, party strategists on both sides of the aisle agree that we’re still in the infancy of voter contact on the Web. And future online political advertising could be dictated by broader trends as companies test business models on the Internet.

“Ad-supported only is going to be a tough place in a fractured world. ... You want a mix of pay and free,” News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey warned earlier this year. If Hulu starts charging viewers for access in 2010, its audience would likely decline and even once-intrigued political campaigns may lose interest.

Whatever form online video advertising may take, Todd believes Republicans should be on the front line. “We didn’t just make some policy mistakes, we lost some elections because our campaigns were getting stale,” he said.

This story first appeared in Roll Call andd on December 1, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

TN 8 Moved to Toss-Up

Cong. John Tanner's (D) retirement in Tennessee creates another open seat and another good GOP opportunity. Republicans hope that Tanner's decision, along with Kansas Cong. Dennis Moore's retirement and Cong. Charlie Melancon's decision to run for the U.S. Senate, is the beginning of a larger trend. Tennessee's 8th District is competitive and by no means a gimme for the Republicans. But for now, the seat vaults from Currently Safe to Toss-Up.

Here are our latest House ratings.
#- Moved benefiting Democrats
* - Moved benefiting Republicans

Pure Toss-Up (2 R, 15 D)
  • AL 2 (Bright, D)
  • FL 8 (Grayson, D)
  • ID 1 (Minnick, D)
  • IL 10 (Open; Kirk, R)
  • KS 3 (Open; Moore, D)
  • MD 1 (Kratovil, D)
  • MS 1 (Childers, D)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • NH 2 (Open; Hodes, D)
  • NM 2 (Teague, D)
  • NY 23 (Owens, D)
  • OH 1 (Driehaus, D)
  • OH 15 (Kilroy, D)
  • PA 6 (Open; Gerlach, R)
  • PA 7 (Open; Sestak, D)
  • TN 8 (Open; Tanner, D) *
  • VA 5 (Perriello, D)
Toss-Up/Tilt Republican (1 R, 1 D)
  • LA 3 (Open; Melancon, D)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic (0 R, 4 D)
  • CO 4 (Markey, D)
  • FL 24 (Kosmas, D)
  • IL 14 (Foster, D)
  • MI 7 (Schauer, D)

Lean Republican (2 R, 0 D)
  • CA 3 (Lungren, R)
  • CA 44 (Calvert, R)
Lean Democratic (0 R, 3 D)
  • AL 5 (Griffith, D)
  • NY 24 (Arcuri, D)
  • NY 29 (Massa, D)
Republican Favored (9 R, 0 D)
  • AK A-L (Young, R)
  • CA 45 (Bono Mack, R)
  • MI 11 (McCotter, R)
  • MN 3 (Paulsen, R)
  • MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
  • NE 2 (Terry, R)
  • OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
  • OH 12 (Tiberi, R)
  • PA 15 (Dent, R)
Democrat Favored (2 R, 11 D)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • CA 47 (Sanchez, D)
  • DE A-L (Open; Castle, R)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • LA 2 (Cao, R)
  • MO 4 (Skelton, D)
  • NY 19 (Hall, D)
  • NY 20 (Murphy, D)
  • NC 8 (Kissell, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • TX 17 (Edwards, D)
  • VA 2 (Nye, D)
Total seats in play: 50
Republican seats: 16
Democratic seats: 34

Monday, December 07, 2009

NC Senate: Will Marshall’s Senate Campaign Equal Her Recent P.R. Campaign?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Over the past few weeks, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D), who is challenging Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), has been on a public relations offensive.

First, there was a Lake Research Partners memo on incumbent Burr’s standing with state voters. Then there was a “Senate Primary Analysis” from Thomas Mills, who runs a North Carolina-based communications firm and works for Marshall, arguing that “in all likelihood, she will be the Democratic nominee.”

That was followed four days later by a memo from Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen reporting on the firm’s Nov. 23-24 poll showing that Marshall “is in a very strong position to win the Democratic nomination for the US Senate from North Carolina next year.” (PPP is a Democratic polling firm that isn’t working for Marshall.)

All of the hype about Marshall’s prospects coincided with a series of announcements by other Democrats opting out of next year’s Senate contest.

First, attorney Cal Cunningham, a former state Senator and Iraq War veteran, announced that he wouldn’t run, and then Rep. Bob Etheridge, who has been flirting with the race for months, announced that he, too, would take a pass.

For the moment, that has left attorney Ken Lewis and Marshall in the race for the Democratic nomination. But Democratic insiders predict that at least one other significant candidate will enter the Democratic contest — it now appears that Cunningham will reverse course and jump in — and that could affect Marshall’s prospects considerably.

Candidates, of course, are free to tell their story as they see it. But leaving obvious holes because all of the facts don’t fit the narrative cries out for someone to fill them.

The Mills memo emphasizes that Marshall has been elected secretary of state four times and “is very popular among Democratic activists, particularly women.” It also notes that women “do well” in Democratic primaries, pointing out that “four women running for statewide office in 2008” in North Carolina all won their primaries.

Even if that’s true, it leaves out something pretty important: Marshall already lost a Senate primary in 2002. She finished third, behind Erskine Bowles and state legislator Dan Blue, drawing only 15 percent.

There is nothing wrong with losing a primary, but if you are going to argue that “women do well” in North Carolina Democratic primaries — even citing the percentages of women who make up the Democratic electorate — you are opening yourself up to criticism. Maybe Mills should have said that “women often do well, though Elaine Marshall sometimes hasn’t.”

Jensen’s analysis notes that Marshall “starts out in a considerably better place than Senator Kay Hagan did” two years before her primary win. He then observes that PPP polling shows Marshall winning 42 percent to 7 percent for Lewis and 5 percent for Cunningham.

Of course, Marshall performs better now than Hagan did two years before her eventual election. Hagan was a state Senator then, while Marshall has been elected statewide four times and run statewide five times. And of course Marshall leads Lewis and Cunningham now, given the name-recognition disparities.

It isn’t until far down the memo that Jensen notes Marshall’s higher name ID and statewide experience. Obviously, Marshall’s name recognition isn’t irrelevant. It’s a reality that does give her an initial advantage in a primary. But it also explains all her strong numbers relative to Hagan and to other Democrats tested.

Finally, the Lake Research Partners memo is noteworthy because it comes from Marshall’s polling firm but merely regurgitates existing public polls of the race. It’s also extremely selective in choosing polls and poll data to use.

Both the PPP and Lake Research Partners memos assert that Burr is vulnerable. DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz said the same thing on Tuesday. Maybe Burr is, but he isn’t likely to lose. And while it’s too early to assert that Marshall can’t beat him, she would be a considerable underdog against him.

Democrats have carried the state in only two of the past 10 presidential contests, and in three of the past 10 Senate races. Yes, they won both in 2008, but the outcomes were close (Barack Obama won with 49.7 percent and Hagan with 52.7 percent) in the worst year for Republicans since Watergate.

While demographic changes may help Democrats over the next decade or two, the state still leans Republican for federal office in a neutral political environment. Since 2010 will be at least neutral — and more likely favoring the GOP — any Democrat will have a hard time ousting Burr.

Marshall, in particular, would have some problems.

While Mills’ memo points out that “in 2008, she amassed the second highest vote total in North Carolina history,” that statewide success is likely misleading.

I remember then-South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D) telling me during her 2004 Senate race against then-Rep. Jim DeMint (R) that she was the biggest vote-getter in competitive statewide contests two years earlier (winning with 59 percent), which allegedly demonstrated her appeal.

I never bought that for a minute, because running for a federal office, with its highly charged ideological issues and inevitable partisan perspective, is very different from running for a downballot, uncontroversial statewide office. If you have any doubt about that, ask Tenenbaum, who drew just 44 percent against DeMint.

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

30-Somethings Aim for Aging Senate

By Nathan Gonzales

Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) was 4 years old when Rep. Mike Castle (R) was elected lieutenant governor of Delaware. But come 2011 the two men could serve together in the Senate.

Giannoulias, 33, is one of a handful of young candidates running to become a member of what is now the oldest — in terms of average age — Senate in history. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R), 37, and former Florida state Speaker Marco Rubio (R), 38, are among the other under-40 Senate candidates whose 2010 bids have gained some national attention.

But while next year’s midterm electorate is likely to be older than in a presidential year, there’s no indication that being a younger candidate will be an obstacle for any of the 30-something crowd running.

“No one has said, ‘You’re too young to be a Senator,’” Grayson told Roll Call.

Indeed, it will be difficult to take issue with the secretary of state’s youth and inexperience because he’s in the middle of his second term in statewide office and the other three main candidates in the race aren’t that much older than he is.

Giannoulias and Rubio aren’t political newcomers either. The Illinois Democrat was elected statewide in 2006 at the age of 30 while Rubio was first elected to the state House when he was 29 and was Speaker by age 35.

With their political backgrounds, Giannoulias, Rubio and Grayson are in good company. Nine current Senators were elected before the age of 40 and all of them had previous experience in elected office.

Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) all served in the House. Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) held statewide office, and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) served in the state Legislature.

Then-Chittenden County State’s Attorney Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was elected to the Senate in 1974, before Giannoulias was even born. Leahy was elected at 34, the youngest current Senator at swearing-in.

Until this year, that distinction was held by now-Vice President Joseph Biden, who was elected to the Senate from Delaware at age 29 and turned 30 before being sworn in in January 1973.

The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was elected to the chamber at age 30. In fact, the governor of the Bay State appointed a placeholder after Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was elected president because Ted Kennedy was then too young to serve.

According to the Senate Historical Office, the average age of Senators at the beginning of the 111th Congress was 62.7 years. The average age of Senators in the 1st Congress was 47 and stayed in the 40s for all but three of the first 30 Congresses. More recently, the average age of Senators has increased steadily every Congress over the past decade, and the last three Congresses have been the chamber’s oldest.

This cycle’s crop of young Senate candidates is balanced out by some political veterans such as former Association of Trial Lawyers of America President Roxanne Conlin (D), 65, who is running in Iowa, and Castle, 70, who is running in Delaware. He’ll likely face state Attorney General Beau Biden (D), 40, who is spending time with his family after coming home from active duty in Iraq before making an official decision.

For younger candidates, the greatest challenge may be balancing life on the campaign trail with their young families.

“With a wife and four children at home, running for Senate can be especially tough,” explained Rubio. “When it’s 11:30 at night and there are two hours left on the drive home, sometimes it’s difficult.”

He added: “But I remind myself that I’m running to be a voice for my children and their generation.”

Grayson echoed those sentiments.

“The challenging part is that I’m away from them a lot,” Grayson said about his two young children. “But they’re able to do more in this campaign because they’re older. It’s fun having them on the trail in the parades.”

Grayson believes his age is an asset because he’s more familiar with the technology of the day than the average Senate candidate and better able to communicate with college students and young professionals. “I have the ability to relate to them because not too long ago, that was me,” Grayson said.

Neither Rubio nor Giannoulias nor Grayson is guaranteed election next year. All of them face competitive primaries and general elections, but their age isn’t likely to be their downfall should they come up short.

If the most recent presidential contests are any indication, the American electorate isn’t turned off by youth. The younger candidate has won four out of the last five races, and the last three presidents have come into office at fairly young ages: Bill Clinton was 46, George W. Bush was 54, and Barack Obama was 47 when first elected.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on November 30, 2009 and on on November 28, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen House Seats for 2010

By Stuart Rothenberg

Regular readers of this column know that I’ve been rating the most vulnerable House seats — open and incumbent — for years. It’s that time again, and since there aren’t yet enough competitive open seats to rate by themselves, this list includes the dozen most vulnerable seats in the House.

There are two caveats that go with the list. First, there are strong arguments for including at least half a dozen other districts on the list. So, not being on this list doesn’t mean a contest is not extremely competitive. Second, since the midterm elections are still almost a year off, this list is likely to change significantly before November.

Louisiana’s 2nd: Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, the only Republican to vote for the House’s health care reform bill, had no business winning this majority-black district. He won only because of the timing of the 2008 elections and the unique problems of then-Rep. William Jefferson (D). This time, Democrats are likely to have an unindicted nominee, which should end Cao’s service in Congress at one term. Two state Representatives have already announced they are running. Expect a turnover.

Delaware’s At-Large: Rep. Mike Castle’s decision to run for Senate was great news for the National Republican Senatorial Committee but bad news for House Republicans. Former Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) was already running when Castle made his announcement, so Democrats have a serious candidate in the race. Since the state leans Democratic, Republicans will need to find a formidable nominee even to contest the seat seriously.

Louisiana’s 3rd: With Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) running for Senate, this open seat gives the GOP an excellent takeover opportunity. The district gave President Barack Obama only 37 percent of the vote in 2008, so the Republican nominee should benefit from normal midterm dynamics. Of course, with a late August primary, the race won’t shake out for months.

Virginia’s 5th: Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D) seems more interested in doing what he thinks is right than getting re-elected. That’s the only way to explain his votes supporting House Democrats’ cap-and-trade and health care reform bills. State Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is expected to challenge Perriello, and the Congressman is in deep, deep trouble. Obama’s 48 percent showing last year in this district understates Perriello’s challenge next year.

Maryland’s 1st: Unlike Perriello, Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) has voted as if he is trying to be re-elected. But he barely scraped by Republican Andy Harris in an open-seat contest last time, and the midterm electorate will make his re-election bid more difficult. He has a chance to win another term, but the odds aren’t in his favor. Obama drew only 40 percent of the vote in the 1st in 2008.

Kansas’ 3rd: When Rep. Dennis Moore announced his retirement last week, Democratic prospects tanked. While Obama won this district with 51 percent, it generally leans Republican, and the open seat during a midterm election looks like a juicy GOP target.

Ohio’s 1st: Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) knocked off then-Rep. Steve Chabot (R) last year, and now Chabot is trying to return the favor. Expected lower turnout among Democratic core groups, especially younger voters and blacks, places this district at great risk even though Obama won it with 55 percent.

Ohio’s 15th: Freshman Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) has many of the same problems — and the same challenges — that confront Driehaus in the state’s 1st district. Unlike Driehaus, Kilroy faces a rematch against an opponent who has never won district-wide. But former state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) should be a formidable foe.

Florida’s 8th: Rep. Alan Grayson (D), another freshman, has gone out of his way to be partisan and inflammatory. That’s a good way to raise money and attract the fawning admiration of liberal activists, but it isn’t the best way to get re-elected in this Republican-leaning district that went for Obama with 52 percent. The GOP doesn’t yet have a “name” challenger, and the party may never get one. But given Grayson’s recent behavior, they may not need one to take back this district after a single term.

New Mexico’s 2nd: Rep. Harry Teague faces former Rep. Steve Pearce (R), who gave up his seat in 2008 to run for Senate. Teague has tried to vote his district, but he isn’t being helped by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Obama, who drew 49 percent of the district’s vote in 2008. Definitely a midterm problem for Democrats.

New Hampshire’s 2nd: The Granite State has swung strongly Democratic of late — probably too strongly considering the state’s fundamentals. This open seat, and the likely candidacy of former Rep. Charles Bass (R), should give Republicans at least an even money chance of winning back the district during the midterm elections. But attorney Ann McLane Kuster, the early favorite for the Democratic nomination and the daughter of a former liberal Republican state legislator, should be a formidable standard-bearer for her party.

New York’s 23rd: Special election winner Rep. Bill Owens won his seat with less than 50 percent of the vote, and if Republicans find a nominee who can appeal to both conservatives and moderates, Owens will find himself in trouble. His first vote was for the House health care reform bill.

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Dozen Governorships Leaning Takeover

At least a dozen governorships look like they'll switch party hands next year when 37 states will elect a governor and at least 19 of the 37 up for election next year will be open seats. With victories in New Jersey and Virginia, Republicans now control 24 governorships compared to 26 for the Democrats heading into 2010.

Subscribers just received a full gubernatorial outlook in the latest print edition of the newsletter, including capsules and the latest polling in every race. Here are our latest ratings.

Here are our latest gubernatorial ratings.
# - Moved benefiting Democrats
* - Moved benefiting Republicans

Lean Takeover (6 R, 6 D)
  • Brewer (R-AZ) #
  • CA Open (Schwarzenegger, R)
  • CT Open (Rell, R) #
  • HI Open (Lingle, R)
  • RI Open (Carcieri, R)
  • VT Open (Douglas, R)
  • Culver (D-IA) *
  • KS Open (Parkinson, D)
  • MI Open (Granholm, D) *
  • OK Open (Henry, D)
  • TN Open (Bredesen, D)
  • WY Open (Freudenthal, D)
Toss-Up (2 R, 4 D)
  • FL Open (Crist, R)
  • MN Open (Pawlenty, R)
  • Ritter (D-CO)
  • Strickland (D-OH) *
  • PA Open (Rendell, D)
  • WI Open (Doyle, D)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (2 R, 2 D)
  • Gibbons (R-NV) *
  • GA Open (Perdue, R)
  • Patrick (D-MA)
  • ME Open (Baldacci, D) *
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (3 R, 3 D)
  • Perry (R-TX) #
  • AL Open (Riley, R)
  • SC Open (Sanford, R)
  • Paterson (D-NY) #
  • Quinn (D-IL)
  • NM Open (Richardson, D)
Currently Safe (5 R, 4 D)
  • Herbert (R-UT)
  • Heineman (R-NE)
  • Otter (R-ID)
  • Parnell (R-AK)
  • SD Open (Rounds, R)
  • Beebe (D-AR)
  • Lynch (D-NH)
  • O'Malley (D-MD)
  • OR Open (Kulongoski, D)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

New Print Edition: 2010 Gubernatorial Outlook

The November 30, 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 updated 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 the introduction to this edition:

2010 Gubernatorial Outlook

With 37 governorships up next year, unemployment squeezing state budgets, the electorate in an angry mood and both Virginia and New Jersey flipping to the GOP earlier this year, it isn’t surprising that more than a third of the states up next year could switch parties. Right now, neither party appears to have a dramatic partisan advantage, but Republicans are in a slightly better position to pick up governorships. Most of the changes are likely to come in the 19 open seats.

Subscribers to the print edition get capsules on all 37 races including the top candidates and the latest polling.