Friday, February 26, 2010

Would Reconciliation for Health Care Affect Midterm Elections?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Democrats have plenty of reasons to try to pass health care reform through the Senate using reconciliation to avoid the need for a 60-vote majority. But using the process would constitute a risky roll of the dice for party leaders.

Democratic strategists clearly understand the importance of passing some sort of health care reform bill before November, and they aren’t at all optimistic about working with Republicans from scratch on a new measure. Their view, right or wrong, is that Republicans aren’t serious about working on a bipartisan measure.

Given that, reconciliation could be the only way for Democrats — and for the president — to pass a bill that they desperately need in order to deliver on a key campaign promise.

Using reconciliation to circumvent unified Republican opposition would generate applause on the left, and especially with Democrats who have complained that party leaders have placed too high a priority on reaching out to Republicans and not enough on passing reform that the Democratic base wants.

Democratic enthusiasm has been a problem at the grass roots (at least compared with the GOP), so a confrontation with Republicans over reconciliation and passage of a reform bill would almost certainly energize Democrats (assuming, of course, that the grass roots were pleased with the final bill). That could close the enthusiasm gap that separates the two parties going into the midterm elections.

One GOP strategist I talked with argued that Democrats have already been damaged by the health care reform debate, and using reconciliation would not make things that much worse for the president’s party.

Passing any health care reform bill could lead to a quick uptick in overall public sentiment, since some of the negativity about Congress and about the direction of the country stems from Washington’s inability to address the nation’s toughest problems.

But while using the reconciliation process could help Democrats deliver on their promise, it could also give Republicans yet another arrow in the party’s already well-stocked quiver.

While Republican legislators and their talking-head allies would be sure to bash the substance of the proposal — just as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did on Monday in his press release, criticizing “another partisan, back-room bill that slashes Medicare for our seniors, raises a half-trillion in new taxes, fines them if they don’t buy the right insurance and further expands the role of government” — they also would be able to attack Democrats for how they passed the measure.

I recently spoke with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, a veteran of the health care wars, about the danger Democrats face using reconciliation to pass health care reform, and he thinks the tactic would be a gamble for Democrats.

“Process issues usually don’t matter,” acknowledged McInturff, before noting that this time things could be different.

“People have a stunning amount of information about the fight over health care reform and Democratic efforts to pass a bill. There is the perception that there have been backroom deals — with Senators from Louisiana and Nebraska, and with labor unions — to get support for a bill that isn’t to the public’s advantage.”

“People have come to the conclusion that it must be a bad bill, since if it were a good one, Democratic leaders wouldn’t have had to do what they did to get the votes to pass it,” McInturff continued.

“Using reconciliation could reinforce the view that Democrats are trying to pass a flawed bill, so they are having to use an unusual procedure to pass it.”

McInturff is quick to point out that Republicans would have to put reconciliation into “the broader narrative,” arguing that it is because the bill is “deeply flawed” that Democrats can’t use “ordinary means” to pass it through Congress.

In fact, the GOP pollster notes, the White House’s decision to jettison the special deals that Democratic Senate leaders used to round up 60 votes to pass the Senate’s version of health care reform demonstrates that the White House understands just how “toxic” the special deals with Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) were.

Finally, McInturff adds that the “tone and tenor” of Republican opposition is important and that showing respect for the president is absolutely crucial. And he warns that GOP Senators shouldn’t get drawn into an argument about the process of reconciliation — which has been used by Republican presidents — but should stress the flaws of the Democratic bill and Democrats’ need to use an unusual process to pass it.

If McInturff is correct, and I believe he is, Democrats would face an uncomfortable trade-off. They could try to pass a bill they desperately want and one that would please base voters. But in doing so, they would give Republicans more ammunition to use against them, possibly solidifying the GOP’s hold on independents and swing voters.

Failure to pass a health care bill is the single worst outcome possible for Democrats. Unfortunately for party leaders, passing a bill using reconciliation looks like a very close second.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on February 25, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

KY Senate: Grayson Readies Second TV Ad Against Paul

By Stuart Rothenberg

A new Trey Grayson TV spot scheduled to air starting tomorrow, Friday, in the Fort Campbell and Fort Knox areas continues the Kentucky Secretary of State’s targeted campaign against GOP primary opponent Rand Paul.

The new ad, which follows an ad in Eastern Kentucky criticizing Paul’s position on coal, targets Paul’s stance on national security.

“On national defense, there are big differences between Rand Paul and me,” says Grayson in the spot, produced by veteran media consultant Larry McCarthy.

The ad charges that Paul “opposes the war in Iraq” and “doubts whether Afghanistan is still a threat,” and it includes video of Paul talking about the need to cut “some of what we are doing militarily to balance the budget.”

“I’ll work to balance the budget without putting our security at risk,” says Grayson at the end of the 30-second spot.

Grayson has begun his media campaign with a series of target ads, first on conservative radio, then the coal TV ad in Eastern Kentucky and, most recently, an ad on Christian radio addressing Paul’s position on abortion.

“We are going to tell people what Rand Paul believes. There is a lot of videotape out there,” says McCarthy, one of the best ad makers in the business.

A recently released Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies poll shows Rand Paul leading Grayson by 21 points, but Magellan was forced to issue a public apology for not including other announced candidates in the survey, and while the firm has experience in targeting, it has no reputation as a pollster.

In fact, other polling, which has not been released, suggests that the GOP primary is very close, with Paul holding a narrow edge at the margin of error.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CA Senate moved to Clear Advantage from Safe

Republicans have to sort out a competitive primary in California, but Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D) poll numbers are less than intimidating. The contest is worth watching because of the building GOP wave. Move from Currently Safe to Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party.

While events between now and November will affect the outlook for November, the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control). That means Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate, but at a dramatically reduced level.

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

Lean Takeover (0 R, 4 D)
  • Lincoln (D-AR)
  • Reid (D-NV)
  • ND Open (Dorgan, D)
  • DE Open (Kaufman, D)
Toss-Up (4 R, 4 D)
  • KY Open (Bunning, R)
  • MO Open (Bond, R)
  • NH Open (Gregg, R)
  • OH Open (Voinovich, R)
  • IL Open (Burris, D)
  • IN Open (Bayh, D)
  • Bennet (D-CO)
  • Specter (D-PA)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (1 R, 0 D)
  • Burr (R-NC)
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (2 R,1 D)
  • Vitter (R-LA)
  • FL Open (LeMieux, R)
  • Boxer (D-CA) *
  • CT Open (Dodd, D)
Currently Safe (11 R, 8 D)
  • Bennett (R-UT)
  • Coburn (R-OK)
  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • DeMint (R-SC)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Isakson (R-GA)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
  • Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Shelby (R-AL)
  • Thune (R-SD)
  • KS Open (Brownback, R)
  • Feingold (D-WI)
  • Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Inouye (D-HI)
  • Leahy (D-VT)
  • Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Murray (D-WA)
  • Schumer (D-NY)
  • Wyden (D-OR)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Do Voters Want? Legislators or Ideological Voting Machines?

By Stuart Rothenberg

What do voters want — Members of Congress who approach every issue as if it were an ideological litmus test that reflects the ultimate battle of good versus evil, or Members with the experiences and character to bring less rigid perspectives and problem-solving skills to almost any issue?

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s primary challenge to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is an obvious test case, much as Ned Lamont’s challenge to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID) was in 2006.

Hayworth is running an issue-oriented, purely ideological challenge to McCain, arguing that the four-term Republican Senator’s voting record is wrong on taxes, bailouts, amnesty for illegal aliens, the federal marriage amendment, cap-and-trade, campaign finance and terrorism.

On his Web site, Hayworth, who is described as “the consistent conservative,” says that he would have voted differently than McCain on all these high-profile issues, as well as on the confirmation of Eric Holder as attorney general.

McCain, of course, calls himself a conservative and has a case to make.

McCain’s CQ Party Unity score for 2009 was 96 percent, the same score as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas). Even Hayworth isn’t likely to dismiss Cornyn and Sessions as moderates.

Admittedly, many votes are relatively noncontroversial, party-line votes, so a high party unity score doesn’t mean that a Member might not have defected from the party’s orthodoxy on a number of high-profile issues. And McCain’s party unity scores have been much lower: 93 percent in 2008, 76 percent in 2006, 86 percent in 2003 and 67 percent in 2001, for example.

But the Arizona Republican has the support of conservative darling Sarah Palin, and newly elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who has come to symbolize to many both the energy of the “tea party” movement and opposition to President Barack Obama, is traveling to Arizona on McCain’s behalf.

Even more important, McCain has spent years establishing a reputation for fiscal responsibility, particularly in his opposition to pork-barrel spending and the deficit. McCain voted in 2003 against final passage of the now-unpopular bill creating a new prescription drug benefit, calling it fiscally irresponsible. Hayworth supported passage of that legislation.

McCain’s record on spending is sure to resonate with Republican voters in Arizona. And this year, fiscal restraint will be a huge issue with GOP primary voters.

Of course, it’s also true that McCain is not as conservative as Hayworth.

McCain’s association with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) on campaign finance and with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on immigration reform sends some conservatives into a frenzy, as has his vocal opposition to “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

Hayworth’s 2004 scores (to pick a year when both Republicans were in Congress) from the AFL-CIO and the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, for example, were much lower than McCain’s, and Hayworth’s ratings that year from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Conservative Union were much higher than McCain’s.

Issues are, of course, extremely important to voters. And most people would say that it’s far better that people judge candidates on their positions on issues rather than their looks or their TV ads.

But don’t many voters want Members of Congress to bring something more to their job than merely a list of issue positions? In fact, to many voters, the person matters.

Hayworth’s Web site describes him as “a radio and television personality, business management consultant, and public policy advocate” who served in Congress. It notes that he attended North Carolina State University on a football scholarship.

McCain, on the other hand, graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy and became a Navy aviator. He was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese in 1967 and was tortured while being held in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton.”

McCain was elected to Congress in 1982. Four years later, he was elected to the Senate, eventually chairing the Senate Commerce Committee.

Hayworth is a “personality.” McCain is a war hero and one-time Republican nominee for president.

Hayworth’s Web site notes that he is an Eagle Scout. McCain’s notes that he has been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The comparison is pretty clear.

The question for Arizona Republicans, then, is whether McCain is conservative enough for them.

If they want an utterly predictable conservative, they’ll vote for Hayworth. If they want someone who is generally conservative but can be quirkily independent and thoughtful, who has had a full life and a broad range of international and domestic interests, and who understands that the legislative process takes some give and take, they will stick with McCain.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on February 22, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Print Edition: GOP to Gain 5-7 Senate Seats

The February 19, 2010 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. Here is a brief excerpt from this edition:

Senate Overview – The Lay of the Land

The likelihood of Democratic Senate gains evaporated over the summer and fall, and it is now the GOP that is headed for gains. Eight of the dozen most competitive Senate seats up this year are now held by Democrats, meaning that Republicans have plenty of opportunities for net gains. The retirements of Byron Dorgan and Evan Bayh, combined with Beau Biden’s decision not to run, has damaged Democratic prospects.

The possibility of a GOP blockbuster year has increased noticeably. It depends, at least in part, on Republicans holding onto all of their seats. A year ago, that looked almost impossible, but it is now quite possible. Primary contests could affect both parties’ prospects. Nasty, divisive primaries that produce weak or weakened nominees in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Colorado, Nevada and/or Arkansas could have an impact on net GOP gains.

While events between now and November will affect the outlook for November, the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control). That means Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate, but at a dramatically reduced level.

Subscribers to the print edition get a state-by-state analysis as well as recent polling in each race. 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.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ohio: Ganley Switching Races, Will Challenge Sutton

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Wealthy car dealer Tom Ganley (R) is dropping out of the open-seat Ohio Senate race and will challenge Rep. Betty Sutton (D) in the 13th district instead, according to a source familiar with the decision.

The Ganley switch is a coup for Republicans because it gives former Rep. Rob Portman a clear path to the GOP Senate nomination and could put another Democratic-held House seat into play. A recent internal GOP poll showed Ganley leading Sutton by 3 points.

You can read the rest of the story on

Plus 10 in the Senate? Republicans Certainly Not There Yet

By Stuart Rothenberg

Having seen victories by Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, the 1994 Republican and 2006 Democratic Congressional sweeps, and Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) recent Massachusetts victory, I’m not inclined to rule out unexpected outcomes — especially nine months before an event.

But the recent explosion of talk of Republicans gaining 10 seats in the Senate is simply premature. Right now, the GOP has an opportunity to net as many as eight Senate seats. That’s a huge number, especially considering that Democrats have 18 seats up this fall, but it is well short of control.

The new political landscape has resulted in an improved environment for the GOP, including the very real possibility that the party can retain all four of its most vulnerable open seats, in Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky and New Hampshire.

For the moment, let’s assume the GOP avoids losing any of its own seats.

Republicans have the advantage in four Democratic-held Senate seats — North Dakota, Delaware, Arkansas and Nevada. In addition, they are no worse than even money in four others — Indiana, Illinois, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

So, any chance of gaining 10 seats would require Republican candidates to win at least two of the following four states: Connecticut, California, Wisconsin and Washington.

Early polling in Connecticut shows state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal ahead of both former Rep. Rob Simmons and businesswoman Linda McMahon, the two Republicans most likely to be the eventual nominee.

Simmons is a quirky ex-legislator who built a moderate record while representing eastern Connecticut in the House. McMahon is a wealthy, self-funding first-time candidate whose claim to fame and wealth, professional wrestling, is widely seen as crude and violent.

Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D) exit from the race hurt Simmons, whose main argument has been substance and electability. He is now an underdog for the GOP nomination. McMahon’s wealth (she has promised to spend tens of millions of dollars), outsider persona, poise and relatively conservative positioning makes her stronger than Simmons in a primary and potentially more of a threat to Blumenthal.

Still, both Republicans start far behind Blumenthal, in the polls and in handicapping. A four-term statewide officeholder, Blumenthal is a smart Democrat in a Democratic state. He’ll raise plenty of cash and begins with a clear advantage in the race.

In California, voters aren’t particularly enthusiastic about Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). She’s a polarizing political figure and running at or below 50 percent in ballot tests against either Assemblyman Chuck DeVore or businesswoman Carly Fiorina, two of the leading Republicans in the race.

Still, DeVore doesn’t have the breadth of appeal or money to defeat Boxer, while Fiorina has plenty of baggage.

Boxer’s prospects would take a hit, of course, if California Republicans were to nominate former Rep. Tom Campbell, a moderate who would have considerable statewide appeal — if he could accumulate the resources for an expensive statewide race. But Campbell’s past fundraising isn’t encouraging.

For now, Boxer’s weakness does not yet translate into a serious Republican opportunity.

In Wisconsin, some polling has shown Sen. Russ Feingold (D) having trouble in a race against former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). The only problem is that Thompson isn’t now running for the Senate, though he is considering it. And Feingold, who voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is a savvy politician who has developed a reputation for independence.

The main Republican contender currently is Terrence Wall, a prosperous real estate developer who put $300,000 into his campaign but hasn’t paid state taxes in nine of the past 10 years. Democrats apparently have other tax ammunition to use against Wall.

When I interviewed Wall recently, he refused to give his date of birth. He only offered the year of his birth (and his age), apparently because he is concerned about identity theft. Wall, in other words, has a long way to go before he is a serious threat to Feingold, even in a bad year for Democrats.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is another smart politician, and while Republican insiders hope to recruit someone who can test the Senator, they don’t have a formidable challenger yet. Until they do, there isn’t any reason to see Washington as a GOP takeover opportunity.

Obviously, Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-Ind.) sudden announcement Monday that he will not seek re-election improves GOP prospects in that state and therefore nationally.

While some polling showed the Democrat at risk, a recent Research 2000 poll for the liberal Web site the Daily Kos showed him leading former Sen. Dan Coats by 20 points. Bayh’s political savvy, strong connection to Hoosier voters and $13 million bank account would have made him a formidable foe for any Republican challenger, so his exit automatically improves GOP prospects, especially given the overall landscape of the election cycle.

Bayh’s retirement puts an eighth Democratic seat at considerable risk, forcing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to be even more on the defensive than it was. But in another sense, it doesn’t change things fundamentally. For even after Bayh’s retirement, a Republican gain of 10 seats is more hype than reality.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on February 16, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Public Anger Continues to Hammer Incumbents

Stu was on the Newshour tonight with the Hotline's Amy Walter talking about the public dissatisfaction with Washington and how it's affecting incumbents. You can click on the video here or watch the video below.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Indiana Senate Moved to Toss-Up

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh’s sudden and surprising decision not to seek reelection this year is another blow to Democratic Senate prospects.

Bayh surely was the strongest candidate Indiana Democrats could have nominated – if only because of his years of proven electoral success and his $13 million campaign account – and an open seat is much more difficult for Democrats to hold in the current political environment.

But with former Sen. Dan Coats now leading a relatively weak Republican field, and with the Democratic nomination far from being decided, this race hasn’t really taken shape. At least two Indiana Democratic U.S. House members receive mention as possible Senate candidates, Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill, both of whom represent districts at the southern end of the state.

Former Gov. Joe Kernan and former Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Davis (who was picked by Kernan to fill a vacancy) are also mentioned. Davis was state budget director under then-Gov. Evan Bayh. Kernan, who was elected lieutenant governor in 1996 and 2000 before succeeding to the state’s top post following the death of Gov. Frank O’Bannon (D) in 2003, lost his bid for a full term in 2004 to Republican Mitch Daniels.

But some Democrats are pushing for a nominee without a voting record for Republicans to pick apart, with millionaire businesswoman Bren Simon, 66, mentioned by party insiders. She is president of the family’s property management company and a director of the family’s charitable trust.

Simon is the widow of the late Melvin Simon, who died in September. The 82-year old Simon’s estate is valued at over $1 billion, and includes Simon Property Group (and its more than 300 malls) and the Indiana Pacers.

But Bren Simon is in the middle of a nasty family battle over her late husband’s will, with his children by an earlier marriage challenging his new will of February, 2009, which allegedly increased Bren’s share of the estate.

Given today’s developments, the national landscape and uncertainties about the race, we are moving the Indiana Senate race from Narrow Advantage for Democrats to Toss-Up. But clearly, Bayh’s decision gives Republicans another excellent takeover opportunity.

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

Lean Takeover (0 R, 4 D)
  • Lincoln (D-AR)
  • Reid (D-NV)
  • ND Open (Dorgan, D)
  • DE Open (Kaufman, D)
Toss-Up (4 R, 4 D)
  • KY Open (Bunning, R)
  • MO Open (Bond, R)
  • NH Open (Gregg, R)
  • OH Open (Voinovich, R)
  • IL Open (Burris, D)
  • IN Open (Bayh, D) *
  • Bennet (D-CO)
  • Specter (D-PA)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (1 R, 0 D)
  • Burr (R-NC)
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (2 R,1 D)
  • Vitter (R-LA)
  • FL Open (LeMieux, R)
  • CT Open (Dodd, D)
Currently Safe (11 R, 10 D)
  • Bennett (R-UT)
  • Coburn (R-OK)
  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • DeMint (R-SC)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Isakson (R-GA)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
  • Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Shelby (R-AL)
  • Thune (R-SD)
  • KS Open (Brownback, R)
  • Boxer (D-CA)
  • Feingold (D-WI)
  • Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Inouye (D-HI)
  • Leahy (D-VT)
  • Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Murray (D-WA)
  • Schumer (D-NY)
  • Wyden (D-OR)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Publishing Update

A note to our print subscribers: Due to the unusually large snowstorm, this week's edition of the newsletter (our latest 2010 Senate Overview) will be delayed until late next week. We expect to publish, on schedule, the following week as well. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

It All Depends on the Meaning of Party Identification

By Stuart Rothenberg

I’ll admit it. I like numbers.

Whether the number is a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) when evaluating a baseball pitcher, a price-to-earnings ratio when evaluating a stock or a job approval when considering an incumbent’s re-election prospects, I rely on numbers to allow me to make comparisons and, often, projections for the future.

But some numbers don’t tell the whole story, even when they come from one of the most prestigious and widely cited public opinion organizations in the world, Gallup.

About a week ago, Gallup released a report on party identification in the states. Nationally, the respected polling firm found Democrats with an 8-point advantage, 49 percent to 41 percent, down from a 12-point advantage in 2008.

The change in attitudes from 2008 to 2009 isn’t surprising, since the GOP probably bottomed out with President Barack Obama’s election. Still, Gallup’s aggregate data are useful, especially when examining changes in party identification over a long period of time.

The troubling part of the report, “Party ID: Despite GOP Gains, Most States Remain Blue,” came for me when Gallup characterized the strength of the two major political parties in each of the 50 states, too often leading readers to some misleading conclusions.

Gallup assigned states to one of five categories — Strong Democrat, Lean Democrat, Competitive, Lean Republican, Strong Republican — based on the self-identified partisanship of more than 350,000 adults nationwide.

The states that have become partisan bastions — for example, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maryland on the Democratic side, and Wyoming, Utah and Idaho for the GOP — aren’t surprising. Other characterizations are, well, bizarre.

Gallup found self-identification in South Carolina at 42.8 percent Democratic and 42.3 percent Republican, for a Democratic advantage of one-half of 1 point. That makes the Palmetto State “competitive” according to Gallup’s system of classification.

That may indeed be the way people in South Carolina identify themselves by party, but it isn’t the way they vote. The state has two GOP Senators, a Republican governor and four Republican Congressmen, compared with two Democrats. The last Democratic nominee for president to carry the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976 (before most of the South had realigned), and in 2008, Republicans won large majorities in both chambers of the South Carolina Legislature.

Classifying South Carolina as “competitive” on the basis of respondents’ party self- identification suggests that party identification is meaningless.

Of course, South Carolina could be a fluke in the Gallup study. But it isn’t.

According to Gallup, Democrats have an 8-point advantage in Ohio, 48 percent Democrat to 39.7 percent Republican, making the state “Solid Democrat” according to the organization’s criteria.

Any system that classifies the Buckeye State as “solidly Democratic” has some internal problems.

Ohio went for Democrat Barack Obama 52 percent to 47 percent last time, and its governor, Ted Strickland, is a Democrat. But each party has one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, and the U.S. House delegation is an almost even 8 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Democrats hold a narrow edge in the state House (53 to 46), while Republicans hold a more comfortable 21-12 advantage in the state Senate.

Given the difficulty that Republicans have had both nationally and in the state over the past couple of election cycles, it seems pretty clear that the state is extremely competitive.

Gallup categorizes Missouri as “Solid Democrat” because 46.8 percent of Missouri adults identify with the Democratic Party while only 37.3 percent identify with the GOP.

Like Ohio, Missouri has one U.S. Senator from each party and a Democratic governor. But five of its nine U.S. House seats are occupied by Republicans, and the GOP won more than two-thirds of the seats in the state Senate. Republicans also control the Missouri House, 89-74.

Missouri, of course, was a squeaker in the 2008 presidential contest, with Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) nipping Democrat Obama. Does that sound like the profile of a solidly Democratic state?

I won’t go in detail through the other states mischaracterized — Florida and Kentucky do not lean Democratic, while Georgia and the two Dakotas are more Republican behaviorally than the “competitive” category to which Gallup assigns them — but you get the picture.

Gallup wasn’t helped with the timing of its report. With recent national and state polls showing Democrats losing ground, including on the Congressional ballot for 2010, Gallup’s report concluded, “Despite the modest shift toward a decreased affiliation with the Democratic party ... the United States remained a Democratically oriented nation last year.”

I’m certainly not questioning Gallup’s methodology, since unlike some who call themselves pollsters, Gallup knows what it is doing.

Still, the Gallup report reminds us of the limits of measuring partisan self-identification and the limits of polling itself. What matters isn’t what people tell pollsters; it’s what they actually think and do.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on February 8, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 08, 2010

PA 12 moved into competitive category

The passing of Cong. John Murtha (D) and subsequent open seat creates a Republican takeover opportunity in Pennsylvania's 12th District. Sen. John McCain carried the competitive district narrowly in 2008 while Sen. John Kerry won it with 51% in 2004.

We've also moved Connecticut's 5th District onto our chart into the Democrat Favored category. After meeting with state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R) and former state director of military affairs Justin Bernier (R), it's clear that Cong. Chris Murphy (D) can't take his reelection for granted.

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

Pure Toss-Up (1 R, 9 D)
  • AR 1 (Open; Berry, D)
  • AR 2 (Open; Snyder, D)
  • CO 4 (Markey, D)
  • IL 10 (Open; Kirk, R)
  • MI 7 (Schauer, D)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • NH 2 (Open; Hodes, D)
  • PA 7 (Open; Sestak, D)
  • TN 8 (Open; Tanner, D)
  • WA 3 (Open; Baird, D)
Toss-Up/Tilt Republican (0 R, 10 D)
  • AL 2 (Bright, D)
  • FL 8 (Grayson, D)
  • ID 1 (Minnick, D)
  • KS 3 (Open; Moore, D)
  • MD 1 (Kratovil, D)
  • MS 1 (Childers, D)
  • NM 2 (Teague, D)
  • OH 1 (Driehaus, D)
  • OH 15 (Kilroy, D)
  • VA 5 (Perriello, D)
Lean Republican (3 R, 2 D)
  • CA 3 (Lungren, R)
  • LA 3 (Open; Melancon, D)
  • PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
  • TN 6 (Open; Gordon, D)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
Republican Favored (8 R, 0 D)
  • CA 44 (Calvert, R)
  • CA 45 (Bono Mack, 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)
Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic (0 R, 3 D)
  • FL 24 (Kosmas, D)
  • IL 14 (Foster, D)
  • VA 2 (Nye, D)
Lean Democratic (0 R, 11 D)
  • HI 1 (Open; Abercrombie, D) Special Election
  • IN 9 (Hill, D)
  • MO 4 (Skelton, D)
  • NV 3 (Titus, D)
  • NY 1 (Bishop, D)
  • NY 19 (Hall, D)
  • NY 23 (Owens, D)
  • NY 24 (Arcuri, D)
  • NY 29 (Massa, D)
  • SC 5 (Spratt, D)
  • WV 1 (Mollohan, D)
Democrat Favored (2 R, 23 D)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • AZ 8 (Giffords, D)
  • CO 3 (Salazar, D)
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • CA 47 (Sanchez, D)
  • CT 5 (Murphy, D) *
  • DE A-L (Open; Castle, R)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • IA 3 (Boswell, D)
  • LA 2 (Cao, R)
  • NY 13 (McMahon, D)
  • NY 20 (Murphy, D)
  • NC 8 (Kissell, D)
  • ND A-L (Pomeroy, D)
  • NJ 3 (Adler, D)
  • OH 16 (Boccieri, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 4 (Altmire, D)
  • PA 8 (Murphy, D)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • PA 11 (Kanjorski, D)
  • PA 12 (Open; Murtha, D) *
  • PA 17 (Holden, D)
  • SD A-L (Herseth Sandlin, D)
  • TX 17 (Edwards, D)
  • VA 9 (Boucher, D)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D)
Total seats in play: 74
Republican seats: 14
Democratic seats: 60

Sunday, February 07, 2010

GOP Bets on Super Bowl Vets in 2010

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Jon Runyan expected to be in Miami right now, getting ready to play in another Super Bowl, but instead he’s in New Jersey preparing to challenge an incumbent Member of Congress.

After a dozen years in the National Football League and off-season knee surgery last year, Runyan looked like he was trading in his shoulder pads for politics. But in November, the offensive lineman put his Congressional ambitions on hold to take one more run at a championship ring. He signed mid-season with the San Diego Chargers, a popular pick to make this year’s Super Bowl.

“That was more than half the decision. You’re not just going to play out six weeks [of the regular season],” Runyan explained in a recent phone interview. “It just didn’t work out that way,” Runyan added, talking about the Chargers’ stunning 17-14 loss to the underdog New York Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs.

If the Chargers had made it, this year would have been Runyan’s third Super Bowl appearance.

In 2000, Runyan’s teammate Kevin Dyson came up a yard short of the goal line on the last play of Super Bowl XXXIV as the Tennessee Titans lost to the St. Louis Rams. “I’ll always remember that last play,” said Runyan. “That snapshot will always be in my head.” Five years later, Runyan played in Super Bowl XXXIX with the Philadelphia Eagles, but they lost 24-21 to the New England Patriots.

Now the 6-foot-7-inch, 330-pound Pro Bowler is stepping onto a new playing field.

Runyan (R), 36, is gearing up to take on freshman Rep. John Adler (D) in New Jersey’s 3rd District and should officially announce his candidacy in the next couple of weeks. But even before he jumped into the race, Democrats wasted little time flinging mud at Runyan.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacked Runyan for keeping four donkeys on some of his property in order to decrease his tax liability by claiming an agricultural use. But don’t expect a guy who started 190 consecutive games in the trenches of the NFL to rattle easily.

“You’re living your life under a microscope,” explained Runyan, comparing life as an NFL player to becoming a Congressional candidate. “You’ve got to put in the long hours and hard work to be prepared.”

During his decision-making process, Runyan relied on former New York Giants wide receiver Phil McConkey for advice. McConkey ran for Congress in 1990 in New Jersey’s 12th district, but he lost in the GOP primary to Dick Zimmer, who won the open seat in the general election.

Four years earlier, McConkey caught a touchdown pass off the fingertips of teammate Mark Bavaro to help lead the Giants to a 39-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. Even though McConkey lost his race, he might be able to advise Runyan on how to convince New York Giants fans in New Jersey’s 3rd that it’s OK to vote for a former Eagles player.

Runyan isn’t the only Super Bowl veteran hitting the campaign trail this year.

Former tight end Clint Didier spent some great years in Washington, D.C., winning a pair of Super Bowls with the Redskins in the 1980s, but now he’s running for the U.S. Senate to tackle bigger government. “Our government is way too big and outreached its responsibilities,” Didier said in an interview this week.

Didier played on the Redskins’ championship team that defeated the Miami Dolphins, 27-17, in Super Bowl XVII in 1983. A year later, he was the Redskins’ leading receiver when they lost Super Bowl XVIII to the Los Angeles Raiders, 38-9. Didier got one more Super Bowl shot, and he made the most of it.

The night before Super Bowl XXII in 1988, Didier had a dream that the Redskins would come from behind and that he would catch a touchdown pass. The next day, the team did just that.

Didier’s touchdown catch capped a Super Bowl record 35-point second quarter for the Redskins, on their way to a 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos. “I think the good Lord just wanted to calm me down so I didn’t drop that pass,” laughed Didier about the dream.

After he retired in 1990, Didier moved back to the state of Washington, bought a farm north of Pasco and raised his family. Now he feels “called to serve this country.” Unlike Runyan, Didier’s bid is much more of a long shot. The 50-year-old Republican is not even guaranteed the GOP nomination to take on Sen. Patty Murray (D) in November.

Former Minnesota Vikings running back Jim Lindsey (R) is a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas. Lindsey, 65, played in Super Bowl IV when his Vikings and their Purple People Eaters defense lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7. But he might get the most political traction from playing on the 1964 national championship football team at the University of Arkansas.

Lindsey, who now owns a large real estate company, is still deciding whether to join an increasingly crowded GOP field of candidates who want the right to take on Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), who has become one of the most vulnerable Senators in the country.

Republicans almost added yet another Super Bowl veteran to their list of candidates, but Mike Minter declined to challenge Rep. Larry Kissell (D) in North Carolina’s 8th district. The former defensive back for the Carolina Panthers equaled a career high in tackles and played part of Super Bowl XXXVIII on a broken foot, but his team lost to the Patriots, 32-29.

Former tight end Jay Riemersma, who played football with Runyan and the University of Michigan, is running in Michigan’s 2nd district. He’s just one of four Republicans vying to replace Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R), who is running for governor. But Riemersma joined the Buffalo Bills after the team’s string of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

Former Bills quarterback Jack Kemp served in Congress for almost two decades, representing upstate New York as a Republican. He fell one game short of playing in Super Bowl I when his team lost to the Chiefs in the AFL Championship game in 1966.

Former Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent (R), the Hall of Fame wide receiver and arguably Congress’ most famous former NFL player along with Kemp, never played in a Super Bowl in his time with the Seattle Seahawks.

There is a clear link between former football players running for office and the Republican Party, from former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts to 2006 gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann (Pa.). North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler (D) looks like the exception rather than the rule.

Of course, the GOP is pleased with this, even if it hasn’t always proved to be a winning combination.

“They understand the importance of executing the blocking and tackling of political campaigns,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Ken Spain, “Hard work and discipline are hallmark Republican values that also happen to make for good professional football players.”

This story first appeared on and on February 6, 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, February 05, 2010

For Republicans, Overconfidence Poses a Growing Problem

By Stuart Rothenberg

Maybe House Republicans learned their lesson last week after President Barack Obama joined them at their retreat and proved once again to be a very formidable opponent rather than a mere foil.

But even if the president’s poised performance brought some of them back to reality, Democratic defeats in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, as well as public opinion polls showing voters unhappy with the direction of the country, have combined to make too many Republicans downright giddy about the fall elections.

In fact, GOP political consultants and strategists aren’t popping Champagne corks yet. Instead, they worry about the euphoria on the right and believe that the party has a long way to go before it can nail down a big win in the midterm elections.

Some Republican operatives are openly concerned about the party’s tactical disadvantages, most notably its financial position. Others fear that circumstances could change, robbing the GOP of its strategic advantage.

The National Republican Congressional Committee ended 2009 with $2.6 million in the bank, far behind the $16.7 million that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had. While the DCCC raised $55.7 million for the cycle, the NRCC brought in about $20 million less.

“I don’t care how great the political environment is,” one smart Republican asserted, “if you don’t have the cash, you are going to get smacked. [Democrats] can buy their way out of trouble if they have that kind of financial advantage in the fall, just the way that we used to do.”

During five election cycles from 1996 to 2004, the NRCC carpet-bombed Democratic challengers with cash and TV ads, rescuing each cycle a handful of underwhelming Republican Members who couldn’t find their own way out of a paper bag. Now the DCCC surely will employ the same strategy.

And Democratic incumbents are not without their own resources. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had almost $1.6 million in the bank at the beginning of the year, while Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) had just less than $1 million. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) had just more than $1 million on hand, while Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) had almost seven times as much money in her war chest as her best-funded challenger.

Reps. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), Zack Space (D-Ohio) and Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.) are also sitting with more than $1 million in the bank each and with huge cash advantages over their likely opponents.

“In 1994, Democrats didn’t have much advance warning [about the Republican political wave]. We aren’t going to catch anyone off guard this time,” a GOP consultant worried.

Republican prospects in the House and the Senate increasingly look good, but that doesn’t mean that every race is winnable.

“Everyone [on our side of the aisle] now seems to think that Massachusetts can happen everywhere,” said one GOP consultant derisively about the excessive optimism that some Republicans are exhibiting after Scott Brown’s special election victory.

Suddenly, some Republicans and overly enthusiastic journalists are talking about the GOP winning Senate races in Washington state, Wisconsin and other states where the party has no candidates or weak ones.

Republican exuberance is also dangerous from a strategic point of view.

Excessive optimism tends to produce an arrogance that voters don’t like, and it often leads politicians to grand ideological conclusions about what the voters really are saying. (Voters are usually saying that they are happy or unhappy, not much more.)

When Obama complained to House Republicans at their Baltimore retreat that they likened his health care bill to “some Bolshevik plot,” you could hear a smattering of applause. And that applause wasn’t meant to echo the president’s complaint. Rather, it was intended to indicate support with the characterization that Obama was complaining about.

True, the clapping was isolated. But it should remind party strategists of the danger that an officeholder — or even someone outside the formal party structure — might cross the line of civility and make the case to voters that Republicans are partisan, mean-spirited and vindictive.

The last thing Republicans need is for the election to be about them.

Finally, an uptick in the economy, a spike in the president’s standing in the polls or some unpredictable event that could rally public opinion around the president could shake up things between now and November.

“We certainly have the wind at our backs now,” one veteran Republican consultant told me recently. “But as Scott Brown proved, two or three weeks is a lifetime in politics. Eight months is several political lifetimes.”

Polls, pollsters are fond of pointing out, are nothing but snapshots of current sentiment. Right now, those snapshots look excellent for the GOP. But does anyone really believe that Republicans aren’t capable of screwing things up?

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on February 4, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

IL Governor Moved to Toss-Up

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) narrow primary victory exposed some significant weaknesses heading into the general election. State Comptroller Dan Hynes surged late but didn't have enough time to overcome Quinn and now Republicans are happily repeating Hynes' attack ads and themes. Quinn will face state Sen. Bill Brady (R) or state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R) in the general election, but the overall political environment may be Quinn's toughest foe. Move from Clear Advantage to Toss-Up.

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

Lean Takeover (6 R, 7 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)
  • PA Open (Rendell, D)
  • TN Open (Bredesen, D)
  • WY Open (Freudenthal, D)
Toss-Up (2 R, 4 D)
  • FL Open (Crist, R)
  • MN Open (Pawlenty, R)
  • CO Open (Ritter, D)
  • Quinn (D-IL) *
  • Strickland (D-OH)
  • 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, 2 D)
  • Perry (R-TX)
  • AL Open (Riley, R)
  • SC Open (Sanford, R)
  • Paterson (D-NY)
  • 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)

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

IN Sen Moved to Narrow Advantage for Bayh

Former Sen. Dan Coats' (R) likely entry into the Indiana Senate race puts another seat into play for Republicans.

Coats last served in the Senate a decade ago and Democrats are already attacking him for living in Virginia since then, but the Republican should be a credible alternative for voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the country and the party in power. Coats will need to put together his campaign quickly in order to compete with the $13 million Sen. Evan Bayh (D) had in the bank at the end of the year. But this has suddenly become a very interesting race. Move from Currently Safe to Narrow Advantage for the Incumbent Party.

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

Lean Takeover (0 R, 4 D)
  • Lincoln (D-AR)
  • Reid (D-NV)
  • ND Open (Dorgan, D)
  • DE Open (Kaufman, D)
Toss-Up (4 R, 3 D)
  • KY Open (Bunning, R)
  • MO Open (Bond, R)
  • NH Open (Gregg, R)
  • OH Open (Voinovich, R)
  • IL Open (Burris, D)
  • Bennet (D-CO)
  • Specter (D-PA)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (1 R, 1 D)
  • Burr (R-NC)
  • Bayh (D-IN) *
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (2 R,1 D)
  • Vitter (R-LA)
  • FL Open (LeMieux, R)
  • CT Open (Dodd, D)
Currently Safe (11 R, 10 D)
  • Bennett (R-UT)
  • Coburn (R-OK)
  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • DeMint (R-SC)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Isakson (R-GA)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
  • Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Shelby (R-AL)
  • Thune (R-SD)
  • KS Open (Brownback, R)
  • Boxer (D-CA)
  • Feingold (D-WI)
  • Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Inouye (D-HI)
  • Leahy (D-VT)
  • Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Murray (D-WA)
  • Schumer (D-NY)
  • Wyden (D-OR)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg

A little more than 10 years ago (Jan. 17, 2000, to be exact), I began writing my “Dangerous Dozen” columns about open House seats, and the recent flurry of retirements means there finally are enough to fill a list for the 2010 cycle.

The fact that so many of the districts on this list are currently held by Democrats reflects how strongly the political landscape is tilting toward the GOP. As always, races toward the top of the list are the most likely to change party control, but every race on this list is a serious possibility to flip.

Tennessee’s 6th. With few Democratic officeholders downballot in this Middle Tennessee district that went 62 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 and 60 percent for President George W. Bush in 2004, you can already put retiring Rep. Bart Gordon’s (D) seat into the Republican column. The GOP primary will select the district’s next Member of Congress.

Louisiana’s 3rd. The field hasn’t really started to develop in the race to succeed Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), but the fundamentals look terrible for Democrats in a midterm election year with President Barack Obama in the White House. Bush carried the district in 2004 with 58 percent, and McCain won it with 61 percent four years later. Only a Republican screw-up could keep this district blue.

Delaware’s At-Large. Rep. Mike Castle’s Senate run is a double-edged sword for Republicans, since the party will have a hard time holding his House seat. It isn’t impossible, of course, but they’ll need an unusually strong nominee (and a strong political wave) to beat the likely Democratic nominee, former Lt. Gov. John Carney.

Kansas’ 3rd. For Democrats, this looks like a bad cycle for Rep. Dennis Moore to retire and this seat to come open. The party is not competitive in the two big statewide contests this year, so both national and state dynamics favor the GOP. Both primary fields are wide open, though the early favorite on the Republican side may be the party’s 2008 nominee, former state Sen. Nick Jordan. Of course, another ideological split within the local GOP could get Democrats back into the picture.

Tennessee’s 8th. Rep. John Tanner (D) is retiring, and Democrats got a solid candidate in state Sen. Roy Herron, a strong fundraiser and veteran officeholder. But Tennessee could be a giant headache for Democrats, and being a longtime Democratic state legislator may be more of a liability than an asset in 2010.

Hawaii’s 1st. The yet-to-be-scheduled special election to fill Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s expected open seat could be another rude surprise for Democrats. Without a runoff, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R) could sneak past multiple Democratic hopefuls to give Republicans another seat — and a major public relations victory before the midterms. Democrats need to figure out a way to keep the number of their candidates to a minimum.

Arkansas’ 1st. Bush carried this conservative northeast Arkansas district with 52 percent, but McCain drew a solid 59 percent four years later. Plenty of Democratic officeholders are looking to succeed retiring Rep. Marion Berry (D), while Republican options appear fewer. The key question mark is the size of the GOP wave and how disastrous the cycle is for Democrats in Arkansas.

Illinois’ 10th. If the seat held by Rep. Mark Kirk (R) had come open in 2006 or 2008, it would have been a slam-dunk for Democrats. But the environment is very different. The outlook for November depends somewhat on Tuesday’s primaries, but there is no doubt that Democrats see this as a rare takeover opportunity this cycle.

Arkansas’ 2nd. Retiring Rep. Vic Snyder’s (D) central Arkansas district went narrowly for Bush in 2004 and voted 54 percent for McCain in 2008. Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin gives the GOP a solid nominee, but a number of serious Democrats are looking at the race.

New Hampshire’s 2nd. Oh how different things looked in New Hampshire a year ago. Democrats finished up their near sweep of the Granite State, and the GOP’s fortunes there suddenly looked like any other New England state. But the national mood has changed, and GOP optimism has soared. Former Rep. Charles Bass leads a large GOP field, while Democrats have a primary of their own to succeed Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

Pennsylvania’s 7th. The ranking of the last two races depends on whether you are making a selection based on where the race is now or where it may be in the fall. Former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan gives the GOP a serious likely nominee. The district no longer leans Republican — Bush won 47 percent in 2004 and McCain only 43 percent in 2008 — and Democrats have a top-tier candidate of their own in state Rep. Bryan Lentz. Still, in a strong Republican year, Democrats have to be nervous about losing Rep. Joe Sestak’s district.

Washington’s 3rd. Retiring Rep. Brian Baird’s (D) open seat performed slightly better for McCain than for Bush in 2004 (and better than Pennsylvania’s 7th did for the same Republicans). But the nomination won’t be decided until the fall, and Democrats have a slew of bigger names looking at the contest. Still, if the GOP gets the right candidate and a partisan wave builds, this district could move up the list as a takeover opportunity.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on February 1, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 01, 2010

New Print Edition: Hawaii 1 & Idaho 1

The January 29, 2010 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:

Hawaii 1: As the World Turns
By Nathan L. Gonzales

After Scott Brown’s (R) shocking win in the Massachusetts’ Senate race, the political world is set to turn almost six thousand miles away to Hawaii’s 1st District, where the cycle’s next contest will be fought.

Democratic Cong. Neil Abercrombie plans to resign at the end of February in order to focus on his gubernatorial run, setting up what will likely be a May special election. Even though a firm date has not been set, the candidate field is starting to take shape, and the parties are prepping for what could be an unexpectedly high-profile contest.

The winner-take-all special allows Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R) an opportunity to win with less than 50% of the vote as Democrats Colleen Hanabusa, former Cong. Ed Case and potentially other Democratic candidates battle for votes.

This is not a swing district, but the national and local dynamics could give Democrats an unneeded headache. Republicans have a great opportunity to take President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois in November and now they’ve got a chance to take the congressional district where he was born. Subscribers get the lay of the land, candidate bios, and how it plays out.

Idaho 1: How the West is Won

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Walt Minnick was one of a number of Democrats swept into office in 2008, but the Idaho businessman is already planning to be a survivor in 2010, even if his party is buried nationally in a Republican wave.

Over the last year, Minnick, who represents an extremely GOP-friendly district in Idaho, has voted against virtually every piece of significant legislation pushed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but his record on high-profile votes may not be enough to hold the dam.

Republicans will likely nominate former CIA office and Iraq War veteran Vaughn Ward, a first-time candidate with under-whelming fundraising. But the Rocky Mountain West appears to be moving back in the GOP’s direction, so Minnick doesn’t have much room for error.

Like many of his vulnerable colleagues, Minnick’s task is to localize his race in the face of a nationalized election. But that’s easier said than done.
Subscribers get the lay of the land, candidate bios, and how it plays out.