Friday, April 30, 2010

Ratings Changes in FL, NH Senate races

Florida Governor Charlie’ Crist’s switch out of the GOP Senate race and into the Senate contest as an Independent, combined with the entry of wealthy businessman Jeff Greene into the Democrat race, adds some uncertainty into the contest. But it doesn’t, in our view, change the bottom line entirely. Move from Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party to Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party. Marco Rubio (R) remains the favorite, but the three-way contest is more unpredictable.

While New Hampshire remains a competitive race, our interviews with the top candidates and recent polling leads us to believe that Republicans are more likely than not to retain this open seat. Move from Toss-up to Narrow 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 (3 R, 4 D)
  • KY Open (Bunning, R)
  • MO Open (Bond, R)
  • OH Open (Voinovich, R)
  • IL Open (Burris, D)
  • IN Open (Bayh, D)
  • Bennet (D-CO)
  • Specter (D-PA)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (3 R, 0 D)
  • Burr (R-NC)
  • FL Open (LeMieux, R) #
  • NH Open (Gregg, R)*
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (1 R,2 D)
  • Vitter (R-LA)
  • 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)

Crist Switcheroo: Likely Less Than Meets the Eye

By Stuart Rothenberg

Now that multiple reports indicate that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has decided to drop his GOP Senate candidacy and run for the state’s open Senate seat as an Independent, we are in for saturation coverage about what it means for the race, for the Republican Party and for Rep. Kendrick Meek, the likely Democratic Senate nominee.

While the carnival atmosphere produced by the development is understandable and at least partly justified — it’s not often a sitting governor can’t win his party’s Senate nomination and drops out of a primary hours before the filing deadline to run as an Independent — the ramifications of the decision probably are less than you think.

Even before Crist’s decision, former state Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has been the favorite to win the Senate race in November. He is still the favorite to win. That hasn’t changed. But Crist’s decision raises plenty of questions in the long term.

From the Democratic point of view, anything that shakes up the race probably is good.

Meek hasn’t been a factor in two-way trial heats, so a three-way race obviously gives him a more reasonable narrative. He won’t need 50 percent to win, a number that seems simply unattainable. But if he can win with 35 percent of the vote, he cannot be dismissed so easily.

Meek now has another candidate, Crist, who has a strong incentive to go after soft Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, and if the governor is successful in that effort, it leaves Meek with only a part of the Democratic base.

Indeed, if Rubio leads in mid-September polling and Meek trails Crist in those three-way trial heats, the Congressman will have to start worrying about substantial defections to Crist, and even about Crist becoming the de-facto Democratic candidate, much as Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID) became the de facto Republican candidate in Connecticut in 2006.

So, while Crist’s Independent Senate bid has to be generating a sense of hope among some Democrats, it’s not clear that his decision to run as an Independent has dramatically improved Meek’s prospects.

As I noted in an earlier column on the race (Should Charlie Crist Roll the Dice to Save Long-Shot Senate Bid?), Crist’s prospects as an Independent go from nonexistent — since he was the certain loser of the Republican primary — to mediocre in a three-way race.

Any way you slice it, that’s an improvement for Crist, who will suddenly have a new narrative in the race.

As an Independent, he’ll surely argue that he’s above partisan politics and a commonsense problem-solver who is more concerned about moving Florida forward than engaging in petty partisan fights.

And as governor, he will get plenty of media attention, and he’ll be able to use issues of the day (such as the oil spill in the Gulf) to position himself as a fighter for the average Floridian.

But one political veteran who has been following the race and public sentiment about Crist extremely closely doubts that Sunshine State voters are going to embrace Crist or his message.

“People are done with him. It’s that simple. Florida voters are never going to believe that Charlie Crist has strong beliefs about anything, that he is a stand-up guy,” the observer said.

Crist is likely to lose most of his GOP support after promising repeatedly that he would stay in the Republican race but is now announcing he will run as an Independent. That flip-flop, combined with his recent veto of a Republican education bill (to say nothing of his support of President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill), is likely to leave him without the Republican support that he would need to thread the needle in a three-way contest.

Knowledgeable political observers dismiss the idea that Crist can repeat Lieberman’s victory, noting that partisanship is a much stronger factor in Florida.

This race “bears no resemblance” to what happened in Connecticut, one insider with proven political instincts said.

Observers agree that the situation is, of course, extremely fluid now and that it is wise to wait to see how Crist handles question about who he would caucus with in Washington, D.C., if elected, whether he will return campaign contributions from Republican donors who want their money back, and who will run his campaign if, as expected, he loses many or all of his consultants.

And some Florida insiders still believe that Rubio could make a serious mistake — or be derailed by legal issues and investigations — thereby giving the other candidates, and particularly Crist, a chance to alter the trajectory of the race.

Until Crist announces his intentions, of course, his plans remain uncertain, even with reports circulating that he has decided to run as an Independent. As one observer noted wryly, “Gov. Crist has been known to change his mind on core beliefs.”

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on April 29, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Obama State Directors on Front Lines of 2010

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The men and women who served as state directors for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign were on the front lines of one of the best-run political operations in recent history.

After Obama’s victory, more than a dozen of them took jobs in the administration. But another group couldn’t stay away from the campaign trail, and they are now at the center of the party’s efforts to retain its Congressional majorities.

“It is important that they stay engaged,” Organizing for America Deputy National Director Jeremy Bird said about the state directors.

“Folks were amazing, some of the best people I’ve ever worked with,” added Bird, who was the Maryland state director for the Obama campaign during the Democratic primary.

A comprehensive look at where the 50 general election state directors are today shows that former Obama operatives have key positions in Democratic efforts to hold control of the Senate in the November midterms. Click here for the chart of all 50 state directors.

In Connecticut, former Obama New Hampshire state director Mindy Myers was recently hired to manage state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s (D) campaign for retiring Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D) seat. Obama’s Connecticut state director, Justin Kronholm, is also working with the Blumenthal campaign as director of political operations.

In California, former Obama state director Mike Dorsey is deputy campaign manager for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D) re-election campaign. In 2008, Dorsey landed in Montana for the general election, where Obama lost by only 3 points.

In Washington state, Carol Albert managed Sen. Patty Murray’s (D) re-election in 2004, was Obama’s state director in 2008 and is at the helm of Murray’s campaign once again.

And in Colorado, Craig Hughes was a senior adviser to the Obama campaign in the Centennial State and is now managing appointed Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D) tough election bid this year.

Republicans will likely need to win three of those four states to get to a 51-seat majority in the next Congress.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, complete with more Obama campaign veterans, will be there to back up the campaigns in those states, if needed. DSCC field director Rob Hill was Obama’s Oregon state director before moving to Nevada as a senior adviser. (He’s also married to Jarel LaPan, who moved into the Oregon role for the Obama campaign and now works for the administration.) Jackie Bray worked in Ohio during the 2008 general election and is now at the DSCC as well.

After being deeply involved in the Obama campaign and experiencing the organization and enthusiasm firsthand, former state directors are trying to apply 2008’s successful tactics to their 2010 campaigns.

“It’s a reminder of the importance of building a true grass-roots operation,” explained Aaron Pickrell, Obama’s Ohio state director who is managing Gov. Ted Strickland’s (D) re-election bid this year.

Multiple former state directors would speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of disrupting the rhythm and message of their tough races, but they all agreed that the Obama campaign did a fantastic job fusing the old and the new when it comes to voter contact.

“It’s important to utilize the Internet and new media, not just for communications, but as a field tool and voter contact tool,” said Pickrell, who worked with Bird and Bray in the Buckeye State. But “the most effective campaign is still knocking on doors and neighbor-to-neighbor contact.”

Multiple former state directors also agreed on the necessity of replicating the “buy-in” of the Obama campaign. “If people feel like they have ownership in the campaign, they are more likely to be involved,” Pickrell explained. Democratic campaigns nationwide are hoping to take advantage of the infrastructure from the 2008 campaign and tap in to the larger pool of potential voters and volunteers.

As the state director in Ohio, Pickrell was part of a somewhat exclusive club. Ohio was one of the 18 states targeted by the Obama campaign, and those state directors had a different set of marching orders than the rest. The other targeted states were Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Former Obama campaign operatives are also in key roles on the House side.

New Mexico state director Adrian Saenz is now chief of staff for Rep. Harry Teague, one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country. Moving north, former Florida Campaign for Change field director Angela Botticella is running Rep. Betsy Markey’s (D) campaign in Colorado’s 4th district, also one of the most competitive races this cycle.

While some former state directors, such as Saenz and Pickrell, are using the local expertise to help individual Democrats in 2010, others are using their influence at a broader level.

Former state directors Steve Schale (Florida), Craig Schirmer (Pennsylvania) and others are involved in 2010 races as consultants instead of on official campaign staffs. Former Missouri state director Buffy Wicks (who was one of four regional state directors early in the campaign) moved from the White House Office of Public Engagement to AKPD Message and Media, senior White House adviser David Axelrod’s consulting firm.

Former Virginia state director Mitch Stewart is the head of OFA, which is essentially the Obama campaign embedded within the Democratic National Committee.

The DNC just announced that it plans to invest $50 million into races this year. A chunk of that money includes staffing, field support, data and targeting, and volunteer programs provided by OFA.

While the DNC is focused on 2010, the OFA’s purpose is to keep the president’s supporters engaged to help this year and looking ahead to his re-election.

“Whether it’s 2012 or 20 years from now, the investment we’re putting in now is helpful for the long term,” Bird said.

Tricia Miller, Daniel Newhauser, Jeremy B. White, Kristin Coyner and Zack Hale contributed to this report. This story first appeared in Roll Call on April 27, 2010 and on on April 28, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

New Print Edition: Arkansas Senate & South Carolina 5

Subscribers already have the April 23, 2010 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report, but here are excerpts from the introduction to the two stories in this issue:

Arkansas Senate: One Big (Not So Happy) Family
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republicans couldn’t even get a candidate to run for the U.S. Senate against Mark Pryor (D) last cycle, but this year, a half-dozen Republicans are vying for the right to take on Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), who has a primary of her own from the lieutenant governor.

Oh what a difference two years make.

Subscribers get the full story including the Lay of the Land, candidate bios and a breakdown of the primary and general elections.

South Carolina 5: Challenging the Chair
By Nathan L. Gonzales

South Carolina has received plenty of attention after its governor hiked the Appalachian Trail and ended up in Argentina with his girlfriend. But few people may realize that a long-time Democratic congressman could lose reelection.

John Spratt (D) has been in Congress for almost three decades, and he faces an unusually tough test this year. Republicans have rallied behind state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, but he’ll have to run an excellent campaign in order to ride the GOP wave to victory.

Subscribers get the full story including the Lay of the Land, candidate bios, their consulting teams and a breakdown general elections.

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, April 28, 2010

Not All ‘On the Radar’ Candidates Measure Up

By Stuart Rothenberg

Two months before the 2008 elections, I wrote a column (Now It’s the DCCC That Is Swimming Against the Tide, Sept. 15, 2008) scolding the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for putting third-tier races on its “Red to Blue” list of top challenger races and for adding some ridiculous races to its second-tier “Emerging Races” and third-tier “Races to Watch” lists.

If you recall, Red to Blue candidate Sam Bennett ended up losing to Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) by 17 points, while Judy Feder lost to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) by 20 points. Both Democrats did better than Josh Zeitz, who was added to the DCCC’s Races to Watch list after Labor Day and ended up losing to Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) by only 34 points.

Now, more than six months before the midterm elections, it’s the National Republican Congressional Committee’s turn to push the envelope by adding campaigns that appear to have no chance of winning to its long-shot list of “On the Radar” contests.

Republican operatives are quick to point out that their third-tier “On the Radar” candidates need to meet only very basic goals — for example, build a website, have a Federal Election Commission reporting system in place, have available a very basic media package, etc. — and that candidates in this category don’t necessarily have a path to victory yet.

Some will win (and they will move up to “Contender” and possibly “Young Guns” level), while others may not ever get there.

Fair enough. But putting already credible candidates such as Kevin Yoder (Kan.), Jaime Herrera (Wash.), Jim Ward (Ariz.) and Bruce O’Donoghue (Fla.) on the same list with candidates who have virtually no chance of winning in November only leads to confusion.

What are some of the most obvious examples of On the Radar candidates who shouldn’t yet be on your radar?

Robert Gettemy is a businessman whose current project is (One Million for Jesus Christ), which sells T-shirts with the 1M4JC logo. His March 31 FEC report showed net receipts of $129,000 — and debt of $100,000, suggesting that he had raised a trivial amount of campaign cash other than from his own pocket. (T-shirt sales must be going well ...)

Gettemy is running against Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) in Iowa’s 2nd district, by far the most liberal district in the state. It gave President Barack Obama 60 percent of the vote in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) 55 percent four years earlier. Sure, Loebsack owes his election entirely to a huge Democratic wave in 2006, but that’s not enough reason to promote a GOP challenger who, at least right now, has no chance of winning.

Bobby Schilling owns Saint Giuseppe’s Pizza in Moline, Ill., and his campaign website notes that the restaurant is closed Sundays “in order to give more time off for their employees and spend more time with the family.”

Schilling, who is challenging Rep. Phil Hare (D) in Illinois’ 17th district, showed $162,000 raised through March 31, with just under $110,000 on hand. Obama carried the district with 56 percent, while Kerry won it with 51 percent in 2004.

There was a time when the heart of this district was represented by a Republican, Tom Railsback. But that was back in the 1970s. I don’t know whether Schilling will turn into a serious candidate, but currently, he isn’t even in the same room as the radar.

Jeffrey Reetz is On the Radar, too. Reetz owns 30 Pizza Hut restaurants in four states (I don’t know if he has a restaurant in Moline and competes with Saint Giuseppe’s Pizza). His website says that he has lived in Louisville “for a total of 12 years in the past 15 years,” a very strange grammatical construction that suggests that he hasn’t been living in the area recently.

Anyway, Reetz’s latest FEC report showed $178,000 raised for the cycle and a debt of $117,000, suggesting that he has largely bankrolled his effort and actually raised only about $60,000.

I’m quite confident that the NRCC understands that these kinds of challengers are a long way from threatening Democratic incumbents.

So what’s the point of putting them on a list?

“It allows the committee to take inventory of a campaign that might be the next Nancy Boyda or Carol Shea-Porter,” said one Republican insider, referencing two Democratic Congressional long shots who were elected in the wave of 2006, Boyda in Kansas and Shea-Porter in New Hampshire.

True, but the better answer probably is that it doesn’t cost the NRCC anything after all, and adding them to a list gives these long, long shots an opportunity to promote themselves to the local media and hype their campaigns with potential contributors.

In fact, Reetz had a note on the main page of his website noting that he is now On the Radar, while Schilling and Gettemy have posted press releases on their sites noting that the NRCC has put their campaigns On the Radar.

Right now, only 10 Republicans have achieved Young Guns status, with another 40 listed as Contenders. And some of those candidates on the Contender list are a stretch. Let’s just hope that the folks at the NRCC don’t feel compelled to move candidates up to more competitive categories just to pad their number of serious contests.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on April 27, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Could Lieberman Hold the Senate’s Balance of Power After November?

By Stuart Rothenberg

As the midterms approach and substantial GOP Senate gains seem inevitable, more attention will fall on Connecticut’s soon-to-be-senior Senator, Joe Lieberman (ID). That’s because Lieberman, one of two Independents in the Senate, could become a major target of Republicans if they net nine seats in the midterms.

If that were to happen — and it’s still a long shot — Lieberman would become either the Democrats’ 50th vote or the Republicans’ 51st for organizing the Senate. Either way, he could decide which party would control the Senate for the last two years of President Barack Obama’s term.

Getting to “plus nine” for Republicans doesn’t look as impossible as it once did.

Assuming that the GOP holds all of its own seats, the party would need to win four Democratic open seats (Delaware, North Dakota, Illinois and Indiana) and knock off four Democratic incumbents (in Arkansas, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Colorado). The crucial ninth seat would then come from one of four states: California, Connecticut, Washington or Wisconsin, where Democrats either have potentially vulnerable nominees or Republicans have surprisingly interesting candidates of their own.

Lieberman certainly would relish the attention of being the “decider,” and his decision surely would take into consideration whether he plans to seek re-election in 2012, when he will be 70 years old.

Shortly after he was first elected in 1988, the Almanac of American Politics wrote that “Lieberman is likely to be more of a team player in his party than [Republican Lowell] Weicker was in his.”

I suppose that may be true only because the Connecticut Senator was such a thorn in the GOP’s side, but in any case, it failed to imagine the kind of political figure that Lieberman would become in his own right.

Like Weicker, whom he defeated by less than a point for the Senate seat, Lieberman last won statewide office in the Nutmeg State as an Independent. But while Weicker won a term as governor running on A Connecticut Party line (a party he founded), Lieberman still operates in a very partisan body and has found himself in the middle of partisan maneuverings.

Though conservatives found Weicker’s style and voting record impossible to swallow, he never faced a primary challenge for renomination, since each time he sought re-election a GOP convention selected him to carry the party’s banner.

Lieberman, of course, lost the 2006 Democratic primary to businessman Ned Lamont, only to win re-election that November as an Independent with the help of a strong showing from Republican and independent voters.

Even though Democrats rejected Lieberman in 2006, he chose to caucus with his old party after those elections, receiving the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (of which he was the ranking member before the 2006 elections).

There are many reasons why Lieberman would vote with Democrats to organize the Senate after the 2010 elections.

He’s been a Democrat his entire life, and changing parties doesn’t come easy to elected officials who have spent 40 years in politics. He served in the Connecticut state Senate and as the state’s attorney general as a Democrat, was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000 and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

On many of the key issues of the day, from the environment and abortion to the minimum wage, cap-and-trade and the auto industry bailout, Lieberman is simply closer to Democrats than to Republicans — particularly a GOP of tea party activists, pro-lifers and Southerners.

But Lieberman seems to like being able to stick it to Democrats now and then, as he did when he said he could not support a public option in the health care bill.

“The public option I think was raised in the last year by people who really want to have a government-controlled health insurance system. That’s their right. I think they’re wrong,” Lieberman said in November on “Face the Nation,” using language that must have sounded comfortable to even the most conservative Republican.

And, of course, Lieberman spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention and campaigned for his friend, Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), in the presidential race.

Actually, Lieberman’s record is filled with instances where he distanced himself from his party or his party’s allies, in Hollywood, for example.

If Republicans have a shot at getting Lieberman’s vote to organize the Senate, it will be because of foreign policy. With the Obama administration increasingly critical of Israel and Iran continuing to take steps to be able to build a nuclear weapon, Lieberman may just believe that Republicans better understand what he considers to be the top issue of the day — national security.

But would Lieberman really switch, the way Arlen Specter (Pa.), Jim Jeffords (Vt.) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.) did? Not everyone agrees.

“I don’t see him joining the Republicans,” says Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “He’s had chances to do that already, and he didn’t take them. It’s unlikely that he would in the future.”

“I think he might,” counters Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Joe Lieberman puts principle above politics, and if he thought he could make a difference on important issues, he certainly would consider it.”

Lieberman could still call himself an Independent but decide to caucus with the GOP. That would drive many of his former friends (and all of his liberal enemies) crazy. But he just might like the idea of doing that.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is the GOP Headed to a Revival in the Land of Enchantment?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Talk about being down and out. After last year’s elections, the New Mexico GOP looked about as energetic as a three-week-old corpse.

Democrats controlled both of the state’s Senate seats, all three of its House seats and six of the state’s seven statewide offices. The Republicans’ only beachhead was the office of the state commissioner of public lands. The Legislature was equally overwhelmingly Democratic.

And in the presidential contest, the state that had two squeakers in 2000 (Al Gore by 366 votes) and 2004 (George W. Bush by 5,988 votes) turned into a 15-point blowout for Democrat Barack Obama.

But Republicans seem almost certain to win back at least one of the state’s Congressional districts, the 2nd district, and now appear to have a least a fighting chance to take back the 1st district.

Freshman Rep. Harry Teague seemed just the kind of Democrat who could hold the 2nd district, which is a huge land area that encompasses the southern half of the state. A moderate who defeated a supposedly credible GOP nominee by a dozen points in 2008, Teague understood his district and seemed to embody its conservatism.

But Republican strategists now burst into broad smiles at the mention of the New Mexico Democrat, believing that they have the right candidate — former Rep. Steve Pearce — and the right issue — cap-and-trade — to oust Teague in his oil- and gas-producing district.

Pearce ended March with $709,000 in the bank, not much less than Teague’s $927,000.

Democrats don’t put up much resistance when Teague’s name appears on “most vulnerable” lists, a clear indication that party strategists understand he has a very difficult path to re-election.

But while Republican strategists are confident of defeating Teague, they are guardedly optimistic of ousting freshman Rep. Martin Heinrich in the state’s Albuquerque-based 1st district.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have given you a nickel for GOP chances against Heinrich, the 30-something former Albuquerque city councilman who made women’s heads turn whenever he happened to be at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters last cycle.

Two years ago, GOP operatives talked about the potential of the party’s Congressional nominee, Sheriff Darren White, holding retiring Rep. Heather Wilson’s open seat. But Heinrich buried White by more than 11 points in a district where a 2- or 3-point victory has been the rule.

Heinrich still has to be regarded as the favorite in his bid for re-election, but the change in the national mood and an unusually appealing GOP challenger make this definitely a race to watch.

Jon Barela is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Georgetown Law. He worked on Capitol Hill for the late Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.), including three years on the staff of the House Appropriations Committee, and later served as New Mexico assistant attorney general and director of the Civil Division.

Barela has also been in private practice, worked for Intel and started a small business. From 1999 to 2001, he served as chairman of the board of New Mexico First, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that addresses state issues, and in 2007-08 he served as vice chairman of the state Republican Party. He is also a former president of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

Through the first quarter of 2010, Barela had raised over $520,000, ending March with $392,000 in the bank. Given that White spent almost $1.8 million last cycle to Heinrich’s almost $2.5 million, Barela has work to do. Heinrich’s first-quarter Federal Election Commission report showed him with just over $1 million in the bank.

But Barela’s appeal is real. In a recent interview in the nation’s capital, he came across as thoughtful, mature and likeably low-key. His issue positions and party label aside, he’s the kind of candidate almost any voter would think would be an asset on Capitol Hill.

State and national Republicans have already coalesced around the attorney and businessman. He has considerable appeal to district Hispanics, in part because of his heritage, but also because, unlike most Republicans, he doesn’t favor the dismantling of affirmative action programs and backs a comprehensive solution of the nation’s illegal immigrant problem.

But Barela has plenty of ammunition to use against Heinrich, including the freshman’s votes for the stimulus, cap-and-trade and health care reform.

Two years ago, when I interviewed Heinrich during one of his trips to Washington, D.C., I knew that he was the real deal. I got the same feeling after meeting Barela. These are two very good candidates in what has proved to be a very competitive Congressional district.

About a week ago, the Rothenberg Political Report added this district to our list of almost five dozen House seats in play. We rated it as “Democrat favored.” But after meeting Barela and looking more closely at the race, I’ll have to reclassify it as “Lean Democrat” (a more competitive category), and as long as Barela raises enough money to be competitive and the current national mood is unchanged, I’d expect the race in New Mexico’s 1st district to go down to the wire.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on April 19, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

New Mexico 1 Moved to Lean Democratic

Cong. Martin Heinrich (D) is still the favorite in the race, but as long as Republican Jon Barela raises enough money to be competitive and the current national mood is unchanged, we expect the race in New Mexico’s 1st district to go down to the wire. We're moving the race from Democrat Favored to Lean Democratic. You can learn more about the landscape in the Land of Enchantment by reading Stu's recent Roll Call column.

Our bottom line in the House remains the same. Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible.

Here are our latest House ratings.
#- Moved benefiting Democrats
* - Moved benefiting Republicans
Special Elections in italics

Pure Toss-Up (1 R, 13 D)
  • AR 1 (Open; Berry, D)
  • FL 24 (Kosmas, D)
  • IL 10 (Open; Kirk, R)
  • IL 14 (Foster, D)
  • MI 1 (Open; Stupak, D)
  • MI 7 (Schauer, D)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • NH 2 (Open; Hodes, D)
  • NY 24 (Arcuri, D)
  • NV 3 (Titus, D)
  • PA 7 (Open; Sestak, D)
  • PA 12 (Open; Murtha, D)
  • TN 8 (Open; Tanner, D)
  • WA 3 (Open; Baird, D)
Toss-Up/Tilt Republican (0 R, 9 D)
  • AL 2 (Bright, D)
  • AR 2 (Open; Snyder, D)
  • FL 8 (Grayson, D)
  • ID 1 (Minnick, D)
  • IN 8 (Open; Ellsworth, D)
  • KS 3 (Open; Moore, D)
  • MS 1 (Childers, D)
  • VA 2 (Nye, D)
  • VA 5 (Perriello, D)
Lean Republican (3 R, 7 D)
  • CA 3 (Lungren, R)
  • CO 4 (Markey, D)
  • FL 25 (Open; M. Diaz-Balart, R)
  • LA 3 (Open; Melancon, D)
  • MD 1 (Kratovil, D)
  • NM 2 (Teague, D)
  • NY 29 (Open; Massa, D)
  • OH 1 (Driehaus, D)
  • OH 15 (Kilroy, D)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
Republican Favored (5 R, 1 D)
  • CA 45 (Bono Mack, R)
  • NE 2 (Terry, R)
  • OH 12 (Tiberi, R)
  • PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
  • PA 15 (Dent, R)
  • TN 6 (Open; Gordon, D)
Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic (0 R, 4 D)
  • HI 1 (Open; Abercrombie, D)
  • ND A-L (Pomeroy, D)
  • SC 5 (Spratt, D)
  • WV 1 (Mollohan, D)
Lean Democratic (1 R, 16 D)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • AZ 8 (Giffords, D)
  • DE -AL (Open; Castle, R)
  • IN 9 (Hill, D)
  • IA 3 (Boswell, D)
  • MA 10 (Open; Delahunt, D)
  • MO 4 (Skelton, D)
  • NJ 3 (Adler, D)
  • NM 1 (Heinrich, D)*
  • NY 1 (Bishop, D)
  • NY 19 (Hall, D)
  • OH 16 (Boccieri, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 4 (Altmire, D)
  • PA 11 (Kanjorski, D)
  • VA 9 (Boucher, D)
  • WI 7 (Obey, D)
Democrat Favored (1 R, 18 D)
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • CO 3 (Salazar, D)
  • CT 5 (Murphy, D)
  • FL 22 (Klein, D)
  • IL 11 (Halvorson, D)
  • IN 2 (Donnelly, D)
  • LA 2 (Cao, R)
  • NY 13 (McMahon, D)
  • NY 20 (Murphy, D)
  • NY 23 (Owens, D)
  • NC 8 (Kissell, D)
  • OH 13 (Sutton, D)
  • PA 3 (Dahlkemper, D)
  • PA 8 (Murphy, D)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • PA 17 (Holden, D)
  • SD A-L (Herseth Sandlin, D)
  • TX 17 (Edwards, D)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D)
Total seats in play: 79
Republican seats: 11
Democratic seats: 68

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Paterson’s Timing Has Been Perfect for Democrats in N.Y. Specials

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While New York Gov. David Paterson’s (D) performance in office has been widely panned, his timing in three House special elections this cycle has been impeccable.

Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) resigned his 29th district seat more than a month ago, but Paterson still has not acknowledged the vacancy nor issued a date for a special election. State law gives the governor latitude to announce a vacancy, but when he does, a special election must be called.

According to sources in Washington, D.C., and the Empire State, Paterson has good relations with the New York delegation as well as the offices of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and he leveraged those key relationships to get good advice on the timing of the special elections.

In the case of the 29th district vacancy, if Paterson were to call a special election today, Democrats would likely lose the seat. Their candidate, an unknown former CIA employee who had been living in Washington, is just beginning to get a campaign operation together and the political climate continues to be difficult for Democrats.

Paterson initially told reporters that he would call a special election to fill Massa’s seat “as soon as possible” but has since backed off. In a March 31 statement, his office raised concerns about “the financial impact that a special election could have on the county level.” A spokeswoman said no final decision had been made yet and reiterated that point to Roll Call again this week.

Democrats in the district say they would prefer to avoid a special election, also citing the costs involved. And one local Democratic source told Roll Call, “I wouldn’t hold my breath,” waiting for the governor to call a special, adding that there is a strong likelihood that the November general election will be the only contest to decide who the next Member from the 29th district is.

That has Republicans squawking about Democrats’ stalling tactics. Former Corning Mayor Tom Reed, the Republicans’ consensus candidate for Massa’s seat, has been publicly calling on the governor to call the election “forthwith,” but to no avail.

It’s hardly a coincidence that Democrats will benefit if Paterson chooses not to call a special election.

Paterson has “done a good job of reading the tea leaves with the delegation,” according to one New York Democratic consultant, who noted that the exception was the governor’s handling of then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand’s appointment to the Senate early last year.

But Paterson handled Gillibrand’s open seat extremely well. She resigned her House seat on Jan. 26, but the governor didn’t declare the vacancy until Feb. 23.

That extra month allowed Democrats to find their candidate, businessman Scott Murphy, and get him up to speed and ready to go against state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R), who started the race with significantly higher name recognition. Murphy won the March 31 special election with 50 percent of the vote.

Last fall, Republican Rep. John McHugh vacated his 23rd district seat to become President Barack Obama’s secretary of the Army. The GOP Congressman resigned on Sept. 21, Paterson only took eight days to announce the vacancy that time and set the election to coincide with the regularly scheduled Nov. 3 elections.

After a popular state legislator passed on the race, Democrats quickly sorted through a list of others to find attorney Bill Owens, who won the November special election with 48 percent over Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. The GOP nominee, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, received almost 6 percent even though she dropped out late in the race and endorsed Owens.

Emily Cadei contributed to this report.

This story first appeared on and on April 18, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.