Friday, May 28, 2010

New Print Edition: Pennsylvania 15 & Nevada 3

Subscribers already have the May 25, 2010 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report, but here are excerpts from the introduction to the two stories in this issue:

Pennsylvania 15: Difference of Opinion
By Nathan L. Gonzales

There may not be a race this cycle with such a dramatic difference of opinion between the two parties.

Cong. Charlie Dent is a rare Republican who represents a district that both Barack Obama and John Kerry carried in their presidential races. But even with the wind blowing in their faces this cycle, Democrats believe Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan (D) is the perfect candidate to take over Pennsylvania’s 15th District.

On the other hand, Dent knows he’s a target and will be ready for the race. And even though Republican strategists are taking the race seriously, they don’t believe it will be particularly close in the end.

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

Nevada 3: Welcome to Paradise

By Nathan L. Gonzales

If you’re a Democratic incumbent who was elected in a competitive district last cycle with less than 50% of the vote, you’re almost guaranteed to be a target this year. Nevada Cong. Dina Titus (D) fits the bill perfectly.

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

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.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

WA Senate Moved to Narrow Advantage for Murray

Former state Sen. Dino Rossi's (R) entry into the race against Sen. Patty Murray (D) brings Washington's Senate seat into play. Murray appears to have a narrow lead in the polls and Rossi brings some high unfavorable ratings to the table after two losses in very competitive gubernatorial races. But this is now a real race. For now, we're rating the race as Narrow Advantage for Murray and the Democrats.

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)
  • PA Open (Specter, D)
  • Bennet (D-CO)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (3 R, 1 D)
  • Burr (R-NC)
  • FL Open (LeMieux, R)
  • NH Open (Gregg, R)
  • Murray (D-WA) *
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (1 R,2 D)
  • Vitter (R-LA)
  • Boxer (D-CA)
  • CT Open (Dodd, D)
Currently Safe (11 R, 7 D)
  • 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)
  • UT Open (Bennett, R)
  • Feingold (D-WI)
  • Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Inouye (D-HI)
  • Leahy (D-VT)
  • Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Schumer (D-NY)
  • Wyden (D-OR)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Idaho 1 moved to Lean Democratic, Hawaii 1 moved to Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic

In Idaho’s 1st District, Republicans nominated state Rep. Raul Labrador in an upset over Iraq War veteran Vaughn Ward, who was part of the NRCC’s Young Guns program. Freshman Democratic Cong. Walt Minnick (D) was already a difficult target because of his record of voting against every significant piece of legislation that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends to the floor, but this result appears to make the Republican chances of defeating him that much longer.

Minnick shouldn’t be considered Safe because John McCain carried his district with 62% of the vote in 2008, but we are moving the race from Toss-Up/Tilt Republican to Lean Democratic.

In Hawaii’s 1st District, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R) won the special election after two Democratic candidates divided up the Democratic vote, allowing him to win the seat without a majority. There is still plenty of uncertainty on the Democratic side. Democratic strategists believe that former Cong. Ed Case (D), who finished third in the winner-take-all special election, has the most general election appeal. But Colleen Hanabusa (D), who finished second in the special, is probably the frontrunner in the September 18 Democratic primary.

Democrats clearly have some issues to work out before this fall, but Djou was elected with only 40% of the vote in his victory, so our initial rating for the general election is Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic.

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, 12 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)
  • TN 8 (Open; Tanner, D)
  • WA 3 (Open; Baird, D)
Toss-Up/Tilt Republican (0 R, 8 D)
  • AL 2 (Bright, D)
  • AR 2 (Open; Snyder, D)
  • FL 8 (Grayson, 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, 9 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 (1 R, 3 D)
  • HI 1 (Djou, R) #
  • ND A-L (Pomeroy, D)
  • SC 5 (Spratt, D)
  • WV 1 (Mollohan, D)
Lean Democratic (1 R, 18 D)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • AZ 8 (Giffords, D)
  • DE -AL (Open; Castle, R)
  • ID 1 (Minnick, D)#
  • 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)
  • PA 12 (Critz, D)
  • VA 9 (Boucher, D)
  • WI 7 (Open; 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

Sean Duffy, Welcome to Your New Real World

By Stuart Rothenberg

Wisconsin Republican Congressional hopeful Sean Duffy probably now feels like he’s a victim of a classic bait-and-switch. But in this case, it’s Duffy who is a victim of his own success as a candidate.

After running for months against veteran Democratic Rep. David Obey in Wisconsin’s sprawling 7th district, which includes much of the northwestern quarter of the state, Duffy now finds himself running in November against Julie Lassa, a 39-year-old Democratic state Senator who will force Duffy to alter his message.

I interviewed Duffy at length in mid-March, and I was more impressed with him than I expected to be. Like everyone else, I had heard about his time as a cast member on MTV’s “Real World” in 1997 and his subsequent appearance on the network’s “Road Rules,” and that certainly lowered my expectations.

But instead of finding merely a self-promoting pseudo-celebrity looking for the latest way to get media exposure, I found an outgoing, energetic and engaging county district attorney who had won five elections and was incredibly focused on ousting longtime incumbent Obey in November.

The Republican already had about $300,000 on hand in the middle of March, and he was confident that he could raise $1.2 million for the race. (His March 31 numbers were $506,000 raised and $340,000 on hand.)

Duffy, 38, seemed like the perfect Republican to challenge Obey, 71, this year, with voters angry at the political establishment and Democrats almost certain to face the public’s wrath about unemployment and deficit spending.

Obey, the House Appropriations chairman, could easily be painted as responsible for the nation’s spending spree, its deficit and its debt.

And since he was first elected to the House in an April 1969 special election (or as Duffy has been noting, before the United States put a man on the moon), Obey served for more than 40 years by the time his 2010 re-election rolled around. That remarkable achievement might not look so positive given the public’s dissatisfaction with Congress and desire for change.

During my meeting with him, Duffy presented 2010 as a perfect storm for Obey: an angry electorate, Obey’s role in the stimulus and the deficit, and Duffy as the GOP’s strongest challenger in years.

After my meeting with Duffy, I added the district to my list of competitive races, since I thought the challenger’s energy and enthusiasm, combined with the vulnerability of some senior Democrats, gave Duffy a real shot at upsetting Obey. Duffy still had an uphill trek, but his scenario was entirely reasonable.

Obey’s decision not to seek re-election changes the Congressional race dramatically and forces Duffy to toss almost all of his strategy into the nearest trash can.

Instead of running against an older man, Duffy faces a woman his own age. Instead of facing someone who has been in Washington for decades, he’s paired against a state legislator. And instead of facing the sometimes crotchety Obey, he faces a woman whose “soft-spoken demeanor is the polar opposite of the blunt, abrasive tone that marked Dave Obey’s political career,” according to a Wisconsin Public Radio report shortly after Lassa became a candidate for the open seat.

Lassa was elected to the state Assembly in 1998 and re-elected in 2000 and 2002. In 2003, she won a special election for an open state Senate district. She was re-elected twice to the district, in 2004 and 2008, and she isn’t up again until 2012.

While Duffy lives in a county in the lightly populated extreme northern end of the district, Lassa comes from the more populous southern end of the district. That could give Lassa a considerable edge.

As a whole, the district tilts Democratic. Barack Obama won it by a solid 13 points over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, but Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Al Gore each carried the district by only a single point, in 2004 and 2000. Bill Clinton carried the district, which was shaped only slightly differently, in 1992 and 1996.

I haven’t met Lassa yet, so I can’t vouch for her appeal. And I don’t know what kind of campaign she will put together.

Republicans note, quite correctly, that whatever his vulnerabilities, Dave Obey had plenty of support in the district, had $1.4 million in the bank when he exited the race and had earned a reputation as a feisty, tough opponent. His retirement creates an open seat, which can’t be good for Democrats in the kind of midterm that is developing.

But in some ways, Lassa might end up being a more difficult foe for Duffy than Obey would have been. In any case, Sean Duffy will now have to run a very different kind of campaign than he planned less than two months ago.

Welcome to the real world of American politics, Mr. Duffy.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on May 25, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, May 24, 2010

DGA-Led Group Targets Kasich with New TV Ad

By Nathan L. Gonzales

There’s still five months to go before Election Day but you wouldn’t know it by the air war taking place in Ohio’s race for governor.

Building a Stronger Ohio, an outside Democratic group led by the Democratic Governors Association, is set to air a television ad this week attacking former Cong. John Kasich, the Republican challenging incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D).

The DGA contributed $1.5 million to Building a Stronger Ohio while the American Federation of Teachers added another $200,000, according to reports on the Ohio secretary of state’s website. The initial buy was for $300,000, but that is likely to be only the beginning of a larger effort.

The ad has not been released yet but it is likely to trumpet similar themes to Gov. Strickland’s ad that began airing earlier this month. [Update- You can view the new ad here.]

Strickland’s ad, “Good Work,” attacked Kasich for supporting NAFTA and then working for Lehman Brothers after he left Congress. “Does Ohio really need a congressman from Wall Street for governor?” according to the tagline of the ad.

The Republican Governors Association responded with a television ad, “Worried,” that tries to paint the governor’s ads as desperate while faulting him for job losses in the state during his first term. “Strickland had to attack because he sure didn’t get the jobs done,” according to the ad.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tuesday Showed It’s Wise to Expect Unexpected

By Stuart Rothenberg

What a really weird week.

Rep. Mark Souder, a socially conservative Republican from Indiana, admits he had an affair with a staffer and steps down from his seat. Squeaky-clean Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) admits he “misspoke” about his military record but says he won’t allow anyone to “impugn my record of service to our country.” And primary voters in Pennsylvania and Kentucky appear to prefer the more ideological candidates in primaries.

Souder’s resignation means local Republican leaders will pick a new nominee — something that didn’t work well twice in New York special elections last year. It’s a recipe for hurt feelings and attacks against the party’s “handpicked” candidate at a time when party insiders aren’t at their most popular.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats have a strong chance of winning the open seat, given the district’s bent and the tendency of special elections to help the party not holding the White House when the president is unpopular. But it does mean that the Republican nominee ought not take a victory for granted.

In the Nutmeg State, Blumenthal’s out-of-the-blue scandal is unwelcome news for national and state Democrats.

Blumenthal’s past statements will now be dissected by state reporters looking for other examples of embellishment and exaggeration, and if they find more examples, it will raise questions about his record, in addition to his character.

Does this mean that Connecticut is a tossup? Has the race changed so dramatically that neither party has an advantage?

When in the middle of a storm — meteorological or political — the best advice usually is to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass until it is safe to assess the damage. We don’t know how the Blumenthal controversy will develop, so I’m inclined to see what the voters think about the controversy before changing a rating.

Obviously, the dust-up over the state attorney general’s misstatements creates an opening for Republicans, raising new doubts about Blumenthal’s appeal. Still, this is Connecticut, and the eventual GOP nominee will have to overcome plenty of hurdles of his or her own.

Rand Paul’s thumping of Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson for the GOP Senate nomination in the Bluegrass State can’t be ignored.

Grayson raised some eyebrows by closing with two TV spots that emphasized his endorsements by high-profile state and national Republican leaders. Observers thought the decision odd given the electorate’s mood.

But Grayson’s media consultant Larry McCarthy, whom I have praised over the years and still believe is a master ad-maker, told me that the final ads weren’t picked out of the air.

“We tested negatives, the value of the [Sen. Mitch] McConnell and [Rep. Hal] Rogers endorsements and other things, and it wasn’t a close call. The data suggested strongly that [what we chose] was the right message to do,” McCarthy told me.

Paul’s early money made him a credible alternative to Grayson, who was preferred by national GOP strategists and most big-name Kentucky Republicans but was widely regarded as less than a compelling personality.

Can Paul win in the fall? Republicans who were initially skeptical about his electability now think that he could win. But they remain extremely worried about his prospects.

Veteran Republican campaign operatives fear that Democrats will successfully highlight some of his controversial past statements, and they worry that he has an additional six months to make a major mistake or two that could cost him the race. They also note that he has run a strong race so far.

Kentucky Democratic nominee Jack Conway’s narrow primary win also means problems for Democrats, because they too will have to find a way to unite after a bitter primary. Supporters of Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo (D), more rural and culturally conservative, won’t necessarily gravitate to Conway in the general election.

The instant analysis of “outsider” victories Tuesday isn’t wrong — it just presents only part of the picture.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D) lost in Pennsylvania not because he was an insider as much as because he was a party switcher without a pre-existing base in his new party — and an opportunist at that. But Paul certainly qualifies as an “outsider,” and some “establishment-backed” candidates for Congress (for example, Republican Mary Beth Buchanan in Pennsylvania’s 4th district and incumbent Democratic Rep. Tim Holden in Pennsylvania’s 17th district) performed much worse than expected.

On the other hand, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) turned back a primary challenge, and former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino (R) won his primary in Pennsylvania’s 10th district. Kentucky’s Conway was also backed by his state party’s establishment, and not a single House incumbent on Tuesday seeking renomination was defeated. So far this cycle, 98 percent of all incumbents seeking re-election have been renominated.

The defeat of Republican Tim Burns in the Pennsylvania 12th district special election obviously is the biggest blow to the GOP, which hoped to show the existence of an early wave building against Democrats and President Barack Obama. That didn’t happen, in part because of strong Democratic turnout in the race and statewide.

This column
first appeared in Roll Call and on on May 20, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is It Time for Democrats to Shove Giannoulias Out?

By Stuart Rothenberg

The clock is starting to run out on Democrats who would like Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias out of his state’s Senate race in favor of a more electable candidate.

Given the sensitivity of such a scenario, it’s no wonder that Democrats don’t want to be anywhere near a discussion of a switch.

But these kinds of pragmatic and heavily orchestrated decisions aren’t unknown — just think back to Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli’s very late exit from the 2002 New Jersey Senate race, and the subsequent nomination and election of his archrival, Democrat Frank Lautenberg.

Indeed, Illinois Democrats succeeded earlier this year in forcing the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen, off the ballot. (He is now back on the ballot, running for governor as an Independent.)

Of course, last-minute exits to avoid defeat are still the exception. Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.) fought hard down to the wire even though they looked to be in sad shape for many months, and however weak Sens. Harry Reid (Nev.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) are, it isn’t clear that other Democrats in their states would have an easier time hanging on to their seats in November.

While Giannoulias still runs competitively against Republican Rep. Mark Kirk in hypothetical general election ballot tests — he’s even in his own recent poll but trailing by 3 to 8 points in other polls conducted over the past six weeks — the Democrat’s personal ratings are terrible, and even Democrats will acknowledge privately that their nominee carries enough baggage to sink a battleship.

A May 3-5 survey of likely voters by Research 2000 for the liberal website Daily Kos found the treasurer’s name ID at 38 percent favorable/45 percent unfavorable, while Rasmussen Reports showed his ID at 42 percent favorable/48 percent unfavorable.

The recent coverage of the collapse of the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank earned the Senate hopeful a rash of negative publicity, and he can count on the bank’s practices (including loans to a number of people you wouldn’t want to associate with) being raised daily by his opponent or the media until November.

The 34-year-old state treasurer has an explanation for everything, of course, but even Democrats complain about the stink emanating from the bank.

Democrats who worry about Giannoulias’ viability in the fall have a problem, though. Since the nominee isn’t running far behind Kirk in trial heats, it won’t be easy to persuade him to leave quietly. And if there is something Democratic insiders don’t need, it’s a messy food fight with a nominee they are trying to dump (especially after Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania went public that White House insiders had offered him a job to get him to pass up a primary challenge to party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter).

Political observers note that the White House didn’t get heavily involved in the primary even though Giannoulias was known to be burdened with plenty of political baggage, so there certainly is some reason to wonder whether the Illinois-heavy White House will continue to keep its distance from the general election, even if Giannoulias’ defeat starts to look inevitable.

Still, with the White House crawling with Illinois political folks, it’s hard to believe that party leaders and strategists at the highest level are going to sit back quietly and allow the president’s former Senate seat to fall in Kirk’s lap.

For years, political operatives at the National Republican Congressional Committee used to say that then-Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) “handled” all New York races, just as folks at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last cycle joked that Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were in charge of Maryland races.

By that logic, Illinois is very much in the White House’s lap, though Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also has some responsibility.

Unlike some states, the Democratic bench in Illinois is so deep that it shouldn’t be hard to find a more formidable replacement for Giannoulias. Senate primary runner-up David Hoffman, a former prosecutor and Chicago inspector general, would be an obvious choice, but other Illinois famous names come to mind as well.

Politically astute Democrats now think that the chances that Giannoulias will “step aside” have increased with the federal takeover of Broadway Bank. And if Democratic control of the Senate starts to look at all at risk, behind-the-scenes efforts to come up with a stronger Senate nominee in Illinois might increase.

Even in a bad year for Democrats nationally, it seems odd that Republican prospects in the Illinois Senate race look so good.

Yes, the GOP got the candidate it wanted in Kirk, and the president’s numbers in the state have slipped from where they were. But Democrats would be in better shape if they didn’t have a nominee who was such damaged goods.

Illinois folks in and around the White House surely know that, and that’s why pressure is building for them to do something soon. If they don’t and Democrats lose the seat, it will be hard not to place a chunk of the blame at the front door of the White House.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on May 18, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.