Red State Weekly Political Synopsis for May 1, 2009

Senate Update

Colorado: Weld County (Greeley) District Attorney Ken Buck (R) officially announced his candidacy for the Senate seat of appointed incumbent Michael Bennet (D). Buck joins Aurora at-Large City Councilman Ryan Frazier as an official Republican candidate. Former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO-7) is also a potential contender. Polling already shows a close race and this seat is in play for the Republicans.

Florida: It appears that Gov. Charlie Crist (R) will make an official announcement about his 2010 electoral plans next week. It is now better than an even bet that he will run for the Senate. This will set off a wild scramble for the vacated Governor’s post, but Crist will be in a strong position for election to the Senate. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL-17) and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio are the leading Democratic candidates, though the latter has not officially announced her candidacy.

Illinois: Sources close to Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL-10) say he is just days away from making a decision about running for the Senate. It is likely an announcement will come next week. On the Democratic side, Christopher Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the individual responsible for running Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, is also said to be considering the race. Polling shows a close Democratic primary, and Kirk running even with or just slightly behind all of the top candidates with the exception of Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D). She has strong leads in both the primary and general elections.

Kentucky: Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson filed a Senatorial exploratory committee to assess his chances of winning Sen. Jim Bunning’s seat (R). Grayson says he will only run if Bunning retires. The Senator suffers from poor polling numbers and weak fundraising making it obvious to GOP leaders that he is likely to lose the general election. This is a clear sign that Bunning’s retirement may be imminent. Bunning must get out of the way if the Rs hope to have any chance of holding the seat. A nasty D primary should help Grayson.

Minnesota: The Minnesota State Supreme Court, hearing what will be Republican Norm Coleman’s appeal of the Senate race recount that puts Euro-lefty Al Franken 312 votes ahead, is supposedly putting the case on the fast track. Despite the expedited schedule in hearing the oral arguments, the procedure won’t begin until June 1st. It is conceivable the final decision won’t be rendered until after July 4th.

Pennsylvania: National Republican leaders are said to be searching for a candidate to oppose conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA-15), fearing he cannot win the general election. Toomey is being under-estimated as a candidate. Democrats, conversely, are putting pressure on all other potential primary candidates such as Rep. Joe Sestak (R-PA-7) to stay out of the race in order to give party switching incumbent Arlen Specter a free ride in the Democratic primary. As you know, Specter left the GOP last week because he couldn’t win the party’s nomination again. The Republican candidate situation will likely become clearer next week. Sestak says people in Pennsylvania and not Washington, DC should decide who will represent the state. Gov. Ed Rendell and reportedly the White House are trying to push Sestak out of the race, but it doesn’t look like he quite willing to budge just yet.

House Update

CA-44: Local school board president Bill Hedrick (D), who held Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA-44) to a scant 51-49% margin last November, has announced that he will seek a re-match next year. Look for another close race.

CA-47: Republicans have successfully recruited Assemblyman Van Tran to challenge Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-47) next year. The 47th is one of the lowest turnout districts in the state, and the most marginal of the Democrat-held seats in California. Sanchez has never been seriously challenged since her original election in 1996. This race has the potential to become competitive.

CO-3: Rep. John Salazar (D-CO-3), who has held onto his Republican-leaning seat since 2004, is drawing serious opposition for 2010. District Attorney Martin Beeson (R), who represents three of the district’s rural counties, says he will challenge Rep. Salazar next year, and this has the potential to turn into a good one.

NY-20: Democrat Scott Murphy was installed as the official winner of the special election that was held March 30th. The long absentee counting process, and the closeness of the outcome, made the determination process a long one. Murphy was declared the winner by 399 votes of more than 160,000 ballots cast. Republican Jim Tedisco says he is “not planning” on challenging the new Congressman in the regular election next year. With a better Republican candidate, the GOP has a chance to take this one back.

OH-18: Sophomore Rep. Zack Space (D-OH-18) ended speculation that he would attempt a long shot run for the Senate. He will seek re-election, but the Republicans have him square on the target him. The district is heavily Republican, but Space has won two landslide elections.

SD-AL: Secretary of State Chris Nelson (R), who is barred from seeking re-election under the state’s term limits law, announced that he will challenge Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD-AL). Though speculation still runs rampant in the state that Sandlin will seek the open Governor’s office, she has yet to unveil her definitive electoral plans. Should Sandlin run for Governor, Nelson would become a formidable congressional candidate. Sandlin would be rated a heavy favorite if she decides to run for re-election.

VA-10: Fifteen-term Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA-10) ended retirement speculation by announcing he would seek another term in the House next year. The district is becoming increasingly marginal, so Wolf can expect a more robust challenge, possibly from at least one state Senator.

Governor Update

Colorado: Public Policy Polling released the results of their statewide survey (4/17-19; 1,050 CO voters) that showed Gov. Bill Ritter (D) trailing former Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO-3) 48-41%. Ritter led state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry (R) 42-40%. The Governor’s job approval rating was an upside down 41:49%. The poll suggests that this race could become quite interesting.

Georgia: Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA-9), who was originally elected to the House as a Democrat in 1992 before switching parties has announced he will seek the Republican nomination for Governor. State Senate President Eric Johnson also added his name to the growing list of candidates. Conversely, after taking a quick look at running for Governor after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle opted out of the race for health reasons, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA-3) said he would not run statewide, and will seek re-election to a fourth term in the House next year. The Republican winner will be favored in the general.

Illinois: Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) fares extremely well against new Gov. Patrick Quinn (D). The Public Policy Polling survey (4/24-26; 415 likely Democratic primary voters) shows Madigan comfortably ahead of the Governor, 45-29%. Quinn assumed the office upon the impeachment of crooked Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). Madigan, who also fares well in a Democratic Senatorial primary, has not indicated what her future political plans might be. Republicans need to recruit a strong candidate.

New Jersey: Yet another poll shows liberal spend-tax-and spend some more Gov. Jon Corzine (D) trailing former US Attorney Chris Christie (R). Monmouth University, in their poll (4/23-27; 690 registered voters) stakes the challenger to a 39-35% lead over the Governor. This is closer than earlier polls that showed the lead to be closer to ten points. Possibly more troubling for Corzine, however, is his showing against the little known Republican Mayor of Bogota. Corzine only leads Steve Lonegan 37-33%. The New Jersey Governor’s race will be decided this November.

Tennessee: Democrats now have a legitimate candidate for the open Governor’s race. Mike McWherter, a businessman and son of former Gov. Ned McWherter (D), announced he will run next year. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN-3), Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, and state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, equivalent to the Lt. Governor’s position in Tennessee, are all announced Republican candidates. Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is term-limited. This is one of the best GOP conversion states in the country.

Virginia: Survey USA (4/25-27; 409 Likely Democratic primary voters via automated telephone calls) posts former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clinton lackey Terry McAuliffe to a sizable 38-22-22% lead over former Boston-born state Delegate Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Democratic primary for Governor. This contrasts with several other polls that show Moran doing much better, and Deeds far worse. For the general election match-ups, SUSA polled 1,396 registered VA voters. In each instance, Republican former Attorney General Bob McDonnell leads in hypothetical one-on-one pairings. Against McAuliffe, McDonnell’s advantage is 46-39%; paired with Moran, the Republican lead is 45-34%; and opposite Deeds, the man McDonnell defeated for AG in 2005, he registers a 44-39% edge. With Chris Christie’s strong performance in New Jersey so far, the early trends in the two ’09 Governor’s races are looking promising.