Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Posts Tagged ‘Joe Manchin’

Tomblin Withstands Maloney’s Challenge in West Virginia

In Governor on October 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) successfully withstood a strong gubernatorial special election challenge from Republican businessman Bill Maloney last night, winning a tight 50-47 percent victory. An overwhelmingly Democratic state in voter registration (53 percent D – 29 percent R), the Mountain State has been voting decidedly Republican in recent national elections. In fact, no Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state since 1996. But, for state contests, the Dems have remained in control as they again did yesterday.

Tomblin will fill the final year of Joe Manchin’s (D) second term as governor. Manchin resigned the office when he was elected to the US Senate last year. He was heavily involved in campaigning for Tomblin and certainly could have made the difference for his Democratic successor in what evolved into a close race. The senator is the state’s most popular elected official.

Polling showed the race closing fast in Maloney’s favor, but it was a question whether his charge was too little, too late. He under-performed in the coal country, which is a good sign for the state’s Democrats. The party’s federal candidates were ravaged here during the 2010 election as a direct result of the President’s Cap & Trade legislation.

Though the GOP, particularly through a $1.8 million Republican Governor’s Association independent expenditure, tried to tie Tomblin directly to President Obama – attacking mostly on healthcare as opposed to Cap & Trade – the strategy came up just short. This may be an example of how an offensive on a federal issue may not necessarily carry over to a state race.

Turnout was very low, just under 25% of the state’s 1.2 million registered voters. An average congressional special election usually broaches participation rates in the 35% range, with statewide contests usually doing better.

Gov. Tomblin is eligible to run for a full term next year. It remains to be seen if Maloney runs again.

Assessing the Nation’s Governors Contests

In Governor on September 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Often times the trends set in the nation’s governors contests become a precursor to the national presidential elections. This year, four states are choosing chief executives and, if anything, the patterns associated with these races suggest a return to more normal voting behavior. In Louisiana, now becoming a staunch Republican state, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is seeking a second term. To date, and candidate filing closes today, he does not even have a major opponent. Jindal is virtually assured a second term.

Next door in Mississippi, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant who easily won the Republican gubernatorial nomination to succeed two-term Gov. Haley Barbour (R), appears headed for a landslide victory in November over Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D). If successful, Bryant will deliver the fifth consecutive Mississippi gubernatorial election for his party. Kentucky, one of the most loyal of Republican states in the presidential election but a place that almost always elects a Democratic governor, is again falling into a familiar voting pattern. While President Obama trails the top GOP candidates here according to the latest polls, incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is headed toward an easy re-election this November.

West Virginia, however, is bucking the landslide trend. In a special election to be decided Oct. 4 because Joe Manchin left the governorship to succeed the late Robert Byrd in the US Senate, interim Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) suddenly finds himself in a tight contest against GOP businessman Bill Maloney. The latest Public Policy Polling survey (Sept. 1-4; 708 likely West Virginia voters) gives the Democrat only a 46-40 percent lead, down from his previous double-digit leads. But closer races are becoming a more usual voting pattern for West Virginia, as the state continues to trend more Republican. Expect the campaign to tighten even more as Election Day approaches.

Can these normal gubernatorial elections suggest a return to a more predictable vote in next year’s presidential contest? Quite possibly. If so, expect a much closer result than we witnessed in 2008.
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Senate Financials Tell Interesting Stories

In Senate on July 29, 2011 at 9:13 am

The second quarter US Senate financial disclosure summaries are now available and in almost all cases, the incumbents have prepared adequately for their re-election campaigns. Obviously, the size of the state dictates the money range needed to run a viable effort, so the benchmark cash on hand figures differ greatly. All in-cycle incumbents have more than $1.5 million in assets with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who possesses $1.279 million. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has the most money in the bank, $9.628 million. The next closest cash on hand figure is Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) $6.057 million.

The only incumbent with less cash on hand than a challenger is Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) has $2.476 million in her campaign account versus Heller’s $2.272 million. The comparison is a bit unfair, however, because Heller is an appointed incumbent, replacing the resigned Sen. John Ensign (R). Therefore, his Senate incumbency is short-lived and should not be measured comparably to the other in-cycle full-term Senators.

The Senate incumbents having the strongest fundraising cycle to date are Scott Brown ($3.739 million), Bill Nelson ($3.695 million), and Democrat New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez ($3.581 million). The strongest open seat/challenger fundraisers are Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who still has yet to announce his Senate candidacy, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who is seeking retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) open seat, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) challenging one-term Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Mandel raised $2.339 million, Murphy $2.012 million, and Rehberg $1.964 million.

The fundraising and resource components provide some idea as to how competitive some of the projected close races might become. Sen. Nelson, for example, continues to prove he is in solid shape by every measuring instrument. His $6.057 million cash on hand is more than seven times as great as his closest financial opponent, GOP former interim Sen. George LeMieux. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), commonly viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election, raised only $111,000 more than Attorney General Jon Bruning, but leads his chief Republican opponent $2.916 million to $1.265 million in the cash on hand category.

The competitive race that is proving to be the closest, at least in resources, is the Nevada Senate race. There Rep. Berkley shows $2.476 million compared with Sen. Heller’s $2.272 million cash on hand. This race could turn out to be the most hotly contested in the country. Nevada is a tight swing state, both candidates are equally well-known, and they both possess the same quantity of campaign resources. With turnout expected to be high in the presidential election year, the final wave will likely decide this campaign. The same can be said for the Virginia Senate race. There, former Sen. George Allen (R) has raised $2.615 million with $1.649 million on hand. Tim Kaine, the former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, has raised a similar, but smaller, $2.266 million but has slightly more in the bank, $1.875 million.

As we know, finance tells only part of any political story, but no one denies that the dollar count is a highly important factor of any campaign effort.

Below is a link to a PDF spreadsheet containing the relevant financial numbers for all 33 Senate races being contested in 2012. The only state not recording any figures is Wisconsin. Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring, and no one has yet formally declared their candidacy for the open seat.

Candidate Financials: Senate Financial Disclosure – 2nd Qtr 2011
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Elections are Right Around the Corner

In Governor, House on May 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm

By this time next week, we will know the results of a special congressional election and two statewide primaries. And, on May 24, in upstate New York, another congressional vote follows. We will present an update report on the NY-26 race when that particular election approaches.

Saturday, May 14 – West Virginia Governor:
When Joe Manchin was elected to the Senate last year, he left the governor’s office with two years remaining on his final term. Under a rather ambiguous state succession law, it was determined that state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) would become acting governor, but a special election would still be held to fill the unexpired portion of the gubernatorial term. The special election winner would serve the remaining 14+ months of the term but would be eligible to run for a full four years in the regular 2012 election.

Because every West Virginia office holder has a free ride for the special election, both parties drew very crowded fields. For the Democrats, aside from Tomblin, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, state Treasurer John Perdue, state Senate President Jeff Kessler, and WV House Speaker Rick Thompson are all in the field of candidates. When the biggest Republican name, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) decided not to enter the race, a plethora of eight Republican candidates jumped into the race, led by former Secretary of State Betty Ireland. Westover Mayor Cliff Ellis and Senate Minority Whip Clark Barnes appear to be among the most serious challengers to Ireland.

Heading into Saturday’s election, it appears that Tomblin has a sizable polling lead among Democrats, as does Ireland for the Republicans. The special general election won’t be until Oct. 4, meaning a rather long special cycle. Should Tomblin win the Democratic nomination as expected, he will begin the special general in the favorite’s position.

Tuesday, May 17 – Kentucky Governor:
While the other elections are all of the irregular variety, the Kentucky vote is regular. The Blue Grass State normally elects its governor and statewide constitutional officers in the odd-numbered years. Tuesday should be a yawner in the governors’ race, however. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is seeking re-election and remains unopposed for his party’s nomination. Republicans feature three sets of candidates, as gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates run as a team, even in primary elections. State Senate President David Williams and his running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, appear to be the decided front-runners for the GOP nomination.

With a clear financial advantage and the voting history trends decidedly favoring the Democratic candidate in Kentucky governor races, Beshear becomes a prohibitive favorite in the major party match-up with Williams for the Nov. 8 general election. Five other offices: attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, and agriculture commissioner, will also being decided during this regular election cycle.

Tuesday, May 17 – CA-36 Special Election
California Rep. Jane Harman (D), who resigned her seat early in the term to accept a position with a foreign policy think tank, forced the Democrats to risk a congressional seat mid-term. Fortunately for them, CA-36 is safely Democratic and the new election laws now allow candidates of the same party to qualify for the general election, meaning their prospects of retaining the seat are even brighter. Considering the field of candidates and the Democratic nature of this district (Obama ’08: 64; Bush ’04: 40) it is likely that two specific individuals will qualify for the special general.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D), who previously ran unsuccessfully for the congressional seat in 1998, losing to Republican Steve Kuykendall who then turned around and lost to Harman two years later, and then subsequently lost a statewide Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, should qualify for the special general election. By bringing in $423,000+ by April 27, Ms. Hahn was the leading fundraising in the race and has significant name identification in the region.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D), who was just re-elected to her second and final four-year term as a statewide official, hopped into the race to preserve her long-term political future. Bowen represented large portions of this Los Angeles harbor district during her tenure in both the state Assembly and Senate. Bowen raised $338,000 by the same April 27 disclosure filing deadline. Based upon the strength of the candidates and the CA-36 voting patterns, it would be shocking if someone other than these two ladies moves onto the general election. (There are a total of 16 candidates on the ballot: five Democrats, six Republicans, and five Independents.)

As in the other states hosting gubernatorial elections, the length of this special general cycle is also long. The second election is scheduled for July 12th. A Hahn-Bowen general election will be interesting because both candidates are strong and credible with solid name identification. The summer election will likely become hotly contested because both women possess political strengths. Councilwoman Hahn should place first in the primary and begin the special general election as a slight favorite. In any event, the district will easily remain in Democratic hands, regardless of which of their candidates finally claims the seat in mid-July.
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New Polling Shows Interesting Results in Montana, Conn., W.Va.

In Governor, Polls, Senate on March 23, 2011 at 9:44 am

Three pollsters released a trio of different polls yesterday, all in races of note.

Montana: Mason-Dixon Polling & Research surveyed the Montana electorate (March 14-16; 625 registered Montana voters) for the Lee Newspaper chain and found Sen. Jon Tester (D) to be in a dead heat with at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in the 2012 Senatorial race. The senator clung to a one-point 46-45 percent lead over his future GOP opponent. Tester received 94 percent support from Democrats compared to Rehberg’s 89 percent among Republicans. Independents broke 49-37 percent for the incumbent. Among men, Rehberg held a 53-40 percent advantage; Tester led 51-38 percent among female respondents.

Montana probably will support the Republican presidential nominee against Pres. Barack Obama, though the latter performed well here in 2008. John McCain managed to carry the state by a razor-thin 49-47 percent margin, but Obama led here during most of the ’08 presidential campaign. Assuming an improved Republican performance, Rehberg could get a slight bounce from the presidential race. The strong union presence in Montana, however, could prove to be a counter-balance in Tester’s favor. Union workers are likely to be highly energized due to the collective bargaining controversies happening in several states, which should provide positive synergy for Tester. Thus, the 2012 Montana Senate race will be a difficult campaign for both men. Count on the Tester-Rehberg race to be in toss-up mode all the way to the general election.

Connecticut: Public Policy Polling (March 17-20; 400 Connecticut registered self-identifying Democratic voters), for the Daily Kos national liberal blog, shows a very tight Connecticut Democratic Senatorial primary between Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. The eventual Democratic winner will have the inside track to replace the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman. According to PPP, Murphy leads Bysiewicz 40-38 percent. The congressman has a favorability index of 51:14 percent positive to negative; Bysiewicz is not quite as strong, scoring 45:27 percent.

In a general election match-up, tested from an enlarged sample of 822 registered Connecticut voters, Democrats win every pairing against well-known GOP potential contenders. The Republicans’ best ballot test featured former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2). He pulled to within 39-42 percent of Bysiewicz and 34-49 percent against Murphy. The Democrats perform much better against every other tested Republican.

West Virginia: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted a study for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, one of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates running in West Virginia’s May 14 special primary election. According to this data (March 10-15; 400 registered West Virginia Democratic voters), Tennant has a reasonable chance of denying acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin the Democratic nomination. Tomblin leads Tennant 31-27 percent within the at-large sample but, among respondents who know both individuals, Tennant scores a 34-31 percent advantage. State Treasurer John Perdue follows the leaders with 14 percent; state House Speaker Rick Thompson, who was just recently endorsed by some of West Virginia’s most powerful labor unions, and state Senate President Jeff Kessler each receive 5 percent.

The winner of the May 14 primary will face a Republican nominee in the Oct. 4 special election. The next governor will only serve through next year, but is eligible to run for a full four-year term when the position comes up for regular election in November of 2012. The state house became vacant when then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV). Manchin, too, will run for a full six-year Senatorial term in the next regular general election, as the 2010 special election was only for the balance of the existing term. With a long May-October special general cycle, it is clear that anything can happen in what promises to be an exciting governor’s race.
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Capito in Strong Shape in West Virginia

In Governor on January 27, 2011 at 9:34 am

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

Public Policy Polling just completed a survey of the West Virginia electorate (January 20-23; 1,105 WV registered voters) and answered some critical questions about Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV-2) possible political future. Recently, the state courts ruled that a special gubernatorial election must be held this year to fill former Gov. Joe Manchin’s final months in office. In November Manchin was elected to the US Senate. Since West Virginia’s succession laws are ambiguous, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has been serving as acting governor in addition to his legislative position. Forced to have a 2011 election, Tomblin set the date for October 4th with a June 20th primary vote.

Because the special will occur in an odd-numbered year, many current office holders, including Capito, can run for governor without risking their positions. The PPP poll shows the Charleston congresswoman to be in the best shape of any candidate. She runs ahead of every major WV Democrat by substantial margins, including a 48-40% spread over Tomblin. The poll also shows that all Democrats match-up well against the other potential Republican candidates should Capito remain on the sidelines.

The Republicans winning the governorship will have a major effect upon congressional redistricting, assuming the maps are not adopted before the special election. Republicans now hold a 2-1 majority in the federal delegation, but Democrats are in firm control of the state legislature. Electing Capito could protect that advantage, but she is giving few clues as to what will be her next move.
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Our 2012 Senate Outlook

In Senate on January 24, 2011 at 11:12 am

With three new Senate vacancies already present in the 2012 election cycle, it’s time to update our election grid. Democrats, including the two Independent senators who caucus with the party, must defend 23 states compared to just 10 for Republicans. The GOP needs a net gain of four seats to claim the outright majority, but 13 to reach 60, the number needed to invoke cloture on any issue.

Democratic Seats – Most Vulnerable

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad’s retirement gives the Republicans their best shot at converting a Democratic state. The GOP political bench here is robust and strong, thus the eventual Republican nominee will enter the general election as the favorite.

Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson, a retirement possibility, is politically damaged. He already trails at least two potential GOP candidates in polling, Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Right now, in this very early going, the Republicans are favored to convert the state.

Lean Democrat

Florida – The politically marginal Sunshine State suggests that Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will face a highly competitive 2012 election challenge. The GOP field is yet to be determined, but Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) appears to be the only Congressman positioning himself for a run. Right now, Nelson must be viewed as the favorite, but this will become a serious race.

Michigan – The Republican resurgence here, and the early polling, suggests that Sen. Debbie Stabenow has a difficult road to re-election. GOP candidates have yet to come forward, thus the current Lean D rating is attached. Michigan is certainly a state to watch. The presidential election year turnout model is a plus for Stabenow.

Toss-ups

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill is polling in the dead heat range against former Sen. Jim Talent (R), the man she defeated in 2006. Talent is not a sure candidate, but former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman is. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also is reportedly considering entering the contest, particularly if Talent remains on the sidelines. All would be very competitive against McCaskill in a state that is trending a bit more Republican during the past two elections.

Montana – Sen. Jon Tester can also expect a very competitive GOP challenge in what is normally a Republican state in a presidential year. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has not yet committed to the Senate race. Former Lt. Governor nominee Steve Daines is an official candidate and actively raising money.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown faces tough sledding presumably against newly elected Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R). Ohio will again assume its normal role as a battleground state for the presidential campaign, which, in 2012, could help Taylor. This may become the most hotly contested Senate race in the country.

Virginia – The actions of former governor and Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine and defeated gubernatorial candidate and ex-DNC chair Terry McAuliffe (both saying they won’t run for Senate in 2012 under any circumstances) suggests that Sen. Jim Webb will seek re-election, even though the incumbent has yet to confirm his intentions. Former senator and governor George Allen (R) will soon announce his candidacy, setting up a re-match with Webb. The Democrat won by 7,231 votes of more than 2.3 million cast five years ago. Early polling suggests a dead heat.

Questions

Hawaii – Speculation is prevalent that Sen. Daniel Akaka, who will be 88 at the time of the 2012 election, will retire. If so, the Republicans will be competitive with former Gov. Linda Lingle. If Akaka runs, and early indications suggest he will, the Democratic incumbent should have little trouble winning again.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez is polling below 50% in early survey trials but comfortably ahead of all potential Republican rivals. Though the senator is the decided favorite today, this race could become one to watch. Republicans may be looking most favorably toward entrepreneur John Crowley, who appears to have the potential of generating measurable political strength.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) is in strong position for re-election and is viewed as a heavy favorite. Republican former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), always a good vote-getter, could make challenging Bingaman a competitive race. She is said to be seriously considering launching a bid.

Wisconsin – Though he has been mum on his re-election intentions, Sen. Herb Kohl is another retirement possibility. If he chooses not to run, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings to run again. Should the senator seek re-election, he will likely face only a minor challenge.

Likely Democrat

Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) retirement, thereby avoiding an unpredictable three-way race, greatly improves the Democrats’ chances. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and ex-Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz are announced Democratic candidates. Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, is rumored as a possibility. The two losing 2010 nominees, Tom Foley in the governor’s race and Linda McMahon for the Senate, are both mentioned as possible candidates; so is former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

Pennsylvania – Until the Republicans field a top-tier candidate, something they have yet to do, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is a strong favorite for re-election. A serious campaign could develop, but not unless a stronger Republican joins the current field of candidates.

Rhode Island – The Republicans could move this state into the competitive category if former Gov. Don Carcieri (R) decides to run. In a presidential year, it is unlikely he will, so Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is a solid favorite for re-election. 2010 gubernatorial nominee John Robitaille (R) has already closed the door on a senatorial challenge.

Vermont – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is another strong favorite for re-election, but state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) is making noises about challenging the first-term senator. A statewide official would give the Republicans the opportunity of making this a competitive race.

Safe Democrats

California – Dianne Feinstein (D)
Delaware – Tom Carper (D)
Maryland – Ben Cardin (D)
New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
Washington – Maria Cantwell (D)
West Virginia – Joe Manchin (D)

Republican Questions

Arizona – Retirement rumors are swirling around Sen. Jon Kyl. The senator has yet to begin an active re-election effort, thus suggesting he may decide to call it a career. The seat is competitive in an open situation.

Nevada – This is clearly the most vulnerable Republican seat, should scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign win re-nomination. Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is considering a Republican primary challenge. Heller would have a good chance of winning the nomination and the seat. Democrats are in strong shape if Ensign qualifies for the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) is a potential Democratic candidate and promises to make her intentions known in mid-February.

Lean Republican

Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R), elected in an early 2010 special election, must stand for a full term in 2012. Despite Massachusetts being one of the most reliable of Democratic states, Brown’s numbers appear strong and he has a legitimate chance to win again. Once the Democratic field gels, a better assessment can be made.

Likely Republican

Indiana – Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the 2012 general election, has already announced that he is seeking re-election. A predicted Tea Party primary challenge could be his biggest problem. Lugar looks strong in a general election, but the GOP primary situation could change the outlook.

Maine – Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) has some of the better general election approval ratings of any 2012 in-cycle senator but, she too, has Tea Party problems in the Republican primary. Her situation in that regard has improved of late, however.

Safe Republicans

Mississippi – Roger Wicker (R)
Tennessee – Bob Corker (R)
Texas – Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Open Seat
Utah – Orrin Hatch (R) – Potential Tea Party convention challenge
Wyoming – John Barrasso (R)

Analyzing this initial line-up, it appears the Republicans’ chances of gaining an outright majority are good today, though there is no chance the net increase could be so high as to score filibuster-proof control.
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Our 2012 Senate Outlook – Part II

In Senate on January 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Continuing our early analysis of the 2012 election cycle, we now look at some more select states featuring a senate race next year. Be sure to read through our post on Jan. 5 for our analysis of the initial group of states that we looked at.

Nevada – Sen. John Ensign (R) – The fallout from a highly publicized sex scandal still leaves Sen. Ensign in a vulnerable position both in the Republican primary and the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will announce by mid-February whether she will run for the Senate. This is the GOP’s most tenuous situation in the country.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez (D) – New Jersey political insiders suggest that bio-tech entrepreneur John Crowley (R) will challenge Sen. Menendez next year. Crowley, currently president and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics headquartered in Cranbury, NJ, is the inspiration for the 2010 movie “Extraordinary Measures” starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser. The film depicts Mr. Crowley’s efforts directing his previous company to find a cure for Pompe Disease, a serious and life-threatening muscular disorder that infected two of his three children. Although he has significant personal resources, Crowley’s business connections and “star power” put him in position to raise the necessary funds to be competitive. If Crowley runs, the NJ Senate campaign becomes a race to watch.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) – Recently, former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) made some public statements suggesting that she is considering challenging Sen. Bingaman, a five-term incumbent. Her entry into the race would certainly give the Republicans a credible candidate, but Mr. Bingaman appears to be in strong political shape. He will have the edge against all comers.

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad (D) – With strong Republican victories at the Senatorial and congressional level in 2010, the GOP will mount a strong challenge to Sen. Conrad, particularly noting the fate of his Budget Committee counterpart, defeated Rep. John Spratt (D-SC-5). Conrad chairs the Senate Budget Committee; Spratt held the same position when the Democrats controlled the House. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem are the names most often mentioned as potential Conrad opponents.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) – The stage appears set for newly elected Lt. Governor Mary Taylor to take a shot at Sen. Brown next year. For her part, Taylor is uncommitted to such a race, but the other potential candidates, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH-4), appear to be either dropping out or taking no action to run. This will be a highly competitive race.

Rhode Island – Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) – Despite the Republicans’ current poor position in the Ocean State, they are not without some credible potential candidates to oppose Sen. Whitehouse. Outgoing Gov. Don Carcieri (R) is not closing the door on a future political run and has not ruled out challenging Whitehouse next year. John Robitaille, who did surprisingly well in the 2010 Governor’s race – placing second to Independent Lincoln Chafee but ahead of Democrat Frank Caprio – is also a possibility. Though the Democratic nature of Rhode Island, particularly in a presidential election year, lends considerable strength to the Whitehouse campaign, either Carcieri or Robitaille could give him a run for the money. Whitehouse is the favorite in 2012 against all potential opponents, but this race could get interesting.

Texas – Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Despite saying she would resign her seat before her run for governor that ended in a stinging defeat, it is still not clear whether she will seek another term in the Senate. Most believed Texas would feature an open seat election in 2012, but such may not be the case. If she does retire, then look for a mega-Republican primary that will contain several statewide elected officials and maybe a congressman or two. The Democrats seem pretty set with former state Comptroller John Sharpe as their candidate. He has lost two races for lieutenant governor since leaving his post. Whatever happens on the Republican side, the GOP will be heavy favorites to win in November 2012. As in most every year, the Democrats will claim to have a chance, brandish polls showing them in good position, but then lose by 12 points.

Virginia – Sen. Jim Webb (D) – This promises to be one of the top races in the country. Sen. Webb has curiously not yet committed to seeking re-election and murmuring even among Democrats suggests that it’s possible he will retire after just one term. If he does, watch for Democratic National Committee chairman and former Gov. Tim Kaine to enter the race. Ex-Gov. and Sen. George Allen (R), the man Webb beat in 2006, is gearing up for a re-match. He appears to have the inside track to the Republican nomination. Polling shows a tight Webb-Allen race. The Democrats will likely be stronger with Kaine as their nominee.

West Virginia – Sen. Joe Manchin (D) – Like Sen. Gillibrand, newly elected Sen. Manchin must also stand for election again in 2012, as he won only the right to serve the final two years of the existing term in the last general election. With all of the focus on the state’s basically open gubernatorial race, the position Manchin vacated to run for Senate, he begins the current election cycle as a prohibitive favorite.

Wisconsin – Sen. Herb Kohl (D) – There has been intense speculation that Sen. Kohl, who will be nearing his 78th birthday at the time of the next election, will retire. If he does, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings. Should Kohl seek re-election to a fifth term, he will be a heavy favorite and likely escapes a strong challenge. Most Republicans are looking to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) to run if the seat opens, but he may decide the stakes are too high to risk defeat in a state that normally trends Democratic, 2010 notwithstanding. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is another potential Republican candidate.
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