Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Posts Tagged ‘Sherrod Brown’

The Stretch Drive Begins for Senate, House Races

In House, Senate on October 1, 2012 at 10:58 am

October is here and the political stretch drive is beginning, so it is appropriate to examine where the Senate and House campaigns stand from an aggregate party division perspective.

For most of the election cycle, Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of capturing the Senate majority, taking it away from Harry Reid and the Democrats. But, new swings in momentum show a more Democratic trend.

Recently, Democratic incumbents in Florida and Ohio have gained strength and open seat contender Tammy Baldwin has seized the initiative in the open Wisconsin campaign. Sunshine State polls have been erratic, but Sen. Bill Nelson now seems to have built a consistent and sustained advantage. First-term Sen. Sherrod Brown has also seen the polls ebb and flow, but his mid to high single digit edge over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel is stabilizing, at least for the short term. Baldwin’s ad offensive and Republican former governor Tommy Thompson’s recent comments about dismantling entitlements has posted the Democratic nominee to a slight lead.

After some flirtation with breaking toward the Democrats, the pure toss-up campaigns in Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester opposing Rep. Denny Rehberg), and Virginia (ex-senator George Allen and former governor Tim Kaine) have re-established themselves as dead heat campaigns. All three of these races will likely go down to the wire.

Additionally, there is movement toward Republicans in at least two long shot states, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, while Democrats are making Arizona a race. By most polls, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) still leads Republican Linda McMahon, but the gap is closing and the latter has gained the offensive.

The sleepy Pennsylvania Senate race has finally arisen, and Republican Tom Smith’s recent ad blast appears to be bringing him to within a single-digit deficit of first-term incumbent Bob Casey Jr. Democrats are still likely to prevail here and in Connecticut, but there is no question that Republican candidates in both places have created some current positive momentum.

Democrat Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General, is pulling much closer to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in their open seat battle according to most polls. As in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the Democratic candidates, Flake still must be considered the favorite to prevail.

The Missouri campaign between Sen. Claire McCaskill who, at the beginning of the cycle appeared to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent standing for re-election, and the mistake-ridden Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) is still in toss-up territory. Most believe, however, that activity in the final stretch will favor the Democratic Senator.

Republicans were thought early to be clear favorites in North Dakota and Indiana, but polling is still indicating that both of these campaigns remain close. The GOP appears to be a lock to convert Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) open Nebraska seat, and Independent Angus King continues to maintain the inside track in retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine, though the numbers are closing.

Today, Democrats look to be ahead in enough states to give them a 49-47 aggregate lead in the Senate, with four races in the toss-up column; three of which are currently Democratically held. Hence, the majority remains in abeyance.

The House has been the most stable of the federal political entities in the 2012 cycle. Post-census redistricting will prove to be the determining factor here and that favors the Republicans. It appears the partisan swing will deviate between a +/- three seat margin in terms of aggregate gains and losses for the two parties, but Republican control seems secure.

Democrats could be gaining as many as three seats in Florida and potentially the same or more in Illinois. Republicans are positioned to score similarly in North Carolina. New York and California remain as wild cards.

While the GOP appeared to be in position to gain seats up until the last two weeks, Democrats are enjoying a swing in some House races, too. The best estimate indicates Republicans will comfortably retain control, but Democrats could make an aggregate gain in the low single digits.

Today, it appears that 233 seats are safely or trending Republican as compared to 186 headed to the Democrats. Sixteen seats are considered too close to call, with 11 of the 16 being in GOP currently held districts.

The Conflicting Trends

In Election Analysis, Polling, Senate on September 26, 2012 at 10:40 am

Though we spend a great deal of time writing about and analyzing polls, it is important to remember that even though individual ballot test data is helpful and allows us to gauge campaign trends, the isolated individual polls themselves can be misleading. Today’s examples coming from Nevada and Ohio are a case in point. In both states, polls conducted during the same sampling period are producing considerably different results.

In Nevada, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 18-20; 501 likely Nevada voters) and Public Opinion Strategies (Sept. 19-20; 500 likely Nevada voters) can’t even agree on which Senatorial candidate is leading the race. A similar range conflict is found in the Ohio Senate race between Gravis Marketing (Sept. 21-22; 594 likely Ohio voters) and the Washington Post (Sept. 19-23; 759 likely Ohio voters), though the incumbent, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), leads in both studies.

Looking at the Silver State, PPP projects Democrat Shelley Berkley to have a 48-44 percent lead over appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). But POS is posting Heller to the opposite position, as they show the Senator topping Berkley 44-39 percent. Among the Buckeye State likely voters (the Washington Post poll provides separate results for their larger sampling universe of 934 registered voters and the whittled down cell segment of 759 likely voters), the WP Poll gives Sen. Brown a substantial 51-43 percent advantage, while Gravis sees only a one-point difference (Brown over state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) 44-43 percent) between the two candidates.

Examining the aggregate for all four polls, the net swing in Nevada is D minus 7 points from PPP to POS, while both show the same level of support for Republican Heller (44%). Interestingly, the Gravis and Washington Post Ohio polls reveal a similar effect. While Democrat Brown swings seven points between the two surveys, Republican Mandel scores the same level of support in both, 43 percent.

The presidential numbers in both states also show similar divisions. PPP gives President Obama a 52-43 percent lead over Mitt Romney in Nevada, while POS shows the two candidates tied at 46 percent. In this case, PPP is six points higher for the Democratic candidate and three points lower for the Republican for a net swing of nine points. In Ohio, the Washington Post gives Mr. Obama a 52-44 percent edge among likely voters while Gravis Marketing projects only a one-point 45-44 percent margin in the President’s favor. Again, the two polls detect the same level of support for the Republican candidate, but vary rather substantially (once more, a difference of seven points) for the Democratic contender.

All four of these polls are live interview surveys, as compared to those using the Interactive Voice Response method, so these studies are all in the “apples to apples” comparison category. All are making their own unpublished determination as to what they define as a “likely voter.” The pollsters weight the responses to mirror the state’s population and voter registration and preference history but don’t reveal their particular weighting equations. And, clearly, this distinction is key in relation to the Democratic scale because the Republican numbers among these various studies remains constant, or virtually constant (GOP presidential number in Nevada is different).

What does this tell us? Again, looking beyond the original ballot test numbers, we are seeing clear variance, particularly on the Democratic side. This is more than likely the result of the particular pollster’s sample selection, weighting equation, and likely voter determination while, of course remembering that all polls are a mere snap shot in time of a very small group of people. This is why contrasting multiple polls to obtain a picture of a particular campaign is so important, because the comparison tells a much different story than looking at any one of these polls individually.

Throughout this election cycle, pollsters have been detecting an electorate that is inconsistent and can abruptly swing. The polls we compare today certainly continue to show such characteristics. This means, to a large extent, that we are flying blind into Election Day, and that the final determining factors either haven’t yet happened or are not fully cemented.

The Importance of Ohio

In Election Analysis, House, Presidential campaign, Senate on August 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Ohio Congressional Districts

Since the 2000 presidential election, the state of Ohio has been front and center in determining the national political outcome. Despite having a Republican electoral history, the state voted twice for Bill Clinton before returning to support George W. Bush in both of his campaigns. In 2008, Ohio went 51-47 percent for candidate Barack Obama. Now four years later, it again becomes the quintessential political battleground. If Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is to unseat President Obama, his path must travel through the Buckeye State.

Along with the presidential contest, Republicans are hoping to make the Ohio Senate race highly competitive and appear to be doing so. State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who has already raised over $10 million for the statewide campaign, is challenging first term incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). This race will be determined along the same lines as the presidential contest and it is plausible that the party winning at the top of the ticket will also sweep in its Senatorial candidate. House races are critically important here, too, with as many as four contests in play for the general election.

The economy will be the determining factor here, as poor financial conditions during the last decade is one reason Ohio’s population growth rate was so anemic during the last census period. The state increased its number of residents only 1.6 percent during that time, which caused it to lose two congressional districts. Along with New York, this is the most in the nation. The US population grew at a 9.7 percent clip during the commensurate period.

The Obama campaign hopes to capture the senior vote with its depiction of the Republican budget proposals as being bad for the elderly. Conversely, the GOP will attempt to coalesce small business owners around the President’s statement saying that individual entrepreneurs didn’t build their own enterprises. Obama will, as he did in 2008, build a coalition of minority voters and single women. Romney will attempt to convince regular church goers to support him en masse.

Assuming that each is successful with their strategic objectives and the aforementioned voter segments break down about evenly in Ohio, another issue could become a wild card – at least that’s what the Romney campaign hopes, as evidenced during the visit to the state last week.

It is the coal issue that could possibly become determinative in Ohio. Perhaps Mr. Obama’s biggest mistake of his presidency was pushing the Cap & Trade measure as his first major legislative initiative. His party suffered greatly at the 2010 ballot box in coal country, and Cap & Trade was a big reason for the Democrats’ poor performance.

When veteran Democratic congressmen Alan Mollohan (WV-1) and Rick Boucher (VA-9) supported the legislation, they were summarily removed from office and clearly because of their energy positions. Things got so bad for Mid-Atlantic Democrats that now-Sen. Joe Manchin actually resulted to taking a gun and shooting a copy of the Cap & Trade bill in one of his campaign ads. The question is, will this voter vitriol continue at the same fever pitch in 2012?

It may in Ohio. With eight public polls being conducted in the state since July 1, most falling within a 3.2 point range between the two candidates (the two extremes gave Obama an eight-point advantage; the other had Romney up two), it is probable that the end result will come down to just a handful of votes.

This is why the Romney campaign is turning their attention to coal, as illustrated by the candidate’s visit to an Ohio coal mine last week. Coal is responsible for generating 82 percent of Ohio’s electrical power and, despite being the seventh-largest state in America, the Buckeye’s rank fourth in coal usage and 10th in production.

It is clear Ohio voters will be hearing a great deal about energy issues throughout the remaining campaign weeks and a lot about each presidential candidate’s position on the various means of energy production. Because coal is such an integral part of the lives and economic well-being of Ohioans, Romney may have found an issue that creates a definitive contrast with Obama where the president has little maneuvering ability. Will this make the difference in Ohio? Time will soon tell.

Several Races Tighten: Fla., Ohio, Calif.

In House, Polling, Senate on July 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Rep. Connie Mack IV

Four new polls were released on Friday and each showed developing races that are becoming close. In yet another study that depicts Rep. Connie Mack IV
(R-FL-14) performing very well against two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D), Survey USA produces numbers reflecting a hot Florida Senate race. According to S-USA (July 17-19; 647 likely Florida voters), Mack actually leads the incumbent Democrat 48-42 percent. The same sample gives President Obama a 48-43 percent lead over Mitt Romney, telling us there is no Republican skew in the respondent sample.

Since May 1, eight public polls of this Florida race have been released from six different pollsters (Quinnipiac University conducted three of the surveys as part of their monthly polling program). In five of the eight Nelson leads. In the other three, challenger Mack has the advantage. The swing goes all the way from 49-36 percent in the senator’s favor (Public Policy Polling; May 31-June 3) to Mack leading 46-37 percent (Rasmussen Reports, July 9). This provides us a net curve of 22 points. Such a large polling variance often reveals an extremely volatile campaign with an electorate willing to change course on a dime. There has been enough polling to tell us that the Florida Senate race features true competition and the thought that Sen. Nelson would have a relatively easy ride to re-election has now been firmly dispelled.

Staying in the Senate, Rasmussen Reports (July 18; 500 likely Ohio voters) projects that the Ohio race is continuing upon a competitive path. The latest RR data gives first-term Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) a 46-42 percent lead over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel. The senator has maintained at least a small lead for most of the previous 12-month period. In the presidential race, this Rasmussen sample returned a 47-46 percent spread in the president’s favor.

Other polls have shown much stronger leads for Sen. Brown. Seven surveys have been taken of the Ohio Senate race since the beginning of May, from four different pollsters. All show Brown ahead. His advantage ranges from the four-point lead in the current Rasmussen poll all the way to sixteen (50-34 percent; Quinnipiac University, June 19-25).

Polling also indicates that two southern California congressional campaigns are very close. In the new 24th Congressional District, in what appears to be a pure 50/50 toss-up seat for incumbent Rep. Lois Capps (D), Public Opinion Strategies, polling for Republican Abel Maldonado’s campaign (June 26-28; 400 registered CA-24 voters just now released), projects a two-point race with the incumbent leading 48-46 percent. In the jungle primary, Capps received 46.4 percent, Maldonado obtained 29.7 percent, and Republican Chris Mitchum, son of late actor Robert Mitchum, garnered 21.5 percent. With the combined Republican primary vote exceeding a majority of the ballots cast (51.2 percent), the general election battle is clearly becoming a toss-up.

To the southeast in Long Beach, another survey indicates a close race developing in a newly created open seat, numbered District 47. Here, Democratic state Sen. Alan Lowenthal and Republican Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong qualified for the general election with the former scoring 33.8 percent to the latter’s 29.4 percent in a field of eight candidates.

Though this district sets up well for the Democrats, a Probolsky Research survey for the DeLong campaign (June 28-July 3, 400 registered CA-47 voters – released just now) gives Lowenthal only a 44-41 percent advantage as the general election campaign begins in earnest.

This race merits attention and should be considered a lower-level upset opportunity for Republicans. Lowenthal has been underwhelming on the fundraising front, raising just over $511,000, which pales in comparison to DeLong’s $862,908. Gov. Jerry Brown carried this seat 50-41 percent; Sen. Barbara Boxer won it 49-41 percent; and Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris lost the district 39-45 percent. The Democrats’ voter registration advantage is a little over 10 percent more than Republicans. This campaign carries a Lean Democratic rating with movement toward the toss-up column.

Conflicting Polls in Ohio, Florida Senate Races

In Election Analysis, Senate on March 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

New polls are in the public domain from Ohio and Florida with some very divergent results, particularly relating to Ohio.

Within the same timing realm, Quinnipiac University and Rasmussen Reports sampled Ohio voters and questioned them about the upcoming US Senate race between first term incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) and newly chosen Republican nominee Josh Mandel, the current state treasurer. Quinnipiac conducted their survey during the March 20-26 period and interviewed 1,246 registered Ohio voters. Rasmussen launched a one-day poll, March 26, and questioned 500 likely voters. Quinnipiac gathers its responses through live telephone interviews. Rasmussen Reports employs an automated system.

Therefore, the two methodologies are quite different. Many polling analysts question Quinnipiac’s long sampling period, while believing Rasmussen is not in the field long enough. Most pollsters attempt to complete their surveys in three calling days. This allows for a compact “three-day track,” which can help detect sudden movement relating to particular happenings. Both pollsters weight their answers to bring samples in line with demographic complexion, political party disposition, and voting trend history. Yet, as you will see, their results are diametrically different.

The latest Q-Poll shows Brown leading Mandel 46-36 percent, which is similar to their Feb. 7-12 poll that posted the incumbent to a 48-35 percent advantage. But Rasmussen Reports reveals a totally different finding, placing the two candidates in a 43-43 percent tie. Several other polls have shown this race to be close, but most have reported margins closer to the Q-Poll. Since both candidates are well-funded and Ohio will be such a battleground for the presidential election, expect this race to be close by Election Day regardless of how the two candidates are positioned today.

In Florida, after a series of polls revealed the race between Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) to be close, Quinnipiac’s March 20-26 poll (1,228 registered Florida voters) is posting the Democrat to a 44-36 percent lead. This is a seven-point swing in Nelson’s favor when compared to the January Q-Poll (Jan. 4-8; 1,412 registered Florida voters) that gave the senator only a one-point lead, 41-40 percent.

There are a couple of reasons explaining the swing. First, the January Q-Poll sampling universe was more favorable to Republicans. In that sample, 35.1 percent of the respondents self-identified as being members of the GOP, versus only 26.6 percent saying they were Democrats. The remainder, 38.1 percent, claimed to be Independents or “other.” The March sample was more in the Democrats’ favor. In this group, 31.0 percent described themselves as Republicans and 31.9 percent as Democrats. Independents and others comprised 40.3 percent of the respondent pool. The actual breakdown of Florida registered voters is 36.1 percent Republican; 40.5 percent Democrat; and 23.3 percent Independent and “Other.”

But the sample pool is only one reason why Nelson may be gaining support. Former interim Sen. George LeMieux, opposing Mack in the Republican primary, is on television and radio with attack ads, attempting to distinguish Rep. Mack from his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III (R), and likening the former to renegade actor Charlie Sheen because of reported bar fights in the younger Mack’s past and episodes of what the LeMieux ads call the congressman’s “road rage.” The swing toward Nelson in the latest Q-Poll can be at least partially attributed to the LeMieux ads.

As we know, a poll is merely a snapshot of the electorate at a particular time and many times anomaly results do occur. To get the best understanding of campaign movement, it is important to consider many polls over a long period of time. What is important is the trend toward election day, and not necessarily the individual numbers themselves.

Since there have already been several inconsistencies in both of these states, we can reasonably expect greater movement in the coming months as the Nov. 6 election nears. Count on both the Ohio and Florida Senate races being among the most interesting in the country.

Analyzing Shocker Senate Polls in Ohio and Nebraska

In Senate on March 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Two polls hit the public domain yesterday that give the Democrats reason to pause. According to Rasmussen Reports, Ohio GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who many political professionals have long believed possesses the best candidate skills of all Republican contenders, has pulled into a 43-43 percent dead heat with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). Mandel scored 63 percent of the Republican vote in the March 6 primary, so he is already the official GOP nominee.

This new Rasmussen Reports poll, (March 26; 500 registered Ohio voters) is not the first to show Mandel getting close to Brown, but certainly is the survey turning in the best Republican numbers to date. Fifteen polls have been commissioned here since March 2011, and the only other one showing the campaign even in the realm of a toss-up was Rasmussen’s Feb. 8 survey that put Mandel within four points of Brown, 40-44 percent. Another study that had Mandel even within ten points of the senator was Public Policy Polling’s Oct. 13-16 survey that revealed a 48-40 percent spread.

The one finding that all 15 polls have in common, however, is that none show Brown over, or even at, 50 percent. A polling axiom has always been that incumbents are in political trouble when they fall below the majority mark. Such does not always prove to be the case in practice, but it is interesting that Sen. Brown’s poll numbers remain stagnant between a relatively small 43-49 percent segment in 15 polls from four different pollsters over a 12-month period. This data, coupled with Mandel’s strong fundraising ability (he had raised $5.8 million to Brown’s $6.5 million by year’s end, clearly the best of any Republican challenger nationally) does suggest that the Ohio Senate race will become more competitive as the campaign progresses.

Many Democrats claim that Rasmussen Reports, largely because of their small sample draws and employing an automated questionnaire model, tend to skew their results toward their own conservative bias. Comparing RR polls, however, to actual results generally does not support such criticism. The Democrats certainly howled when Rasmussen released the first Nebraska poll after former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) returned from New York to enter the 2012 open seat Senate race. The RR data (March 5; 500 registered Nebraska voters) gave GOP Attorney General Jon Bruning, the leading Republican senatorial contender, a 55-33 percent lead over the former Democratic senator.

Yesterday, the Democratic survey research firm Public Policy Polling (March 22-25; 1,028 registered Nebraska voters via automated calls) surveyed the Cornhusker State electorate and actually found a similar result to the Rasmussen study. According to PPP, Bruning enjoys a 54-37 percent advantage, certainly within the same range as the RR conclusion. Obviously, this is not good news for former Sen. Kerrey and the Democrats, who know the former statewide office holder is their best chance of keeping the seat in the Democratic column.

Compounding Kerrey’s problem is that he trails even lesser known and lightly supported Republican primary candidates. Against state Sen. Deb Fischer (R), who is unfamiliar to more than 60 percent of the electorate, Kerrey trails 38-48 percent. When paired with state Treasurer Don Stenberg, who himself trails Bruning 18-46 percent in the commensurate GOP nomination poll of Nebraska voters, the former senator is behind 38-52 percent. On top of that, he is viewed favorably by just 36 percent of the people as compared to 51 percent who possess an unfavorable opinion of him.

At least in the early going, the Kerrey re-entry into the Nebraska Senate race has certainly not tipped the balance of power toward the Democrats.

The Ohio Senate Race Tightens

In Senate on October 24, 2011 at 7:44 pm

For months, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) has enjoyed close to a 20-point lead against all potential 2012 Republican challengers. A new Public Policy Polling survey (Oct. 13-16; 581 registered Ohio voters) now shows that Brown’s margin has suddenly regressed into single digits. According to the data, the senator leads GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel 48-40 percent, a loss of seven points from the previous PPP poll conducted in August. Mandel has closed the gap despite his poor 12:21 percent favorable to unfavorable personal popularity rating. Sen. Brown’s job approval ratio has dropped to 40:35 percent positive to negative.

Up until recently, the Ohio senate race had been a disappointment for the Republicans. Failing to convince a more senior party office holder to enter what should be a competitive race against Sen. Brown, who was originally elected in 2006, the GOP may be moving this race back into the top tier. Mr. Mandel, only 34 years of age, was just elected state treasurer last November. He has impressively raised $3.8 million for the Senate race according to the latest financial disclosure (Sept. 30, 2011) and has $3.2 million cash-on-hand. Sen. Brown has raised $4.1 million and has an equivalent amount in his campaign account.

Because of the competitive political nature in the state, this race was destined to tighten, but the fact that a major movement was made this early suggests the campaign could quickly become seriously contested. Much more will happen here in the coming year.

Ohio Poll: Obama Iffy, Sen. Brown Stronger

In Polls, Presidential campaign on March 29, 2011 at 9:12 am

Quinnipiac University released the results of their latest large-sample Ohio poll (March 15-21; 1,384 registered Ohio voters) and found that Pres. Barack Obama receives mixed ratings. The Buckeye State will again be a key battleground region in the 2012 presidential election, and is a place Republicans must win if they are to have any realistic chance of unseating Obama. When asked if they approve of the job Obama is doing, the cell sample split virtually evenly, with 47 percent answering positively while 48 percent provided a negative response. Commenting on whether the president deserves re-election, 45 percent of this Ohio sample believes that he does, but 46 percent disagreed. Paired with a generic Republican placebo, Obama is the choice of 41 percent versus the unnamed Republican’s 34 percent share. The overall numbers show some weakness in Obama’s Ohio political outlook because break-even polling scenarios almost always trend against the incumbent in an actual vote. It the above trend continues, the Republican chances to win Ohio will improve.

Conversely, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), who must stand for his first re-election next year, is gaining political strength. While polls at the end of last year showed a potential Senate race to be in the toss-up range, more recent surveys, like this Q-Poll, indicate that Brown’s political position is becoming much stronger. His job approval score is 43:27 percent positive to negative. By a margin of 45-30 percent, the respondents believe the senator deserves re-election and a similar 45-29 percent split indicates they would vote for Brown over a generic Republican candidate.
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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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