Campaign blogs roundup

Campaign blogs roundup

OVERNIGHT CAMPAIGN: Off-color comments or a candidate's character?

Chris McDaniel, the Republican challenging Sen. Thad Cochran (R) in his primary, has already faced scrutiny for controversial comments he’s made on race during his time as a radio disc jockey, though none of those unearthed comments have yet to sink his campaign.

But on Tuesday, fresh recordings surfaced in which McDaniel railed against the prospect of paying the descendants of slaves and joked about the Spanish language, among other things.

And then, just hours later, more cropped up — including a suggestion that “the only thing that could make the campaign more libertarian" for a 2006 candidate for Alabama governor "is a heroin needle in her arm.”

The comments, as they pile up, become more of a liability for McDaniel, who’s seen as conservatives’ best shot at nabbing a win against a sitting senator this cycle.

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BALLOT BOX OVERNIGHT: All about the economy

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Ballot Box's Overnight — an evening update of all the day's campaign news.

TOP STORY: It’s the economy ...

Every election it’s the same story: the economy.

And a new poll of swing states out Monday shows voters trust Mitt Romney in handling it more than they do President Obama.

In the USA Today/Gallup Swing States Poll, 60 percent of respondents said Romney would do a good job of handling the economy versus 52 percent who said that of Obama.

As for a head-to-head election matchup, it’s a virtual tie: Obama with 47 percent to Romney’s 45. (See full poll results at USA Today)

Six months before the election that’s bad news for Obama. And it’s a trend we’ve seen more election cycles than we count: unhappy voters mean losing incumbents — just ask Nicolas Sarkozy.

Speaking of bad new for incumbents, conventional wisdom has Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) losing his primary on Tuesday to Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer and Tea Party favorite. The loss would leave Democrats gleeful, giving them a chance to pick up the seat, which could help them retain control of the upper chamber. Lugar, a six-term senator, told a local TV station on Monday if he lost he would support Mourdock over Democratic nominee Rep. Joe Donnelly in November.


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Top of the ballot: Primary day intrigue; Dem leaders inch toward former Rep. Case

TOP OF THE BALLOT SUPER TUESDAY: It’s the first big primary day of 2010; Democrats are getting desperate in Hawaii; and Mitch McConnell tells us what we already knew – that he’s backing Trey Grayson.

It’s primary day!

Actual voting will take place today in three key states – Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio – so check out my rundown of what to watch for in today’s primaries.

The big question will be whether Cal Cunningham can force a runoff with North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in that state’s Democratic Senate primary. If Marshall wins, the race against Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) becomes less attractive to national Democrats. She needs 40 percent-plus-one to win outright.

The next biggest questions are how big former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) win in their Senate primaries. Beyond that, we’re watching Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Mark Souder (R-Ind.) to see if they struggle with primary challenges.

Keep an eye on it all tonight by checking the Ballot Box regularly.

Dem leaders make their Case

We’re getting into desperation time for Democrats in the Hawaii special election, with top Democratic officials now leaking a poll showing former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) in a much better position than state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D) in the three-way race. Ben Smith has the poll.

The takeaway here is that Democrats should unite behind Case in the name of keeping the seat. Both Democrats trail Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R), but their combined vote total is 54 percent (34 percent Case, 20 percent Hanabusa), while Djou is at 36 percent.

This is where the vote-by-mail nature of the race is REALLY hurting Democrats. Even if Hanabusa can be pushed from the race eventually, she is already accumulating votes that Case will never be able to get back. And because there is no in-person voting on Election Day, the mail-in votes mean so much more.

All of that said, it’s hard to see a woman with the support of the state’s two senators simply stepping aside. And even if she doesn’t think she can win, she may have reason to stay in the race. By Djou winning the seat, she improves her chances of grabbing the seat back in November, after Democrats hold a proper primary. That process would favor the more left-leaning Hanabusa.

McConnell endorses Grayson

One of the worst-kept secrets on the 2010 campaign trail has gone official: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is backing Trey Grayson in this month’s Kentucky GOP Senate primary.

Grayson’s campaign announced McConnell’s endorsement this morning, with the state’s senior senator also appearing in a new TV ad for the Kentucky Secretary of State.

Any illusions that McConnell and the GOP leadership are neutral in this race are now gone. Grayson is seeking a bump – any bump – and making McConnell’s support official appears to be the latest effort.

The fact that McConnell is the state’s other GOP senator may help Grayson in his race against the frontrunning Rand Paul, but the fact that McConnell is a GOP leader may only reinforce the insider-versus-outsider plot that exists in this primary.

Other updates

-Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.) has released a poll showing him leading both of his potential GOP opponents by around 30 points.

-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced Monday that he would not seek the GOP nomination for governor of Arizona. That leaves Gov. Jan Brewer and state Treasurer Dean Martin as the GOP frontrunners.

-Todd Palin is doing a fundraiser for Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) primary challenger.

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Top of the ballot: Expectations rise for GOP in specials; Dobson switches endorsement in Kentucky

TOP OF THE BALLOT: Expectations creep up on Republicans in Hawaii and Pennsylvania; Dobson switches endorsement in Kentucky; and a DSCC recruit hopes to force runoff in North Carolina.

Special expectations for the GOP

Expectations are rising for Republicans in the two special elections coming up in mid-May, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

The two most recent public polls in the Hawaii and Pennsylvania special elections show Republicans leading by eight points and six points, respectively. Both wins would represent takeovers for the GOP and would be the end of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) nine-race losing streak in special elections.

But it’s that losing streak that makes the expectations here potentially troubling. The House GOP’s campaign arm needs a win in the worst way (especially after the Senate GOP took a seat in MASSACHUSETTS this year), and the seats in Hawaii and Pennsylvania are ones that they should be able to take

The environment in the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat is toxic for Democrats, and thanks to the vote-by-mail nature of his race, Republican Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou is likely already mounting a lead over a split field of two Democrats.

It’s become clear that a sweep by either side would be pretty momentous. But with expectations building on the GOP side, both here and nationally, they seem to have more to lose at this point.

Dobson pulls Grayson endorsement, backs Paul

Just a week after backing Trey Grayson in the Kentucky Senate race, evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson pulled the endorsement, backed Rand Paul and blamed GOP leaders for providing him misleading information about Paul’s record.

"Senior members of the GOP told me Dr. Paul is pro-choice and that he opposes many conservative perspectives, so I endorsed his opponent,” Dobson said. “But now I've received further information from OB/GYNs in Kentucky whom I trust, and from interviewing the candidate himself.”

Paul’s news will likely trump Grayson’s not-so-insignificant endorsement from Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who represents a strongly conservative district and is well-regarded by his district’s voters.

A pulled endorsement – especially within a week’s time period – doesn’t happen often. And the fact that Dobson blamed GOP leaders only bolsters Paul’s outsider cred.

Trouble for DSCC in N.C.

With just less than 24 hours to go until voting begins in the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has expanded her lead on former state Sen. Cal Cunningham to 28-21, according to a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey.

That still leaves the race headed for a runoff, unless Marshall can take more than one-third of the 33 percent of voters who are undecided.

Cunningham has the unofficial support of national Democrats in the race. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) doesn’t want Marshall as its nominee. But it’s looking harder for Cunningham.

(Side note: PPP has polled for Marshall this year, but its CEO has contributed to Cunningham’s campaign. This poll was conducted independently.)

Other updates

-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) is set to announce today whether he will run for governor of Arizona. The well-known immigration hawk would enter the GOP primary as the odds-on favorite and performs best against state Attorney General Terry Goddard in recent polling.

-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) wouldn’t say Sunday which party he would caucus with in the Senate.

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Top of the ballot: Coats getting by, but Souder's fate ominous

TOP OF THE BALLOT ON A SUNNY FRIDAY: Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) up double digits in the Senate primary, but Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) has no such luxury in his race -- what does it mean for incumbents everywhere?; former N.H. Attorney General Kelly Ayotte looking strong in the general election, but she's got a primary first; and a billionaire will make Rep. Kendrick Meek's (D-Fla.) Senate path more costly and difficult.

Coats getting by, but what about Souder?

Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) has a race on his hands, but Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) may be even more vulnerable.

Those are the results of two new SurveyUSA polls on Tuesday’s big primary. While Coats leads former Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) 36-24 in the Senate race, Souder’s lead in his primary is even more tenuous, at 35-29 over businessman Bob Thomas.

This half of the Ballot Box previewed the Indiana primaries about a week ago. At that point, there wasn’t clear evidence that Souter was in danger, apart from the personal wealth Thomas has thrown into the race (about $220,000 now). But the SurveyUSA poll shows Souder treading water even as a third candidate in the race, attorney Phil Troyer, splits the anti-incumbent vote and takes 19 percent.

Coats, meanwhile, looks to have a significant cushion on the man who has threatened him most in his primary, state Sen. Marlin Stutzman (R). Despite some recent signs of momentum, Stutzman was in third with 18 percent, meaning he has plenty of ground to make up in the final few days.

If Souder or Coats go down, it will be a bad sign for the political establishment. Neither would likely have much trouble in a normal election year, but this year is proving anything but normal.

Ayotte in command -- in general election, at least

A new Granite State poll from the University of New Hampshire shows former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) opening a huge lead in a prospective general election matchup with Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) for the Senate.

Ayotte leads 47-32, while other potential GOP nominees hold more narrow leads on the congressman.

It’s Ayotte’s biggest lead in the race yet, and her favorable numbers seem to be holding up during a contested primary.

Her favorability stands at 38 percent positive and 13 percent negative, while Hodes’s numbers are at 30 percent positive and 31 percent negative. It seems logical that Ayotte’s unfavorable number will rise eventually, but she seems to be in a good spot right now.

Of course, her only concern right now should be businessman Bill Binnie and attorney Ovide Lamontagne in the GOP primary. The poll didn’t test the primary, but Binnie will likely outspend Ayotte on the race, and Lamontagne’s grassroots support could threaten Ayotte as well.

Other updates

-Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) has pulled to within eight points of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in their primary and trails 43-35, according to a new Research 2000 poll for the liberal website Daily Kos.

-Now the Charlie Crist is running with no party affiliation, billionaire Jeff Greene is launching a campaign against Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) for the Democratic nomination in the Florida Senate race. This is going to cost Meek some serious money.

-David Axelrod, the top adviser to President Obama, told the Chicago Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet that the White House will not force Alexi Giannoulias from that state’s Senate race. Giannoulias has come under fire after his family bank failed.

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Top of the ballot: With whom would Sen. Charlie Crist (I-Fla.) caucus?

TOP OF THE BALLOT THURSDAY: With whom will Charlie Crist caucus?; Giannoulias gets a hug and a nod from President Obama; Fisher holds lead in Ohio Senate race, provided he wins Tuesday's primary.

The next question for Charlie Crist

So Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is finally ready to become an independent. But a big question remains: who will Crist caucus with if he becomes a senator?

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), you’ll recall, said when he switched to running as an independent in 2006 that he would still caucus with Democrats if he won. But the choice isn’t as clear for Crist.

Lieberman had little to fear from the right, as the GOP put up only a token candidate to run against him. That made it easier for Lieberman to say he would stick with his current party if he returned to the Senate and hope some Democrats would appreciate the loyalty oath.

Crist, meanwhile, has capable opponents on both sides. He also has similar approval ratings across the political spectrum – 49-42 among Republicans, 52-37 among independents and 50-37 among Democrats, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Would he want to alienate anybody when he seems to have at least some appeal to all three groups?

It’s a bit of an easier call for Crist to say that he will still caucus with his current party, but will he want to do so with the way he’s been treated recently? And there seems to be little chance he would say he would caucus with Democrats, unless he really thinks he can peel away Rep. Kendrick Meek’s (D-Fla.) supporters.

By saying he would caucus with Democrats, he would really be cutting ties with the GOP. At that point, he might as well run as a Democrat.

Look for Crist to get asked this question shortly after making his announcement, if he doesn’t address it right away.

Obama-Giannoulias: a hug and a nod

President Obama on Wednesday gave subtle acknowledgement to embattled Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias (D).

Giannoulias has been struggling beneath the weight of his family bank’s problems. It folded over the weekend and has endured a series of press hits on how it conducted business. What’s more, he used to play basketball with the president when both were still in Illinois.

All that made Obama’s appearance with Giannoulias on Wednesday in Quincy, Ill., the stuff that political observers put under a microscope.

In the end, Obama hugged his old buddy and called him a “soon-to-be-senator” in his speech. It was a token gesture, but a significant one nonetheless.

That said, the embrace was more a physical one than a political one. We’ll see what kind of concrete action the White House takes on Giannoulias’s behalf.

Other updates

-A new independent poll shows Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) under 50 percent, but having little trouble with Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan (D). Dent leads 43-31.

-A new Quinnipiac poll shows Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) leading former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in a prospective general election matchup, 40-37, for retiring Sen. George Voinovich's (R-Ohio) Senate seat. Fisher, of course, has to get past a primary with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner on Tuesday. No worries, though; the same Q poll showed him leading that race 41-24.

-Georgia state Rep. Austin Scott (R) may fill a key void for the NRCC by switching from the state’s governor’s race to the race against Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.). The oft-targeted Marshall had so far escaped a serious opponent this year, but Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) advisers are urging Scott to make the switch.

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Top of the ballot: Giannoulias family bank fails, Sen. Bennett at 22 percent in poll

TOP OF THE BALLOT THIS MORNING: Alexi Giannoulias moves to explain family bank failure; Sen. Robert Bennett faces big trouble at his state GOP convention; and James Dobson endorses Trey Grayson.

Giannoulias bank fails

As expected, the family bank of Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias failed on Friday, leaving the candidate to distance himself from the practices that led it down that path.

Giannoulias sent out an e-mail to supporters almost immediately after the news broke that Broadway Bank had been taken over by federal authorities.

“It was because my father instilled in his sons the importance of helping others that I decided to leave the bank in 2005 to pursue public service,” he wrote. “At the time I left, according to every independent analysis, the bank was one of the best performing in Illinois.”

That the Giannoulias family bank folded is not necessarily a game-changer. But Giannoulias’s opponents have made great pains to point the finger at some loans to questionable characters – including a recent Chicago Tribune story about $20 million in loans made to two convicted felons while Giannoulias was still at the bank.

Poll shows Bennett in deep

A new poll of delegates to the Utah GOP convention in two weeks shows Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) may have trouble even making the final ballot there.

Attorney Mike Lee leads Bennett 31-22 in the Dan Jones and Associates poll, while former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater got 17 percent and activist Cherilyn Eagar got 10 percent. Another 5 percent of votes split between a number of other candidates.

That means, as of right now, 63 percent of delegates are ready to vote against the incumbent senator. Once the field is whittled down to two candidates, the winner needs 60 percent to avoid a two-person primary and win the nomination outright.

Of course, whether Bennett even makes that final pairing appears to be a real question. According to these numbers, if Bridgewater can pick off enough of the Eagar and other votes (once those candidates are eliminated), he could pretty easily pass Bennett and earn a matchup with Lee.

Dobson backs Grayson

Dr. James Dobson has endorsed Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the GOP Senate primary there, Grayson’s campaign announced this morning.

Maybe even more so than in neighboring Indiana, where the Focus on the Family founder endorsed former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Dobson’s backing could really mean something in Kentucky.

Grayson continues to run behind Rand Paul, but he hopes recent endorsements from Dobson and retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) can help him pick off some of Paul’s voters.

Other updates

-Former Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel (R) is set to announce his candidacy against Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) today. Leinenkugel faces businessman Terrance Wall in the primary.

-In Minnesota's governor's race, state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher won the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement on Saturday, beating Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. She still faces former Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) and former state Rep. Matt Entenza in the primary. On the GOP side, state Reps. Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert will do battle at Friday’s state convention.

-Another poll shows Dino Rossi (R) leading Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in a prospective matchup, this time by 10 points. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that several other, less well-known Republicans are within the margin of error.

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Top of the ballot: GOP Senate primaries take shape in N.H., California

TOP OF THE BALLOT TODAY: Polls show GOP Senate primaries taking shape, as New Hampshire and California candidates open up leads; Crist’s name pops up in Florida GOP investigation.

Ayotte up in New Hampshire

Good news for the national GOP: Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte holds a wide lead in her state’s GOP Senate primary, according to a new poll.

The race hasn’t seen much in the way of primary polling, and the favorite Ayotte looks strong but not unbeatable. Ayotte leads businessman Bill Binnie 43-19 in the Public Policy Polling (D) survey, with businessman Jim Bender at 11 percent and attorney Ovide Lamontagne at 5 percent.

Ayotte and Binnie carry strong favorable ratings, even though they are still unknown to large chunks of voters. Ayotte has a 50 percent favorable rating, compared to 12 percent unfavorable, while Binnie’s numbers are 40 and 12.

Lamontagne, meanwhile, is in less favorable territory, with 20 percent rating him positively and 22 percent negatively.

Campbell up in California

In more primary polling, a bipartisan survey in California shows former Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) opening up a 31-17 lead on Carly Fiorina in their Senate primary.

The Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll also had state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore at 14 percent.

This is the biggest lead we’ve seen yet from Campbell, who turned in a strong first quarter of fundraising and appears to have the momentum in the race.

The poll also tested the state’s GOP governor primary. There, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has come withing 47-19 of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. A recent Field Poll had Whitman up 63-14.

Other updates

-A federal investigation into the Florida Republican Party’s finances appears to be touching on not only Marco Rubio, but also on Gov. Charlie Crist.

-Mitt Romney on Wednesday endorsed state Sen. Joe Heck’s (R) campaign against freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), along with the reelection campaigns of Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) and Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

-Former state Sen. Dan Webster (R), whose decision to stay out of the race against Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) cleared the way for several lesser-known candidates, looks as though he will run for the seat after all. That won’t sit well with the rest of the primary field.

-Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who is likely to face a difficult reelection bid in 2012 thanks to an affair with a former staffer, raised just $50 in the first quarter.

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Top of the ballot: No good options for Charlie Crist

TOP OF THE BALLOT TODAY: No good options for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, and staying in the GOP primary isn't even one of them; Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff (D) raises less than $400k; Sen. Cornyn pressures Dino Rossi on Washington Senate race.

Why Crist drops out/why he goes indy

It has become abundantly clear that there is no future for Charlie Crist in the 2010 Florida GOP Senate primary. The question now is whether he sees a future for himself in the GOP at all.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) sent a letter to supporters Monday stating that it is convinced Crist, who it has endorsed, will not run in the GOP primary this year. In the face of that, it urges supporters to tell him to drop out altogether and not pursue a potential vote-splitting independent bid.

If Crist drops out and runs as an independent, he can basically say goodbye to ever running and winning as a Republican again. If he still has dreams to be president, however, look for him to drop out and eye a 2012 bid against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

There aren’t many good options for Crist at this point, though. His Senate primary campaign has fallen farther and more dramatically than just about any in recent memory. He basically finds himself a man without a party, and it’s difficult to see where he fits into the GOP fold in the near future.

Former state House speaker Marco Rubio (R) is a very capable candidate, but a lot of this is simply about Charlie Crist. Are two years – and, really, it’s more like one year before he would have to launch another campaign – going to be enough for the GOP to welcome Crist back into the fold for another try at the Senate? Unless they have no other options, it’s doubtful.

The good thing for Crist is that he still has 10 days to make up his mind. It’s also relatively easy for him to make the switch. While Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) had to collect signatures for a possible independent bid before his 2006 primary, Crist merely has to pay a filing fee.

Romanoff still cash-poor

Speaking of primaries – Andrew Romanoff (D) still isn’t raising big money to take on Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

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