Top of the ballot: Hutchison to give GOP a break?

What Hutchison staying would mean for the GOP; first-quarter deadline means crunch time for some; Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) is the latest Democrat seeing bleak polling numbers.

A break for the GOP in Texas?

About the only Republicans who would be disappointed with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R-Texas) decision to serve out her term would be the half dozen or so who had their eyes on the seat.
 
For everyone else in her party, it would a big victory – though not as big as it might have been.

Hutchison is set to announce her plans Wednesday morning, and all signs point to her staying in the Senate through the end of her term in 2012. Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert announced yesterday that he wouldn't run for Senate, and Hutchison will be flanked by NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
 
The way things stand right now, former state Comptroller John Sharp is the only major Democrat running to succeed her, while four Republicans (and possibly more) were set to run on the GOP side.
 
Texas’s special election law is such that everyone would have taken part in an open election where the top two would have gone on to a runoff (provided no one managed a majority on the first vote). Sharp was a strong bet to make that runoff, without any other Democrats in the race.
 
Of course, Democrats mayhave missed out on having their top candidate in the race when Houston Mayor Bill White, impatient with Hutchison’s dithering and seeing an opportunity against Republican Gov. Rick Perry, jumped from the Senate race to that race. He’s now being held up as the Dems' best hope for taking the gubernatorial mansion.
 
With Hutchison serving until 2012, her seat likely fades to the background unless things get out of hand for Republicans in two years. Sharp could be a strong candidate for Democrats, but making the case for the party to go after Texas in a regular election -- in a presidential year, no less -- is much tougher.
 
More than anything, though, the GOP avoids an unnecessary headache this year when its hopes are getting high enough where retaking the Senate, although unlikely, appears theoretically possible.
 
First quarter deadline today
 
Candidates around the country are scrambling at the end of the first quarter of 2010 – the first election-year measuring stick of their campaigns.
 
Reports aren’t due for another two weeks, but the last day for the candidates to raise money for the quarter is today. And with primaries fast approaching for many of them – May is a huge primary month – the period will hold particular significance for some.
 
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) hasn’t shown much traction so far in his primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), but a strong first three months of 2010 could change that. Others who could show us something include fellow Senate primary challengers like former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), former Colorado state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) and the candidates seeking to unseat Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah).
 
In Bennett’s case, the anti-Bennett forces may be looking for a candidate to unite around. If one of the candidates – attorney Mike Lee, former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater, activist Cherilyn Eagar and former Rep. Merrill Cook – can turn in a big first quarter, they could become the chief alternative to Bennett at the May 8 convention.
 
Among others to keep an eye on: the special election candidates for the seats of former Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii).
 
Another poll, more bad news for Dems
 
Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) is the latest Democrat to trail in an early poll on the 2010 election.
 
A Wilson Research Strategies poll for Titus’s GOP challenger, state Sen. Joe Heck, shows Heck leading Titus 40-35.
 
Democrats point out that the poll was conducted immediately after the healthcare vote, before which opponents of the bill spent heavily to influence Titus’s vote -- a reported $1.3 million. She ended up voting in favor of the legislation.
 
Even if the poll is a few points on the optimistic side for Heck, though, there are warning signs for Titus. Her favorability rating (37 percent) is far worse than her unfavorable rating (52 percent). And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who will also be on the ballot, doesn’t look like he’ll be much help, carrying a 34 percent favorable rating and 61 percent unfavorable.
 
Whether Heck is actually leading or not right now, it’s clear that the race is going to be one of the biggest House races in the country.
 
Other updates:
 
-Just as quickly as he got in, Dr. Kevin Weiland has dropped his primary challenge to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.). Weiland was getting help from former top Obama adviser Steve Hildebrand, who had also threatened Herseth Sandlin with a primary.
 
-Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Cal Thomas that he will announce his 2012 presidential plans in February 2011.
 
-Wayne Parker, who was the GOP nominee against Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) in 2008 when Griffith was a Demcorat, will announce today whether he will challenge Griffith in a primary.
 
-Tim Burns, the GOP nominee in the Murtha race, is up with his first ad.

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