Senate races

Senate races

Murray, Rossi advance to November general election

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Republican Dino Rossi will face off in November's general election after finishing Tuesday as the primary's top two vote getters. 

Tuesday's primary battle in Washington state's Senate race was all about positioning for November. Murray was ahead of Rossi, taking 47 percent of the vote to Rossi's 34 percent with 46 percent of precincts reporting. 

It's a positive for the endangered Murray heading toward November. Observers were eyeing Tuesday's vote totals as a measure of just how vulnerable Murray is this fall. 

While Republicans will argue that Murray finishing with less than 50 percent of the vote is a danger sign for the incumbent, there was at least some concern that Rossi could top Murray's vote total ahead of Tuesday.    

The state votes under a new primary system this year — the top-two vote-getters advance to November, no matter their party. And since Murray and Rossi appeared on the same ballot, observers will watch for hints of how the two will fare in the general election.

Tea Party favorite Clint Didier and businessman Paul Akers siphoned off at least some of Rossi's vote. Didier won 10 percent, with Akers taking 2 percent. 

Murray spent the day standing beside President Obama at a campaign rally and fundraiser while Rossi was counting on a strong performance to help his argument that Murray is in deep trouble this fall.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and its Republican counterpart both engaged in some pre-primary day spin Monday. The DSCC released a memo downplaying expectations for Murray, noting that if history is any guide, Rossi could get a larger portion of the vote Tuesday.

Executive Director J.B. Poersch pointed out that in 1998, Murray received just 45.9 percent of the primary vote, yet won the general election easily that year.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh shot back: "But the bottom line is that if Murray’s vote totals are behind Rossi’s, she’s in trouble," he wrote in an e-mail.

Still, it won't prevent Republicans from trumpeting Rossi's Tuesday vote total, particularly since he faced at least some GOP opposition.

Didier, a former NFL player, had the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), but her support was largely a non-factor. The Didier campaign had hoped Palin would headline a last-minute campaign rally, but were forced to settle for a robocall the campaign pushed out ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who backed GOP primary winners Ken Buck in Colorado and Rand Paul in Kentucky, weighed in on behalf of Rossi earlier this month, cutting off just about any oxygen Rossi's challengers had left.

Last month, Didier and Akers joined forces and began holding joint campaign events in an attempt to gain some traction for their anti-establishment message, but Rossi remained the prohibitive favorite on the Republican side.

Murray and Rossi now head to the general election with the race in a dead heat, according to the latest polling. Murray takes 49 percent of the vote to Rossi's 46 percent in a PPP poll from earlier this month.

The contest also offers a clear contrast between a strong backer of the president's legislative agenda and a Republican candidate who wants to repeal two of Obama's cornerstone achievements.

Murray supported the healthcare reform law and financial reform — Rossi has pledged to work for the repeal of both laws if elected to the Senate.

Obama won the state in 2008, beating Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by some 17 points. But the president's approval rating there now stands at 49 percent.

Murray will also head into the general election with a big cash-on-hand edge. Even though Rossi out-raised Murray during the month of July, the incumbent started August with $3.2 million on hand, compared to Rossi's $1.8 million.


Sen. LeMieux calls on Crist to return GOP money

Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.), the man Gov. Charlie Crist (I) appointed to the Senate, said Tuesday that the Republican-turned-independent governor should return the money he received from Republican donors for his Senate campaign.

Asked about Crist's decision to return some $9,600 in contributions from indicted former state party chair Jim Greer, LeMieux said, "There are a lot of Republicans who would like to have their contributions back too," according to the Orlando Sentinel

LeMieux is Crist's former chief of staff and managed his gubernatorial campaign, but the interim senator parted ways politically with his old boss after Crist left the GOP.

Several former Crist backers have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get their donations back from the Crist campaign. 


Ex-Senate candidate asks for money, not place to stay

Former Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff (D) wants to make something clear — he doesn't need a place to stay.

"I don't need an air mattress, a futon, a spare bedroom or a basement," he wrote in an e-mail to his supporters Tuesday. "Neither does my dog. We (and by 'we,' I mean mostly Zorro) have gotten a lot of kind offers — which I appreciate very much — but we're not out of our house yet."

Romanoff sold his Denver home during his primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and dumped the proceeds into his campaign. He subsequently lost his bid for the nomination and has since endorsed Bennet.

Now, Romanoff would like help from his supporters to pay off his campaign debt — which includes the $325,000 he lent the effort.

The former state House speaker invited his supporters to a "thank-you party" Aug. 26, where donations, surely, will be accepted.


Ayotte again targeted for Ponzi scheme investigation

New Hampshire Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte (R) is again under fire for her office's response to a massive Ponzi scheme — but this time it's from her primary rival, businessman Bill Binnie (R).

Binnie released two new TV ads Monday that feature testimonials from victims of the Financial Resources Mortgage collapse, which cost investors millions.  

"Because someone failed to do their job, we have lost our life savings," Susan McElvane says in one of the ads.

The second spot features Ronnie Dean, who says he has leukemia and lost his savings in the FRM collapse. "I don't want another person asleep at the wheel for six weeks in the Senate," he says. Her Democratic opponent, Rep. Paul Hodes, targeted the former attorney general earlier on the same issue. After she was forced to testified before a legislative committee about her office's response to the FRM scandal, Hodes released an ad that said Ayotte "ducked responsibility and claimed she didn't know" about the "biggest Ponzi scheme in New Hampshire history."

Ayotte will release her own ad Wednesday, but it doesn't answer Binnie's charges. Instead, Ayotte's spot talks up her conservative philosophy. "And, of course, our kids help make me really conservative," she says in the 30-second ad. "All that wasteful spending is stealing money from our children."

Binnie's ads are out at a time when New Hampshire Republicans are calling for restraint in the final weeks before the Sept. 14 primary. 

"Our mutual objective is to win all of our elections in November," John Sununu, New Hampshire GOP chairman, wrote in a letter published by the Union Leader. "The key to those victories is to run a smart, positive primary campaign. I strongly encourage you all to resist the urgings of your supporters and consultants to go negative in the last few weeks."

--Updated at 5:47 p.m.


Mayor Bloomberg talks gun control with Sestak

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was at a strip mall in north Philadelphia on Tuesday to help Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) appeal to independents in his run for Senate.

But the visit may have ended up helping Sestak only with his base. During his speech, Bloomberg said he backed, among other things, Sestak's push to close a loophole in gun-control laws, according to Fox 29. The remark wasn't included in a release the Sestak camp sent out with quotes from Bloomberg.

"I'm not a particularly partisan guy," the mayor told Fox 29 after the endorsement event. "I'm supporting people from both the major parties, Democrats and Republicans."

Bloomberg said he backs people who "look at the issues, rather than what the party leadership tell them."


Giannoulias backs mosque plans

Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias (D) said Tuesday he supports plans for an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero. 

At a campaign event in Springfield, Ill., Giannoulias asked, "Are we going to talk about tolerance, talk about freedom of religion, or are we actually going to practice it?"

Giannoulias faces Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in November, who is urging an alternate location for the project. 

"While we protect freedom of religion, Congressman Kirk agrees with the Anti-Defamation League that sitting this mosque near Ground Zero causes undue pain to families of the 9/11 victims," said Kirk spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski. 

The Kirk camp is encouraging the project's leaders to "accept Governor Patterson's offer of a convenient but less controversial site."  


Toomey opens nine-point lead in Pennsylvania Senate race

Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has opened up a nine-point lead on Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in Pennsylvania's Senate race and holds a commanding edge with independents.

New numbers from Public Policy Polling show Toomey ahead of Sestak 45 percent to 36 percent. Among independent voters, Toomey leads 50-23.

Pollster Tom Jensen points to President Obama's sinking popularity in the state as one of the primary reasons for Toomey's lead. The president's approval in Pennsylvania now stands at just 40 percent, while 55 percent of likely voters disapprove. 

There are also more disaffected '08 Obama backers in Pennsylvania than there are nationally, according to PPP.

"Our national poll last week found only 7% of Obama voters are now unhappy with the job he's doing but in Pennsylvania the figure is 15%," writes Jensen. "Toomey has a 14 point lead with those disaffected Obama voters, showing the extent to which those voters moving away from Obama are moving away from the Democratic Party in general."

One issue that could move independents is the growing controversy over plans for an Islamic cultural center and mosque near New York's Ground Zero.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the project's biggest backers, endorsed Sestak in Philadelphia Tuesday, while Toomey led the morning by denouncing plans for the mosque. 

A spokesman for the Toomey campaign called the project "provocative in the extreme." 

Sestak, meanwhile, is trying to straddle the fence on the mosque question. A spokesman said Monday that the congressman "believes there is a constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans." 

But spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said Sestak "is not looking to say what’s best for New York as long as that right is respected — he is focused on Pennsylvania."


Ex-Ohio senate candidate sells 'Courage'

"I've been asked so many times, 'What are you doing with your bus?'" former Ohio Senate candidate Jennifer Brunner (D) wrote in an e-mail to supporters Tuesday. Turns out, she's going to sell the bus — known as "Courage Express" — to a Columbus, Ohio, TV station so it can be used in a voter registration drive.

Brunner lost to Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) in the May Senate primary. Since then, she's remained somewhat politically active but has not endorsed Fisher.

She referenced the primary in her note to supporters.

"We found a way to campaign that helps Ohioans win in the future, so candidates can campaign with confidence, not overcome by special interest money or consultants who insist that it is only money at all costs that wins campaigns," she wrote.

Fisher has bigger problems than Brunner in his race against Republican Rob Portman. A new Rasmussen Reports poll shows Portman increasing his lead over the Democrat. Portman got 45 percent support to 37 percent for Fisher in an Aug. 16 survey of 750 likely voters in Ohio. The Republican had only a 4-point advantage in July.



Howard Dean takes early shot at Lieberman

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean warned Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) Monday that the left won't forget his role in blocking a public option during the healthcare debate should he run for reelection.

"Remember who sold you out on healthcare," Dean said at a state convention of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, according to the Connecticut Mirror. "We're not going to forget in 2012."

The early electoral threat from Dean comes even as Lieberman hasn't announced whether he'll seek another term in 2012. Earlier this month, Lieberman said he was leaning toward running for another term, but did express some hesitancy.

“The question is, at this stage in my life, do I want to do it one more time?” Lieberman said after a speech in early August.

After defeating Lieberman in a primary in 2006, businessman Ned Lamont wasn't able to beat back the Democrat-turned-Independent in the general election.

Liberal activists are certainly primed for another chance to take Lieberman out in 2012.

"I live in perpetual fear that Joe Lieberman will retire, thus depriving us the opportunity to help kick him to the curb," Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas wrote earlier this month. "I want his exit from politics to be as humiliating as possible."

If Democrats really hope to push Lieberman out, they may want to lay off the threats, given that the senator has often relished his role as an on-again, off-again thorn in the side of Senate Democrats.

The Democratic establishment abandoned Lieberman in favor of Lamont ahead of the 2006 general election, something Lieberman didn't exactly let go of once he made it back to the Senate as an Independent.

It still isn't clear who would run against Lieberman in 2012, but Democrats are batting around the name of Rep. Chris Murphy (D) as a potential primary challenger.


Rossi likely to face Sen. Murray after top-two primary

Washington State Republican Dino Rossi isn't worried about losing Tuesday's Senate primary.

"We're confident that we'll do well on Tuesday," Rossi told The Ballot Box. "I've built some real relationships with people around the state over the years, so we've been out talking to them."

More than just relationships, Rossi has built up name identification with voters during his two decades in politics. "This is my sixth election," he noted.

Rossi lost his initial state Senate run, but later won the first of two terms in 1996. He then embarked on a pair of unsuccessful runs for governor. Most observers believe his familiarity with voters presents an insurmountable obstacle to Republican rivals Clint Didier and Paul Akers.

Didier, a former Washington Redskins tight end, got the backing of Sarah Palin and state Tea Party groups before Rossi entered the race in May. His campaign has since faded from the headlines — so much so that Didier and Akers actually joined forces and began holding joint campaign events in an attempt to gain some traction for their anti-establishment message. But most observers believe it'll be Rossi versus Sen. Patty Murray (D) in the general election. 

With that in mind, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has tried to portray Rossi's jaunt through the primary as bruising. "The damage in the primary is already done," J.B. Poersch, the DSCC's executive director, wrote in a memo Monday. "Rossi is running as an unabashed far right conservative."

But the state's unique top-two primary system — in which the two highest vote getters from any party advance to the November ballot — dissuades candidates from tailoring their appeal exclusively to a base electorate.

"They're looking all around the political spectrum to get their votes," said David Ammons, a spokesman in the secretary of state's office. "There's one single ballot with everyone that filed back in June." Each candidate has 16 characters to explain their party affiliation on the unified ballot. It's the third time the state has used the system since it was adopted in 2004 (legal action delayed its implementation).

The secretary of state's office is expecting 38 percent turnout Tuesday, according to Ammons. Observers will be watching the tallies accrued by Murray and Rossi for indications of how well each will perform in November.

—Shane D'Aprile contributed to this post.