Senate races

Senate races

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.


Bloomberg backs Sestak in Pennsylvania

New York City's independent mayor is weighing in on Pennsylvania's Senate race, endorsing Rep. Joe Sestak (D) over former Rep. Pat Toomey (R).  

Mayor Michael Bloomberg will appear with Sestak at an event in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but the timing is also likely to inject the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque into the event.

The mayor has been one of the project's most forceful defenders, while Sestak declined to endorse the project Monday.

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman "believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans," but he declined to clearly back the plan.  

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."

Bloomberg hasn't exactly been a hot commodity on the midterm campaign trail, but he did host a fundraiser for the Senate campaign of Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) last month.

The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent Bloomberg can also be a political lightening rod at times. 

While Sestak has taken some lumps in central and western Pennsylvania over his support of gun control, Bloomberg is one of the country's most ardent proponents of stricter gun-control laws. He founded the group "Mayors against illegal guns," which spent millions in independent expenditure dollars against anti-gun-control congressional candidates during the 2008 cycle. 


W.Va. Republicans target Goodwin's Senate voting record

Interim Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.) has taken fewer than 20 votes in his brief time in the Senate, but state Republicans apparently see his record as one of their best arguments against Gov. Joe Manchin (D) this fall.

Top state Republicans told the Charleston Daily Mail that they plan on holding Goodwin's votes against Manchin, who appointed him last month as the interim replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). Manchin is running in a special election this fall to fill out the remainder of the term. 

The party lost its best hope of defeating Manchin when Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) decided against challenging him this fall. Republicans have more than 10 candidates vying to get on the special-election ballot in a field led by businessman John Raese.  

But if Sen. Goodwin's votes on extending unemployment benefits and in support of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan are going to lead the Republican argument against Manchin this fall, Democrats in the state say they aren't concerned in the least about the popular governor's prospects. 

From the Daily Mail:

[State Republican Party Chair Mike] Stuart said an "overarching theme" of Republican campaigns this year is going to be accountability for "spending habits."

"I think it's ludicrous to think the governor could make an appointment to the United States Senate and disclaim all reasonability," he said.

But the Manchin campaign said attempts to tie Goodwin's votes to Manchin were "absurd."

"Individuals are entitled to their own views and opinions and certainly Sen. Goodwin is entitled to his," spokeswoman Sara Payne Scarbro said. "I think it's important to note that the governor appointed Mr. Goodwin because the governor thought he was young and dynamic and independent."

She also said the governor would likely have supported the unemployment benefit extension, if only because the vote was taken on Goodwin's first day on the job. She indicated Manchin might not have voted for it had he been in the Senate longer and had time to "fix that problem." 

Earlier this month, two state agencies were hit with subpoenas from the Department of Justice, but the investigation does not appear to be centered on Manchin or the governor's office.