Ballot Box

Sen. Vitter grows lead on Melancon

Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) lead on Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) has grown to 18 points, according to a new Southern Media Research and Opininon Research poll.

The pollster last surveyed the race in October, when Vitter led 48-36. The lead, since then, has grown to 49-31.

Melancon has room to grown; he is still unknown to 41 percent of voters, compared to just 10 percent for Vitter. Vitter's approval rating, though, is solid, at 54 percent positive and 36 percent negative.

The survey was conducted for Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, a Republican donor who has contributed to Vitter. Grigsby also paid for the last poll.


DCCC adds two targets

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has added two new seats to its Red to Blue program for challengers and open-seat candidates.

In Florida's 25th district, former Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia is going after the open seat left by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who is running for his retiring brother's seat in a neighboring district. And in Kansas's 3rd district, retiring Rep. Dennis Moore's (D-Kan.) wife, Stephene, is running for his seat.

The two additions bring to 15 the total number of districts the DCCC is targeting with the program. Of those 15, three are open seats currently held by Democrats.

"Stephene Moore and Joe Garcia have come out of the gate strong and built a lot of early excitement for their campaigns from voters across the political spectrum," said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). "Red to Blue will give them the financial and structural edge they need to remain on the road to victory in November."


Embattled former Illinois Lt. Gov. candidate to run for governor as independent

After being forced from the Illinois lieutenant governor's race amidst revelations of domestic abuse, Scott Lee Cohen is out for some revenge.

Cohen will be running for governor as an independent, he announced Monday. He will be pitted against Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and state Sen. Bill Brady (R).

Cohen won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in February but was forced from the race shortly thereafter, when attention was drawn to his 2005 arrest. His girlfriend, a convicted prostitute, said Cohen held a knife to her throat. Cohen has denied it and said he didn't know she was a prostitute.

"Illinois needs honesty more than perfection," Cohen said in a release.

It's hard to see Cohen getting much traction as a third-party candidate, but whatever votes he can muster will likely be at Quinn's expese.


Romney backs Perry in Mass. House primary

Mitt Romney is backing state Rep. Jeff Perry in the GOP primary in Rep. Bill Delahunt's (D-Mass.) district.

Delahunt's retirement has led candidates to flood the race, including on the GOP side, where Perry faces a primary with former state Treasurer Joe Malone.

Romney chose Perry over Malone on Monday, citing their work together when Romney was governor in the mid-2000s.

"As Governor, I worked closely with Jeff on initiatives to reduce spending, lower taxes, and reform government," Romney said. "He will be a strong conservative voice against the Washington culture of higher taxes, higher spending, and higher debt.  I am looking forward to the contributions he will make in the U.S. House of Representatives."

Romney's political action committee is donating $2,500 to Perry's campaign, with the funds being devoted to the primary.


Grayson poll shows tie in Kentucky Senate race

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson's (R) Senate campaign has released a poll showing his primary with Rand Paul is a tie.

The Voter/Consumer Research poll shows each candidate at 40 percent, with 20 percent of voters undecided. Six hundred likely primary voters were surveyed on Wednesday and Thursday,

The poll does not include crosstabs detailing either candidates strengths, and it did not include any of the minor candidates, who took a combined 6 percent in a recent SurveyUSA poll.

Pollster Jan van Lohuizen points out that both Grayson and Paul have similar name recognition and favorability numbers. But the numbers are not provided.

That Grayson needs to release a poll showing him tied with Paul shows that Grayson's campaign feels the need to assure donors that the race is competitive. Paul has shown a wide lead in other recent polling, and Grayson's campaign is dealing today with Dr. James Dobson switching his endorsement, which he originally made last week, from Grayson to Paul.

The primary is May 18.

Update 12:15 p.m.: Paul campaign manager David Adams responds: "No one, at this point, expects anything but a big Rand Paul lead based on his support for balanced budgets, term limits, a pro-life and pro-family agenda and a strong national defense."


Traficant files as independent to challenge Rep. Tim Ryan

Former Rep. James Traficant filed paperwork Monday to run as an independent against Rep. Tim Ryan (D) in Ohio's 17th congressional district.

Traficant, who represented the district until 2002, when he was expelled from the House following a conviction on corruption charges, had been deciding between challenging Ryan, or Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio) in a neighboring district.

The flamboyant former congressman was released from a federal prison last September, and had been flirting with the prospect of a comeback in his native Youngstown area, where he remains somewhat personally popular.

Ryan has won reelection fairly comfortably over Republican opponents in the past few election cycles, though Traficant ate into his margin of victory when he was first elected in 2002, and Traficant ran again for Congress from his jail cell.

Ryan is a former staffer for Traficant, whose decision to challenge Ryan was first reported Monday by the Youngstown Vindicator.

Cross-posted to the Briefing Room.


Mook to lead House Democrats' campaign spending program

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is staffing up its independent expenditure (IE) program this cycle.

The committee will announce today that current political director Robby Mook will run the IE program, which is tasked with dispensing the committee’s money across the country.

Mook is currently in charge of independent expenditures in the Hawaii and Pennsylvania special elections. He ran Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) successful 2008 campaign.

A well-known and well-regarded former DCCC staffer, former executive director and former IE director John Lapp, will be a senior adviser to the IE program.

Incumbent Retention director Jennifer Pihlaja will take Mook’s spot as the committee’s new political director.


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.


N.C. Dems target Sen. Burr as they wait for nominee to emerge

The North Carolina Democratic Party is targeting Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) with a new web video focusing on his connection to Goldman Sachs, which is emerging as the boogeyman of the cycle.

Recent polls have shown Burr is vulnerable and the state party is trying to soften him up before their Senate nominee emerges from the primary.

Burr was one of several GOP senators spotted by reporters leaving a meeting with lobbyists for financial firms while President Obama gave his recent speech on Wall Street regulation in New York City. An official with the North Carolina Democrats said they will continue to press this line of attack.