Ballot Box

Connecticut Dems weighing Senate run huddle on House floor

After Tuesday's news that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will not seek reelection in 2012, two House Democrats considering a run for the seat next year huddled on the House floor.  

Democratic Reps. Joe Courtney (Conn.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.) spoke for close to 15 minutes Tuesday, with both Democrats telling reporters afterwards they're still contemplating the contest. 

"It's something we're looking at and we're going to keep looking at it," Courtney told The Hill. The Democrat said he and Murphy are friends, but that ultimately his decision on whether to enter the race won't hinge on who else jumps in.  

"People are gonna do what they're gonna do, but we'll keep it civil and friendly no matter what," Courtney said, noting that with Lieberman bowing out the race, the contest is likely to attract a sizable field on both sides. 

"This is a tectonic shift in New England politics," he said. "The Senator's been part of the political landscape since the 70's." 

Murphy, who also said he's still deciding on the race, warned Democrats not to take Connecticut for granted in 2012, calling it a "purple" state. 

"A lot of Connecticut voters, especially up in my neck of the woods wind up splitting their tickets," said Murphy. Ultimately, though, the Democrat said given that it's a presidential year, he expects 2012 to be a good one for Democrats statewide. 

"If we have the right candidate on the Democratic line we will absolutely take the seat," he said. 

Lieberman will announce his decision not to seek another term Wednesday in Connecticut, a Democratic source told The Hill Tuesday. 

Former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) has already jumped into the 2012 race.


Tea Party activists vow for 'battle for control' of GOP in N.D.

Tea Party activists will launch a "battle for control of the party" during the North Dakota GOP Senate primary, according to a former senior official in the state Republican Party.

Sen. Kent Conrad's (D-N.D.) announcement Tuesday that he won't seek reelection is expected to touch off an intense competition to succeed him.

In a multi-person GOP field, the Tea Party-backed candidate would be favored to win the nomination, said Gary Emineth, who spent three years as chairman of the state GOP.

"I think there's going to be a battle for control of the party," he said.

North Dakota's nominating system is set up in a way that magnifies the influence of a small group of activists. There is a primary vote held in June, but the nomination is typically decided before then by delegates to the state party convention, who vote on an endorsement.

The party's backing will typically clear the field, making the primary vote merely ceremonial. A non-party endorsed candidate can still run in the primary, but is very rarely successful.

The 2012 convention starts March 30 in Bismarck. Needing only a majority of the some 2,000 convention delegates, a Tea Party-backed candidate could easily claim the party's endorsement, officials said, although they were quick to add that Tea Party support was not a litmus test for winning the nomination.


Poll: GOP in driver's seat in Texas Senate race

A new poll out Tuesday shows a slew of potential GOP Senate contenders leading several rumored Democratic opponents.  

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) holds double-digit leads over former Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), former state Comptroller John Sharp (D) and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (D), according to numbers from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling.

Republicans are already scrambling to position themselves for the open-seat Senate contest — a rare opportunity in Texas politics. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) announced last week that she would not run for another term next year. 

Dewhurst, whom GOP insiders in the state say would start the race as the favorite in a GOP primary, leads Edwards 50 percent to 31; Sharp, 49 percent to 31; and Castro, 53 percent to 25. 

Dewhurst is the only rumored Republican candidate who reaches above 50 percent support in hypothetical general-election match-ups. 

Other potential GOP contenders, including Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, also top every rumored Democratic hopeful, but none of them tops 50 percent. 

The poll did not test former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams (R), who was endorsed Monday by former President George H.W. Bush, or former Solicitor General Ted Cruz (R), another rumored contender. 

The early numbers are largely a reflection of name recognition, with Dewhurst being the best-known among the group. 

The poll found just 38 percent of voters have no opinion of Dewhurst. That number is significantly higher for other rumored contenders, ranging from 54 to as high as 72 percent.

The poll surveyed 829 Texas voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. 


Rep. Pomeroy doesn't rule out Senate bid

In the wake of Sen. Kent Conrad's (D-N.D.) Tuesday announcement to retire at the end of his term, former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) said he has begun "a new career chapter," but declined to definitively rule out a run in 2012. 

Pomeroy, who lost his at-large congressional seat this past November to Republican Rick Berg, is already being floated by some Democratic strategists as a potential candidate for Conrad's seat.

Reached by e-mail Tuesday and asked whether he would consider a 2012 campaign, Pomeroy indicated he wasn't inclined toward a run, citing his new post at a Washington, D.C., law firm, but he said it was still too early for Senate speculation.   

"I have begun a new career chapter," Pomeroy told The Ballot Box. "Besides, this is a day to reflect on how much Kent Conrad's service has meant to North Dakota and the nation without speculating about what North Dakota will do to try and replace him."

He added: "While no one in politics is indispensable, Kent Conrad's shoes will be very hard for North Dakota to fill." 

After a string of victories in the state in 2010, Republicans see a prime pickup opportunity in 2012 with Conrad's retirement and Democrats staring down a fairly thin statewide bench.


Connecticut Dem jumps in race for Lieberman seat

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has his first Democratic challenger — former state Secretary Susan Bysiewicz.

The Democrat got an early jump on 2012 Tuesday, announcing her campaign for the seat after enduring a disastrous 2010 cycle.  

"We need a Senator who is 100% focused on helping our state, and Senator Joe Lieberman has been focused on everything but Connecticut," Bysiewicz said in an e-mail announcing her 2012 plans, according to the Connecticut Mirror

The announcement from Bysiewicz places some pressure on other Democrats who have expressed interest in the contest, particularly Connecticut Reps. Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy.

Still, Bysiewicz will have plenty to prove in a Democratic primary, and her entrance into the race certainly won't clear the field. Some Democrats have expressed worry that two failed campaigns in 2010 could hamper Bysiewicz in 2012. 

After mulling a run for governor in 2010, Bysiewicz abruptly decided to run for attorney general instead. That race resulted in disaster after a court ruled that she didn't meet the state's criteria for serving as attorney general, which ended her campaign.

As the Mirror details, management questions also arose toward the end of her tenure as secretary of state. 

Lieberman has not yet announced his 2012 plans, which has some political observers in the state thinking he will opt to not seek another term in 2012. The independent senator would have to again create a party line for his candidacy to get his name back on the ballot next year. 

While unlikely, it's also possible that Lieberman could run under the banner of one of the major parties in 2012. Lieberman told The Ballot Box in December that he has received plenty of encouragement from Democratic colleagues and that he expects to make a final decision on 2012 early this year. 


Democrats see opportunity in repeal debate

As the floor debate over healthcare repeal gets under way in the House on Tuesday, many Democrats see it as an opportunity to re-pitch the law's more popular components. 

Ahead of another campaign cycle where "yes" votes on healthcare are likely to haunt the campaigns of some Democrats in the House and Senate, expect Democrats to try and use the coming debate as a chance to correct the messaging that fell flat on its face two years ago.  

"Our biggest failure was that we passed a fairly moderate bill, but we allowed it to be painted as this crazy liberal monstrosity," said Democratic pollster Stefan Hankin. "So we completely lost the moderation, and I think that's what we have the opportunity to get back in this debate."  

Hankin said Democrats should refocus on parts of the law that polling shows broader support for, including coverage of pre-existing conditions. 

"We had way too much focus on the 30 million people who are uninsured," he said. "While that's important and people care about that, what you really need to show people is what this bill does for them."