Senate 2008 Guru's Week in the Senate Races
by Senate Guru, Sun Sep 23, 2007 at 07:49:16 PM EDT
After the previous week's roller coaster ride of Senate retirements and campaign entry announcements, this past week may seem comparatively ho-hum, but there were quite a few events of note. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its list of "The 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress." Of the 22, four are Senators, and all four Senators are Republicans: Pete Domenici, Mitch McConnell, Lisa Murkowski, and Ted Stevens. Further, a two-person honorable mention section includes David Vitter and Larry Craig. Makes you proud, huh? Also, we can add The Economist, RealClearPolitics, and CNN to the list of media outlets expecting significant Democratic successes in the 2008 Senate races. WaPo's Cillizza's latest 10-seat Senate Line was posted, again featuring 8 Republican vulnerabilities and only 2 Democratic vulnerabilities, now with South Dakota in the ten-spot, on the brink of leaving the list of vulnerable seats.
And the events of the week from the races around the country, including lots of new polling:
Nebraska: Former Gov. Mike Johanns resigned his post as Secretary of Agriculture, ostensibly to join the crowded Republican Senate primary. Secretary of Agriculture is now the fourth job in a row that Johanns has quit mid-way through a term to pursue another office. And Johanns isn't just clearing out early - he's leaving very high priorities dangling. Many people are rather angry with Johanns for leaving his office before the upcoming Farm Bill is finished. However, it might be for the best, as Johanns' record outlines that he is no friend of farmers, having advocated for "significant cuts" to farm subsidies and having opposed a "permanent disaster fund" for farmers.
Meanwhile, in the event that former Senator Bob Kerrey enters the 2008 Senate race, the NRSC is already preparing a sleazy attack website, ostensibly criticizing Kerrey for spending the last few years running a college out of state. It's especially absurd and hypocritical given that Johanns himself had to go "house-hunting" in Nebraska recently as he makes his return from Washington D.C. To anybody who would argue that those situations are different because Johanns was called to serve in Washington by his President, I would respond that Johanns' call-to-service musn't be too dutiful or noble if he's willing to ditch the role in order to further his own political career, leaving the Farm Bill hanging all the while. It's not like he couldn't finish work on the Farm Bill and then leave the Department of Agriculture. The crowded primary that Johanns will be joining includes state Attorney General Jon Bruning and businessman Pat Flynn, with former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub also officially joining the race this past week, and businessman Tony Raimondo still considering a bid. And if there is one thing Johanns can count on, it is that Bruning will ensure a very nasty, divisive primary. Finally, the latest from Bob Kerrey is that he might run for Senate or he might not. So stay tuned.
Alaska: The Associated Press broke the story that the FBI got corrupt Alaska businessman Bill Allen to tape conversations with Ted Stevens after they confronted Allen with evidence regarding Allen's bribing elected officials. The FBI wouldn't just give Stevens a public heads up to be more discrete in his phone conversations; as such, I imagine that the FBI would only let this news out as a precursor to an indictment or some other significant action.
Oregon: When Gordon Smith isn't trying to rhetorically dance around Iraq, he runs a frozen food company, Smith Frozen Foods. Well, Smith Frozen Foods was recently fined for dumping wastewater into a nearby creek, marking "at least the third time since the early 1990s that the company has been fined for polluting Pine Creek." As Loaded Orygun's Torrid Joe notes, "As spills go, this sounds neither massive nor especially toxic--but there's no such thing as a good waste dumping violation. And being the third such violation, however minor, it suggests a less-than-dilligent attention span to protecting their nearby waterway." Smith's company's shady environmental record has been a campaign issue going back to Smith's first Senate run. And I expect it will come up again this time around. It brings new meaning to the phrase, "Dump Gordon Smith."
Idaho: Republican Gov. Butch Otter has interviewed "about 19 people," mostly by telephone, for the Senate appointment, should scandal-embattled Larry Craig resign at the end of the month as planned. Otter has met in person with Lt. Gov. Jim Risch and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Otter has not announced a date by which he expects to have a decision made; however, he has ruled out naming a place-holder, instead intending to name an appointee who will run for Senate next year, citing the need to build up seniority. With Otter wanting to build up seniority, it may give a leg up to the 49-year-old Wasden over the 64-year-old Risch. If Craig is to entertain any further notion of not resigning and rather serving out the remainder of his term, he will need a positive result from his court hearing on Wednesday to rescind his guilty plea. Meanwhile, Craig made his return to the Senate this past week for the first time since his scandal broke. Headlines included: "GOP Supporters Are Hard to Find on Craig's List" and "Craig shunned on return to Senate." Quite a stark contrast from the "thunderous applause" David Vitter received when he made his return to the Senate Republican cloakroom following his scandal. Why the different reactions, do you think?
Maine: The Bangor Daily News finally highlighted the fact that Susan Collins is breaking her self-imposed two-term-limit pledge (a pledge she made during her first run in 1996 and reiterated in her re-election run in 2002), but aggrivatingly allowed Collins' broken promise to Maine voters to be framed as a campaign attack from Democrats rather than an incontrovertible fact. (All the while, the Bangor Daily News is establishing a troubling double-standard regarding reports on Collins' campaign versus Tom Allen's campaign.) What's doubly frustrating is that, while Susan Collins is accused of using taxpayer-funded Senate resources and personnel for her political campaign purposes, she still has her Senate office spokeswoman, Jen Burita, responding to these political campaign questions rather than, crazy as it sounds, campaign staff not on her Senate payroll.
In other news, Collins is pretty angry with Olympia Snowe over the vote to reinstate habeas corpus. You see, Collins happily voted against the rule of law and due process. However, Snowe voted differently, opting to reinstate habeas corpus, thereby not giving Collins much needed political cover. Collins is mad that she didn't get a heads up (as though she might have voted differently had she known how Snowe would vote). Once again, Susan Collins demonstrates that she is the antithesis of leadership and political courage. Finally, we get a reminder that, back in March, Susan Collins demanded "significant results" in Iraq by Fall. Well, Fall is now here; but, while we see Tom Allen and Olympia Snowe working to bring the troops home safely, Susan Collins continues to back George W. Bush's stay-the-course policy.
New Mexico: Reports have it that the Senate Ethics Committee has "stepped up its probe of Pete Domenici" noting that "the six-month preliminary investigation into Domenici has turned up enough evidence to open a formal, public investigation into the New Mexico senator, having determined that Domenici acted inappropriately and that he may have violated Senate Ethics rules" when he called former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to inquire about the status of a public corruption probe.
Virginia: The latest Survey USA poll sees Mark Warner beating all opponents by landslide margins: topping Jim Gilmore 60-32, besting Tom Davis 62-27, and even beating George Macaca Allen in a hypothetical match-up 56-37. We just have to keep reminding ourselves to take nothing for granted.
North Carolina: Public Policy Polling has released its latest polling data (FYI: in PDF format). In a match-up with no additional information, Elizabeth Dole beats State Representative Grier Martin 45-30 (Dole still can't get to 50% in any poll), but when just a brief, four-sentence description of Martin is given, Martin beats Dole 47-40, illustrating Martin's high potential. Further, the PPP results found that Dole's approve-disapprove stands at a highly vulnerable 45-40 and that former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith even matches up well against Dole, starting out down only 41-35.
Kentucky: The Lexington Herald-Leader released new poll numbers on Mitch McConnell, including a sub-50% approve-disapprove of 47-44 and a stark 38-55 approve-disapprove regarding McConnell's position on Iraq. Also found is a gaping George W. Bush approve-disapprove of 37-61, and only 32% of Kentuckians saying the war was worth it compared with 57% who feel Bush's Iraq War "wasn't worth the loss of life and expense." So, when Mitch McConnell goes on national television and falsely claims that his constituents "overwhelmingly" support Bush's Iraq War, you know he's lying. You'll also know he's lying when he offers Iraqis their "last chance" to "save their country." On Iraq, McConnell will ultimately do precisely what George W. Bush wants him to do.
Texas: A Rasmussen Reports poll offers baseline numbers, seeing John Cornyn leading State Representative and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Noriega 53-30 and leading attorney Mikal Watts 52-28. Not a bad starting point with Cornyn just a bit over 50% and with two guys that a vast majority of Texans probably have never heard of before at about 30%.
Colorado: Backwards Bob Schaffer's polling has him only two points behind Mark Udall in a three-way race with a Green Party candidate getting 7%. Given that third party candidates in the 2004 CO-Sen race, the 2004 Presidential race in Colorado, and the 2006 CO-Gov race all never topped 1%, it gives the impression that Schaffer's poll could be well off-the-mark and should be taken with a mammoth grain of salt, even for partisan polling.
New Hampshire: StopSununu.com has officially launched, loaded with background information on Sprintin' John Sununu on issues from Iraq to health care and much, much more. Visit regularly. Also, Katrina Swett bowed out of the Senate race, joining Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand in endorsing popular former Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Further, a pair of polls from Rasmussen and ARG were released this week showing Shaheen again beating Sununu, though by more realistic margins than the drubbings earlier polls had Shaheen giving Sununu. With Shaheen having just formally entered the race, these numbers could be considered baselines.
Georgia: An Insider Advantage poll put Spineless Saxby Chambliss' approve-disapprove at 39-29, while a Rasmussen Reports poll put it at 58-30, though even the Rasmussen poll had one Democratic challenger holding Chambliss to under 50 points.
For daily news and updates on the U.S. Senate races around the country in 2008, check out Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.