NJ-Sen: GOP Loses Second Strongest Challenger in Country

Via Breaking Blue, here's PolitickerNJ.com with the whole story.

Citing health reasons, Anne Evans Estabrook is dropping her bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. That leaves a two-way contest to challenge four-term Democrat Frank Lautenberg between State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) and Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College Professor and the leader of Ron Paul's New Jersey campaign.

Estabrook, 61, was making her first bid for public office after a career as a real estate developer, philanthropist, and Chairman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. She had won key endorsements by the Burlington, Camden and Monmouth Republican organizations, and based on her endorsements and money, had been viewed as the front runner in the race to challenge Lautenberg. Pennacchio has won county endorsement contests in Hunterdon and Union counties.

Republicans had embraced Estabrook as their standard bearer after she agreed to self-finance her Senate bid. She loaned her campaign nearly $1.7 million,and raised another $150,000. Lautenberg has about $4.3 million cash on hand; Pennacchio and Sabrin have not yet reported their fundraising efforts.

This sad news (naturally we hope Estabrook is able to overcome her health issue) comes as a major blow to the GOP, which had desperately hoped to put another seat on the map and force the Democrats to play a little bit of defense -- particularly in an expensive media state like New Jersey. Senate Republicans had placed a great deal of hope on Estabrook, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign both sinking thousands of dollars into her campaign. With this money, the leadership had hoped to entice Estabrook to self-finance, an effort that appeared to be somewhat successful given the $1.7 million she had already put into her campaign's coffers. However, this plan has now been for naught. I guess now Senate Republicans are going to have to pin their hopes on the, shall we say, interesting Steve Kirby in South Dakota, who trails Tim Johnson by a 70 percent to 19 percent margin according to Democratic polling...

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Republicans Gearing Up to Waste Millions More on NJ?

Oh, this could get good. As I have detailed before, Republicans have gotten themselves into a nasty habit that has really put them at a disadvantage nationwide: continually sinking money into futile campaigns in New Jersey. As a short refresher, remember that the Republicans sunk money...

  • Trying to win a Senate election in New Jersey in 2002, only to see former Senator Frank Lautenberg win by a comfortable 10 points after having joined the race late when then-Senator Bob Torricelli bowed out.
  • Trying to help George W. Bush carry the state in 2004, even as John Kerry carried it by a 7-point margin.
  • Trying to defeat Senator Jon Corzine in his effort to make the move to the Governor's mansion in an election he won by a double-digit margin.
  • Trying prop up Tom Kean Jr. (who had as good a name in the state as about any Republican because of his father's legacy) in his bid to unseat appointed Senator Bob Menendez, who won by 8 points.

On the basis of this track record, I've been saying for a while that I'd love to see the Republicans fall prey to this mistake yet again by dumping money they don't really have on a meaningless challenge to Lautenberg, who's up for reelection this year. And apparently, according to PolitickerNJ.com, the Republicans indeed appear intent on throwing away money in yet another Garden State election.

According to a press release from Anne Evans Estabrook's campaign, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (R-NV) contributed $5,000 and $10,000 to her campaign, respectively.

[...]

While he did not say whether Estabrook has the official support of the NRSC, Estabrook campaign manager Mark Duffy said that it shows that the party is coalescing around her.

[...]

McConnell and Ensign make up a significant chunk of Estabrook's donors. So far, she's raised about $1.7 million - $1.6 million of which is her own.

We won't have December's committee fundraising numbers for a few more days, but as of the end of November the National Republican Senatorial Committee trailed its rival, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, by a whopping $13.1 million when debts and obligations are taken into account. When this figure is combined with the fact that the Republicans must defend about twice as many seats as do the Democrats -- and, more importantly, that the Republicans really are on the defense in more than a half dozen districts whereas the Democrats might only have to play defense in a single state -- can the Republicans really afford to waste $4 million in New Jersey, as they did during the 2006 cycle? I'm pretty sure that the answer to that is a big fat "no" -- but that doesn't make me want to bet that they're not going to futility spend the money in the state anyway. Darn!

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Falling for the GOP Spin in New Jersey

You almost have to feel sorry for the GOP -- almost every year they get their hopes up in New Jersey only to realize after election day that their optimism was completely misplaced and they had wasted millions and millions of dollars on a futile attempt to win in the Garden State.

It happened back in 2002 when Republicans hoped to capitalize on the ethics woes of then-Democratic Senator Bob Torricelli but ended up sinking money on a race against then-former Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who replaced Torricelli on the ballot and who won by a comfortable 10-point margin. It happened two years later when the Bush-Cheney campaign believed it could perform an end run and steal New Jersey away from the Democratic column, only to lose by a 7-point margin on election day. It happened again in 2005 when Jon Corzine easily won election as Governor despite supposedly real Republican hopes of defeating him. And it also happened in 2006 when Republicans believed they could defeat recently-appointed Democratic Senator Bob Menendez with the son of a former Republican Governor, Tom Kean Jr., only to see Kean go down in flames, losing by 8 points.

Now it's apparently happening once again, particularly on the presidential level and perhaps also on the senatorial level. What's more, the Republicans seem to have convinced Marc Ambinder of their viability in the state, particularly should Rudy Giuliani, who Ambinder calls "a favorite son," be the Republican nominee. Here's Ambinder:

Suffice it to say, the reason why Rudy Giuliani has traveled to New Jersey six times for campaign events only is that he is beginning to concern himself with the state's 15 electoral votes. (He's in Ocean View and Cape May today).

Democrats will not concede the state to Giuliani -- right now, Hillary and Rudy run neck-and-neck, but they do acknowledge that, at the very least, the Democratic presidential candidate will be forced to spend in excess of $5M -- maybe even$10M -- in the extremely expensive New York / Philadelphia media markets in order to remain competitive.

New Jersey's independents usually swing to the Democrat at the end, but they invariably give Republicans reasons for hope... generally in September. (See here). The last Republican to win the state's electoral votes was George H. W. Bush.

While you might almost feel sorry for the Republicans for falling into this trap once again, there is little excuse for Ambinder to buy this pure spin and for reprinting it without much thought. "Democrats will not concede the state to Giuliani"? Come on. A statement like that implies that not only is Giuliani favored to win New Jersey in a general election but that he could potentially win by such a wide margin that it might not be worth it for the Democrats to contest the race in the state. That's the same type of faulty logic that led to the National Republican Senatorial Committee blowing more than $4 million last cycle trying to hit Menendez, who ended up winning by 8 points last fall.

The flip side of argument Ambinder forwards that "the Democratic presidential candidate will be forced to spend in excess of $5M -- maybe even$10M -- in the extremely expensive New York / Philadelphia media markets in order to remain competitive" (emphasis added) is that the Republicans would have to spend that, and more, in order to just be competitive, let alone win. If the Democrats dump $5 million in the state, the Republicans will have to spend $10; if the Democrats invest $10 million, the Republicans are going to have to spend $15 million. And so on.

Now I don't want to discourage Republicans from believing that this time they're finally going to break their rut in New Jersey, either on the presidential level or on the senatorial level, where Lautenberg apparently doesn't have great numbers. I'd love to see the GOP waste millions upon millions of dollars on the Garden State. But what I would discourage is the media unquestioningly suggesting that the Democrats are doomed in New Jersey, regardless of who runs on the GOP ticket next fall.

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Senate 2008 Guru's Week in the Senate Races

This week saw the release of August fundraising numbers, with the DSCC continuing to outpace the NRSC, $2.58 million to $2.36 million.  The NRSC continuing to get beat in fundraising month after month may be why they seem willing to exploit any fundraising opportunity, however crass and tasteless it may be.

Speaking of fundraising, Senate 2008 Guru started a new ActBlue page: the Expand the Map! ActBlue page, focusing on Senate races in states that don't typically have competitive Senate races, but could see strong competition with enough resources.  The page's inaugural campaigns are Idaho's Larry LaRocco and Oklahoma's Andrew Rice.  The first-day goal on Friday of ten contributions for both candidates was met, and we're closing in on our weekend goal of twenty contributions apiece.  With today being the last day of the third fundraising quarter of 2007, please contribute if you can!  These relatively early dollars coming in help demonstrate these campaigns' viability and competitivity.  So if you can chip in $100, that's great.  If you can chip in $5, that's great!  But, please do chip in if you can!

Also released this week were Survey USA's September poll numbers.  While Mitch McConnell's (51-40), Norm Coleman's (46-45), and Gordon Smith's (48-42) poll numbers all remained in the danger zone, the lowlight of the month was Pete Domenici's poll numbers plummetting to an atrocious 41-54.  You read that right: 41-54.  It looked like Domenici's descent in the polls as a result of his role in the Attorney Purge scandal had levelled off in the low 50's.  We'll see next month if the low 40's is an aberration or Domenici's new norm.

With Senate Republicans still stuck in the mud, it's no wonder that vulnerable political targets like Norm Coleman and John Sununu "routinely turn down" cable news interview requests.  I guess these vulnerable Republicans are too cowardly to stand up and defend their votes in favor of prolonging Bush's Iraq War and their myriad other votes putting them out-of-step with their constituents.  And here are many other stories affecting the Senate races this week:

Alaska: Hays Research conducted a poll finding that only 40% of Alaskans view Ted Stevens positively while 38% view Stevens negatively.  Further, only 43% of Alaskans said that they were likely to vote to re-elect Stevens while 45% said that they were unlikely to vote to re-elect him.  Very bad news for Stevens, especially in light of the fact that GOP Gov. Sarah Palin, perhaps the most popular elected official in the state, is leaning on Stevens to be more forthcoming with voters about his various scandals and investigations.  And that is all the more perilous for Stevens as the far-right conservative Club for Growth is seeking a primary challenger for the pork-loving Stevens.

Nebraska: Former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub backed out of the crowded Republican primary about two weeks after entering the scrum.  Nevertheless, incompetent NRSC Chair John Ensign seems to have insured a nasty primary between former Gov. and chronic quitter Mike Johanns and state Attorney General Jon Bruning when it became public that Ensign was urging local GOP leaders to help push out other opponents like Bruning in favor of Johanns.  Heckuva job, Ensign.  And it's not like Bruning hasn't already displayed a willingness to take the fight right to Johanns.  Meanwhile, as we continue to await former Senator Bob Kerrey's decision, he has laid out his current position on Iraq: "downsize the military commitment" but do not cut off funds.

Georgia: Lieutenant General David Poythress, Georgia's retiring adjutant general and a former Georgia Secretary of State and Labor Commissioner, is being eyed as a possible Senate challenger to Spineless Saxby Chambliss in 2008.  If it can't be Max Cleland, it would be great to have another military man lay out for Saxby what a coward Chambliss really is.  Also, the Athens Banner-Herald's political blogger called Chambliss out for his hypocrisy on voting against more rest time for soldiers when Chambliss himself took four deferments to get out of service in Vietnam.

Idaho: Larry Craig had his day in court this past week, but the judge says a ruling will not come until the end of this coming week at the earliest.  As such, Craig is not resigning (for the time being) and will continue his Senate work as scheduled.  GOP Gov. Butch Otter has a short list of possible replacement appointments ready to go, but he may not get the chance to use it as observers see Craig leaving rhetorical wiggle room to possibly serve out the remainder of his term regardless of the decision in his court case or to even actually consider running for re-election in 2008.  I think Craig should stick it out in order to send a message to a Senate Republican caucus that would throw him under a bus while welcoming back prostitute-lovin' David Vitter with thunderous applause.

Maine: Following a manufactured scandal in Susan Collins' 1996 Senate run in which she worked with a reporter to portray her opponent's very typical opposition research effort as a seedy witch hunt, and another manufactured scandal earlier this year in which Susan Collins wildly overreacted to the Maine Democratic Party having a staffer record her public appearances (ooh, the horror!), the Collins camp is now working to manufacture yet another dishonest political attack, trying to portray Congressman Tom Allen's impressive 98% voting record as something less than outstanding.  Collins would much rather focus on the rate of votes rather than the substance of votes, which puts her far to the right of mainstream Maine.  Meanwhile, the Rockland Courier-Gazette slammed Collins for her continued support for Bush's endless Iraq War, noting that "Collins has strayed so far into the camp of President George W. Bush that she can't free herself," and calling Collins' votes "destructive to the country and the state."

Texas: Daily Kos commissioned a poll by Research 2000 finding that John Cornyn held a 51-35 advantage over State Representative and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Noriega. The 51-35 figure is not too dissimilar from the 53-30 figure Rasmussen Reports released almost two weeks ago, which is pretty good considering most Texans probably have never heard of Rick Noriega yet. The Research 2000 poll also found that 40% of voters would re-elect Cornyn, 15% would consider another candidate, and 35% would vote to replace Cornyn. Those numbers are very promising.

Kentucky: Another week, another opportunity for the Kentucky media to call Mitch McConnell out for "utter hypocrisy" and "selective outrage." And now the far-right conservative Club for Growth is sniffing around the Bluegrass State for a primary challenger for McConnell.

North Carolina: According to an Elon University poll, voters said that the top four issues that would "influence their vote for U.S. Senator" were The Iraq War (78%), Economy (76%), Health Care Costs (75%), and Immigration (73%).  And what were the voters' satisfaction levels with Elizabeth Dole on those four issues?  Very poor: 32% for The Iraq War, 39% for Economy, 32% for Health Care Costs, and 28% for Immigration.  Elizabeth Dole will have a very hard time defending her record if less than 40% of voters are satisfied with her on issues that about 75% of voters will be basing their vote on.

Minnesota: Senate candidate Al Franken offered a powerful op-ed in the Star Tribune this week discussing how ridiculous it is for the Senate to actually debate over the MoveOn.org ad, with Norm Coleman continuing to play politics over the issue, while our soldiers continue to fight and die in Iraq.

Tennessee: Businessman and gubernatorial son Mike McWherter took another step toward a challenge to Lamar Alexander as McWherter formed a Senate exploratory committee.  Also, it came out that www.MikeMcWherter.com was reserved back in May, just in case.

Oregon: The Oregon Democratic Party this week examined Gordon Smith's lousy records on making education affordable, global warming and Big Oil, and, in light of his company's third fine for illegally dumping wastewater into a nearby creek, environmental protection, including a lifetime 26% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

New Jersey: Stu Rothenberg concluded that Republicans have "no reason for even a shred of optimism" in a race against Senator Frank Lautenberg.

New Hampshire: Sprintin' John Sununu was the only New England Senator of either Party to oppose the hate crimes amendment (that even New Hampshire Republican colleague Judd Gregg supported), yet again demonstrating how out of touch Sununu is with Granite State voters.

Michigan: 2002 GOP MI-Sen nominee Rocky Raczkowski is considering giving it another go.  Also, GOP state rep. Jack Hoogendyk is considering a challenge to Senator Carl Levin.  The political mood in 2002 favored Republicans even more than the 2008 political mood is shaping up to favor Democrats.  Nevertheless, Levin crushed Raczkowski 61-38 in '02.

For daily news and updates on the U.S. Senate races around the country in 2008, check out Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.

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NRSC Recruiting and Democratic Senate Incumbents

No, it's not Sunday.  And this isn't the Senate 2008 Guru's Week in the Senate Races.  It's been over nine months since Election Day 2006; and it's less than fifteen months until Election Day 2008.  In other words, the 2008 election cycle is more than one-third over already.  With all of the discussion about vulnerable Republican-held Senate seats taking place, I thought it might be useful to take a look at how the races are shaping up for the twelve Democratic-held Senate seats in 2008.  Soak it in:

StateIncumbentGOP's Ostensible 1st Choice1st Choice Running?Current GOP Opponent(s)Possible GOP Opponent(s)Announced Not Running or Expressed No Interest
ARMark PryorFormer Gov. Mike HuckabeNoNone?Huckabee
DEJoe BidenRep. Mike CastleNoNone?Castle
ILRichard DurbinYour guess is as good as mine.NoSteve SauerbergWho knows? A return from Alan Keyes?Steve Greenberg
IATom HarkinRep. Tom LathamNot Yet (Rumored Possibility)Steve Rathje,
Troy Cook,
Bob McDowell
Latham, Rep. Steve King-
LAMary LandrieuRep. Bobby JindalNoNone*Sec. of State Jay Dardenne,
Treasurer John N. Kennedy,
'02 Sen. candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell
'96 Sen. candidate Woody Jenkins
Rep. Richard Baker,
Rep. Jim McCrery,
Rep. Charles Boustany;
Jindal running for Governor
MAJohn KerryYour guess is as good as mine.NoJeffrey BeattieState Senator Scott BrownFormer Govs. Mitt Romney, Bill Weld, and Paul Cellucci,
Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, Former Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card,
Businessman Charles Baker, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling
MICarl LevinRep. Candice MillerNoNoneSecretary of State Terri Lynn Land,
2002 Candidate Rocky Raczkowski
Miller, Rep. Mike Rogers
MTMax BaucusRep. Denny Rehberg NoState Rep. Mike Lange?Rehberg
NJFrank LautenbergFormer Gov. Christie Whitman,
U.S. Attorney Chris Christie
No, NoBusinesswoman Anne Evans EstabrookState Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio,
State Assemblyman Jon Bramnick
Whitman, Christie,
Tom Kean Sr. & Jr.,
Assemblyman Mike Doherty
RIJack ReedFormer Sen. Lincoln ChafeeNoNoneJon ScottChafee, '06 Sen. candidate Steve Laffey, Gov. Don Carcieri
SDTim Johnson*Gov. Mike RoundsNoState Rep. Joel Dykstra,
Businessman Sam Kephart
?Rounds
WVJay RockefellerRep. Shelley Moore CapitoNoNoneSecretary of State Betty Ireland,
Businessman John Raese
Capito

So what do we see here?

First and foremost, we see that (unless Tom Latham challenges Tom Harkin or Bobby Jindal unexpectedly loses the LA-Gov race and opts for a Senate bid) Republicans don't have a single top choice challenging a Democratic incumbent.  Keep in mind, this is not a comparison to Democrats, who have had ups and downs with recruiting (though, with 22 Republican-held seats up compared with only 12 Democratic seats up, that is to be expected).  Simply put, I don't know how much time NRSC Chair John Ensign spends recruiting, but if it's more than zero, it may be wasted time.  Certainly, there is still plenty of time for candidates to enter a Senate race, as Senators Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, and Jim Webb will tell you (all officially entered their races after August 2005), but, after this point in the 2006, only one single Republican entered a Senate race: Michigan loser Mike Bouchard.  If 2006 is at all indicative, the NRSC should be just about done recruiting by now, not just starting.

You'll also note two asterisks, in Louisiana and South Dakota.  In Louisiana, statewide elections occur later this year.  While several Republican Congressmen have announced that they will be opting against a 2008 Senate challenge to Mary Landrieu, it is not unreasonable that other potential candidates would wait until after the 2007 state election before making any decisions, particularly in the case of statewide officeholders Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and currently-Democratic Treasurer John N. Kennedy.  In South Dakota, Senator Tim Johnson is, of course, still recuperating from illness.  If he feels able to run for re-election, it is reasonable to assume that he will, and that Gov. Mike Rounds is unlikely to challenge him.  However, if Johnson opts against a re-election bid, that changes the entire dynamic, which could lead to a top-tier battle between Gov. Rounds and possibly Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth.

We also see a lot of previously unheard-of names.  Jeffrey Beattie in Massachusetts and Jon Scott in Rhode Island are both Congressional race losers, I suppose looking for a promotion to losing Senate races.  The announced challengers in Illinois and Iowa are all unknown political entities, charitably considered third-tier opponents.  As it currently stands, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota feature a smattering of second- and third-tier opposition.  Assuming both that Joe Biden drops his Presidential bid and runs for re-election and that Iowa's Republican Congressional delegation all opt to take a pass on a 2008 Senate bid, it is not unreasonable to expect (barring out-of-the blue surprises) that incumbent Democratic Senators will face no more than token opposition in Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.  (At the same time, it wouldn't be wildly shocking if: Tom Latham did enter the race in Iowa; Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land did enter the race in Michigan; Joe Biden did retire from the Senate; and the AR-GOP did find somebody to offer Mark Pryor at least minimal opposition.)

Further, assuming that Senator Tim Johnson is up for a re-election campaign, it is not unreasonable to expect that incumbent Democratic Senators will face no more than second-tier opposition (and thus be strong favorites) in Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.  Now, I recognize that I'm suggesting that, given a few reasonable caveats, eleven of twelve Democratic Senate seats are fairly to very safe (though it is also, in part, due to the hurting Democrats took in the Senate in 2002, losing close races in Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, which in turn thinned out Democratic vulnerabilities and created pick-up opportunities for 2008).  That is pretty close to a "best case scenario." But it is also a fairly reasonable scenario.  The catch is that Republicans, wanting to avoid a repeat of 2006 when they failed to turn a single Democratic-held Senate seat (or House seat or Governor's office) Republican, may pour relatively large sums of money into Louisiana once they have a candidate.  With the DSCC trouncing the NRSC in fundraising, Democrats can counteract that, but it could be very expensive.

What do you think?

For daily news and updates on the U.S. Senate races around the country in 2008, check out Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.

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