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The Political Forecast & Review
Week Ending January 31, 2014
By Jim Ellis
Now firmly ensconced in the New Year, a spate of Senate polling data has suddenly come forth into the common domain.
Public Policy Polling surveyed the vulnerable Republican seats in Kentucky and Georgia in late January. In the former, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) again leads Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) by a single point, 45-44%. This is the same margin the firm found in its December poll.
The Peach State poll gives consensus Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D), small leads ranging from one to three points over the entire Republican field. Interestingly, in the last recorded poll from August, Ms. Nunn performed similarly but did the best against Rep. Paul Broun (R-Athens). In the earlier survey, she led him 41-36%. In the current study, Mr. Broun actually does better than any other Republican, and only trails 41-42%. Both of these seats are obviously competitive, are likely to remain so throughout the year, and are must-wins for Republicans if they hope to capture the Senate majority.
Another New Hampshire survey provides Republicans further good news. In this emerging race, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (R) has pulled into a flat tie (44-44%) with first-term incumbent and former Governor Jeanne Shaheen (D), according to the latest Purple Strategies’ PurplePoll. Mr. Brown has yet to commit to running, however.
More favorable GOP trends were presented against two vulnerable Democratic incumbents, Sens. Mary Landrieu (LA) and Kay Hagan (NC). Rasmussen Reports posts Republican challenger Bill Cassidy (Congressman – Baton Rouge) to a 44-40% advantage, the first time any public poll has actually showed him leading. In North Carolina, the firm gives challenger Thom Tillis, the NC Speaker of the House, a 47-40% margin over Sen. Hagan, the first time any Republican candidate has scored a lead beyond the margin of polling error. Physician Greg Brannon (R-Raleigh) tops the Senator 43-39%.
News is also coming from the Oklahoma open seat, the position Sen. Tom Coburn (R) announced he will be leaving at the beginning of next year. For the special election to be held concurrently with the regular 2014 election, former Gov. Tom Keating (R) and freshman Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) both say they will not run. Rep. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma City) appears to be the early front-runner. Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon (R) is also in the race.
The big House news is the retirement announcement from liberal California Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who says the 20th term he is now serving will be his last. Mr. Waxman was originally elected in 1974 after spending six years in the state Assembly. He rose to chair the Energy & Commerce Committee, a prime position in the House.
Mr. Waxman is retiring after 40 years of congressional service, and fellow California Reps. George Miller (D-Concord) and Buck McKeon (R-Palmdale) doing the same, means that the Golden State will be losing a combined 102 years of congressional seniority from just these three members when the current legislative session ends. Adding retiring Rep. John Campbell’s (R-Irvine) seat to the mix, and the state will feature four open seats in the 2014 election.
In other House news, former Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Ft. Myers) who left the House to run unsuccessfully for Senate in 2012, says he will not enter the soon-to-be-scheduled special election in his old district, made necessary to replace resigned Rep. Trey Radel (R-Ft. Myers).
Turning to Kansas, two House members may also be fending off new Republican primary challenges. In the Topeka district, state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald says he is running against three-term incumbent Rep. Lynn Jenkins in order to send a message to the Republican leadership. Sen. Fitzgerald says voters should support him if they want the leadership to change and Jenkins if they like things as they are. Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2010, is dropping broad hints that he may challenge his successor, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Wichita), for renomination. The Kansas primary is scheduled for August 5th. Should both of these races proceed forward, they will become significant campaigns from a national perspective.
Claiborne Pell (D), who represented Rhode Island in the Senate for 36 years beginning in 1961 and dying in 2009 at the age of 90, now has a grandson attempting to carry on his family’s political tradition. Clay Pell (D), an attorney and judge advocate in the US Coast Guard, announced this past week his campaign for Governor.
The Ocean State’s gubernatorial position is open because Independent-turned-Democrat incumbent Lincoln Chafee is not seeking re-election. Mr. Pell is entering the Democratic primary and will face state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, at a minimum. The Republicans appear to be coalescing around Cranston Mayor Allan Fung.
As an interesting aside, Clay Pell is married to former World Champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, who also won Olympic medals in the 1998 and 2002 games. The two were married last year, and she will accompany him on the campaign trail.
Jim Ellis is a professional election analyst who has worked in national campaign politics and grassroots issue advocacy since 1978. He currently writes and speaks as a member of the PRIsm Information Network.