Senate Election News
Rep. Tom Allen (D) launched his first television advertisement of the campaign on August 10. His plan from the start was to spend the first part of the campaign raising money for ads, organizing and engaging in the normal day-to-day political combat. Then, he planned to go on the air from August through Election Day. The campaign expected that Allen would trail incumbent Sen. Susan Collins (R) for most of the campaign, but would catch up through heavy use of the media the last three months of the campaign.
The first ad focused on the theme of change: how Allen opposed the war in Iraq and supports a “responsible deadline” for getting troops out; and the need to redirect the resources spent in Iraq back home toward economic issues such as health care, tax cuts for college and creating jobs. There is no attack against Collins in Allen’s first ad.
To its credit, the Allen campaign has stuck to its game plan of husbanding resources despite nervousness from Democratic pros. While the polls still show Allen trailing, he is within striking distance. The most recent Critical Insights poll conducted June 1-27 showed Collins ahead 50% to 40%, with 9% undecided. At the end of the last reporting period, Allen had $2.6 million cash-on-hand, not as much as Collins but sufficient to compete head-to-head on TV for the remainder of the campaign. (August 12)
In something of a surprise, Sen. Tim Johnson (D) announced that he will not engage in any political debates during his reelection campaign against state representative Joel Dykstra (R). While well-known incumbents frequently try to minimize sharing the stage with lesser-known opponents by refusing more than one or two debates, the two-term incumbent said thanks, but no thanks to the debates altogether.
After suffering a life-threatening brain hemorrhage in December 2006, Johnson underwent emergency surgery and returned to the Senate after nine months of convalescence. Since returning, he has maintained an excellent record of attendance for Senate votes and hearings. He uses a motorized wheel chair to get around.
In his announcement about the debates, Johnson said: “While my speech continues to improve, it is not yet 100 percent and I have not yet reached a point in my rehab where my participation in a debate would accurate reflect my capabilities.”
Johnson first ran for the Senate in 1996, defeating incumbent Senator Larry Pressler by fewer than 9,000 votes out of 325,000 cast. Johnson’s re-election campaign was successful against John Thune, but only by only 524 votes. This year, Johnson faces a second tier candidate. Johnson should win, but his opponents will use his reversal on the debates – earlier Johnson had said he would participate – to suggest that Johnson is not up to representing South Dakota. (August 12)
The July 29 indictment of long-time Senator Ted Stevens (R) on seven felony counts for making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms makes a Democratic pickup of the seat much more likely.
Stevens, a six-term Senator and former chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, already was facing a tough fight against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) . Polls showed Begich even or narrowly leading Stevens even before the indictment. Begich, while facing a 2 – 1 cash-on-hand disadvantage, actually outraised the incumbent in the last quarter.
Stevens faces an August 26 primary against six second tier candidates. If he wins the nomination despite the indictment, he could quit the race and let the state Republican party choose a replacement candidate. However, Stevens has indicated that he plans to stay in the contest to the bitter end. This contest should surely move from toss up to leaning Democrat. (August 1)
Two recent Senate polls in Colorado and New Hampshire suggest either than the Republican nominee is closing in on front-running Democrat or the polling is wrong. In New Hampshire, former Governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) has run consistently ahead of incumbent Sen. John Sununu (R) by a low double digit margin. Even a poll conducted by Republican research firm American Research Group showed Shaheen ahead by 14 points, 54% to 40%. “The Hotline” compared Sununu’s poor prospects to the situation of ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who went down to overwhelming defeat in 2006.
Thus it was a great surprise to see the latest University of New Hampshire Granite State poll conducted from July 11 – 20 showing Shaheen’s margin had narrowed to 46% - 42%. While there have been independent group expenditures against Shaheen on labor and tax issues, there is nothing to explain this kind of shift. Sununu has not yet gone on the air with any TV advertisements of his own.
There is little doubt that this could wind up being a very close race and that incumbent Sununu can win, but some doubt is in order about the accuracy of the poll. (August 1)
Similarly, in Colorado, a recent Quinnipiac/Wall Street Journal/Washington Post.com poll showed the Republican candidate ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer has pulled into a tie against U.S. Rep. Mark Udall (D). The poll, conducted July 14 - 22, had the two candidates in a 44% - 44% tie. Previous polls had indicated that Udall had moved out into a lead, particularly after a heavy dose of Udall TV ads (Schaffer is hoarding his money for a later ad blitz).
What accounts for the shift in Colorado opinions? Nothing obvious. It is perhaps another reminder that all polling, at the congressional or the presidential election, should be recognized as a snap shot at a particular time that may or may not be accurate. (August 1)