Get the latest news, state by state.
On August 26, scandal-plagued Sen. Ted Stevens (R) did the expected and won the Republican primary with 63% of the vote against a host of challengers. Stevens was happy; Democrats were thrilled.
It is tough to defeat an institution like Stevens under the best of circumstances. The incumbent has long been revered in Alaska for his ability to win federal support for his state and for his effectiveness. The two factors most likely to defeat an incumbent are scandal and age. Both factors should help Anchorage Mayor Nick Begich (D), who won the Democratic primary on Tuesday with 84% of the vote. Stevens turns 85 years old in November.
Having won his primary, Stevens faces a trial scheduled for September and a Democratic opponent who led Stevens 56% – 39% in a mid-August poll conducted August 9 – 12 by Anchorage Press and other media outlets.
But don’t count Stevens yet: Stevens won 59,000 votes in the primary compared to 56,000 for Begich. (August 28).
After surviving a difficult Oregon Democratic primary in May against activist Steve Novick, Jeff Merkley (D) has charged into contention against incumbent Senator Gordon Smith (R) . Sen. Smith remains ahead on most polls, but consistently shows support at or below the dangerous 50% level for incumbents.
It is clear that President Bush remains a major drag on the Republican primary in Oregon; both his support and that of Smith remain very low and declining. Moreover, Democratic Party registration has surged in the state, both because of Republicans problems and the hot Democratic presidential contest.
Despite Smith’s best attempts to unload against Merkley this summer and gain a substantial lead – an effort that has proven successful in the incumbent’s previous campaigns – Merkley remains a fierce competitor. Smith also tried cozying up to Democrats, running ads citing Barack Obama, John Kerry and the backing of former Democratic Representative Elizabeth Furse. He even charged Merkley with buying highly expensive furniture for the state legislature, only to have media editorials turn on for ignoring the more important issues in the campaign.
While fundraising remained a challenge for Merkley throughout his primary, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has stepped in with huge advertising buys and will spend an awesome $8 million on television advertising by the end of the campaign. Merkley went on the air last week in response to a Smith ad and will continuing running television ads throughout most of the campaign. Noted political analyst Charlie Cook rates the race a toss up. (August 25)
Challenger Al Franken (D) has suffered more blows than most in a tough campaign against incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (R) , but his resilience has brought him back time and again. Franken has been under fire – and not only from Republicans – for not having paid taxes, for failing to pay workman’s compensation and for writing satiric pieces that were, as he conceded, “downright offensive.”
After Franken overcome several challengers to win the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor endorsement at the party’s June convention, ex-appointed Sen. Dean Barkley decided to run as an independent and attorney Priscilla Lord Faris is challenging Franken in the September primary. Polls showed that Franken, who had closed in on Coleman, dropping back. But like the energizer bunny, Franken keeps going and, according to a Minnesota Public Radio and Humphrey Institute poll conducted from August 7 – 17, has moved into a virtual tie. Clearly Franken has benefited from public anger over Republican governance, the poor economy, housing foreclosures and high energy prices.
Despite his difficulties, Franken has raised $11.7 million, a tremendous achievement for a challenger, although Coleman had raised more. Charlie Cook also ratesthis contest a toss-up. (August 25)
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)
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)