A quick note on the Utah-02 Democratic House primary.
A poll out this weekend has the incumbent, Blue Dog Democrat Jim Matheson, leading against the most formidable primary challenge he's had from the left in many years in Claudia Wright. Still, a strong showing for the challenger Tuesday -- and maybe the fact that Matheson is being challenged at all -- could stand as another early indicator of whether Democrats will have issues with their base this year, and in turn, their chances of holding the House.
Wright, a retired teacher, reportedly got into the Utah race after answering a Craigslist ad that was posted by liberal advocates looking for a someone to run against Matheson. She won enough support from delegates at the party convention to force this primary, Matheson's first ever. Matheson voted against the health reform bill.
The Democrats' odds of holding the House this year may well come down to districts like Matheson's -- with conservative Democrats in conservative districts where liberal candidates simply wouldn't be as competitive. That is likely the case here: Matheson, in his fifth term, has defied every Republican challenge in this Republican-leaning district; he most recently was re-elected with 63 percent while Barack Obama won only 40 percent here... John Kerry won0 just 31 percent of the vote in 2004.Continue »
Some notes from the returns in the June 8th primaries: We've watched three very tough primary battles unfold these last few months. Now the winners face the task of gathering their partisans together and heading into the general.
Here's a few thoughts on what the returns tell us about that.
She may have been helped in that regard by former President Bill Clinton's visit, or also by a hotly contested runoff for the Democratic nomination for the House in the Arkansas second district, between Joyce Elliot, who won over Robbie Willis, in an area encompassing those same Little Rock counties.
But this Lincoln-Halter race was close (52% - 48%) and that has implications for the fall. In percentage terms, Lincoln did just slightly better over Halter this time than in May, and in raw terms she won by 10,000 votes out of more than a quarter-million cast.
It may be five months to Election Day, but the midterm campaign season is beginning to heat up. Our new CBS News Hot Races map, debuting today, now shows you at a glance where the action figures to be this Fall: which states shape up as the most competitive battlegrounds, the races that look to be nip-and-tuck the whole way - and others that could still intensify up as summer rolls on... there is, after all, a long way to go.
The midterms begin in earnest against the backdrop of what Americans say is still a very tough economy: eight in ten think it is in bad shape, and they're overwhelmingly concerned about their own finances. That means that for all the watching of individual races we'll do for the next few months, watching perceptions of the economy - if they move - may matter most in the end.
As the map shows, there are plenty of states poised to see battles. Looking at the Senate state by state, we see a few different electoral stories emerging: there are places where the Democrats trying to hold onto gains they made in 2008 in newly-blue states with shifting populations, like Nevada and Colorado; there are the traditional battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, once again at the center of attention. And even usually-blue states like California, Connecticut and Washington have Democrats in what look like tough fights, pitting them against challengers eager to get in on any Republican wave, if one rises.
The fall elections are just that - in the fall... And that's a long time on the political calendar, so last night's elections don't necessarily predict any November contests. They are, though, more data points to consider as we gauge voters' moods right now - and the course that some of the parties' core voters want to chart.
First, we saw a big upset in Pennsylvania as Rep. Joe Sestak beat long-time senator but newly-established Democrat Arlen Specter. In this year when approval of Congress is running only in the teens, Sestak's portrayal of Specter's party switch as a self-interested move, and of himself as the true Democrat, apparently found resonance with the Democratic base.
By the numbers, Specter had hoped to run up big margins in Philadelphia, where party organizing and the backing of the governor and other Democratic officials could work to his strong advantage. But while Specter won Philly with a comfortable margin, with 64 percent, the turnout just wasn't high enough to turn that into a sizeable vote margin. Specter took a 46,000 vote lead away from the city - not enough to overcome Sestak's performance elsewhere in the state. (With some votes still being counted as of this writing.)
Meanwhile, Sestak performed well or held his own in key Democratic areas all over the state. He did well in the Philadelphia suburbs, as well as around Pittsburgh. He held his own in Scranton and won in the county around Allentown.Continue »
While it's important to remember these are state-level -- not national -- races with their own dynamics, together they'll add some compelling data points to the political trend lines for 2010.
Here's a few things to watch for on primary day, and beyond:
Pennsylvania: How Has Sestak Made it a Race?
In Pennsylvania's Democratic primary, incumbent Arlen Specter is trying to hold off a hard, late charge from Rep. Joe Sestak, who's closed a big gap in the polls in recent weeks to make this into a dead heat in the Quinnipiac poll released last week.
The trend line here is striking. In early April, this race seemed all but over; Specter commanded a more than 20-point lead in that Quinnipiac poll, had the backing of the president and leading Democratic endorsements, and some questioned why Sestak was even running.
Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist has thus far said he's not running as an independent for the U.S. Senate (and thus not ceding the GOP nod to challenger Marco Rubio.) But that hasn't stopped widespread speculation that he still might. What kind of electorate would Crist be up against if he does? Some polls and past contests offer clues.
A recent poll suggests Crist does have some of the crossover appeal he'd need with Republicans and Democrats, at least now. A Quinnipiac poll last week tested Crist as an independent vs. Rubio as the Republican and Democrat Kendrick Meek and showed Crist at 32 percent, Rubio at 30 percent and Meek at 24 percent.
The poll shows Crist getting a sizeable 27% of Democrats and 30% of self-identified Republicans in building that lead.
The Quinnipiac poll showed Crist still has mostly favorable ratings from Floridians. Crist's name recognition, as the sitting governor, of course means that he doesn't have to spend money - which wouldn't be coming from the party, obviously - and time introducing himself to voters, and that takes away one hurdle many independent or third-party candidates often face. (A good example of this phenomenon is Joe Lieberman, who won in Connecticut.)
It's worth noting, though, that sizeable percentages in that poll said they still needed to learn more about both Rubio and Meek. However, those who do know them are favorable, so it appears both of them do have potential to grow from here and it re-emphasizes how long the timeframe is between now and primary day (in August) as well as the general election.Continue »
By Anthony Salvanto and Mark Gersh
Open seats often play a crucial role deciding control of the House in tight elections. Rep. Bart Stupak's retirement
adds another to small but important list of open seats in marginal or GOP-leaning districts that the Democrats must now defend without the power of incumbency.
It also reveals part of a larger story: the current Democratic majority owes much of its size to the party's recent ability to win some conservative and center-right districts, usually with more conservative-leaning and center-right Democratic candidates. (Many of these members, you'll recall, were spotlighted during the health care battles, recently and notably by Stupak and the compromise on abortion, and the Democratic Blue Dogs' fiscal concerns over the public option.)
Because the power of incumbency is generally so strong in congressional elections (voters usually dislike Congress as a whole but like their own congressman), representatives such as Stupak win even while districts otherwise shift partisanship or is competitive in other races.
But retirements of such members make it harder for Democrats to hold the seats - and their majority - because the district is marginal or leans right.
In 2008, Stupak was easily re-elected with 65 percent of the vote while President Obama just narrowly carried the district 50 percent to 48 percent. Now without Stupak on the ballot, based simply on partisan voting the district should be competitive between two new candidates.
Democrats will now have at least 16 open seats to defend in the fall and most profile as competitive districts. And at least ten are in either marginal or downright hostile territory for Dems; districts that either John McCain carried in '08 or were marginally for Mr. Obama.
These districts, opening because of retirements or holders seeking higher office, leave the Democrats vulnerable.
And up in New England, Paul Hodes' leaving the NH-2 to run for higher office and Bill Delahunt's retirement from MA-10 offer some potential for turnovers, too.
Anthony Salvanto is CBS News Elections Director. Mark Gersh is Washington Director, National Committee for an Effective Congress, and a CBS News Consultant.
What just a week ago looked like an intriguing match-up between Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, and former Republican Sen. Dan Coats has now changed dramatically (if temporarily) with Bayh's announced retirement.
Bayh had entered the year as a proven winner even against a tough GOP headwind, having won re-election in 2004 with 62 percent of the vote while George W. Bush was handily taking the state that year. Without him or a ready-made successor in the race, Coats stands as a known name in Indiana politics, who has won statewide office here - a starting position most would envy.
This week's State of the Union was a policy speech but also, perhaps, the unofficial kickoff of a long election year… and for many of the senators who sat in the chamber, there'll be plenty of hot races to follow in the months to come.
To start by putting the 2010 elections in some context: Senate Democrats come into this year buffeted by the Massachusetts turnover, after being on quite a roll over the last two cycles.
In what is usually a solid-blue Democratic state Scott Brown shook the political world – and the U.S. Senate – by capturing for the GOP the Massachusetts seat long held by Ted Kennedy. Overcoming a 3 to 1 Democratic registration advantage on the voter rolls, and not long removed from an easy Obama win in the state, Brown's winning campaign themes found resonance by hitting at the ways of Washington, and opposition to the Democrats' health care legislation.
As votes still were coming in, it appeared Brown did fairly well in the working class areas outside Boston, the non-affluent suburbs, and better than some expected in the western parts of the state. Given the high turnout in the rest of the state, Coakley did not get the turnout she would have needed in Democratic strongholds to make up the difference.
Enough Democrats stayed home for Jon Corzine's re-election bid, while Independents and Republicans rallied in that usually-Democratic state. The Independents who did show up in New Jersey went overwhelmingly for Republican Chris Christie (60 percent - 30 percent); Obama had won Independents there in '08. The '09 New Jersey electorate was a little less proportionally Democratic than it had been in '08 (41 percent vs. 44 percent) and, as is often the case in off-year and special elections, smaller overall.
In Massachusetts, there are enough Republican-voting Independents to make this close or tilt it to Scott Brown (who's campaigning as an outsider, but also as the would-be 41st vote against the Democrats' health care bill) though that's particularly so if it is a lower- or lopsided-turnout election.
Consider: while only 12 percent of voters are registered as Republicans, 17 percent called themselves such in 2008, and John McCain got much more than that in total vote share, 36 percent. In doing so McCain drew 40 percent of Massachusetts' Independents. It wasn't enough for him, but it suggests that the numbers are there if they show up and Democrats don't, and of course more so if some Democrats back Brown.
It's the middle of January and this isn't a time people are used to voting or surrounded by other political information, so we might normally expect turnout to be much lower than in a presidential election, and maybe lower than a midterm. (Public polling in the race has offered a mix of results. That uncertain turnout could make this a tougher place to poll, as voters vacillate on whether they'll go out, or the electorate becomes harder to estimate.)
It's become cliche in special elections to say turnout is key, but some cliches got that way because they're true.
Nelson Will Vote to Begin Health Debate; What Will Landrieu, Lincoln Do?
Key Provisions of the Senate Health Care Bill
Washington Unplugged: Reid Seeks Momentum in Health Debate
CBSNews.com Special Report: Health Care
5408401Lincoln (at left) not only represents a red state, but one that got even more Republican in 2008 from 2004 (one of the few that did). She needs to be mindful of those Republican voters: one in five of her backers in 2004 had also backed then-President Bush's reelection. To win that race, Lincoln outraised and outspent her opponent by six million dollars, but her Republican challenger still got 44 percent So Lincoln doesn't appear to have a lot of electoral margin for error with Arkansas voters.
"Off-year" electorates such as this one typically show lower turnout than midterms or presidential years (only 45 percent of registrants turned out for the last gubernatorial contest in 2005, compared to 75 percent who did in 2008) -- but it is the shape of the electorate that will matter just as much here, as well as what happens in a couple of key regions of the state that have led the state from reliably Republican to toss-up in recent years.
Its most recent occupant John McHugh held it since 1993 before leaving to become secretary of the Army, a move which brought on this special election November 3rd. But the news of late has been that many Republicans see this as something even more: a test for which kind of candidate the party ought to run - one more moderate or one traditionally conservative - and which is better prepared to beat a Democrat in an election.