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Leading Off:

AZ-04: Wow. Just wow. This story, which broke over the weekend, is simply amazing. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is running for Congress in the Republican primary in Arizona's 4th Congressional District and has a earned a national reputation for his strident stance against illegal immigration, reportedly threatened to deport a former lover if he refused to keep their relationship secret. That lover, a Mexican man named Jose, revealed his story to the Arizona New Times (along with many emails and texts), and I can only suggest that you click through and read the full account to get the entire picture. Babeu issued a statement saying that all of Jose's allegations were "false," except—in a move that seems calculated to serve as a smokescreen for the real issues here—he did confirm that he is gay.

This explosive story will without question not only have a big impact on Babeu's congressional bid, where he faces Rep. Paul Gosar and state Sen. Ron Gould for the GOP nomination, but may also affect his current position as sheriff. We will of course continue to follow all developments here closely.

Intro

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Senate:

FL-Sen: If the various components of this story had been dribbled out one by one—a tax lien here, a youthful bar brawl there—I'd have been inclined to write them each off as too boring and meaningless for the Daily Digest. But Marc Caputo's exhaustive look at GOP Rep. Connie Mack's long history of questionable finances and multiple violent incidents when he was younger brings the complete picture into full view and is worth a read. On one occasion when he was 21, Mack actually told a cop who was arresting him after he became abusive toward workers at a nightclub: "You don’t know who I am!" Another time, a few years later, he managed to provoke a bar fight with major league baseball player Ron Gant, then an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves. And that's just the rock-`em, sock-`em bits. There's more on the financial front as well, all of which serve to make Mack look like quite the entitled son of privilege.

MA-Sen (PDF): What if you released a poll any nobody believed it? That seems to have happened to Suffolk University, whose new survey of the Massachusetts Senate race rather implausibly shows Republican Sen. Scott Brown leading Democrat Elizabeth Warren by a 49-40 spread. It isn't just commentators on the left who think the poll—Suffolk's first since Warren's entry into the race—smells like an outlier; Dave Catanese reports that even Republicans (at least, his unnamed and unquoted sources) think the survey is bunk and that the race is a tossup. (Personally, I think "tossup" is generous to Brown, but we'll leave it at that.)

So what happened here? Well, to start with, Suffolk was one of the weaker firms in Nate Silver's 2010 pollster ratings, ranking 48th out of 62 in terms of accuracy. It's also true that some academic polling operations just have less experience—Suffolk, for instance, only appears to have polled about half a dozen times in 2011—and may rely on unpaid students to conduct interviews as part of coursework or major requirements.

But Suffolk's survey construction itself is a problem. They don't get to the actual head-to-heads until the 14th question (not counting the demographic questions they for some reason start the poll with), but what's worse is the content of some of the questions they ask first. Immediately preceding the ballot test, they ask open-ended questions about Brown and Warren which ask respondents to offer "the first word or phrase that comes to your mind" when they hear the candidates' names. Okay, maybe not the worst thing in the world, but then they ask "Does Elizabeth Warren have the experience to be a United States Senator?" and "Is Scott Brown a leader in the United States Senate, or a follower?" Questions like these prime respondents in unpredictable ways and can lead to weird results. It's why good pollsters put the head-to-heads as close to the top as possible and save these kinds of questions for the end. Otherwise you can end up with questionable results... which is exactly what appears to be the case here.

MI-Sen: The ridiculous name-game continues, as Clark Durant tries to rebrand his rival for the GOP nomination, Pete Hoekstra, from "Pete Spend-it-not" to "Pete Spends-a-lot." If you're wondering how much dumber politics can get, the answer is: a lot.

MO-Sen, MO-Gov: Republican recruitment in Missouri's two marquee statewide races this year, for governor and senator, has been a big bucket of fail to date. That's why, even at this late stage of the game, state Auditor Tom Schweich is still considering a gubernatorial bid—and now, according to PoliticMo, he's reportedly thinking about jumping into the Senate race, too. Eli Yokely notes, though, that Schweich backed off a Senate run last cycle, deferring instead to Roy Blunt, and he also explicitly promised to fill out his term as auditor, which doesn't end until 2014. So while he may have more chops than anyone currently running for either post, there are still good reasons why he may yet stay out.

VA-Sen: For what it's worth, even though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is airing ads attacking Democrat Tim Kaine in his race against Republican George Allen, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce says it plans to remain neutral.

Gubernatorial:

IN-Gov: Republican businessman Jim Wallace, whom Democrats have been hoping would throw in some of his own money and bang up Rep. Mike Pence on his way to the GOP nomination, may not have the chance after all. Wallace apparently failed to file enough signatures to get on the ballot and is standing is being challenged. Just from the bare facts in the AP's writeup, it doesn't look too good for him.

NC-Gov: Um, wow. I don't think I really want to touch this story about state Rep. Bill Faison's atrocious-sounding divorce, especially since an early version (since edited) included details about Faison's ex-wife wife's "claim that her husband gave her herpes." Yikes.

WA-Gov: In the second poll this week to feature Dem Rep. Jay Inslee down by a sizable margin, SurveyUSA shows Republican AG Rob McKenna leading 49-39. (Elway had McKenna up 45-36 a few days ago.) What's odd is that just a month ago, the spread was much smaller, with McKenna on top 46-43. The problem here is that pretty much nothing has happened over the last four weeks to account such a shift. But one thing I will point out, though, is that this newest poll is 23 D, 23 R and 55 I. A month ago it was 32-28-37. That's a huge swing, and what's more, the prior sample is a lot closer to reality—a majority of voters in Washington this year aren't going to be independents.

So why did the sample composition jump so dramatically? Do a quick side-by-side comparison of the crosstabs, and you'll notice that SUSA's changed something about their methods in the last month that would explain that. In January, they simply asked respondents to identify as Democrat, Independent, or Republican; in February, they offered many more categories: Strong Democrat, Democrat, Independent Leans Democrat, just plain Independent, and so on. In most states, that wouldn't make sense, but Washington doesn't have party registration (that's one of those weird things that otherwise-rational Washingtonians will fight to the death over, like not having an income tax), so this may be a more accurate reflection of the state's composition, as "party" is really just how they identify themselves in their heads. Still, changing the phrasing this way lets many people who usually vote along partisan lines to flatter themselves by considering themselves independent, so that would explain the increase. (David Nir & David Jarman)

House:

AZ-08: The conservative Citizens United Political Victory Fund is touting a poll by Wenzel Strategies aimed at boosting Republican Jesse Kelly, which shows the 2010 GOP nominee leading the primary field with 43%. State Sen. Frank Antenori is at 18 and sports broadcaster Dave Sitton is at 10. But beware of Wenzel: They poll for noted nutter website WorldNetDaily and also released a joke survey at the end of last cycle which showed veteran Dem Rep. Norm Dicks down four points a perennial candidate he wound up beating by 16.

Elsewhere in GOP-land, I don't think we'd ever heard of her before, but retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally is apparently also running, and while she may not rate a mention in Citizen United's poll, she managed to catch a bit of attention for going on Fox News and saying she wanted to "kick [Rick Santorum] in the jimmy" over his comments about women in combat.

FL-24: Wealthy businessman Rudy Moise is going to try again: In 2010, when the old 17th District came open because Kendrick Meek decided to run for Senate, he was one of nine candidates who ran in the Democratic primary to succeed in the incumbent. Though Moise spent a ton of his own money—$1.4 million—he only managed to pull in 16% of the vote, while state Sen. Frederica Wilson wound up winning with 35%. (Wilson went on to win the general in this heavily-Dem seat.) Now Moise has filed with the FEC and put up a website in the hopes of doing this cycle what he could not last cycle. I'd be surprised if he was any more successful this time, though.

IL-12: A month ahead of Illinois' primary, Democrat Chris Miller is dropping out of the primary and endorsing Former St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools Brad Harriman for the open 12th District seat.

KY-04: When the state legislature finally reached a deal on congressional redistricting a week ago, it also extended the filing deadline to Friday, Feb. 17. That allowed for at least one last-minute filer in the open 4th District, Republican attorney Marcus Carey, who joins a pretty crowded field hoping to succeed retiring Rep. Geoff Davis in this very red seat.

Grab Bag:

DFA: Progressive activist group Democracy for America just issued a whole bunch of endorsements as part of its "Grassroots All-Stars" program. You can see the whole list at the link.

House (PDF): Democracy Corps (through Greenberg Quinlan Rosner) is out with one of its frequent nationwide polls, and they're showing the Democrats with a 47-45 lead in the "named Congressional ballot." (That names the incumbent candidate in the respondent's district but not the opponent, so it's a somewhat better method than a standard generic ballot.) That's not really the main point of the poll, though, and the whole memo is well worth a read, with its deep dive into the guts of the Dems' significant resurgence in the last month. This surge has a variety of roots forming a perfect storm: consolidation among the "rising American electorate" (i.e., Democratic base) voters, improved feelings about the economy, indies turning away from Romney (now that he's finally become a target), and a broader collapse in the Republican brand (where the issue of contraception is leading the way down). (David Jarman)

Michigan: In PPP's Michigan odds-and-ends, they show Democrats up by a hefty 48-34 on the generic legislative ballot, which Tom Jensen thinks could presage Team Blue taking back the state House this fall. When PPP last looked at this question back in August, the edge was 47-36 for Dems.

Party Fundraising: It looks like the Dem party committees had a good month last month: The DCCC took in $6 million, the most it's ever raised in a January, and has $13.1 mil cash-on-hand, while the DSCC pulled down $5 mil and has $15.4 mil in the bank. On the GOP side, the NRCC raised $4.8 mil in January and has $17.6 mil in the kitty, while the NRSC NRSC brought in $4.2 mil and has $13.4 mil cash-on-hand.

Redistricting Roundup:

OR Redistricting: It's been a while in coming—hey, the man has a day job—but jeffmd has finished calculating presidential results for Oregon's new congressional districts. You can find Jeff's complete calculations at the link, and you should also bookmark our full list of pres-by-CD numbers here.

TX Redistricting: Texas's primary has been "unofficially" re-set for May 29, but that, of course, is always subject to change, particularly since, as Michael Li explains, "the chances of an agreement appear virtually nil."

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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