• House: A big reason why I don't typically pay a lot of attention to generic congressional ballot polls this far out is because there's often a lot of inconsistency in the data. So far this year, most reputable pollsters have given Democrats a small lead, but every so often, one has shown a much bigger gap. The latest is PPP, which put Dems up 47-40 in their most recent poll. Last month, the Washington Post found Democrats in front by 8 points, and Quinnipiac also once came up with a D+8 result earlier this year.
More recently, though, Quinnipiac found the parties tied, and NBC/WSJ put Dems up just 3. It would be tempting to get excited about the polls that show Democrats way out in front, but excluding the unreliable Rasmussen, HuffPo Pollster pegs Dems to an average lead of about 4 points or so. I wouldn't want to conclude the gap is any bigger than that unless and until we see a whole bunch of polls demonstrating that, rather than just the occasional optimistic survey.
• HI-Sen: Sen. Brian Schatz just picked up the endorsement of the 42,000-strong Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest public-sector union and an affiliate of AFSCME, adding to his long list of labor endorsements. Schatz faces Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the Democratic primary.
• MA-Sen: With the special election just a week away, here's another poll showing Democratic Rep. Ed Markey up in the low double digits over Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez, this time from UNH (for the Boston Globe). Markey has a 54-43 lead, which puts UNH in line with the YouGovs and New England Colleges of the world; meanwhile, there's another center of gravity among several pollsters (PPP, MassINC, Suffolk) who put it at a 7-8 point race. Either way, Gomez has never led in a single public poll, and time has pretty much run out for him to make a move.
The Senate Majority PAC is also out with a second spot hitting Gomez. It touches on themes we've seen in other Democratic ads (particularly claims that Gomez wants to cut Social Security), but in a first, it also directly compares him to Mitt Romney, saying that Gomez "supports the same economic policies" as the former Massachusetts governor and failed presidential candidate. SMP reportedly planned to spend $500,000 when it first got into the race, but according to reports, that's since been bumped up to $1 million.
• NC-Sen, -Gov: Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of PPP's new North Carolina poll is just how miserably voters view the legislature. Overall, lawmakers earn a horrific 20-56 approval rating, with even Republicans narrowly expressing negative feelings (36-40), thanks to their extreme conservative over-reach. Sen. Kay Hagan has to be quite pleased, since her only legitimate Republican opponent so far is state House Speaker Thom Tillis; she can drape every last unpopular piece of legislation around his neck like an anvil, and boy does she have a lot to work with.
First-term Gov. Pat McCrory is also no longer immune to the effects of the bills his fellow Republicans have been sending to his desk for his signature. His job approval rating has dropped to the lowest level he's seen in his brief tenure, 45-39, down all the way from 45-19 in January. It seems like McCrory has a built-in level of support at the 45 percent level, but as people get to know him, they universally seem to dislike him.
• NJ-Sen: Gov. Chris Christie wanted to avoid any entanglement with the race to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg to such an extreme that he decided to waste $12 million in taxpayer money to hold a special election three weeks before the regular November gubernatorial contest. So it's no surprise that he's treating fellow Republican Steve Lonegan, the likely GOP nominee in the special, as though he's got a particularly viral case of the cooties. Despite being up over 30 points in the polls, Christie wouldn't even endorse Lonegan, saying, "I've got my own campaign to run."
It probably also doesn't help that Lonegan ran against Christie in the 2009 primary and didn't hesitate to lambaste him at the time. The fact that Lonegan has virtually no hope in the special is also a big factor. Even Rasmussen shows Newark Mayor Cory Booker beating Lonegan handily, 50-33. Their look at the Democratic primary is also similar to what we've seen elsewhere, with Booker at 54, Rep. Rush Holt at 11, Rep. Frank Pallone at 8, and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver bringing up the rear at 5.
Speaking of the two main non-Booker candidates, both Holt and Pallone are reliable liberals and have amassed very similar voting records over the years, but columnist Herb Jackson has a good rundown on the few times they've parted ways on important roll calls. Jackson summarizes:
Holt, for example, voted against a bill in 2007 to prohibit job-based discrimination because of sexual orientation, saying he did not think the bill went far enough and should have included transgendered people and those with conflicted gender identity, as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people.Jackson also notes that Pallone's views on Israel are "in line" with AIPAC's, while Holt has been endorsed by J Street, a group formed as a liberal counterweight to AIPAC. So except for the estate tax vote, it looks like Holt has just the slightest bit of room to market himself as being to Pallone's left. But with Booker holding such dominant leads in the polls, it seems like Pallone and Holt may be waging a Community Chest fight over who gets to win that second prize in a beauty contest.
Pallone supported the discrimination ban and has also pressed Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The two also differed in December 2010 when tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush were about to expire. When a two-year extension of nearly all the breaks came up, Pallone voted yes, arguing the economy was too weak to sustain a tax increase. Holt voted no because he said he opposed extending tax breaks for the wealthy.
A decade earlier, however, their positions were reversed. When the House voted in 2000 to phase out the estate tax, Pallone voted "no" because of the added burden on working families. Holt voted "yes."
• IL-Gov: A new poll of various hypothetical Democratic gubernatorial primary matchups, from conservative pollster We Ask America, shows embattled Gov. Pat Quinn making some surprising gains. In a two-way matchup with state AG Lisa Madigan, Quinn now trails by "only" a 44-33 margin, a marked improvement from Madigan's devastating 51-26 edge in January. But against the newly announced Bill Daley, Quinn's margin has actually moved in the opposite direction, going from a 38-33 lead six months ago to narrow 38-37 deficit now.
In a potential three-way, though, things now look much more competitive overall, with Madigan at 32, Daley 22, and Quinn at 21; in January, it was Madigan 37, Quinn 20, and Daley 15. Capitol Fax's Rich Miller surmises that Daley got a bit of a bump thanks to his recent formal entry into the race, which is not hard to believe. He also speculates that a raft of bad headlines over various legislative failures for Madigan's father, longtime state House Speaker Mike Madigan, has hurt her, but that strikes me as somewhat more tenuous—I don't think most voters follow politics all that closely, though the Madigan name is unusually prominent in Illinois. I'd like to see PPP, which last took a look at the race back in November, check in with a confirmatory poll.
• MA-Gov: Donald Berwick, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid under Barack Obama, has officially announced his candidacy for governor, making him the second Democrat to do so. (Health care executive Joseph Avellone is already in the race.) Berwick became head of CMS through a recess appointment in 2010 but resigned the following year after intransigent Republicans made it clear they'd never confirm him permanently.
Meanwhile, another Democrat, state House Speaker Robert DeLeo, says he isn't ruling out a bid, though he doesn't sound very eager. DeLeo's counterpart in the upper chamber, state Senate President Therese Murray, is also mulling a run; she will be term-limited as president in 2015 and will have to decide if she wants to stay in the Senate.
• NY-Gov: I guess someone's got to run against Andrew Cuomo, and it seems like Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin figures it might as well be him. McLaughlin, from Rensselaer County near Albany, says he's "considering" a bid, though notably, he has $4,000 in his campaign account. (Cuomo has $22 million.) He's also probably best known for comparing Cuomo to Hitler after the governor rammed a new gun safety bill through the legislature earlier this year.
But while Cuomo can probably feel chuffed about his re-election prospects, the realities of governance are finally setting in. Siena's new poll (PDF) finds Cuomo at an all-time low in both favorability (58-35, down from 64-32 last month) and job approval (50-49, versus 52-47). Siena uses the excellent/good/fair/poor scale for approvals, though, which explains the big spread between those numbers and his favorability score. ("Fair" can mean too many things.) Cuomo's re-elects are also at their lowest ever, 52-41, but in the end, it's impossible to imagine New York Republicans putting up a real fight.
• TX-Gov: Unlike most other pollsters who have looked at the race, the University of Texas/Texas Tribune has found Gov. Rick Perry with large leads over AG Greg Abbott in a hypothetical Republican primary. Their latest numbers have Perry up 45-19, not much different from his 49-17 edge in March. PPP, by contrast, showed Perry ahead just 41-38 in January. Both men still have yet to formally announce their election plans, though.
• IL-03: Back in January, there was some scuttlebutt that Barack Obama might tap conservaDem Rep. Dan Lipinski as his next ambassador to the Vatican, but it's not to be. Instead, the president has nominated Ken Hackett, a former president of the Catholic Relief Services, to the post. (Hackett still faces Senate confirmation.)
• MN-01: Just days after state Sen. Jeremy Miller said no, state Rep. Mike Benson became the first Republican to formally announce a challenge to Rep. Tim Walz. Several others are looking at the race as well, though, including ex-state Sens. Al DeKruif and Mike Parry (who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination last year), Army vet Aaron Miller, and congressional staffer Jim Hagedorn, son of ex-Rep. Tom Hagedorn.
• PA-13: The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses just gave their endorsement to state Sen. Daylin Leach, his second labor get after the UAW gave him their backing last month. The nurses' union claims 5,000 members, though it's not clear how many reside in the 13th District.