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FL-13: With the long-awaited special election to replace the late Rep. Bill Young today, all signs continue to point to an extremely tight race in Florida's swingy 13th District. A new PPP poll for the League of Conservation Voters finds Democrat Alex Sink edging Republican David Jolly 48-45, with Libertarian Lucas Overby at 6. With early voters (who comprise 60 percent of this sample), Sink has a wider 52-45 advantage, but among the 37 percent who say they plan to vote on Election Day, Jolly leads 45-41.

One key thing to note is that Overby only garners 3 percent from those who've already voted while 10 percent of those who haven't cast ballots yet say they plan to back him. Republicans rightly fear that Overby will eat into Jolly's share (American Crossroads even has Rand Paul making robocalls asking people not to vote Libertarian), but the spread between Overby's actual support and putative support highlights how third-party candidates typically see their performance erode when it comes time for voters to pull the lever. If some Overby partisans keep shifting toward Jolly, that means this contest is even closer than PPP's numbers make it appear.

And the apparent Democratic improvement in the share of pre-election ballots cast, according to Pinellas County officials, doesn't look quite as impressive as it did earlier on. Republicans mailed in 43 percent of absentee ballots versus 38 for Democrats, while Democrats cast 46 percent of all in-person early votes, compared to 38 for Republicans. But only around 5,200 early vote were cast in total, compared to 117,000 absentees, giving the GOP an overall 42-39 edge. That's only a touch better for Team Blue than 2012, when Republicans had a 41-37 advantage.

As we've mentioned many times, Barack Obama carried the district that year, but by a very small 50.1 to 48.6 percent margin. Election watchers know that in off years, Democratic performance typically drops compared to presidential years, so Sink can afford very little falloff from Obama's score. In 170 elections held in 2013, Democrats ran behind Obama by an average of 6 percent and did better than the president just 16 percent of the time—and that was mostly before "if you like it, you can keep it" helped curdle sentiment even more sharply against the White House. More recent legislative special elections in Virginia have shown just how brutal the dropoff has been.

Under normal circumstances, Democrats would be at a serious disadvantage in race like this one, just thanks to the timing. Add in Obamacare and the handicap becomes even more severe. But fortunately for Sink, Republicans nominated a Washington lobbyist in Jolly, and Democrats have been able to taint him with D.C.'s stench. Sink's also outraised Jolly by a huge margin, though outside groups have helped make up the shortfall. The fact that she's kept the race this close is actually quite remarkable, all things considered.

A month ago, we felt that Sink still had a small edge thanks to her strong fundraising and the fact that she carried this district (albeit narrowly) in her 2010 run for governor. But with the election upon us, it looks like this race is now balanced on a knife's edge. As a result, Daily Kos Elections is moving this contest from Tossup/Tilt Democratic to pure Tossup.

Be sure to join us for our liveblog Tuesday night after polls close at 7 PM ET to see how it all turns out.


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AK-Sen: Democratic Sen. Mark Begich has released his first TV ad of the 2014 campaign and, in a rare move, he's directly going after the Koch brothers, whose front group, Americans for Prosperity, has been blitzing Begich for some time now. A narrator starts off by attacking AFP's two ads, one (about Obamacare) for featuring a "D.C. actress," the other (on a carbon tax) for getting tagged as false by fact-checkers.

The spot then switches gears and features a number of ordinary people (who undoubtedly actually are Alaskans) complaining that the "billionaire Koch brothers" are behind the attacks. Referring to a recent story about the Kochs closing down an important oil refinery in Fairbanks, these citizens (in pastiche form) say: "They come into our town, buy our refinery, just running it into the ground, leaving a mess." One man concludes: "I don't go down to tell them what to do. I expect them not to come up to Alaska to tell us what to do."

It's an interesting approach, and it dovetails with Senate Majority Harry Reid's recent efforts to turn the Koch brothers toxic by accusing the GOP of suffering from a "Koch addiction." (It's pronounced like the soda, not like the late New York mayor.) And in fiercely independent Alaska, where outside meddling is looked upon with grave askance, it could very well work. There's no word on the size the buy.

AR-Sen: A new poll from Democratic pollster Hickman Analytics (conducted, according to Politico, for "a non-partisan client") finds Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor tied with his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, at 46 apiece. And when a trio of minor candidates are included (a Libertarian, a Green, and an independent), Pryor actually leads 40-37 (the indie, Rod Bryan, takes 6, though he won just 2 percent in a 2006 bid for governor). However, to give you a sense of the serious headwinds Pryor faces, he trails a generic Republican 47-39.

It's also worth noting that Hickman's one publicly released poll in 2012, taken just a few weeks before Election Day, had Democrat Bob Kerrey trailing Republican Deb Fischer just 50-45 in the Nebraska Senate race. Fischer went on to win by 16.

CO-Sen: Rasmussen: Sen. Mark Udall (D): 42, Cory Gardner (R): 41.

GA-Sen: Crazy-man Paul Broun—the "evolution is lies from the pit of hell" guy—is the man Democrats would very, very badly like to see win the Republican nomination for Georgia's open seat Senate race. And whaddya know, a new PPP poll for progressive group Better Georgia shows him leading the pack, in a big jump from last August (shown in parentheses):

Rep. Paul Broun: 27 (19)
Rep. Phil Gingrey: 14 (25)
Rep. Jack Kingston: 13 (15)
Businessman David Perdue: 12 (5)
Former SoS Karen Handel: 9 (13)
Activist Derrick Grayson: 3 (3)
Undecided: 23 (20)
This is actually the first survey to show Broun with a meaningful lead, though it's not entirely clear how he's gotten there (if this poll is accurate). The primary is not until May 20, and candidates have only recently begun advertising statewide—and Broun hasn't yet been among them. It's easy to imagine that Broun, as the most extreme true believer in the GOP field, has an appeal his opponents lack, but he's fared poorly on the fundraising front and won't have an easy time maintaining his advantage once the campaign kicks into high gear.

Still, in a race with five legitimate candidates, tea party enthusiasm may be enough to power Broun to a spot in the July 22 runoff, which would be held if no candidate reaches 50 percent in the first round of voting. And in the world of Republican politics, crazy can often beat money.

Interestingly, though, Broun actually fares best against the lone Democrat in the race, non-profit founder Michelle Nunn. Here's how Nunn performs versus each Republican, though Better Georgia for some reason did not include Perdue. Again, August's trendlines are in parentheses:

38-38 vs. Rep. Paul Broun (41-36)

42-40 vs. Rep. Phil Gingrey (41-41)

43-39 vs. ex-SoS Karen Handel (40-38)

44-41 vs. Rep. Jack Kingston (40-38)

All the movement is very small, as you can see. Even Nunn's 5-point net drop against Broun just isn't meaningful when the race still has barely begun and the proportion of undecided voters is so high. It's those undecideds, though, that are troublesome for Nunn: They went for Mitt Romney by a 48-33 margin in 2012, even though Romney only won Georgia as a whole by 8 points.

Convincing enough of these voters to pull the lever for a Democrat this year will be a top priority for Nunn, which is why the prospect of Republicans nominating Broun looms so large. He's radioactive enough that some Romney voters simply won't want to support him, and Nunn will need that kind of crossover support to have a chance. And if this new poll is anything to go by, she may get her shot.

KY-Sen: With Kentucky's primary coming up on May 20, Matt Bevin had better make a move soon. A late February poll from Public Opinion Strategies for the pro-Mitch McConnell group Kentuckians for Strong Leadership shows the Senate minority leader beating back his tea partying opponent 61-23. That's pretty much right around McConnell's average lead in all the polling to date.

In 2006, three months before the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut, Joe Lieberman held a 65-19 lead over Ned Lamont, according to Quinnipiac. But by two months out—the same timeframe Bevin is now working with—Lamont had dramatically closed the gap to a 55-40 Lieberman edge. Time's running out.

MT-Sen: Even though former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger said he might drop out of the Democratic primary for Senate after Gov. Steve Bullock tapped Lt. Gov. John Walsh to replace ex-Sen. Max Baucus after Baucus resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China last month, Bohlinger has decided to stay in the race after all. While early polling had shown a competitive contest, Walsh now has the advantage of incumbency, and he also has far more money. To date, he's raised $583,000, versus just $22,000 for Bohlinger. Rancher Dirk Adams, who has self-funded a little bit, is also running.

OK-Sen-B: A new mystery group called Oklahomans for a Conservative Future is spending some real money touting former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon in the GOP primary, but they've left almost no footprint online. So far, they've shelled out $200,000 for a TV ad and $100,000 on mailers, but the organization doesn't have a website or a YouTube account. Shannon is running against Rep. James Lankford in the special election for Sen. Tom Coburn's seat.


CA-Gov: Republican ex-Rep. George Radanovich has (wisely) decided not to run for California governor next year.

IA-Gov: Selzer & Co.'s latest poll for the Des Moines Register finds Republican Gov. Terry Branstad leading Democratic state Sen. Jack Hatch by a 44-29 spread, continuing a strange downward trend for the incumbent. Last June, he was up 55-27, a margin that had dropped to 52-29 by December. Hatch hasn't gone anywhere, of course, but what makes no sense is that Branstad's approval rating has gone up since last time, from 58-34 to 63-30. So a 9-point net increase in approvals is matched by an 8-point net drop in the horserace matchup. That's just inexplicable.

OH-Gov: Ohio's Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, has once again tried to deal a blow to the Libertarian Party, this time by knocking their gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Earl, off the ballot for fairly technical reasons. But Husted, who seems to be carrying water for his own party here, has lost two other legal battles against the Libertarians so far this cycle, and the Libs say they'll appeal. In 2010, Earl took almost 5 percent on the Libertarian line in Husted's own race for secretary of state; it wasn't enough to affect the outcome there, but if this year's contest for governor is closer, Earl could undermine GOP chances of holding the seat.


CA-17, -15: If Democratic Rep. Mike Honda had any shot at ensuring a November general election face-off with Republican physician Vanila Singh instead of fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, his odds just got a bunch steeper. That's because another Republican, tech recruiting executive Joel Vanlandingham, just got into the race (as did an independent Google attorney Vinesh Singh Rathore), making it much harder for Singh to sneak past Khanna in June's top-two primary. If Vanlandingham proves to be an utter Some Dude, though, Singh could still potentially pull it off.

On the flipside, Rep. Eric Swalwell, who faces a challenge from another Democrat, state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, may have just lucked out. That's because one—and only one—Republican did wind up filing in the 15th District, Alameda County GOP vice chairman Hugh Bussell. Given that this seat went for Barack Obama by a 68-30 margin, Bussell could definitely hoover up enough Republican votes to beat Corbett in the primary.

Swalwell also just earned the formal endorsement of the state Democratic Party, beating Corbett 37 votes to 24. The move was expected after Swalwell's strong performance in preliminary caucuses last month, and it gets him the party's official seal of approval on sample ballots that get sent out to voters, as well as the right to declare himself the endorsee in any of his own campaign materials. That can be a key difference-maker in the top-two primary system.

CA-31: Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar also received the California Democratic Party's formal endorsement, prevailing over attorney Eloise Reyes by a wide 74-18 margin. He led 67-16 in the first round, though, meaning that a couple of recent high-profile endorsements for Reyes didn't wind up affecting the calculus.

CA-36: Former Republican state Sen. Ray Haynes, who'd been considering a run for Congress since January, finally made his bid official right at the filing deadline. Haynes is campaigning as the conservative true-believer alternative to Assemblyman Brian Nestande, the establishment pick. Haynes is getting a late start, but Nestande's fundraising hasn't been strong and he's only banked $302,000 to date. Freshman Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz would certainly like it if Haynes could thwart Nestande in June's top-two primary, but even if Nestande does survive, an intra-party battle will likely drain his coffers.

FL-02: A new internal poll from Anzalone Liszt Grove for Democrat Gwen Graham finds her narrowly trailing GOP Rep. Steve Southerland, 42-40. That's very similar to numbers we saw last year from PPP and Clarity, though there's some other interesting data here as well. Southerland sports a middling 42-38 favorability score and a similar 46-41 job approval rating. Democrats also hold a 41-36 edge on the generic ballot, and Charlie Crist leads Gov. Rick Scott 46-43 in the governor's race.

That last matchup might actually be a bit of a cause for concern, though. In 2010, Democrat Alex Sink beat Scott 52-45 in the 2nd District, even as she narrowly lost the election. Statewide polling has shown Crist in a much stronger position than Sink was ever in, and while 2014 may not be shaping up as a terrific Democratic year, it's certainly a lot better than the brutal GOP wave of four years ago. It may well be that Sink had greater appeal in this conservative district than Crist does, but this is still something to watch out for.

FL-19: State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, one of the three leading contenders to succeed ex-Rep. Trey Radel in the April 22 special primary election, just earned the endorsements of two neighboring GOP congressmen: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Tom Rooney. Ex-state Rep. Paige Kreegel and businessman Curt Clawson are also running in this solidly red district.

NY-01: While state Sen. Lee Zeldin has the support of most of New York's GOP establishment (including the state Republican Party itself), a second high-profile Empire State politician has endorsed his primary rival, self-funding attorney George Demos: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Demos' first big backer was ex-Gov. George Pataki, which is a bit interesting, since Giuliani and Pataki were never known to be tight. But Liz Benjamin points out one of Demos' consultants has long worked for Rudy, the other for Pataki.

NY-21: Unhappy that local Democratic leaders have tried to anoint filmmaker Aaron Woolf as the party's nominee despite his flimsy ties to the North Country, former St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee chair Stephen Burke says that he, too, will run for the open 21st District. Burke, though, sounds like something of an odd duck (he calls himself a fiscal conservative and a "human liberal") and a perennial candidate, which is probably why the district's current county chairs all just reaffirmed their support for Woolf.

WV-03: Seems like just a formality, but the DCCC has added Rep. Nick Rahall to its incumbent-protection Frontline program. It's been evident for a long while that Rahall is in for his toughest election in a long time this fall, thanks to sharply accelerating demographic trends in his district, so his inclusion here is an obvious move.

Grab Bag:

Georgia: Filing closed Friday for the Peach State's May 20 primary. In races where no one clears 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will advance to a July 22 runoff. The state has publish a list of candidates by office.

Republicans control every statewide office, and most incumbents are seeking re-election. Gov. Nathan Deal faces a fellow statewide office holder, state Schools Superintendent John Barge, for renomination but the incumbent is expected to easily prevail. Dalton Mayor David Pennington is also running in the Republican primary. The winner will take on Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of Jimmy Carter. Daily Kos Elections rates the probable Deal-Carter November matchup as Likely Republican.

Republican incumbents for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, agriculture commissioner, insurance commissioner, and labor commissioner are all running, and none face any primary opposition. Democrats are fielding at least one candidate in each race. In the contest to succeed Barge for schools superintendent, nine Republicans and six Democrats are running.

Two-term Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring, and a number of notable Republicans are trying to take his place. In the mix are Reps. Jack Kingston, Paul Broun, and Phil Gingrey; former Secretary of State and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel; and former Dollar General chief executive David Perdue (who is also the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue). Two lesser-known Republicans bring up the rear. On the Democratic side, former non-profit CEO Michelle Nunn (the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn) is the clear favorite over her three primary foes. Daily Kos Elections rates the general election as Likely Republican.

Competitive primaries are expected in the races to replace Reps. Kingston, Broun, and Gingrey. All the action in each district is expected to be on the GOP side: All three districts are very Republican, and Daily Kos Elections rates all three as Safe Republican. In GA-01, six Republicans are running. Venture capitalist John McCallum and state Sen. Buddy Carter so far have the largest war chests: They are joined by state Rep. Jeff Chapman and three others.

In GA-10, none of the seven Republicans have stood out much from the rest of the pack. In GA-11, six Republicans are in. The best known is former Rep. Bob Barr, who is once again a Republican after serving as the Libertarian Party's 2008 Presidential nominee. Facing Barr are state House Majority Whip Ed Lindsay; state Sen. Barry Loudermilk; businesswoman Tricia Pridemore; and two Some Dudes.

Georgia's ten other House members are seeking reelection, and most should easily prevail. The only one who looks to be in any general election danger is GA-12 Democrat John Barrow. Five Republicans are competing to face Barrow in November: businessman and 2012 candidate Rick Allen; state Rep. Delvis Dutton; former congressional aide and 2008 nominee John Stone; nurse Diane Vann; and businessman Eugene Yu. The district went for Romney 55-44, but Barrow prevailed 54-46 that year after being heavily targeted. Daily Kos Elections rates this as Lean Democratic.

The only House member who looks to be facing a credible primary challenge is GA-04 Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson. DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown managed to out-raise Johnson in the last fundraising quarter, and looks to be sufficiently well-known to give the incumbent a real race. The district, which includes many of Atlanta's eastern suburbs, is Safe Democratic at 74-26 Obama. (Jeff Singer)

Texas: Last week, I wrote about how the lone pre-election poll taken just prior to the Texas primaries missed the fairway by a good bit and speculated as to the causes for error. In an interesting read, the sponsors of that poll, the Texas Tribune, conducted their own investigation.

The findings, which offer the reader a look deep inside their crosstabs, shows two probable factors, which lined up well with what we discussed last week. The poll was in the field more than two weeks prior to the election, and the Tribune notes that the comparably low-budget campaigns most candidates ran saved their resources until the last second. The pollsters also put a little blame on themselves, noting that they likely erred a bit in their assumptions about the composition of the primary electorate. (Steve Singiser)

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Tue Mar 11, 2014 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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