• NH-Sen: After months and months of head-fakes, teases, and dilly-dallying, former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown—who famously lost his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren two years ago—will apparently try and keep his political career alive one state to the north. Brown grew up in Massachusetts and served in both the state House and state Senate before his improbable special election victory in 2010 that sent him to the U.S. Senate, but now he's hiking up to New Hampshire to form an exploratory committee for a challenge to freshman Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
This wouldn't have even been an option for Brown were New Hampshire Republicans not in such disarray. But all of the highest-profile potential GOP candidates long ago gave up the idea of running against the well-funded and reasonably popular Shaheen, leaving a big opening. Brown, though, is as Boston as they come, so he's gone to great lengths to emphasize his thin Granite State ties. Amusingly, he once even called New Hampshire "a second home" because he was "born at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard"—which is actually located in Kittery, Maine.
In an attempt to solidify his standing, Brown and his wife relocated to New Hampshire, where they'd owned a vacation house, and sold their Massachusetts home late last year, all while claiming the move was for "strictly personal" (and not political) reasons. This sort of drawn-out game-playing wore very thin on local Republicans, who longed for a clear answer from the prevaricating Bay Stater, but undoubtedly all will soon be forgiven, because it's not like they have any better choices.
But can Scott Brown actually win? He certainly has strong name recognition; much of New Hampshire is in the orbit of the Boston media market, where he was always prominent during his short Senate tenure. And he's also a prolific fundraiser, so even with a late start, he shouldn't have trouble raising money. The polling, however, has been somewhat mixed and variable: In January, for instance, PPP showed Shaheen with just a 3-point lead, but last month, that had widened back out to 8 points. A couple of other recent surveys have found Brown back by double digits.
And, of course, there's the dreaded carpetbagger label. Sometimes it can prove deadly to a campaign, but often its importance gets exaggerated. New Hampshirites can be a bit prickly about their identity, though, forever in the shadow of their larger neighbor to the south. And while committed Republicans are apt to overlook Brown's origins, some independent voters (who make up the largest contingent of the New Hampshire electorate) may not feel as charitable. Indeed, Democratic allies have already run ads slamming Brown for "shopping for a Senate seat," suggesting that this may be a potent line of attack.
One thing is certain, though: At the very least, assuming Brown follows through on this whole "exploratory" business, Shaheen will have to work much harder than she would have against any of the Republican also-rans considering this race. And it's also possible that national Democratic groups will have to spend money on New Hampshire that they otherwise didn't anticipate having to spend. That will make life tougher for Democrats nationally, given that the party already faces a very difficult set of elections across the country on which control of the Senate depends.
But Scott Brown isn't running just to take one for the team. He almost surely has polling showing him with a path to victory, and this exploratory committee is very probably just some more kabuki, since he's unlikely to jump this far in only to jump back out (though you never know). Shaheen remains the favorite, but this won't be easy if Brown commits, and Democrats will have to remain vigilant in order to keep this seat blue.
We're once again implementing a schedule of regular race ratings updates, which you can expect on Fridays (assuming we have changes to make in a given week, which often won't be the case this early in the cycle). This week, we're changing seven ratings: three Senate, two gubernatorial, and two House. Overall, four are in favor of Democrats and three are in favor of Republicans. Read on for our explanations in each case.
• AR-Sen: Tossup to Lean R. For a long time, it's been evident that Sen. Mark Pryor is the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent up for re-election in 2014, and the reason is simple: demographics. Arkansas is simply playing catch-up with the rest of the South, which preceded it in galloping to the right. In 2010, five of the state's six members of Congress were Democrats; now Pryor is the last standing. And it wasn't merely that year's towering GOP wave that did the party in: Republicans took control of both chambers of the legislature in 2012, despite brand-new Democratic gerrymanders.
Republicans also landed a top-tier recruit in freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, a Harvard-educated attorney who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Army. Cotton's also been fortunate to avoid any tea party-fueled primary opponents. Pryor, meanwhile, is simply hampered by the fact that he sports a "D" after his name, and unhappiness over Obamacare is a difficult thing to contend with in Arkansas, given how red the state is.
The race certainly isn't over yet, and the national mood could still improve. But the polling has never been any good for Pryor, who is stuck in the low 40s at best. However, at this point, the incumbent is now the decided underdog, and if Pryor manages to win a third term, it would be an upset.
• KY-Sen: Likely R to Lean R. We've struggled with Kentucky's Senate race all cycle. On the one hand, the polls have shown Republican Senate Minority Leader pretty much tied with his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. On the other hand, it's Kentucky, an almost implacably red state on the federal level and one that's particularly hostile to Barack Obama. But it's possible for longtime politicians to wear out their welcome even in the most hospitable environs, and there's evidently a deep undercurrent of disgust toward McConnell among many voters.
Grimes is still not an especially experienced candidate, though she's shown some pretty serious fundraising chops. If the race were about her, she'd have no hope, but luckily for Grimes, it's really all about McConnell, and that's a serious problem for the incumbent—enough for us to move this to Lean R. At this point, though, McConnell's still the favorite, thanks to Kentucky's demographics, and Grimes has a much bigger hill yet to climb to get this race to tossup status, but it's not impossible.
• TX-Sen: Race to Watch to Safe R. Steve Stockman, we hardly knew ye. Visit again soon!
• HI-Gov: Safe D to Likely D. Hawaii is a notoriously difficult state to poll, but several different surveys have shown Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie with soft approvals and looking strangely weak for re-election. What's more, former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, the 2010 GOP nominee who'd been considering a rematch, quietly launched his campaign in recent weeks. Aiona somehow failed to net a single news story about his kick-off, and Abercrombie remains the favorite, but despite Hawaii's deep blue hue, this one bears watching.
Abercrombie also has a Democratic primary challenger, state Sen. David Ige, and even though Ige is little-known and doesn't have much money, polling has also shown him surprisingly close to the governor. An upset in the primary would almost be more remarkable, but again, Hawaii can be a confusing back of tricks, so keep an eye on this aspect of the race, too.
• WI-Gov: Likely R to Lean R. The Democrats' very disappointing performance in the 2010 Wisconsin recall had us soured on the party's chances of knocking off GOP Gov. Scott Walker in this fall's regularly scheduled election. But even though all the big names were scared off, Democrats managed to land a pretty solid recruit in Madison School Board member Mary Burke, who has the ability to self-fund. Polling has shown the race quite tight, and perhaps even more notably, the RGA has already started to advertise here on Walker's behalf. It could merely be a pre-emptive move rather than a true sign of worry, but even if it's the former, that still indicates there's something going on.
That said, the recall really seemed to polarize Wisconsin voters sharply in terms of their feelings about Walker, and it's very hard to imagine that anyone's truly undecided at this point. Still, this contest is feeling more competitive than we'd initially anticipated.
• CA-16: Likely D to Safe D. Democrat Rep. Jim Costa is one lazy sonofabitch, nearly losing in 2010 to an unheralded Republican and costing Democrats a seat in 2012 by refusing to run in the new district that contained the vast majority of his former constituents and instead seeking a safer seat. So he's not someone you can ever trust, which is why we started him off in the Likely D column this year. But even Costa probably can't screw this one up, given how feeble his Republican opponents look. Though don't worry: If it looks like he might, we'll be sure to change our rating back.
• WV-03: Lean D to Tossup. West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District is confounding. On the one hand, when it comes to state and local races, it's the most ancestrally Democratic of the state's three seats, and deeply so, even today. It was also Sen. Joe Manchin's best district in 2012; he won it 65-32. On the other hand, it's galloped rightward on the presidential level, going for Mitt Romney by a punishing 65-33 margin. The question for Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall was always where on the wide Manchin-Obama spectrum he'd fall this year.
Without Obama at the top of the ticket, it was plausible to imagine that the 3rd would return to form and embrace Rahall once again after his unusually close 8-point shave last cycle. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Republicans convinced state Sen. Evan Jenkins to switch parties, giving them their strongest candidate against Rahall in many a year, and a recent GOP poll showed Jenkins with a 14-point lead. He probably isn't up by that sort of margin, but Rahall glaringly refused to share his own internal polling data while merely insisting it didn't look like Jenkins'.
That's typically a big tell, the political equivalent of Sherlock Holmes' dog that didn't bark. Democrats haven't given up on Rahall yet, but as in Arkansas, the times are a-changin' in West Virginia. Rahall's going to have a very tough time remaining in office, but even if he does survive this fall, this seat will flip to the GOP before too long
• CO-Sen: According to Politico, Americans for Prosperity is reserving $850,000 in airtime in Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is up for re-election. The group isn't commenting, though, and they haven't released any ads yet.
• NC-Sen: Greg Brannon better not have been planning to self-fund his campaign a whole bunch. The tea partying physician and Republican Senate hopeful just got hit with a civil judgment awarding $450,000 to two investors he mislead about a tech company he helped create. (Brannon says he'll appeal.) Of course, we don't actually know how much Brannon is worth because—surprise—he's failed to file his personal financial disclosure forms, as required by law. I'm guessing, though, that a half-million bucks would be a fair chunk of change for him.
• MI-12: The odds of a competitive Democratic primary in Michigan's 12th District were already slim, and now they've grown slimmer. EMILY's List has endorsed activist Debbie Dingell, wife of retiring Rep. John Dingell.
• VA-10: Democratic attorney Richard Bolger has dropped out of the race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Frank Wolf and has endorsed Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, calling him the party's "strongest choice." Last month, college professor Karen Schultz also declined to run, making Foust the nominee by default. Republicans will conduct a so-called "firehouse" primary on April 26 to select their standard-bearer, with Del. Barbara Comstock looking like the front-runner.
• Census: We've written before about how the Census Bureau is starting to address the difficulties that result from asking about Hispanic origins on census forms in a separate question about ethnicity, rather than as part of their question on race. That forces Hispanics to select a racial category like "white," "black," "some other race," or two or more of the above, in addition to choosing "Hispanic" as an ethnic identity—a choice some may not want to make, or may simply find confusing.
Now it sounds like the bureau is actually moving ahead on plans to consolidate the topic into a single combined race and ethnicity question for 2020; they've done preliminary studies and will introduce it on the American Community Survey in 2016. (Question wording for the decennial count will need still congressional approval, though, so this could become a political football in the latter part of the decade.)
Initial research has been pretty encouraging: Using a combined question hasn't resulted in fewer people identifying as Hispanic, and it also hasn't diminished the number of persons identifying as both African-American and Hispanic (most commonly Dominicans), which was a particular concern. It did greatly reduce use of the catch-all "some other race" category to under 1 percent of respondents, and most beneficially, it decreased the overall number of people who simply didn't respond to the race and ethnicity questions at all. (David Jarman)