• ME-Sen: Well, well, well. After a surprisingly quiet 15 months, Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine has decided to make a stink. First came his vote Wednesday against cloture for the Paycheck Fairness Act, claiming it would hurt businesses and making him the only non-Republican to oppose the legislation. (Yes, even Joe Manchin voted in favor.) The bill failed.
Now King is saying, much as he did throughout 2012 when he was running for the Senate, that he might caucus with the GOP come 2015. When King finally did decide to join the Democrats two years ago, he was quite naked in admitting he did so because the party had retained its majority in the Senate, meaning more perks for him.
So if the chamber winds up in a 50-50 split following the elections this fall—a very real possibility—King could control the balance of power and demand, well, a king's ransom. Of course, if the GOP wins control outright, he might just bolt simply so he can get his pick of plum committees. Principled Angus King is not.
But he also doesn't seem to understand how far to the left of the Republican Party he is. King's not especially liberal—looking at Progressive Punch scores, he's the 47th-most liberal member of the Senate, with a lifetime score of 72 out of 100 on "crucial votes." But the most left-leaning GOP senator, King's fellow Mainer Susan Collins, rates just a 28. King would be extremely out of place among the Republicans, and for that reason, he's probably full of bluster about this whole caucus switching nonsense.
Of course, he could also just change his voting habits dramatically—and since Angus King's number one priority is Angus King, you can't rule out that possibility.
• AR-Sen, -Gov: Hmm. So we've got a new poll of the Arkansas Senate race from an outfit called Opinion Research Associates that finds Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor with a gaudy 48-38 lead on GOP Rep. Tom Cotton. (The survey was commissioned by Give Arkansas a Raise Now, a group that supports a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage.) It's an understatement to say that these are by far the best numbers Pryor's ever seen. The highest he's ever been is 46, and his largest lead this year has been 3 points, so what gives?
Well, ORA doesn't have much of a web presence, and we don't have any entries for them in our polling databases covering the last three cycles. An old pollster accuracy scorecard compiled by SurveyUSA rated the firm 57 out of 63 in terms of mean error, but that dates back all the way to 2007.
What we do know, though, is that nameless Democratic operatives are trying to send a message that Pryor's in better shape than the public polling has indicated. Indeed, writes Jessica Taylor, they feel "better about Pryor than even other vulnerable incumbents, privately noting they've never had a poll where he's been down." And a new public poll from Hendrix College did in fact paint a better picture for Pryor than any he'd seen in some time. (In fact, that's the survey alluded to above that had him up 46-43 on Cotton.)
The NRSC also took time on Thursday to pen a memo pushing back against ORA's poll, calling it "pure hogwash." It's pretty unconvincing, though, and mostly focuses on unskewing the numbers based on the sample's partisan composition, which favors Democrats by 12 points. That margin is indeed in excess of what recent exit polls have shown (5 points in 2010, 4 in 2008), but it's always risky to try to rejigger polls in this manner.
Still, a lead like this for Pryor is comparable to, say, where Jeanne Shaheen stands against Scott Brown (see our new NH-Sen item below), so these numbers merit a great deal of skepticism. But if the NRSC wants to tell a different story, it simply has to release polling of its own. How hard can that be?
P.S. ORA also has numbers on the governor's race. Democratic ex-Rep. Mike Ross leads Republican ex-Rep. Asa Hutchinson 45-39.
• IA-Sen: The Senate Majority PAC is deploying a new ad in an attempt to undo some of the damage Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley did to himself with his remark dismissing Sen. Chuck Grassley as "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school." The spot features a couple of authentic-looking Hawkeye farmers who say that "family farmers like us know" Braley, whose parents "met at a farm community event." They go on to cite Braley's support for farmers, including his leadership "to pass the new farm bill" and on renewable fuels. The size of the buy is $204,000.
• NC-Sen: We're accustomed to thinking of the Kochtopus as one sprawling Cthulhian terror, all operated by a central brain box anchored at the bottom of the ocean, but sometimes, individual tentacles get ideas of their own. That's apparently what happened with that bizarre ad the 60 Plus Association ran attacking a whole bunch of senators in both parties (chief among them Democrat Kay Hagan) for supporting a bipartisan plan to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 60 Plus has received at least $16 million in Koch money, but according to the AP, "the Kochs' political advisers" were "frustrated" by the ad,
Addressing the controversy, 60 Plus' spokesperson stressed the group's independence, saying, "No one is putting words in our mouths. This is an ad that comes from us." And under normal circumstances, he's right: Donors shouldn't be able to dictate what recipients of their largesse do. But of course, the Kochs are no ordinary donors, and the limb that is 60 Plus risks getting sliced off if they don't toe the party line. It may also be why Freedom Partners, the cash-distributing organization at the top of the pyramid that the Kochs do explicitly control, is now taking an active role in running ads itself. If you're Charles and David Koch, there's no reason not to cut out the middleman.
• NH-Sen: A new PPP poll for the League of Conservation Voters finds Republican Scott Brown trailing Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen 49-41, the same margin the firm saw in February, when Shaheen led 47-39. Brown also remains pretty unpopular, with favorables of just 35 positive to 49 negative.
As Tom Jensen points out, back in September, he stood at an even 40-40 split, so his rollout to New Hampshire voters hasn't exactly gone very well. What's more, on the eve of his loss to Elizabeth Warren in 2012, Brown managed a gaudy 52-36 job approval score, so he's starting off this race in a much worse place. Shaheen, meanwhile, has a 47-46 approval rating—not awesome, but better than Brown's current numbers.
• OK-Sen-B: Just ahead of the filing deadline, state Sen. Constance Johnson has decided to run in the special election for Tom Coburn's Senate seat. That gives Democrats their first (and likely only) notable candidate in the race, but no party member has won a Senate seat in Oklahoma since David Boren last did so in 1990.
• AR-Gov: Republican ex-Rep. Asa Hutchinson has radically changed his messaging in his newest ad. In his first spot, Hutchinson rather unusually claimed to have a bipartisan desire to "hear the other side, so we can pull together," which is the kind of thing you almost never see in a Republican ad. Evidently that approach wasn't succeeding, though, because Hutchinson is now touting his conservatism, saying he'll "stand up to Washington liberals like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi" and adding that he's "fought for conservative ideals" his whole life.
• MD-Gov: Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown's newest ad focuses on his son Jonathan, who came into his family through adoption. Brown uses his experience to discuss how "adoption and foster care can transform lives," as statistics flash on screen to show the efforts Maryland has made on behalf of children in need.
• PA-Gov: Here's an interesting new piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer that goes deep into Democrat Tom Wolf's business record. Wolf has prominently featured his cabinetry company, the Wolf Organization, in his ads, calling it a success story, and the wealth he accumulated from it has powered his campaign.
The complete picture is more complicated, though, and the privately held firm has lost half its value in recent years, thanks to the Great Recession and taking on too much debt. Wolf helped keep his company from going under, though, and one investment manager says that Wolf maintains a reputation as "a well-respected guy who has been successful in building his business." But one question raised by all this is whether Wolf, who had to take out a $10 million loan to self-fund his campaign, has sufficient personal resources to last him past the primary.
• RI-Gov: A new Brown University poll of Rhode Island's Democratic primary for governor finds state Treasurer Gina Raimondo leading Providence Mayor Angel Taveras 29-26, with attorney Clay Pell at 10. Brown's prior poll in October, before Pell entered the race, had Raimondo ahead 43-34, but it received heaps of criticism, not least because the sample somehow had more Republicans than Democrats! It's not clear what the breakdown is this time, though.
• CA-33: In a follow-up to Democratic attorney David Kanuth's surprising announcement that he raised $800,000 in just two months in his bid for Rep. Henry Waxman's open seat, Kanuth says there was no self-funding involved.
• IA-01: State Rep. Pat Murphy is now the second candidate in the 1st District Democratic primary to go up on the air, following Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon. Murphy's ad is of the intro/biographical variety, discussing the four kids he raised with his wife and his priorities in the legislature (raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women).
• LA-05: State GOP chair Roger Villere, after reportedly getting ignored via private channels, is now publicly calling on Rep. Vance McAllister to resign. Gov. Bobby Jindal wants him gone, too, so it's truly hard to see how McAllister survives at this point.
Meanwhile, ex-Rep. Rodney Alexander, who resigned himself last fall (to take a job with Jindal) is already entertaining the possibility of a comeback bid. But given how wounded McAllister is, and how many other Republican candidates are potentially interested in unseating him, it hardly seems like the GOP needs a savior to come out of retirement.
• Polarization: In case you needed one more alarming infographic demonstrating how much more polarized Congress has become over the last few decades, here's a pretty stark one, compiled by lobbying firm Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. In 1982, 344 House members fell in the gray area between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat; in 2013, only 4 did. The corresponding numbers dropped from 58 to 0 in the Senate during the same period.
However, these charts are based on National Journal rankings, which have always shown more members in the median area than other aggregators have. By contrast, DW-Nominate and Progressive Punch, both show that today the most liberal Republican is still more conservative than the most conservative Democrat, and that's been the case for a number of cycles now. So if anything, the picture is more stark than these charts depict.
In addition, DW-Nominate scores give you the advantage of being able to see how the polarization is so asymmetric—in other words, driven mostly by the Republican center of gravity moving further and further right. National Journal scores, which are always on the same 0-to-100 scale from cycle to cycle, can't show that. (David Jarman)