We are, at this stage of the game, nearly four months into the 2010 election cycle, which began in earnest on a January night in Massachusetts.
Tuesday night might be the most high-interest night in the cycle since that winter evening in the Bay State, as five states head to the polls. In every single one of those states resides at least one (and often several) contests which are intriguing to the political junkies of America.
What follows is your clip-and-save guide to the electoral fight card for Tuesday the 18th. In one night (well, one week, since the all-mail action in Hawaii runs until Saturday), the action will travel across about six time zones and over 4900 miles. In one night, there are literally dozens of races worth keeping at least one eye on.
Thanksgiving Day for horse-race afficionados is right around the corner...
The main event in Arkansas, of course, is the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. Orange to Blue candidate Bill Halter goes to battle with incumbent Blanche Lincoln. Lincoln's campaign heading to the wire (with, sadly, the complicity of the White House), seems to be predicated on hoping that base Democrats in the state have a severe dearth of short-term memory. She has also placed a lot of stock in attacks on Halter that were so sketchy that a declared supporter of hers, Arkansas News columnist John Brummett, actually switched his vote as a result. The final DK/R2K poll in the state showed Lincoln leading, but beneath the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Indeed, 50% may well be the number to watch on Tuesday, as a third Democratic candidate (DC Morrison) is expected to score in the high single-digits.
There is a Republican primary here for the U.S. Senate, as well. Congressman John Boozman has been the favorite since he declared for the seat several months ago. In a multi-candidate field, however, he too, could face a runoff.
The Boozman candidacy, plus two potentially damaging Democratic retirements, have created a raft of primaries at the House level, many of which are likely to head to a runoff. In AR-01, the chief of staff of the retiring Marion Berry (Chad Causey) has been the leading fundraiser on the Dem side, but two separate polls have put prosecutor Tim Woolridge out front. Also keep an eye on state legislators Steve Bryles and David Cook. A run-off here is extremely likely. Rick Crawford seems likely to be the GOP standard bearer. In neighboring AR-02, we get another example on the Democratic side of retiring Congressman's CoS (David Boling) versus state legislators galore (former House Speaker Robbie Wills and state senator Joyce Elliott). On the GOP side, there will be a winner Tuesday night, as establishment pick Tim Griffin (a protege of Karl Rove) has a 30-to-1 cash-on-hand edge over restauranteur Scott Wallace, who makes up his lack of cash with some big local endorsers (including former Governor Mike Huckabee and former Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt). A poll by GOP pollsters The Political Firm showed Elliott up narrowly on the Democratic side, and the two GOPers deadlocked. There is also a GOP primary in AR-03, but that race is not likely to be competitive in the general. Rogers Mayor Steve Womack is the leading candidate, but is unlikely to win without a runoff.
There is only one race in Hawaii, but it is bound to get a load of national attention.
Tuesday This week marks the special election to replace outgoing Democratic Rep. Neal Abercrombie, who left his seat in HI-01 in order to focus on his gubernatorial candidacy (it is, in his defense, fairly impossible to work in DC and campaign for an office in Hawaii). The all-mail balloting has been a success of sorts, with over 90,000 ballots already returned to district offices more than a week in advance of the deadline.
The unusual format of the election seems to have all-but-predestined the outcome in this district. Hawaii special elections are pure plurality elections, meaning that the most votes wins...period. If, as happened this year, there is only one establlished Republican candidate, but two established Democratic candidates, there is an artificial boost for the GOP standard bearer. It is extremely likely, therefore, that the combined vote of the five GOP candidates (led by Honolulu city councilman Charles Djou) will be far less than the combined vote of the five Democratic candidates (led by former Congressman Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa). But it also extremely likely that Djou will be elected. Sensing this, the DCCC pulled up stakes last week, stopping a string of ads designed to drive
up down Djou's favorables (thanks to citizenx for the correction, and apologies to the DCCC for suggesting they had switched sides).
The results will not be announced until May 22nd, after the walk-in and vote-by-mail results are tallied (a big hat-tip to commenter wahineslc for the correction).
All eyes in the Bluegrass state are on the U.S. Senate, where there are competitive and intriguing primaries to be had on both sides of the ballot. On the Democratic side, it is progressive vs. conserva-Dem as Orange to Blue candidate Jack Conway, the state Attorney General, fights 2004 Senate nominee and Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo. Conway has ridden a wave of late momentum, amid late polling from both DK/R2K and SurveyUSA showing the race within the margin of error. Conway banked a solid late endorsement in the person of popular former Senator Wendell Ford. Kentucky is a bit of an iconoclast among the Southern states in that the state does not utilize runoff elections. Therefore, the winner will be known Tuesday night.
On the GOP side, the man that the Republican Party recruited to run for this slot is all-but-certain not to be the GOP nominee. Trey Grayson, the Kentucky Secretary of State, appears to be the latest victim of the burgeoning civil war in the GOP, having fallen behind physician Rand Paul (the son of Texas Congressman Ron Paul) by double digits.
At the House level, there are a pair of competitive GOP primaries to keep an eye on, as both John Yarmuth (KY-03) and Ben Chandler (KY-06) are bound to get at least a little attention from the Republican Party come the Fall, given their widely expanded target list.
Unlike most of the states on Tuesday's fight card, Oregon's most intriguing race is in the battle for Governor, not Senator. On the Democratic side, it is largely a two-way battle between former Governor John Kitzhaber and former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. Polls show Kitzhaber with a substantial edge, but the Bradbury campaign seems confident about their ground game, and are wondering aloud if a late media buy by Kitzhaber is a sign of concern from the frontrunner. On the GOP side, former NBA basketball player Chris Dudley brings the most money to the table, and he is likely to edge out 2008 state Treasurer nominee Allen Alley.
As Ron Wyden prepares to defend his U.S. Senate seat, he faces token opposition on the Democratic side. Looking ahead, his likely opponent is law professor Jim Huffman. Huffman has, by far, raised the most money on the GOP side, but a SUSA poll last week had Huffman badly underperforming, leading virtual unknown Tom Stutzman (who has raised all of $4500) by a 20-11 margin.
Republicans seem more optimistic than usual about their prospects in the suburban OR-01, with a host of aspirants fighting for the right to battle six-term incumbent Democrat David Wu. The leader of the pack appears to be sports consultant Rob Cornilles, who has raised the most cash and leads in recent polling. He could get teabagged, however, as tea party activist and mortgage broker John Kuzmanich was running a fairly strong second. Another name to watch here is retired Air Force vet Stephen Brodhead, who dropped nearly a quarter million dollars of his own money into his Congressional bid. Meanwhile, could there be an upset brewing in OR-05? Kari Chisholm over at Blue Oregon thinks it is possible. NRCC-backed state legislator Scott Bruun has a 27-to-1 cash edge over retiree Fred Thompson, but Thompson's rural-themed campaign (and, let's be fair, his name resemblance to a certain presidential candidate) might push him across the line. This is another example, one of many, of an establishment vs. tea party race in Tuesday's GOP primaries.
The marquee race of the night in Pennsylvania, if not the whole nation, is the toss-up U.S. Senate primary between Democratic incumbent Arlen Specter and challenger Joe Sestak. Sestak announced this campaign nearly one year ago, shortly after Specter made the surprise (and, even by his own admission, politically calculated) move to switch parties after four decades as a Republican. For most of the cycle, it appeared to be a fool's errand, as Specter held a solid lead over the challenger. But Sestak kicked his campaign into a taller gear over the last eight weeks, and has pulled even with the incumbent. Virtually no race on Tuesday night has a more unsure outcome than this one. The winner will face unmolested Republican nominee (and former Congressman) Patrick Toomey, who holds a narrow lead over both Democrats in general election polling.
At one point, both the Democratic and Republican primaries for Governor had a bit of intrigue to them. GOP establishment pick (and state Attorney General) Tom Corbett was getting assaulted from the right by state legislator Sam Rohrer, while there was a legitimate four-man race on the Democratic side, with none of the four candidates seemingly capable of breaking from the pack. As we head into primary day, however, the favorites are clear. Rohrer's challenge has failed to launch, and Corbett is a lock for nomination on the GOP side. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato unleashed a whale of a finishing kick, and now holds a solid lead over former Congressman Joe Hoeffel, state senator Anthony Williams, and state Auditor Jack Wagner (I'll refrain from making a joke, for you '80s music fans, about Wagner's campaign theme being "All I need...is just a little more time").
There are an abundance of fascinating House races in the Keystone State, to boot. The marquee House race is the other special election of the night, which is a pure toss-up to replace the late Democratic Congressman John Murtha in PA-12. Two weeks ago, it looked like Republican Tim Burns was going to score the GOP pickup over former Murtha staffer Mark Critz. Critz has made a late charge, and led in one late poll. It is a coin flip heading into the election. Another bizarre coin-flip: Burns might not survive the Republican primary, which is scheduled for the same day. A poll by Susquehanna Research showed Burns with just a two-point lead over 2008 GOP nominee William Russell. Critz, for what it's worth, is heavily favored to win the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Also on the Pennsylvania ballot: competitive GOP primaries in PA-03 and PA-10, to determine nominees for potentially competitive Fall contests against Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper and Rep. Chris Carney. Watch the GOP primary, as well, in PA-04, where NRCC recruit Mary Beth Buchanan is in a world of hurt, and might not survive her primary challenge from Keith Rothfus. In PA-06, there is an equally interesting battle developing between Orange to Blue candidate Manan Trivedi and the largely self-funded Doug Pike for the right to face Jim Gerlach, who left this seat open for several months when he briefly explored a campaign for Governor. The depth of the anti-Washington sentiment may be seen in two races. In PA-11, longtime incumbent Paul Kanjorski is being challenged by county commissioner Corey O'Brien. Will the 13-term Congressman be able to repel the well-funded challenger? Meanwhile, we have already seen one ex-Congressman (Indiana's Mike Sodrel) fail in an attempt to return to office. Will the same fate befall former Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick in PA-08? The guess here is: no. Unlike Sodrel, Fitzpatrick has a monstrous fundraising advantage over his GOP primary opponents.