With the big speeches and the big money starting to get thrown around in this 2012 campaign cycle, it is fair to argue that the general election is shifting into another gear as the long, hot summer looms in front of us.
And what little polling dropped this week (one of the thinnest weeks for data in months) painted a very clear picture of the state of play, both in the battle for the balance of power at the White House and on Capitol Hill.
Holy crap, things are gonna be close.
National polling has the Obama-Romney battle almost uniformly close, and the state polling has, to some extent, come in line with that conclusion. A back of the envelope estimate, based on the most recent state polling averages in each state, gives the president an edge of 3-4 points, and a (more math-y) estimate by Nate over at the NYT had it between 2-3 points this morning.
Meanwhile, the Senate could be equally interesting. The range of possible outcomes keeps getting wider and wider, it seems. No one was talking about Maine, Indiana, and North Dakota as critical races in the battle for a Senate majority at the start of the year. Now, they are all there, while races in places like Massachusetts and Nevada continue to look like pure toss-ups that could allow the Democrats to build a bit of a firewall for their Senate majority.
Meanwhile, the roster for November at the House level keeps building week-to-week, as the first half of the primary elections season is rolling to a close by the end of this month.
All this (and more!) in the "school's out, for summer" edition of the Weekend Digest...
THE BATTLE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE
If you compare this week's Digest to those dropped on previous Saturdays, it is pretty clear that there simply was not a lot of polling released this week. Drawing conclusions from this rather small smattering of data, as it happens, is pretty tough.
The House of Ras, to be sure, ain't making it any easier. Midweek, they made folks gasp (and more than a few laugh) when they claimed that Wisconsin, which pollsters have uniformly put in the Obama camp, was actually leaning slightly to Mitt Romney. But then, just two days later, they dropped another new state poll, this one showing a pretty solid lead for the president in a state where nearly everyone assumed the race was tightening noticeably (Michigan).
Other pollsters showed a tiny bit of movement to Romney over the past several weeks, but still gave the president modest leads in two state expected to be important in November (Nevada and Pennsylvania). One state in the 2008 coalition that is starting to look less secure, however, is North Carolina, where PPP gives Mitt Romney his first lead in months.
NATIONAL (Gallup Tracking): Romney d. Obama (46-45)
NATIONAL (PPP for Daily Kos/SEIU): Obama d. Romney (50-42)
NATIONAL (Rasmussen Tracking): Romney d. Obama (47-45)
NATIONAL (Reuters/Ipsos): Obama d. Romney (45-44)
NATIONAL (Tarrance Group--R): Obama d. Romney (47-46)
NATIONAL (TIPP for Christian Science Monitor and Investors Business Daily): Obama d. Romney (46-42)
NATIONAL (YouGov): Obama d. Romney (44-42)
IOWA (Rasmussen): Romney d. Obama (47-46)
MICHIGAN (Foster McCollum White/Boudoun): Obama d. Romney (47-45)
MICHIGAN (Rasmussen): Obama d. Romney (50-42)
NEVADA (PPP): Obama d. Romney (48-42)
NEW JERSEY (Rutgers/Eagleton): Obama d. Romney (56-33)
NEW YORK (Siena College): Obama d. Romney (59-35)
NORTH CAROLINA (PPP): Romney d. Obama (48-46)
NORTH DAKOTA (DFM Research for the N.D. Democratic Party): Romney d. Obama (50-36)
NORTH DAKOTA (Mason Dixon): Romney d. Obama (52-39)
PENNSYLVANIA (Quinnipiac): Obama d. Romney (46-40)
WISCONSIN (Rasmussen): Romney d. Obama (47-44)
THE BATTLE FOR THE U.S. SENATE
AT THE POLLS: This was actually a pretty respectable week as it relates to polling volume at the Senate level. And the general conclusion from those numbers? Damn, this is going to be a long night come November.
Rasmussen's Wisconsin Senate poll is no less absurd than their presidential poll (and I haven't had any takers yet on my bet—you take Tommy Thompson, and I'll take Tammy Baldwin and the 16 points. C'mon, righties, we'll bet a Happy Meal on it, if you don't want to drop that much scratch). However, it does claim something interesting, that merits some exploration. They cite a huge gap between how Thompson performs against the presumptive Democratic nominee, and how the other GOPers in the field perform. If Thompson's lead really is closer to the mid-single digits, does that mean that Baldwin would have pretty healthy leads over the balance of the Republican field? That could be important, because polling last month has hinted that Thompson's victory in the GOP primary is nowhere near guaranteed.
Elsewhere, North Dakota might be a hold for the Democrats, after all (who woulda thunk that 8 months ago?), while Nevada could still quite easily flip to the Democrats, with Shelley Berkley stubbornly clinging right on incumbent Sen. Dean Heller's back over the last several polls. Hawaii still is looking like it has a lean to the Democrats, no matter the potential nominee, and Pennsylvania is looking better and better as a Democratic hold, as well.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL:
HI-SEN (Merriman River Group for Civil Beat): Ed Case (D) 52, Linda Lingle (R) 36; Mazie Hirono (D) 49, Lingle 44
HI-SEN--D (Merriman River Group for Civil Beat): Ed Case 46, Mazie Hirono 46
NV-SEN (PPP): Sen. Dean Heller (R) 44, Shelley Berkley (D) 43
ND-SEN (DFM Research for the N.D. Democratic Party): Heidi Heitkamp (D) 45, Rick Berg (R) 44
ND-SEN--R (DFM Research for the N.D. Democratic Party): Rick Berg 61, Duane Sand 19
NY-SEN (Siena College): Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) 63, Bob Turner (R) 25; Gillibrand 65, George Maragos (R) 23; Gillibrand 65, Wendy Long (R) 22
NY-SEN—R (Siena College): Bob Turner 16, Wendy Long 11, George Maragos 3
PA-SEN (Quinnipiac): Sen. Bob Casey (D) 51, Tom Smith (R) 32
WI-SEN (Rasmussen): Tommy Thompson (R) 52, Tammy Baldwin (D) 36; Mark Neumann (R) 45, Baldwin 43; Eric Hovde (R) 44, Baldwin 42; Baldwin 44, Jeff Fitzgerald (R) 43
- Tuesday's primaries clarified a number of Senate races for November. In Nevada and Virginia, the "as-expected" results came to pass. In the Silver State, both Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democrat Shelley Berkley (representing Las Vega in Congress for more than a decade) easily won their primaries. In Virginia, former GOP Sen. George Allen scored a sizable, though far from overwhelming, 66 percent against a handful of challengers. Democrat Tim Kaine, the former governor and DNC head, was unopposed. The most intrigue on Tuesday night may well have come from Maine, where Democrats nominated state legislator Cynthia Dill and Republicans countered with secretary of state Charlie Summers. The intrigue continued through the week, as the DSCC had to hedge on whether they'd offer support to Dill. The delicate dance, of course, is because should independent candidate (and indisputable frontrunner) Angus King win, the DSCC would like to see him caucus with the Democrats.
- Speaking of Nevada, Republicans are headed to court to try to end the decades-old practice of allowing Silver State voters to select "None of the Above" on the ballot. Why is this in the Senate section of the Weekend Digest? Because Nevada's resident political genius (Jon Ralston) has a pretty smart take on why Nevada GOPers might be eager to kill the NOTA option: fear that more Republican leaning voters will go NOTA in the Senate race than Democratic ones. With the volume of Paul-ites and libertarian types in Nevada, that may not be an unfounded fear.
- Finally, about that GOP Senate primary in Wisconsin: think that Eric Hovde or Mark Neumann won't be able to make hay with this news? This week, it was revealed that Tommy Thompson, in the fairly recent past (2008) donated to a pair of Democratic candidates, one of whom (North Carolina's Bev Perdue) was in a targeted gubernatorial race. For a guy whose relationship with the tea-infused elements of his state has been problematic, this is not helpful news. The one bright spot, Thompson has quite a bit of time before the primary to contain the damage.
THE BATTLE FOR THE U.S. HOUSE
AT THE POLLS: This week, the big headline was not the rather sparse bit of data that dropped this week, but the actual polling that took place in the Arizona 8th district, where Democrat Ron Barber claimed the seat held by his former boss, Gabrielle Giffords. Barber's modest-yet-clear margin of victory (52-45) over Republican Jesse Kelly gave the Democrats yet another special election victory. Barber's prospects for re-election look especially solid—he carried the part of the 8th that is folding into the new Arizona 2nd district by ten points, and the parts of the 2nd that weren't in the district on Tuesday night broke 2-to-1 for Barack Obama back in 2008.
As for the actual surveys dropped this week, both have "hmm" caveats attached to them. In North Dakota, the same M-D poll had Cramer destroying GOP rival Brian Kalk in the primary (by a better than 2-to-1 margin). Cramer actually won by just 8 points. So, you might need to retrofit these numbers accordingly, since it appears that Cramer's friends, family, and pets were in the sample, apparently.
On a more serious note, that OK-02 primary poll is useful (those primaries come up in less than two weeks), but what is even more useful is what's not there: a general election trial heat. To my perspective, that means one of two things: either the Democrat (Rob Wallace) is more competitive than anyone (myself included) thinks, or Markwayne Mullin is somehow far less electable than his fellow GOP colleagues.
ND-AL (Mason Dixon): Kevin Cramer (R) 49, Pam Gulleson (D) 35, Eric Olsen (L) 4ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL:
OK-02—R (Cole Hargrove Snodgrass for Mullin): Markwayne Mullin 30, George Faught 15, Wayne Pettigrew 7
- Tuesday provided another jam-packed evening of primary elections, though it yielded few surprises. The big surprise did not come from a decision by the voters, it came from a decision by the GOP-dominated state board of elections in South Carolina. Early in the night, it appeared that former (Georgia) state legislator Gloria Tinubu, while leading establishment pick Preston Brittain in a mild upset, was going to be forced into a runoff with the better-funded Brittain. Then, inexplicably, the state board decided that votes cast for state legislator Ted Vick, who dropped out of the race last month after being caught with a DUI (and a co-ed in his car), simply would not count. That pushed Tinubu over the 50 percent threshold, and gave her the win without a runoff. South Carolina Democrats, not surprisingly, objected to the decision, and a supporter of Brittain's formally has challenged the decision. In other races, Republicans Danny Tarkanian (NV-04) and Jon Courtney (ME-01) both narrowly avoided upset defeats, and moved on to November. Meanwhile, Arkansas held runoffs on the Democratic side, nominating attorney Scott Ellington to challenge freshman Rick Crawford (AR-01), and state legislator Gene Jeffress to try to defend the open seat held by retiring Democrat Mike Ross (AR-04)
- Looking ahead on the primary calendar, Tuesday is a bit of a rarity—there are no primaries on the calendar. June 26th has a reasonably full calendar, however, as primaries await us in Colorado, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah. Also, if South Carolina Democrats successfully appeal that frankly absurd ruling by the GOP-dominated state elections board, we might see a runoff in South Carolina, as well. Click the link for the latest fundraising reports from those states which will be holding elections in ten days.
- Looking even further ahead, we are actually getting reasonably close to closing the books on the filing deadlines (only a small handful of states are still open). This week, your pals at Daily Kos Elections put together helpful list of candidates from the eight states that have had recent deadlines.
THE BATTLE FOR THE STATE HOUSE
AT THE POLLS: Downballot, the data was equally sparse. One poll in the most polled gubernatorial race on the ballot (which shows roughly what everyone else has shown), and a particularly intriguing mayoral race, were the only ones with new numbers this week.
That San Diego Mayoral race is interesting, if only because there was some value in seeing where supporters of Republican-turned-Independent candidate Nathan Fletcher would go post-primary. They broke reasonably evenly, which is bad news for DeMaio, because he barely beat Filner in the primary, and there was another Democrat (Bonnie Dumanis) that scored in double digits. If Republican Carl DeMaio cannot snare more of those Fletcher supporters, the city of San Diego may have their first Democratic mayor in recent memory.
NC-GOV (PPP): Pat McCrory (R) 47, Walter Dalton (D) 40ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL:
SD-MAYOR (SurveyUSA): Bob Filner (D) 46, Carl DeMaio (R) 43
- One of the recurrent themes of the 2012 cycle downballot has been a fair amount of housecleaning that progressive Democrats have done at the primary level. The most recent example came this week in Nevada, where Democratic state senator John Lee, who had angered progressives with apostate votes on bills ranging from environmental legislation to taxes to gay rights, was easily dispatched in his primary by Patricia Spearman.
- Congratulations, GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli! That might be a bit premature, but the moves this week by the Republican Party of Virginia seems to cement that into reality come 2013. The party this week decided to select its statewide slate of nominees in the next statewide general election by convention, rather than by primary. Now, Cuccinelli (the far-right attorney general of the state) may well have won a primary, in any event. Recent polling had him smacking around state Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. But an activist-driven convention plays to the activist base. For a quick numerical way to describe the difference: state legislator Bob Marshall (for whom the designation "far-right" seems to undersell it a bit) almost won a Senate nomination in 2008 in a convention. In a primary in 2012? Marshall snared just 7 percent of the vote, and finished a very distant third.
- I guess it's never too early to look ahead to 2014, since we're looking at 2013. And in Arkansas, the first salvos of the 2014 cycle have already been fired, in June of 2012. In an early announcement, Democratic state attorney general Dustin McDaniel made clear his intentions to seek the governorship in 2014. This drew a smackdown from former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (who nearly upset Sen. Blanche Lincoln in a whale of a primary challenge in 2010). Halter's beef with McDaniel's early move—it undermines candidates this cycle to be running for an office 30 months in advance. Likely, Halter has another, unspoken, beef: if Halter was going to announce for governor himself, but was planning to wait until after November, McDaniel just bought himself a six month head start.
THE ELECTIONS DIGEST “AIR BALL” OF THE WEEK AWARD
It's a Mitt-free edition of the Air Ball this week, but the all-GOP group is a diverse crop, including the first "journalist" so honored with an air ball nomination. Add two state legislators (well, one about-to-be-former legislator) and a state electoral body, and you have four fitting nominees for this week's Air Ball.
State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-MI): So you can legislate vaginas all the live-long day in the state of Michigan, but if you say the word? Into the penalty box for you, according to the absurdly right-wing speaker of the Michigan House. Better still, calling them out for legislating lady parts is derided as a "temper tantrum" by the speaker. Hopefully, that's not part of this dude's job title after 2012.
Neil Munro (The Daily Caller): There's little doubt that this "journalist" is pulling for Mitt Romney. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that his little tantrum yesterday probably did not bolster his guy's cause. But Munro did accomplish one thing—he can cash in on the right-wing speaking circuit posthaste. Ask Sarah Palin, buddy, that's some seriously lucrative "work"!
The state election commission of South Carolina: Psst...Republicans...this is what election fraud looks like. The better-funded, establishment-backed Democratic candidate avoids catastrophe when the lesser-funded Democrat just misses avoiding a runoff. What does a good Republican do? Simple! Pretend that one of the candidates (who dropped out after the mother of all campaign screwups) doesn't exist, strike his votes from the tally, and hand the election to the lesser-funded candidate without a runoff. Um, yeah—there's gonna be a lawsuit here.
former state Sen. Van Wangaard (R-WI): Fiscal conservatism at its best! Wangaard is seeking a recount (for which his campaign will only be on the hook for $685, with the state picking up the balance) of a race that he lost by over one percentage point. No race with this margin (834 votes) has ever been overturned on recount, leading to speculation that this is a way to artificially keep the GOP's state senator "majority" alive artificially a bit longer. How many hours of quality teaching could this vanity exercise have paid for?