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Leading Off:

NM-Gov, -Sen: Hallelujah! The good folks at Public Policy Polling have at long last decided to survey New Mexico, giving us—if you can believe it—our first-ever poll of the Land of Enchantment all cycle. Even though we'd been flying blind, the results largely conform to our perceptions of where the state's gubernatorial and Senate races stand, though there are definitely some unexpected details.

For starters, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who was first elected in 2010, sports a 52-40 job approval rating: certainly good in these difficult economic times, but she's also not wildly popular, as some have imagined. Still, she leads every Democrat, chalking up scores at or near 50 in all cases. Here's how Martinez fares (with her opponents' favorables in parentheses):

47-42 vs. Attorney General Gary King (29-35)

47-36 vs. former USDA official Lawrence Rael (19-17)

48-34 vs. state Sen. Howie Morales (15-19)

50-36 vs. state Sen. Linda Lopez (17-23)

48-42 vs. businessman Alan Webber (12-19)

As is often the case when a field of challengers largely lacks name recognition, it doesn't really matter whom Martinez is paired against, since she takes a very consistent share of the vote versus all comers. Of course, we don't have any kind of confirmation from any other source, but these numbers suggest she's in strong, but not invincible, shape for re-election, which squares with our rating of Likely Republican for this race.

One thing we do have, though, is an unusually high level of interest among legitimate Democratic contenders who want to take Martinez on. If there's such a thing as "revealed preference" when it comes to elections, it's possible the very existence of this crowd of hopefuls indicates Martinez is weaker than she appears. It's only a hypothesis—after all, ego always plays a big role in politics—but at least the opposite is often true. Take nearby Nevada, for instance, where Democrats couldn't even recruit a can of beans to challenge Gov. Brian Sandoval. That certainly says something about Sandoval's strengths; the inverse could be the case here.

Head below the fold for more on the Democratic primary.

Getting back to those New Mexico Democrats, one aspect where PPP's poll does offer something of a surprise is in the primary. Here's where things stand:

King: 34
Morales: 15
Lopez: 13
Rael: 7
Webber: 5
Undecided: 27
Earlier this month, at the New Mexico Democratic Party's pre-primary convention, delegates gave the most votes to Morales, while relegating King—the only statewide official in the contest—to last place. The vote wasn't of profound importance, but all candidates who took at least 20 percent earned automatic spots on the ballot, meaning that King (and Lopez, who also missed the cutoff) had to petition their way on.

So activists evidently have a different preference than New Mexico Democrats at large, since King has a reasonable lead on Morales at present. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that King is much better-known, but given the number of undecideds and the energy behind his candidacy, Morales could very well challenge the front-runner for the nomination. The primary is June 3.

Meanwhile, in the Senate race, Republicans have little hope of knocking off freshman Democrat Tom Udall. He sports a 52-33 job approval rating, good enough for the top quintile among all senators, according to PPP. Udall beats businessman Allen Weh 53-33 and prosecutor David Clements 55-33. Daily Kos Elections currently rates this race as Safe Democratic.

Senate:

HI-Sen: Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, who faces a primary challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, is out with his first ad of the race. Schatz describes his commitment to protecting Social Security, particularly because of his father-in-law, who lives with his family and relies on the program "ever since his eyes gave out, ending his 30 years" running a restaurant.

IA-Sen: Is this the kind of remark that just offers some momentary Beltway grist, or the kind that winds up in an attack ad?

"If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice—someone who's been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary," [Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley] said. "Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary."
I guess we'll see. The concern here is that this isn't the only time recently that Braley's gone off-message in a way that suggests he can be a bit out-of-touch: His comments about the horrors of having to wash his own towels at the Capitol Hill gym during the government shutdown weren't exactly well received, either.

Braley did offer a lazy semi-nopology, saying he apologizes "to Sen. Grassley and anyone I may have offended." Seriously, what is wrong with people who insist on this "if you were offended" crap? Just say you're sorry and be done with it (and act like you mean it). Incidentally, Braley used that same b.s. construction when he made a very unfortunate "Trail of Tears" reference last year.

On an entirely unrelated note, you gotta give Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst credit for getting right to the point in her new ad, the first she's run. Says Ernst: "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork!" Yowza! (And yes, there are pigs.)

KY-Sen: Haw haw!

MI-Sen: If there's one thing Terri Lynn Land has proven she's not good at, it's navigating the shoals of Obamacare. Salon's Brian Beutler describes her latest ship grounding:

Case in point: Terri Lynn Land—Michigan's one-time Republican secretary of state, turned Senate candidate—held a first-ever conference call with reporters to trash the ACA on its fourth birthday. But confronted with the question of what happens to people with preexisting medical conditions if the GOP repeals the law (and thus eliminates the individual mandate)—Land's press aide, Heather Swift, commandeered the call, and tried to take the whole thing off the record.
Yoikes! It doesn't get better after that. Click through for Beutler's full dissection of Land's newest stumble.

MS-Sen: The NRA typically likes to endorse incumbents over challengers, as long as those incumbents have the kind of voting record they like. After all, an established track record is easier to rely on than a set of questionnaire answers, and it makes sense to cozy up to those in power rather than bet on outsiders. So while state Sen. Chris McDaniel may have all the hallmarks of a conservative true believer who undoubtedly takes a maximalist view of the Second Amendment, it's still no surprise that the rifle association is sticking with veteran Sen. Thad Cochran in the GOP primary.

NC-Sen: Karl Rove's American Crossroads has reserved $1.1 million in airtime in North Carolina, according to The Hill's Cameron Joseph, though their ad is not available yet. Joseph intimates that the spot will boost state House Speaker Thom Tillis, the nominal GOP frontrunner, but Crossroads isn't saying.

Gubernatorial:

FL-Gov: GOP Gov. Rick Scott's newest ad attacks his Democratic rival, ex-Gov. Charlie Crist, for calling Obamacare "great" in a recent interview. The spot also repeats the already-classic lie about the infamous February Congressional Budget Office report, with a title card that reads "Obamacare will drive 2.5 million Americans out of the workforce." In a real bit of chutzpah, that statement (in quotation marks) is attributed directly to the CBO! Of course, the report said nothing of the sort. The size of the buy is reportedly $2 million.

MD-Gov: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown's new ad is on the subject of domestic violence, much like the last spot his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Doug Gansler, recently aired. Brown first mentions his cousin Kathy, whom he "lost at the hands of her estranged boyfriend." He goes on to talk about the state's efforts to combat such violence, such as "taking guns out of the hands of abusers" and "doubl[ing] screenings at hospitals."

MI-Gov: The RGA is airing their first ad of the cycle in Michigan, attacking Democratic ex-Rep. Mark Schauer with an $800,000 broadcast and cable buy in Detroit, Flint, and Grand Rapids over the next two weeks. In the spot, as rain washes over black and white city streets, an announcer says, "Michigan has seen rainy, gloomy days." He then dings Schauer: "In Congress, he voted for the failed stimulus and a massive energy tax." As a state legislator, the narrator goes on, Schauer "supported higher taxes 40 times."

A random older woman's face then appears on screen, incredulously asking, "Forty times?" Back to the voice-over guy, who says, "The gloom is gone! Michigan's on the way back!" And finally, to the same woman, who now sports a goofy grin as she declares, "The shower is over." Shower... Schauer... GET IT? OH GOD I AM DYING FROM THE LOLZ.

NE-Gov: The American Future Fund, another one of those random conservative groups, is airing a new ad attacking state Attorney General Jon Bruning, who is seeking the GOP nomination for Nebraska's open gubernatorial seat. The spot criticizes Bruning as a self-dealer who got rich in office while participating in investment deals involving companies he regulated. AFF is rooting for state Sen. Beau McCoy, whom they've run positive spots for in the past, like this one.

PA-Gov: In his latest ad, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett lectures the same fake audiences that he jawed at in his first spot. Corbett says that during his first campaign in 2010, he "made a promise: less taxes, more jobs." And, insists Corbett, "I've kept that promise." In an especially awkward moment, he even hectors the same dude in a hardware store about his alleged accomplishments. I guess this is like filming all three Lord of the Rings movies at once, only, you know, lame.

House:

AZ-01, -02: It looks like the GOP establishment has definitely chosen sides in Arizona's 1st District Republican primary, and they're going with state House Speaker Andy Tobin. Two other candidates are vying for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, businessman Gary Kiehne and state Rep. Adam Kwasman, but John Boehner's coming to town this weekend to headline a fundraiser for Tobin. The event will also benefit Air Force vet Martha McSally, who is running in the neighboring 2nd District.

CA-17: Former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna, who is trying to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, a fellow Democrat, is airing his first TV ad of the campaign. It's all about not accepting "pay raises" or "special perks," the kind of non-partisan topic Democrats typically try to run on in more conservative areas, not in dark blue districts like this one; however, because of California's top two primary system, there's a big pool of Republican voters up for grabs. Khanna also says he'll "never take money from corporations," but if he's talking about campaign contributions, well, fortunately, corporate donations to candidates are still illegal.

CA-33: The California School Employees Association, which represents more than 210,000 school support staff statewide, has endorsed Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu for Congress.

TX-04: Former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe just received endorsements from the Club for Growth and the Madison Project, two conservative groups interested in seeing him unseat Rep. Ralph Hall in the May 27 GOP runoff. There's no word yet on whether either organization intends to actually spend money on Ratcliffe's behalf, but if they do, he has to hope they don't mung it up like the last batch of yahoos who offered their help.

Other Races:

DC Mayor: What does incumbent Vincent Gray have in common with me when I'm at World 8-4 in Super Mario Bros.? We both wish we didn't have to deal with Bowser. In Gray's case, it's because a new Washington Post poll shows him trailing in the April 1 Democratic primary for the first time. City Councilor Muriel Bowser leads Hizzoner 30-27, with another member of the council, Tommy Wells, all the way back at 14.

Gray's approval rating is slightly above water at 46-45, but what's more telling is how few voters see Gray as honest. The mayor has spent his entire tenure dogged by allegations he ran an illegal "shadow campaign" during his 2010 run for office, and only 26 percent of respondents say he is honest and trustworthy.

As we've seen in other polls, Bowser has consolidated a good deal of the anti-Gray vote. In the Post's January survey, Gray had a similar 24 percent but Bowser was in a distant second with only 12 percent. The Post notes that Gray still has a path to victory: He has a dedicated core of supporters, and low turnout can give him a boost. Still, things are not looking good for the incumbent. If he were to ask me for advice on how to beat Bowser, at this point I'd advise him to use a cheat code. Then again, if you believe Gray's critics, cheating is why he's in this position in the first place.

And even if Gray wins the primary, it looks like he'll have a tough general election fight against independent City Councilor David Catania. Both men are tied 41-41; by contrast, Bowser easily defeats Catania 56-23.

Marist also released a poll of the Democratic primary, and it paints a very similar picture. Bowser leads Gray 28-26 among likely voters, with Wells at 11. With PPP showing Gray and Bowser tied in last Friday's poll, it's very clear that this has turned into a two-person race. Marist, though, is a bit more optimistic about Gray's chances in a general. He leads Catania 43-37, while Bowser is up 46-26. (Jeff Singer)

Grab Bag:

Spending: Ad tracking firm Kantar Media Intelligence/CMAG has put together a chart comparing spending between the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity and two major Democratic outside groups, the Senate Majority PAC and the House Majority PAC. It's not even close:

Chart comparing ad spending between Americans for Prosperity and the Senate Majority PAC & House Majority PAC
(click for larger)
Of course, this doesn't offer a complete picture of all third-party spending this cycle. But even if you added everything together, Republicans would still have a big edge. The question is whether Democrats will be able to achieve something closer to parity as Election Day draws nearer—and whether the effects of this early assault can be reversed, or if the damage is permanent.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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