With the next contest in the 2012 presidential process having just concluded (caucuses in Washington), the two events that have already concluded this week gave Mitt Romney an additional edge of about 30 delegates. Perhaps more importantly, they gave him something else: a renewed sense of inevitability.
Both national polls and a handful of state polls seem to affirm that Romney's chief rival for the Republican nomination, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, has seen his support waver over the past weeks. The Gallup tracker is not the only measurement of this phenomenon, but it may well be the most stark.
There is also a ton of Senate polling (alas, quite a bit of it from the House of Ras) and even a dollop of House polling (though one of them is most definitely not good for Democrats). That, and two House retirements, grace the "Super Tuesday is upon us" edition of the Weekend Digest.
THE BATTLE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE
THE REPUBLICAN FIELD: Remember when Rick Santorum seemed destined to make it a fight all the way to the convention? Yeah, that was awesome.
The data this week for the most recent incarnation of the "Anti-Mitt" was mostly sobering. What was a double-digit lead in the Gallup tracking poll is now a double-digit deficit. What was a solid lead in Ohio had dropped to a coin flip with most pollsters by the end of the week. We will know within hours if Washington got away from him (and PPP hinted that it might have done just that).
Santorum will still get his: he seems likely to be the winner in Oklahoma and Tennessee this week, for example. But it is getting harder and harder to see how he catches and passes Mitt Romney, especially if one of the dominant themes of this week (the return of Mitt the Inevitable) is actually allowed to congeal.
NATIONAL (Gallup Tracking): Romney 36, Santorum 22, Gingrich 17, Paul 10
LOOKING AHEAD TO NOVEMBER:
NATIONAL (Politico/GWU Battleground): Santorum 36, Romney 34, Gingrich 13, Paul 7
NATIONAL (Rasmussen): Romney 40, Santorum 24, Gingrich 16, Paul 12
NATIONAL (YouGov): Romney 29, Santorum 28, Gingrich 19, Paul 12
GEORGIA (Rasmussen): Gingrich 38, Romney 26, Santorum 20, Paul 7
GEORGIA (SurveyUSA): Gingrich 39, Santorum 24, Romney 23, Paul 9
GEORGIA (YouGov): Gingrich 32, Romney 27, Santorum 17, Paul 10
MASSACHUSETTS (YouGov): Romney 56, Santorum 16, Gingrich 5, Paul 5
NEW JERSEY (Quinnipiac): Romney 38, Santorum 24, Paul 12, Gingrich 9
NORTH CAROLINA (PPP): Santorum 31, Romney 25, Gingrich 23, Paul 8
OHIO (Quinnipiac): Santorum 35, Romney 31, Gingrich 17, Paul 12
OHIO (Rasmussen): Santorum 33, Romney 31, Gingrich 15, Paul 11
OHIO (Univ. of Cincinnati/Ohio Poll): Santorum 37, Romney 26, Gingrich 16, Paul 11
OHIO (YouGov): Santorum 33, Romney 27, Gingrich 12, Paul 9
OKLAHOMA (YouGov): Santorum 28, Romney 25, Gingrich 20, Paul 8
SOUTH DAKOTA (Nielson Brothers): Romney 33, Santorum 24, Gingrich 9, Paul 9
TENNESSEE (Middle Tennessee State Univ.): Santorum 40, Romney 19, Gingrich 13, Paul 11
TENNESSEE (Vanderbilt University): Santorum 33, Romney 17, Paul 13, Gingrich 10
TENNESSEE (YouGov): Santorum 32, Romney 23, Gingrich 16, Paul 13
VERMONT (Castleton State College): Romney 34, Santorum 27, Paul 14, Gingrich 10
VIRGINIA (Roanoke College): Romney 56, Paul 21 (Santorum and Gingrich: Failed to Qualify)
WASHINGTON (PPP): Romney 37, Santorum 32, Paul 16, Gingrich 13
WISCONSIN (PPP): Santorum 43, Romney 27, Gingrich 10, Paul 8
There were a fair amount of "looking ahead to November" data points this week, and some of them were absolutely shocking. Unless, of course, you were convinced that Tennessee was a couple points away from being a swing state.
The national numbers were few and far between this week, and the Rasmussen tracker yo-yoed wildly: a one-point Romney advantage became a six-point Obama lead in just two days. That doesn't seem entirely plausible, of course. But, given the relative paucity of comparison data this week, it's hard to know if the race really is twisting and turning, or if this is just Ras being Ras.
The one thing I will say is that, given most of the state polling we've seen this week, it becomes a bit difficult to see how Romney would actually have a lead.
NATIONAL (Politico/GWU Battleground Poll): Obama d. Romney (53-43); Obama d. Santorum (53-42)
NATIONAL (Rasmussen Tracking): Obama d. Santorum (46-43); Obama d. Romney (47-42)
NATIONAL (USA Today/Gallup): Santorum d. Obama (49-46); Obama tied with Romney (47-47)
NATIONAL (YouGov): Obama d. Paul (48-39); Obama d. Romney (49-40); Obama d. Santorum (50-41); Obama d. Gingrich (52-38)
GEORGIA (SurveyUSA): Romney d. Obama (49-42); Gingrich d. Obama (48-44); Santorum d. Obama (47-43); Paul d. Obama (46-43)
NEW JERSEY (Quinnipiac): Obama d. Romney (49-39); Obama d. Santorum (52-34); Obama d. Gingrich (55-30)
NEW JERSEY (SurveyUSA): Obama d. Romney (52-38); Obama d. Santorum (57-33); Obama d. Paul (56-31); Obama d. Gingrich (61-27)
PENNSYLVANIA (Muhlenberg College): Obama d. Santorum (49-41); Obama d. Romney (48-37)
SOUTH DAKOTA (Nielson Brothers): Santorum d. Obama (45-33); Romney d. Obama (44-35)
TENNESSEE (Middle Tennessee State Univ.): Santorum d. Obama (51-39); Romney d. Obama (47-41); Gingrich d. Obama (45-41); Paul d. Obama (44-41)
TENNESSEE (Vanderbilt University): Santorum d. Obama (42-38); Romney d. Obama (42-39); Paul d. Obama (40-39); Obama d. Gingrich (41-38)
VERMONT (Castleton State College): Obama d. Romney (58-33); Obama d. Santorum (60-31); Obama d. Paul (60-30); Obama d. Gingrich (65-24)
VIRGINIA (Roanoke College): Romney d. Obama (43-42); Obama d. Santorum (45-39); Obama d. Paul (45-35); Obama d. Gingrich (48-37)
WISCONSIN (PPP): Obama d. Santorum (49-43); Obama d. Romney (53-39); Obama d. Paul (53-37); Obama d. Gingrich (55-37)
WISCONSIN (Rasmussen): Obama d. Romney (47-42); Obama d. Santorum (46-41)
THE BATTLE FOR THE U.S. SENATE
AT THE POLLS: For whatever reason, the hot race this week was in New Jersey, where multiple pollsters stepped up to examine the re-election prospects of incumbent Democrat Robert Menendez. SurveyUSA took on the race, and found that Menendez would easily defeat either GOP state legislator Joe Kyrillos (46-31) or teabagger favorite Anna Little (48-29). This came on the heels of a Quinnipiac poll in New Jersey that gave the Democrat an identical 15-point lead over Kyrillos (49-34). And, in a third poll of the race this week, a Rutgers/Eagleton poll had Menendez leading Kyrillos by an even more comfortable margin (44-22). Thus, it seems pretty safe to say that Menendez is a double-digit favorite right now.
Meanwhile, a Democratic seat that looked like a tougher hold for Democrats than New Jersey may be getting closer to parity. A new PPP poll out of Wisconsin gave Democratic frontrunner Tammy Baldwin leads over all GOP comers, including former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson. Baldwin barely edged Thompson (46-45), but held larger leads over former Rep. Mark Neumann (47-41) and state legislator Jeff Fitzgerald (47-39). They also polled the GOP primary, finding Thompson (39 percent) ahead by a fair margin over Neumann and Fitzgerald, who deadlocked at 22 percent.
In the tossup state of Nevada, even GOP pollsters concede that incumbent GOP Sen. Dean Heller is in a coin flip. A new poll this week by Republican number-crunchers Public Opinion Strategies gave Heller a 47-44 lead over Democratic challenger Shelley Berkley. Most polls have had this one within three points, in either direction, but a late 2011 POS poll actually gave Heller a six-point edge.
The House of Ras continued their tour this week of potentially hot Senate races. One of those was the aforementioned Wisconsin, and they are on an island on this one. They had Tommy Thompson whomping Tammy Baldwin (50-36), and they also had both Mark Neumann (46-37) and Jeff Fitzgerald (41-40) leading her, too. Nobody has had numbers like this, for what it is worth. In Massachusetts, meanwhile, they found that Republican Sen. Scott Brown had a narrow edge (49-44) over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. This is the third consecutive poll showing Brown creeping back ahead, though Ras did have a strong GOP lean in the 2010 cycle.
Besides the House of Ras, there was another poll out of Massachusetts, though this one has plenty of reasons to discount it. For one thing, it was released nearly a month after its completion. For another, it is for a conservative think tank. For yet another, mixed in with the trial heat numbers was a question which asked voters if it was good for the state for "an Independent Republican" like Sen. Scott Brown to be representing them. Nice framing, kids. For what it's worth (and I'd say not very much), the poll gave Brown a 52-43 lead over Elizabeth Warren.
Speaking of polls with results that make you go hmmm … a new Roanoke College poll out of Virginia claimed a clear leader in the Clash of the Titans matchup between former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and former GOP Sen. George Allen. The leader? Allen. The margin? A whopping (for this race, at least) eight points (45-37). The maxim here, as always, applies: if you get a poll that is dramatically different than everyone else, exercise a fair amount of caution.
For the three of you who were deeply concerned about losing the Senate seat in Rhode Island, it looks like you have nothing to worry about. A new poll out of Little Rhody gives incumbent Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse a nearly two-to-one edge (50-28) over likely GOP contender Barry Hinckley.
For those who were wondering about the state of play in Tennessee, MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) decided to test incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Corker against Democratic Jesus (also known as a "generic Democrat"). Corker looks pretty good, but not indomitable: he led in that trial heat by a 46-30 margin. However, you actually have to find someone to run against the guy, and Democrats are still looking for a first-tier challenger.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL:
- It is pretty rare that a single campaign decision could have a grand impact on the balance of power in a chamber. But the retirement of veteran Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe in Maine on Tuesday was such an event. Snowe's retirement took a seat that, by everyone's estimation, had virtually no chance of shifting parties and made it into the best Democratic pickup opportunity in the nation, if a hint from our friends at PPP can be believed. The dominoes are still falling, but as of this moment (mid-afternoon on Saturday) the two likeliest competitors on the Democratic side are veteran Rep. Chellie Pingree and former two-term Gov. John Baldacci. The GOP side is a bit more muddled, with the biggest name in the mix arguably being former state senator (and 1994 Baldacci Congressional opponent) Richard Bennett. Complicating things even further is the prospect that a couple of very legitimate Independent candidates could emerge. Namely, both former Gov. Angus King and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler are mulling bids.
- If Snowe's retirement is unambiguous good news for the Democrats in Maine, they also got good news of a more complicated kind in Nebraska, where former Senator Bob Kerrey reversed course and decided to run for the state's open Senate seat after all. Progressives would no doubt argue that Kerrey's centrist past makes his entrance into the race no victory, to say nothing of the fact that Nebraska's inherent redness means that Kerrey is still likely to be an underdog against either state attorney general Jon Bruning or state treasurer Don Stenberg. The good news: Senate Republicans will now have to lay out no small amount of cash to keep the seat secure.
- I agree with my colleague David Jarman that this is unlikely to change the calculus of the New Mexico Senate race, but it's still pretty freaking stupid. You might've heard about yet another case, this one in the Land of Enchantment, where a Republican committed voter fraud, just to show how easy it is to commit voter fraud. This guy tried registering the family dog. Cute, but it is landed him in potential legal hot water. The upshot? He was married to a staffer for the Senate campaign of GOP frontrunner Heather Wilson. That probably takes a club out of her bag is she starts railing on that issue somewhere down the line.
THE BATTLE FOR THE U.S. HOUSE
AT THE POLLS: We got a rare House poll this week for November, in a race that isn't anywhere near firmed up yet. What's more, it is in a district that was on pretty much nobody's target list, though it might be now. GQR tested a potential matchup in MI-03, where freshman Republican Rep. Justin Amash easily replaced longtime GOP Rep. Vern Ehlers in 2010. This poll tested Amash (whose libertarian bent has been a thorn in the side of his own party, from time-to-time) against arguably the best-known Democrat mulling a bid, former state legislator Steve Pestka. The initial trial heat had to be encouraging for Democrats: Amash held only an 11-point lead (50-39) over Pestka, who fared even better in informed trial heats. One has to wonder if the purpose of the poll was to goad the Democrat into making a bid. If the numbers are legit, it would seem to be worth it.
We got another general election House poll this week, but it was much worse news for the Democratic team. Vulnerable freshman Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01) trailed GOP frontrunner Brendan Doherty by fifteen points (49-34) in a new poll. If conservative Democrat Anthony Gemma makes his way out of the Democratic primary, things don't get much better for the Democrats: he would lose to Doherty by a 41-28 margin.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL:
- Two retirements of veteran members of Congress came across this week, with one being a slightly bigger surprise than the other. The non-surprise was the retirement of Republican Rep. David Dreier (CA-31/32). The dual designation of the district tells you everything you need to know: redistricting essentially made him a man without a district. Previous maps have cobbled together all the GOP-leaning regions of the eastern part of Los Angeles County, in order to give Dreier a reasonable district. The independent commission split Dreier's turf in multiple districts, leaving only Democratic-leaning territory for the veteran Republican. Slightly more surprising was Friday's announcement that Democrat Norm Dicks (WA-06) was also retiring. Dicks' district, based on the Olympic Peninsula in the western part of the state, was largely unchanged in redistricting, and kept a solid Democratic lean. In his case, it seemed more a case of wanting a change in direction after more than three decades on the Hill. While the remnants of Dreier's turf will almost certainly result in a flip to the Democrats (despite GOP incumbent Gary Miller running in one of those Democratic-leaning districts), it would be an absolute shock if WA-06 went to the GOP.
- After what seems like decades of convoluted twists and turns, it looks like we might be approaching the endgame in the redistricting process in Texas. The court unveiled its interim map this week, and it looks like this one might stick. It is close to the "compromise map" that Republican AG Greg Abbott was tossing around a couple of weeks ago. The net result is both parties are likely to pick up two seats each from the new four seats won by the state in reapportionment.
- With most states now having maps in the can, the attention turns to the next phase of Election 2012: filing for office. Three states had their deadlines this week. In North Carolina, there were few surprises at the filing deadline. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Tim d'Annunzio, who self-funded a boatload of cash and didn't make it out of the primary in NC-08 last time around, who jumped late into a challenge for David Price in NC-04. That district was designed to be a Democratic vote sink, so even a self-funder is unlikely to change the calculus there. Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Democrats did get a late entrant to challenge freshman Republican Rep. Tim Griffin in AR-02. However, it is hard to be too enthused about the prospects for attorney Herb Rule, a former state legislator who served four decades ago. The only Democratic challenger to have bumped into six figures on the fundraising front thus far is state legislator Clark Hall in AR-01, though he lags well behind freshman GOP Rep. Rick Crawford. Meanwhile, in Nebraska, both parties filled the field, with a potentially competitive primary and general election in the swing-ish NE-02 centered around Omaha.
THE BATTLE FOR THE STATE HOUSE
AT THE POLLS: Arguably, the best polling news for Democrats this week came for an election that originally was not even on the 2012 calendar. Of course, I am referring to Wisconsin, where a recall election for first-term GOP Gov. Scott Walker is almost certain to happen later this Spring or this Summer. PPP polled the state, and found several Democrats with small leads over Walker. What's more, virtually everyone they tested was within striking distance. They tested a bunch of names, so let's go from best for the Democrats to worst (with Walker's number always being the first number): Russ Feingold (45-52); Tom Barrett (46-49); Kathleen Falk (47-48); Ron Kind (45-46); Doug LaFollette (46-45); David Obey (47-45); Peter Barca (48-46); Kathleen Vinehout (46-44); Jon Erpenbach (47-44). In a Democratic primary, Falk leads easily among the already declared candidates (which consists of her, Vinehout, and LaFollette). But if 2010 nominee and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett leaps in, he moves to a decisive advantage in a Democratic primary.
On the primary front, PPP looked at both sides of the divide in North Carolina. As you'd expect, it is a blowout on the GOP side, with former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory cruising with well over 50 percent of the vote, and no one else even getting over 3 percent.
Meanwhile, in non-gubernatorial action, Democrats must have been heartened by the new numbers out of Wisconsin this week, and not just for the gubernatorial numbers outlined above. PPP also checked out how voters felt about the balance of power in the state Senate, and found voters preferred a Democratic majority by a 48-41 margin. That would seem to bode well for the recall efforts this summer that could flip that particular chamber.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL:
- Staying on the theme of the recall in Wisconsin, a key barrier to the recalls was likely removed this week when GOP Gov. Scott Walker announced that he would not challenge the recall petitions, though he did try a backdoor way to do so (asking the court to allow signature challenges from outside groups). This means that, should the recall qualify (and it is a 99.999 percent probability, given the huge number of signatures), we could see the recall election process kick off in May, with the general election as early as May 29th.
- Speaking of key 2012 "statement races", a potentially critical one may be in the offing this November in Maryland. In the wake of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley signing same-sex marriage into law in the state, conservative opponents are vowing a "citizen's referendum" on the new law this Fall. It would likely fall on the November ballot, which might actually hinder the homophobes' effort, since they will be staring down the barrel of a general electorate that will likely lean heavily to the Democrats. It was such a citizen's referendum in 2009 that halted Maine's effort to legalize same-sex marriage, and a similar measure is being planned in Washington, where marriage equality was made the law earlier this year.
- For my money, this falls into the category of "dude … NOT cool." In Utah, both Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert have been frequently rumored to be on the cusp of a good teabagging through the primary/convention process. Herbert, arguably, is in worse shape than Hatch, since Hatch dodged his potentially most lethal rival (Rep. Jason Chaffetz) while Herbert has a bunch of potentially legitimate rivals (one that comes to mind is 2010 House contender Morgan Philpot). So, Hatch extended a hand, of sorts, declaring his support for Herbert's re-election. This week, however, Herbert pointedly refused to return the favor, announcing he would remain neutral in Hatch's battle with state senator Dan Liljenquist and state legislator Chris Herrod. Cold. Blooded.
THE ELECTIONS DIGEST “AIR BALL” OF THE WEEK AWARD
Last week, Mitt Romney won the Air Ball decisively courtesy of the Ford Field Fiasco (and the awesome deflection of responsibility for a catastrophic political/campaign call). This week, he may well be the betting favorite again, though the competition this time around is quite stiff. In one respect or another, this is a field that ties itself to the race for the White House in 2012.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R-AZ): The review board may invalidate his nomination here, since his efforts were unrelated to any re-election campaign for the Sheriff's office. That having been said … DAMN. For those who want all the forehead-slapping goodness, the first two parts of Jed Lewison's incredible liveblog of Arpaio's Thursday presser can be found here and here. Take it all in. I promise you, it'll be worth it.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA): In a week with a high volume of absurd one-liners, Gingrich might've gotten off the best one in a response to a pretty decent "gotcha" question from, of all people, CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Gingrich, like many Republicans, damned near blew out his larynx condemning the president for having the unmitigated gall to apologize for the burning of Qurans at Bagram AFB in Afghanistan. When Blitzer noted that President Bush had felt compelled to apologize for a similar incident in Iraq in 2008, and asked Gingrich if he had criticized Bush for his actions then, Gingrich told a little bit of truth, saying: "Look, I wasn't a presidential candidate at that point."
Wait … he is one now?
The Michigan Republican Party: Sure, they're nominated for an Air Ball, but let's give the Michigan GOP some credit. Unlike Maine, where their excuse for
handing Mitt Romney a win the confusion over their count was something as stupid as blaming it on overeager spam filters, Michigan just bluntly handed extra delegates to Mitt Romney. No rationale necessary. A simple case of "we were going to award our statewide delegates proportionately. Now, we're not. So there." That's a hell of a lot of credibility to piss away to give the guy one more delegate, one would think. But it does rob Rick Santorum of being able to claim a tie in the Michigan delegate count, which was almost certainly the goal of this particular ham-handed gesture.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA): Could Mittens go back-to-back? He worked hard this week to earn his second consecutive Air Ball. Most notably, Romney merits consideration for his antics post-Michigan. He should have had an air of triumph: he dominated in Arizona, and avoided catastrophe by holding off Rick Santorum to win by about 30,000 votes in Michigan. Instead, he whined like a 5th grader about Operation Hilarity, pouting and insisting that Santorum give back any delegates he might have won through the support of crossover Democrats. Not only is that Air Ball material, but as our own Jed Lewison made clear, it is also pretty stunning hypocrisy, to boot.