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• SD-Sen: We're in rare territory with PPP's new South Dakota poll, their first of the cycle: Democrats might be better off if our incumbent, Tim Johnson, decides to retire and make way for the state's former congresswoman, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Johnson's job approval rating is a very middling 44-45, not too surprising given the difficulties of serving as a Democratic senator in a red state. Herseth Sandlin, though, retains a decent measure of popularity despite getting narrowly turned out by voters in the 2010 wave, with favorables of 52-37. This difference translates rather directly in the head-to-heads against the GOP's two top offerings, ex-Gov. Mike Rounds and Rep. Kristi Noem, the woman who beat Herseth Sandlin in the first place. Here's how it all stacks up:
Rounds vs. Johnson: 52-41
Noem vs. Johnson: 49-45
Rounds vs. Herseth Sandlin: 49-44
Noem vs. Herseth Sandlin: 47-48
As you can see, Herseth Sandlin performs several points better than Johnson in either matchup: She keeps Rounds a hair under 50 and actually edges Noem, the only ballot test where a Democrat leads. Still, this race looks like it would be a very difficult hold for Team Blue even with Herseth Sandlin, and right now, we don't even know who will run. Johnson, 66 and afflicted by health issues ever since suffering a stroke in 2006, still hasn't announced his plans.
If he does decide against another go, it's also no sure thing that Herseth Sandlin would run in his stead. She declined entreaties to seek a rematch against Noem last year and instead joined a lobbying firm in DC. That's not exactly the best resume item if you're planning to return home to run again, though Wikipedia notes she never formally registered as a lobbyist, for what that's worth.
If Johnson bows out and Herseth Sandlin says no, that probably leaves Democrats with Johnson's son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, as their best option, but he starts out with little name recognition and gets crushed by Rounds (53-32) and Noem (49-37) alike. And in a hypothetical (albeit unlikely) primary, Herseth Sandlin starts with a whopping 68-16 lead.
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But we may get a bit lucky. While Rounds is undoubtedly the GOP establishment's top choice, he's not a dominating figure amongst the rank-and-file; like most governors, his time in office was marked by a sufficient level of pragmatism to earn him the dreaded label of "moderate" from the conservative base. So even though Rounds announced all the way back in November, the more ideologically pure Noem hasn't quashed speculation about a possible bid on her part, and if she does jump in, hoo boy, things could get interesting.
That's because Rounds holds a bare 43-39 edge in a primary matchup, and Noem actually fares a touch better with GOP voters in terms of favorability, 71-18 vs. 67-17. Unfortunately, it looks like PPP didn't include a question about ideology, so we can't break this down among, say, respondents who consider themselves "very conservative," but I'd be willing to bet that the further right you go, the more enthusiasm there is for Noem.
Now, Kristi Noem isn't exactly Todd Akin, but a messy, bruising Republican primary is definitely possible, and certainly something Democrats would want to root for. And with any luck, PPP's new numbers will help convince Noem to take the plunge. It certainly wouldn't be the first time they've had that sort of effect. And if Johnson ultimately opts against seeking a fourth term, hopefully this new poll will also inspire Herseth Sandlin to run in his stead. After all, she'd have a chance to take revenge against Noem, and how sweet would that be?
• GA-Sen: The Ryan budget once again passed the House Thursday morning, with Dems unanimous against (0-197) and the GOP allowing 10 defections (221-10), though it was a mixed bag that broke both left and right. "No" votes from the left appear to be Chris Gibson and Joe Heck, in swingy districts, contrarian Walter Jones, and David McKinley, in somewhat safer WV-01 but, mindful of his district's elderly population. (McKinley also voted against the Ryan budget last year on the grounds that it went too far on Medicare.)
On the other hand, the "no" votes from the right are the usual dystopian suspects: Justin Amash, Tom Massie, and Paul Broun. Rounding out the list are a couple odd picks (Rick Crawford and Randy Forbes) ... and Phil Gingrey, who's ordinarily quite conservative but not quite vote-against-the-Ryan-budget conservative. However, he appears to be getting pulled to the right because of his likely Senate primary battle against, you guessed it, Broun.
In fact, that's exactly what Republican insiders are worried about, according to Politico: Gingrey—as well as other likely Senate candidates Tom Price and Jack Kingston (who were both "ayes" on Ryan)—getting pulled over the cliff to the right by the need to keep up with Broun in the hunt for far-right votes in the Senate primary. Right now, though, it's a bigger problem for House leadership than the NRSC, with John Boehner nervously eyeing members of the Georgia delegation as they switch their votes despite earlier promises, all in order to psych each other out while lurching rightward.
But you know how you can really tell the Republican establishment is worried? They're already siccing the National Review on him, as seen in Betsy Woodruff's profile about him from Thursday, which seems to be loudly waving "hey, look over here!" to opposition researchers. It's a little shy on details that might hurt him with the far-right primary electorate, though, unless you count his quote that "I'm a French cook myself, and I like to cook things with some fancy sauces and stuff that I'll make at home." (David Jarman)
• MA-Sen: Rep. Ed Markey's second ad in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary is environmentally themed, focusing on his efforts to bring BP to account in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. (No word on the size of the buy.) (David Jarman)
• AR-Gov: A mysterious poll of the potential Arkansas gubernatorial primary has surfaced ... mysterious in that it's from an unnamed "corporate client in Arkansas with an interest in the Democratic primary match-up." Whoever that corporate client is, they seem to have a fondness for ex-Rep. Mike Ross, because the poll that they leaked gives him a substantial edge over ex-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Ross leads the poll from Chism Strategies with 45 percent, compared with 27 for Halter and 7 for state highway commissioner John Burkhalter. Ross also leads Halter 50-24 in a 2-way race. While Halter has already declared for the seat (left open by termed-out Dem Mike Beebe), Ross has actually said "no" a couple of time. But rumors abound that he's reconsidering, and it seems like someone else is trying to nudge him along. (David Jarman)
• HI-Gov, -Sen: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, as you'll recall, leaked an internal poll last week that showed the world (or at least Hawai'i) was her oyster: She could have her pick of defeating either Sen. Brian Schatz, or the guy who appointed him, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, in the Dem primary. Unnamed sources close to her are now saying that she'll make a decision in the "next couple of weeks," and announce at that point whether she'll run for re-election to the House or go for a promotion. There weren't any clues on which way she's leaning, but given the early start, she sounds potentially serious about it. (David Jarman)
• LA-Gov: This probably shouldn't surprise anyone—especially since his recent demurral on the Louisiana Senate race in 2014 made clear his interests lie closer to home—but Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is now saying that he "intends" to run in the 2015 gubernatorial race, left open with Bobby Jindal being termed out. PPP's polling on the Senate race makes clear he's one of the state's most popular politicians, so he seems like a frontrunner for governor. (David Jarman)
• OH-Gov: Perhaps the best thing about GOP Sen. Rob Portman coming out in favor of same-sex marriage is that it's given reporters an excuse to ask just about every other Republican in America where they stand on the issue. And since he hails from the same state as Portman, Ohio Gov. John Kasich was never going to be able to avoid the question. But if you were heartened a bit by Kasich's remarks on Wednesday, don't be, because by Thursday, they were no longer operative, as Ron Ziegler might have said. Here's what Kasich initially said when asked if he could envision a scenario whereby he might change his views on marriage equality:
"I really can't see one, I mean, I talked to Rob and encouraged him. If people want to have civil unions and have some way to transfer their resources, I'm for that. I don't support gay marriage."
A day later, with Kasich obviously in instant hot water with his conservative base, he shook the Etch A Sketch
"The governor's position is unchanged," Kasich's spokesman Rob Nichols said Thursday in a statement. "He opposes gay marriage and opposes changing Ohio's constitution to allow for civil unions."
Not only does this extreme, absurd flip-flop make Kasich look like a profile in cowardice, it's also very unpopular with Ohio voters. A PPP poll from late June
found two thirds of respondents in favor of some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 32 percent supporting gay marriage and 34 percent favoring civil unions. Only 32 percent were opposed to any legal status for gay couples. I don't know if, say, Ed FitzGerald would ever run hard on this issue, but I suspect he's much closer to mainstream Ohioans than Kasich is, particularly since polling on this issue only gets more liberal over time.
• CA-17: Rep. Mike Honda has been busily preparing himself for a potential Bay Area primary battle against fellow Dem Ro Khanna, who squirreled away a ton of money last cycle for a potential run against Pete Stark, didn't pull the trigger, and now probably kicks himself on a daily basis after watching Eric Swalwell pick off the crusty Stark. We've seen a few shots across Khanna's bow, in the form of Honda brandishing his establishment connections (including Obama and Pelosi endorsements), but now we've got a bow-shot of a much larger caliber: Honda's out with an internal poll from Lake Research with a crushing lead. Honda leads a 3-way open primary at 57, with his 2012 Republican opponent, Evelyn Kim, at 12, and Khanna at 5. (David Jarman)
• MI-03: Michigan's 35-year-old Republican lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, constantly gets the "up-and-comer" label appended to his name, but it looks like he's not taking any steps to move up this cycle. He previously all but took himself out of the running for the Senate seat left open by Carl Levin's retirement, and now he's said that he won't run for the Grand Rapids-area House seat that'll be left open if GOP Rep. Justin Amash, as many expect, runs for the Senate. (David Jarman)
• Fundraising: February fundraising reports are now available for all six major party committees, more or less:
The lone bright spot for the GOP is the RNC, which outraised the DNC for the second month in a row
. But the Democrats' House and Senate committees beat their Republican counterparts, as they did in January, giving Team Blue an overall edge in fundraising and cash-on-hand. (Note that as per usual, Senate data is incomplete due to the chamber's antiquated filing rules.)