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• NY-Gov: Siena's latest poll, as per usual, finds Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo crushing his likely GOP opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, 58-28, down just a touch from his 61-26 lead last month. However, in an interesting new twist, Siena also asked a variant on this question that included a hypothetical (but nameless) candidate for the Working Families Party. In that scenario, Cuomo drops to just 39 percent support, while Astorino and "generic WFPer" each take 24. (One cautionary note: Siena asked these head-to-heads after a huge battery of issue questions. That's never a good idea.)
Could something like this happen, though? Liberal discontent with Cuomo has run hot his entire tenure, and indeed, the WFP has considered the possibility of supporting an alternative candidate. (A non-endorsement isn't possible, since the party needs to win 50,000 votes on in order to ensure it keeps its ballot line.)
But it's a very difficult choice either way, as Blake Zeff observes. On the one hand, going to war with Cuomo would probably inspire him to try to destroy the WFP any way he can. On the other, meekly siding with Cuomo again would undermine the party's credibility as a force pushing Democrats in a more progressive direction.
Still, while Cuomo has mostly been immune to pressure from his left, there are nevertheless considerations for him as well: If he still harbors presidential ambitions (however delusional), a weak win marred by a serious liberal split wouldn't look good. But whether it's accommodation, rapprochement, or open warfare, a major decision looms for the Working Families Party.
• AK-Sen: Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's third ad is very similar to his second. Once again, Begich buzzes across the ice on a snowmobile (apparently called a "snowmachine" in the local vernacular) and brags about how he beat down a variety of federal institutions and "national Democrats" to win permits that would allow drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
Meanwhile, the pro-Begich super PAC Put Alaska First slams Republican Dan Sullivan yet again in a new spot. A local man named Todd Hoener attacks the Koch brothers, both by name and as "lower 48 billionaires," for shutting down an oil refinery in North Pole (a suburb of Fairbanks) that will cost 80 jobs. Hoener lambastes Sullivan for "remain[ing] silent" on the issue, then concludes, "Maybe if Sullivan was actually from Alaska, he'd care more about our jobs than his own."
It'll be interesting to see if these ads can stop Sullivan from winning the GOP nomination, though. Democrats would much rather face one of his two opponents, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell or 2010 nominee Joe Miller, but the same fundamental reasons that make them more attractive in a general election make them weaker in the primary: They're both sucky candidates.
Unlike the famous Missouri Senate primary of 2012, where Democrat Claire McCaskill helped Todd Akin to victory, this isn't a simple case where the most extreme candidate is apt to win—otherwise Miller would be cruising. Miller, however, remains mostly despised following his 2010 loss. And Treadwell's fundraising continues to be lousy. He pulled in just $124,000 (and self-funded another $175,000). Sullivan raised ten times that. Still, credit to Put Alaska First for at least trying to cause trouble.
• CO-Sen: Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is running his first ads, and he's wasting no time in going sharply negative on GOP Rep. Cory Gardner. A narrator says, "Gardner sponsored a bill to make abortion a felony, including in cases of rape and incest. Gardner even championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control—here, in Colorado." That last bit refers to Gardner championing a so-called "personhood" amendment, a topic he expediently tried to flip-flop on after declaring his Senate bid. Udall is reportedly spending $500,000 on the buy.
• GA-Sen: Democrat Michelle Nunn, standing in a kind of ugly, barren field, narrates her newest ad, which traces strictly non-partisan themes. Castigating D.C. "bickering," she says she wants to ban members of Congress "from every becoming lobbyists," from collecting paychecks "unless they pass a budget," and from getting "a subsidy to pay for their own health care."
• MI-Sen: Wow. Republican Terri Lynn Land's new ad—her first of the race—is just painfully vapid. As gentle piano music plays, Land starts off by saying "Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I'm waging a war on women." Incredulous, Land asks, "Really?", then insists: "Think about that for a moment." The music shifts to a peppier, almost annoying trope that signifies "waiting around" as Land takes a sip of her coffee, looks at her watch, shakes her head ... and says nothing at all for 12 seconds.
Then, thinking she's the cleverest lady ever, Land finally breaks her silence and declares, "As a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters." My only response: Man. This kind of guffawing rejoinder to substantive policy criticisms is truly pathetic. Anyone swayed by this kind of "argument" is almost certainly already very hostile to Democrats—the sort of conservative who declares, "There's no 'War on Women' because Monica Lewinsky!" It's hard to imagine this ad will persuade anyone persuadable, but the fact that Land's even put it out suggests she thinks this topic makes her vulnerable.
• MS-Sen: There have been tons of ads from outside groups and Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi's GOP Senate primary, but challenger Chris McDaniel is only now going up with his first spot. It's pretty cheaply produced, and McDaniel sounds like he's speaking only a little above a whisper as he touts his love of Mississippi and his "constitutional conservatism," which includes support for prayer in public schools (not a common ad topic, even in Republican primaries) and opposition to Obamacare.
• NE-Sen: For a group that's all but made of money, it's kind of surprising how crummy the Club for Growth's ads often look. Case in point is their new spot in the Nebraska GOP Senate primary. The Club, which is backing Ben Sasse, attacks former state Treasurer Shane Osborn for "false attacks" against Sasse and alleged mismanagement of the treasurer's office. But the ad's visuals wouldn't look out of place on late-night cable.
• OR-Sen: A new internal for Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, finds him leading physician Monica Wehby 53-32 and state Rep. Jason Conger 50-34. That's a darn sight better than the only other known poll of the race, from Harper Polling, which had Merkley up 46-34 on Wehby and just 47-40 on Conger earlier this month. Benenson also has the first-ever numbers on the GOP primary, and it's a tossup, with Conger at 24, Wehby at 22, and 55 percent undecided.
• SD-Sen: The narrator in Democrat Rick Weiland's second ad describes how Weiland has visited all 311 towns in South Dakota, because "[w]hen you're running against big money, you've got to do a lot of walking." Now that he's completed his apparently unprecedented circuit, "there's only one thing left to do: Start all over."
• IA-Gov: A new PPP poll for a group called Progress Iowa shows some rather startling signs of weakness for GOP Gov. Terry Branstad, who at one point appeared set to cruise to re-election. But a recent spate of mini-scandals involving a variety of government employees has burst into the national news and may have taken a toll on the incumbent, who now leads Democratic state Sen. Jack Hatch by just a 43-38 margin.
That's down from 48-36 back in February, but there'd already been some signs since then that Branstad wasn't looking so hale. Three other outfits conducted polls in the interim, finding Branstad at 44 (Sezler), 46 (Quinnipiac), and 42 (Suffolk) percent respectively, with Selzer's and Quinnipiac's numbers representing drops for the Republican. (Suffolk's survey was their first.)
None of these findings are particularly good for Branstad, but Hatch is still almost entirely unknown and faces a huge fundraising gap. He also hasn't gotten much love from national Democrats so far. But if this polling isn't just a momentary blip for Branstad, Iowa may find itself climbing the ranks of competitive races.
• PA-Gov: In her newest ad, Rep. Allyson Schwartz offers the most enthusiastic embrace of the Affordable Care Act of any Democrat who's aired campaign commercials anywhere in the country to date. Schwartz says she "worked with President Obama on the Affordable Care Act, and getting health coverage to all Americans." She continues: "It was my legislation that said insurance companies can no long deny coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions." She then hits GOP Gov. Tom Corbett for not taking "the Medicaid money" but says she will, "because 500,000 Pennsylvanians need health coverage."
• SC-Gov: Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is going up with a pair of new ads, the first she's run in support of her re-election campaign. Like a lot of other Republican governors who were swept into office in 2010, Haley touts her state's economic recovery in one ad. The other is very similar, except it features a bunch of people no one cares about (like the former chairman of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce) praising Haley's record.
• AL-06: A JMC Analytics poll for surgeon Chad Mathis finds him leading the pack in the GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus, but only in the mid-teens. Mathis takes 16 percent while state Rep. Paul DeMarco is just behind at 15, businessman Will Brooke takes 10, and state Sen. Scott Beason is at 9. That leaves 44 percent undecided, and if no one clears 50 percent in the June 3 primary, a runoff will be held between the top two vote-getters on July 15.
• FL-13: Baptist clergyman and St. Petersburg NAACP president Manuel Sykes, who said last week that he was considering a bid against freshman GOP Rep. David Jolly, now confirms that he'll run, giving Democrats their first confirmed candidate.
• FL-19: As expected, self-funding businessman Curt Clawson won the special GOP primary in the race to replace ex-Rep. Trey Radel on Tuesday night, defeating state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto 38-26. Ex-state Rep. Paige Kreegel finished third with 25 percent and aviation consultant Michael Dreikorn took the final spot with 11. Given the deep red hue of this district, Clawson will be the overwhelming favorite in the June 24 special election against public relations executive April Freeman, the only Democrat to run.
• MI-14: After going silent for most of the cycle, ex-Rep. Hansen Clarke has decided to run in the Democratic primary for his old seat in Congress right at the filing deadline. Clarke was thrown together with Rep. Gary Peters in redistricting in 2012, and even though he had two big advantages—he represented more of the new 14th District, and he, like a majority of the seat's voters, is black—Clarke ran a weird, desultory campaign and wound up getting spanked.
Last year, the seat opened up when Peters decided to run for Senate, giving Clarke another chance. But while he dithered over a comeback bid, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, who was the Democrats' 2010 nominee for lieutenant governor, consolidated a lot of support to emerge as the Democratic front-runner. So even with Clarke's prior history representing part of the district, Lawrence's status may not change despite his late entry.
• NC-02: Whoda thunk that two Democrats would wind up fighting so hard for their party's nomination in a district that gave Mitt Romney 57 percent of the vote? Nevertheless, that's where we are. Singer and activist Clay Aiken is running his first ad of the race, using the same setting and hitting the same themes from his well-regarded welcome video. Akin introduces viewers to the home where he "slept on the floor" with his mother, after she "escaped my violent father." The experience, he says, led him "to become a special ed teacher for children with autism," and now he runs a foundation that "helps children with special needs in 35 states."
But despite Aiken's big name, businessman and former state official Keith Crisco remains undeterred. He's already run a number of ads of his own, and in response to Aiken's spot, he immediately went negative. It's almost as though Crisco was waiting for Aiken to start talking about kids, because his scary-voiced narrator intones: "Clay Aiken says helping children with special needs is one of his top priorities, but when the president appointed Clay Aiken to the Presidential Commission for People With Intellectual Disabilities, no-show Clay Aiken skipped every single meeting—eight out of eight."
Aiken instantly sent an email attempting to fundraise off Crisco's attack, but his explanation for his absence doesn't seem like a great one. Aiken says he told the committee that "I was touring and working on my album at the time and that I couldn't be physically present for most meetings." Now, when George W. Bush appointed Aiken to this panel, he almost certainly did so so that Aiken's celebrity status could help draw some attention to it, not because he expected Aiken to be a workhorse participant. But saying, "I was too busy promoting my music to show up for a presidential panel to help disabled people" just does not sound good.
• PA-13: State Sen. Daylin Leach and state Rep. Brendan Boyle, two rivals in this four-way Democratic primary, both launched their first TV ads on Tuesday. Leach's spot starts off with a good hook, with a re-enactment (featuring his son as himself) of the day "my mom said she could no longer afford to keep me," leading to a life in foster homes. But then real-Daylin appears and runs through a list of progressives priorities that's both too long and not at all connected with the story of his upbringing.
Boyle, meanwhile, tries to out-humble Leach, saying his dad's a janitor and his wife's a public school teacher—and "we're not millionaires, like every one of my opponents." (Leach disputes that characterization.) Boyle then attacks Congress as half-filled with millionaires who "pay lower taxes than firefighters and teachers," which he says is "screwed up." (That counts as very harsh language for a campaign ad!) Boyle concludes with a further jab at Washington for failing to raise the minimum wage and touts his labor union endorsements.
• WI-06: Some good news for Wisconsin Democrats, as their top candidate for retiring Rep. Tom Petri's open seat, Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, has decided to run. Winnebago is a very swingy county (Obama carried it 51-47 in 2012) and it's also the largest in the 6th District, accounting for over a fifth of the population. Harris' ability to win on difficult turf led Democrats to court him for the governor's race last year, but he ultimately declined. A congressional bid won't be quite as huge an undertaking, but given that Mitt Romney won here 53-46, Harris still has a very tough task before him.
It's also conceivable he could face a primary, as Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels says he's thinking about the race, too, as is former Manitowoc Mayor Kevin Crawford. (Neither Harris nor Nickels would have to give up their current posts to run.) But Republicans will have to deal with a contested nomination battle no matter what, as state Sen. Joe Leibham just became the latest to join the contest. Two others are already running: state Sen. Glenn Grothman and state Rep. Duey Stroebel.
While this race remains a longshot for Democrats, the prospect of an incendiary internecine GOP battle, combined with Harris' skills as a candidate, gives the party an outside shot. Consequently, we're moving this race from Safe Republican to Likely Republican. And if the ultra-extreme Grothman wins the GOP nod—a definite possibility—Harris' prospects would improve further.
• WV-03: Well, I officially don't know what to believe anymore. On the one hand, you have the House Majority PAC spending heavily to shore up Rep. Nick Rahall, the DCCC recently adding him to their Frontline program, and the fact that West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District is ancestrally very Democratic. On the other, you have HMP leaving Rahall off their initial list of fall TV ad reservations, Republican Evan Jenkins putting out a poll showing him up 14, and an anonymously sourced line last week in Politico claiming that Democratic operatives say Rahall trails Jenkins "significantly" in their private polling.
Except that now we have a new internal from the House Majority PAC itself, courtesy Garin-Hart-Yang, that gives Rahall a healthy 52-40 lead over Jenkins. We don't have much to chew on apart from the toplines, though, but GHY has a good reputation, and the Jenkins campaign howled about the results but didn't offer any contradictory data.
The only other data point is that Barack Obama sports a 35 percent approval rating in the 3rd, which would actually be a bit positive, given that he only won 33 percent of the vote there in 2012. If Rahall's managed to put this much daylight between himself and the president, that would be quite the feat. But with so many contradictory data points, this district remains as confounding as ever.
• IL GOP: I'm going to try my hand at writing an Upworthy headline: "Illinois Republicans tried to purge its leaders ... you won't believe what happened next!" Yes, the story of what, at first, seems like an ordinary postcard from the GOP's civil war has a very unexpected twist at the end: The victims of the purge were the hard-liners on the right! It's unclear for now, though, whether this is a personality-driven blip, or something that's truly on the leading edge of a new trend.
The putsch over the weekend came as part of the elections for the 18 members of the state party's central committee; six of the seven members who had signed a letter last year urging the replacement of Pat Brady as state chair were replaced. Brady, as you may recall, was at the time in hot water for making statements in support of same-sex marriage, saying that the GOP was "on the wrong side of history." He later resigned, although he framed it in terms of family health reasons, but it seems like he's unexpectedly gotten the better of the argument, at least for the moment. (David Jarman)