2014 Election Preview: Iowa

The Hawkeye State is going to be abuzz with political activity this year as it hosts a gubernatorial race, a competitive Senate race, and a few interesting House races. The Republicans have chance to make some gains, but in order to do so they need to be on their A-game from now through November. Here’s the situation from Iowa:

Governor: Incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is running for his 6th (non-consecutive) term in office and if he wins, he will likely become the longest serving governor in US history. However, there are two men who seek to block Branstad from that prestigious honor: Republican Tom Hoefling and Democrat State Sen. Jack Hatch. Fortunately for the Governor, neither of them seem to pose too much of a threat to his chances. Polling shows Branstad crushing Heofling in the GOP primary while leading Hatch in the general election. It is true that few recent polls have this race much closer, but it is important to remember that Branstad is 12-0 in competitive elections and of all the years to break that streak, this particularly anti-Democratic one doesn’t seem likely to be it. I predict that over the next few months Branstad will widen his lead, but if that doesn’t happen this race could get a bit more interesting. Likely Republican.

Senator: Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is ending his 30-year tenure in the United States Senate, leaving an open seat election and a pick-up opportunity for Republicans. The sole Democrat running is Rep. Bruce Braley and he’s by far the strongest fundraiser in the race, gathering more than $5 million over the course of this cycle. However, that money-making acumen has gotten him trouble as he was recently caught on tape bad-mouthing an “Iowa farmer” (Senator Chuck Grassley (R)) to an audience of out-of-state lawyers. While this hasn’t killed his candidacy, it has given new life to GOP hopes of taking this seat. For their part, the Republicans are looking to choose between State Sen. Joni Ernst and businessman Mark Jacobs. Ernst got national attention with her pig castration themed ad, which may give her the edge she needs to win the nomination.  Polls show Braley with a slightly ahead in the general election, although there are a lot of undecideds and a lot of time until election day. So while this race Leans Democrat, Ernst remains a strong competitor.

House:

IA-1: With incumbent Rep. Bruce Braley (D) running for the Senate, this is an open seat that maybe, just maybe, could turn into a pick-up opportunity for Republicans. The Democrats have a pretty wide open field, with the top candidates being: Cedar Rapids Councilwoman Monica Vernon, former State Sen. Swati Dandekar, State Rep. Pat Murphy, and attorney David O’Brien. No one really has a money advantage and polling shows a plurality of voters are still undecided in the Democratic primary. Meanwhile, the Republicans look likely to nominate businessman Rod Blum, who is pretty much the only viable candidate they have. At first glance Blum doesn’t seem to be anything special and his fundraising has been anemic compared to that of his Democratic rivals. Unless Blum gets his act together, this race is Likely Democratic.

IA-3: Rep. Tom Latham (R) is retiring and that means that this swingiest of swing districts is up for grabs in November. There is a whole slew of Republicans looking to replace Latham, including: State Sen. Brad Zaun, Sen. Chuck Grassley’s former chief of staff David Young, social conservative activist Robert Cramer, IA Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and businessman Monte Shaw. All of them are in the same ballpark when it comes to fundraising and polls show that there isn’t a clear favorite in the GOP field. Meanwhile, the Democrats look set to nominate former State Sen. Staci Appel. She’s a charismatic candidate, she leads all her Republican rivals in fundraising, and her husband happens to be a Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. There is no doubt that she would be the favorite if this was a good year for Democrats, but of course it is not. Thus big question in this district is whether a spoiled bunch can ruin one good Appel. This race will be tight through election day and it’s a Toss-Up.

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2014 Election Preview: Pennsylvania

The key to 2014 in the Keystone State is how well the GOP can play defense in not-so-friendly territory. Clearly they have better odds in some races than others, but if the Republicans want to build a lasting majority in the House they must be able retain these swingish districts like those in Pennsylvania. Here’s the scoop:

Governor: The election won’t be for another six months, but with nearly 90% accuracy we can say that Democrat Tom Wolf will take office as the 47th Governor of Pennsylvania in January 2015. How do we know this? First, look at the Democratic primary: the most recent poll from Franklin and Marshall shows Wolf with a commanding lead over his nearest Democratic rival, Rep. Alison Schwartz. As a caveat, there hasn’t been any polling coming out since the beginning of the month, but there’s nothing to suggest that Wolf’s momentum has stalled over the past three weeks. Baring a historic polling failure, he will win the May 20th primary. How does he fare in the general election? After Wolf wins the primary he will face deeply unpopular incumbent Governor Tom Corbett (R), who has a dismal 31% approval rating. The most recent Quinnipiac poll has Wolf crushing Corbett by 19(!) percentage points in a head-to-head match up. In short: game over man, game over. This race is Likely Democrat, and the only reason it is not rated Safe Democrat is that it is never prudent to completely rule out an incumbent. Even with odds like these.

House:

PA-6: Six-term Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) has announced he is not running for reelection, which puts this marginally Republican district into a competitive status. Only one candidate for each party is running to replace him: former Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello (R) and Iraq veteran and physician Manan Trivedi (D). Trivedi has been the Democratic nominee twice for this seat and both times he’s lost by a wide margin. Meanwhile, Costello has a more than 2-to-1 fundraising advantage and with the DCCC focusing on protecting incumbents, there is doubt as to whether Trivedi will get the outside help he needs to win this race. Until Trivedi can show that he can improve on his past performance, this race is Likely Republican.

PA-8: In 2012 Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R) won reelection by 13.2 percentage points in a district that Mitt Romney only won by .1. This disparity means that, in the right conditions and with the right candidate, the Democrats have a chance to pick up this seat. This year they have a choice between Army Ranger Kevin Strouse and businesswoman Shaughnessy Naughton, neither with any experience in politics. Despite being a bit wet behind the ears, both are strong candidates and in a Democrat-friendly cycle they would be a serious threat to Fitzpatrick. However, this is the exact opposite of a Democrat-friendly cycle and its hard to see how either one could overcome the current political conditions. On top all this, the DCCC will likely be too busy protecting incumbents to give this race meaningful attention while at the same time Fitzpatrick has outraised both Democrats combined. Better luck in 2016 Democrats, because this race is Likely Republican.

PA-13: With Rep. Allison Schwartz (D) running for Governor, there is a slew of Democrats looking to replace her in this very blue district. The top contenders are: former Rep. Marjorie Marolies, State Sen. Daylin Leach, State Rep. Brendan Boyle, and anesthesiologist Valerie Arkoosh. A poll from August of last year showed Marolies with a large lead over her opponents, however she has lagged in fundraising and it is Arkoosh who’s leading in the money race. That being said, Marolies has the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton and House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D).  Can Arkoosh’s cash advantage help her overcome the Clinton machine? Only time will tell, but regardless of who wins the primary this seat is Safe Democratic.

2014 Election Preview: Oregon

Republicans have been singing the Beaver State blues as they haven’t won a major statewide race in over a decade while being shut out of the Governor’s mansion and the state’s electoral college votes since the 1980s. But despite this extended Democratic sweep Oregon, isn’t as blue as its electoral history implies. This year the Republicans have an opportunity to end their longtime losing streak and perhaps turn Oregon a bit more purple. Here’s what’s going on:

Governor: Like Gov. Jerry Brown in California, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is running for a record 4th term this November. However, unlike his neighbor to the south he faces a much more perilous path to reelection. Bruised from the disastrous launch of  the state’s Obamacare marketplace, a recent survey from Harper polling shows his favorability underwater and he only leads his likely Republican challenger, State Rep. Dennis Richardson, by 3 percentage points.  And while Kitzhaber has a decent fundraising lead, it is not too much of gap for Richardson to overcome. So while right now this race Leans Democrat, the GOP has a decent shot at making this a close race over these next few months.

Senate: Freshman Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley is running for reelection and in a blue state like Oregon he has the advantage in November. However, the GOP has shown signs of life and its two candidates, State Rep. Jason Conger and pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby, have kept Merkley under 50% in a recent Harper poll. In particular, the NRSC is touting Wehby as a credible challenger and she recently released this powerful ad that touts her trustworthiness as a doctor and a potential senator.  That being said, whether either Republican candidate can go the full distance still remains to be seen and Merkley currently has a 10 to 1 fundraising advantage over both of them. Until the Republicans can close this gap, it’s hard to see them having a chance at this seat and so this race is Likely Democratic.   

 

2014 Election Preview: New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment used to be a swing state, but in the Obama era it has taken strong turn towards the Democrats, who currently hold 2 out of 3 House seats and both Senate seats. However, Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) has shown the ability to govern in this hostile environment and she is a possible contender for the 2016 presidential election. But before that, she needs to win her reelection race in November. Here’s the situation:

Governor: Despite leading a state that voted heavily for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Governor Susanna Martinez (R) is in pretty good shape for reelection. Her Democratic rivals include NM Attorney General Gary King, State Sen. Linda Lopez, State Sen. Howie Morales, former Farm Service Agency head Lawrence Rael, and businessman Alan Webber. King is the favorite to win the nomination, but polls show him losing to Martinez in the November election. While according to pollster PPP the race has tightened, Martinez still has a solid fundraising advantage and I’d like to see more surveys before declaring this race competitive. Until then, this race remains Likely Republican.

Senate: Freshman Senator Tom Udall (D) is up for reelection and so far it looks like he’s good for another term. His two Republican rivals, former ADA David Clements and businessman Allen Weh, trail him by over 20 percentage points in last month’s PPP poll. Despite Gov. Martinez’s success New Mexico remains solidly Democratic and despite this year’s anti-Democrat environment, it doesn’t look like that’ll be enough to put Udall in serious danger. This race is Safe Democrat.

Election Preview: Montana

The path to a Republican majority in the US Senate runs straight through Big Sky Country and the GOP is determined flip this seat from blue to red. They look set to nominate Montana’s sole representative in the House, which means a primary scramble for his replacement that will come to a head on June 3rd. Here’s the story:

Senator: Last year Senator Max Baucus (D) announced that he would not run for reelection, but it seemed that 2015 wasn’t soon enough for him to get out and earlier this year he was confirmed as the new US ambassador to China. The Governor of Montana, Democrat Steve Bullock, appointed Lieutenant Governor John Walsh (D), who was already running for the seat at the time Baucus left for China. Normally the added benefit of incumbency would be a great boost any candidate, but this is not the case here. Despite his appointment to the Senate, Walsh has continued to trail his main GOP rival, Rep. Steve Daines. And while both Daines and Walsh do face a contest primary on June 3rd, none of their opponents have amounted to any significant opposition and it is virtually assured these two will face each other in the November election. Factoring Daines’s lead in both fundraising and polling, this race is Likely Republican.

House:

MT-01: With Montana’s only congressman, Rep. Steve Daines (R), running for Senate the open seat election to replace has attracted many Republicans and few Democrats. On the GOP side we have former State Sen. Corey Stapleton, former State Sen. Ryan Zinke, State Sen. Matthew Rosendale, and State Rep. Elsie Arntzen. It’s really a toss-up as to which Republican will win the June 3rd primary, with Stapleton leading in the polls and Zinke ahead in fundraising. For the Democrats, the likely nominee is former Baucus aide John Lewis. Unfortunately for Lewis, this is a pretty secure seat for the GOP and considering the political environment we rate this race as Safe Republican.

2014 Election Preview: Georgia

The Peach State has quite a few interesting statewide offices up for grabs this year, including both a Senate race and a gubernatorial contest. Though Georgia is primarily a red state, in both races Democrats are fielding competitive candidates and the Republicans will have to keep on their toes if they are to be victorious in November. Meanwhile, the Senate race has attracted a slew of Republican congressman and as a result there are multiple vacancies in the House of Representatives in deeply conservative districts. The GOP primaries that will decide the nominees (and the eventual winners) have their own interesting cast of characters and it should be fun to see what happens on Primary Night in May.

Governor: Incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal has middling approval numbers in a Republican leaning state, so he starts with a somewhat strong advantage. He has a few GOP primary opponents, but they should not present too much of a problem and it is highly likely that he will be renominated. The real challenge will come in November because the Democrats have a strong challenger in State Sen. Jason Carter (D), the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Polls show that the race is neck and neck, with Deal slightly edging Carter in every poll with the exception of the most recent PPP survey, which showed Carter with a 1 point lead. That being said, Deal has a significant fundraising advantage and while the polls show both candidates in the low forties, it remains to be seen whether a Democrat can get above that in a state as red as Georgia. Given these factors, this race is Likely Republican.

Senator: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is retiring and there is a whole slew of Republicans looking to replace him. There are THREE House members looking to move up to the upper chamber: Rep. Paul Broun, Rep. Phil Gingrey, and Rep. Jack Kingston. In addition, former GA Secretary of State Karen Handel and businessman (and cousin of former Governor Sunny Perdue (R)) David Perdue have thrown their hats into the ring. Right now it looks likely that the race will go on to a runoff  in July and judging from the polls, Perdue will be one of the candidates to advance. Who is going to join him is anyone’s guess right now and each of the other candidates has decent shot at doing so. The Democrats look to nominate non-profit CEO Michelle Nunn, who happens to be the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn (D). She has a household name and a decent fundraising operation, so she could make it close. Polling shows that the race is tight and all GOP candidates are currently in the low-forties against Nunn. Things could end up where the Republicans nominate someone like Broun, who is quoted as saying “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” and the Democrats could sneak away with this one like they did in Indiana in 2012. But Broun isn’t the front runner and winning as a Democrat in a red year and a red state would be a tall order indeed. This race is currently Likely Republican.

House:

GA-1: With Rep. Jack Kingston (R) trying to move on up to the Senate, this open seat has attracted a multitude of Republicans. The four candidates to keep an eye on are: former Newt Gingrich aide John McCallum, surgeon and ex-Army Ranger Bob Johnson, former State Sen. Jeff Chapman, and current State Sen. Earl “Buddy” Carter. In terms of fundraising McCallum, Johnson, and Carter are in the top tier, but Chapman has the endorsement of Georgia Right to Life (although this group has some baggage to deal with).  Regardless of who wins, this is a heavily GOP district and therefore this race is Safe Republican.  

GA-10: There are lots of Republicans fighting over the seat vacated Rep. Paul Broun (R) as he makes his bid for Senate. We have State Rep. Donna Sheldon, businessman Mike Collins, radio host Jody Hice, and former Army officer Stephen Simpson. No one has really raised a lot of money this cycle and its hard to see who has the advantage for the nomination. But whoever the GOP nominates, this seat is Safe Republican.

GA-11: The last of the seats left vacant by the trio of GOP representatives running for Senate is the one currently held by Rep. Phil Gingrey. The most likely man to replace him is 2008 Libertarian Party presidential nominee and former Rep. Bob Barr. This is one of the few House races with polling and while surveys show most voters a still undecided, Bob Barr is at the top the pack and that combined with his fundraising lead makes him the man to beat in the May 20th primary. He is joined in the race by State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, Georgia House Republican Whip Ed Lindsey, and Allan Levene (who is also running in Hawaii’s 1st, Minnesota’s 6th and Michigan’s 14th Congressional Districts). As with the other open seats, this race is Safe Republican.

GA-12: Rep. John Barrow (D) occupies one of the most conservative districts currently held a Democrat, meaning that he’s a prime target for the GOP this election cycle.  The two main Republicans looking to challenge him are businessmen Eugene Yu and Rick Allen, with both raising hundreds of thousands of dollars so far. That being said, neither of them have much political experience and it will take some skill to unseat a 10-year veteran like Barrow. Until there’s more of an indication of the caliber of the GOP nominee, this race Leans Democrat.

 

2014 Election Preview: California

At the statewide level, the Democrats have a pretty solid advantage in the Golden State. However, there are a bunch of interesting House races to watch and California could have a major impact on the net gain that Republicans see in their majority. A good night for the GOP in California is a good night across the country.

Governor: Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has had a career in politics that has spanned five decades and he doesn’t want it to end any time soon. The good news for Brown is that it doesn’t look like he has any challengers capable of stopping his quest for a record 4th term in office. His nearest opponent, State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, trails him by 37 percentage points in polls for California’s June 3rd “jungle” primary. California has a system in which all candidates are on the same primary ballot (regardless of party), with the top two candidates advance to the November election. This shouldn’t factor too much in this race, but it is possible for another Democrat candidate to place second and cause two Democrats to appear on the November ballot. Either way, it looks like California will have Jerry Brown to kick around for a little while longer and this race is Safe Democrat.

House:

CA-3: Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue is running against incumbent Rep. John Garamendi (D) in this mildly Democratic district. Logue is facing long odds, but he picked a good environment and he has kept up with Garamendi in the fundraising department. Logue can win this, but he has to run a near flawless campaign because this race is Likely Democrat.

CA-7: Rep. Ami Bera (D) is in one of the most swingiest districts in the country, a district that mirrored the nation in its vote percentages in the 2012 presidential election. Bera himself only won his race by 3 percentage points and he now faces a much worse environment than he did two years ago. There are three Republicans running against him: former Rep. Doug Ose, 2012 Senate nominee Elizabeth Emken, and former congressional aide Igor Birman. Ose is the clear establishment favorite and he’s dominated in fundraising, but Birman has support from outside conservative groups like FreedomWorks and he’s seen as the darling of the grassroots. Ose has the best chance of winning, but this race Leans Democrat until we know the outcome of the June 3rd primary.

CA-10: By all measures, Democrat beekeeper Michael Eggman is a decent candidate. He’s charming, an entrepreneur, has a decent website, and he’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars thus far. The downside is that he picked one of the worst years to run as a Democrat and he faces an incumbent with a 1.3 million dollar war chest in Rep. Jeff Denham (R). There is no reason to believe that Denham is in danger of losing his seat, but if he implodes or the national environment changes dramatically, the Democrats will be prepared to strike. Right now, this race is Likely Republican.

CA-21: Rep. David Valadao (R) did phenomenally in 2012 in a Democratic year in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. This year, he faces a strong challenge from Amanda Renteria, a former Chief of Staff for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). She’s a compelling candidate with a decent fundraising haul and if this were any other year Valadao would have good reason to worry. But this year isn’t just any other year and Valadao has some strong tailwinds that should keep him afloat come November. If he could pull off a strong victory in 2012, he should have no problem in 2014. So unless things take a dramatic turn for the worse, this race is Likely Republican.

CA-25: This is a Republican held open seat and the GOP looks likely to retain it come November. The GOP front runner is former State Sen. Tony Strickland, who narrowly lost in the neighboring 26th district two years ago. Meanwhile, it looks likely the Democrats are going to try their luck again with their 2012 nominee Lee Rogers, a podiatrist who got 45% of the vote back in 2012. This time Rogers isn’t facing an incumbent, but he won’t have the favorable conditions of 2012 either. Overall, Rogers will have to run a perfect campaign to have a chance at winning in November and we rate this seat Likely Republican.

CA-26: This is a long shot for the GOP, but they have a decent candidate in State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, a charismatic moderate who fits the bill for the liberal leaning district. He’ll have to face Rep. Julia Brownley (D), who only won in 2012 by 5% in a district that gave President Obama 54% of the vote. We’ll have to wait and see how this race develops, but for now it is Likely Democratic.

CA-31: Here we have another GOP retirement, but this time the picture is a bit rosier for the Democrats. Rep. Gary Miller’s (R) decision to end his 15-year career in the House of Representatives has set off a fight on both sides to replace him. For the Republicans the battle is between former Miller aide Lesli Gooch and and businessman Paul Chabot, a fight that has devolved into personal attacks and calls for the other candidate to drop out of the race. Meanwhile on the Democratic side we have Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, former Rep. Joe Baca, and Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes as contenders. Reyes and Aguilar are near the top when it comes to fundraising, with Baca lagging behind even with the advantage of being a former congressman. Given that this district gave 57% of its vote to President Obama in 2012, race starts off with a rating of Likely Democratic.

CA-36: In 2012, Democrat Raul Ruiz defeated incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) by 5 percentage points as Obama carried the district by 3 percentage points. In 2014 Republicans look to return the favor and they are fielding two candidates who can do just that: State Assemblyman Brian Nestande and former state legislator Roy Hanes. Nestande is currently the favorite, but Hanes is a seasoned politician and there’s no doubt he can make this an interesting race. This district is a bit more Republican than the country as a whole and if Republicans have a good night in November this will be a seat to watch, but right now this race Leans Democratic.

CA-52: As with the situation in the 36th district, here we have a Democratic incumbent who narrowly beat a GOP incumbent in 2012 running in a centrist district. This time, it’s Rep. Scott Peters who is trying for another term while the Republicans are left to decide between former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, former Marine Corps Office Kirk Jorgensen, and Dr. Fred Simon. DeMaio is the favorite to advance to the November election and he’s raised more than $1 million so far in the cycle, almost as much as the incumbent. As a side note, DeMaio is openly gay and it will be interesting to see how he squares that with the rest of the Republican Party. This race Leans Democrat, but you definitely want to keep an eye on California’s 52nd district.