• NJ-Sen, NJ-Gov: After seemingly endless speculation, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has made it clear he won't run against GOP Gov. Chris Christie in 2013, depriving Democrats of their strongest possible candidate, at least judging by poll numbers. (He's also made an announcement video, which is where I've taken the quotes below from.) It's not too surprising: Booker had long been cozier than average with Christie, and on top of that, Christie's sky-high approval numbers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, while perhaps fleeting, making him look like an incredibly tough opponent at the moment.
Instead, Booker says he'll complete his second term as mayor (which runs until July 1, 2014), and that he'll "explore the possibility of running for the United States Senate." The difficulty there is that the Senate seat in question is already occupied by Democrat Frank Lautenberg, and Booker doesn't sound especially interested in primarying him—or at least, he doesn't want to come off sounding that way, for now, saying he "looks forward to consulting" with Lautenberg about his plans and adding that it would be a "privilege and honor to continue his legacy of service."
But Lautenberg is very old (88), and many New Jersey Democrats seem eager for him to retire. Booker's "exploratory" move may pressure Lautenberg to hang it up: If the flattery doesn't work, then the prospect of a bruising campaign against a much younger, energetic, and well-connected politician might convince Lautenberg he's better off handing things over to Booker than going out with a loss. And should Lautenberg look unexpectedly strong, Booker can always back down and bide his time, seeing as he's only 43.
Right now, though, Garden State Dems are going to be focused on defeating Christie, and at the very least, Booker's decision will give other candidates who've been considering a gubernatorial bid more certainty and allow them in turn to make up their minds. So far, only one person has declared (state Sen. Barbara Buono), but Booker's move may open the floodgates for other contenders. And while Christie looks formidable now, things can change a lot between now and next November.
P.S. If Lautenberg does retire—and you can examine the tea leaves of his campaign's response to Booker's announcement—then it's no sure thing Booker would have the primary field to himself. Max Pizarro at PolitickerNJ reports that, according to unnamed sources, Rep. Frank Pallone is also letting his network of supporters know that he, too, would be interested in a Senate run in the event the seat comes open. Pallone doesn't have Booker's high profile, but he's a very adept fundraiser and is quite well-connected, so a race between the two could prove to be a titanic clash.
• HI-Sen: Hawaii Democrats are moving fast to pick a replacement for the late Sen. Dan Inouye. The party is currently accepting applications from interested candidates and intend to present a list of three names (as required by law) to Gov. Neil Abercrombie by Dec. 28. One party official says he hopes a successor can be appointed in time for the January 3rd congressional swearing-in ceremony.
• KY-Sen: This is pretty damn amazing. I'm sure you recall last week's freakout from the Mitch McConnell campaign, over a PPP poll that put the senator up just 47-43 on several different potential Democratic candidates, including actress Ashley Judd. Grunted McConnell's campaign manager:
On the first day of Republican Campaign Manager School, they teach us to ignore PPP polls. You see, PPP is a partisan Democrat polling firm, and they make their living giving the Democrat Party numbers they want to see.Well guess what? McConnell himself just put out his own internal poll from Voter/Consumer Research in an effort to combat these obviously phony PPP numbers (yes, I'm rolling my eyes)... and what did he find? That he's up... 47-43 over Judd! Holy lord! Did they teach this in Republican Campaign Manager School, too? You know, screeching about unfair partisan polls, then being stupid enough to release private numbers that are identical? It sure seems so.
I definitely wouldn't have published this data if I were McConnell, though. If he's leading by only four points in a poll from a Republican firm, then that's certainly not good news for him. Also note that he didn't release head-to-heads against any other candidate, which can only encourage speculation that his performance is worse against other potential contenders. (I mean, if the numbers were "good"—at least by McConnell's warped definition, then he'd share them, right?)
The only positive news here for the Senate minority leader is that he holds a 51-40 job approval rating in this survey, compared to the abysmal 37-55 score PPP found. But even that silver lining comes with a touch of gray, because if he's ahead by four points with a -18 net approval (according to PPP), shouldn't his head-to-head advantage be even bigger if he actually sports a +11 net rating? Using PPP numbers, he can at least say, "Well, despite my awful approvals, I'm ahead by four points." With V/CR's data, he has to gulp and acknowledge, "Wow, I'm only up four points despite some pretty good approvals."
All that said, I'm not hugely optimistic about Democrats' chances to unseat McConnell. But I think he's in weak shape and is going to have to seriously grind this one out if he wants to serve another term. And win or lose, making Mitch McConnell's life miserable definitely counts as a success.
• MA-Sen: John Kerry hasn't even been nominated for Secretary of State, let alone confirmed by the Senate, which is why I've studiously avoided almost all MA-Sen stories. If I were to start chasing down every speculative ghost out there, sooner or later I'd find myself fighting Stay Puft. But Thursday, for some reason, brought two polls on a hypothetical special election, and I guess I don't have it in me to ignore actual polling data. So, to wit: First we have a survey from MassINC on behalf of WBUR, focused mostly on how outgoing Sen. Scott Brown would fare against a variety of potential Democrats. Here are the results:
• 47-28 vs. Rep. Mike Capuano
• 48-30 vs. Rep. Ed Markey
• 49-30 vs. ex-Rep. Marty Meehan
• 51-36 vs. AG Martha Coakley
• 51-24 vs. Rep. Steve Lynch
On the one hand, you can look at these numbers and say, "Wow! Scott Brown leads all these Democrats!" On the other hand, you could observe that Brown has 100 percent name recognition and only two of these potential candidates are comparably well-known: Patrick and Coakley. Coakley, of course, brings baggage from her disastrous 2010 special election run (though she still sports a 47-27 overall favorability rating), while Patrick—who almost certainly won't run—holds Brown to 47 percent. If that number looks somewhat familiar, it's not just because of Mitt Romney: Brown took 46 percent against Elizabeth Warren in his unsuccessful bid for re-election this year, and in this poll, he prevails against Generic D 47-39. So is that his ceiling against a well-liked, strong Democratic opponent in the state of Massachusetts?
Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand, Brown wouldn't have to contend with presidential-year turnout in another special. On the other, there is literally no way Democrats will get caught sleeping like they did three years ago, and Team Blue will move heaven and earth to make sure Scott Brown doesn't pull off yet another victory—if he even runs at all. (And remember, even if he were to run in a special and somehow win, he'd be facing another general election in 2014... and then in 2016. Yikes.) Anyhow, it's a question I'll worry more about if this all comes to pass—and we're at least two if not three "ifs" away.
MassINC also tested a kitchen sink-style primary among Dems, though the results are not too surprising:
For what it's worth, Meehan's already said he won't run (phew), but he's virtually a zero. More important is that Patrick's made it pretty clear he wants to return to the private sector (though his public statements have left him a narrow, lawyerly out). That means his support would have to go somewhere... but who knows? Tons of potential candidates (Joseph P. Kennedy III! Ben Affleck! Vicki Kennedy! Honey Boo Boo!) still lurk out there who were not included in this poll, so it's hard to gauge how strong they'd be in a primary, if there even were one. See, again with the "ifs": I don't mind a little speculation now and again, but this story already has too many question marks.
Oh, and as for that other poll, from Emerson College? Well, it found completely different results! Patrick leads Brown in that survey, 48-43, and he edges Vicki Kennedy (the widow of Ted) 46-40. (For what it's worth, both Dems also beat ex-Gov. Bill Weld.) And in a different primary array, Patrick takes 20 to 16 for Kennedy, 13 for Capuano, and just 11 for Coakley.
What this all says to me is that the picture is far too unsettled for anyone to get a good handle on it—and if anyone does say with certainty that they can predict the future here, well, I'd just like to know if Amazon Prime carries the same model of crystal ball that they're using.
• NH-Sen: This is the kind of "no" that Chuck Schumer would never take as an answer: Outgoing Gov. John Lynch is once again insisting that he has "no interest in going to Washington" and therefore won't take on freshman GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016. But Chuck has years to work on him, so we'll see if Lynch's will holds out. And while it's not like Lynch is any progressive's favorite Democrat or anything, he would nevertheless be the highest-profile potential challenger Team Blue could field.
• AR-Gov: According to Arkansas Talk Business, local Democrats seem pretty burned by AG Dustin McDaniel's admission that he had an affair and are interested in finding a new top-tier standard-bearer. As soon as the McDaniel news broke the other day, I wondered whether and how much it might affect his bid for governor, and I guess the question will be whether anything comes of chatter like this, or if it just winds up petering out. But as for now, that chatter is reportedly focused on outgoing Rep. Mike Ross, who unexpectedly decided to retire from Congress last year—and has said he doesn't want to run for governor.
If McDaniel were to step aside (or look badly weakened), though, perhaps Ross might change his mind. But he's got a lobbying gig already lined up, and he hasn't made any public remarks since the McDaniel news broke, so I'm skeptical. Meanwhile, though, some Republicans are starting to feel friskier in the wake of the McDaniel story: State Sen. Johnny Key says he may throw his hat into the gubernatorial ring, and it sounds like he wants to decide by "the summer of 2013."
• WA-Gov: Since the bench of Republicans who can run a competitive statewide race in Washington state pretty much begins and ends with Rob McKenna, you might be wondering whether he's going to try again after losing this year's gubernatorial race by three points. For now, it's sounding like a 'no' -- he told the Yakima Herald Republic that "I want to take a break from public service" and, accordingly, is heading off to private law practice to cash in. Of course, it might only mean a few years of cashing in, as McKenna didn't explicitly rule out another run for office in the future. (David Jarman)
• Florida: It's hard to imagine Florida legalizing gay marriage any time soon—or even any time in the distant future—given the GOP stranglehold on the state legislature, but at least according to Quinnipiac, the trends are in the right direction. By a very narrow 45-43 plurality, respondents say they are opposed to gay marriage, but that's down from 50-40 against the last time Quinnipiac asked the question here—and that was just in May! Also, by a 52-42 margin, Floridians are opposed to legalizing marijuana outright, but with numbers like that, I bet you could find support for medical marijuana.
• Pres-by-CD: We have two new districts for you, both from Ohio. We're adding OH-06 and OH-13, the first the site of a failed comeback attempt by former Dem Rep. Charlie Wilson, and the second a vote-sink constructed for Dem Tim Ryan. The presidential numbers bear that out, as the Appalachian-tinged OH-06 dropped a few points for Obama (to 43 percent from 45, making the district a tough haul for Wilson) and OH-13 even improved fractionally for the President, to 63 percent from 62. (jeffmd)
• KY Redistricting: One of the most pathetic redistricting debacles of 2011 took place in Kentucky, where courts threw out new maps for the state legislature because too many counties were split—and then legislators failed to pass acceptable maps in time, forcing the state to use badly unconstitutional, decade-old lines with serious population imbalances this fall. Well, the legislature is heading back into session in early January for about a month, and lawmakers will once again try to tackle this serious problem. The November elections didn't change anything, though: Democrats still control the House and the governor's mansion, while the GOP remains in charge of the Senate. So either we're talking compromise, or a court-drawn plan.