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Who will lead the DSCC?

1. Coming off smaller-than-predicted losses at the ballot box last week, Senate Democrats continue to search for one of their own to lead their campaign committee into what, on paper, looks to be a daunting 2012 election cycle.

Democrats will need to defend 23 seats -- 21 Democrats and two independents who caucus with their side -- in November 2012 while Republicans have just 10 seats of their own up.

Among the nearly two dozen states where Democrats will be trying to reelect incumbents are places like Nebraska, North Dakota and Missouri -- not exactly friendly ground for their side.

That means the next chairman or chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman needs to not only have strong relationships with the targeted members but a willingness to speak hard truths about what they will need to do to win.

Several top contenders have already taking themselves out of the running led by Virginia Sen. Mark Warner who was widely seen prior to the election as the DSCC chairman in waiting.

So, what does the field look like? Here's a quick look:

* Patty Murray: The Washington State Senator chaired the DSCC during the 2002 cycle so she knows what it takes. She has also shown an ability to win close races during her time in the Senate -- most recently beating back a challenge from former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) last week. The question for Murray is whether she wants the job, which is generally seen as a stepping stone to leadership, since she is already Conference Secretary -- the fourth ranking post among Senate Democrats.

* Class of 2008: A number of Democrats elected in 2008 are mentioned as possibilities including Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Kay Hagan (N.C.). Hagan is not interested and it's hard to imagine Begich balancing the necessities of regularly returning home to the Last Frontier with the duties of a DSCC chair. Udall might be the strongest choice in this quartet, having spent time in the House before being elected to the Senate and hailing from a swing state. Of course, Udall has already indicated he's not interested.

* Chuck Schumer: Schumer is, without question, the preferred choice of most Senate Democratic strategists given his track record of success when he chaired the committee in 2006 and 2008. Schumer knocked down the idea over the weekend and sources familiar with his thinking say he meant it. There is still a strain of thinking within the party that Schumer will ultimately take the job for the good of the party but there is no indication that is happening now.

* The freshman: There has been some talk that newly elected Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.) might be a good fit at the DSCC. That may be true but it's hard to imagine a freshmen Senator who has just survived a bruising campaign deciding to sign on to what will be, without question, a very tough job. And, Bennet lacks the relationship with the senators up in 2012 that almost certainly will be a prerequisite for the job.

2. Following a week of waiting, the first write-in ballots in Alaska's three-way Senate race will be counted in Juneau today. Once the results start rolling in, we'll have a better sense of whether Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R) write-in bid -- as looks likely -- succeeded.

On Tuesday, absentee ballot counting saw Republican nominee Joe Miller gain more than 1,200 votes although he still trails "write-in candidates" by more than 12,000 votes. There are more than 20,000 absentee votes to be counted.

The Alaska Dispatch website has a handy primer on how the ballot count is slated to proceed. Here's the process, in a nutshell:

* Write-in ballots will initially be divided into five different categories. One category is for ballots on which the oval is marked for "write-in" and "Lisa Murkowski" (or just "Murkowski") is correctly written. Another category is for ballots on which the "write-in" oval is marked and the name written is a variation or misspelling of Murkowski's name. The other three categories are for write-in ballots that were cast in error or ballots cast for candidates other than Murkowski.

* After the initial ballot-sorting, the election officials will take all of the ballots containing a variation or misspelling of Murkowski's name and sort them into four more categories: 1) Ballots determined by election workers to be for Murkowski and not challenged by either campaign; 2) ballots determined to be for Murkowski that are being challenged; 3) ballots determined NOT to count for Murkowski that are being challenged; and 4) ballots determined NOT to count for Murkowski that are NOT challenged.

* Once the counting is done, numbers will be released for 1) the ballots cast for Murkowski; 2) the ballots cast for Murkowski that are being challenged; and 3) the ballots NOT counted for Murkowski that are being challenged. (Got all that?)

Miller's campaign filed a complaint in federal court late Tuesday that attempts to block state election officials from using their discretion when determining a voter's intent in counting write-in votes. State election officials had previously said that if it was clear a voter meant to write in Murkowski it would be counted as a vote for the incumbent.

The Election Day vote count stands at 83,201 write-in ballots (or 41 percent of the total vote), 69,762 votes (or 34.3 percent of the total vote) for Miller and 48,034 votes (23.6 percent) for Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D).

3. Seven House races remained in limbo eight days after the Nov. 2 election.

California Democratic Rep. Jim Costa has trimmed his deficit to just 145 votes in what is looking more and more like a victory for Democrats.

After Election Day, Costa trailed by 1,823 votes, but he has cut into Republican Andy Vidak's lead in subsequent ballot-counting and now appears a good bet for reelection, with a large amount of absentee ballots in Democratic Kern and Fresno Counties likely to put him over the top.

Also in California, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) currently leads by 628 votes, but Republican David Harmer could overtake him when absentee votes in San Joaquin County are added to the totals this week. It looks like it will be close.

Besides McNerney's seat, the only other place Democrats lead is Kentucky, where Rep. Ben Chandler's (D) 649-vote lead looks solid, with only a re-canvass standing in the way of victory.

Four other seats don't look as optimistic for Democrats.

In Illinois, Rep. Melissa Bean (D) continues to trail Republican Joe Walsh by 347 votes, with few absentee ballots remaining in Bean-friendly Cook County. Walsh has already declared victory.

The vote-counting is also nearing an end in Texas Democratic Rep. Solomon Ortiz's district, where the incumbent trails by 792 votes and is asking for a recount.

In New York, Rep. Tim Bishop (D) trails by less than 400 votes and is asking for a hand recount. Things may also be headed in that direction for Rep. Dan Maffei (D), who trails by 659 votes but is likely to close the gap a little when absentee ballots from Onondaga County are counted.

4. Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson has been tapped to serve as state Sen. Tom Emmer's (R) chief litigator in the likely recount battle in the Minnesota governor's race.

Magnuson, who was appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and served on the state canvassing board during the 2008 Senate recount, will report to prominent Washington attorney Michael Toner, who is heading up Emmer's legal team.

As of Tuesday, Dayton was leading Emmer by 8,750 votes -- a margin wider than the 312 votes that separated Sen. Al Franken (D) and former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in 2008.

The Emmer camp's hiring of Magnuson is the latest indication that many of the key players from the 2008 Senate recount are reprising their roles two years later.

Former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, who was part of Franken's legal team, has signed up with Dayton, while attorney Tony Trimble, who was a member of Coleman's team, is now working for Emmer's camp.

And even before Election Day 2010, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who at one point during the 2008 effort said "hell no" to the notion of Coleman conceding the race, sent a fundraising email to supporters contending that Coleman "was ahead by over 700 votes election night, only to have his victory ripped away from him by Al Franken and his lawyers in a lengthy court battle."

(The RNC has also set up a "No More Frankens" website soliciting donations and telling supporters: "We now know that Republicans should have won the 2008 Senate Race in Minnesota -- Act immediately to prevent another Franken!")

The recount effort could last until January or even later.

5. Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson trails his prospective GOP opponent by 15 points, according to a new poll released by the Nebraska Republican Party.

The poll, conducted by GOP survey research firm Voter/Consumer Research, shows state Attorney General Jon Bruning leading Nelson 50 percent to 35 percent.

Nelson has been a top target ever since won the open seat in 2000 and Republicans grew even more certain about his vulnerability after he voted for the Democratic health care bill. Nelson's seat ranked No. 1 on the The Fix's Line of the 10 seats most likely to flip to the other party in 2012.

Nelson's favorable rating (50 percent) remains higher than his unfavorable (43 percent), but just 36 percent of voters say he deserves reelection, while 55 percent say it's time to give someone else a chance.

In a matchup with a generic, unnamed Republican, Nelson trails 42 percent to 32 percent. Against popular Gov. Dave Heineman (R), Nelson trails big -- 59 percent to 31 percent.

Heineman has already said he isn't running. But Bruning, who launched an exploratory committee last week, starts the race in good position. He has a 53 percent favorable rating and just 15 percent unfavorable.

The poll was conducted Election Day and the day after among 499 Nebraska voters.

Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson said the senator will focus on 2012 "when it's time."

"Even after they spent millions of dollars in attack ads against health care, their own partisan polling shows Sen. Nelson with strong approval ratings," Thompson noted.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | November 10, 2010; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Afternoon Fix: Republican Keith Fimian concedes in Virginia's 11th District; Newt Gingrich says he's "probably fourth" among White House contenders
Next: Did the tea party cost Republicans the Senate?

 
 
 
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