How many retirements is too many for Democrats?
1. The surprise retirement of Wisconsin Rep. Dave Obey on Wednesday brought the number of Democratic retirements to 17 -- short of the 20 Republicans leaving or running for other offices but still perilously close to the danger zone for Democrats in the 2010 midterms.
By political handicapper Charlie Cook's projections, 13 of the 17 open Democratic seats are marginal -- meaning that they are likely to be competitive between the two parties. There are fewer competitive districts among the 20 Republican retirements with both national House committees likely to spend campaign cash in four or five of the GOP seats.
While those open seat numbers -- coupled with Democratic gains in hard-to-hold seats in the 2006 and 2008 elections -- should be troubling for party strategists, the predictions of a flood of Democratic retirements in the wake of Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass) victory on January 19 have not yet come to fruition.
Since Brown's shot-heard-around-the-political-world, 15 House members have called it quits: eight Democrats and seven Republicans.
And, that tally of eight Democrats includes the seats of late Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), who passed away unexpectedly in February, Rep. Eric Massa's (N.Y.) whose implosion in March made him unelectable and Rep. Brad Ellsworth (Ind.) who is running for Senate.
Democrats acknowledge that a few more potential retirements are lurking as filing deadlines approach in a series of states but believe that the number of additional retirees will be in the low single digits.
If that prediction comes true -- depending on who and where the retirements come from and whether they are met by any other Republicans calling it quits -- Democrats will have avoided the doomsday situation many painted for them following Brown's win in Massachusetts but they are far from out of the woods.
"There is such an anti-Washington and anti-Democratic Congress environment that having a large number of open seats isn't required for them to lose their majority," Cook told the Fix. "Having 53 incumbents in districts held by the other party four years ago is pretty extraordinary."
ALSO CLICK: New Gallup data shows Democrats narrowing the enthusiasm gap -- the key data point to keep an eye on heading into 2010.
2. Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln began airing a radio ad on Wednesday that features President Barack Obama urging Democrats to back her in a May 18 primary fight against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
"Blanche is leading the fight to hold Wall Street accountable and make sure that Arkansas taxpayers are never again asked to bailout Wall Street bankers," says Obama in the ad.
On health care, her handling of which drew considerable criticism from the ideological right and left, Obam praises Lincoln for taking on "big insurance companies by voting to end discrimination against Arkansans with pre-existing conditions and fought for tax credits that will help thousands of local small businesses provide insurance to their employees."
Obama's support could be crucial to Lincoln's chances. Roughly 15 percent of the Arkansas population is African American but black voters comprise a significantly larger segment of Democratic primary voters.
Polling suggests that Lincoln continues to lead Halter although both sides believe the race is close. A third Democratic candidate -- DC Morrison -- is gaining vote share in recent public and private surveys and could keep Lincoln (or Halter) under 50 percent and force a June 8 runoff.
Lincoln is the second Senate incumbent in recent weeks to benefit from radio ads featuring the President. Obama cut a radio spot for party switching Sen. Arlen Specter -- in which he touts the incumbent "as a man who's always put his state before politics" -- last month.
3. Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) launched the first ad of her Senate campaign, a commercial that casts her as an outsider (what a surprise!) willing to shake up the Washington establishment.
"We need to cut wasteful spending, eliminate pork barrel earmarks and balance the budget," says Ayotte, promising to make "tough decisions" that "make government work for us again."
The ad, which was produced by Larry McCarthy, is running on WMUR and cable throughout the state but not in the costly Boston media market. The buy will cost the campaign $92,000 over the next two weeks.
Ayotte's television buy comes after several months of ads from wealthy businessman Bill Binnie (R) who has put several million of his own dollars into the race. Binnie's ads, which, you'll be surprised to learn, cast him as an outsider willing to shake up the Washington establishment, have turned him into a legitimate primary threat to Ayotte.
While Democrats insist that Ayotte, the handpicked candidate of retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R), is a weak general election candidate, a recent Granite State poll showed her with a comfortable lead over Rep. Paul Hodes who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Our most recent Friday Senate Line ranked New Hampshire as the ninth most likely race to switch parties in the fall.
4. Even as national Republicans continue to wait for former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) to make up his mind on a challenge to Sen. Patty Murray (D), a new independent poll shows that he would start well behind the incumbent.
Murray took 51 percent to 34 percent for Rossi in the Elway poll, the strongest showing of any Republican against the Democratic incumbent but far from an indictment of her service in the Senate. Murray led state Sen. Don Benton 51 percent to 27 percent, businessman Paul Akers 50 percent to 26 percent and former NFL player Clint Didier 50 percent to 24 percent in the survey.
The news for Murray in the poll is not all good, however, as her job ratings have fallen since a June 2009 Elway survey. In the most recent poll, 48 percent rated Murray's job performance as either excellent or good while 46 percent described it as fair or poor -- a reflection, perhaps, of the broader anti-incumbent sentiment in the country.
Rossi, who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2004 and 2008, is widely expected to run although his delaying of an announcement one way or the other has to be somewhat concerning for party strategists. He has until June 11 -- the state's filing deadline -- to decide.
Republicans point out that other public polling shows the race essentially tied -- and the Real Clear Politics polling average bears that out.
"As with the previous public polling that's been done, internal polling shows a clear path to victory in this race if Dino decides to get in," said one GOP strategist familiar with the data on the race.
5. Sarah Feinberg, a senior to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, is leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to head up the communications operation for Bloomberg (the corporation, not the mayor of New York City).
"As Bloomberg expands its presence in Washington and prepares to launch its government information division, I'm looking forward to being a part of an organization with such an impressive record of innovation and entrepreneurship," said Feinberg about her new role.
Feinberg has been at Emanuel's side constantly for the last five years -- serving in the press shop at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when Emanuel chaired the organization during the 2006 election and then moving to oversee his communications operation when he was elected chairman of the House Democratic caucus.
When Emanuel was named chief of staff to President Barack Obama in late 2008, it was natural that Feinberg would join him in his new role too.
Prior to her work with Emanuel, Feinberg spent several years working in South Dakota politics where she met her husband -- Georgetown grad and White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
May 6, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Morning Fix
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