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Republicans regain generic ballot edge

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1. Republicans have regained an edge in Gallup's weekly generic ballot question, a development that suggests that the Democratic uptick seen in recent weeks may have been anomalous.

For the week of July 26-Aug. 1, 48 percent of those tested said they would support a generic Republican candidate for Congress while 44 percent said they would choose a generic Democrat.

Those numbers were in direct opposition to Gallup's last two weekly generic ballot tests -- where Democrats held leads of four and six points -- but largely consistent with the broader trend that Gallup has found on the question dating back to the spring.

(Another troubling number for Democrats in the latest Gallup poll? Forty-four percent of self identified Republicans say they are very enthusiastic about voting in 2010 as compared to just 22 percent of Democrats who say the same. The intensity gap is alive and well.)

While the generic ballot test is an imperfect measure of how any individual race might turn out, it is widely accepted as a relatively good political weather vane -- telling you which way (and how strongly) the wind is blowing nationally.

And so, the recent gains by Democrats on the question were regarded with optimism by party strategists who thought, perhaps, the political struggles of the last year might be coming to an end.

In a recent column entitled "A Turning Point for Democrats?", political handicapper (and Fix mentor) Charlie Cook highlighted the generic ballot turnaround for Democrats as potentially indicative that "the Republican wave has subsided" although he added that two data points might eventually amount to the "political equivalent of a false positive medical test."

Unfortunately for Democrats, the latest Gallup numbers suggest Cook's latter scenario looks more likely -- although given the recent volatility of the Gallup generic ballot data it's worth waiting a few more weeks before drawing any hard and fast conclusions about the fall campaign.

"If sustained through Election Day, this competitive positioning for the Republicans among registered voters would point to major seat gains for that party in November given the usual Republican advantage in turnout," predicted Gallup's Lydia Saad in a memo detailing the generic ballot data.

2. Michigan voters are voting today in a slew of competitive races, from two closely contested gubernatorial primaries to a host of open seat House contests.

The most important race on the Michigan slate is the Republican primary for governor. Wealthy businessman Rick Snyder, Rep. Pete Hoekstra and state Attorney General Mike Cox all are considered possible winners and any one of them would be considered a favorite in the fall.

(With Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) term limited out of office -- and not particularly popular -- Democrats struggled to recruit a top tier candidate into the race. As a result, Democratic voters will choose between Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and state House Speaker Andy Dillon today.)

The critical counties in the Republican race will be Kent (Grand Rapids), Oakland (Pontiac), Macomb and Wayne (Detroit); the four counties accounted for about 40 percent of the vote in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary. But turnout in Ottawa County on the western side of the state will be key for Hoekstra -- it sits in his 2nd district base and is one of the most reliably Republican counties in the state.

In the battle for the House, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick has a showdown against a surging challenger in state Sen. Hansen Clarke. A July EPIC-MRA poll showed Clarke leading Kilpatrick (the mother of disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick) 38 percent to 30 percent. Four others have filed to run in the Democratic primary, and the recent troubles surrounding Kilpatrick's son may result in voters pushing the seven-term congresswoman out of office.

Meanwhile, Republicans will hold four competitive primaries in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th districts.

Tea party-backed physician Dan Benishek is battling establishment favorite state Sen. Jason Allen in the race for the northern Michigan 1st district seat of retiring Rep. Bart Stupak (D); the winner will face a competitive race state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) in the fall.

Seven candidates have filed in the 2nd district race for Hoekstra's strongly Republican seat. Former NFL tight end Jay Riemersma, who is also the Midwest director of the Family Research Council, led the field with 22 percent in a recent poll, although with 30 percent of likely voters undecided, the race is still up for grabs. Riemersma has far outspent his nearest rivals, former state Rep. Bill Huizenga, businessman Bill Cooper and state Sen. Wayne Kuipers.

Indecision is the name of the game in the neighboring 3rd district as well, where Club for Growth-backed state Rep. Justin Amash leads the GOP field in the race to replace retiring Rep. Vern Ehlers (R) but a large number of GOP primary voters remain undecided. State Sen. Bill Hardiman and former Kent County Commissioner Steve Heacock are also in the mix. If Hardiman wins, he'd be the latest black Republican candidate on track to win this cycle.

And in the 7th, former Rep. Tim Walberg is battling attorney and Iraq war vet Brian Rooney, the brother of Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney , in an effort to take back the seat he held for a term before losing it to Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer.

3. Kansas Republican voters are likely to chose the Sunflower State's next senator today while Republicans sort out a series of primaries in that state and neighboring Missouri.

The marquee race in the lower Midwest is the contest between Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt for the GOP nomination for retiring Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback's seat. The winner is likely to succeed Brownback, as Democrats haven't signaled a willingness to put up much of a fight in a state where they haven't won a Senate seat since 1932.

Moran has led in polling throughout and has raised more money but Tiahrt has the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and is hoping his strong grassroots support can deliver him an upset win in a low-turnout primary.

Other races to watch in the region include the GOP primaries for the seats currently held by Moran and Tiahrt. For Moran's 1st district, businessman Tracey Mann and state Sens. Jim Barnett and Tim Huelskamp were all tied in a recent poll. For Tiahrt's 4th district seat, state Sen. Jean Schodorf, businessman Wink Hartman and Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo are the frontrunners.

In the competitive open 3rd district seat left by retiring Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), his wife, Stephene, and state Rep. Kevin Yoder (R) are expected to face each other in the general election. Freshman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) faces a primary with state Sen. Dennis Pyle.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, Republican Rep. Roy Blunt faces a nominal primary opponent in the Senate race in the form of underfunded state Sen. Chuck Purgason. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan will be the Democratic nominee in the contest.

A wide field of Republicans are running for Blunt's 7th district seat with the winner a near-certain winner this fall. In the 4th district, former state Rep. Vicky Hartzler and state Sen. Bill Stouffer are fighting for the GOP nomination to face longtime Rep. Ike Skelton (D).

4. California Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) has more than $23 million cash on hand in his battle against free-spending former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) for the state's governorship, according to new finance reports released yesterday.

Brown has spent just $377,000 on his bid this year. Whitman, meanwhile, is on track to have spent $110 million (or more) on her candidacy -- $91 million of which came from her own pocket. (Worth noting: Whitman faced a competitive primary against Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner while Brown had no serious primary opposition.)

A July Public Policy Institute of California poll showed a tight race, with Brown taking 37 percent to Whitman's 34 percent. The California airwaves have been bombarded by ads on behalf of both candidates; Whitman has been airing her own, while a coalition of labor and other Democratic-aligned groups has been running a series of ads attacking Whitman.

Brown has yet to run any of his own campaign ads and has come under criticism in some Democratic circles for the slow metabolism of his candidacy to date.

5. Massachusetts state Sen. Rob O'Leary leads the Democratic primary in the open 10th district congressional seat, according to a poll released by his campaign Monday.

The poll, conducted by Gerstein-Agne Strategic Communications, shows O'Leary at 44 percent, while Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating is at 38 percent. O'Leary also leads 57 percent to 38 percent among voters who know both candidates.

"This data suggests his support should continue to grow as Democratic voters learn more about him and his unique record of supporting small business, protecting the environment, and promoting choice and innovation in Massachusetts schools," said pollster Karl Agne.

The two men are running for the seat of retiring Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.); the seat, which takes in much of eastern Massachusetts including Cape Cod, is the least Democratic district in the state as President Obama won just 55 percent there in 2008.

Republicans hope to make the seat competitive. Running on the GOP side are former state Treasurer Joe Malone and state Rep. Jeff Perry. Perry has been endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R).

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 3, 2010; 7:21 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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