Steve Israel polls in NY-Senate; rules out challenge to Gillibrand (again)
1. New York Rep. Steve Israel (D) has come under increased pressure from donors and activists to reconsider his decision not to run for the Senate in 2010 and has conducted a poll in recent weeks to test his viability in a primary race against appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Those close to Israel insist he is highly unlikely to run in the state's primary later this year, however and his chief of staff Jack Pratt was even more blunt. "There are a lot of rumors out there, but I can say definitively that he's not running," Pratt told the Fix Thursday night. Israel was on the cusp of announcing a challenge to Gillibrand in May 2009 but was talked out of doing so by the White House. Since that time, several other Democrats have openly contemplated a challenge to Gillibrand and passed. But, with former Tennessee representative Harold Ford Jr. (D) now expected to run -- and a new independent poll showing him as a viable candidate -- it appears to have stoked the interests of other wannabe senators. No one could explain to us why Israel would poll if he wasn't re-thinking his decision not to run but it does seem -- given his intimate involvement in the special election victory in New York's 23rd district last year -- that he is more focused on moving up the House leadership ladder. What the Israel news suggests is that Ford's candidacy has served to destabilize the Democratic primary and at least one source suggested that if Ford and/or Israel ran, it's likely that other aspiring Democratic pols will decide to jump into the contest. Republicans seem to believe that they can beat Gillibrand in the fall although they have struggled to find a quality candidate to date.
2. A new independent poll in California suggests that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is vulnerable to a Republican challenge this fall, a development sure to be seized on by Senate GOP strategists looking to broaden the playing field in the wake of their victory in the Massachusetts Senate special election. In the Public Policy Institute of California poll, Boxer didn't break the critical 50 percent mark against any of her three potential Republican opponents; Boxer led former Rep. Tom Campbell 45 percent to 41 percent and held eight-point leads over both former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. Boxer's favorable numbers were also middling; 49 percent approved of the job she was doing while 44 percent disapproved, a worse showing that she had at this time her 2004 re-elect (52 percent approve/34 disapprove) in PPIC polling. A Field poll released earlier this week showed Boxer in more solid shape; she led Campbell by 10 points and held wider 15 and 17 point margins over Fiorina and DeVore, respectively. At issue for Republicans is whether Campbell or Fiorina is the better nominee; Campbell has run statewide several times but has the sort of resume -- larded with service in elected office -- that doesn't sit well in a political environment like this one. Fiorina, on the other hand, is both an outsider and someone with considerable personal wealth but doesn't have any experience running a statewide campaign.
3. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold -- perhaps wary of his party's defeat in Massachusetts -- is going out of his way to show the political world that he is ready for a potential race against former governor Tommy Thompson (R). On Thursday, Feingold released his fundraising numbers for the final three months of 2009 -- $947,000 raised, $3.65 million on hand -- and announced that John Kraus, who served as communications director on Feingold's 2004 race, was signing on as a senior strategist for the 2010 campaign. "I am happy to have John back on our team as we continue to expand on our already solid campaign organization," Feingold said in a release. "With seven field offices and a growing volunteer base, we are ready to wage a strong grassroots campaign throughout the state." Feingold's increased level of activity of late coincides with a ramped-up effort by national Republicans to find a series candidate to oppose the Democrat in November. Thompson, who served as governor from 1986 until his appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration in 2001, is reportedly mulling the race although he seems unlikely to run. Republicans' dream candidate is 1st district Rep. Paul Ryan but, while Ryan does have Senate aspirations, he seems content to wait until 2012 when Sen. Herb Kohl (D), already the subject of retirement rumors, will be 77 years old.
4. Wondering where to look to see how bad the retirement bug will bite Democrats? Keep an eye on the congressional filing deadlines -- helpfully collected by Politics1.com. (Bookmark this link. Trust us.) Tomorrow is the last day for candidates in West Virginia to file for office; Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who holds a district that went for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) with 57 percent in 2008, was regarded as a potential retiree but his recent exoneration by the Justice Department makes it likely he will run. Rep. Nick Rahall (D) has been in the House since 1976 but seems certain to go for an 18th(!) term in November as well. February is largely devoid of congressional filing deadlines -- New Mexico on Feb. 9 is the lone one -- making it a crucial month for House Democrats as they seek to convince on-the-fence members to stay put. March 1 brings the Mississippi and Nebraska filing deadlines, and one week later is the deadline for Arkansas candidates. As these drop-dead dates approach, members in each state begin to reflect seriously on whether or not they want to run one more time -- particularly in a national environment as potentially difficult as this one looks for Democrats. A surprise retirement or to under the filing deadline gun could set off an explosion of 'no-go' decision that could jeopardize Democrats' hold on the House.
5. If it's Friday, it's time for a "Live Fix" chat. For an hour -- from 11 a.m. ET to noon -- today we'll field questions on politics, coffee, music, field hockey and whatever else you can think of to ask about. Catch it!
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