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Posted at 7:37 AM ET, 01/ 7/2011

Outside groups begin advertising in North Dakota Senate race

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake


Outside groups aligned with both parties are already advertising in North Dakota, an early sign of the potential competitiveness of the state's Senate race and of the likely heavy spending by third party groups on contests around the country in 2012.

Commonsense Ten, a group founded last cycle by Democratic operatives Jim Jordan, Monica Dixon and Jeff Forbes, is spending $30,000 on radio ads defending the record of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). The ads begin today.

"We know Kent Conrad," says the ad's narrator. "Lifelong North Dakotan, champion for our ranches and family farms and fiscal conservative." The ad goes out to tout Conrad as a "deficit hawk" and decries the "ads from out-of-state corporate interests attacking Kent Conrad".

The ads referred to in the Commonsense Ten spot are being paid for by the American Future Fund, an Iowa-based conservative outfit. The AFF commercials, which the group is spending $60,000 on over two weeks, remind North Dakotans that Conrad said back in 1986 that "he would resign if the budget deficit hadn't fallen."

The AFF ads go on to attack Conrad for voting for the "wasteful stimulus, massive Wall Street bailouts and the budget-busting health care bill that Americans didn't want."

Jordan, a former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said his group's ads were an early attempt to combat the vast spending edge of GOP-aligned organizations in 2010.

"We saw last cycle what the Republican dominance in outside spending meant," said Jordan. "We're going to do everything we can to play that to a draw, at least, in 2011 and 2012."

In the last election, North Dakota Democrats took a major hit, with Republicans winning an open Senate seat and defeating former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D). Given those gains, Republicans believe 2012 is the cycle where they finally can beat Conrad and have ramped up public pressure on him in the early stages of the race.

Conrad has been mentioned as a possible retiree but has said little publicly about his future political plans. Unlike in 2010, when popular Gov. John Hoeven (R) ran and won a Senate race, Republicans have no obvious candidate to take on Conrad at the moment.

Polls show Ensign struggling, Heller cruising: Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is in some real trouble in 2012, in case you didn't know.

According to a new poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling, Ensign's approval is just 35 percent (50 percent disapprove), and he trails at least one potential opponent by double digits.

The PPP poll shows Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (I), running as a Democrat, leading Ensign 45 percent to 35 percent. Against a more likely opponent, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), the Democrat is at 45 percent, while Ensign is at 42.

That doesn't mean Ensign is sunk, but it does mean he starts out with plenty of work to do if he does run (as he says he will). Questions remain about his affair with a former campaign staffer that need to be addressed.

What's perhaps more instructive, though, is how much better Rep. Dean Heller would do as the GOP nominee. The poll shows him leading Berkley by 13 points and Goodman by seven.

Look for Republicans to renew their efforts to get Ensign out of the race in the coming months. The stakes are too high, and Heller is much too capable a replacement.

Plurality want repeal of health care: Gallup is out with a new poll today showing 46 percent of Americans want the health care bill repealed, while 40 percent want it to remain as-is.

Those numbers track pretty closely to the overall numbers on who is opposed to the health care law and who supports it, though the repeal question has many more undecideds.

As we discussed Thursday, while more favor repeal, there is not huge mandate for the GOP to repeal the law, and doing so doesn't necessarily have a big political payoff.

Complicating matters for the GOP is a Congressional Budget Office estimate, released Thursday, that repeal would cost $230 billion over the next decade.


Rudy Giuliani is weighing another presidential run, according to the New York Post.

...And Donald Trump says he is "seriously considering" his own bid.

Roll Call catches up with a few potential Senate candidates currently in the House. Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) all sound content staying in the House.

Outgoing Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) is talking up state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) for his job in 2014.

A new Marist College poll for NY-1 shows New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's (I) approval rating at an all-time low of 37 percent.

Sen. Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) chief of staff, Jeff Bjornstad, is leaving her office.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) goes to New Hampshire in March.

DON'T FORGET -- Politics and Pints is this coming Monday at the Capitol Lounge at 7 p.m. Be there or be ... somewhere not as cool.


"An Unorthodox Path To RNC Victory" - Reid Wilson, Hotline On-Call

"Bayh's departure leaves Dems in bad spot" - The Post-Tribune

"President revs up campaign to make peace with business"
- Elizabeth Williamson, The Wall Street Journal

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | January 7, 2011; 7:37 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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