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Democrats' Independents Problem

1. In a series of states almost certain to be hotly contested in the 2012 presidential race, Democratic candidate lost badly among independents -- a potentially troublesome sign for President Obama as he plans his reelection.

Nationwide, Republicans won independents by 18 points, according to exit polling. That's a 36-point reversal from the 2006 midterms when Democrats carried independents by that same margin.

In the states, the Democratic numbers were just as troubling.

In the Florida governor's race, Republican Rick Scott won independents by 10 points even as he beat state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) by less than 40,000 votes out of five million cast.

In the Pennsylvania Senate race, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) beat Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by 10 points among independents even as he was winning statewide by just two points.

In Colorado's Senate race, which appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) won, the incumbent still lost among independents by 16 points. Republican Senate candidates in Ohio (+39 among independents) and New Hampshire (+25) won unaligned voters by massive margins.

Republican candidates claimed double-digit margins among independents in Wisconsin, Missouri and Nevada as well.

Those results among independents are in keeping with Democrats' struggles with that critical voting bloc in 2009 gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia as well as in the Massachusetts Senate special election won by Sen. Scott Brown (R) earlier this year.

While we have written before that extrapolating out from the 2010 election to divine deeper meaning for the 2012 presidential race is a dangerous game, the Democratic underperformance across the board among independents is tough to ignore and has to be a central concern for President Obama and his political team moving forward.

2. Senate races in Alaska and Washington likely won't be over for days or weeks, while the governor's races in Minnesota and Illinois could be headed for recounts.

The "write-in" option in Alaska appears to have taken a clear plurality of the vote, and if the vast majority of those votes go to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) - as they are expected to -- she is likely to win reelection less than three months after losing a primary bid to Republican Joe Miller.

Alaska election officials won't begin evaluating the write-ins ballots and determining voters' intent until next Wednesday, however, so it could be a while until it's clear whether Murkowski made history as the first Senator since 1954 to win as a write-in candidate.

In Washington State, meanwhile, ballots are still being in the race between Sen. Patty Murray (D) and former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R). The state's vote-by-mail process often last several days after the election since no counting is down until polls close across the state.

Just more than 70 percent of ballots have been counted thus far; Murray leads Rossi 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent among the already-counted votes. Murray's campaign argued that most of the uncounted ballots come from counties where Murray is currently winning - including lots of ballots in Seattle-based King County, where she is up by 24 points.

In the Connecticut governor's race, the Associated Press un-called the race for former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy (D) late Wednesday night -- putting the race back into the too close to call category. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Malloy has a more than 4,000-vote lead on former Ambassador Tom Foley (R), according to AP.

In the Minnesota governor's race, a statewide recount appeared imminent, with former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) leading state Rep. Tom Emmer (R) by less than 1 percent -- within the threshold for an automatic recount. State Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton raised concerns about ballot-counting issues in Hennepin County early Wednesday.

Still, the race isn't nearly as close as that 2008 Senate race the led to an eight-month legal battle. Dayton is ahead by 9,000 votes, compared to Sen. Al Franken's (D) 312-vote margin over Norm Coleman (R).

A recount is also possible in Illinois, where Gov. Pat Quinn (D) led state Sen. Bill Brady (R) by half a percent with 100 percent of the vote counted.

3. Eleven House races remain undecided two days after the 2010 election, and everyone is a potential Republican pickup as the GOP holds out hope of adding to its list of 60 takeovers in Democratic districts in Illinois, Texas, California and Washington state among others.

The closest race in the country is in California's 11th district, where Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) led Republican David Harmer by just 121 votes. As many as 20,000 absentee and provisional ballots are yet to be counted, however.

In the nearby 20th district held by Rep. Jim Costa (D), there are also a number of ballots still to be counted; Costa trails Republican Andy Vidak by less than 2,000 votes -- about 2.8 percent.

Washington Rep. Rick Larsen's (D) leads Republican John Koster by just 400 votes in the 2nd district.

In Arizona, Reps. Raul Grijalva (D) and Gabrielle Giffords (D) remained in limbo; Grijalva led by 3 percent while Giffords had a 1 percent edge with an undetermined number of absentee ballots yet to be counted in each contest.

Republicans hold hope of defeating four other Democratic incumbents: Reps. Ben Chandler led by 600 votes in the Kentucky's 6th district while Rep. Melissa Bean trailed by about 600 in Illinois' 8th. Rep. Solomon Ortiz (Texas) trailed by less than 1 percent, while Dan Maffei (N.Y.) led by less than 1 percent and Gerry Connolly's (Va.) margin was just 0.4 percent in the 11th district.

4. Republicans won a major victory in a critical governor's race Wednesday when businessman Rick Scott (R) bested state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) in Florida's gubernatorial showdown.

Republicans also were victorious in Maine's three-way gubernatorial contest, with Waterville Mayor Paul LePage (R) besting attorney Eliot Cutler (I) and state Senate President Libby Mitchell (D).

But Democrats had plenty of good news of their own at the gubernatorial level. In Vermont, Republican Brian Dubie conceded to Democrat Peter Shumlin and in Oregon former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) defeated former NBA player Chris Dudley (R). (The Associated Press has yet to call Vermont.)

Including the new results in Florida, Maine, Oregon and Vermont, Republicans now control 29 governors' mansions to Democrats' 18; Rhode Island now has an independent governor in former GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

On the Senate side, Democrats scored a big win in the Colorado Senate race, which saw appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) fend off a tough challenge from Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) to narrowly win election to a full term. The race was one of the most closely watched in the country.

In the Senate, Democrats have 50 seats and Republicans have 46, with two independents caucusing with the Democrats. That amounts to a six-seat pickup to date.

5. House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence's (Ind.) announcement Wednesday that he will step down from his leadership post set off speculation about the congressman's political future as well as the race to succeed him in GOP leadership.

In a three-page letter to his House colleagues, Pence explained that he decided not to seek reelection to his leadership position "after much prayerful consideration."

"As we consider new opportunities to serve Indiana and our nation in the years ahead, I have come to realize that it may not be possible to complete an entire term as Conference Chairman," Pence wrote.

Pence, who in September was the surprise winner of the annual Values Voter Summit straw poll, is considered by most political watchers to be a potential White House 2012 contender. He is considered a rising social conservative star, although he has repeatedly denied that he's mulling a presidential bid.

A Fort Wayne TV station reported Wednesday that Pence is planning to run for Indiana governor, not president, citing sources who work for Pence. A Pence staffer denied the accuracy of the report. The governor's mansion will be open in 2012 as Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), himself a potential presidential candidate is term limited out.

While it may be a while until Pence makes his ambitions known, those who are considering running for the leadership spot he is vacating are already stepping up to the plate.

Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling announced Wednesday morning that he is running for conference chair; Pence and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) immediately backed him.

But Hensarling will have to contend with Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) as the tea party favorite and darling of national conservatives announced Wednesday in an appearance on Fox Business Network that she's running for conference chair.

Bachmann said she had spoken with Pence and pointed out that Hensarling once ran Pence's campaign. "They have a very close relationship; I certainly understand why he's doing that," she said. "But I also have endorsements from other members, and this will be a great contest."

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | November 4, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Afternoon Fix: The day after - Sen. Michael Bennet wins in Colorado and Rick Scott wins in Florida; Republicans +60 House, +6 Senate; Pence for president?
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