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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> May 2010

Week In Midterms

Just one state held a primary election this week, so there were not many votes to analyze. But in Idaho's 1st district, the National Republican Congressional Committee's preferred candidate, Vaughn Ward, lost by a wide 9-point margin to Raul Labrador, who was backed by local tea party groups.

For the second week in a row, some political observers questioned the NRCC's effectiveness so far in what's expected to be a good year for the party. Last week questions arose after Democrat Mark Critz retained -- by an 8-point margin -- an open Pennsylvania seat in a special election for a district ripe for a GOP pick-up.

Well, the committee will have another chance to prove its chops Tuesday in Alabama's 2nd district primary, where yet again an NRCC "Young Gun" candidate, Martha Roby, is up against tea party-backed Rick Barber.

Also holding primaries June 1 are Mississippi and New Mexico.

SENATE

NEW POLLS:

California - Primary; California - Primary; Connecticut; Florida; Kentucky; Nevada - Primary & General; New York - Primary & General; North Dakota; Ohio; Oregon; Washington; Washington; Wisconsin.

CALIFORNIA: It's heating up out West where Republicans are scrapping in anticipation of the June 8 primary and for the chance to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). This week, President Obama paid his second fundraising visit to the state in the last two months. Meanwhile, the Republicans debated, and Carly Fiorina took big leads in recent polls and went statewide with TV ads.

CONNECTICUT: More drama in the Nutmeg State this week as Rob Simmons dropped his bid for the GOP nomination after previously stating he would fight on despite losing the party's endorsement last Friday. Meanwhile, Blumenthal shook off the horrible week he had and found himself up 25 points against the person the GOP did endorse, Linda McMahon. He was still the butt of a joke by the vice president, however.

NEVADA: There are many factions of establishment Republicans in the state and they are split over whether tea party-backed Sharron Angle is the right person for the job -- both as the Republican nominee and as the senator who will represent them for the next six years. A Mason-Dixon poll out today shows she is now statistically tied with establishment favorite Sue Lowden, while Lowden performs better against Reid.

PENNSYLVANIA: Hoping to focus on the oil spill that's dismayed much of the country, President Obama was asked during his press conference Thursday to explain Senate nominee Joe Sestak's claim that the White House had offered him an executive branch job to entice him away from running against Sen. Arlen Specter. The White House released findings of its internal investigation today, stating in a report that it did nothing improper or illegal.

WASHINGTON: Republican Dino Rossi, a twice-failed gubernatorial nominee, announced his Senate candidacy Wednesday in an online video on his campaign website. His decision to run was no surprise, but it instantly moved the seat into more vulnerable territory for the Dems. Two polls out this week found Sen. Patty Murray (D) below 50% and leading by small margins.

GOVERNOR

NEW POLLS:

California - General; California - Primary; California - Primary; Connecticut; Florida - Primary & General; Massachusetts; Minnesota; New York - Primary & General; Ohio; Oregon; South Carolina - General; South Carolina - Primary; Texas.

CALIFORNIA: Meg Whitman's camp claimed this week that Steve Poizner's attack ad blitz has barely had an impact. The unexpected emergence of illegal immigration as an issue has forced Whitman to the right. Whitman has now spent more than $80 million on her campaign.

IDAHO: Gov. Butch Otter (R) won his primary with just 55 percent of the vote. Do Democrats have a chance?

FLORIDA: The St. Pete Times says Bill McCollum's camp is "flailing" in its efforts to counter a surge by Rick Scott in the GOP primary. An outside group with ties to McCollum has launched ads attacking him. Another GOP candidate, Paula Dockery, dropped out of the race.

NEW YORK: Andrew Cuomo has named the mayor of Rochester as his running mate. Robert Duffy is "is credited with creating a public integrity unit, cutting property taxes and bringing crime down to a 25-year low," the Daily News reported. Meanwhile, the GOP field got even more crowded, with RGA chair Haley Barbour curiously welcoming the newest entrant, Myers Mermel, into the race. The Independence Party endorsed Cuomo.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The GOP primary was rocked this week by allegations by a political blogger of an alleged affair with state Sen. Nikki Haley. She denied the claim, but said today she will deal with it after the primary election. Haley quickly launched an ad featuring Sarah Palin after the allegation was made. Rep. Gresham Barrett (R), being hit by his GOP rivals for supporting TARP, turned to former Vice President Cheney for an endorsement.

THE REST: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is getting more aggressive in his bid to hold his seat. Wyoming Democrats will likely be unable to field a strong candidate by today's filing deadline. Overshadowed by the Senate race, former Ambassador Tom Foley edged Lt. Gov. Michael Fidele for the Connecticut GOP's endorsement. AFSCME and the DGA have jumped into the fray with a TV ad bashing GOP hopeful John Kasich over Wall Street ties.

HANDICAPPER WATCH
Cook Political Report:
* Washington Senate from Solid Democrat to Toss Up
* Oregon Governor from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat
* HI-01 from Lean Republican to Toss Up

Rothenberg Political Report:
* Washington Senate from Safe Democrat to Narrow Advantage Democrat
* ID-01 from Toss Up to Lean Democratic
* HI-01 to Toss-Up

RCP PROJECTIONS
Senate: GOP +6
Governor: GOP +4
House Map

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Four Things To Watch In Alabama's Primaries

With an open race for the governor's mansion and two seats Democrats picked up in 2008, Alabama is home this year to some of the most competitive and fascinating races in the country. Some of the intrigue will surface June 1 in primaries that will define the November races. So, here are four things to watch in Alabama on Tuesday:

The Reverse Specter?

Most political observers have had their eyes peeled on the 5th District GOP primary race since freshman Rep. Parker Griffith switched from the Democratic to Republican Party in December. The interest only increased since the defeat of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary earlier this month, a year after switching parties. Griffith was elected to this 61%-McCain district by a 3-point margin.

Luckily for Griffith, there is no video (that we know of) of him stating that political survival was the sole reason for switching parties. But many Republican primary voters will likely believe that anyway, and they remember his attacks on Republican Wayne Parker from the recent past of 2008. While his GOP congressional colleagues support him, both vocally and financially, it's still unclear whether that has resonated on the ground.

Challenging Griffith are Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks and businessman Les Phillip, whose TV ad went viral for its kicker, "They're not going to call me a racist." Both have received endorsements from local tea party groups, and both trail Griffith -- who's dropped $250,000 of his own cash -- in the money race by significant margins.

AL-2, or is it ID-1?

Republicans perhaps came out of Idaho's 1st District primary this week with a stronger general election candidate to take on freshman Democrat Walt Minnick, whose voting record ranks him as the most independent member of Congress. But, the winner was tea party-backed and the loser was a top recruit by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which featured him in the top tier of its "Young Guns" program.

Well, Alabama's 2nd District, which gave John McCain nearly an identical winning percentage (63%), is starting to play out in an incredibly similar fashion. Only Minnick has voted with his party less often than freshman Democrat Bobby Bright (according to the Washington Post's Votes Database). And Bright will likely be challenged in November by either Martha Roby, an NRCC Young Gun, or Rick Barber, who's been endorsed by tea party groups and RedState.com's Erick Erickson.

Roby has been a Montgomery City Councilwoman since 2003 and goes into Tuesday's primary with a dominant fundraising edge. Barber claims a more grassroots approach to the campaign and hopes things turn out as they did in Idaho.

Roy Moore's Return?

Four years ago, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore ran against Alabama's sitting governor, Bob Riley, in the Republican primary. When Moore first considered the race, Riley's numbers were hardly intimidating. But his standing solidified by the time election day rolled around, and Moore failed to gain any traction. He lost by a margin of 2-to-1.

Now, with Riley term-limited, Moore is once again running for governor. But he's hardly the favorite in a crowded GOP field that includes former state Sen. Bradley Byrne and Tim James, son of former Gov. Fob James. Byrne appears to be the frontrunner, both in polling and fundraising. James has drawn attention in the closing weeks for his call to end offering state drivers exams in 12 languages. "This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it," James says in an ad.

As for Moore? He's most known to state voters for refusing to remove a display of the Ten Commandments from state property while serving on the bench. In this race, it's the Tenth Amendment that he's focused on, a hallmark of the tea party movement that believes the federal government has too much power. He's also released an economic development plan centered on cutting taxes, but opposes plans to institute a state lottery. But like his 2006 campaign, he's struggling to gain widespread appeal. But if polling holds up, he may qualify for an expected runoff election on July 13.

Davis Looks To Make History

If Artur Davis wins Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary, he'll ensure the November general election stands out beyond the state line. Davis, a Congressman representing the 7th district, would look to make history as the first African American governor in a state that was a hotbed in the struggle for civil rights.

Davis has maintained a lead throughout the race, and was one of a small number of non-incumbent Democratic candidates feted as a top-tier candidate at the Democratic Governors Association's winter gala. But he's staked out conservative positions with an eye to the fall contest, leaving an opening for Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. For instance, Davis voted against health care reform, the signature legislative initiative of his friend, Barack Obama. Davis was the first Congressman not from Illinois to endorse the future president.

Despite the attention his candidacy would bring from outside the state, Davis would likely be a distinct underdog no matter who emerges from the Republican field. Any Democrat, despite the party's historical strength in the state, would struggle; a Democratic Congressman in an anti-Washington year faces an even steeper hurdle. And race would inevitably be a factor as well, if an unspoken one.

YouTube Sensation

As a bonus, we'd be remiss if we didn't note one final storyline heading into Tuesday's vote -- this ad for Dale Peterson, a candidate for Agriculture Commissioner.

He faces two other Republicans in the race to succeed Sparks.

-- Kyle Trygstad & Mike Memoli

Obama's Buck-Stops-Here Presser

In an effort to quell the growing stream of doubts about his administration's response to the Gulf oil spill, President Obama repeatedly said he takes full responsibility for the government response while seeking to dispel the notion that his team did not act aggressively enough.

"Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred," Obama said in a rare extended Q-and-A session with White House reporters, which comes on the eve of a holiday weekend and his second trip to the Gulf since the late-April incident.

presser0527.jpgThe White House called for today's event in part to allow Obama to re-assert leadership in the face of doubts about whether the federal government or BP was calling the shots.

"The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort," he said. "Make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction."

He later said he wanted the American people "to understand is that not a day goes by where the federal government is not constantly thinking about" resolving the crisis and minimizing its impact on Gulf residents. And he was Truman-esque in taking a "buck-stops-here" tone, particularly in his closing remarks.

"In case you're wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility," he said. "It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down."

He bristled at criticism that this crisis amounted to his "Katrina," and questions about whether he could done more both in responding to offers of assistance from foreign governments and in meeting the demands of local and state officials on the ground.

"When the problem is solved and people look back and do an assessment of all the various decisions that were made, I think people can make a historical judgment. And I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis."

Moving forward, Obama proposed four policy shifts as a result of the BP spill. First, suspending exploration of two new locations off the coast of Alaska. Second, canceling a pending lease sale in the Gulf and a proposed lease off the Virginia Coast. Third, extending the moratorium on new permits to drill deepwater wells for six months. And finally, suspending current drilling efforts at 33 deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama, in something of a jab at political opponents like Sarah Palin, said that while he had been willing to expand offshore drilling, it had to be done safely and as part of a larger energy plan that included aggressive development of renewable sources. Drilling of the kind here "is more expensive, and it is going to be inherently more risky."

"And so that's part of the reason you never heard me say, 'Drill, baby, drill,'" he said. "We can't drill our way out of the problem. It may be part of the mix as a bridge to a transition to new technologies and new energy sources, but we should be pretty modest in understanding that the easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground."

Though not officially billed as a press conference beforehand, it was Obama's longest session with White House reporters that on domestic affairs since he held a prime-time affair last July. Still, of the 10 reporters called on, all but three questions were on the oil spill.

One of the most pressing political questions of this White House did not come up until the very end. Fox News' Major Garrett asked Obama what his administration may or may not have offered Rep. Joe Sestak (D) last year in an effort to get him out of the Pennsylvania Senate race. Obama promised a full statement on the issue would come "shortly," a metric that aides later did little to clarify.

"I can assure the public that nothing improper took place," he said when pressed on the issue.

Nevada Republicans Split On Angle

Following tea party-backed Rand Paul's stumble out of the gate of the Kentucky Republican Senate primary last week, another candidate across the country is likewise giving some establishment Republicans fits.

Sharron Angle, whose endorsement by the Tea Party Express led to a surge in polling, is no longer an afterthought in the June 8 Nevada GOP Senate primary. Like Paul, Angle is not the establishment-preferred candidate. That would be Sue Lowden, a former state party chair and state senator who entered politics in 1992 by knocking off the Democratic state Senate majority leader.

With the seat of the U.S. Senate majority leader in play, Nevada Republican leaders are split over several aspects of Angle's candidacy: whether she can beat Sen. Harry Reid; whether her views are too extreme; and whether she will be able to successfully work alongside others with differing opinions in the Senate -- as Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy once did, for example.

"Some Republicans don't think she is ready, but for the most part the voters do," said Republican National Committeewoman Heidi Smith. "We in Nevada have become tired of the old backroom politics, and I think the voters see Sharron as a change."

That plays out in recent polling, with the last public poll showing Angle trailing Lowden by just 5 points.

Some of the questions about Angle arise from her 2008 primary challenge to state Senate Majority Leader William Raggio. Two years after nearly defeating Republican Rep. Dean Heller in a primary, Angle again came up short. But with the state party forced to spend valuable resources to defend Raggio, less was available for others and Republicans lost two state Senate races -- and, with them, the majority.

Raggio, now Senate minority leader, has endorsed Lowden and is not surprisingly unexcited about Angle's Senate bid.

"The concern of most Republicans is that she's the least likely one who could beat Harry Reid -- and the race is close at this point," he said.

Raggio's Senate colleague, Barbara Cegavske, who has not endorsed anyone, feels any of the Republicans in the race would be competitive and that Lowden is just as susceptible as Angle to an aggressive campaign by Reid.

"I think that the opposition is going to try to find anything they can to use against any candidate, I don't care who it is," said Cegavske. "Harry can say just about anything he wants, but I think his goose is cooked."

Clark County Republican Party Chairman Bob Ruckman concurs with Cegavske and notes Angle's four terms as a state Assemblywoman as evidence that she's got more experience than Paul, a political novice.

"I'm okay with people who feel Sharron or Danny [Tarkanian] or Sue may not be the best candidate," he said. "But I think there's too much being drawn out of the standard bearers who only feel that one candidate can win."

Cegavske and Ruckman also both said that establishment Republicans will support whoever wins the primary. But not everyone believes this.

One former GOP state legislator told RCP some Republicans may stay home or even vote for Reid if Angle is the nominee. They worry that Angle won't cooperate with senators from the East who don't readily understand the issues of importance in Nevada -- such as federal ownership of land, water laws, environmental issues and wild horses -- and their support is essential for Nevada senators to get legislation passed.

Some of Angle's views match up with libertarians like Paul, and that's worrisome to party leaders who watched Paul criticize the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act one day after winning the primary. With Reid one of the most vulnerable members of the Senate, there's an urgency to get the right candidate.

Positions such as wanting the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, calling the Department of Education unconstitutional and wanting to shift Social Security to a free market alternative are particularly troubling to some.

"Her message is too radical. It's too far right," said Raggio. "I think most Republicans would consider themselves Reagan conservatives. He said there's room under the tent for people that have some differing views. But I think her views are those we want to exclude."

Ruckman, who's been party chairman of the state's biggest county since last year, argues that establishment Republicans haven't exactly put the party on a successful track recently. That's part of the reason for the uproar happening across the country.

"Establishment Republicans in Nevada have lost two election cycles, and it's pretty obvious that the policies that they've had over the last eight to 12 years have not stood us in very good stead," he said. "My family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the party. But in the last two election cycles we've been very disgusted about donating all this money -- and we lose."

California Candidates Mobilizing For Senate, Gov Races

President Obama made his second trip to California on Barbara Boxer's behalf in as many months Tuesday, raising a total of $1.7 million for the senator's campaign and the DSCC at three stops in the Bay Area.

"I don't travel for just anybody," the president said at one of those events. "But when it comes to Barbara Boxer I'm a lot like you - when she calls and says she needs help, we're gonna give her some help."

Though she does not yet know who her Republican opponent will be, Boxer -- who also faces a primary challenge from liberal blogger Mickey Kaus -- knows this race will be one of her toughest yet. And given the cost of running a California campaign, particularly when one potential foe is capable of dipping into her personal fortune, Boxer is taking nothing for granted. Through the first quarter of 2010, she had nearly four times as much cash on hand as her potential foes.

"They have Sarah Palin," Boxer said, alluding to the former Alaska governor's endorsement of Carly Fiorina, but also the GOP as a whole. "We have the man I'm going to bring on stage right now. My friend, my pal. This is the second trip he's made for me."

Boxer's fate may prove to be indicative of just how deep the Democratic losses are in November. If she loses, Republicans are likely closing in on returning to parity in the Senate after being down 20 seats until this January. But if she wins, the GOP would have to run the table in every single other contest to even come close.

On the same day Boxer was motorcading around with Obama, her potential foes were duking it out in a radio debate. According to a Los Angeles Times account, Fiorina tried to focus on Boxer, criticizing Obama for political travel when he should be focusing on the Gulf Oil spill. But opponents Tom Campbell and Chuck DeVore were picking the former HP exec's record -- or lack thereof, when it comes to voting -- apart instead.

"Maybe it makes Chuck DeVore, who's sort of dog-paddling at 14% in the polls -- maybe it makes him feel better to belittle other people's conservative credentials," Fiorina responded at one point.

Two polls out in recent days indeed show Fiorina with a comfortable lead two weeks away from the primary. She leads in the RCP Average by 5.0.

In another tough GOP battle, Meg Whitman's campaign is claiming the upper hand in the gubernatorial primary, despite a recent surge from rival Steve Poizner. On a conference call Tuesday, aides said that Poizner has "succeeded in being a negative surrogate for Jerry Brown and confusing some Republican voters." They released their own internal poll showing Whitman still the leader, by a margin of 53-27.

"[His negative ads] failed in providing a rationale for a Poizner candidacy and Meg, even throughout that period of tightening, one, was always ahead - and two had a reservoir of good feeling," adviser Mike Murphy said. "Voters are becoming unconfused as they take a second look at Steve Poizner they see the truth: a liberal Sacramento politician who will say just about anything to get elected."

Poizner's campaign wasn't backing down, though. His latest radio ad accuses Whitman of having the same position on immigration as Mexican President Calderon.

ID-1: Labrador Upsets Ward In GOP Primary

Local tea party favorite Raul Labrador upset Vaughn Ward last night in the Republican primary for Idaho's 1st congressional district. Labrador overcame a fundraising disadvantage and Ward's endorsement by Sarah Palin to win 48-39 percent.

Labrador, who told the Idaho Statesman that the key to his victory was a consistent conservative message, will now face freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick.

After defeating Republican Bill Sali in 2008 with 51 percent in the conservative 1st district, Minnick entered this election cycle as one of the most vulnerable incumbents. But he's voted with his party less than any other member of Congress, according to the Washington Post Votes Database, and flies back to his district nearly every weekend, despite the distance and unease.

In a memo to reporters early this morning, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which placed Ward atop its "Young Guns" program, wrote: "Unlike Walt Minnick, who enabled the Democrats' radical agenda by casting his first vote in Congress to install Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, Raul Labrador will provide conservative, independent leadership for the people of Idaho."

The 1st district, which covers the western and northern portions of Idaho (and part of Boise), gave John McCain 62 percent and George W. Bush 69 percent in the last two presidential elections.

In Conn., No Love Lost For Simmons, McMahon

It was certainly no unity celebration in New London this morning as former Connecticut congressman Rob Simmons ended his campaign for Senate. After losing the state GOP's endorsement Friday, Simmons faced a tough road ahead in the primary against Linda McMahon -- the wealthy, former professional wrestling executive whom the state party preferred.

According to his prepared remarks, Simmons never mentioned McMahon by name, including when he promised to help other Republicans get elected in November. But he listed his severe financial disadvantage as the reason for dropping out.

"Speaking for myself and my family, however, we understand the mathematical reality of competing against an opponent with unlimited financial resources who has already invested over 16 and a half million dollars in this campaign - by far more than any senate candidate in the country - and who has an unlimited ability to continue spending at an extraordinary rate," he said.

It's not surprising, since the Simmons campaign has spent the last several months attacking McMahon's record at World Wrestling Entertainment. Just last week, in the wake of bad press for Democrat Richard Blumenthal, Simmons campaign manager Jim Barnett said that McMahon suffered from "fundamental character defects" and that her record would soon catch up to her as well.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, though, jumped behind McMahon right away.

"As a successful businesswoman who is ready to restore much-needed checks-and-balances to Washington, I know that Linda McMahon will run an exemplary campaign against Richard Blumenthal," said NRSC Chairman John Cornyn. "We're confident that Linda McMahon will make this Senate seat in Connecticut a competitive pick-up opportunity for Republicans this November."

The seat appeared safer for Democrats following the retirement of longtime Sen. Chris Dodd and the entrance by Blumenthal, a well-known and popular attorney general. But a couple of recent New York Times articles -- including one last week detailing his past misstatements about his military record -- have put the state back on the GOP's map of offensive territory.

Simmons, who is a decorated Vietnam veteran, thought his record would compare favorably against Blumenthal's. But by staying in the race, both candidates would be forced spend money, and to keep the focus and criticism on each other rather than Blumenthal.

With the Republican nominee now known, the Blumenthal campaign can also now put its sights solely on McMahon. A statement released this morning indicates the line of attack Blumenthal will take in the months ahead.

"The people of Connecticut face a clear, stark choice between Dick Blumenthal, who will continue standing up for them against powerful interests on issues that matter, like their jobs and health care," said Blumenthal campaign manager Mindy Myers, "and Linda McMahon's self interest that's gained her multi-million dollar profits peddling steroid-fueled violence to our kids, exploiting her workers, and obstructing investigations into possible crimes under her watch."

While slamming McMahon as a "wrestling mogul who made her millions peddling violence to kids," the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sought to tie Simmons's exit to a growing trend around the country.

"Simmons is only the latest Republican moderate to fall in their bloodletting civil war," said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. "The battle between the Republican establishment and the fringe of their party does not seem to be a close one. The moderates keep losing."

Idaho Primary Sets Up Top House Race

Idaho's 1st congressional district typifies the kind of Republican seats Democrats were able to pick up in the last two election cycles, as the party expanded its reach into conservative territory. But in 2010, it's also exactly the kind of district the GOP is expected to regain if the party is to win back the House.

Today, Republicans Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador lead a group of five in the primary race to take on freshman Democrat Walt Minnick. Before Minnick's election, the seat was held by a Republican for all but four years since 1966.

"This is a very conservative district, probably in the top 5- or 10-percent of the most conservative districts in the country," said Gary Moncrief, a political scientist at Boise State University. "Whomever the Republican nominee turns out to be, he will run as much against Nancy Pelosi as against Walt Minnick."

Jonathan Parker, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, confirms that will be the strategy for the GOP nominee's general election campaign.

"The vast majority of voters are very unhappy with the direction our country is headed with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi at the helm," he said. "A vote for Walt Minnick is a vote for Nancy Pelosi."

This is a tactic Democrats can expect all over the country, as Congress faces historically low approval ratings.

However, the strategy proved unsuccessful last week in the special election to replace John Murtha in Pennsylvania's 12th district -- a much friendlier district for Democrats but one Republicans could have won. Democrat Mark Critz won by a surprisingly high 8-point margin after his opponent worked to tie him to unpopular Washington.

In Minnick's case, though, at 70.8 percent, he's voted with his party less than any other member of Congress -- Democrat or Republican -- according to the Washington Post's Votes Database. He voted against health care reform, cap-and-trade and the massive economic stimulus bill.

"He runs as a Democrat, but party labels don't really matter to him -- he just does what's right," said Minnick campaign manager John Foster. "He is really a fiscal conservative and he has the voting record to prove it."

In a toxic political environment for incumbents everywhere, getting that message across to voters will be a challenge. Parker noted that even if he votes against Pelosi's agenda, Republicans will argue his election would help keep her in the speaker's chair -- something that could be unpalatable enough for voters.

"If the Republicans have a shot at retaking the House, a campaign against Pelosi will resonate in this district," said Moncrief. "At that point, it comes down to whether the Republican nominee can keep from making too many gaffes."

That's one point Democrats believe they have on their side, as Ward -- whom the National Republican Congressional Committee highlights in the top tier of its Young Guns campaign program -- has already seen his fair share of stumbles.

A few examples: He was forced to pull an ad from the Drudge Report last month that featured him wearing his military uniform because the Marine Corps raised concerns that it implied an endorsement; he was accused of pilfering policy stances from another candidate's Web site; and, most recently, a video surfaced on the internet Monday that showed a portion of his campaign announcement speech from January matching almost exactly to Barack Obama's heralded speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Still, Republicans cite a heightened enthusiasm among the base and tea party groups, especially in Idaho. And, despite the fact that Minnick has the distinction of being the only Democrat endorsed by a national tea party organization, the Minnick campaign knows it will have a race on its hands regardless of today's Republican primary outcome.

"Either candidate is going to be tough, no matter who wins -- just because the Washington political establishment has already decided how this race is going to go," said Foster. "But Walt has been tireless in his preparations for the campaign and will have the resources to win in November."

With Minnick unchallenged in the primary, the Republican nominee will likely face a significant financial disadvantage as he begins the general election campaign. But the NRCC has its eyes on this district and is likely to commit resources, if necessary, to win it back.

Foster says Minnick fits the district as "a businessman who's doing public service" and someone who flies home nearly every weekend to work hard on constituent services -- and that Idahoans will vote for him no matter the "D" that follows his name on the ballot.

Moncrief generally agrees, but notes that in this district and this political climate, that might not be enough.

"As a Blue Dog Democrat, he generally reflects the fiscal conservatism of the 1st congressional district," he said. "In a 'typical' year, I think he would be the strong favorite to win re-election, even in such a Republican-oriented district. But, obviously, this is not a typical year."

Blumenthal Camp: Vietnam Issue Behind Us

Richard Blumenthal went from Senate shoe-in to political punch line after the New York Times reported on his past misstatements of his Vietnam-era service. But in the span of the week, his campaign now argues that he has successfully navigated through the immediate crisis to the point where Democrats can feel confident again that the party will hold his seat come November.

To bolster that argument, the Connecticut attorney general's campaign released results of an internal poll showing that he maintained a substantial advantage over one of his potential general election foes, WWE executive Linda McMahon. The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey, conducted May 19-20, found Blumenthal leading 55-40. A Rasmussen poll released last week found the same matchup much tighter.

"His deep roots and connection with people in Connecticut make him a very tough guy to knock down," a polling memo argues.

In the latest effort to counter the story, Blumenthal today penned a personal apology in the Hartford Courant. "I have made mistakes and I am sorry. I truly regret offending anyone,'' he wrote.

When the Times story first broke, it was clear that the immediate 48 hours would be critical to the survival of his campaign. Within hours, the campaign issued a strong statement on the matter and advised a press conference the next day. Blumenthal, surrounded by veterans, explained that he misspoke but defended his record. By Friday, the Connecticut Democratic Party nominated him by acclamation at its convention; statements of support -- some stronger than others -- also came from national party officials and the White House.

"This ended up being a textbook case in crisis management," said a Democratic strategist who was involved in the effort.

The McMahon campaign called the latest apology too little too late.

"The statement Dick Blumenthal released in the dead of night yesterday cannot be construed as an apology because it ignores what is at the heart of the controversy surrounding him: false and misleading statements designed to deceive," campaign spokesman Ed Patru said. "He is sorry for not being 'clear or precise' in his word choice and he is sorry for 'offending anyone,' but until Dick Blumenthal is sorry for purposely embellishing his military record and deceiving the people of Connecticut, his apology is a hollow one."

The Democratic strategist acknowledged that the issue can never entirely be put to bed, but that the degree to which they have navigated out of a potential disaster bodes well.

"He's got to be careful that he doesn't make any new misstatements going forward," the strategist said. "But at the end of the day, even people who are nervous or who may not like what happened with him are going to rally behind him, because he's a guy who's been fighting from Connecticut for 20 years versus a woman who's been making money off of whatever you want to call the WWE."

And if the opponent is not McMahon, who won support at her party's convention this weekend, but instead Rob Simmons -- would it be a bigger issue then?

"Maybe, if the whole election was about Vietnam service maybe," he said. "But if the election is about a guy who's been fighting for Connecticut for 20 years versus a guy who was in Congress fighting for the Bush agenda, I think the Blumenthal people would take that."

The Week Ahead: Expecting The Unexpected

It ultimately was not a surprise, but the result is no less remarkable. For the first time since 1991, a Republican will hold a Congressional seat in Hawaii.

Charles Djou won the mail-in special election in the Aloha State's 1st Congressional District this weekend, with more than 39 percent of the vote. Democratic candidates won more than 58 percent of the vote, but it was split largely by two candidates: state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa with about 31 percent, and former 2nd District Rep. Ed Case with 28 percent. Still, that combined total is the lowest since former occupant, Neil Abercrombie, was re-elected with 50 percent in 1996.

Republicans will start the week crowing about their first Congressional special election win since early 2008, one that took place in a heavily Democratic seat where President Obama spent much of his youth. Democrats will argue that they can easily win it back in November, when just one of those Democrats will be on the ballot. But both parties should know by now: in this election year, there are no sure things.

Just look at another set of votes cast this weekend. In Colorado, it was another bad weekend for establishment candidates and incumbents. Challengers to Sen. Michael Bennet (D), top Senate recruit Jane Norton (R), and leading gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis (R) all won votes at their respective party assemblies Saturday. These weren't binding votes, and all candidates will appear on the August primary ballot. But it's yet another sign of the shifting mood.

Bennet got 40 percent of the vote among Democrats, while former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff received 60 percent. In the GOP Senate race, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) won an overwhelming victory among GOP delegates; Norton had decided not to attend when a win by the tea party favorite seemed inevitable, and is instead seeking to make the ballot via petition.

In the gubernatorial race, former Rep. McInnis fell just short of businessman Dan Maes, another tea party favorite. Both candidates will appear on the primary ballot, but Maes' name on top. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper will be the Democratic nominee, having been uncontested.

One more notable vote this weekend: Connecticut Republicans backed Linda McMahon at their state party convention. She topped former Rep. Rob Simmons among party delegates in a vote that took on added significance after the revelation that Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal has publicly misstated his military service record. Simmons, a Vietnam vet, still plans to contest the August 10 primary but McMahon is solidified as frontrunner.

The White House: Today Obama's schedule reflects the realization of the administration that its response to the Gulf oil spill was being seen as inadequate, even to allies. This morning the president will take part in a regular conference call with Gulf Coast governors on the spill. Press secretary Robert Gibbs will be joined at his daily briefing by Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, after a few somewhat shaky performances as questions grew more antagonistic about the administration response. In his weekly address, Obama also announced a task force that will investigate the spill, led by former Florida Sen. Bob Graham. And the White House has signaled that it may take a more active role in overseeing the containment and cleanup efforts, acknowledging that BP's has been less than effective, shall we say.

Also today, Obama meets with Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Later this week he welcomes Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, that nation's head of state, for a largely symbolic meeting to acknowledge the Italian role in NATO. On the economic front, Obama holds a small business event at the White House Tuesday. Wednesday he'll be in California to tour a solar panel manufacturing plant to again highlight the stimulus bill and further legislative efforts on jobs.

That trip to California also includes yet another event on behalf of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). The California primary is just two weeks from Tuesday, and the result of the GOP primary for Senate will be a critical point as Democrats guard a marginal seat. That trip also benefits the DSCC. While he campaigns for his party, Obama this week also is scheduled to address the Senate GOP caucus.

And one other note of interest: the NCAA men's basketball champion Duke Blue Devils visit the hoops fan in chief Thursday. Obama's personal aide, Reggie Love, is a Duke alum and former player on Coach K's squad.

Capitol Hill: Now that the Senate has passed its version of financial regulation reform, both chambers of Congress will select members for a conference committee to meld the two bills. Democrats want a final bill on the president's desk before the Fourth of July recess. In the Senate, Elena Kagan will wait a month until going before the Judiciary Committee, with her confirmation hearing beginning June 28. This week, the Energy committee on Tuesday will look into raising the liability and financial responsibility for companies involved in offshore oil production. The House will vote to concur on the Senate amendments to jobs and defense spending bills.

Politics: After a busy stretch last week, just one primary is on the docket this week: Idaho voters go to the polls Tuesday. Gov. Butch Otter (R) faces some opposition as he looks to be renominated, but should emerge the winner and have no worries this November. Five Republicans are vying to challenge Rep. Walt Minnick (D) this November in the 1st Congressional District, a tossup seat on our Congressional map.

By Sunday the filing deadlines will have passed in three states: Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.0 / Disapprove 46.3 (+1.7)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 23.0 / Disapprove 70.8 (-47.8)
Generic Ballot Test: Democrats +0.6

In Case You Missed It: Another big story this weekend, which was hardly a surprise. On Saturday, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) finally announced his candidacy for governor, ending a drawn-out process that was set into motion with the resignation of Eliot Spitzer in 2008 and ultimately the decision by current Gov. David Paterson (D) not to run, under heavy pressure. His announcement came in the form of this more than 20-minute (!) Web video:

The Plan from Andrew Cuomo on Vimeo.

--Mike Memoli & Kyle Trygstad

Week In Midterms: Who Will Capitalize On Voter Mood?

Since Tuesday's elections, both parties have been furiously spinning the results. A common thread from Democrats and Republicans is that voters are hungry for change and not satisfied with Washington. The argument then is which party is in a stronger position to make the case that they can offer that.

Republicans can rightly say that they are well-positioned to do so as the party out of power. Polling on the generic ballot, though shifting somewhat back toward Democrats of late, is still leaning toward a strong November. And gubernatorial contests last year in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as the Massachusetts Senate contest this January, seemed to give credence to that point.

But Democrats this week held a special Congressional election in Pennsylvania 12, a district John McCain had won in 2008. Democrats in fact haven't lost a single special election for the House in two years, though that streak is expected to end tomorrow when votes are tallied in Hawaii-01. Mark Critz's victory has led to questions about whether the National Republican Campaign Committee is up to the challenge of winning the more than 40 seats required to take back the House this fall. Speaking at the National Press Club this week, Tim Kaine also made the argument that voters who want change are seeing it as Democrats notch victories on financial reform, health care and the stimulus.

Tuesday's results showed candidates running against the establishment are perhaps best positioned this fall, regardless of party.

For a look back at the May 18 primary night, check out a rundown of our Live Blog and see the returns as they came in and updates throughout the evening. Also check out our take from the following day on what it all means.

SENATE

NEW POLLS: Arizona, Arkansas Runoff, Arkansas General, California primary, California primary & general; Colorado (general and primary), Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania

ARIZONA: The National Review endorses John McCain for re-election.

ARKANSAS: So Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter will meet again. June 8 to be exact, joining nearly a dozen other states holding elections that day. Labor interests say they'll do anything it takes over the next few weeks to get Halter elected.

CONNECTICUT: And we thought the biggest news Tuesday was going to be the elections in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Little did we know that Monday night the New York Times would put online its Tuesday morning, top-of-the-fold piece on Democrat Richard Blumenthal's record of exaggerating his military experience -- by that we mean telling crowds he served in Vietnam when in reality he was never deployed. What's worse for Blumenthal is that one of his opponents, Republican Rob Simmons, did serve in Vietnam.

KENTUCKY: Rand Paul's post-primary victory tour quickly hit a rough patch, saying in more than one interview that certain portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 struck him as not necessarily constitutional. He was being honest and making the kind of argument lawyers love to debate. But he touched one of the third rails of politics. One statistic from the primary that Democrats will point to in the months ahead: 521k Dems voted in the primary, 352k Republicans voted.

PENNSYLVANIA: Joe Sestak, the second-term congressman from the Philly suburbs, took down a longtime senator who was also a shorttime Democrat -- which seemed to be the difference in the primary. Sestak bounced out of Tuesday with a 4-point lead in a new automated poll.

TARP: Leading off the week was a story in the Washington Post detailing why the Troubled Assets Relief Program from 2008 is one of most important driving forces behind much of the anti-incumbent fervor right now. It's something to keep an eye on, and certainly something senators are watching as they run for or plan for re-election amid a volatile electorate.

GOVERNOR

NEW POLLS: Arizona General; Arizona Primary; California primary; California primary & general; Colorado; Florida; Pennsylvania; Minnesota; South Carolina; Texas.

CALIFORNIA: The Sacramento Bee writes about Meg Whitman's declining poll numbers after PPIC showed a tightening race. The tightening race is attributed to Steve Poizner's attack of Goldman Sachs ties, and the re-emergence of illegal immigration as an issue after the Arizona law. The ad war keeps getting uglier between the two GOPers. Whitman touted the endorsement of former Vice President Cheney.

FLORIDA: Facing a real fight in his primary, Bill McCollum (R) calls on Jeb Bush for an endorsement in his first television ad. McCollum also showed a new aggressive posture against Scott. Alex Sink (D) hits McCollum over state money paid to George Rekers, the anti-gay activist who allegedly employed a gay escort.

IOWA: Vice President Joe Biden praised Gov. Chet Culver's (D) leadership as he helped him kick off his re-election campaign, saying the economy is improving faster in Iowa than elsewhere. Speaking of national support, fundraising reports filed this week showed that Culver raised more than half of his funds from out of state, including $750,000 from the DGA. Branstad led the GOP pack. The Republican candidates debated, with Bob Vander Plaats targeting Branstad's tenure as governor. Mitt Romney endorsed Branstad. Just what Culver needs: he was involved in a traffic stop, and his briefing book was lost and discovered by reporters. Branstad also launched his first TV ad, which looks familiar.

MICHIGAN: Several new television ads of note in the GOP primary. First, Attorney General Mike Cox launched an ad using Pete Hoekstra's tenure in Washington against him. His ad looks at the Congressman's "Big Government Blueprint."

NEW YORK: Is the bubble bursting for Steve Levy in the GOP? The New York Conservative Party, which plans to give Rick Lazio its ballot line, has moved its convention date up before the state GOP Convention. Lazio said he doesn't think Levy will get enough support to force a primary. He chose a Western New York county executive as his running mate pick. Is there another GOP candidate pondering a run?

OREGON: Former NBA star Chris Dudley (R) and former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) hit the campaign trail hard after winning their respective primary victories on Tuesday. Dudley was off-target in one of his first salvos against his rival, accusing Kitzhaber of supporting borrowing to balance the state budget, which he had actually opposed.

THE REST: Dan Onorato won the Democratic nomination rather handily in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. The RGA, in yet another early ad, hits Ted Strickland in Ohio.

HANDICAPPER WATCH
Cook Political Report:
* Connecticut Senate from Lean Democrat to Toss Up
* PA-12 from Toss Up to Lean Democrat

Rothenberg Political Report:
* PA-12 from Toss Up to Lean Democrat

RCP PROJECTIONS
Senate: GOP +7
Governor: GOP +5
House Map

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Republican House Gain May Be Short Lived In Hawaii

Since President Obama took office, Democrats have lost governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia, and the Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. The one bright spot has been in special elections for the House, where the party has won all seven elections, including one pick-up from Republicans.

That winning streak is likely to end Saturday as voters in Hawaii's 1st Congressional district choose a candidate to replace Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who resigned to pursue his run for governor. State law for special elections there calls for a race in which all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run in a single election. The presence of two strong Democratic candidates -- former second district Rep. Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa, president of the state Senate -- is expected to result in the victory of Republican Charles Djou, a Honolulu councilman.

The inability of Washington Democrats to convince Case or Hanabusa to stand aside led to the decision by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to pull back all resources from the race. In the district where Obama grew up, and where Democrats far outnumber Republicans, the expected result Saturday will be an embarrassment for the party. But officials stress that while Republicans may enjoy a short-term benefit, this seat is almost certain to return to Democratic hands in November.

"I think everybody recognizes that the dynamics of this election are different than anything else," a Democratic strategist involved in the race said. "This is about a quirk in Hawaii election law."

The district is one of the most Democratic in the country -- Abercrombie won with no less than 60 percent of the vote in the past decade, and Obama carried it with 70 percent of the vote in 2008. And Democrats are convinced that the regular November race featuring just one Democrat against Djou, will result in the seat flipping back their way.

No matter what the outcome tomorrow, all three candidates are expected to remain engaged in that race to hold the seat beyond January 2011. Hanabusa, the favored Democrat of local Republicans and party interest groups including labor, reiterated this week her pledge to remain in the race through the September primary election. Case, the favored candidate of Washington Democrats who declares in television ads that he is the White House's candidate, has also shown no indication he will stand down.

And so, Democrats will continue to battle for four more months. Democrats say that no matter how difficult the primary battle is, the eventual Democratic nominee will win back the seat.

"We know that we will survive this no matter what," said Dante Carpenter, chair of the Hawaii Democratic Party. "The Democratic Party usually has been able to ... galvanize behind the winner. That has been the mark of consistency of the Democratic Party here in Hawaii."

Furthermore, national Democrats argue that as the incumbent in an anti-incumbent year, Djou may find it difficult to hold the seat in November. Case in particular has focused on a comment from his potential opponent, that he would be the "exact opposite" of Obama -- something the party thinks voters will clearly reject when presented with a binary choice.

Republicans counter that the internal Democratic battle, culminating in a very late primary, will leave the ultimate victor gravely wounded. And while Djou would technically be the incumbent, he will be safe if he follows through on his promises.

"There are a lot of constituents who are angry at their elected officials not because they're elected officials, but because they're not doing what they promised," said NRCC spokesman John Randall. "If Djou wins on Saturday and he represents the district the way he's pledged to do it in the campaign, that will be something that he can hang his hat on."

An unexpectedly lopsided win in Pennsylvania 12 this Tuesday has some questioning whether the NRCC can indeed win the key races necessary to position the party to regain control of the House. Though Democrats are quick to downplay the implications of tomorrow's vote, Republican say there's an important distinction.

"Unlike Pennsylvania, if we win that is a change in the makeup of the House," Randall said.

Indeed, Republicans have not won a Democratic-held seat in a special election in June 2001, when Randy Forbes won the race in Virginia-04. Republicans haven't won any special election since Steve Scalise retained the seat vacated by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in May 2008.

Nearly half of all eligible voters had cast their votes by mid-week in the race, the first in Hawaii conducted solely by mail. All votes will be tallied by Saturday, with the victory taking office as soon as next week.

Fresh Faces, Same Places

Rightly or not, the inability of Republicans to pick up the 12th district seat in Pennsylvania on Tuesday has jarred loose the 2010 storyline that Republicans are destined to win back the House. This oddly shaped, gerrymandered district tucked into southwestern Pennsylvania quickly put the GOP on the defensive for failing to win a swing district in a year the party should be winning just such a seat.

But Tuesday's results also cemented into place the idea that voters in states around the country are simply ready for somebody new, and both parties are now adjusting their game plans to that end. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said Tuesday night that Republicans "will take the lessons learned from this campaign and move forward in preparation for November." Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen quickly called for a press briefing with reporters, scheduled for this morning, to discuss the lessons Democrats took from Tuesday.

"Bill Halter's a fresh face, Jack Conway in Kentucky . . . Joe Sestak -- these are the ones that are winning," former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Wednesday on MSNBC. "I think there is an enormous mood of anti-incumbency, and it extends to the Republicans, not just the Democrats."

Individual campaigns in states across the country are certainly picking up on this, too. Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Jeff Greene, both running for the Senate in Florida, and North Carolina Senate candidate Cal Cunningham -- all newcomers to statewide and national politics -- used the primary results in Pennsylvania to take shots at their more politically experienced opponents.

While Mr. Cunningham is technically the establishment-backed candidate, he served only one term in the state senate and is using his runoff opponent's 14 years of statewide elected office against her.

Incumbents On Edge Over Volatile Electorate

Look no further than Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter for evidence of a volatile electorate in this midterm election cycle. Both frontrunners enjoyed leads higher than 20 points against lesser known primary rivals before polls turned quickly in their opponent's favor.

In Florida, the change in the polls happened fast: Crist led by 22 points in October, 10 points in November, was tied with Rubio in December, and Rubio led by 12 points by January. Specter's standing in the polls dropped even more rapidly, leading by 20 points in early April, 8 points in late April, and trailed by as much as 9 points in the days leading up to the May 18 primary.

The result: Crist, the governor of Florida, left the Republican Party last month to run for Senate as an independent; and Specter, a 30-year incumbent senator running for re-election as a Democrat for the first time, lost by 8 points Tuesday to a second-term congressman.

The 2010 political landscape -- and with it, the potential for poll numbers to move quickly in any direction -- has incumbents justifiably feeling uneasy about their position.

"I don't know that it's more volatile than usual," said Brad Coker, managing director of the Mason-Dixon polling firm. "I just think it's a little more accentuated this year because we're seeing it in races with incumbents."

This includes John McCain, the GOP's most recent presidential nominee, who's facing a primary challenge from J.D. Hayworth, a former Republican congressman who was defeated for re-election four years ago.

Despite leading Hayworth by 12 points in two polls released this month, the McCain campaign is undergoing a staff shake-up with three months left before the Aug. 24 primary. By replacing his campaign manager and deputy manager, the message sent was that his standing is not as strong as it needs to be.

"McCain's not alone. Until he's up running over 50 percent on a consistent basis, he's got to worry," said Coker. "I don't think there's an incumbent anywhere that has a serious challenger and isn't being careful."

Specter's situation turned following the airing of a single campaign ad by Rep. Joe Sestak, whose TV spot featured Specter being endorsed by George W. Bush in 2004 -- a reminder to Democratic primary voters about Specter's 29 years of Senate service as a Republican.

"Sestak campaigned for nine months under the radar. It wasn't until about a month out that he brilliantly used the $4 million," said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll in Pennsylvania.

"His message didn't change," Madonna added, as Sestak continued to focus on Specter's party change. "But as the anti-Washington sentiment grew, he ratcheted up that criticism."

Martha Coakley held huge leads heading into the final few weeks of the Massachusetts special Senate election campaign in January -- until, that is, Republican Scott Brown and his famous pick-up truck took control of the race to replace the late Ted Kennedy.

Who else could find themselves quickly down in the polls in this uneven environment? Both parties are waiting to see whether Republican Dino Rossi will challenge Washington Sen. Patty Murray in November, and recent polls on the potential race are all over the map.

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold's stance is unclear after former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson opted not to take him on. Still, the most recent poll shows Feingold leads two largely unknown Republicans by relatively small margins.

And perhaps no one knows the volatility of the year better than Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who's running in the place of retiring Sen. Chris Dodd. Blumenthal's advantage had already been trending downward when he was accused Tuesday morning on the front page of the New York Times for misleading people on his military record. A poll released Wednesday found his once 20-point lead over Republican Linda McMahon down to 3 points.

"If I'm an incumbent running for reelection and I'm polling right now under 50 percent," said Coker, "I'm sweating it."

Kaine: Voters Will Reward Dems' "Heavy Lifting"

DNC chairman Tim Kaine acknowledged that his party still has a tough battle ahead. But, speaking at the National Press Club this afternoon, he made the case recent polling trends and even the elections Tuesday show voters will ultimately reward tough decisions made by Democrats thus far.

"When people are hurting, the electorate is volatile and that means that people are going to want to see change," he said. "We think we frankly have just got a much better message about who can deliver change, because we've been out there doing that while the other guys have been standing on the sidelines and throwing rocks."

Democrats, he said, will make a "plain" case to voters in November: "If you want to continue to see change, you gotta put people in who are willing to actually do some heavy lifting to bring change about."

That argument is already working, he argued, pointing to a trend favoring Democrats in the generic ballot test. He specifically mentioned an AP survey in which a plurality said they would prefer to see Democrats control Congress, saying it showed voters "would rather have people who are fighting to get the nation back than people who are just saying no to everything."

"Americans are can-do people. We can be angry, we can be mad, but we're not fundamentally people who stay mad," he said. "A policy of just no to everything and obstruction doesn't work too well with American voters. As Americans see the economy continue to improve, they're going to reward the Democrats who had been willing to do tough lifts."

He also pointed to what he called a "corrosive civil war" amongst Republicans, as seen in Kentucky last night. Republican candidates "have to be every bit as wary about" the tea party movement as Democrats are, he said.

Kaine, not surprisingly, chose to focus most on the special Congressional election in Pennsylvania's 12th district, won comfortably by Democrat Mark Critz.

"The Republican Party's failure to take a seat also shows that while conventional wisdom holds that this will be a tough year for Democrats, the final chapter on this year's elections is far from written," he said.

It was later pointed out that Critz had stated in the race that he opposed some of the administration and Democratic-led Congress' initiatives, especially health care reform. But Kaine made what he said was an important distinction.

"The Republicans really made that race ... kind of a referendum on the president, but also on whether repeal of health care reform would be a signature issue that would really drive these elections forward. In a district that was very favorable to them, which John McCain had won, that message did not carry the day," he said.

He discounted the defeat of Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Senate primary.

"The fact is this: Democratic Pennsylvania voters in that primary yesterday were voting for two candidates who had supported the president on the key issues of economic recovery, health care reform and financial reform," he said. "They will be energized behind Congressman Sestak when it comes to November, and we're going to do all that we can to help."

An RNC spokesman countered by pointing to Sestak's own message in his victory speech Tuesday, saying his victory was "a win for the people, over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington, D.C."

Lewis Backs Marshall In N.C. Senate Runoff

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall was endorsed this morning by Chapel Hill attorney Ken Lewis in the Democratic Senate primary runoff against Cal Cunningham. Lewis finished third in the May 4 primary, taking 17 percent of the vote that helped keep Marshall below the 40 percent needed to win the nomination outright.

Both candidates hoped to win the backing of Lewis as they push to win over as many voters as possible before the June 22 runoff.

"I respect all the candidates that ran, but, after it all, I'm supporting Elaine Marshall because I believe she can beat Richard Burr, and because I know she'll be a real fighter for North Carolinians in the Senate," Lewis wrote in a fundraising email from the Marshall campaign.

The Marshall campaign already believed it had the upper hand among black voters in the runoff, and the endorsement by Lewis, who is black, may help. Blacks could make up nearly a third of the runoff electorate.

"The combination of our organizations will build a powerful movement that leads us to victory in November," Marshall said at the announcement event in Raleigh.

2010 Continues To Defy Conventional Wisdom

There were no major surprises on what was the busiest voting day to date Tuesday, as voters again signaled that support of the Washington establishment is no virtue this cycle. Nowhere was that more clear than in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, where favored candidates lost their party's nomination.

In the Keystone State, it was 30-year Senate veteran Arlen Specter. The longtime Republican left the GOP last year to avoid losing a primary on Tuesday to conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey. Instead, the 80-year-old Specter lost the Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak.

The convincing margin of defeat came for Specter despite endorsements not just from the White House, but Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Ed Rendell, and the state party. Specter becomes the third incumbent to lose his party's nomination in the past 10 days.

In Kentucky, ophthalmologist Rand Paul made a statement on behalf of the tea party movement he embraced with his 23-point dismissal of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had received both behind-the-scenes and ultimately public support from Senate Minority Leader and Kentucky native Mitch McConnell, as well as other establishment party figures.

In both cases, the parties immediately moved publicly to mend fences, as November results remain the most important goal. "We will wholeheartedly support Congressman Sestak as the Democratic nominee," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated.

"I am confident that we will keep Kentucky's U.S. Senate seat in Republican hands thanks to Dr. Rand Paul's nomination today," said John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a memo to Republican Senate leaders.

In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln didn't lose the nomination on Tuesday, but she didn't win it either. Taking just 45 percent of the Democratic primary vote, Lincoln was forced into a June 8 runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The result was somewhat closer than expected while a third candidate drew a larger-than-expected share of the vote.

Republican Rep. John Boozman won his party's nomination outright despite an even more crowded primary field, giving him a three-week head start as Democrats will likely continue pouring resources into an intraparty skirmish.

Washington Democrats did have other reasons to cheer, however. In yet another shock to the system of conventional wisdom, Republicans failed to pick up Pennsylvania's 12th district seat in a special election to replace the late John Murtha. While it wasn't necessarily a surprise, it does alter the 2010 storyline once again.

Following a major special Senate election victory in Massachusetts in January, this southwestern Pennsylvania seat looked ripe for the picking, as the only seat in the country that flipped from John Kerry to John McCain at the presidential level. But Democrat Mark Critz will keep the seat in Democratic hands for at least another seven months after defeating Republican Tim Burns by a 53-45 percent margin.

"This was the only race in the country today where a Democrat faced off against a Republican and the results are clear," DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen wrote late Tuesday. "For all of their bluster about building a national wave this year, including RNC Chairman Michael Steele's guarantee of victory for Tim Burns, Republican policies were once again rejected when it came time to face the voters."

Burns had made the race a referendum on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, but NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions noted in a statement that Critz didn't exactly run on the party line. Sessions said this proved Democrats will "distance themselves from the Democratic agenda and attempt to co-opt Republican positions on the issues" in order to survive.

Still, the victory keeps Democrats' winning streak in House special elections alive, though that streak is expected to end when the votes are tallied in Hawaii's 1st district this weekend.

Elsewhere, Democrats also were buoyed by the result of their own race in Kentucky, where Attorney General Jack Conway narrowly defeated Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo. Despite Mongiardo's near upset win against Jim Bunning in 2004, national party officials felt Conway would put up a stronger challenge this fall; he has indeed matched up better according to the RCP Averages.

Overall, however, it was something of a mixed message for the White House. For a sitting president to see his endorsed candidate (Specter) lose in a primary is hard to spin, even though officials signaled in the closing days of the race that they were happy regardless of the outcome.

And as Democrats celebrated Paul's win -- both as a repudiation of McConnell and with the belief that he is the less palatable nominee -- it is his grassroots army of conservative activists that could prove to be decisive nationwide in November.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Super Tuesday? Not For Another Three Weeks

Today's elections in Kentucky, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Oregon certainly have captured the attention of cable news and the political media, to the point where some are calling it a "Super Tuesday" of sorts. And while the plight of incumbents like Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln, the rich intra-party battle in Kentucky, and a potential bellwether special election in Pennsylvania's 12th district are rich storylines, today pales in comparison to the races coming up three weeks from today in seven states. Here's a sneak peak at what we'll be looking to after the results are in today.

** California Senate: If Republicans are going to come close to winning back control of the Senate, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is one of those marginal incumbents they will have to beat in order to get to 51. On June 8, California Republicans will decide from among three main candidates to challenge Boxer in November. Former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) entered the race last, switching from the gubernatorial race, but is the current frontrunner. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina got a potentially signficant boost just weeks ago when Sarah Palin endorsed her campaign. Running further behind is Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R), endorsed by Mike Huckabee and with a small but fervent following in the tea party movement.

RCP Average: Campbell +6.8 | RCP General Election Rating: Toss Up

** California Governor: Former eBay executive Meg Whitman (R) still appears to have the upper hand in this race, but Steve Poizner appears to have substantially narrowed the gap as we get closer to primary day. At the very least, the race has gotten ugly. Just check out this Poizner ad accusing Whitman of peddling porn. That tightened contest may have forced Whitman to move a bit further to the right than she may have wanted, rolling out this weekend an endorsement from former Vice President Dick Cheney. It's also forcing her to spend more of her immense personal fortune now, while former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) conserves his resources for November. This promises to be a blockbuster race in the fall considering the starpower of current occupant -- Arnold Schwarzenegger -- and the state's dire fiscal straits.

RCP Average: Whitman +15.7 | RCP General Election Rating: Toss Up

** Nevada Senate: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is vulnerable -- of that there is no dispute. But whether Republicans can nominate a candidate with the muster to beat him remains to be seen. Sue Lowden had been seen as that candidate, but her comments about bartering for health care have turned her into a bit of a national punch line. Danny Tarkanian, son of the renowned UNLV hoops coach, has not made a strong impression in his own right. Sharron Angle is picking up some steam in the final month, but still is largely unknown statewide. Then again, a generic Republican may be just what the party needs given Reid's diminished standing.

RCP Average: Lowden +7.5 | RCP General Election Rating: Lean Republican

** Nevada Governor: This has been one of the great under-covered races of the cycle thus far. Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) barely crossed the finish line in 2006 after reports about an alleged assault of a cocktail waitress, among other issues, hobbled him in the final weeks. In office, he's battled with his own party on policy and had a very public divorce, all as Nevada's economy cratered. Several Republicans are challenging him in the primary, led by former Attorney General Brian Sandoval. If Gibbons loses, which is considered likely, he'd be the first incumbent governor to be ousted in a primary since Alaska's Frank Murkowski (R) finished third in 2006 -- behind one Sarah Palin. Rory Reid (D), son of the embattled senator, is unopposed; Democrats would much prefer to face Gibbons, of course.

Latest Poll: Sandoval +18 | RCP General Election Rating: Lean Republican

** Iowa Governor: Terry Branstad (R) is one of five former governors running for a chance to reclaim his old job. The former four-term leader is considered the favorite in this race, but it's no sure thing. Bob Vander Plaats is putting up a strong fight, and has been endorsed by 2008 presidential caucus winner Mike Huckabee. Mitt Romney actually endorsed Branstad just today, so we have the added bonus in this race of a potential 2012 tea leaf-reading. Gov. Chet Culver (D), who's seen his numbers plummet in the past year, is likely to be renominated but the final number will be an interesting first indication of his vulnerability. Vice President Biden helped Culver kick off his re-election bid just today.

RCP General Election Rating: Likely Republican

** South Carolina Governor: In another important early presidential nominating state, we have an even more vibrant Republican primary. Four major candidates are looking to replace Mark Sanford (R) in Columbia: Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Attorney General Henry McMaster, Rep. Gresham Barrett, and state Sen. Nikki Haley. Haley captured headlines late last week for endorsements by Sarah Palin and Jenny Sanford, the ex-wife of the incumbent. There's been a real dearth of public polling in the race, but that will likely change once we get through today's contest. Democrats don't have much hope of putting up a fight in November, but State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex may have an edge in that primary as the only statewide officeholder.

RCP General Election Rating: Likely Republican

** Maine Governor: To put it simply, this is a complete toss up race. With Gov. John Baldacci (D) term limited, there are at least a dozen candidates running for the seat, including independent candidates in a state that has elected them before. Given the state's moderate-to-liberal tilt, Democrats have an early edge on paper but we'll need to re-evaluate once the primary is over.

RCP General Election Rating: Lean Democratic

** Also voting June 8: North Dakota and South Dakota. The only major draw is in the latter, where several Republicans are running for the right to challenge Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D) in November, when she may face her toughest challenge to date. RCP now classifies that contest as a Toss Up.

There's also an active GOP primary for governor, as incumbent Mike Rounds (R) is term limited. That race is considered Safe Republican.

Souder To Retire Over Reported Affair

Yet another big story to spice up a big primary day: Fox News is reporting that Indiana Rep. Mark Souder (R) will resign after an affair with a staffer was revealed.

Elected as a family values conservative as part of the Republican revolution in 1994, Souder survived a tough re-election challenge in 2008 and survived a contested primary two weeks ago.

Souder was absent from Washington most of last week, missing multiple votes and only voting on Thursday.

Souder's resignation would make him the second lawmaker to step down in less than two months. In March, former Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y., resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed male staffers. Massa's case is now before the House Ethics Committee.

Indiana's 3rd Congressional District covers the northeast corner of the state, with Fort Wayne the largest city in its borders. John McCain carried the district with 56 percent of the vote in 2008, meaning it's slanted toward the Republicans. The current Democratic nominee for the seat is former Fort Wayne Councilman Tom Hayhurst, who lost to Souder in 2006 by a 54-46 margin.

When and if Souder resigns may determine whether a special election is called to fill the seat for the remainder of the year. New York Gov. David Paterson (D) has set a precedent of not calling an election until this fall, something Republicans opposed. The Indiana GOP holds its state convention June 19, where they may be able to choose a new nominee for the regularly-scheduled November election.

UPDATE: The Indiana Secretary of State has issued a statement outlining the procedure for filling Souder's seat by special election. Read more after the jump:

Souder has announced his intention to resign, but it is not considered official until received by the Speaker of the House. Once it is official and the governor is notified, he is free to choose a date; according to state law, it can occur sooner than 60 days of a vacancy being declared, but there is no deadline beyond that.

When a date is announced, the major state parties have 30 days to call caucuses that will nominate candidates for the special election. Democrats would likely nominate Hayhurst.

As for November's election, Souder has until July 15 to request that his name be removed from the ballot. Any of the GOP candidates who lost in the primary two weeks ago can file to run again; a caucus of precinct committeemen whose precincts are within the congressional district will choose the new candidate.

Critz, Burns Battle For Murtha Seat

Potential national implications will be gleaned from the vote tally today in the special election for Pennsylvania's 12th district, but ultimately voters in the district are choosing between a Democrat who's ran as a torch carrier of a powerful congressional insider or a Republican who promises to stand up against the majority party in Congress.

The late John Murtha had won the southwestern Pennsylvania district fairly easily for the past 36 years. He wielded an influential gavel as chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and steered millions of dollars in government spending to his district. However, it's unclear whether a Democrat with a different name running in a Republican-favored year will have the same electoral fortune.

In 2008, despite a two-to-one Democratic registration advantage and a strong environment for Democrats in the state and nationwide, John McCain narrowly carried the district. Meanwhile, Murtha won re-election with 58 percent.

Today, Mark Critz, a longtime staffer in Murtha's district office, is up against businessman Tim Burns. Both national parties and outside interest groups have spent heavily on the race -- Republicans see an opportunity to get a head start on winning back the House in November, while Democrats hope to save one in their effort to hold the majority.

Republicans believe the vote will come down to national issues like health care reform, and that voters will cast their ballot in protest to the party in power.

"This is a seat where Democrats hold a two-to-one registration advantage, yet the race is competitive and coming down to the wire," said Tory Mazzola, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "The fact that we have a strong GOP candidate, Tim Burns -- committed to job creation and repealing ObamaCare -- combined with a favorable Republican environment has turned this historically Democratic seat into a swing district."

One of the factors on the side of Democrats is the competitive Senate primary between Democrats Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak. While it's been uncomfortable for some party leaders in Washington, the highly publicized intraparty battle could actually help push Critz voters to the polls -- a welcome off-shoot for the party.

For his part, Critz is running as "pro-life, pro-gun" and someone who "will always put Pennsylvania first," as he says in a recent TV ad. He's framed his candidacy as a continuation of the Murtha legacy with independence from the national party on certain issues, particularly health care reform. He also sought to make jobs the focus of the race.

Meanwhile, Burns has characterized the race as a referendum on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats' agenda. If "Nancy Pelosi's values are your values, then Mark Critz is your candidate," Burns says in a recent TV spot, adding that a vote for him will "send a loud and clear message to Washington."

A Burns victory would give the GOP its second major special election win this year, following that of Scott Brown in Massachusetts's special Senate election in January. A third could come at the end of the week in the special election for Hawaii's 1st district.

In 1994, the last time Republicans won back control of Congress, the party picked up two springtime special elections in Oklahoma and Kentucky. In February 1974, Murtha's special election win set off a string of post-Watergate victories for Democrats in what turned out to be a strong year for the party.

A win Tuesday could be characterized as a similar sign of things to come, but Democrats set the bar high for the GOP, pointing to the fact that the 12th district was the only one in the country to vote for McCain after supporting John Kerry in 2004. Expecting a close race, they say the GOP will need to win big for Republican leaders to continue peddling the possibility of a '94-esque storm.

After Bennett, Who's Next In Club For Growth Crosshairs?

** Update: The Club has revised its assessment of Sen. LeMieux, who "voted perfectly" since joining the Senate, but does not have enough votes to qualify for a full ranking. His score has been changed to "NA," and the story below has be revised to reflect that change.

The Club for Growth claimed a major victory this month when Sen. Bob Bennett failed to qualify for the GOP primary ballot at the state party convention. So today, as the Club unveils their annual Congressional scorecard, it's worth noting that seven Republicans scored worse than the Utah Republican in the rankings.

With a score of 79 percent, Bennett just barely makes the top third of the Senate as a whole. Three of the Republicans behind him are retiring or have already left the Senate: George Voinovich (74 percent), Judd Gregg (73 percent) and Mel Martinez (73 percent). The remaining four don't face voters for at least another two years: Richard Lugar (76 percent), Lamar Alexander (64 percent), Susan Collins (60 percent) and Olympia Snowe (53 percent). Given those scores, however, should they be girding for a challenge from their right? The Club for Growth says it's too early to speculate.

"If Utah shows anything, it's that all 99 of the other ones should be worried," spokesman Mike Connolly says. "They're all in trouble if they think they're going to be able to keep things going exactly as they are."

All but one Republican earned a higher score in 2009 than in 2008, while far more saw double digit improvements in their Club for Growth rating. But that list includes Bennett (16 percent increase), who still saw himself targeted this year.

"Since the Democrats have taken over, the Republicans have generally voted better, because they tend to be against what the Democrats put up," Connolly said. "The problem is when Republicans were in charge, were they still standing up, or were they going along with their leadership?"

Even as said the organization is not looking beyond the primaries this year, Connolly unprompted mentioned names like Orrin Hatch and Lindsay Graham as we perused this year's rankings. Club For Growth is not targeting any other incumbents this year, but has endorsed two seeking re-election: Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn. Both received perfect a 100 percent scores this year.

Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) is also benefiting from the organization he once chaired. So how would the group react now if Sen. Arlen Specter (D) loses his primary race tomorrow?

"Our mission all along has been to get Pat Toomey elected to the Senate. Specter is the Democrats problem now," Connolly said.

The Week Ahead: D-Day For Establishment Candidates

We're near the midpoint of a six-week stretch that sees primary or special elections in 25 of the 50 states. And this could be the most revelatory in that run, with major tests for incumbent senators in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, the likely victory of insurgent Rand Paul in Kentucky, and special Congressional elections in Hawaii and Pennsylvania where Democrats will potentially lose seats in the House for the first time this cycle. That's the major headline in our look at the Week Ahead.

Politics: Some of the final polls released this weekend indicate that both Pennsylvania races are too close to call. The turnout operations will be key. For Arlen Specter, that means convincing Democrats who never voted for him in a primary before -- perhaps at all -- to do so this week. For Mark Critz, it means keeping the conservative Democrats in a McCain 2008 District from crossing party lines again. Meanwhile, the Arkansas primary between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter could head to a runoff, as will the GOP race to challenge the eventual winner.

In Kentucky, Democrats have their own primary but the attention will all be on the Republican Senate race. Sen. Mitch McConnell and the establishment Republicans pushed Jim Bunning to retire and anointed Secretary of State Trey Grayson as his replacement. But Rand Paul has tapped into the tea party movement and his father's network of libertarians to take a commanding lead.

Hawaii, meanwhile, is a case of mutually-assured destruction for Democrats. Because the special election to replace Neil Abercrombie (D) includes two Democrats, Republican Charles Djou is well-positioned to win. More troubling, perhaps is that the Democratic battle between Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case won't end Saturday, but continues through a mid-September primary to decide who makes the regular November ballot. A win by Djou Saturday is now conventional wisdom. But if Democrats remain divided this fall and Djou holds a heavily-Democratic seat beyond this year, it would be a major upset.

The White House: If not for this week's elections, the goings on at the White House this week would be generating much more attention. The major event this week is Wednesday's state visit by Mexican President Calderon. He'll hold a bilateral meeting with President Obama as well as a press conference, where you can be sure immigration reform and the Arizona legislation will be a major topic. That night is the second state dinner in the Obama White House, honoring Calderon. The new social secretary will be under the spotlight as her office tries to avoid a repeat of the Sulahi affair, a major embarrassment last year.

The economy is also on the radar again. Tuesday, Obama makes yet another trip to Ohio -- his seventh since taking office. Other then Maryland and Virginia, which neighbor Washington, DC, Obama has only visited New York more often in his nearly 500 days as president. This time he heads to Youngstown, where he'll tour V & M Star Ohio, which calls itself "North America's leading producer of seamless Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG), Line & Standard Pipe, Coupling Stock and Mechanical Tube."

Today, Obama signs the Freedom of Press Act and welcomes the NCAA Women's Basketball champions, the UConn Huskies.

**Capitol Hill: There will be at least one hearing this week on the Gulf oil spill, as the Senate Homeland Security committee today welcomes witnesses including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and BP chairman and president Lamar McKay. The Senate continues debating the Wall Street reform bill, with several amendments awaiting a vote. The Hill notes that Democrats will be battling among themselves this week over whether to strengthen the bill, particularly over an amendment that would ban the trading of certain derivatives and one that would "place stronger restrictions on proprietary trading." The House gets back to work Tuesday and will complete action on The American Jobs, Closing Tax Loopholes and Preventing Outsourcing Act.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.3 / Disapprove 45.8 (+2.5)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 22.3 / Disapprove 70.9 (-48.6)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.2

** In Case You Missed It: Big news in a major Republican primary not happening this Tuesday: John McCain's campaign manager and deputy campaign manager are out. Per the Arizona Republic, "More staff announcements are expected this week." As was the case during his presidential run, shakeups like this are never a good sign.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Week In Midterms: The Obama Effect In 2010

This morning we took a look at President Obama's approval ratings on a state-by-state basis, noting how it is these figures, and not necessarily a national average, which will dictate how active the president is in helping candidates this fall, and where he is deployed to campaign with them.

This afternoon, we note a fascinating correlation between the strength of Obama's numbers in Senate battlegrounds and the health of Democratic candidates in those races. First, a look at the races RCP currently classifies as Toss Up this fall.

California: Obama +16.8; Boxer +0.8 to +6.5
Colorado: Obama -6.5; Bennet -2.0 to +0.7
Florida: Obama -1.7; Meek -16.0
Missouri: Obama -11.5; Carnahan -6.0
Ohio: Obama -7.8; Fisher +0.7
Pennsylvania: Obama -3.0; Specter -7.3

In the five states where Obama's job rating is net-negative, the Democratic candidate trails in four of them. In California, meanwhile, Barbara Boxer leads all potential Republican candidates in the RCP Average.

Now, look at other non-toss up states where Democratic incumbents face tough races.

Arkansas: Obama -28; Lincoln -7.7 to -19.6
Nevada: Obama - 5.0; Reid -10.0 to 10.5
New York: Obama +15.7; Gillibrand +22
Washington: Obama +8.0; Murray +3 to +14.3
Wisconsin: Obama -2.0; Feingold +12.5 to +15.3

And now, some other open seat races where Democrats had hoped to be competitive.

Connecticut: Obama +11.5; Blumenthal +22.6 to +30.3
Delaware: Obama +8.0; Coons -20
Illinois: Obama +15.0; Giannoulias -5.0
Indiana: Obama -13.0; Ellsworth -10.7
Kentucky: Obama-20.0; Democrats -4.3 to -9.3
New Hampshire: Obama +1.0; Hodes -11.3 to +2.6
North Dakota: Obama -10.0; No Democrat competitive

Each state has its own unique circumstances, of course. But there's no ignoring the correlation in most states between the president's performance and that of the Democratic Senate candidate.

SENATE

NEW POLLS: Arkansas, California, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania

ARKANSAS: Sen. Blanche Lincoln appears to be in better shape than her compadre in Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter, with just four days left before each face the voters in their respective Democratic primaries. The last two polls out in the state found her leading Lt. Gov. Bill Halter by 9 and 12 points. Many expect this race to head for a runoff, which will be needed if neither wins 50% of the vote.

FLORIDA: On Wednesday -- the same day the RNC announced the party was holding its 2012 convention in Tampa -- Florida Gov. Charlie Crist officially left the Republican Party by changing his party registration to unaffiliated. It was another step in his now-independent bid for Senate.

KENTUCKY: All five polls out this month find Rand Paul up double-digits against the establishment-backed Trey Grayson in the Republican primary. This will be a blow to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who recently went public with his endorsement of Grayson. It hasn't been much of a help yet. The Democratic race between Jack Conway and Daniel Mongiardo looks like it will be a closer finish.

NORTH CAROLINA: The campaigns for Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunnningham distributed competing memos this week, spelling out the reasons why each has the best chance of winning both the June 22 runoff and the general election against Sen. Richard Burr.

PENNSYLYVANIA: Specter needs big turnout in Philly to help him stave off a stiff challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak in Tuesday's primary. He's had Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins do a robocall for him, and tonight Gov. Ed Rendell is hyping up volunteers before they hit the streets this weekend in a major GOTV effort. Who would Republican Pat Toomey prefer to face in the general election? It's worth mentioning that his campaign has come out on the attack against Sestak in the last week.

THE REST: CA: Carly Fiorina just dropped another $1.1 million of her own money into the campaign, boosting her total contribution to $3.6 million. NV: Support for tea party-backed Sharron Angle jumped 20 points in the last month, placing her just 5-points behind frontrunner Sue Lowden. IN: GOP nominee Dan Coats told RCP this week he decided to run because he was upset that Sen. Evan Bayh (D) didn't vote against the Obama agenda enough, and "I thought that he deserved a real race." Bayh later decided to retire. WA: This has become the nastiest race that isn't yet a race, as Dino Rossi (R) has still not announced whether he's challenging Sen. Patty Murray (D).

GOVERNOR

NEW POLLS:
Alaska; California; Colorado; Maryland; Massachusetts; Nevada; New York.

CALIFORNIA: Suddenly, the GOP primary is a dead heat. Closing in, Steve Poizner contributes another $2.5 million of his own money. And now, illegal immigration has become a flashpoint as the two now run to the right. Former Gov. Pete Wilson (R), with his own history on illegal immigration, does a radio ad for Meg Whitman.

IOWA: Vice President Joe Biden will help Gov. Chet Culver (D) kick off his campaign with an event next week. An independent group has launched attacks on former Gov. Terry Branstad.

MASSACHUSETTS: The RGA's media campaign against Tim Cahill (I) has sent his numbers plummeting, but also boosted Gov. Deval Patrick's (D). And some RNC members questioned the Barbour-led committee's decision to be spending resources in the Bay State. They later backpedaled and voiced support for the effort. But the state GOP chair also said she's "not a fan."

NEW YORK: Andrew Cuomo (D) will finally make his bid official at the state Democratic convention in two weeks. Rick Lazio once "gushed" about Cuomo, his would-be opponent in November. Lazio is trying to pre-empt a change in rules that would let Democrat-turned-Republican Steve Levy get a spot on the primary ballot with a lower threshold of support at the state Republican convention.

SOUTH CAROLINA: GOP hopeful Nikki Haley got an interesting pair of endorsements this week. First, she campaigned with Jenny Sanford, ex-wife of Gov. Mark Sanford. And last night, Sarah Palin announced her endorsement and an upcoming visit.

THE REST: Diane Denish (D) goes on the air in New Mexico, as did GOP hopeful Allen Weh. John Kasich's Lehman Brothers ties still haunt him in Ohio. Senate candidate Mark Kirk (R) skipped it, but gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady (R) attended Sarah Palin's speech in Chicago. The GOP candidates in Maine remain a mystery to voters.

HANDICAPPER WATCH
Cook Political Report:
* TX-17 from Lean D to Toss Up
* PA-12 from Lean R to Toss Up
* HI-01 from Toss Up To Lean R

Rothenberg Political Report:
* No changes

RCP PROJECTIONS
Senate: GOP +6
Governor: GOP +5
House Map

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama To Kagan: "Just Don't Trip"

Some great behind-the-scenes video from the past week at the White House from the new media team there.

Be sure to check at the 1:50 mark, where Obama jokes with Elena Kagan before heading out to announce her nomination. "Just don't trip," he says. "That'd be really embarrassing."

In Battleground States, Obama Job Rating Suffers

After reaching the lowest levels of the administration thus far a month ago, there's quietly been something of a mini-resurgence in President Obama's job ratings. While approval is still below 50 percent, disapproval has fallen to a nearly four-month low in the RCP average, and net approval near its best mark in two months.

The White House is beginning to highlight these statistics, pointing out to a friendly source Thursday that a "a trend seems to be emerging" with every new national poll. And if the trend continues, it is surely an auspicious factor for Democrats in the midst of an election year.

But a look at Obama's numbers on a state-by-state basis reflects the party's precarious state in the midst of a critical string of primaries and special elections. RCP compiled state-specific public polling over the past three months, and found Obama's net job approval rating is in negative territory in 28 of the 44 states where figures are available, including nearly all the battleground states critical to his and the Democrats' future success.

In Florida, the president's net approval rating is -1.7; in Colorado, it's -6.5; North Carolina, -2.7; Ohio, -7.8; Nevada, -5.0; and Pennsylvania, it's -3.0. These six states all feature critical Senate contests this year, with the Keystone State also home to a potential bellwether special Congressional race next Tuesday. And five of the six were red states that flipped into the Democratic column in the 2008 presidential election.

Obama's position is far worse in several other 2008 battlegrounds, as well as red states where Democrats are struggling to hold seats this fall. In Arkansas, where Sen. Blanche Lincoln trails all potential Republican opponents, Obama's net approval rating is -28. In Indiana, a state Obama won, his rating is -13. And Missouri, which he narrowly lost and hosts an open Senate race Democrats had thought was a prime pickup opportunity, his rating is -11.5.

The flip side, of course, is that other Democrats facing competitive races in blue states will be safer given Obama's standing there. The president scores best in states like California (+16.8), Connecticut (+11.5), Illinois (+15.0), and New York (+15.7), where he appeared Thursday at a party fundraiser.

Publicly, of course, administration officials and the president himself scoff at a polling-obsessed Beltway culture.

"I've got pollsters," Obama said just last night at a fundraiser in New York. "I know when what we're about to do is politically unpopular. But what I also knew was that if we wanted to break the back of our recession and get our economy moving again, then the steps we took were absolutely necessary."

But it is exactly this kind of state-by-state breakdown that will be crucial as the DNC and the White House map his fall itinerary. Obama has largely avoided public campaign appearances yet for Democratic candidates up in November.

"He actually has been doing some campaigning," deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters Thursday. "As we get closer to the midterms, you'll see that increase. But as you can imagine, there's more than a few things on his plate right now."

Those events thus far include only fundraisers for incumbents like Barbara Boxer and Michael Bennet. It is Vice President Biden who has done more of the heavy lifting on the political front; he'll help Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) formally kick off his campaign next week.

National Approval

State By State Approval

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*Recent polling on Obama job approval not available in Maine, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Full Plate Crowding Out Jobs Bill?

President Obama spoke in hard-hit Buffalo, New York, this afternoon, arguing that the steps his administration has taken are indeed boosting the economy.

"We can say beyond a shadow of a doubt we are headed in the right direction," he said. "Despite all the naysayers who predicted failure a year ago, our economy's growing again."

But he acknowledged that while a recession is technically over, Americans won't feel a recovery while so many struggle to find work. A billboard in the city timed for the visit declares, "Dear Mr. President, I need a freakin job. Period."

A jobs bill is before the Congress, but is stalled at a time when lawmakers have so much else on their plate. A new Supreme Court nominee this week alone is set to occupy considerable time in the Senate, while climate change, immigration and financial reform legislation are also on the front burner.

"The president and his team are working every day to try to advance jobs legislation," deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters en route to Buffalo. "The president laid out some of the things that he thought could actually get some jobs created; create an environment where small businesses can create jobs. And that's some of what he'll be talking about today."

Obama is again set to hit the road with an economic message as he heads to Ohio again next week, a state he's quite often in his 16 months as president.

"When you're in Washington, sometimes it's just hard to hear anything else except the clamor of politics," Obama said today of stalled progress. He also argued that the GOP sat "on the sidelines" while the economic crisis unfolded, but Democrats have acted, even in a way that may not have been politically popular at times.

"The last thing I wanted to do was spend money on a recovery package, or help the American auto industry keep its doors open, or prevent the collapse of the Wall Street banks whose irresponsibility helped cause this crisis," he said. "But I knew that if we didn't act boldly and quickly -- if we didn't defy the politics of the moment and do what was necessary -- we would have risked an even greater disaster."

Obama ends his New York travel today with a stop in the Big Apple, where he'll raise money to help those Democrats who supported his economic initiatives for this fall's elections.

Cunningham Memo Claims He's Party's Best Shot

A new poll shows how competitive the June 22 North Carolina Democratic Senate primary runoff will be between Cal Cunningham and Elaine Marshall, and both campaigns are out to prove why they would be the more competitive nominee against incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R).

The Public Policy Polling survey found Cunningham and Marshall tied at 36 percent apiece, with 28 percent undecided -- proof that the race is anyone's game. Earlier this week the Marshall campaign began to push an argument that Cunningham "has no path to victory," but the poll would appear to indicate otherwise.

In a memo to top campaign supporters today, Cunningham spokesman Jared Leopold pointed to the poll results and accused the Marshall campaign of taking a "premature victory lap."

"Candidates who declare victory weeks before the ballots are cast are likely to be surprised on Election Day," Leopold wrote.

Cunningham came into the race as the unknown quantity, though his background made him an attractive candidate to the national party, which recruited him for some time to run. Already in the race was Marshall, the four-term secretary of state.

Her long statewide experience is now being used against her, as Leopold writes: "Voters don't want career politicians; they are looking for a new generation of leaders to take on the challenges we face." In this anti-incumbent, anti-Washington national mood, that's a line that could work both in the primary and against Burr.

Cunningham took just 27 percent in the primary, but he was able to hold Marshall below the 40 percent needed to win the nomination. Going forward, Cunningham is counting on picking up much of the 36 percent of the vote that four other primary challengers won last week -- votes his campaign sees as votes against Marshall.

Despite Cunningham's two-to-one cash advantage, Marshall spokesman Thomas Mills wrote in Monday's memo that Marshall "will have the resources to compete with Cunningham in every medium and has a stronger, broader base to build upon."

The primary had a low turnout, and the runoff is expected to be even lower. So exciting the base will be key to both campaigns. As Leopold points out in the memo, Cunningham led 46-31 percent in the PPP poll among those who were "very excited" to vote.

Exciting the base will also be important against Burr, and getting anywhere close to the numbers President Obama brought out in 2008 could help Democrats pick up a Senate seat in an otherwise down year for the party. The Cunningham campaign believes he's the candidate who can do it.

"North Carolina Democrats need a nominee who can motivate voters to come out to the polls and beat Richard Burr," writes Leopold. "That's why Cal Cunningham is best-positioned to take on Richard Burr this November."

Two More Incumbents On Chopping Block

Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are entering the last few days before their May 18 primaries wondering whether they will be the next two incumbents ousted before the general election.

West Virginia Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan and Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett were both rejected by their own party in the last several days, and their results have put incumbents on both sides of the aisle on notice.

Pennsylvania Arlen Specter.jpg

Both Lincoln and Specter are on shaky ground, but Specter's prospects look somewhat more perilous. In a slip of the tongue that's symbolic of his issues in the primary, the longtime GOP senator called the Allegheny Democratic Committee that endorsed him "Allegheny County Republicans," and repeated the stumble again before concluding his Tuesday night speech to the group.

His primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, continues to remind Democratic voters -- whom polls once showed siding with Specter by large margins -- that this is the same Specter that George W. Bush and conservative former Sen. Rick Santorum endorsed six years ago in his competitive Republican primary.

Since Sestak went on the air with TV ads in recent weeks, his standing among primary voters has vastly improved and he finds himself dead even with Specter in the polls. A Franklin and Marshall College Poll out Wednesday found that support for Specter is soft, so a gaffe like the one on Tuesday could help Sestak persuade voters he's the only true Democrat.

A Quinnipiac University poll reported Specter up 21 points in early April, but that lead had dwindled to 2 points by Wednesday. And Specter's attacks against Sestak appear to have backfired, as his favorable rating has tanked in the last month.

Sestak is also helped by the fact that he now appears to be the more formidable general election candidate, which had been Specter's best argument.

"The intangibles are clearly on Sestak's side. He has the momentum and the anti-incumbent wave sweeping the country is a good omen for the challenger," Quinnipiac assistant director Peter Brown stated in an analysis of the poll. "Troubling for Specter is that one in seven likely primary voters are undecided and incumbents -- especially 30-year incumbents who have switched parties -- rarely get much of the undecided vote."

Since switching parties last year, Specter has been a reliable vote for Democrats. He has the backing of the White House, which could dispatch the vice president and perhaps the president in the final days of the primary campaign. He's also receiving help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which reportedly is paying for much of his last- minute TV advertising.

But the question on Tuesday will be whether Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania can stomach choosing a guy they've been voting against for the last 30 years. He's better known than Sestak, but in 2010 that's not necessarily a good thing.

Arkansas Blanche_Lincoln2.jpg

With anti-Washington sentiment fresh in the air following the two incumbent defeats in recent days, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter said in an MSNBC interview Wednesday morning that it's time for Blanche Lincoln to go because he's heard "all over the state of Arkansas that people want a change...It really is a very strong feeling of anti-incumbency. It's palpable out here."

The day after he announced his primary challenge to Lincoln in early March, Halter said in an interview with RCP that his Senate campaign was "not really about running against someone as it is running for the office." That played out in a few of Halter's TV ads, but he certainly took aim at the incumbent as well.

One negative TV ad Halter aired stated that "Blanche Lincoln has gone Washington," and it attacked her for accepting campaign contributions from Wall Street banks and for voting "to cut our Social Security benefits." He also slammed the incumbent for voting to bail out the banks.

Tension is high in the state, as outside groups are engaging heavily for both Democrats. Halter is receiving help from an organized labor PAC called Working America, while Arkansans for Common Sense has aired an ad tying Halter to the privatization of Social Security.

The most infamous was a TV ad released two weeks ago by a group called Americans for Job Security. The ad featured people of Indian heritage thanking Halter for sending jobs to their country.

Both have been spending money at a feverish pace, with each surpassing $1 million spent just in April. However, despite being outraised last month, Lincoln still entered May with a $2.5 million cash advantage.

Despite Lincoln's perceived vulnerability in the general election, her lead over Halter remained in the double digits last week in a Mason-Dixon poll. However, she received just 44 percent support, not enough to avoid a runoff. Halter took 32 percent, and a third candidate, businessman D.C. Morrison, got 7 percent.

Democrats don't want a June 8 runoff, as it would force both candidates to spend even more money on each other and not on their general election opponent.

Republicans Heading To Tampa In 2012

The Republican National Committee's Site Selection Committee is recommending the party hold its presidential nominating convention in Tampa-St.Petersburg in 2012, the RNC announced this afternoon.

Tampa beat out Phoenix and Salt Lake City for the event. Minneapolis-St. Paul hosted the 2008 event.

"We are honored and privileged to accept the bid from Tampa, Florida to host the Republican National Convention in 2012. ...The Tampa area boasts state-of-the-art facilities, exciting and vibrant downtowns, and a clear enthusiasm from the community to host our convention. We look forward to joining our compatriots in the Sunshine State for our convention in 2012," RNC Chairman Michael Steele said in a released statement.

Mike Allen first reported the news this morning.

Florida is an important swing state in every election, and Republicans hope holding their convention there could provide somewhat of a boost to their nominee. However, Republicans have not carried their convention's host state since 1992, when George H.W. Bush won Texas.

Democrats, who were in Denver in 2008, have won every convention-hosting state since Michael Dukakis lost Georgia in 1988.

PA-12 Poll: Critz Pulls Ahead

Mark Critz, a former aide to the late John Murtha and the Democratic nominee to replace him, has pulled out to a 6-point lead in the special election for Pennsylvania's 12th district, according to a new Susquehanna poll. Critz leads Republican Tim Burns 44%-38% with less than a week to go.

The Johnstown-based district in southwestern Pennsylvania has swing potential, despite the overwhelming Democratic registration advantage and Murtha's dominance in the district for the last 36 years. It's the only district that voted for both John Kerry and John McCain.

Critz is running as a continuation of Murtha -- a strategy that could be detrimental to his chances, as we've seen two incumbents in the last several days lose the nomination of their own party. And two more incumbents are in danger next Tuesday, as well, as Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) go up against formidable challengers.

Both national parties are spending big on this race, as it could provide a boost in momentum for either. That includes Republicans, who haven't won a competitive House special election this cycle.

The survey was conducted May 10 of 400 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.

Coats Sees Kagan, Miers Link

Dan Coats is all too familiar with the rigors of the confirmation process for Supreme Court choices, having served as the so-called "sherpa" for President George W. Bush's second attempt to fill a seat. Coats ultimately helped navigate Samuel Alito to the bench, after seeing the previous choice, Harriet Miers, withdrawn.

coats.jpgElena Kagan heads to Capitol Hill today for her first "courtesy calls" with the senators who ultimately must will decide her fate. Coats, now running for to reclaim his former seat, said Tuesday she faces a similar challenge to the one Miers faced five years ago.

"She has very little record, and so unfortunately it's more of what she says, not more of what she has done," Coats told RCP in an interview Tuesday. "The irony is that Harriet Miers, the original appointee, was soundly criticized for not having a record with which to judge. ... It's ironic that the same Democrats who were trashing Harriet Miers for not having judicial experience are saying it doesn't matter."

It was criticism from both the left and right that doomed the Miers nomination, made when Republicans still had a majority in the Senate. Coats still argued there were similarities, saying in each nomination there was a woman "of substantial personal experience and not judicial experience." He declined to indicate how he might vote on Kagan if he were in the Senate today, saying he won't have access to the same information others will have. But he signaled that his philosophy on voting would be different now than it was when he did serve, voting in 1994 to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"This whole idea of, 'Well the president has the prerogative of choosing who he wants,' ... I think those days are over," Coats said, pointing to an attempt to filibuster the Alito nomination. "I saw them trash Alito. If that's the game they want to play, that's the game we'll have to play."

In the interview, Coats talked extensively about his effort to return to the Senate after more than a decade in the private sector, even as he acknowledged the political climate has changed dramatically. While soft-spoken, he nonetheless spoke out strongly against what he called an "arrogant" administration under President Obama. He called his Democratic opponent, Rep. Brad Ellsworth, an "Obama enabler," and promised to be a reliable vote against the Democratic agenda.

"You can count on it. You can take that to the bank," he said. "That's what the people of Indiana want. That's what I want. None of us ever imagined an administration a presidency who, in the spite of one of the worst economic downturns in this country's history, ... would be advancing a liberal agenda of massive new spending, massive new expansion of government and not focusing on getting the economy back on track and getting people back to work. Just inconceivable. And so if I'm elected, I'll be a major voice of opposition to what this administration is trying to do."

In the same week that Coats won a crowded primary for the GOP nomination, his former colleague Bob Bennett saw his re-election effort derailed at the Utah Republican convention. Though Democrats hope to paint him as part of the establishment in an anti-establishment year, Coats argued that Hoosier voters would see Ellsworth as the Washington candidate.

"I'm the challenger applying for the job and he's the incumbent trying to hold on to the job," Coats said. "Right now, people are upset with what's happening in Washington now with these incumbents, a lot more than someone who served 12 years ago."

Elaine Marshall's Path To Victory

Thomas Mills, spokesman for the Elaine Marshall Senate campaign, says there is no conceivable way Cal Cunningham wins the June 22 primary runoff for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina.

"In a runoff election, Cal Cunningham has no path to victory," Mills concludes in a memo to reporters.

Indeed, while Marshall's 36 percent take in a multi-candidate primary was less than the 40 percent needed to win the nomination outright, she did have a commanding victory nonetheless.

Upon the Marshall campaign's calls for him to concede the nomination to Marshall, Cunningham, who finished second with 27 percent, noted that two-thirds of voters chose someone other than Marshall, a four-time statewide office holder whom Democratic voters know well.

While that's true, Marshall also won three-fourths of the state's 100 counties. In the counties she didn't win, she finished second.

Her 74-county take includes seven of the 10 biggest counties. Cunningham won two (Wilmington's New Hanover County and Winston Salem's Forsyth) and Ken Lewis, the third place finisher, won Durham.

Marshall won the three biggest counties (Charlotte's Mecklenburg County, Raleigh's Wake and Guilford's Greensboro) as well as Faytteville's Cumberland County, Asheville's Buncombe, and Gaston and Union counties that take in Charlotte suburbs.

Both candidates will be fighting for Lewis's support -- the African American attorney from Durham picked up 17 percent of the vote -- as well as the 19 percent collectively won by the other three candidates in the primary race.

Mills believes African Americans will make up 30 percent of the runoff electorate, and calls that voting bloc "a population in which she overwhelmingly defeated Cunningham." Plus, Mills writes, "almost 50% will be women over 50 years old, Marshall's base."

In Cunningham's favor is a two-to-one cash advantage through mid-April, which could give him an edge in TV ads -- a key to getting out the vote. He was on TV nearly three times as much as Marshall in the primary, according to Mills.

Public Policy Polling released a poll today showing Marshall and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) within 1 point of each other, while Burr held a 5-point lead over Cunningham.

Special Election Today For Deal's Georgia Seat

Former Georgia Rep. Nathan Deal's 9th District seat is up for grabs today as several candidates battle in the nonpartisan special election to take his place through the end of the year. However, with six Republicans, one Democrat and one independent in the running, it's unlikely any candidate will win a majority of the vote and avoid a June 8 runoff.

This Northwest Georgia district is one of the most Republican in the country. It voted 75 percent for John McCain and 77 percent for George W. Bush in the last two presidential elections. Deal has often been re-elected with similar winning percentages since going to Congress in 1992.

Of the Republicans, Lee Hawkins and Tom Graves are the only candidates with more than $50,000 left in the bank. Hawkins has $328,000 and Graves $127,000.

Deal left office earlier this year to focus on a run for governor.

Could Alan Mollohan Be The Next To Go?

Four days after Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett was shown the door by conservative delegates at the state party convention after 18 years of service, Alan Mollohan, the incumbent Democrat from West Virginia's 1st Congressional district, is facing perhaps his toughest re-election in nearly three decades in Congress.

Mollohan is squaring off today in the Democratic primary against state Sen. Mike Oliverio, an upstart who's put the incumbent on the defensive over his record in Washington. A recent television ad from Oliverio slammed Mollohan as "one of the most corrupt members of Congress." The state legislator has also skewered Mollohan for his vote in favor of health care reform and for initially supporting cap-and-trade.

And Mollohan has been criticized for his propensity as an Appropriations subcommittee chairman to steer millions of dollars in earmarks to the district. Once seen as a virtue in a congressman's re-election campaign, earmarks this year have become symbolic of overspending by Washington.

Oliverio's received the backing of the Ogden newspaper chain, with papers across the district in Wheeling, Weirton and Parkersburg. And he raised more than $320,000 through the third week of April, with more coming in as the primary drew closer.

Despite the challenge from his right, Mollohan is receiving help from the National Rifle Association, which is reaching out to voters in the district to highlight his 100 percent voting record and "A+" rating with the organization.

He's also responded with a TV ad, calling Oliverio "right wing" and tying him to the Tea Party and the state Republican Party.

State Sen. Jeff Kessler, whose district falls within the 1st district and who is running for governor in 2012, believes Mollohan will likely pull out a win today.

"He has a race on his hands, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't weather it," said Kessler, who did not endorse anyone in the primary. "This is the third race in a row he's been exposed to these kinds of attacks. I don't know that a different person singing the same tune is going to make a difference."

The Justice Department ended its four-year probe into Mollohan's personal finances earlier this year. The investigation did not affect his ability to win re-election in the last two cycles. Despite the negative press and help for his opponent from the national GOP in 2006, Mollohan still cruised to a 64 percent win, and he ran unopposed in 2008.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face one of a handful of well-funded Republicans vying for the GOP nomination, which has become nearly as contentious as the Democratic contest.

The national political landscape and the district's penchant for voting Republican at the presidential level would appear to put this seat in grave danger for Democrats, but the party dominates down-ballot races. Mollohan has held the district easily since 1982, and most of the state senators and delegates in the area are Democrats.

However, if Mollohan does pull off a victory, a low winning percentage could be a sign of a far more competitive general election campaign than he's used to in November.

WH: Election Year Politics Not A Factor In Kagan Pick

Since President Reagan took office in 1981, 12 seats on the United States Supreme Court have become open. Until this year, only four of those openings occurred in an election year. Yet despite an increasingly contentious environment and the strong likelihood that Democrats will lose seats after elections this fall, White House officials today said that political circumstances played no role in President Obama's choice of Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

"The president came at this process with an appreciation for what a historic choice and responsibility picking a Supreme Court justice is, and I think he picked the person he thought would make the best justice for the Supreme Court. He did that without regard to the number of Democrats we have in the Senate, without regard to the fact that this is an Election Year, without regard to any of those extraneous factors," Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, told RCP at a briefing this morning.

Leading up to today's announcement there had been speculation that the president, aware that his 59-seat Senate majority is unlikely to last, might favor a potentially contentious candidate from the short list now and save a more centrist choice, like Merrick Garland, for the future when that majority is narrower. But press secretary Robert Gibbs spoke of the folly of that line of thinking.

"My guess is every administration walks out of here with a file of who they were going to nominate next, and never got the opportunity to nominate that person," he said. "You can be too cute by half trying to narrowcast and look ahead. I would reiterate what Ron said - this is about picking the best person at that time and not with a lot of moving chess pieces."

The last Supreme Court nomination in an election year was President Clinton's choice of Stephen Breyer in May 1994. David Souter, who resigned last year, was nominated by the first President Bush in 1990. Both were confirmed easily. President Reagan had two appointments to make in 1986 after the resignation of Chief Justice Warren Burger; Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously while the promotion of William Rehnquist to chief was more of a fight.

Even though seven Republicans voted for Kagan to become solicitor general, the White House acknowledged the situation might be different now both because it's an election year and because a Supreme Court seat is at stake. But in the president's consultation with Republican leaders and members of the Judiciary Committee, officials say they "indicated an openness to considering her."

"I would hope that people politics aside and come to understand who she is and what she stands for," Klain said. "I would hope they all vote for her. I also live in the real world and I know that they're all unlikely to vote for her. But certainly I would hope that she would have bipartisan support as she did last year."

A number of candidates on both sides have issued statements on Kagan's nomination. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic hopeful in Florida, did so even before the president announced the selection this morning. But Republicans in particular may seek to use the pick to rally supporters. The NRSC launched a Web site, ProtectTheCourts.org, that will collect users information and comments on the selection. But Republicans have also been careful to state in the early going an intention to handle the process with an open mind.

"We will continue to be respectful throughout the nomination process, just as we were during Justice Sotomayor's nomination," a Republican strategist tells RCP. "Republicans will withhold judgment on Kagan until there can be a full and fair confirmation process that allows her to demonstrate whether she will act with restraint on the Court or bring a personal ideological agenda."

Shepherding Kagan

Among the many senators and would-be senators reacting to President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court is Dan Coats, fresh off his win in the GOP primary in Indiana. In a statement this morning, Coats notes his experience in 2005 as the so-called "sherpa" for the nomination Samuel Alito (leaving out the failed nomination of Harriet Miers before it).

"There are some real questions as to whether Elena Kagan is a strict constructionist in the mold of Samuel Alito, whom I shepherded through the confirmation process, and Hoosier John Roberts - individuals who adhere to the intentions of our Founding Fathers and faithfully interpret the Constitution - or someone who views the Constitution as a 'living document' that can be altered to push a radical agenda," Coats says in the statement. "A number of hard questions must be asked to ensure Ms. Kagan will work to protect the Constitution, not rewrite it."

I spoke to Coats about that role he played for a piece last year about the process of steering a nominee through the confirmation process. He called it then "a straining, draining three-month process that sapped every ounce of your energy." You can read more here.

This morning Ron Klain, the chief of staff to Vice President Biden and a veteran of the process himself, told reporters that White House Counsel Bob Bauer will be heading up the Kagan confirmation, and that associate counsel Susan Davies will accompany her as she begins the series of "courtesy calls" to senators this week. On the timing, press secretary Robert Gibbs noted that they are ahead of last year's timeline for the Sotomayor process, adding: "We would certainly expect that a hearing can happen and a vote can happen before the Senate goes home in August."

The Week Ahead: Specter's Kagan Problem

The week begins with a blockbuster announcement at the White House: Elena Kagan as President Obama's nominee to fill Justice Stevens' seat on the Supreme Court. Seven Republicans supported her nomination as solicitor general in 2009 -- Obama needs just one to cross party lines again to ensure a smooth confirmation, which the White House seems to expect with what has been referred to as a "safe" pick.

But one of the Republican "nay" votes last year points to another big story developing this week -- now-Democrat Arlen Specter's fight for his political survival in the Pennsylvania Senate primary. This Saturday, Republican Bob Bennett lost his re-election battle by failing to qualify for the primary ballot. Two more senators could potentially lose their primaries this month. That and more as we look at the Week Ahead.

The White House: President Obama is set to announce his second choice for a seat on the Supreme Court this morning in the East Room: Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Again, the early favorite is the final selection. The pick will be followed by an intense effort to shape the message in the critical early stage. This time, unlike with last year's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, they'll have to fend off questions not just from the right but also the left, as some progressives are wary of her record on such issues as executive power. Expect Republicans to focus on Kagan's decision as Harvard Law dean to restrict military recruiters from campus. NBC, which broke the Kagan news late Sunday, has a good snapshot of the choice.

Also on tap at the White House this week is a big meeting Wednesday at the White House between Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. The relationship is a tenuous one, and there was even some thought to canceling the visit after recent comments from the re-elected leader. On Thursday, Obama travels to Buffalo for an event focused on the economy; he'll end the day in New York raising money for the DCCC.

Capitol Hill: The Senate must now begin preparations for a Supreme Court nomination. After meeting personally with senators, Kagan must endure long sessions of testimony before the Justice Committee and then a series of votes. As solicitor general, Kagan has already been approved by the Senate -- though for a different job. Seven Republicans (Coburn, Collins, Gregg, Hatch, Kyl, Lugar, Snowe) voted in her favor last year.

Meanwhile, the Senate continues debate on the Wall Street reform bill, and the House is expected to take up the America Competes Reauthorization Act. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will play a starring role in committee hearings this week, as executives from BP and others in the industry go before three congressional committees to discuss the spill.

Politics: Two states hold primaries this week: Nebraska and West Virginia. There's little action in Nebraska; Gov. Dave Heineman (R) faces no major opposition as he runs for a second full term in Nebraska, unlike four years ago when he defeated Rep. Tom Osborne (R). In West Virginia, the action is in the first Congressional District, where Alan Mollohan faces a potentially competitive primary battle against state Sen. Mike Oliverio. The AP notes that Oliverio has been critical of both Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This is the final week of campaigning for two far more high profile races where incumbent Democratic senators have tough fights. The Muhlenberg tracking poll shows Rep. Joe Sestak (D) has now jumped ahead of Arlen Specter (D) in Pennsylvania. A new issue emerges in the stretch run there with Kagan's nomination to the High Court. As pointed out on Twitter by NBC's Chuck Todd, Specter, while still a member of the GOP and a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, voted against her nomination for Solicitor General. This complicates any potential late visit from Obama.

In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln seems a bit safer in her fight against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D). But as Saturday's defeat at the Utah GOP convention of incumbent Robert Bennett shows, anti-incumbent sentiment remains a force to watch.

**In Case You Missed It: Bennett became the first incumbent to lose in 2010, and he surely will not be the last. The Salt Lake Tribune breaks it down correctly:

Bennett's multimillion-dollar fundraising advantage, conservative credentials and the backing of such Republican superstars as Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich couldn't save him in a year in which all of his perceived strengths were seen as flaws by many of the delegates.

This was not the year to be a senior member of the banking committee with ties to Wall Street firms, a defender of earmarks and the author of a bipartisan health reform plan.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.3 / Disapprove 44.7 (+3.6)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 22.5 / Disapprove 70.5 (-48.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.7

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Week In Midterms: Parties Stress Unity

This week in midterms featured primaries in three competitive states, with one more state Republican Party possibly choosing its nominee tomorrow. Each contest caused the two parties headaches, as fellow party members beat up on each other and spent sizeable sums of money to win the nominations.

In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats came away the winner against a challenger with grassroots conservative support and a former congressman, giving the national GOP its preffered nominee. In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher ended up with a 12-point Democratic primary win over Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, giving Dems the candidate they wanted.

In the aftermath, the parties have begun working to bring the split camps together. Brunner sent an email to Ohio Democrats to show she was standing behind Fisher's candidacy, despite some of the nasty accusations flung between them during the campaign. And she urged supporters to do the same.

Indiana Republicans went a step further, calling a press conference featuring all five candidates after Coats won the primary with just 40% of the vote. "We're going to reach out in the fall to Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party people, moderates, even Democrats that may have some remorse about voting for this president particularly in light of what this agenda has been so far," Coats said.

SENATE

NEW POLLS: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Washington.

CALIFORNIA: Sarah Palin caused somewhat of a storm among conservatives with her endorsement of Carly Fiorina, calling the former HP executive the "Commonsense Conservative." Tom Campbell currently leads the race in polling, while Chuck DeVore has received other notable conservative endorsements.

INDIANA: GOP Primary Election Results: Dan Coats 39% (216,720); Stutzman 29% (160,722); Hostettler 23% (124,037); Bates 4% (24,603); Behney 4% (22,954). Coats will now take on Ellsworth for this open seat, vacated by the retirement of Sen. Evan Bayh (D).

NORTH CAROLINA: Dem Primary Election Results: Marshall 36% (153,953); Cunningham 27% (115,590); Ken Lewis 17% (71,925); Marcus Williams 8% (35,752); Susan Harris 7% (29,657); Ann Worthy 4% (16,576). Because no one received 40%, Marshall and Cunningham are headed for a June 22 runoff. Marshall held a 5-point lead in a poll conducted the day after the primary. The winner will take on Sen. Richard Burr (R).

OHIO: Dem Primary Election Results: Fisher 56% (374,633); Brunner 44% (298,964). Fisher and former Rep. Rob Portman (R) will now face off in a competitive fight for this open seat, vacated by the retirement of Sen. George Voinovich (R).

PENNSYLVANIA: From the Department of No Surprise Here, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) released a TV ad tying Sen. Arlen Specter (D) to George W. Bush, who publicly backed Specter during his competitive 2004 GOP primary against Pat Toomey.

UTAH: Sen. Bob Bennett (R) is fighting for his political life tomorrow at the state party convention in Salt Lake City. 3,500 delegates from around the state will be on hand to select either a nominee (if that person receives 60% of the delegate vote) or the top two candidates taking part in the June 22 primary. Kyle wrote this morning about why Bennett is in trouble with conservatives and why the convention process puts him at a disadvantage.

GOVERNOR:

NEW POLLS: Arizona; Connecticut; Hawaii; Iowa; New Hampshire; Ohio; Pennsylvania.

CALIFORNIA: Steve Poizner continued attacking Meg Whitman in an early week debate. The Sacramento Bee writes about the impact of the Republican primary, potentially making it tough for the eventual nominee to appeal to the center. Here's yet another Whitman ad. An internal poll from Poizner showed the race down to 10 points.

FLORIDA: Rick Scott continues to blitz the airwaves with TV ads in the GOP primary. McCollum and Alex Sink deal with the oil spill.

MARYLAND: Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is launching his first radio ad, talking about Bob Ehrlich's (R) "fantasy land." Ehrlich attacked O'Malley at the state GOP convention. The running mate of Ehrlich's primary challenger abandoned the ticket.

NEW YORK: The governor's race is just one of the problems plaguing the New York GOP. The RGA denies that it would invest up to $10 million on behalf of Democrat-turned-Republican Steve Levy. Still, Levy says he's confident he'll have their full support. Meanwhile, George Pataki allegedly said he doesn't think Rick Lazio can win, but that he'd unify the party. Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo is still coy about his plans.

OHIO: Ted Strickland immediately came out of the gate swinging against John Kasich post-primary with a new TV ad. He also emphasized Kasich's Wall Street ties in an interview.

TEXAS: Gov. Rick Perry (R) is anti-Washington, but turned up at the White House Correspondents Dinner. The New York Times looked at Bill White's (D) uphill effort in the race.

THE REST: Democratic candidate Peter Corroon has chosen a moderate Republican as his running mate in Utah. A third party group is targeting Republican candidates over taxes in new TV ads. Establishment Republican support is split in Wisconsin. Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio passed on the governor's race there. A new ad from Brian Sandoval in Nevada. Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) was released from the hospital after a heart procedure. The DGA is targeting Rhode Island hopeful Lincoln Chafee. The RGA targets Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, tying him to the retiring Gov. Bill Ritter.

HANDICAPPER WATCH
Cook Political Report:
* WI-07 from Likely D to Toss Up

Rothenberg Political Report:
* HI-01 to Toss Up

RCP PROJECTIONS
Senate: GOP +8
Governor: GOP +5
House Map

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Bennett Could Be First Casualty Of Changing National Mood

Utah Sen. Bob Bennett will likely know the fate of his political future by tomorrow, when the state Republican Party holds its nominating convention. It's an interesting twist that in a year when the political winds are at the backs of Republicans nationwide, an entrenched GOP incumbent is facing his most challenging re-election -- in the primary.

It's evidence that voter frustration isn't necessarily a partisan issue. In fact, Bennett is one of five Senate incumbents facing stiff primary challengers: Republicans include Bennett and Arizona's John McCain; Democrats are Colorado's Michael Bennet, Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, who left the GOP to escape a competitive challenge and found another one awaiting him.

That's a relatively high number of incumbents facing legitimate primary challenges, and other establishment-backed challengers across the country are having similar trouble clearing the path for their party's nomination.

"It's a combination of two things: the overall environment and a sort of unrest in both parties," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. "Obviously the focus has been on the GOP and Tea Parties, but there has been evidence of progressives not being happy as well."

Like Bennett, the judgment days for Specter and Lincoln could come this month, with both preparing for May 18 primaries. Even if they win, they'll also face competitive general election races.

As for Bennett, he's up against challengers from the right and a nominating system that puts him at a distinct disadvantage. 3,500 delegates elected in neighborhood caucuses around the state are descending upon Salt Lake City tomorrow for a three-round voting process that could determine the Republican nominee. It puts a great deal of power in the hands of a select group of people.

"Utah has the most exciting Senate race in the country, and less than 1 percent get to vote in it," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "Republican voters in general are not that upset with Sen. Bennett. He would probably win the primary handily and the general election by 30 or 40 points."

Bennett's top competitors, according to recent polling of the delegates, are attorney Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater. The top three candidates make it to the second round of voting, and the top two go to the final round. If one candidate receives 60 percent of the vote, they become the nominee. Otherwise the top two face off again in a June 22 primary.

According to Mason-Dixon managing director Brad Coker, the make-up of the delegates is mostly male and very conservative. Indicative of the overall mood of the delegates: In one poll Coker conducted, seven-in-10 said they wouldn't have re-nominated the state's other Republican senator, Orrin Hatch, who was re-elected in 2006.

Coker believes that if Lee and Bridgewater make it to the final round of delegate voting, neither will get the 60 percent necessary to avoid a primary. However, if Bennett makes it to the final round, Lee will win the nomination outright.

"I'm fairly convinced Bennett won't come out of the convention," Coker told RCP.

The potential ouster of Bennett is partly due to his legislative work and voting record, which the Almanac of American Politics describes as moderate-to-conservative. Jowers said delegates mainly list three things they're upset with Bennett over: his TARP vote, the Bennett-Wyden health care bill and his support for earmarks.

There's also a feeling that it's simply time for someone new, as Bennett's held his father's former seat since 1992. Among those ready for a change are former Gov. Norm Bangerter and former Rep. Jim Hansen, both of whom endorsed Lee over Bennett.

"Bob Bennett is a very articulate, intelligent, analytical man. He's a very good man," Hansen told RCP. "He's also quite old, like I am. I would like to see a younger, dynamic, well-trained, extremely intelligent and well-qualified person move into the Senate."

Hansen, who served 22 years in the House, has known Bennett a long time -- he sat behind Bennett in high school English class "100 years ago," as Hansen put it. But his decision to back another candidate aligns him with Tea Party supporters who make up two-thirds of the convention delegates, according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll.

State Rep. Ken Sumsion endorsed Lee as well. However, if Lee goes down in the early rounds, Sumsion told RCP he'd be happy to support someone else -- just not Bennett.

"He's flat out arrogant," said Sumsion, who named the same arguments against Bennett that Jowers listed, as well as several others. "He's had plenty of time to improve things, and our nation is going in the wrong direction. Many of my constituents feel the same way."

"We want new blood, fresh ideas and fresh energy," he added. "I want a U.S. senator that isn't going to make a career out of it."

Cunningham: Democrats Need More Time To Pick Nominee

Rejecting calls from his opponent not to pursue a runoff campaign, Cal Cunningham today challenged his opponent to up to five debates before a second vote June 22 among North Carolina Democrats to choose a Senate nominee.

"We think that Tuesday's ballot was a pretty clear indication that voters would like more information about their candidates," he told reporters this afternoon.

Though Elaine Marshall led Cunningham by more than 9 points in Tuesday's vote, Cunningham argued that he had shown the momentum late in the race. He also turned to quotes from Marshall in her past statewide races embracing runoffs.

"Ms. Marshall can't have it both ways," he said, quoting her as saying in 1996 that a runoff "was one of the best things that could have happened to her." "We're in an environment where she's been running statewide for 14 years. They know her. I'm the new guy. And we think that the more the electorate tuned in in the run-up to election day on Tuesday, the more they responded to our message and looked for another candidate other than the one that they knew. We obviously were the beneficiary of people looking for an energetic alternative."

"She's been running statewide for 14 years," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said he would be reaching out to the other candidates from the contest, including Ken Lewis -- the only African American in the race.

National Democrats were critical in convincing Cunningham to run, and remain convinced that he'd be a better nominee to face Sen. Richard Burr (R) in November. Asked by RCP if he had received any commitments from the DSCC to help him in the runoff, Cunningham declined to offer specifics. He said he had not spoken with DSCC chair Bob Menendez since Tuesday's vote.

"We're sizing up where we are, we're putting together a plan that will ensure we're successful June 22," he said. "We are making sure that we have all the resources that we need." He added that "all of the parts of the coalition that got us to where we are are in tact."

Given the resources he'd already expended, Cunningham was asked if his 9-point loss was a disappointment. He argued that he considered the outcome a success, having "outperformed any poll" and that he "overcame a greater than 37-point deficit in the span of just several months against the second highest vote-getter in North Carolina history." Campaign manager Rick Fromberg noted that Marshall's team had predicted she'd win outright this week.

In GOP Races, It's NRSC Against DeMint

Jim DeMint is running for a second term this year representing South Carolina in the United States Senate. But his focus seems to be elsewhere, as the conservative senator campaigns not for himself, but for a handful of Republican candidates running in many cases against the hand-picked choice of his national party.

On Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee got its man in Indiana, as former Sen. Dan Coats won the Republican primary. Finishing a strong second was Marlin Stutzman, a state senator endorsed by DeMint.

"This was his first statewide race and he was opposed by the Washington establishment. Yet he exceeded all expectations with an unwavering commitment to conservative principles," DeMint said in a statement after the votes were counted.

Undeterred by the loss, DeMint made an even bigger play Wednesday. His Senate Conservatives Fund weighed in to an even more high profile race, picking ophthalmologist Rand Paul in the Kentucky Senate race rather than Secretary of State Trey Grayson, endorsed just the day before by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It was a surprising move since just days earlier DeMint had signaled he wasn't interested in weighing in, saying he didn't want to antagonize his party's leader. That changed when McConnell made his support public.

"He's not a career politician and he's got the guts to stand up to the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are being forced on us in Washington," DeMint said in announcing his backing. "Senator McConnell and I are on different sides in this race but I support him as our leader."

Though the NRSC won Tuesday, DeMint can argue he already had a victory of his own. DeMint was one of the first party leaders outside of Florida to endorse Marco Rubio over Charlie Crist in the Senate primary there. Only months later, when Rubio reversed a 30-point deficit did other Republicans join him in forcing Crist to abandon the race and run as an independent.

DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund has endorsed four other candidates with contested GOP primaries, but only two of them are at odds with the national party. In Colorado, he's backing Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck instead of former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. In California, he's endorsed Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, instead of former Rep. Tom Campbell or former HP CEO Carly Fiorina. His support is likely more likely to affect the result in Colorado.

DeMint can afford to play in these other races given that he faces only token opposition back home. Elected in 2004 in a contentious race against then-Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, DemMint has since notched a reliably conservative record in the deeply red state. This election is his last for the Senate, since he's pledged to only serve two terms. But his advocacy for candidates outside the Palmetto State has some convinced his electoral career is not nearly through.

Pressure Was On As Obey Called It Quits

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin said he was leaving Congress because he was tired and it was just his time. At age 71 and after more than 40 years serving in Washington, it's easy to take him at his word.

But Obey was also feeling pressure from a national political landscape that has changed dramatically over the past year, as well as a highly touted -- and young and energetic -- GOP recruit. The National Republican Congressional Committee had even begun airing a TV ad in Obey's district.

The NRCC hit debuted on April 15, Tax Day, and told viewers if they were looking for someone to hold accountable for increased spending in Washington, "How about the architect for Obama's spending, David Obey."

Running to replace Obey on the GOP side will likely be Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy, a former "Real World" cast member. On the Democratic side, names already thrown into the mix include several state legislators and attorneys.

Obey's rural 7th District includes all of 17 counties in the northwestern and central portions of the state, as well as parts of three others. Its voting in presidential elections tends to mirror that of the entire state. In fact, the last three winning candidates had identical winning percentages in the district and statewide: Barack Obama, 56%-42% in both; John Kerry, 50%-49% in both; Al Gore, 47%-47% in the district, 48%-48% statewide.

In a sign of how big Obey's retirement is, the NRCC has already begun using it for fundraising. "This is more than a symbolic retirement - the Architect of the Failed Stimulus has decided he cannot justify his votes in Congress to a district that has elected him for over 40 years," NRCC executive director Guy Harrison writes in a fundraising email.

Report: Obey Will Announce Retirement Today

Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, one of the most powerful members of Congress as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has scheduled a "major announcement" for 1 p.m., Obey's staff tells RealClearPolitics.

The announcement will take place at a press conference in an Appropriations hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The AP reports that announcement will be that Obey is not seeking re-election.

Obey is facing relatively low polling numbers for someone of his stature and tenure. He's also being challenged by a highly touted Republican recruit, Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy.

The congressman was first elected to Congress in an April 1969 special election, and has been re-elected fairly easily ever since. His closest re-election race came in the Republican year of 1994, when he took just 54 percent of the vote. Democrats could be facing an equally hostile political environment in 2010.

Except For N.C., Both Parties Win On Primary Night

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall finished short of winning the 40 percent necessary to take the Democratic nomination and the right to challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr. The result was the one aberration in an otherwise good night for the two national parties, which got their favored candidates in the other two states holding contested Senate primaries on Tuesday.

In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in the Democratic primary and will face former Rep. Rob Portman in the general election. In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats won a competitive Republican primary and will likely take on Rep. Brad Ellsworth, whom Democratic leaders in the state are expected to select as their nominee next month.

The Ohio and Indiana seats are open following the retirements of Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

In North Carolina, Marshall received 36 percent, followed by Cal Cunningham with 27 percent and Ken Lewis with 17 percent. As the top two finishers, Marshall and Cunningham will face each other again in a June 22 runoff, a costly addition for Democrats who would rather turn their attention toward Burr.

The Marshall campaign has already requested that Cunningham drop out of the race in deference to Marshall winning a plurality of the votes.

"Secretary Marshall won this race by a decisive margin. It would be best if Democrats in North Carolina could unite around her nomination to defeat Richard Burr," Thomas Mills, a Marshall consultant, told RealClearPolitics. "It's time for Cal Cunningham to join with Secretary Marshall to defeat Senator Burr in November."

Marshall received a boost from early votes, taking 42 percent of absentee ballots compared with less than 18 percent for Cunningham. Lewis actually received more absentee votes than Cunningham, taking 22 percent.

Keeping Marshall under the 40 percent mark was the fact that the other three candidates in the race -- Marcus Williams, Ann Worthy and Susan Harris -- took larger-than-expected portions of the overall vote, combining to win about 19%.

Cunningham finished second despite help from the national party, which heavily recruited him to the race after several other Democrats -- Attorney General Roy Cooper, and Reps. Heath Shuler and Bob Etheridge -- opted against running. A phone call from President Obama helped nudge him into the race in early December.

However, fundraising and momentum never took off. Despite running TV ads weeks before Marshall, a Public Policy Polling survey taken just before the primary indicated the ads hadn't penetrated. The poll found little difference between the two when voters were asked who they'd heard more about during the campaign; and nearly the same number of people said they'd seen a TV ad for Marshall as did for Cunningham.

Also, nearly half of likely voters still weren't sure two days before the primary whether they had a favorable or unfavorable impression of Cunningham; 39% said the same about Marshall.

Cunningham is young (36), highly educated, has a political background (former one-term state senator) and is an Iraq war veteran -- all attributes that led the national party to back him over his opponents.

Marshall, meanwhile, has four successful statewide elections under her belt (all for secretary of state), though she finished a distant third in the 2002 Democratic Senate primary. She was endorsed by the Charlotte Observer, the state's largest newspaper, and led in every public poll since February.

Defeating Burr in November will be a whole other animal for Marshall or Cunningham. The first-term senator is not considered as vulnerable as many assumed he was a year ago. For one, the national mood has turned against Democrats, and that could play out in a swing state like North Carolina.

Getting African Americans to the polls will be essential for Democrats. That voting bloc made up 23% of the 2008 electorate and 95% voted for Barack Obama, giving Democrats their first win in the state since 1976.

The PPP poll taken earlier this week found Marshall leading a hypothetical runoff against Cunningham by a 43-32 percent margin, with a quarter of voters undecided.

As for the open seat races in Ohio and Indiana, both parties see a path to victory based on the strength of their candidates and the national mood.

In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats took the first step in his political comeback by fending off the challenge of state Sen. Marlin Stutzman - supported by some in the tea party movement and Sen. Jim DeMint - and former Rep. John Hostettler. He received less than 40 percent of the vote -- hardly a show of strength -- but with no runoff Coats is the nominee.

National Republican Senatorial Commitee Chairman John Cornyn called Indiana "one of the strongest pick-up opportunities for Republicans." Democrats say the GOP establishment made a puzzling choice pushing Coats given the anti-establishment mood of the country.

"In Dan Coats, national Republicans got who they wanted, and who they got is an establishment Republican steeped in the culture of Washington; a super-lobbyist beholden to special interests for his fortune," DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said.

But Coats came out swinging in his victory speech, making it clear that while Indiana may have swung blue for President Obama in 2008, the mood of Hoosier voters is in a far different place.

"In light of the damage that President Obama's policies have already done to the United States of America, as Hoosiers we cannot afford to be any part of this at all," he said. "And we absolutely cannot afford to elect someone to the United States Senate who will enable this radical move to the left."

He also referred to Ellsworth's vote for the health care reform law and said that "anyone who has voted to reappoint Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House cannot be trusted to protect Indiana's interest."

In Ohio, the national party breathed a sigh of relief as the establishment-backed Fisher posted a 55-44 percent win over Brunner.

Brunner struggled to raise money and had to constantly reject calls for her to quit the race, and yet polls showed her running even with Fisher and performing better against the Republican nominee, Rob Portman, in November. That changed in the final weeks as Fisher's money advantage kicked in.

In Portman, Democrats see the baggage of a former Congressman and Bush budget director. "Ohio can't afford to allow self-proclaimed 'Washington insider' Rob Portman to bring back his job-killing economic and trade policies that helped pave the way for the global recession," state Democratic Party chair Chris Redfern said after the vote.

Republicans counter that Fisher is a weak candidate with the same burden as Gov. Ted Strickland given the state's continuing economic struggles. As lieutenant governor, Fisher headed up economic development efforts for the Buckeye State. The NRSC also pointed to his depleted bank account while Portman is one of the best-funded Republican non-incumbents in the country.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Rubio's Unique Advantage

Marco_Rubio1.jpg
Marco Rubio is in Washington today, just five days after Florida Gov. Charlie Crist opted out of the Republican primary against Rubio to run instead as an independent. Rubio now has a somewhat unique advantage in a year when conservatives and the Republican establishment in Washington seem to be picking different candidates in GOP primaries -- he has the firm backing of both.

"I'm excited to have help from anyone who wants to help elect someone to the U.S. Senate who will stand up for free enterprise, limited government and a strong national defense," Rubio told reporters shortly before walking into a meeting on Capitol Hill.

Rubio said he spoke with Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, over the weekend and they "agreed to talk at some point and kind of figure out how we can work together."

Almost as quickly as they had endorsed Crist last year after he formally announced his candidacy, Cornyn and other Republican Senate leaders withdrew their endorsement Thursday following his exit from the primary. In doing so, they called Rubio an "emerging star" and promised him their "resources and support."

"When I first got in this race, virtually the entire establishment endorsed Governor Crist within 13 minutes of his announcement," said Rubio. "I can't tell you it was the most encouraging thing in my life, but it helped remind me why I was running. I wasn't running to win the D.C. primary, I wasn't running because I wanted to be part of the club. I was running because I believed that no one else in this race could say the things that I thought needed to be said."

With the Republican nomination locked up nearly four months before a primary would have been held, Rubio will have the advantage of the party's monetary support throughout the summer, if he needs it. The campaign had a remarkable first quarter of fundraising and now boasts picking up 2,400 new donors over the last two weeks through its "Flip the Switch" campaign, which is tied to Crist's party switch.

However, a three-way race with two candidates pulling Republican supporters will be a difficult hurdle to overcome. A new automated poll out this afternoon found Crist leading the two party-backed candidates with 38 percent of the vote. Rubio finished a close second with 34 percent, with Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek a distant third with 17 percent.

Crist and Rubio are virtually tied in the RCP Average, and RCP currently ranks the race as a Toss Up.

May Primaries Test Democrats In Red, Purple States

The first major wave of primary elections in 2010 -- beginning today in Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio -- features a number of competitive Democratic primaries in purple and red states. Given that the political environment is challenging enough for the majority party nationally, candidates seeking their party's nominations in these states are faced with an additional dilemma: How far can they stray from the center in order to win support from their base?

Of the 10 states with primary elections this month, John McCain carried five by more than a dozen points. Another three - coincidentally the ones voting today - were red states in 2004 that went narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008. Only in two did the Illinois Democrat win by double digits. Now, the president's numbers are under water in all but Oregon, according to available public polling of voters in these states.

Among Democrats who will head to the polls this month, however, support for Obama and his policies remains fairly strong. But that hasn't stopped candidates in the reddest states eyeing the fight ahead in November from drawing distinctions now, even in tough primary races.

In no case is that more clear than in Arkansas, where Sen. Blanche Lincoln declared in her very first television ad: "I don't answer to my party, I answer to Arkansas." Gabe Holmstrom, a senior adviser for the state party in Arkansas, said that message is simply one that Democrats have long pressed successfully.

"We're definitely a different breed of Democrat here in Arkansas," he said. "She's not the first elected official here to run with an Arkansas-centric message."

In Kentucky, another state where Obama's approval rating hovers in the mid- to high-30s, both Senate hopefuls have also walked a fine line in appealing for primary support. Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, for instance, touted in one press release that he has "been the most outspoken and vocal critic" of both the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress when it comes to cap-and-trade. The importance of the coal industry to the state is at play here.

But the Democratic candidates in states like Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are more closely toeing the party line. In one of his ads, Cal Cunningham appeals to Tarheel State Democrats by saying he has "the most comprehensive plan to work with President Obama to create jobs." Lee Fisher and Jennifer Brunner, running for the Senate nomination in Ohio, both said they strongly supported a public option during the health care battle. And in Pennsylvania, former Republican Arlen Specter has a nearly flawless Democratic voting record in the year since he switched parties, as he looks to fend off a challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

NRSC chairman John Cornyn said that these Democrats having to run to the left now will make them "more vulnerable" in November. Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania disagreed that the positioning would weaken the eventual Democratic winner, but conceded the fight has weakened whoever wins because the Republican candidate in his state, as well as Ohio and North Carolina, is unopposed.

"The winner of the Democratic primary will be broke and 5 or 6 million dollars behind the Republican candidate, and that's where it's really going to hurt," he said.

Rendell: Specter Wins Primary "By Double Digits"

Pennsylvania's top Democrat predicts that Sen. Arlen Specter will ultimately win the primary election in two weeks, having proven to be a reliable vote for the party in the year since switching from the Republican side.

In an interview with Real Clear Politics, Gov. Ed Rendell did hedge a bit by saying in what is likely to be a low-turnout affair that "anything can happen," but that Specter is "likely to win by double digits" in the race against Rep. Joe Sestak (D).

"He's done a good job politically, he's also done a good job on issues," Rendell said. "[For] a lot of us here in Pennsylvania, the stimulus is viewed -- certainly among Democrats -- very well. I think a lot of us here feel indebted to him for the stimulus, and supporting the president."

And Sestak, he says, "made a huge mistake" tactically by holding much of his warchest in reserve until the final weeks of the campaign, launching his first television advertising just last month.

"He's not going to lose by 20 points now. But I just think that it's tough to build enthusiasm in three and a half weeks," he said.

In another closely-watched contest, Rendell thinks Democrat Mark Critz can still win the special election for John Murtha's Congressional seat, even as national handicappers say the Republican now has an advantage.

"The most important thing is, I set the special election for primary day," Rendell said. "We do terribly in special elections, Democrats, because Republican voters are much more reliable and they'll come out in an election that's at an unusual time. But the fact that it's on primary day is important."

Republicans have no primary battles for either Senate or governor, while Democrats do in both races. But in an interview last month, Republican nominee Tim Burns disputed the idea that those other races will boost Democratic turnout.

"People in this district aren't as excited about the Democratic primary as much as people outside of the district think or thought," he said. "If you ask a person on the street who John Sestak [sic] is, they're not even sure. ... This race I really believe is the race that will drive turnout."

We'll have more from the Rendell interview at RCP tomorrow.

The Week Ahead: November Races Take Shape

Tuesday begins a potentially pivotal 35-day stretch of election contests that will set the stage for this November's midterm madness. By June 8, 25 states will have held primary and/or special elections, starting with tomorrow's party contests in Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio.

The featured contests this week are Democratic primaries in the races for Republican-held Senate seats in Ohio and North Carolina. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher seems to have opened up a late lead over Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in the Buckeye State; the winner faces Republican Rob Portman, a former Congressman and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bush. In North Carolina, no clear favorite has emerged among the field of candidates looking to challenge first-term Sen. Richard Burr (R). If no candidate gets the required 40 percent of the vote, a real possibility, a June 22 runoff will be held.

In the Hoosier State, the attention is on the Republican primary for Senate. Former Sen. Dan Coats, whose retirement led to the election of retiring incumbent Evan Bayh (D), is the presumed frontrunner against former Rep. John Hostettler and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman. Rep. Brad Ellsworth is the Democratic candidate; no primary is taking place because Bayh's decision not to seek re-election came just days before the filing deadline.

These Senate contests in a way represent the midterm Congressional landscape in a microscosm. Races that had very early on been seen as pickup opportunities for Democrats now are at best toss-up races. And Republicans will be looking at the message sent in the Indiana primary as a signal of how other, more divisive races could alter their chances in a favorable environment.

The White House: Two unfolding stories -- the environmental disaster of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the unrealized disaster of a Times Square car bombing -- will be the major storylines of the week for the Obama administration. President Obama spent Sunday getting a firsthand look at the oil spill's impact on the Gulf Coast states.

But the economy, too, is in the spotlight this week. Friday brings the release of monthly unemployment data, and with it the monthly spin war over whether the Recovery Act and other administration actions have helped put the nation on the road to a revived economy. Obama was to travel to New Jersey for an economy-focused event on Wednesday, but that stop was canceled. He does address the Business Council in Washington on Tuesday.

Also on the docket this week: a meeting of the national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday.

Capitol Hill: Last week featured some great theater in Senate committee hearing rooms, as Goldman Sachs execs were grilled for their role in the economic collapse of 2008. No such hearings are on the schedule so far this week, but Wall Street Reform will play a central role in Senate floor debate, which could go on for the next two weeks before a final vote. Democratic leaders also introduced late last week a framework for immigration reform, with a climate change bill also in the offing. Friday will feature discussion about the April jobs report released that morning.

Politics: We already noted the looming primaries this week. Also on Tuesday is the filing deadline for candidates running in major party contests in Massachusetts. The gubernatorial race will be one of the marquee races in the country; we're also eyeing a potentially competitive race for Congress in the sixth district as well as the open 10th district seat.

Also this week, Utah Republicans hold a party convention that may determine the fate of incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett (R). He needs to finish among the top two in a vote of state party delegates in order to qualify for the June 22 primary ballot. But if another candidate secures 60 percent of the convention vote, no primary is necessary.

On the 2012 front this week, Tim Pawlenty heads to South Carolina to campaign for Congressional candidate Mick Mulvaney and raise money for the state GOP. On Friday it was announced that the Minnesota governor has inked a book deal.

A note about international politics as well: Thursday is the Parliamentary election in the United Kingdom. The Labour Party's 13-year hold of the government is at risk, but the once-favored Tories may not retake the government because of the unexpectedly strong performance of the Liberal Democrats. Party leader Nick Clegg used the first-ever televised debates to boost his party from afterthought to legitimate spoiler. A hung parliament is the expected outcome at this point, which means the Lib Dems may call the shots depending on what coalition it would seek to create.

**Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.7 / Disapprove 45.9 (+1.8)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 22.5 / Disapprove 70.5 (-48.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.1

**In Case You Missed It:: It was the so-called "Nerd Prom" weekend in Washington. President Obama's comedy act got more positive reviews than headline entertainer Jay Leno. You can see both acts here.

-- Mike Memoli & Kyle Trygstad