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Cornyn: NRSC Backing "Not Necessarily Helpful" In Primaries

Hours before one of the National Republican Senatorial Committee's prized recruits is set to announce his decision to bolt from the GOP, Sen. John Cornyn (R) conceded that the national party may have been better off with a hands-off approach to primary battles.

"I think more than any time I've seen in the recent past, instead of a Contract for America, voters want a Contract from America. In other words, they want to be listened to, not lectured to, and not to have their choices made for them," he told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor today. "In this political environment, it's not necessarily helpful for candidates running in the states to have the national party chairman endorse them."

Cornyn was asked repeatedly about Gov. Charlie Crist's (R) looming decision on his Senate candidacy in Florida and the implications of his anticipated independent run. He defended his decision as NRSC chairman to back Crist despite the fact that Marco Rubio was already in the race.

"When Jeb Bush told me he wasn't going to run I looked around to the most popular Republican in the state, and it was pretty clear who that was," he said. "At the time we made the endorsement Governor Crist was one of the most popular governors in America, and I would say it's been a breathtaking change of circumstance to see him now contemplating this course after seeing his numbers plummet so dramatically."

Continue reading "Cornyn: NRSC Backing "Not Necessarily Helpful" In Primaries" »

Paul Announces Palin Endorsement

Rand Paul (R) announced this morning that he's received the endorsement of Sarah Palin in his bid for U.S. Senate from Kentucky. With that endorsement comes a "generous contribution" from the former VP nominee's political action committee. From a campaign release:

Sarah Palin has clearly seen that Rand Paul supports smaller, constitutional government and is taking the fight to the career politicians and will shake up the tax and spend crowd in Washington D.C.     "Governor Palin is providing tremendous leadership as the Tea Party movement and constitutional conservatives strive to take our country back," Rand said.

"Sarah Palin is a giant in American politics. I am proud to receive her support."

Sarah Palin's endorsement is another major success in a long list of achievements for the Paul campaign. Dr. Paul was recently identified as one of the five most important candidates to support by Dick Armey, Freedom Works and the National Tea Party Movement. Dr. Paul has also received endorsements from Concerned Women for America, Gun Owners of America, Steve Forbes and,

Paul is challenging Secretary of State Trey Grayson for the GOP nomination, hoping to succeed Sen. Jim Bunning (R). A recent poll showed Paul with a sizable edge in the early going. Paul has drawn considerable support from the same grassroots base that backed his father's presidential bid. He raised $650,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009 and had $1.3 million on hand.

KY Sen Poll: With Bunning Out, GOP Could Hold Seat

Both Republican candidates have an early advantage over the two Democrats in the Kentucky Senate race, according to a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey (1,199 RVs, 12/18-21, MoE +/- 2.8%).

General Election Matchups
Grayson 40 -- Conway 33 -- Und 27
Grayson 44 -- Mongiardo 35 -- Und 21

Paul 42 -- Conway 36 -- Und 22
Paul 42 -- Mongiardo 36 -- Und 22

A previous PPP survey found physician Rand Paul (R) and Attorney General Jack Conway (D) leading their respective primaries.

Sen. Jim Bunning's (R) decision to retire, under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans, proves especially helpful to the party, as his job approval rating is just 29 percent. Conway and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo were both considered solid Democratic candidates, but the current political environment seems to especially troublesome for the party in Kentucky.

President Obama's job approval rating is just 35 percent, while 59 percent disapprove. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear also has net-negative approval rating, with 36 percent approving and 39 percent disapproving. Mongiardo was elected jointly with Beshear in 2007, and that unpopularity seems to spill over as his favorable rating is the worst in the field.

Favorable Ratings
Conway 19 / 18
Mongiardo 25 / 37
Grayson 19 / 17
Paul 26 / 23


Kentucky independents are overwhelmingly leaning toward the GOP, giving Grayson and Paul leads ranging from 25 to 34 points over the Democratic contenders. Republicans are also more unified, with their candidates taking anywhere from 69-75% of their party's votes in contrast to the Democrats who snag just 54-61% support from within their party.

KY Sen Poll: Paul Takes Commanding Lead In GOP Race

The same grassroots energy that propelled Ron Paul from a little-known Congressman to a force in the presidential primaries now seems to be transferring to his son in his Senate run in Kentucky. Public Policy Polling's (D) latest survey shows him easily ahead of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was recruited by the national party after Sen. Jim Bunning (R) was pressured not to seek re-election.

Republican Primary Election Matchup
Paul 44
Grayson 25
Und 32

Some of Paul's advantage seems to come from a name-ID edge, somewhat surprising given that Grayson is a statewide officeholder and Paul is a political newcomer.

Favorable Ratings
Grayson 22 / 15
Paul 39 / 13

From the polling memo:

Paul is winning the votes of conservatives by a 47-20 margin, while Grayson holds a 36- 34 lead with moderates. Paul is having a particularly good amount of success with folks who think that the Republican Party in Washington has become too liberal- his lead with them is 54-18. Paul's support is universal across demographic lines, as he is up with men, women, voters in every region of the state, and every group of the GOP electorate broken down by age.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jack Conway holds a slight lead over Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo in what could be one of the toughest contests in the party nationwide.

Democratic Primary Election Matchup
Conway 37
Mongiardo 33
Und 30

Favorable Ratings
Conway 27 / 15
Mongiardo 40 / 27

KY Sen Poll: Conway Outperforms Mongiardo

A new Rasmussen survey finds Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D) outperforming his Senate primary rival, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, against their potential general election foes, Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) and Rand Paul (R).

Grayson, the favored candidate among national GOP leadership, leads Mongiardo by 7 points, but ties with Conway. Paul also leads Mongiardo, though trails Conway by 4 points.

For all the talk of the GOP picking up seats in the midterm elections, this open seat could be one the party has a difficult time holding -- which is perhaps why Grayson picked up a fundraising boost on Capitol Hill last month.

General Election Matchups
Grayson 44 - Mongiardo 37 - Und 14

Paul 43 - Mongairdo 38 - Und 13

Grayson 40 - Conway 40 - Und 17

Paul 38 - Conway 42 - Und 15

Mongiardo was recently caught on tape criticizing Gov. Steve Beshear (D), who recently named a new running mate for his 2011 re-election bid. A DailyKos survey out a month ago found Mongiardo leading Conway in the Dem primary and both candidates performing similarly against Grayson and Paul.

The Rasmussen survey was conducted Sept. 30 of 500 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.5%.

Split Among Kentucky Democrats?

Democrats concerned about a bloody primary fight in the Kentucky Senate race may now extend their concern to the 2011 gubernatorial race. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo is running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R). State law dictates that in order to start raising money for his re-election campaign, Gov. Steve Beshear had to choose a new running mate, and he did so -- Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Per the Lexington Herald Leader, Mongiardo was allegedly captured on audio complaining about his former running mate's efforts to fundraise for himself when Mongiardo himself needs to collect as many dollars as he can. Beshear has endorsed Mongiardo, but you have to wonder about the level of support after listening to this.

More from the Herald Leader:

Continue reading "Split Among Kentucky Democrats?" »

Fundraising Day for KY Republicans

The two Republicans battling for the nomination in the race to replace Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) are both expecting a big boost in fundraising today.

Twenty-three GOP senators are hostinig a fundraiser for Secretary of State Trey Grayson in Washington at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The event is tabbed at $500 per head.

To coincide with the national party's assistance for Grayson, Rand Paul, son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, is holding another one-day fundraising moneybomb. Paul took in nearly a half million dollars with a similar online fundraising marathon last month, and the method helped fund his father's 2008 presidential bid.

Grayson Leads Pack in New Poll

In the race to replace retiring Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R), Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) leads his two Democratic challengers in general election matchups, as well as Rand Paul, his Republican primary opponent, according to a new survey from DailyKos/Research 2000 (Aug 31-Sep 2, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%). Running on the Dem side are Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway.

Dem Primary
Mongiardo 37 - Conway 30 - Und 18

GOP Primary
Grayson 40 - Paul 25 - Und 17

General Election
Grayson 45 - Mongiardo 41 - Und 14
Grayson 46 - Conway 40 - Und 14

Paul 37 - Mongiardo 42 - Und 21
Paul 37 - Conway 41 - Und 22

President Obama isn't thought highly of in Kentucky, which he lost to John McCain by 17 points in 2008. Just 34% hold a favorable view of the president, with 63% unfavorable. Also, only 51% believe Obama was born in the United States, while 20% don't believe he was and 29% aren't sure.

All is not lost for Democrats, though, as Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has a 49%/42% favorable rating, higher than that of GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell (44%/51%), the Senate minority leader.

Voters were split on whether a public health care option should be included in Congress's reform efforts -- 46% support an option, 45% oppose.

A Day at the Races In Kentucky

A long, hot campaign is shaping up to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson formally kicked off his bid Wednesday in Edgewood, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. But the bigger action may be back in Washington. With two dozen U.S. Senators listed as hosts, he hopes to cement his frontrunner status with a $500-a-head fundraiser there next month. Topping the list are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- a clear sign who the party favorite is, and it's not Rand Paul, son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose wild-card bid could yet spoil the coronation.

Democrats also think Mr. Grayson is the biggest threat, judging by a statement released yesterday comparing the strategies of both GOP candidates. "If Trey Grayson can wrangle enough special interest money to overcome Rand Paul's formidable grassroots fundraising, voters will know who in Washington he is beholden to," said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

An automated poll released last week showed Mr. Grayson leading Mr. Paul by 37% to 26% in the GOP primary race. But the result actually legitimizes the candidacy of Mr. Paul, who raised more than $500,000 in a one-day fundraising "bomb" organized by supporters last week. When matched up against the two favorites for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Grayson still looks stronger: He leads by six or seven points over both Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway. But he still has to get past GOP primary voters. The race may end up testing whether hardcore Kentucky Republicans include the GOP leadership in any indictment of the bailout and spending frenzy in Washington since last fall.

Mr. Grayson's formal entrance into the race coincided with a day of celebration for Kentucky Democrats, who were relishing a special election victory of a formerly Republican state Senate seat. The GOP majority in the upper chamber has been whittled down to 21 to 17, including one independent. All this makes Kentucky a state to watch next year. Not only will a U.S. Senate seat and control of the state senate be up for grabs. A strong push from the governor and pro-gaming forces to allow slot machines at racetracks could also have a potentially interesting impact on turnout.

Paul To Launch Senate Bid On Glenn Beck Show

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports this afternoon that Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), will officially launch his campaign for the U.S. Senate on the Glenn Beck show tomorrow.

Paul ... said recently that he may announce his candidacy on the show to draw a larger audience. Doing so could be an opportunity to raise campaign funds from across the nation, much as his father did last year as a contender in the presidential race.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) is the establishment favorite on the Republican side in the race to succeed Jim Bunning (R), who announced his reluctant retirement last week.

Bunning Not Running for Re-election

Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) announced today he will not seek re-election to a third term. The 77-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher had been considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents this year. Little money and tenuous support from party leaders led to much speculation that he would either retire or face a primary defeat.

Bunning announced his decision in a statement released by his Senate office.

"Unfortunately, running for office is not just about the issues," said Bunning. "To win a general election, a candidate has to be able to raise millions of dollars to get the message out to voters. Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising. The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate. For this reason, I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2010."

Bunning had just $600,000 in campaign funds through the second quarter of this year -- a miniscule amount for a statewide campaign. He spent 10 times that in 2004 and won by just 2 points. Stealing away some of his donors has been Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R), who raised $600,000 through his Senate exploratory committee last quarter -- twice Bunning's total.

Grayson is the party favorite, though whomever the eventual GOP nominee is will face stiff competition in the general election. Attorney General Jack Conway (D) outraised the field in the second quarter with more than $1 million. Also running is Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D), who lost the close race to Bunning in 2004.

Bunning: Despite Grayson Tally, I'm Still Running

On his weekly conference call with Kentucky reporters, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) said he doubts that he can match Secretary of State Trey Grayson's (R) $600,000 fundraising quarter, but that he still has no plans to retire.

From the Lexington Herald Leader:

He said he does not have the luxury to spend every day raising funds but expects to have "more cash on hand than any other Republican in the race."

Bunning had $375,747 on hand at the end of March. Grayson's committee said it has $572,103 on hand at the end of June.

"This job keeps me a little busy," said Bunning, who started the conference by railing against the so-called "cap-and-trade" bill dealing with carbon emissions that the House passed last week.

Grayson initially said he has no plans to run for the office if Bunning seeks re-election. He has modified that stance in recent weeks by saying he has no plans at this time to run if Bunning stays in the race.

KY Sen: Potential Bunning Challenger Passes On Race

State Senate President David Williams said today that he won't run for the U.S. Senate.

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that in making the announcement, Williams said that he thinks Sen. Jim Bunning (R) will seek re-election. He said the most qualified challenger to the embattled incumbent would be Cathy Bailey, a former ambassador to Latvia. More from the Herald Leader:

Williams said it would be interesting to have a qualified woman in the United States Senate from Kentucky, "someone who has the international experience that she has, and she presents herself very well."

But Williams added that he was not endorsing any particular candidate.

Secretary of State Trey Williams (R) and Rand Paul, son of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, are running in the primary as well. Democrats have a tough primary ahead, with Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway seeking the nomination.

Bunning Criticizes Senate Leader McConnell

Embattled Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who has effectively been pushed toward retirement, let loose on a conference call with reporters today, criticizing fellow Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.

"Do you realize that under our dynamic leadership of our leader, we have gone from 55 and probably to 40 (Senate seats) in two election cycles, and if the tea leaves that I read are correct, we will wind up with about 36 after this election cycle," the Louisville Courier-Journal reports Bunning said. "So if leadership means anything, it means you don't lose ... approximately 19 seats in three election cycles with good leadership."

Bunning also confirmed that he encouraged Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) to set up a Senate campaign exploratory committee, a move many saw as Bunning's first step toward retirement.

Read the rest here.

KY Sen: Bunning Gets 2nd Dem Challenger

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D) announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Senate next year. Conway's entrance, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports, indicates that state Auditor Crit Luallen and Rep. Ben Chandler will back his candidacy rather than run themselves.

Conway becomes the second major Democratic candidate to announce he will challenge Sen. Jim Bunning (R). Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, whom Bunning narrowly defeated for re-election in 2004, announced his candidacy in January.

Bunning is seen as vulnerable by both parties, and a poll released yesterday solidified that perception. The PPP poll found Bunning trailing Conway by 9 points and Mongiardo by 7 points.

In the 2007 elections, Conway won the attorney general race by 21 points. Now-Gov. Steve Beshear, with Mongiardo as his runningmate, defeated incumbent Ernie Fletcher by 17 points.

In 2008, Democrat Bruce Lunsford gave Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell a run for his money, though McConnell came out with a 6-point win.

KY Sen.: Bunning Unpopular, Trails All Potential Dems

A new poll finds that Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) would be vulnerable against a number of potential Democratic candidates in 2010, giving more ammunition to those Republicans who hope to field a new candidate in the Bluegrass State.

A Public Policy Polling survey also finds that the two-term incumbent has just a 28 percent approval rating, with 54 percent disapproving. Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, mentioned as the most likely Bunning alternative for the GOP, has a fav/unfav rating of 46/19, with 36 percent unsure. The survey was conducted on April 2 and 3, surveying 610 voters. The margin of error is +/- 4 percent.

Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who narrowly lost to Bunning in 2004 when he was a little-known state senator, is the only Democrat officially running. But the poll also tests Bunning against state Aud. Crit Luallen, Atty. Gen. Jack Conway, and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Chandler 47 / 71 / 22 / 28
Bunning 33 / 14 / 54 / 41

Conway 42 / 64 / 16 / 28
Bunning 33 / 14 / 54 / 43

Luallen 42 / 64 / 18 / 22
Bunning 34 / 13 / 56 / 48

Mongiardo 43 / 66 / 17 / 30
Bunning 36 / 14 / 61 / 43

Bunning 28 / 54
Grayson 46 / 19
Williams 28 / 41

Chandler 38 / 28
Conway 40 / 21
Luallen 43 / 21
Mongiardo 41 / 34

After the jump, see matchups that include Greyson or State Senate President David Williams (R) as Republican candidates.

Continue reading "KY Sen.: Bunning Unpopular, Trails All Potential Dems" »

Bunning Apologizes For Ginsburg Remark

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) apologized today for a remark he made over the weekend regarding Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health.

At a Lincoln Day Dinner in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Bunning predicted that Ginsburg, who has pancreatic cancer, had only nine months left to live, despite recent surgery to remove a tumor. Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court today for the start of the new session.

"I apologize if my comments offended Justice Ginsberg," Bunning stated today in a press release, which misspelled her name. "That certainly was not my intent. It is great to see her back at the Supreme Court today and I hope she recovers quickly. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family."

Bunning is facing a tough re-election battle in 2010, and a recent report indicates one potential challenge could come from within his own party -- and with the help of his own party. PolitickerKY reported over the weekend Kentucky State Senate President David Williams met with the NRSC while in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting.

KY, MS, OR: KosBomb!

DailyKos has sure kept our year interesting with myriad polls. Here's the final look at three top races, all conducted by Research 2000 for the leading liberal blog:

Kentucky Senate

Conducted 10/27-29, surveyed 600 likely voters, margin of error +/- 4%. Senator Mitch McConnell and businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
McConnell....47 / 14 / 87 / 46 (+1 from last, 10/16)
Lunsford.....44 / 77 / 6 / 41 (+2)

McConnell seems to have turned a corner after the economic stimulus package brought him into a virtual tie with Lunsford, and he looks far less endangered than he did only a week ago. Still, his 45% favorable to 49% unfavorable rating gives Democrats reason to hope.

Mississippi Senate

Conducted 10/27-29 among 600 likely voters. Margin of error +/- 4%. Senator Roger Wicker and Democratic ex-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Wicker......51 / 8 / 90 / 49 (+4 from last, 10/15)
Musgrove....44 / 87 / 5 / 47 (-2)

Unlike McConnell, most of Wicker's constituents -- 54% -- see him favorably, with 43% seeing him unfavorably. The early race everyone thought would be a sleeper looks like it's trending toward Wicker.

Oregon Senate

Conducted 10/27-29 among 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator Gordon Smith and state House Speaker Jeff Merkley were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Merkley.....48 / 83 / 6 / 46
Smith.......42 / 6 / 86 / 42

Smith hasn't led a live-call poll since the middle of September, putting him dangerously close to losing his seat. Merkley spent his final Sunday on the trail campaigning with Howard Dean and the state's senior senator, Ron Wyden.

KY: McConnell +4

As the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launches its second ad against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a new poll shows the Republican in a dead heat with his opponent.

The Research 2000 poll, conducted for the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV, surveyed 600 likely voters between 10/19-20 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. The sample was made up of 46% Democrats, 38% Republicans and 16% independents and others. McConnell and Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
McConnell....47 / 15 / 87 / 46 / 51 / 43
Lunsford ....43 / 75 / 6 / 40 / 40 / 46

McConnell leads in five of the state's six Congressional districts, but Lunsford has a huge 17-point advantage in the Jefferson County-based Third District. The two candidates have about the same favorable ratings (48% favorable for McConnell and 47% for Lunsford) and about the same relatively high unfavorable rating (48% for McConnell, 45% for Lunsford).

The DSCC is still investing in the state, launching a new ad today that hits McConnell on his record on trade, which they say has cost several Kentucky counties hundreds of jobs:

KY: McConnell +1

If a new poll out of the Bluegrass State is accurate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will want to get back to Kentucky in a hurry to shore up his re-election prospects.

The Bluegrass Poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon for the Louisville Courier-Journal, surveyed 717 likely voters between 9/22-25 for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. McConnell and Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

General Election Matchup
(With leaners)

Kentuckyans are deeply unhappy with the direction of the country, with 85% saying they think things are off of the wrong track. That's the largest number of respondents disappointed with the direction of the country since the Courier-Journal started the poll in 1990, Joseph Gerth reported on Saturday.

It's also the same trend that is harming incumbents across the country. Just 18% approve of the job Congress is doing, according to the latest RCP Average, while only 14% think the country is headed in the right direction. And while more people always approve of their own member of Congress than of Congress as a whole, even incumbents' numbers are dropping this year.

The good news for McConnell is that his supporters seem to be happier with their candidate than Lunsford's are with the Democrat. About 60% of McConnell backers are strong supporters, while 43% of Lunsford voters feel the same way. That enthusiasm gap could give McConnell a boost among voters more interested in the presidential contest who then skip down-ballot races.

Most political observers expect McConnell to win this year, but he's not taking anything for granted. In an interview with The Scorecard at the Republican convention this month, McConnell said he would be running a "very aggressive campaign," and that he recognized being the GOP leader could make him vulnerable, especially as outside groups like get involved in his race. "Being minority leader makes me a much bigger target," he said. "A lot of people now would like to see me lose who didn't know my name a couple of years ago."

KY: McConnell +17

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is in fine shape in his bid for re-election, a new survey for his campaign finds. Though Democrats have plenty of Senate opportunities elsewhere, the Kentucky Republican doesn't look like one of them.

The poll, conducted by Voter/Consumer Research for McConnell's campaign, surveyed 900 likely voters 9/7-9 for a margin of error of +/- 3.3%. McConnell and businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

General Election Matchup

McConnell's favorable ratings remain noticably strong compared with those of his opponent. 52% have a favorable opinion of McConnell, while 33% see him unfavorably.

After several unsuccessful runs for statewide office in primaries that have at times turned bitter, Lunsford's favorable rating is a much lower 30%, while 36% see him unfavorably.

McConnell is optimistic about his chances this year, though he recognizes his race won't be as easy as his 2002 bid, when he won 65% of the vote. "I'm going to have a very aggressive campaign, not taking anything for granted," he promised in a recent interview. "One of the things I've discovered is that being minority leader makes me a much bigger target. A lot of people now would like to see me lose who didn't know my name a couple of years ago."

Despite the promising atmosphere for Democrats nationally, McConnell said his state is actually trending the other way. "Kentucky is generally considerably more Republican than it was when I started my career," he said. "It's not Mississippi or Alabama. It's not totally red. It's reddish."

KY: McConnell +11

A new poll out of the Bluegrass State shows senior Senator Mitch McConnell leading his Democratic rival by a healthy margin, though if rival businessman Bruce Lunsford invests his own money in the race, it could close.

The survey, conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos, polled 600 likely voters between 7/28-30 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. McConnell and Lunsford, who won an expensive Democratic primary, were surveyed among a sample that contained 46% Democratic voters, 38% Republican voters and 16% independents.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
McConnell....49 / 18 / 86 / 51 / 53 / 45
Lunsford......38 / 65 / 6 / 37 / 35 / 41

McCain.........56 / 28 / 87 / 64 / 59 / 53
Obama..........35 / 64 / 4 / 26 / 34 / 36

The trouble, as with all federal Democrats running in Kentucky, is to convince voters in their own party that they are Kentucky Democrats instead of national Democrats. The party has a huge voter registration advantage -- 57% of Bluegrass voters are registered Democratic, while 37% of voters are registered Republicans -- but they're not terribly loyal to their party, as is evident when more than a quarter of self-identified Democrats say they will vote for John McCain.

Lunsford has run before, but he's been through some bitter primaries, which has left his favorable rating at an uncomfortable 44% favorable to 42% unfavorable. More people like McConnell, who has 49% favorable ratings, but about the same number, 41%, see him unfavorably.

McConnell Still Up Big

In response to another media-sponsored IVR poll showing a tight race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign released another survey conducted for the Bluegrass boss showing McConnell leading his Democratic rival by a wide margin. Determined not to be the next Tom Daschle, McConnell is bent on drying up funding for businessman Bruce Lunsford and not giving Democrats an opening.

The poll, conducted by Voter/Consumer Research between 6/15-17, surveyed 601 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.1%. McConnell and Lunsford, a 2003 and 2007 gubernatorial candidate, were tested.

General Election Matchup
McConnell....50 (nc)
Lunsford......39 (nc)

There has been virtually no movement since the last survey, conducted in late May. McConnell's rating of 54% favorable, 35% unfavorable has barely moved, and his job approval rating, of 58% who approve and 32% who disapprove, has not moved more than a point or two, either.

The Kentucky Senator, though, is not going to take a day off. And McConnell has more money on hand than any incumbent needs -- through the end of April, in advance of the state's May 20 primary, McConnell reported $7.7 million in the bank, compared with $337,000 for Lunsford, though the Democrat can, and likely will, significantly self-fund his campaign.

National Democrats would desperately like to see McConnell face a tough race, even if he does win re-election, and they could throw some money at the state, as some Democratic-leaning 527 organizations have done lately. But Lunsford still looks like he's got a way to go to put the seat in serious play.

McConnell Leads Own Poll

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been advertising since late last year in advance of this November's vote, and he is determined not to find himself in dire straits come the Fall. While former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle fell victim to the rival party a few years ago, McConnell looks like he's in much better position than his erstwhile colleague, a new poll for the incumbent's campaign shows.

The Voter/Consumer Research poll, conducted for McConnell, surveyed 600 likely voters between 5/21-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. McConnell and two-time gubernatorial candidate and businessman Bruce Lunsford, the Democratic nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
McConnell....50 (-2 from last, 1/9)
Lunsford......39 (+2)

While it is a partisan poll, VCR is a well-respected firm, and McConnell's lead shouldn't be surprising. A robo-poll company released a survey last week showing the two virtually tied, and to be fair, an 11-point lead is not a huge one for the top Senate Republican to have. But McConnell is well-liked; 55% of state voters have a favorable opinion of him, compared with just 32% who see him unfavorably, and 57% approve of his job performance.

Both the favorable rating and job performance rating are down slightly since January, but one would expect that given Democrats' slamming him throughout the primary season. Lunsford has shown some growth, as 34% of the state has a favorable image of him, up eleven points since January. Just 20% have an unfavorable view.

With 46% of voters undecided about Lunsford, McConnell has a big opening through which to define his new rival. While Lunsford will have plenty of money to spend given his own deep pockets and willingness to use them, McConnell could further dip into the $7.7 million war chest he had on hand at the end of April to run Lunsford's negatives through the roof.

National Democrats could use some of their financial advantage to cut McConnell's money advantage, and Lunsford will likely be well-funded himself. But causing the incumbent serious heartburn may take a lot more work.

Lunsford, McConnell To Face Off

As the pledged delegates were being divvied up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Kentucky last night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell learned who will be challenging him in November.

Entrepreneur Bruce Lunsford, who has lost the last two Democratic primaries for governor, defeated Greg Fischer 51%-34% and now faces an uphill battle against McConnell. A recent poll showed Lunsford trailing McConnell by 12 points, though McConnell was held below 50%. While McConnell enjoys a substantial fundraising lead, as well as the advantages of incumbency, his ties to President Bush could prove troubling in the general election.

Both Democratic candidates are wealthy and spent much of their own money on the race. Lunsford held the advantage of key union endorsements and high name recognition, as well as the endorsement of former candidate Andrew Horne following his departure from the race. Fischer ran a last-minute TV attack ad against Lunsford that called him the "Mud Man" and noted Lunsford's 2003 endorsement of Republican Ernie Fletcher, who went on to a scandal-plagued governorship.

Another competitive race was crystallized in the Louisville-based Third District, where the 2006 election was decided by just 6,000 votes. For the second cycle in a row, freshman Rep. John Yarmuth will face Anne Northup, the former congresswoman whom he knocked out of office. Northup easily won the Republican nomination with 77% of the vote. Yarmuth begins the general election race with a $300,000 cash advantage, according to the latest FEC reports.

In Western Kentucky's vast Second District, State Senator David Boswell defeated Daviess County judge-executive Reid Haire 59%-41% to win the Democratic nomination. In the general election for the open seat, Boswell will take on Republican State Senator Brett Guthrie, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary. Both Boswell and Guthrie hope to replace the retiring GOP Rep. Ron Lewis, whose May 1994 special election victory foreshadowed the Republican takeover of Congress later that year.

Lewis had attempted to choose his successor by announcing his retirement just before Kentucky's January filing deadline, ensuring that Daniel London, his chief of staff, would be the only Republican on the ballot. However, Guthrie caught wind of the retirement and filed his paperwork at the last minute; and London dropped his bid a week later.

Despite the district's Democratic-leaning tradition, it has been solidly Republican since Lewis entered Congress and gave President Bush his best winning percentages in the state in both 2000 and 2004.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Bluegrass Voters Pick Nominees

Down-ballot from the presidential primaries in Kentucky are three congressional races that will decide the players for what could be competitive general elections. Two incumbents are awaiting their challengers, while Democrats will decide their candidate for an open House seat.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is still favored to retain his seat in November. However, recent polls have backed up national Democrats' view of this race as an upset possibility. McConnell's strong support for President Bush, including on the Iraq war, is his biggest liability; and with his wife still serving as Bush's Labor Secretary, McConnell, some Democrats might argue, is quite literally married to the administration.

Leading the pack of seven Democratic challengers are wealthy businessmen Bruce Lunsford and Greg Fischer, who both hail from Louisville. A recent poll showed Lunsford leading Fischer by 20 points, while both candidates trailed McConnell by 12 points in general election matchups. Both Democrats have spent more than $1 million on the primary, while McConnell has spent closer to $4 million so far, despite a cake-walk primary. The four-term incumbent spent about $5 million in each of his last two re-election campaigns, but he is already close to eclipsing that figure with more than five months remaining until the general election.

In Kentucky's Third District, freshman Democrat John Yarmuth will likely be defending his seat in a grudge match with former Rep. Anne Northup, whom he knocked out of office in 2006 by about 6,000 votes. This marginal Louisville-based district -- both John Kerry and Al Gore defeated Bush by 2 points here -- offers the possibility for competitiveness almost every year. Northup herself won more than 53% just once in her five-term House career. In her attempt to win back the seat, Northup will first need to defeat three GOP primary opponents, though she is likely to do so.

In the 2nd District, which GOP Rep. Ron Lewis is retiring from after seven full terms in office, two Democrats are vying to take on state Senator Brett Guthrie, the Republican nominee. The filing deadline offered some last-minute drama for the GOP, as Lewis attempted to select his successor -- his chief of staff -- by announcing his retirement just before the deadline. However, Guthrie, whom the NRCC calls an "A" candidate, rushed in his paperwork, just in time.

The Democratic nominee will be either State Senator David Boswell or Daviess County judge-executive Reid Haire. Both come from the Owensboro area in Daviess County, the large district's western-most county. Through the end of April, Haire had outspent Boswell two-to-one. Either candidate will face steep odds in the general, as Bush scored his best winning percentages in the state here in both 2000 and 2004. This formerly Democratic district has been in GOP hands since Lewis took over in a 1994 special election that many believe was the first visible crack in the tidal wave that swept Republicans to power that November.

-- Kyle Trygstad

McConnell Leads, But Under 50

As polls show some Republican senators potentially in trouble, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in better position heading into November. The GOP leader has a truly enormous bank account, and a new poll shows Democrats may have to look elsewhere when hoping for an expanded map.

The survey, from Research 2000 for the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV, was conducted 5/7-9 among 500 likely Democratic primary voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%, and among 600 likely general election voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Democrats tested include health care executive Bruce Lunsford, who has twice run for governor, businessman Greg Fischer, physician Mike Cassaro, attorney Ken Stepp, retired postal worker David Wylie and frequent candidates James Rice and David Williams. McConnell was the only Republican surveyed.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Lunsford 43 / 45 / 41
Fischer 23 / 22 / 24
Cassaro 5 / 6 / 4
Wiliams 5 / 6 / 4
Rice 4 / 3 / 5
Stepp 4 / 4 / 4
Wylie 2 / 1 / 3

The real race is between Lunsford and Fischer, both of whom have lent their campaigns significant amounts of money. Despite his two runs for governor, Lunsford has a relatively light 42% favorable rating among Democrats, while 23% view him unfavorably. Fischer is seen favorably by 37% of Democrats and unfavorably by 16%.

General Election Matchups (46% Dem, 39% GOP, 15% Ind)
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
McConnell 48 / 16 / 86 / 49 / 52 / 44
Lunsford 36 / 61 / 6 / 36 / 33 / 39

McConnell 47 / 15 / 86 / 47 / 51 / 43
Fischer 35 / 60 / 5 / 35 / 32 / 38

Though he has a big lead, McConnell is taking nothing for granted. He's been running advertisements on television since late 2007, and through April 30, when pre-primary reports were due, McConnell had banked $7.7 million. That's much more than Fischer's nearly $1.2 million or Lunsford's $1.46 million raised. The two Democratic candidates, though, have lent themselves plenty of money; Fischer had given himself a little over $500,000, while Lunsford has given just over $1 million.

Ahead of next week's primary, Lunsford looks to be in the best position to give McConnell a real race, but the incumbent is what NRCC chairman Tom Cole might call a paranoid candidate. Unlike some members who lost in 2006 who were largely caught unaware, McConnell is not going to be surprised that he has a real race.

Rich Challengers File In KY

With the primary coming on May 20, filing for Kentucky federal races closed on Tuesday, as eight Democrats lined up for the right to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Several potential top-tier challengers, including Congressman Ben Chandler, state Auditor Crit Luallen and former Attorney General Greg Stumbo all passed on the race, though McConnell does not have a free ride.

Attorney and Iraq war veteran Andrew Horne, a top DCCC recruit in 2006 who nonetheless lost his primary to now-Rep. John Yarmuth, announced his candidacy weeks ago. Still, it may be the second time Horne can't make it through a primary. Wealthy businessmen Greg Fischer and Bruce Lunsford are also in the race, and both are willing to spend money to get their campaigns off the ground.

Fischer is a first-time candidate, while Lunsford ran for governor in 2003 and 2007, losing in both primaries. This time around, he's been encouraged to run by DSCC chair Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and even new Governor Steve Beshear, who called Lunsford in December, the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote.

All three top candidates face a steep uphill climb. A poll this month, conducted for McConnell's campaign, showed the incumbent 15 points ahead of Lunsford, 22 points up on Fischer and 23 ahead of Horne. Through the end of the 3rd quarter, McConnell had more than $6.8 million in the bank, an almost insurmountable hurdle for any challenger.

McConnell Up Big, But Polling?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has no intention of suffering the same fate as former Senator Tom Daschle, who, as Democratic leader, lost his re-election bid amid charges of obstructionism and excessive partisanship.

McConnell is likely in better political position than Daschle was, and in a state friendlier to the GOP than South Dakota was to Democrats. But he's clearly worried: McConnell, whose back is nicely adorned with targets for liberal bloggers and Washington Democrats, has stockpiled a huge war-chest and has already run ads touting his successes.

Now, a new poll for McConnell's campaign shows him leading any potential opponent by double digits. The Voter/Consumer Research poll, conducted 1/6-8 of 600 registered voters, indicates that McConnell is concerned enough to begin running a real campaign very early. The poll tested McConnell, businessman and former Lieutenant Governor nominee Charlie Owen, Iraq war veteran Andrew Horne, former Attorney General Greg Stumbo, businessman Greg Fischer and two-time gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford.

General Election Matchups
McConnell 50
Stumbo 40

McConnell 52
Lunsford 37

McConnell 53
Owen 35

McConnell 54
Fischer 32

McConnell 55
Horne 32

McConnell enjoys high 61% approval ratings, but it could be President Bush who pulls him down. In this ruby-red state, where Bush won twice easily, just 39% approve of his job performance as president. The war in Iraq, the economy, health care and education are Kentucky residents' top priorities, with more than 30% each (three responses were allowed), all of which would seem to play into Democrats' hands. Plus, McConnell cannot distance himself from the administration. Not only is McConnell the top Republican on Capitol Hill, but his wife, Elaine Chao, is Bush's Labor Secretary.

Democrats have some momentum heading into the race. After a big win in the state's gubernatorial election this year, the party has the chance -- albeit a tiny one -- to beat McConnell. Stumbo begins with the best name recognition; 47% of the state's voters view him favorably while 27% see him unfavorably. Just 23% say they see Lunsford favorably, while 12% say they see him unfavorably.

Whoever emerges from the Democratic primary will face a huge battle. McCain announced last week that he raised $1.7 million in the fourth quarter, and despite the large television advertising buys, he maintained $7.3 million cash in hand. Both Fischer and Owen might loan their campaigns a significant amount of money, but anyone competing with McConnell's amount could get smacked down.

The race isn't hopeless for Democrats, but it could take some faith to invest there, especially after what looks like a difficult and bruising primary.

McConnell Gets An Opponent

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finally has a Democratic opponent, Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports. The incumbent Republican could face Iraq war vet Andrew Horne in November, if Horne makes it out of the Democratic primary.

Horne had been a favorite of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, though he lost the primary for Kentucky's Third District by a wide margin. The Democrat who beat him, John Yarmuth, went on to defeat Republican Rep. Anne Northup in the general election.

Horne may not be alone in the Democratic primary, though. Businessmen Greg Fischer and Bruce Lunsford are considering Senate bids as well, while former Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo has formed an exploratory committee. Stumbo, though, is unlikely to make a bid, some Kentucky Democrats say. Horne may not be the strongest candidate: He ran well behind McConnell in a late October poll, while other potential candidates trailed by smaller margins.

Already, State Auditor Crit Luallen and Rep. Ben Chandler, two Democrats who could potentially give McConnell a real race, have said they will not run.

While some Democrats hope to do to McConnell what Republicans did to then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, knocking off the Republican leader would be a challenge for any candidate. McConnell has stockpiled more than $6.8 million for his re-election bid already, and has already begun running advertisements on television.

Updating The Exchange

We're updating our Senate race rankings today, which we have failed to do since late September. If you take one lesson from the list, it's that Democrats are in even better position than they were a few months ago: More seats are open, more pickups are possible and the party is still outraising its Republican counterparts.

Still, watch the middle tier races: Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) are in trouble, but they seem with each passing day to be getting safer. All three are bucking Republican leadership at times, and while Democrats have good candidates against each, the difference between a bad year for the GOP and a terrible year will be the difference between these three surviving or failing.

Races we considered for the number 10 spot: Kentucky, where Democrats are hungry for the potential to knock off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has a lot of money, though, and in a presidential year, as Kentucky goes for the GOP nominee, it's hard to imagine any but the best candidate (Rep. Ben Chandler?) having so much as a snowball's chance of beating McConnell. Polls show Chandler and State Auditor Crit Luallen performing well against the incumbent, but both have said they won't run. South Dakota, where Sen. Tim Johnson is still recovering from a stroke, should be a good opportunity for Republicans. So far, though, they have only managed to recruit a State Representative who reported just $37,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter, nowhere close to Johnson's $2 million account. Because of his health troubles, Johnson had been a retirement threat. But he announced his re-election bid in mid-October, and with an underfunded challenger, he will likely sail to another six year term in 2008.

(Correction: We wrote that State Representative Joel Dykstra had raised $37,000 in the third quarter. In fact, he raised $82,000 in the third quarter and retained $37,000 cash on hand. We regret the error and any resulting confusion.

Races we dropped from the Exchange: South Dakota, Nebraska.

Races we added to the Exchange: New Mexico, Mississippi

As always, agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts. And don't forget to head over to RCP's Fantasy '08 to trade contracts based on your own rankings.

10. Mississippi (R-Open): Resigning Sen. Trent Lott is leaving big shoes to fill, and Republicans might actually have some trouble filling them. As Gov. Haley Barbour looks around for a Republican to hold the seat, Rep. Roger Wicker is seen as the front-runner. Wicker has plenty of cash on hand, giving him a lead over any potential Democratic opponent. Democrats are working on former Attorney General Mike Moore and former Gov. Ronny Musgrove, both of whom would be top picks to steal the seat. But any Democrat will find it difficult, if not impossible, to win in this most ruby red of states. If someone like Hillary Clinton is at the top of the ticket, subtract five more points from the eventual Democratic nominee. (Last: Not ranked)

9. Alaska (R-Stevens): If your home is raided by the FBI, guilty or not, it's probably time to call it a career. Indeed, if Ted Stevens is actually the GOP nominee, this race will move higher up on Democrats' priority list. The DSCC is doing all it can to recruit Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Other Republicans are said to be interested in a run for the seat, whether or not Stevens makes a bid. If Stevens is no longer in office, the state will have lost both its long-time Senators since 2002, while Rep. Don Young is tied up in the same scandal involving VECO Corp. Without Young, the state's position in Congress will be significantly impacted. In fact, should Stevens and Young run for re-election, that's likely to be a central tenant of their campaign. But will voters want seniority or new elected officials, like Gov. Sarah Palin, who aren't viewed as corrupt? (Last: 10)

8. Maine (R-Collins): Susan Collins was supposed to be this year's Lincoln Chafee: Popular and moderate, but a Republican in a very blue state. Democrats got their best possible candidate in Rep. Tom Allen, but polls in October have showed Collins holding consistently huge leads of twenty points or so. The race is going to tighten, and Allen is going to have the money to compete. But to the NRSC's relief, Collins is in great position a little less than a year out. Watch her rely heavily on her friend and colleague, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, if the race narrows. (Last: 6)

7. Minnesota (R-Coleman): Comedian Al Franken and wealthy attorney Mike Ciresi both say they will abide by the results of a convention among Minnesota Democrats. But several times over the last few years, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has faced nasty fights in post-convention primaries as candidates fail to live up to their promises. If Franken and Ciresi duke it out in a primary, Franken is likely to win but come away severely wounded. In a general, many will say that Franken is simply too goofy to be a Senator. But he's acting serious, and Minnesota is the same state that elected Jesse Ventura as governor. Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, to his credit, is apparently taking the threat seriously. One thing to watch: The Democratic convention in Denver will likely help Mark Udall (see number 5, below). With a badly damaged GOP brand, will the Republican convention being held in Minneapolis be a good thing or a bad thing for Coleman? The answer might determine whether he gets re-elected. (Last: 8)

6. Oregon (R-Smith): Democrats are coalescing around House Speaker Jeff Merkley, though he still faces attorney Steve Novick in a primary. Merkley, who has his sights set on incumbent Gordon Smith, faces an uphill battle: Smith is doing all he can to inoculate himself from charges that he might, in fact, be a Republican. Smith has turned against the war in Iraq, recently voted for cloture on the farm bill, something 45 Republicans voted against, and makes his opposition to the Bush Administration known at every turn. But he is a Republican in a blue state during a presidential year. Merkley will need some national help if he is to compete with Smith on a financial level, but this year, that is not impossible. (Last: 5)

5. Colorado (R-Open): Rep. Mark Udall is hoping to build on a Democratic foundation that has overtaken this increasingly purple state in recent years. Democrats now control the state legislature, the majority of the Congressional delegation and the governor's mansion, and Udall hopes to take back a second Senate seat from retiring Sen. Wayne Allard. Republicans recruited previous Senate candidate and former Rep. Bob Schaffer, and while he's not the party's perfect candidate, he spent the summer raising good money and, to the surprise of many, was within one point of Udall in a mid-September poll. Still, with the Colorado landscape favoring Democrats so much, Udall remains the favorite. This is a district where the DSCC's huge money advantage over the NRSC could come into serious play. (Last: 3)

4. Louisiana (D-Landrieu): Down on the Bayou, incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu is undeniably in trouble. A Zogby poll taken for the two-term senator's challenger, Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy, a former Democrat, shows Kennedy up by seven points. That's not a huge margin for an internal poll, but any survey that shows an incumbent trailing a challenger is significant news. Landrieu had more than $3.4 million cash on hand after the third quarter, while Kennedy hadn't begun raising money. Still, the Democrat who lost several hundred thousand members of her base remains the Republicans' best target for a pickup. (Last: 4)

3. New Hampshire (R-Sununu): A poll in early October showed the rematch between Republican Sen. John Sununu and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen overwhelmingly favoring Shaheen, the Democrat. Shaheen faces no primary and will benefit from her organization, which has stayed largely intact since her departure from the governor's mansion. Gov. John Lynch, a close ally, has kept that organization in good practice, winning with a higher percentage of votes than any governor in the state's history in 2006. Lynch is unlikely to get a strong challenger in 2008, and after the Democratic wave that swept the state last year, Shaheen remains a favorite to take the seat back for Democrats. (Last: 1)

2. New Mexico (R-Open): If Republicans can get bad news about New Mexico, bet that they will. When Sen. Pete Domenici announced his retirement, moderate Albuquerque Rep. Heather Wilson looked like a great candidate to retain the seat for the GOP. Then, dominoes started falling: Conservative Rep. Steve Pearce joined Wilson in the GOP primary. Rep. Tom Udall, a popular Democrat who will be well-funded, reconsidered his earlier decision not to run and jumped into the race, giving the party their strongest candidate to take the seat. But Udall's path wasn't entirely clear: He faced Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in the primary. Until, that is, Chavez dropped his bid, giving Udall a clear shot. News can't get any worse for Republicans in New Mexico. But if it can, it probably will. (Last: Not ranked)

1. Virginia (R-Open): Mark Warner seems headed straight for the Senate, even if he faces another former governor in the general election. Polls repeatedly show Warner beating Jim Gilmore by twenty points or more, and there's a simple reason: Gilmore was elected when Virginia was a Republican state. Warner helped nudge the state to purple status, where it currently resides. After Gilmore forced Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate, out of the race, Virginia Republicans will struggle to appeal even to GOP-leaning independents. The party can all but kiss the Senate seat goodbye. (Last: 2)

Sunday Quick Hits

Good Sunday morning. Some news as we wait to watch Rudy Giuliani face his most dangerous foe: Tim Russert.

-- Democrats got good news in New Mexico on Friday when Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez announced he would not run for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici's seat, leaving Rep. Tom Udall unopposed by any major candidate for the nomination. Udall will face the winner of the Republican primary between Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, and while polls have shown Udall leading both candidates, their cases won't be helped by a long and difficult primary in which they both tack right in order to win over GOP voters.

-- Just a few days before Ohio voters head to the polls to pick a replacement for the late Rep. Paul Gillmor, Democrats and Republicans are dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race. Republicans have $388,000 in television time reserved through Tuesday's election, while Democrats are firing back with $237,000 in air time, the Toledo Blade reports. Democrats are attacking Republican Bob Latta for voting to raise taxes thanks to the 2003 budget, while the NRCC is hitting Democrat Robin Weirauch for her positions on illegal immigration and the estate tax. The district is heavily Republican, as RCP's Kyle Trygstad wrote, but Democrats must think they have a real shot, given the amount of money they've dropped.

-- Longitme Louisiana Republican Rep. Jim McCrery will not run for re-election in 2008, Politico reports. McCrery was in line to chair the House Ways and Means Committee before Democrats retook the chamber in 2006. McCrery opens a solidly Republican seat that the GOP will likely retain. His retirement, though, opens the third seat on the powerful committee for 2008: Reps. Jim Ramstad and Jerry Weller have also announced they will step down as well.

-- In Minnesota, Democrats might have trouble getting a nominee out of a convention unscathed as they seek to bring down freshman Sen. Norm Coleman. The AP reports one AFSCME council, centered in large cities, is backing comedian Al Franken, while another, though smaller council focusing on county government employees is backing attorney Mike Ciresi. Both candidates have pledged to abide by the results of a Democratic convention, but in Minnesota candidates who lose the convention frequently force a later, expensive primary. If Ciresi, independently wealthy, and Franken, able to raise large sums of money, head to a one-on-one showdown, Democrats may pick a wounded nominee to take on Coleman.

-- As Auditor Crit Luallen officially bowed out of the race against Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, three other candidates are cropping up. Ryan Alessi, the Lexington Herald-Leader's indispensable political columnist, points to businessmen Charlie Owen and Greg Fischer and attorney and Iraq war veteran Andrew Horne as potential Democratic candidates. Owen ran for the seat in 1998, though he didn't make it out of the primary, and was the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2003. Horne ran for Congress in 2006, losing to now-Rep. John Yarmuth in the Democratic primary. Fischer has not run for office before, though he is likely to spend a significant amount of his own money on the bid.

-- Attack phone calls aren't exclusive to the presidential campaign. Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat running for a Republican-held Senate seat in Colorado, found that out the hard way this week when Common Sense Issues, a group best known for aiding Mike Huckabee in Iowa, began running a new round of calls against him, the Rocky Mountain News reported yesterday. The group is also running television advertisements, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says Common Sense Issues is coordinating with Republican Bob Schaffer's campaign and the Colorado GOP. Both Schaffer and Colorado GOP chair Dick Wadhams deny the charge.

Sorry, Kentucky

For those in the Bluegrass State who thought the governor's election would end the political ad wars, television must be very disappointing lately. And it's about to get worse.

We wrote this morning on a report that Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has already begun running television ads, more than a year before he faces voters in his bid for re-election. McConnell has been targeted for months by liberal group for backing the war in Iraq and President Bush.

But MoveOn isn't the only outside group that's already involved in the race. Americans United for Change, a coalition of liberal organizations and labor unions, launched ads today hitting McConnell on his opposition to the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The group is spending $100,000 on the ad buy, after spending $200,000 on a round of ads earlier this year hitting McConnell on Iraq.

Earlier this week, AUC launched ads targeting Republican Reps. Joe Knollenberg (MI), Steve Chabot (OH), Ric Keller (FL), Sam Graves (MO), Randy Kuhl (NY) and Michelle Bachmann (MN) on the same topic.

Why target McConnell? A recent poll suggested he ran just five points ahead of Rep. Ben Chandler and Auditor Crit Luallen, but few believe that McConnell is seriously in trouble next year.

Still, liberal blogs, MoveOn and Americans United are three big groups, and if they help recruit a top challenger, Chuck Schumer's DSCC will have a hard time not investing in the race. The groups hope McConnell is some combination of 2008's Tom Daschle, who was successfully portrayed as a Washington insider to South Dakota voters, and George Allen, who was simply caught off guard. But given that McConnell is already on the air, he seems determined not to be surprised.

McConnell In Trouble?

Republicans crowed recently when a Nevada poll showed public opinion of Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, tanking. But Reid doesn't face voters until 2010. A new poll, conducted by Research 2000, shows Democrats the MoveOn crowd, which has for months blasted Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, Reid's GOP counterpart, with negative ads, may have a point -- the Republican leader's reelection numbers are less than stellar.

The poll, conducted 10/22-24, surveyed 600 likely voters for a +/- 4% margin of error. The Lexington Herald-Leader and WTVQ-TV commissioned the survey, which tested McConnell against Rep. Ben Chandler, Attorney General Greg Stumbo, State Auditor Crit Luallen and 2006 Congressional candidate Andrew Horne.

General Election Matchups
(All / Men / Wom / Dem / GOP / Ind)
McConnell 46 / 50 / 42 / 14 / 84 / 42
Chandler 41 / 38 / 44 / 71 / 7 / 42

McConnell 46 / 49 / 43 / 14 / 84 / 43
Stumbo 37 / 35 / 39 / 65 / 7 / 34

McConnell 45 / 50 / 40 / 14 / 82 / 42
Luallen 40 / 36 / 44 / 70 / 7 / 41

McConnell 45 / 49 / 41 / 14 / 81 / 44
Horne 34 / 32 / 36 / 59 / 6 / 35

McConnell's favorability rating stands at 47%, compared with 46% who view him unfavorably. With so few people undecided about McConnell, his path to re-election is made easier by virtue of the fact that the state's senior senator need not introduce himself to the electorate again. He can simply spend his time and money driving up an opponent's unfavorable rating.

Still, if Democrats managed to recruit either Chandler or Luallen, the seat could become one of the important Senate races to watch next year. Chandler and Luallen have favorability ratings of 57% and 56%, respectively. McConnell also does not begin a campaign with great job approval numbers. Just 45% approve of his performance, while 46% disapprove, including 53% of independents and 61% of self-described moderates.

The race would be an uphill battle for Democrats. But it's not the Matterhorn -- and some party activists, remembering the 2004 campaign, in which former Rep. John Thune knocked off then-Democratic leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota, with the assistance of then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, may be spoiling for enough of a fight that they'll try anything to beat McConnell.