Thursday, September 17, 2015

Republicans on defense in Daily Kos Elections' inaugural Senate race ratings

 Senate: Daily Kos Elections is pleased to announce our initial set of Senate race ratings for the 2015-16 cycle. Republicans have a 54-46 advantage right now, so Democrats need to pick up four seats to regain control of the chamber (or five if they lose the presidential race). But the GOP is playing a lot more defense: We rate three of their seats as Tossups, while another four are in the Lean Republican category. Democrats, meanwhile, only have to protect two seats, Nevada and Colorado.

Ultimately, what happens at the top of the ticket will probably be the critical factor: If Democrats can hold the White House, there's a very good chance they can take back the Senate, too. But individual races—and candidates—still always matter, and we've provided explanations for all 34 of our ratings. So click through to learn more, and to see all of our ratings in a single chart.

Senate:

 FL-Sen: There are two key takeaways from PPP's new poll of Florida's hotly contested Senate race, which we've slotted in as a Tossup in our new Senate race ratings:

  • There are lots of undecided voters, both in the Democratic and Republican primaries as well as the general election
  • Patrick Murphy performs better against the GOP field than Alan Grayson does, despite being less well-known

And both of these finds are what you'd expect. It's early, and none of the candidates on either side have much in the way of name recognition. That means nominations on both sides are wide open:

Republicans

Rep. David Jolly: 18

Rep. Ron DeSantis: 15

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera: 14

Undecided: 52

Democrats

Rep. Alan Grayson: 33

Rep. Patrick Murphy: 27

Undecided: 39

The Democratic primary numbers are very much in line with what we've seen before. Interestingly, Murphy is better-liked by members of his own party, with 33 percent saying they have a favorable view of him to 15 percent who say they don't. Grayson, by contrast, sports a 29-26 score, so despite the weaker net rating, his slightly higher profile seems to be responsible for his lead.

The Republicans are even more obscure, and both DeSantis (15-22) and CLC (9-22) are underwater with GOP voters; only Jolly (21-16) is in positive territory. You have to figure that the Club for Growth, DeSantis' biggest fans, will only be too happy to pour molten lead on the "moderate" Jolly once the war begins in earnest—that is, if they aren't too busy trying to thwart Hurricane Donald.

The general election matchups offer a bit more clarity, if only for the differences they point up between the two Democratic alternatives:

Murphy: 40, DeSantis: 35

Murphy: 40, Jolly: 35

Murphy: 41, Lopez-Cantera: 35

Grayson: 36, Jolly: 39

Grayson: 36, DeSantis: 37

Grayson: 41, Lopez-Cantera: 34

Murphy leads all comers by 5 to 6 points, who all perform about the same against him. Grayson, by contrast, trails Jolly and DeSantis, but he does lead Lopez-Cantera (though it's hard to say why that one result stands apart). Four of these five candidates have the kind of negative statewide favorability ratings among all voters that are typical of a PPP poll, with Grayson having the worst unfavorables and the worst net score (18-33). Only Murphy has a positive rating, 22-18.

Grayson's been relentlessly attacking Murphy (and Murphy's fought back), but so far, those attacks don't seem to have taken much if any toll. However, their fight has largely been confined to press releases and the occasional bit of earned media. When the battle moves to the airwaves, then we'll see what these two candidates are truly made of, and whether Murphy can maintain his edge in electability.

 IN-Sen: Rep. Todd Young is out with the first TV spot of the GOP primary, which he strategically reserved for Wednesday's Republican presidential debate. The ad features 30 seconds of Young sitting on his couch and talking about what a courageous conservative he is, with Young asking viewers to go to his website and sign his petition to repeal Obamacare. The ad is only running for $10,000, but Young can count on it getting a lot of eyeballs during the high-profile Trump-filled debate.

Gubernatorial:

 DE-Gov, AL: On Wednesday, Democratic Rep. John Carney announced that he would run to succeed termed-out Gov. Jack Markell next year. Then-Lt. Gov. Carney narrowly lost the 2008 primary to Markell, but he should be better positioned this cycle now that he represents the entire state in the House.

The Democratic establishment is expected to back Carney, and Markell made it clear that he wants his old rival to replace him. However, New Castle Executive Tom Gordon has also made noises about running. Most Democratic primary voters live in New Castle County so Gordon wouldn't need to worry about name recognition either, though his past ethics issues could hold him back. Attorney General Matt Denn also hasn't ruled anything out, but he doesn't sound as interested as Gordon.

The GOP hasn't won the governor's office since Mike Castle was re-elected in 1988, and Carney is well-positioned to keep this office blue. The GOP is running state Sen. Colin Bonini and as we saw in Maryland and Massachusetts last year, the GOP can win in blue states if conditions are right. Still, Bonini will need a lot to go his way if he's going to have a shot in a presidential year.

Carney leaves behind a House seat that's also expected to stay in Democratic hands. Before he made his announcement, both state Rep. Bryon Short and state Sen. Bryan Townsend expressed interest in running for an open seat. In the coming days and weeks, we'll likely see several other Democrats eye this post as well.

 LA-Gov: In recent days, GOP Sen. David Vitter's old prostitution scandal has been earning more attention. At a recent debate, Vitter dodged a question asking if he'd ever broken the law while serving in elected office, a question Vitter accused Lt. Gov. and fellow Republican Jay Dardenne of planting. The whole thing seems to have gotten under Vitter's skin, since his campaign just released the letter Dardenne wrote him in 2007 shortly after the scandal broke. The letter reads:

David,

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this trying time. Your great work for our state should not get lost in the current frenzy. You have been and will continue to be a great advocate for the state of Louisiana in the U.S. Senate. Best regards, Jay.

Team Vitter is trying to argue that Dardenne didn't care about the senator's scandal until he was running against him, though this letter arguably just makes Dardenne look like a decent guy. In any case, even if Vitter successfully neuters Dardenne, there's a risk that the lieutenant governor's supporters will just flock to the third Republican in the race, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. Vitter's super PAC is well aware of this problem, and they've been attacking both of his GOP rivals equally.

Polls consistently show Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards easily taking either first or second place in the Oct. 24 jungle primary, but they don't agree if Vitter is clearly taking the other runoff spot or if Angelle is in striking distance. However, all the surveys show Dardenne far behind in fourth place. Dardenne has decided to save his ad buys to the end of the campaign so he can surge ahead at just the right moment and take either first or second next month. And sure enough, Dardenne has finally released his first commercial.

Dardenne's introductory spot portrays him as a straight-talker who isn't interested in partisan warfare. The ad doesn't explicitly mention Vitter, but the subtext is impossible to miss: The narrator argues that Dardenne is "not a Washington politician," and praises him for having "not a hint of scandal" during his 25 years in office. The only way this ad could have been less subtle is if the narrator just outright declared, "David Vitter went to brothels and Jay Dardenne is faithful to his family."

The spot's emphasis on Dardenne's non-partisan solutions may also be an attempt to peel off some Democratic voters from Edwards. It's a decent ad, but its use of slow motion shots of Dardenne at a rally is a little unnerving.

House:

 CO-06: At present, state Sen. Morgan Carroll is the only Democrat for-real running against GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, but it's still possible wealthy physician Perry Haney could join the race as well. That's why Carroll, who's already the establishment favorite, is touting a new endorsement from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. After filing paperwork with the FEC over the summer, Haney dumped one meelyon dollars into his campaign account and promised an official announcement by Sept. 15. He still hasn't said anything.

Other Races:

 Charlotte, NC Mayor: Ex-Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts took first place in Tuesday's Democratic primary with 36 percent, a bit lower than the 40 percent she needed to win the nomination outright. Roberts will face interim Mayor Dan Clodfelter in the Oct. 6 runoff; Clodfelter only narrowly took the second place spot, outpacing Councilor David Howard 26 to 24; Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes brought up the rear with 14 percent. Roberts looks like she has more room to grow than Clodfelter: Roberts, who is white, performed well in predominantly black precincts and with African American candidates Howard and Barnes out, she should be able to consolidate more support.

On the GOP side, ex-Councilor and 2013 nominee Edwin Peacock easily beat 2011 nominee Scott Stone 66-34. Charlotte leans Democratic but it has elected GOP mayors before, and Peacock only lost this seat 53-47 two years ago. Peacock will also be able to consolidate his resources for the November general election while Roberts and Clodfelter spend the next three weeks fighting it out in the runoff.

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