IL-Sen, IL-10: Chicago Sun Times Says Kirk Jumping into Senate Race

Just a quick blurb is all so far:

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is poised to jump in the 2010 Illinois Senate race.

Developing …

More as it comes. Earlier today, James posted a PPP poll which showed Kirk in the mid-30s against all contenders except the embarrassing Roland Burris.

If Kirk does make the move, this will be great news for open seat fans. At D+6, this is the second-bluest seat held by a Republican nationwide. Obama won the district (in his home state, of course) by a monstrous 61-38 margin according to SSP’s analysis, and even Kerry carried it 53-47. Democrats also have a strong contender at the ready for this seat, state Sen. Michael Bond, though I’d expect others to become interested if it opens up.

UPDATE (James): In a bit of a sleazy move, Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times has wiped over her original blog post on Kirk’s supposed entry without making a note of her revision, and replaced it with a new entry saying that he is merely “mulling” the race — hardly a newsworthy nugget at all.

KY-Sen: Grayson Forms Exploratory Committee, Bunning Retirement Rumored

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson has formed an exploratory committee to run for Jim Bunning’s Senate seat, according to the Politico. Grayson insists that he has no intention of challenging Bunning in a primary:

In a statement, Grayson said he doesn’t plan on running against Bunning, and is merely making preparations to run in case Bunning does not run for a third term.

“I have formed an exploratory committee to allow me to formally raise and spend funds as I seek support for a bid for U.S. Senate,” Grayson said in a statement.

Grayson’s camp is saying that the decision to form an exploratory was done at Bunning’s suggestion — indicating that Bunning is leaning heavily toward retirement:

“Trey did this with Bunning’s blessing,” said van Lohuizen.

Earlier this week, Grayson flew to Washington to meet with Bunning and tell him of his plans to form the exploratory committee, according to a Kentucky-based GOP operative.   The operative said it’s a clear sign that Bunning does not plan to run for another term.

“Jim Bunning is the one who initiated the conversations with Trey to take this step. This wasn’t Trey lashing out, this is Jim Bunning reaching out to Trey and offering this idea,” said the GOP operative.

In the past, Bunning has been mostly firm (in fact, very firm) on his desire to seek re-election — with the exception of resignation rumors and some waffling last month on the certainty of his decision. But this news will give us a pretty clear window to his true intentions — Bunning famously lashed out at any suggestion that he was considering retirement earlier in the year, and you would have to assume that he would shoot down this story if he wasn’t considering abandoning the Republican tortoise.

Assuming Bunning is out and Grayson is in, this race will get a lot tougher for Team Blue, but it would still be quite winnable if the Democratic primary does not devolve into a demolition derby.

(H/T: Zeitgeist9000)

UPDATE: Roll Call‘s sources are confirming Bunning’s blessing of Grayson, and Kentucky Republicans believe a retirement announcement could come as soon as May 9 at the state’s Lincoln Day Dinner. Meanwhile, Camp Bunning is staying mum.

LATER UPDATE: Bunning’s team is now refuting the retirement rumors:

But a spokesman for Mr. Bunning, Mike Reynard, refuted those rumors. “Senator Bunning has every intention of running, ” he said in an e-mailed statement. […]

[A senior Republican Congressional] aide was at a loss to explain why Mr. Bunning would then say on Thursday evening that he had every intention of running.

Is there a chance that these rumors are being planted by operatives of Mitch McConnell? It wouldn’t be too surprising, given how desperately he wants Bunning out of the picture. Still no confirmation or denial from Bunning himself about the Grayson “recruitment”.

SSP Daily Digest: 4/30

PA-Sen: Apparently, Arlen Specter’s campaign has only received 15 requests for donation refunds so far in the wake of his switch to the Democratic Party. The returned funds only add up to a paltry $15K. (J)

The NRSC has launched a new robocall targeting Specter, by linking him to the NRSC’s arch-enemy… George W. Bush? (It replays Bush’s 2004 endorsement of then-GOPer Specter.) Apparently, the goal is to soften Specter up among the Dem electorate to lose a Democratic primary to a more reliable Dem, who would then be a little more vulnerable to Pat Toomey in the general… or something like that? This is one of those moments when you can’t tell if the GOP is crazy like a fox, or just crazy.

Specter bringing his decades of seniority with him over to the Democratic caucus is angering some key Democrats who get bumped down the totem pole as a result, according to The Hill. Specter could find himself wielding the gavel in an Appropriations subcommittee, or even back in charge of Judiciary if Patrick Leahy takes over Appropriations in 2010.

Specter’s switch has the whining flowing among some of the GOP’s sourest senators: Jim Bunning says the GOP “coddled” Specter for too long, while Jim Inhofe shows his grasp of GOP dead-ender logic, saying that Specter’s fleeing the party is a sign of conservatism’s strength and presages a comeback. In much the same way that if my house is on fire, that indicates that its value is about to go up, because it’s finally clearing out all that clutter.

FL-Sen: The DSCC is pulling out all the stops against Charlie Crist, and he hasn’t even taken any steps toward getting into the Senate race yet. They’ve launched a new TV spot (airing in the Tallahassee market) that attacks Crist for leaving Florida in financial disarray to jump to Washington, and attacks his heavy-on-socializing, light-on-work schedule.

CO-Sen: The GOP’s Weld County DA Ken Buck is trapped in the grey area between candidate and not-candidate for Senate; his website is up and running and has a “donate” button, but hasn’t filed his official paperwork and denied Monday’s reports that he was officially in.

RI-Gov: Lincoln Chafee seems to be having similar problems on just how official a candidate he is, too. His exploratory committee is open and he said he “is” running when appearing on Rachel Maddow on Tuesday, but then issued a release yesterday walking that back, to “my intentions are” to run for governor.

WI-Gov: The GOPers aren’t waiting any longer for Gov. Jim Doyle to publicly announce his re-elections; Milwaukee Co. Scott Walker launched his campaign yesterday. Walker (who briefly ran in the primary in 2006) doesn’t have the race to himself, though; last week, Mark Neumann, who represented WI-01 from 1994 to 1998 and then lost the 1998 senate race to Russ Feingold, announced his candidacy, touting his support from Tommy Thompson surrogate James Klauser.

AL-Gov: Not one but two more Republicans are sizing up the governor’s race, although neither one seems top-tier material: Hoover mayor (in the Birmingham suburbs) Tony Petelos, and Bill Johnson, the head of the Alabama Dept. of Economic and Community Affairs. (Johnson has a colorful backstory that wouldn’t help him much in the primary.)

OR-Gov: Local Republican pollster Moore Insight polled potential Dem candidates for governor on their favorables. Ex-gov. John Kitzhaber and Rep. Peter DeFazio posted pretty similar numbers: 49/21 for Kitz, 48/17 for the Faz. (Kitzhaber has higher negatives among Republicans, thanks to all those vetoes he handed out.) Former SoS Bill Bradbury is at 29/10, and Steve Novick, who barely lost the 2008 Senate primary, is at 14/4.

GA-01: Long-time Rep. Jack Kingston has often been the subject of speculation in the Georgia governor’s race, but he confirmed that he’ll be running for re-election to the House. Interestingly, he’s supporting state senator Eric Johnson in the race instead of fellow Rep. Nathan Deal, but that’s because Johnson is a fellow Savannah resident and his son’s godfather.

VA-10: The subject of much retirement-related speculation due to age and a rapidly bluening seat (now R+2), Rep. Frank Wolf confirmed he’ll be running for re-election in 2010. He may face state senator Mark Herring or delegate David Poisson.

OH-18: Rep. Zack Space has been added to the DCCC’s defense-oriented Frontline program. Space was the target of an NRCC TV spot earlier, but this isn’t so much a question of newfound vulnerability as it’s confirmation he’s done flirting with a Senate run and committing to his House seat for 2010.

CA-36: Suddenly embattled Rep. Jane Harman has hired Clinton-era fixer Lanny Davis to help her negotiate the legal and PR minefield she finds herself in, regarding the wiretap imbroglio. 2006 primary challenger Marcy Winograd is revving up her efforts, sensing Harman’s weakness. Winograd, who earned 38% in 2006, has begun raising funds for another try.

NY-20: Republican Jim Tedisco says that he is “not planning” on seeking a rematch against freshly-minted Democratic Rep. Scott Murphy, but refuses to explicitly rule out a run. (J)

WA-08: One more tea leaf that Suzan DelBene may be left holding the bag in WA-08: State Rep. Ross Hunter, one of the first Dems to crack the GOP stranglehold on the Eastside and a potentially strong contender in WA-08, is running for King County Executive. The already-crowded Exec race is in Nov. 2009, not 2010, but indicates Hunter’s interests lie locally, not in DC.

Votes: The 17 Democrats who voted against the Obama budget are all familiar dissenters, and most of them are in difficult Republican-leaning districts: Barrow, Boren, Bright, Childers, Foster, Griffith, Kratovil, Kucinich, Markey, Marshall, Matheson, McIntyre, Minnick, Mitchell, Nye, Taylor, and Teague.

IL-Sen, IL-Gov: Kirk Competitive in Senate Race, But Madigan Would Steamroll

Public Policy Polling (4/24-26, registered voters):

Roland Burris (D-inc): 19

Mark Kirk (R): 53

Undecided: 28

Jan Schakowsky (D): 33

Mark Kirk (R): 37

Undecided: 30

Alexi Giannoulias (D): 35

Mark Kirk (R): 35

Undecided: 29

Lisa Madigan (D): 49

Mark Kirk (R): 33

Undecided: 18

(MoE: ±3.1%)

You’ve gotta figure that if Mark Kirk had a clear shot at a one-on-one race against Roland K. Burris, he’d leap at the opportunity… but the problem for him is that pesky Democratic primary, which is all but certain to weed out Burris from contention. While on the surface, Kirk polls very competitively against any Democrat for the Senate race other than Lisa Madigan (who does not appear to be a likely candidate), a disproportionate number of undecideds are Democratic voters (around 30% in the Schakowsky and Giannoulias head-to-heads), compared to only 19% of Republicans who are on the fence. In other words, once that money starts rolling, the Democratic nominee will have a lot more room for growth.

And who may that nominee be? PPP took a look at the Senate primary yesterday, too (4/24-26, likely Democratic voters):

Roland Burris (D-inc): 20

Alexi Giannoulias (D): 49

Undecided: 30

Roland Burris (D-inc): 16

Jan Schakowsky (D): 26

Alexi Giannoulias (D): 38

Undecided: 21

Roland Burris (D-inc): 13

Jan Schakowsky (D): 11

Alexi Giannoulias (D): 19

Lisa Madigan (D): 44

Undecided: 14

(MoE: ±4.8%)

No matter which way you slice it, Burris is done. As for Lisa Madigan, it seems that whichever race she chooses, she’s favored to win it (see David’s piece yesterday for the gubernatorial primary numbers). She’s also performing even more strongly than incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn in the gubernatorial general election against GOP state Sen. Bill Brady:

Lisa Madigan (D): 46

Bill Brady (R): 27

Undecided: 26

Pat Quinn (D-inc): 39

Bill Brady (R): 32

Undecided: 29

(MoE: ±3.1%)

Lisa’s got options.

SCOTUS: Voting Rights Act Pre-Clearance at Risk?

The Supreme Court just heard oral arguments in a case challenging the “pre-clearance” provisions of Section 5 the Voting Rights Act. Pre-clearance requires that certain jurisdictions across the nation seek approval from the Department of Justice before altering voting qualifications or practices. Examples include changing the location of polling places, changing filing deadlines, or implementing new redistricting plans.

So-called “covered” jurisdictions include any state, county or town which implemented a “test or device” to restrict the franchise (like a literacy test), and where less than 50% of voting-age citizens were registered or voted in November 1964. Most of these places are southern states like Alabama and Texas, but much of New Hampshire, several counties in California, and three boroughs in New York City are also covered, for example.

Though the VRA in general and pre-clearance in particular are hallmarks of liberal voting reforms, Congress passed its most recent extension of the Act in 2006 with almost universal bipartisan support – 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House – after which it was signed by President Bush. However, a challenge to pre-clearance has now made it all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the prospects don’t look good for the law:

A central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, designed to protect minorities in states with a history of discrimination, is at substantial risk of being struck down as unconstitutional, judging from the questioning on Wednesday at the Supreme Court.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whose vote is likely to be crucial, was a vigorous participant in the argument, asking 17 questions that were almost consistently hostile to the approach Congress had taken to renewing the act in 2006.

“Congress has made a finding that the sovereignty of Georgia is less than the sovereign dignity of Ohio,” Justice Kennedy said. “The sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan. And the governments in one are to be trusted less than the governments in the other.”

Kennedy and his fellow travelers (Alito in particular) seem to be upset that Congress hasn’t updated the formula for determining which jurisdictions should be covered since the VRA was first passed. Of course, Congress could change the criteria, but as the article notes, it would be politically difficult to do so.

As you may know, the Bush DOJ did its best to kill Section 5 – career attorneys at Justice, for instance, decided that Tom DeLay’s Texas gerrymander violated the VRA, but they were over-ruled by political appointees. Sadly, if the Supreme Court strikes down pre-clearance, Section 5 could simply die altogether.

IL-Gov: Madigan Has Big Lead on Quinn but Many Undecideds Remain

Public Policy Polling (PDF) (4/24-26, likely voters, no trendlines):

Pat Quinn (D-inc): 29

Lisa Madigan (D): 45

Undecided: 26

(MoE: ±4.8%)

So, er, yeah – I think I was a bit too dismissive of the possibility of Lisa Madigan getting into the governor’s race yesterday. With an almost ridiculous 74-13 approval rating, she has a lot of doors open before her – including not just the statehouse but also the Senate race (which James will cover in another post).

Quinn is hardly doing poorly – he gets a 56-14 job approval rating. There’s a little bit of apples-to-oranges here, though – PPP tested Madigan’s favorability but Quinn’s job approvals. The former question can often yield better numbers. For instance, Obama has a 63-27 favorability rating, but a 61-32 nationwide job approval average.

What I don’t doubt is that Madigan has an edge in the head-to-head. But with Quinn doing well, this contest bears little resemblance to the other notable race where a Dem incumbent might get a serious primary challenge, NY-Gov. There are plenty of undecideds and Madigan hasn’t even declared her candidacy yet. Still, it would be foolish to discount the possibility of her getting in. Therefore, SSP is adding this seat to our Races to Watch category.

UPDATE: DGM has more in diaries.

Sustainable agriculture

 Sometimes, we fight to win state and local elections for the Big Issues, sometimes, its to get people running our government who just “get it.”

For example:

The State of Ohio is going to be selling special vehicle license plates promoting SUSTAINABLE agriculture. I realize that this is not any sort of major policy initiative. But, it is still a GREAT idea.

And the funds raised will be used to support innovative programs in agriculture. Farming is still a HUGE economic force in our state (and the nation) (and the WORLD) and besides, we all gotta eat!

When my plates are ready to expire, I’m going order them for our (small, fuel efficient) cars. I hope that lots of people will join me.

More info here.

Check out the windmill on the image. I WANT ONE ON MY CAR!

NJ-Gov: Is Corzine Getting Worse or Better?

Monmouth University/Gannett (pdf) (4/23-27, registered voters, 1/12-14 in parentheses):

Jon Corzine (D-inc): 35 (38)

Chris Christie (R): 39 (36)

Jon Corzine (D-inc): 37 (45)

Steve Lonegan (R): 33 (29)

(MoE: ±3.7%)

These polls showing Jon Corzine losing to Chris Christie in the New Jersey governor’s race are getting pretty repetitive, but this one caught my eye because I can’t quite tell whether Corzine is coming or going. On the one hand, Monmouth’s trendlines show marked decline for Corzine, who went from winning by 2 in January to losing by 4 now against US Attorney Chris Christie, and barely beating former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan instead of stomping him. Corzine’s favorables are also down to 43/47, down from 49/38 in January.

On the other hand, Corzine didn’t start trailing in any polls until January, and a 4-point deficit is Corzine’s best showing in months among any pollster. (He was down by 7 in the mid-April poll from Quinnipiac, which actually was improvement over March’s numbers. And he was down by 9 in the early April poll from FDU.) So, I’m wondering to what extent Corzine’s fate is inextricably linked to the economy, and if he, like everything else around us, hit some sort of bottom in recent months and is slowly starting to tick up.

TN-09: Cohen Has Big Lead on Herenton

Yacoubian Research for WMC-TV (4/23-27, likely voters):

Steve Cohen (D-inc): 65

Willie Herenton (D): 14

Unsure: 21

(MoE: ±5.2%)

Steve Cohen faces an unusual challenge: his Memphis-based D+23 seat is as safe as can be in the general election, but as a white guy representing a district that’s almost two-thirds African-American, he’s consistently vulnerable in the primary. (As you’ll remember, Cohen won a heated primary in 2008 against Nikki Tinker, although that race will be remembered more for its sliminess than a close margin, as Cohen won with 79%.) When five-term Memphis mayor Willie Herenton announced last week that he was “seriously evaluating” a primary challenge to Cohen, on its face, that seemed like about the biggest possible challenge Cohen could face.

A new poll commissioned by a Memphis TV affiliate, however, suggests that Herenton doesn’t make the transition from strong-on-paper to reality very well, as he loses to Cohen by a sweeping margin. Herenton, who’s been in office since 1991, has apparently had ample time for the citizens of Memphis to get sick of him. Herenton won his most recent election in 2007 with only 42% of the vote (following pre-election polling indicating only 20% support for his re-election). Herenton also announced his resignation in 2008 in order to jump over to running Memphis’s public schools, then promptly reversed himself and continued being mayor when that deal fell through. Herenton seems to be floundering around, looking for a mayoral exit strategy, and that perception must be even stronger within the city.

SSP Daily Digest: 4/29

NY-20: Scott Murphy gets sworn in today as the newest member of the House Democratic caucus. Congratulations! (D)

PA-Sen: All of a sudden, the Pennsylvania GOP is beating a path to Jim Gerlach’s door to get him to consider jumping over to the Senate race, now that they’re stuck facing an Arlen Specter vs. Pat Toomey wipeout in the general election. (Gerlach has been associated with the open governor’s race, but is still in the exploratory stage.) Gerlach says “Don’t rule anything out.” The rather moderate and Philly-burbs-based Gerlach might face the same weaknesses in a closed primary against Toomey that Specter did, though (although Gerlach hasn’t been cultivating conservative ill-will for decades like Specter).

OK-Gov: Stuart Rothenberg reports that ex-Rep. J.C. Watts is getting close to a decision on whether to run for the governor’s seat in Oklahoma, and that he’s likely to get in. This would pit him in a battle royale with retiring Rep. (and former Lt. Gov.) Mary Fallin for the GOP nod.

CA-03: Here’s some proof that there’s a lot of blood in the water in the eight GOP-held House seats that Obama won in California: some pretty big sharks are sniffing out the races. Phil Angelides (the former treasurer, and loser of the 2006 governor’s race) is reportedly “taking a serious look” at a run against Dan Lungren in the Dem-trending R+6 district in the Sacramento suburbs.

OH-08: Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, widely known as an anti-immigration activist, may challenge House GOP leader John Boehner in a primary in this R+14 district. (D)

CA-44: No surprise here, but Bill Hedrick, who held Rep. Ken Calvert to 51-49 in this R+6 Inland Empire seat last year, officially announced he’s back for another try. The Corona/Norco School Board chair can’t expect another under-the-radar surprise attack, but can expect a lot of DCCC help this time.

RNC: Although he seems to have publicly escaped the NY-20 loss without calls for his head, the behind-the-scenes attempts to take down or at least circumvent Michael Steele continue. Some RNC members are proposing a new rule that would place new restrictions and oversight on Steele’s power of the purse-strings. (Seems like they might get better results if they sought better restrictions and oversight on Steele’s mouth instead.)

Gay Marriage: I’m pleasantly surprised how fast gay marriage is gaining widespread acceptance and turning into a winning issue for us: a CBS/NYT poll finds 42% support nationwide for legalized gay marriage, with another 25% supporting civil unions and only 28% opposed to any legal recognition. 57% of those under age 40 support gay marriage.

Census: Here’s another example of how there’s no such thing as a neutral and apolitical census: there’s a debate raging over the issue of where to count persons who are in prison. While the Census Bureau currently plans to continue its policy in 2010 of counting prisoners where they reside (often in rural counties where a sizable percentage of the population is incarcerated), civil rights groups and even NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg support counting them at their last known address… which would mean more funds, and a redistricting advantage, for major cities.

History: For the history fans among us, the Senate’s website has profiles of all 20 previous Senate party-switchers. (Here’s a chapter from US History I’d completely forgotten about: more than one-third of these switches were western-state senators in the 1890s during the free silver movement.)