SSP Daily Digest: 5/7 (Afternoon Edition)

CA-Sen: Hell hath no fury like a teabagger scorned, and now the swarm is turning its anger on the queen bee. Even Sarah Palin’s popularity apparently has limits, as she’s getting all sorts of blowback (at her Facebook page, mostly) from California’s right-wingers upset over her endorsement of corporate GOPer Carly Fiorina instead of true believer Chuck DeVore.

KY-Sen: Research 2000, on behalf of various local news outlets, polled the primaries in Kentucky, finding, in the Democratic field, Dan Mongiardo leading Jack Conway 39-32 (with 12 opting for one of the three minor candidates). On the GOP side, Rand Paul leads Trey Grayson 44-32. The same poll has perilously low approvals for Majority leader Mitch McConnell, down to 41/49. And guess who’s taking notice? Democratic state Auditor Crit Luallen — one of our commenters, nrimmer, reports that she’s sending out fundraising e-mails raising the possibility of a 2014 challenge.

Dan Mongiardo is also out with an internal poll, in the wake of the Conway camp releasing one with Conway in the lead. Mongo’s poll, taken by Garin Hart Yang, has him up 46-34 (although he can’t be psyched about the trendlines; his internal poll from February had him up 43-25). One other note from this race: an Iowa-based group, American Future Fund, is running an anti-Paul ad on TV. AFF claims to be about “free market views,” so I’m not sure what their beef with Paul is (you don’t get much more free market than that), but at any rate, their ad features a chiming cuckoo clock in it, which nicely underscores Paul’s, um, cuckoo-ness.

NC-Sen: Third-place finisher Kenneth Lewis finds himself in something of the kingmaker’s seat, after preventing Elaine Marshall or Cal Cunningham from avoiding a runoff in the Democratic primary. Lewis says he’s not sure who he’ll endorse or even if he will endorse, but both camps are, naturally, reaching out to him and his supporters (including Mel Watt and Harvey Gantt).

PA-Sen/PA-Gov (pdf): There’s clearly a lot of day-to-day volatility in the Muhlenberg/Morning Call daily tracker of the Dem primaries, but you can’t deny this is a blockbuster result: Joe Sestak has drawn even with Arlen Specter for the first time, as they tie at 43-all today. Maybe that ad with all those purdy pictures of him with George Bush and Sarah Palin is having the desired effect? On the gubernatorial side, Dan Onorato is at 35, Joe Hoeffel at 11, Anthony Williams at 10, and Jack Wagner at 8.

UT-Sen: Tomorrow may well be the end of the line for Bob Bennett, the three-term Senator from Utah. He’s poised to get kicked to the curb at tomorrow’s nominating convention by his state’s far-right activist base for the crime of actually trying to legislate. Bennett’s getting some last-minute hits from robocalls from the Gun Owners of America, but that’s pretty tame compared with some of the other over-the-top attacks being leveled at other candidates (like Mike Lee as Hitler?). Michael Steele, wary of treading on the base’s toes in a no-win situation, has announced his staying neutral in the nominating process.

MA-Gov: Looks like you don’t want to get on Tim Cahill’s bad side (or maybe more accurately, on the bad side of media consultant John Weaver, who’s also working on the oddball campaigns of Rick Snyder in Michigan and Steve Levy in New York). After a hard hit from the RGA, the Cahill camp retaliated with a web video pegging RGA chair Haley Barbour as a Confederate sympathizer and corrupt lobbyist. The RGA fired back saying the Cahill camp had responded like “scalded apes” (strange metaphor, but it has a certain evocative charm).

OR-Gov: That SurveyUSA poll that had Republican primary results that was leaked a few days ago is fully available now, and it also contains Democratic primary results. John Kitzhaber seems poised to roll over Bill Bradbury; he leads 54-16. (As reported earlier, Chris Dudley led on the GOP side, although only at 28%.)

RI-Gov: The DGA is going on the offensive against independent Lincoln Chafee, seeing him (and certainly not Republican John Robitaille) as their main impediment to picking up the governor’s office. They’ve launched an anti-Chafee site… and here’s an indication of the candidates’ positioning in this scrambled race: they’re actually attacking Chafee from the right, focusing on Chafee’s love of taxes.

HI-01: One candidate who isn’t running away from Barack Obama is Ed Case, who’s up with a new TV ad throwing his arms around the hometown favorite. “Only one candidate is strong enough to stand with the President: Ed Case!” intones the ad. Despite the White House’s behind-the-scenes finger-on-the-scale, though, Obama hasn’t officially come out in favor of Case.

ID-01: I wonder what think tank the right-wing’s current fixation with the 17th Amendment recently bubbled up from? I thought it was a weird aberration when Steve Stivers started up about it, but now it’s an issue in the GOP primary in the 1st, where all of a sudden the two contestants, Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward, are trying to out-Seventeenther each other. Has Frank Luntz actually tried running the idea through one of his focus groups of taking away people’s rights to vote for their Senators? Somehow I doubt it polls well.

WATN?: Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Former Republican state Senate majority leader Joe Bruno just got sentenced to two years in federal prison for fraud and abuse of office. It’s worth noting, though, that the sentence was stayed until the SCOTUS can rule on the “honest services” issue that’s before it, so it could be a long time, if ever, before Bruno’s wearing stripes.

SSP Daily Digest: 12/8

CT-Sen: Linda McMahon is in Washington DC this week to meet with Republican bigwigs about her bid for the Senate in Connecticut, meeting with Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Orrin Hatch, and the knuckle-draggers at FreedomWorks. McMahon’s visit is accompanied, however, by stories in The Hill and Politico that focus on professional wrestling’s dangerous conditions, and lack of health insurance or union representation — and are replete with quotes from former wrestlers decrying McMahon and her company.

KS-Sen: The previous few rounds of polling for Rep. Todd Tiahrt in the Kansas GOP Senate primary haven’t looked so hot, but the newest offering from SurveyUSA finds him back in the thick of things. Rep. Jerry Moran now leads Tiahrt 37-34, compared with a 43-27 gap in early October. Crosstabs suggest Tiahrt has pulled back into a tie in Kansas’s northeast (the Kansas City suburbs) — with Moran dominating the rural west and Tiahrt dominating the Wichita area, the KC suburbs are the decisive region.

OR-Gov: State Republican leaders are still casting their nets about, despite former NBA player Chris Dudley bringing a lot of money to the table. With some troubled that Dudley “has not delivered any ideas at all” (and with their best-known candidate, Bill Sizemore, having gotten arraigned for tax evasion yesterday) many have now set their sights on state House minority leader Bruce Hanna, a conservative from the state’s rural southwest; Hanna says he’s “listening with interest” to their entreaties.

In the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up department, Jerry Wilson, founder of exercise machine maker Soloflex, was originally going to run for Governor under the banner of Oregon’s Naderite Progressive Party, but somewhere along the way decided it would be better to run for one of the major party noms so he’d have a better chance, and inexplicably decided to run for a Republican. Wilson just found out that he  missed the deadline by several months to change his party registration to be able to do so (he’s a Democrat), so now he’s decided to run as a Democrat. (The pro-marijuana Wilson might want to, y’know, lay off it a little while he’s trying to put together a political campaign.) Also on the Dem side, the state’s AFL-CIO announced that it won’t be endorsing in the race until at least March, which has to be seen as a victory of sorts for ex-SoS Bill Bradbury in that they don’t view ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber as having the nomination locked down and are waiting to see how things shake out.

TX-Gov: With heavyweight Houston mayor Bill White having settled into the Democratic field in the Governor’s race, the remaining candidates are assessing their options. Kinky Friedman was expected to drop out today, but announced that he’ll take at least a few more days to meet with supporters, and with White and Farouk Shami, before pulling the plug. (Shami was a big donor to Friedman last time.) The independently wealthy Shami sounds like he’s staying in, although he’s now suffering the usual fate of celebrity business candidates: the revelation of his paltry voting record (including no vote in the 2008 general, and no votes in any Democratic primary elections, with at least one in a Republican primary instead). And on the GOP side, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, faced with the realization that the Senate election may not be happening any time soon, just filed for re-election to another term as LG.

FL-02: That was fast. (And not very good message discipline, either.) After confirming yesterday that he was considering a move over to Florida’s statewide CFO race, Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson backtracked today and said he’s sticking with his longshot primary challenge to Rep. Allen Boyd instead.

ID-01: An intramural fight is breaking out among Idaho Republican legislators, as state Rep. Raul Labrador seeks the Republican nomination to take on Rep. Walt Minnick next year. State Sen. Mike Jorgenson is demanding Labrador drop out, attacking him for his work as a — gasp — immigration lawyer; the two have previously clashed over immigration policy in the legislature, including Jorgenson’s proposal to bar illegal immigrants from receiving state benefits. There’s no clue given where Labrador’s opponent, Vaughn Ward, stands on immigration issues, but it’s interesting to see the same cheap-labor/close-the-borders fissures opening up here that erupted in, say, the UT-03 primary last year.

IL-14: One more dropout in the GOP field in the 14th, as young Mark Vargas, a former Defense Dept. employee in Iraq, got out of the race. Unlike other recent dropout Bill Purcell, though, Vargas endorsed Ethan Hastert on his way out the door. Jeff Danklefsen is the only minor player left on the playing field between Hastert and state Sen. Randy Hultgren.

NJ-03: The 5’9″ John Adler is certainly vulnerable to wedgies and wet willies from the 6’7″ Jon Runyan, but now he’s vulnerable to the dreaded Rear Admiral as well. Maurice “Mo” Hill, a Toms River Township Councilor, dentist, and retired Navy rear admiral, says he’ll likely run in the GOP primary against Runyan, despite local party leaders’ hopes to avoid a contested primary like the one that sank their hopes last year. Hill says he’ll move forward if he gets the backing of his local Ocean County party, regardless of how the other counties’ organizations go.

PA-06: Chester County Recorder of Deeds Ryan Costello bailed out on his run in the GOP field in the 6th, finding all the oxygen in the race gobbled up by self-funding moderate Steven Welch and well-known conservative state Rep. Curt Schroder. Schroder, meanwhile, nailed down the endorsements of two more Republican legislators in the area: Berks County state Sen. Mike Folmer and newly-elected state Montgomery County Sen. Bob Mensch.

SC-01: Another Republican is getting into the primary against vulnerable Rep. Henry Brown in the Charleston-area 1st (joining “Tumpy” Campbell): attorney, Navy vet, and former Mt. Pleasant city councilor Mark Fava. Could this have the effect of splitting the anti-Brown vote, though? On the Dem side, restauranteur Robert “Bob” Dobbs was joined several weeks ago by commercial pilot and Air Force vet Robert Burton.

TN-08: State Sen. Roy Herron isn’t getting a completely free shot in his primary to replace retiring Rep. John Tanner in rural western Tennessee: he’ll face off against 34-year-old Luther Mercer II, an educator and son of a Madison County Commissioner. Meanwhile, eager to generate more Tanners, the GOP has unveiled its target list of aging House Democrats in red districts to push to retire (mostly just via press release attacks for now — perhaps there will also be a sustained attempt to blanket their offices with brochures for oceanfront Florida condominiums as well). Recall, though, that Tanner said the prospect of a good fight was the one thing that was potentially keeping him from retiring, suggesting this has the potential to backfire in some cases.

Mayors: Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu had said this summer that he wouldn’t seek to become the next mayor of New Orleans. When most other big-names like city council president Arnie Fielkow and state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson subsequently declined, Landrieu apparently sensed a mayoralty for the taking. Now he’s apparently changed his mind, and says he’ll launch a mayoral campaign next week. (Landrieu narrowly lost the mayor’s race to Ray Nagin in 2006.)

WATN?: 80-year-old former New York state Sen. majority leader Joe Bruno, who turned Albany into his personal fiefdom for decades, just got convicted of two felony corruption charges. And former Rep. Chip Pickering, one of the C Street House residents who bailed from a promising career after an embarrassing affair, is staying classy. He was last seen getting into a physical altercation at his young son’s soccer game — with an opposing team’s soccer coach already wearing a neck brace.  

NY St. Sen.: Majority Leader Bruno (R) To Retire

Sudden bombshell out of Albany, New York: Joe Bruno, the longtime leader of the Republican delegation in the state senate, won’t stand for re-election. According to the New York Daily News:

It’s confirmed. A high-ranking Senate staffer said: “He will not run for re-election. It’s still open as to whether he will serve out the term until Dec. 31 or leave. early.”

For those not following state legislature races, control of the New York State Senate is the big enchilada this year. Each year we’ve chipped at it, edging closer to control (we’re currently down 32-30), and prognosticators have increasingly felt like this was the year it would flip, removing the main obstacle to implementing progressive policy in New York and placing 2010 redistricting control entirely in Democratic hands.

Apparently Bruno saw the handwriting on the wall (i.e. the remainder of his career spent in the minority) and decided this was a fine time to leave (although there’s also the small matter of his outside business interests being under FBI investigation). This may be the hole in the dam that bursts wide open; a number of other aging Republicans in Democratic-leaning areas (who are in their 70s or 80s, have been serving in the state senate since the 1970s, and have provided the margin for control) have stuck around largely because Bruno has corralled them, trying to maintain the majority. With him gone, look for a stampede for exits from other dinosaurs facing extinction like Frank Padavan and Caesar Trunzo.

Our candidate in SD-43 (in the Albany suburbs) is Brian Premo, although stronger challengers may emerge with Bruno out of the picture.

H/t RandySF.

NY Senate: Bruno Retiring?

When it comes to downballot races, it has been the New York State Senate that has held much of my attention this election year. And from the Albany Project’s Phillp Anderson  comes a report that Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is making moves that may indicate an intent to retire this year rather than lead a likely minority in a state where the Republican Party will be mostly shut out at the federal and state levels.

Because today, the last day in the last regular legislative session that Bruno’s Republicans will control for a long, long time, brings us another odd clue that it may be Uncle Joe’s last hurrah as well. A few weeks ago we learned that the long neglected Senate Minority conference room received a rather extensive renovation, a move that some interpreted as a sign that the Republican majority in the Senate could see the writing on the wall and wanted to spruce up the joint while they still controlled the spending to do so. I’m also hearing quite a bit about some rather vicious infighting in Uncle Joe’s caucus and much of it appears to be generational in nature. The Republican majority in the New York State Senate is on the way out and they all know it. This seems to have some members, particularly the younger ones, fairly upset. Today we learn that one of Joe Bruno’s closest aides is being set up with a long term gig at a significant pay cut.

An experienced Dem hand in Albany spoke to me about the possibility of Bruno “taking a dive”, as he put it, last week. I’ll believe that when Bruno actually holds a press conference where he throws in the towel, not before, but the signs that he may be at least considering spending more time with his horses continue to mount.

I have been reading TAP since I discovered it in 2007 and there is probably no one in the New York blogosphere better connected to his state’s politics than he. Like Phillip, I will wait and see what the official word is, but retirement makes every bit of sense to me. Obama will win there big. We will likely pick up 3-4 of the remaining Congressional seat now held by Republicans. The Governor, both senate seats and the State Assembly are firmly in Democratic hands and the Senate is likely to flip. Furthermore, the once mighty New York Republican Party is now a mere shadow of the era Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javitz and Al D’Amato. The handwriting is on the wall. Maybe Joe will do the sensible thing and walk away.

Say It Isn’t So, Eliot Spitzer!

I'm sure that, by now, everyone has heard the news about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's ties to a prostitution ring.  I must say, it comes as a major disappointment after Spitzer established himself as the ethical white knight who fought Wall Street corruption during his tenure as the state Attorney General.  During the run-up to the gubernatorial election, Spitzer was heralded as the next FDR.  It is, therefore, amazing to see how quickly his political capitol evaporated, as he clashed with State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer).  That was disappointing enough; this latest offense is nauseating.  Right when the public is just beginning to build enthusiasm about the political process and the Democratic party, something like this happens, reminding everyone of the Lewinsky scandal of ten years ago, and reinforcing the idea that all politicians are sleazy, self-serving, Huey Long-esque megalomaniacs. 

Meanwhile, if Spitzer steps down, Lt. Gov. David Paterson will become the Governor.  I'm very interested to see what effect he'll have on the state and congressional races in New York if he ascends.  Is his name too tied to Spitzer's, or will his presence provide a breath of fresh air for the party?  I cautiously await . . . 

NY State Senate: The Knives Are Out

It begins:

On the political front, Senator John Bonacic, whose district is in the Hudson Valley, became the first Republican to call openly for Mr. Bruno to step down as majority leader, a rare act of defiance among Senate Republicans.

“We can’t have a leader under investigation by the F.B.I. after we have taken such a beating in New York and nationally,” Mr. Bonacic said in an interview. “We deal in political perceptions, and in our business, perception is almost 90 percent of reality,” he added.

Few members of the Senate have been willing to talk publicly about Mr. Bruno and his political viability. Privately, some Senators have expressed concern that one of their first tasks next month will be re-electing Mr. Bruno as the temporary president of the Senate – even though he is facing a federal inquiry. They fear that the vote could further weaken the already wounded State Republican Party just as a popular Democrat, Eliot Spitzer, takes office as governor, promising to reform Albany’s reputation for corruption.

As I suggested elsewhere, this development doesn’t surprise me. State Senate leader is the top job for NY Republicans now, now that the GOP has no real hope for capturing a statewide race any time soon. Now that this Bonacic has come out against Bruno, others – like those anonymous state senators mentioned in that last paragraph – may soon follow.

But already, we’re being treated to ringside seats to an intra-party brawl:

“I’m sure the conference is very much behind Joe Bruno,” said Senator Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican. “I think it’s premature for Bonacic or any senators to come out with this statement, very premature.”

Another story like this and I’ll be forced to title my next post “Repubs in Disarray.” I can’t wait.

P.S. This Albany Times-Union article has a bit more on the back-story here with Bonacic. (H/T The Albany Project.)

NY State Senate: Republican Leader Joe Bruno Under FBI Investigation

Could it really be? Via the Albany-Times Union’s blog:

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, called a press conference this evening to confirm he is being investigated by the FBI, which has launched an inquiry into his business dealings through his consulting company, Capital Business Consultants.

It’s not yet clear, though, what the FBI is investigating. Yet.

The senator refused to discuss what, exactly, the FBI is looking into. He declined to say whether it has anything to do with Evident Technologies Inc. – the company to which he steered $500,000 via two state grants with no strings attached.

Bruno has personal ties to several of Evident’s directors, Jared Abbruzzese, one of the company’s founders and a former co-chair, and Wayne Barr – both of whom share the senator’s interest in horse racing.

Abbruzzese is being investigated by the state Lobbying Commission for providing his plane to Bruno for several trips, including a fund-raiser and a tour of several Kentucky horse farms that Barr arranged.

One thing you should disregard, though, is Bruno’s claim that he is “not a target” of the investigation. Here’s why:

[Washington attorney Stanley M.] Brand said that distinctions in a federal criminal manual between a “target,” someone the Justice Department has decided to seek charges against, and a “subject,” someone under investigation who could be upgraded to a target, are largely meaningless in a practical sense.

“You can’t take these distinctions to the bank, because the Justice Department can change your status whenever it wants to,” Brand said.

Brand was talking about Conrad Burns, and you can see how well that bit of verbal legerdemain worked out for old Burnsie. Same, too, with Bob Ney, who claimed he wasn’t a “target” almost until he was indicted. He’s now going to be sentenced to prison next month.

This story also gives me an opportunity to do something long overdue, which is to tell you about a new SoapBlox blog that’s opened up shop right in my political neighborhood. The Albany Project is dedicated to shining a much-needed light on corrupt, obscurantist the New York state legislative apparatus (ranked as the worst out of all 50 by the Brennan Center). The site’s already been following this story closely, and it’ll be the place to go for continuous coverage of this potentially explosive news.