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Latest EMILY’s List Picks Face Big Challenges

While Iowa’s other Senator, Tom Harkin (D), apparently is enthusiastic about Conlin, there is little reason to believe she can win given the strong Republican wind now blowing.

EMILY’s List’s support of Elaine Marshall, 64, is more understandable given recent polling, though not much more likely to pay off.

Marshall was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1992 and as North Carolina secretary of state in 1996. She has been re-elected three times. In 2002, Marshall ran for the Democratic Senate nomination, losing to Erskine Bowles in the primary.

National Democratic observers have never believed that Marshall would be a strong general election opponent for Sen. Richard Burr (R), which is why the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee initially wooed former state legislator Cal Cunningham into the race. But his campaign quickly proved to be a disappointment.

Marshall finished first in the primary but failed to win a majority. Endorsed by the third-place finisher in the race, she went on to beat Cunningham soundly, by 20 points, in the runoff.

Democrats note that Burr’s poll numbers are uninspiring. His lead in hypothetical ballot tests over lesser-known Democrats has been unimpressive (and generally within the margin of error), and his favorable ratings have been equally mediocre.

But Marshall probably is in for a rude awakening now that she faces Burr.

Marshall raised less than $850,000 through June 2, and she had only $186,000 in the bank on that day. Burr, in contrast, had raised $6 million by April 14, and he had just less than $5 million in the bank.

Moreover, Marshall is so liberal that she presents an easy target for Burr. The Democratic primary was a relatively mild fight, but Burr won’t hesitate to pound the challenger and tie her to the president, government spending and debt, and bigger government.

If Conlin and Marshall were running their races in the 2006 or 2008 political environments, they would be formidable contenders. But the environment has flipped, and Democrats face a very strong headwind this cycle.

The cycle also hurts Conlin and Marshall where they can least afford it — financially.

Last cycle, the DSCC had a huge war chest while the National Republican Senatorial Committee was pinching pennies. The DSCC opened its checkbook for two of its successful female challengers — spending $11.6 million to help Kay Hagan in North Carolina and $10.5 million for Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire — far outspending the NRSC in each race.

But this cycle, the DSCC will be forced to make tough choices about where to spend its more limited resources, and expensive states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Washington and Wisconsin are likely to drain the committee’s resources before the DSCC ever gets down the list to North Carolina or Iowa.

EMILY’s List is also more focused on incumbents this cycle; 11 of the 19 House candidates now listed on its website are incumbents, as are four of the seven Senate hopefuls (including California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Washington Sen. Patty Murray) it identifies as “Our Candidates.” That may leave only scraps for Conlin and Marshall.

All of this creates a terrible situation for the two Democratic challengers, and it suggests that EMILY’s List, in these two cases, is following its heart, not its head.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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