New England: Connecticut Senate Showdown Is Hottest Ticket in Town

Posted October 30, 2009 at 11:20am

Connecticut


Filing deadline: May 25 | Primary: Aug. 10

Senate

Incumbent: Chris Dodd (D)
5th term (66 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

There’s little dispute that Dodd is the most vulnerable Senator up for re-election in 2010. Public polls show him trailing at least one of his Republican opponents, and he has some of the lowest approval ratings of this career.

Some operatives point to Dodd’s poor handling of an alleged sweetheart mortgage deal as the reason for his poor standing, while others chastised him for moving his family to Iowa during his quixotic 2008 presidential bid. He also caught flak for heading the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee during the national financial crisis.

In truth, Dodd’s poll numbers are a combined reflection of those factors, and Democrats know he’s in trouble. President Barack Obama has come to Connecticut to fundraise for him several times, and Dodd’s Senate colleagues have made him their point man on health care legislation — a major potential bragging point if legislation actually gets passed before Election Day 2010.

Republicans originally recruited former Rep. Rob Simmons to run against Dodd. Public polls have showed Simmons ahead of Dodd, and his moderate voting record in the House is expected to appeal to the statewide electorate.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the GOP primary: Several other Republican candidates, many of whom have considerable personal wealth, got into the race. Former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, state Sen. Sam Caligiuri, businessman Peter Schiff and former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon announced campaigns this year. Most notably, McMahon put about $3.5 million of her own funds into her campaign in just the first two weeks she was a candidate.

In Connecticut, the GOP nominee is typically selected by about 1,000 local town committee officials who vote on a candidate during their annual May convention. But with enough funds, it’s possible that any of the candidates could go against the party’s wishes and get onto the August primary ballot.

A competitive primary being dragged out that late could be devastating for Republicans, given that the general election would be only a couple of months after that. If any of the more popular Republican candidates push for a primary contest — a very likely scenario — Dodd will have an easier time keeping his seat.

House

4th district
Incumbent: Jim Himes (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Himes defeated longtime moderate Rep. Christopher Shays (R) by a slim margin in 2008. Democrats had targeted Shays in the previous two cycles, and Himes was finally successful in convincing the district’s Democratic-leaning voters that it was finally time to send one of their own to Washington, D.C.

Republicans have indicated that they would like to target the seat in 2010, but Shays is not interested in running again. The National Republican Congressional Committee publicly recruited state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, the son of the late Rep. Stewart McKinney (R-Conn.), but he declined to run this summer.

Republicans instead have a crowded field of little-known candidates on their hands, none of whom has proved so far that he has the fundraising ability to keep up with Himes. The best-known of the GOP bunch is state Sen. Dan Debicella, followed by former state Sen. Rob Russo, businessman Rob Merkle and Will Gregory, a former staffer on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.

A crowded primary does not help the GOP’s chances of taking back this seat. Without McKinney on the ballot, Himes can look forward to a much easier re-election race in 2010.

5th district
Incumbent: Christopher Murphy (D)
2nd term (59 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Republicans hoped to give Murphy a good fight last cycle, but the then-freshman Congressman won re-election by a solid margin in this district.

This time around, Afghanistan war veteran Justin Bernier (R) is running against Murphy. Bernier got an early start in the race, and he raised $196,000 from March through the end of September.

It’s getting harder for Republicans to compete in this district even with a top-tier candidate. President Barack Obama won the district in 2008 with 56 percent of the vote. Murphy’s re-election appears to be safe for the foreseeable future.

Maine


Filing deadline: March 15 | Primary: June 8

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Mike Michaud (D)
4th term (67 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Republicans were hoping that Michaud would run in the open-seat gubernatorial race in 2010, but he’s opted to stay in the House instead.

House Republicans indicated that if Michaud left the seat they would have tried to find a candidate and target it. But as it is, Michaud has a lock on the 2nd district seat. Although businessman Jason Levesque (R) has announced he is running, he is not considered a top-tier candidate. The four-term Democrat is a safe bet for re-election in 2010.

Massachusetts


Filing deadline: May 4 | Primary: Sept. 14

Senate

Open seat: Appointee Paul Kirk (D) is not running in the special election
Outlook: Safe Democratic

A special election will be held Jan. 19 — with primaries slated for Dec. 8 — to replace the legendary Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), who died Aug. 25. In the meantime, Kirk, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and a veteran Kennedy consigliere, is serving as interim Senator following his appointment in late September.

The deep blue tinge of Massachusetts politics means the winner of the Democratic primary is heavily favored to win the special election, likely against state Sen. Scott Brown, who has only nominal opposition on the GOP side. State Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) emerged as the frontrunner early on thanks to her statewide name identification and the strong backing of women’s groups and local legislators. She has led in public polls and raised more than any other candidate in the race. Her biggest competitor at this point is likely to be six-term Rep. Mike Capuano, who emerged as the only Member in the all-Democratic House delegation to ultimately jump into the race, though a handful of others considered it.

However, Steve Pagliuca, the wealthy managing director of Bain Capital and co-owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics, was tied with Capuano for second in the Democratic field in a recent poll. Pagliuca and community activist Alan Khazei (D) are both seeking to mount dark-horse bids as political outsiders. Pagliuca is self-funding his bid and has been blitzing the airwaves to introduce himself to voters, while Khazei has tapped a grass-roots network of supporters and had raised a surprising $1.1 million through the end of September.

House

8th district
Incumbent: Mike Capuano (D)
6th term (Unopposed)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Should Capuano win the special Senate election, it would set up a Democratic scramble for his seat in the House. Boston City Council President Mike Ross has already indicated that he’d consider a run, and there is buzz that former Rep. Joe Kennedy, who passed on a campaign for his late uncle Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D) seat, would like to see his son, Harvard Law graduate Joe Kennedy III, follow him in representing the 8th district. Other names that have been floated include Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone; Jarrett Barrios, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts; and state Sen. Steven Tolman.

The district, taking in sections of Boston as well as the suburbs of Cambridge and Somerville, voted for President Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by a 70-point margin in the presidential race, so Republicans don’t have a prayer of competing here.

New Hampshire


Filing deadline: June 11 | Primary: Sept. 14

Senate

Open seat: Judd Gregg (R) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

Likely Democratic nominee Rep. Paul Hodes announced his candidacy in February before it was clear whether Gregg was running for re-election. With the exception of a few passing rumors about his colleague Rep. Carol Shea-Porter running for the open seat, Hodes has had a clear path to the nomination and the general election next November.

National Republicans appeared to be stumped to find a candidate for months before quietly luring former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte into the contest. Public polls showed Ayotte ahead of Hodes even before she announced her campaign.

But Ayotte’s bid has not been smooth sailing so far: Since she announced her exploratory committee, several lesser-known candidates have gotten into the race or seriously talked about it. Many of those Republicans are businessmen with ample personal financial resources, including William Binnie, Jim Bender and Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney. Bender and Binnie have officially filed for the race, but Mahoney has not.

Ayotte’s top primary competition would be attorney Ovide Lamontagne, who was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1996. Although Lamontagne has been campaigning all over the Granite State, he has not officially filed paperwork to be a candidate.

A primary between Ayotte and Lamontagne could significantly hurt Republican chances of keeping this seat. The mid-September primary tends to be expensive, and candidates often emerge with baggage heading into the general election.

If Republicans can keep the primary field clear for the most part, then Ayotte and Hodes appear headed for a high-profile blockbuster of a race next fall.

House

1st district
Incumbent: Carol Shea-Porter (D)
2nd term (52 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Republicans thought they could defeat Shea-Porter in 2008, but a vicious late primary on their side hurt their chances. Shea-Porter defeated the eventual nominee, former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), on Election Day 2008 for a second time. She originally ousted him from office in one of the biggest upsets of 2006.

The national GOP was eager to get some new blood to run in this district, and the National Republican Congressional Committee successfully recruited Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta for the task.

But Guinta’s candidacy has been far from what national Republicans had hoped. He was involved in a public relations fiasco surrounding a bar fight, and his fundraising has been lackluster. Guinta has raised $236,000 so far for his campaign, while Shea-Porter has pulled in $392,000 this cycle.

This district has historically voted for Republicans except the last two cycles. Unless Guinta starts performing as a top-tier recruit should, Shea-Porter’s chances of holding her seat are looking better and better.

2nd district
Open seat: Paul Hodes (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Who isn’t running for this House seat? A plethora of candidates have tossed their hats into the ring.

Although the district has recently voted increasingly for Democrats, Republicans are excited about the candidacy of former Rep. Charles Bass. Hodes defeated Bass in 2006, when Democrats were swept into power across the Granite State.

Jennifer Horn, the 2008 GOP nominee, has also announced that she is running again. Although Bass is favored to win the primary, there’s definitely a possibility that the contest will turn into a nasty ideological battle that will expose the GOP’s moderate-versus-conservative fissures. Bass was a leading moderate in the House; Horn is more conservative.

The only competitive Democratic candidate officially in the race is attorney Ann McLane Kuster, who had raised $343,000 for her bid so far through the end of September. Although Kuster is well on her way in the race, many Democrats are still looking to 2002 Democratic nominee Katrina Swett, the wife of former Rep. Dick Swett (D). Swett is reportedly still thinking about running. She’s also got time to decide: With more than $870,000 still in her federal campaign account from previous bids, Swett can take her time.

With Bass in the race, Democrats might want Swett to make a decision sooner rather than later since there is no doubt he would be a highly competitive nominee. Still, both sides must carefully handle their potential primary situations, because a late and nasty intraparty battle could be detrimental to their chances in November.

Rhode Island


Filing deadline: June 30 | Primary: Sept. 14

House

2nd district
Incumbent: James Langevin (D)
5th term (70 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Langevin has attracted another primary opponent. The five-term Congressman defeated Brown University professor Jennifer Lawless in 2006, and this time he will face state Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Almost all of Dennigan’s fundraising thus far has come out of her own pocket. Of the $114,000 she had raised through the end of September, $100,000 was a personal loan. Langevin, meanwhile, had $367,000 in cash on hand.

Langevin is favored to win again this time around, even though Dennigan might be a more formidable candidate than Lawless.

Vermont


Filing deadline: July 19 | Primary: Sept. 14

Senate

Incumbent: Patrick Leahy (D)
6th term (71 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Leahy has yet to acquire any GOP opposition for his 2010 re-election bid. National Republicans have not indicated that they plan to target him, and barring any unforeseen scandal or major development, Leahy is as safe as they come for re-election.

House

At-large
Incumbent: Peter Welch (D)
2nd term (83 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Welch comfortably won an open-seat race in 2006 and he’s been sitting pretty ever since, at least when it comes to his re-election. In 2008, he skated by with no opposition. In fact, both Republicans and Democrats nominated him to their respective ballots last year.

While Welch has picked up a little-known primary opponent in teacher Dan Weintraub, he can still be considered a safe bet for re-election.