New England: Senate Democrats Confront Connecticut Headache
Open seat: Sen. Chris Dodd (D) is retiring
The race to replace Dodd has become far more competitive than it was
supposed to be.
Longtime Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was the
heavy favorite early in the cycle. But he drew a rash of negative press for
misstatements about his military record. And former World Wrestling
Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, who has shown an eagerness to spend
her personal fortune, became his Republican challenger.
Expect this race to be competitive in November. And entertaining.
Already, voters have seen ads featuring McMahon repeatedly kicking a man
in the groin, the quirky candidacy of Republican moderate Rep. Rob Simmons,
well-documented résumé embellishments and more steroid discussion
than perhaps any Senate contest in history.
But McMahon is closing the gap in a race that should be won by a
Democrat, at least on paper. The latest Quinnipiac poll showed the race
statistically tied. That may be slightly generous for McMahon, and
Blumenthal’s campaign released a poll in response showing a much wider
President Barack Obama captured 61 percent of the vote here in 2008. And
Nutmeg State voters haven’t elected a Republican Senator since 1982.
But we cannot discount the money factor: Having already spent $22
million from her own pocket, McMahon suggested she is willing to spend as
much as $50 million.
The WWE co-founder is running a well-organized, professional campaign
and will go to great lengths to win. And Blumenthal will have to battle a
sometimes-plastic public image and avoid further misstatements if he hopes
to survive this high-profile race that will be worth watching all the way
until Election Day.
Incumbent: Jim Himes (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
Two years after eking out a victory against longtime Rep. Christopher
Shays (R), Himes finds himself in the midst of what may be his state’s most
competitive House race.
Republican state Sen. Dan Debicella is well-funded and well-positioned
ideologically to appeal to the moderates in the Nutmeg State. He is a
self-described fiscal conservative and social moderate (he supports gay
marriage and abortion rights).
Debicella is Harvard-educated and motivated, but he must work to build
name recognition in a left-leaning district that includes Bridgeport,
Stamford and elite New York City suburbs such as Greenwich.
This is among the most expensive media markets in the nation because of
its proximity to NYC. And neither candidate is expected to pay for
broadcast in that market.
But an aggressive debate schedule will give Debicella an opportunity to
build name identification the old-fashioned way, through earned media.
Himes and Debicella are set to square off seven times over the final month
of the campaign.
Incumbent: Christopher Murphy (D)
2nd term (59 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
Murphy has attained rising-star status on Capitol Hill, but he is a
vulnerable incumbent with strong ties to the Washington establishment back
in his western Connecticut district.
Some Democrats fear he could be lost in an anti-incumbent tide,
especially given that 5th district voters have elected a Republican for 10
of the past 20 years. But Murphy has exceeded expectations in each of the
past two cycles. The sophomore Congressman also enjoyed a massive
cash-on-hand advantage at the end of July, in part because his general
election opponent, Sam Caligiuri, was caught in a relatively competitive
Caligiuri is a two-term state Senator and former acting mayor of
Waterbury, hardly a well-known figure in this sprawling district that
includes the Hartford suburbs. With roughly $80,000 in the bank on July 21,
he will struggle to build name identification in the expensive New York
media market. Murphy, meanwhile, went up on television in mid-September and
is expected to stay there.
This is the type of seat that the GOP isn’t banking on playing in —
neither Congressional campaign committee is expected to divert resources
here — but hopes it could get lucky if the enthusiasm gap is as large as
Provided he wins re-election, Murphy is widely expected to run for
Senate in 2012, when Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (ID) seat is up.
Open seat: Sen. Judd Gregg (R) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Republican
The Republican establishment breathed a sigh of relief when Kelly Ayotte
survived a late surge from the right in her Sept. 14 GOP primary.
Ayotte, the state’s attorney general for most of the past five years, is
favored in the race to replace Gregg. But in the always-unpredictable
Granite State, her victory is by no means assured, especially against the
well-funded and well-known Rep. Paul Hodes (D).
Ayotte has liabilities.
In what was expected to be a resounding victory for a candidate
recruited by the national party and endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah
Palin (R), Ayotte eked out a 1,659-vote victory in what became a bloody and
The Palin endorsement may have done more harm than good. It drew fire
from the conservative editorial pages of the state’s largest newspaper. And
look for the Hodes campaign to remind voters every chance it gets of Palin,
who is deeply unpopular among New Hampshire’s electorate.
The GOP contest also generated repeated attacks on Ayotte’s performance
as the state’s top prosecutor. Even before she earned the nomination,
voters learned there were questions about Ayotte’s handling of one case
involving a Ponzi scheme and another about a settlement with Planned
The attacks are expected to continue, especially from a Hodes camp that
emerged from an uncontested primary with a substantial cash advantage.
He was the first to begin running ads in the expensive Boston media
market, the best way to reach the state’s southern population centers.
But Hodes, a two-term Congressman, is fighting an uphill battle in
trying to distance himself from Washington, D.C. And the National
Republican Senatorial Committee, which has reserved television time in this
race, will fight him at every turn.
Hodes’ TV buys have pushed a fiscally conservative message. He said he
opposed the Wall Street bailouts, doesn’t accept earmarks and wants to cut
salaries in Congress by 10 percent.
He also faces geographic challenges.
He is well-known to the voters of the 2nd district, having served them
for the past four years. But he must introduce himself to residents of the
1st district, generally considered more conservative territory than his
Incumbent: Carol Shea-Porter (D)
2nd term (52 percent)
This November may be the biggest test of Shea-Porter’s young political
She rode Democratic waves to victory in 2006 and 2008 in a district that
has long leaned right, despite demographic shifts in recent years. There
will be no such wave this year, especially among the notoriously finicky
Granite State voters.
Shea-Porter will face former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, who escaped
a crowded GOP primary seven weeks before the general election by less than
Shea-Porter enjoyed a 3-to-1 cash advantage at the end of August. Her
advantages may end there.
While there has been limited public polling on the contest, a University
of New Hampshire survey released in late July gave Shea-Porter a 5-point
edge — 44 percent to 39 percent — over Guinta in a hypothetical matchup.
The poll was taken six weeks before Guinta won the GOP primary.
Democrats privately say they’re pleased with a matchup against Guinta,
who was confronted with questionable financial disclosures, among other
issues, amid a bruising primary fight.
A wildcard in this race is the downballot implications from a
competitive gubernatorial race, where the GOP has a strong candidate for
the first time in recent memory. Republicans believe that all of their
candidates — including Guinta — could benefit.
Open seat: Rep. Paul Hodes (D) is running for the Senate
Outlook: Leans Republican
Just four years after losing his seat in Congress, Charlie Bass (R) is
fighting to persuade voters to give him a second chance.
He beat back a late surge from the right in a mid-September GOP primary
that was closer than expected, and in doing so, he became the favorite in a
general election matchup against liberal attorney Ann McLane Kuster
Kuster is not a pushover.
Well-organized and a strong fundraiser, she surprised many political
observers by trouncing her well-known and well-funded primary opponent
Katrina Swett by more than 40 points.
But in an election year in which most candidates are running away from
the left, Kuster has embraced her liberal base. She is a favorite of groups
such as MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
The strategy clearly worked in her Democratic primary, but it remains to
be seen whether a general electorate that includes heavy independent
turnout will embrace her, even in a district that supported President
Barack Obama in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, with 56 percent
and 52 percent of the vote respectively. Bass, by contrast, is largely
considered a moderate Republican, having served as the president of the
Republican Main Street Partnership.
There is scant polling on the race, but a late July survey by the
University of New Hampshire gave Bass a strong lead, 47 percent to 29
Incumbent: Mike Michaud (D)
4th term (67 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Democrats believe this race will be closer than it should.
Michaud is facing a poorly funded, little-known Republican challenger
who has never won elected office. Yet Jason Levesque, a small-business
owner and military veteran, has a path to victory, according to an early
September Public Policy Polling survey. The Democratic polling firm notes
that “Michaud is vastly underperforming” in the more Republican of Maine’s
two Congressional districts.
The moderate Democrat led Levesque by just 7 points — 45 percent to 38
percent — in a poll of likely voters. And that’s despite 68 percent of
respondents having no opinion of the Republican candidate.
A Critical Insights poll released the following week, however, gave
Michaud a 20-point lead.
The GOP hopes Levesque can use the first poll to boost fundraising
efforts. Television time is not expensive in rural Maine, although the
district is large — the size of New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts
combined. If a virtually unknown candidate wins here, it could mean
Democratic losses in the range of 60 seats. President Barack Obama carried
the district with 55 percent in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) took 52
percent in 2004.
Democrats might get a scare, but both sides expect Michaud to
Open seat: Bill Delahunt (D) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Democratic
The Congressional campaign committees have identified this open seat as
New England’s most competitive battleground this cycle.
Expect things to get ugly down the homestretch.
The GOP primary offered a taste of the attacks likely to be levied
against state Rep. Jeff Perry, a former police sergeant whose subordinates
performed illegal strip searches of teenage girls in the 1990s. The issue
was brought to light by one of Perry’s GOP opponents, and it’s safe to say
that Democrats won’t allow it to be forgotten.
Republicans will attack Norfolk District Attorney Bill Keating (D) for
his time in the state Legislature and any perceived tax increases that took
place over that time.
Keating enjoyed a 3-to-1 cash advantage as of Aug. 25, but the disparity
might not matter as much as it otherwise would. Both men will get help from
the national parties.
Both parties’ Congressional campaign committees have reserved time for
independent expenditure ad buys.
Even if they lose, Republicans have scored a victory by forcing
Democrats to divert resources here, a southeastern Massachusetts district
held by Democrats since 1983. But Republicans don’t plan on losing.
It may be a heavily Democratic state, but this is a district that
Republican Sen. Scott Brown won by 20 points in the January special
And like much of New England, independents represent a surprisingly
large portion of the electorate. If independents trend toward the GOP
candidate in this race, as polling suggests they are doing across the
Northeast, there’s a decent chance this seat flips into the Republican
Open seat: Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Democratic
Many Democrats believe this race was decided Sept. 14.
That day Providence Mayor David Cicilline earned 37 percent of the vote
in a crowded Democratic primary, knocking off a former state party
chairman, a state Representative and a wealthy businessman.
But Cicilline faces real competition in November.
State Rep. John Loughlin is well-spoken and media-savvy, and he has
employed some of the political team of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). He’s
also drawn support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John
He will need more support, however, if he hopes to flip a seat in this
Even after facing only token opposition in the GOP primary, Loughlin
reported just $67,000 in the bank as of Aug. 25, compared with Cicilline’s
$446,000. And the local Republican Party, disorganized and divided, will
offer little grass-roots or organizational support.
Loughlin will look to build off a bloody Democratic primary, in which
Cicilline was accused of being the worst mayor in the capital city’s
history. It’s worth noting that a Providence mayor has never won statewide
office in the Ocean State.
It’s also worth noting that unaffiliated voters outnumber Democrats in
this district, which has featured an active tea party movement in recent
Incumbent: Peter Welch (D)
2nd term: (83 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Welch has an opponent in November, but Republicans have little hope that
talk-radio host Paul Beaudry can steal this seat, nestled in the heart of
this New England Democratic stronghold.
Beaudry’s radio show might have given him some name recognition, but the
Republican has largely ignored fundraising.
Welch earned 83 percent of the vote in 2008, when he received the
Democratic and Republican nominations. He began August with more than $1
million in the bank. And a late September Rasmussen Reports poll gave him a
lead of 64 percent to 30 percent.
It’s hard to imagine not seeing Welch in Congress next year.