Congressional diary: Dems lose a House candidate and get mixed Senate news

Republicans got good news this week in Florida's 15th district, which Rep. Weldon opened up a few weeks ago. FL-15 is a reliably Republican district, where Bush got 57% in 2004, but Democrats were hoping to make it a race with the candidacy of Brevard County Commissioner Nancy Higgs. But Higgs has abruptly dropped out of the race, making this contest a very difficult one for Democratic efforts to expand the map and force the GOP to play defense.

To make matters worse for the DCCC, they were counting on the fact that the FL congressional primaries are very late and hoping that a few Republican candidates would contest the nomination, extending the intra-party divisions well into the fall. But it now looks that the GOP has managed to clear the field for state Sen. Bill Posey, with most other potential contenders endorsing him.

FL-15 just got significantly much safer for Republicans, a relief for them in an election year they have so many open seats to contest. (I know I have not updated my House rankings since the end of November, and it has been hard to find time to concentrate on the congressional races with the primaries heating up. But look for the new rankings to come out shortly.)

Meanwhile, Rasmussen released Senate polls today from Minnesota and Oregon:

  • In Minnesota, Senator Coleman is trailing Democrat Al Franken 49% to 46%, though he maintains a small lead against another Democrat, Mike Ciresi, 47% to 45%.
  • Oregon looks better for the Republican incumbent, Sen. Gordon Smith, who leads House speaker Jeff Merkley 48% to 30% and Steve Novick 48% to 35%.
There have been a number of polls from Minnesota in recent weeks, and this is the third poll in a row (after SUSA and the University of Minnesota) that shows Franken edging out Coleman. It is obviously bad news for an incumbent to fall behind -- or even be tied -- with a challenger this early in the cycle, particularly when the challenger is someone who has had some challenge being taken seriously given his comedian past. The fact that Franken has morphed into a serious politician by early 2008 should not bode well for efforts to discredit him.

In addition, Coleman is now under the threat of a primary challenge by former Sen. Rod Grams, who served from 1994 to 2000. Grams also considered jumping in the primary in 2006, and he explained that he was motivated by his disappointment against the Republican primary. It looks unlikely that Grams will actually jump in, but it could certainly make life difficult for Coleman.

The Oregon race has been making little news, and has been very rarely polled. The SUSA survey implies both that Gordon Smith is weak (he is being held under 50%, always a worrisome sign) and that Democrats have a long way to go to make it a really competitive race. They failed to recruit a number of top-tier candidates to challenge Smith, and Merkley and Novick are not as strong (at least early on) as other candidates would have been. That means that we won't know for a few more months how competitive the Oregon race will really be, not until the campaigning picks up and voters hear more about the Democrats. For now, Smith can be relieved that he has dodged the fate of trailing early that has hit some of his colleagues (Sununu, Coleman).

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