Senate: New Jersey follies, Colorado ethics and Louisiana poll

Who knew the New Jersey Senate race would become such a chaotic free-for-all? To recap the different steps we have gone through in about 4 weeks: (1) The candidate Republicans were touting unexpectedly dropped out for health reasons, leaving the GOP with no credible candidate. (2) The GOP was excited to recruit businessman (and self-funder) Andrew Unanu, though it did not take long for Unanu to be completely discredited.

(3) On April 2nd, Rep. Andrews, a Democrat, jumped in the race to challenge Senator Launtenberg in the June 3rd primary. (4) Two days later -- and three days before the filing deadline -- the GOP managed to find a strong candidate: businessman John Crowley leading to Unanu's withdrawal from the race. (5) Barely two more days passed and Crowley stunned New Jersey politicos by already dropping out of the race, leading to Unanu's jumping back in and leaving the GOP without a credible candidate once again.

As the filing deadline passed last Monday, we could have expected the race to quiet down -- at least on the Republican side, as Lautenberg and Andrews are now preparing to wage their primary battle. But that would be not understanding New Jersey politics where all rules are too complex to follow and anything can happen at any moment. Until April 16th, a candidate is allowed to withdraw and allow a three-member committee of his supporters to replace his name on the ballot.

That is exactly why off-and-on candidate Unanu is doing, as he is announced his exit from the race and endorsed former Republican Rep. Dick Zimmer to replace him. Zimmer has not served in Congress in 1996 when he left his House seat to run for Senate, losing to Torricelli by 10%. For years later, Zimmer tried to win his House seat back but fell short. The fact that he is such an old face will make it difficult for him to unseat Senator Lautenberg, whose main vulnerability is his old age. To make things even more difficult for Republicans here, Zimmer has been working as a lobbyist in Washington since 2001 -- not the best launch pad to get back into elected office.

Naturally, it would be too simple to think that Zimmer is sure to make his way to the ballot since Unanu's replacement will be determined by a committee of Unanu's supporters... This is New Jersey, after all. State Senator Pennacchio, who is also running for the GOP nomination and who must be irked at the NRSC's insistence to not trust his chances, is planning a legal challenge to Unanu's maneuver, arguing that Unanu was never a candidate in "good faith" and that his name should not be replaced.

The next episode of the New Jersey saga could thus be decided by the courts -- though at this point Lautenberg and Andrews both seem like they would have little trouble dispatching the GOP's nominee in November.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana, the only other Democratic-held seat that Republicans are hoping to challenge, a new Rasmussen poll brings the best news yet for incumbent Mary Landrieu:

  • Rasmussen finds Landrieu leading 55% to 39% against a well-known opponent, former Democrat John Kennedy.
  • Landrieu's is boosted by a 64% favorable rating (including 33% who say "very favorable"), versus 51% for Kennedy (with only 11% "very favorable").
Most indications we have had from this race have pointed to a very tight race, starting with the last poll (from SUSA) we saw back in December that showed Landrieu only up 4%, and under 50%. Kennedy's fundraising has been very strong -- he outpaced Landrieu in the first quarter -- and the GOP is sure to pour all of its offensive resources in this state, ensuring that life stays very difficult for Landrieu. But it is always hard to beat an incumbent that starts above 50% and who posts such strong favorability ratings. (Democrats are facing the same problem in Maine.)

Finally, some rare Senate news from Colorado. Bob Schaffer and Mark Udall have been running against each other for nearly a year, with Republican Schaffer hanging on better than expected and most polls showing a toss-up. But Schaffer could now be hurt from a story in the Denver Post highlighting the ties between Schaffer and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff back in 1999, when the Republican was still in the House:
What he didn't say was that the trip was partly arranged by the firm of now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented textile factory owners fighting congressional efforts to reform labor and immigration laws on the islands and who was being handsomely paid to keep the islands' cherished exemptions.

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  • Though it's a ways to November, the Louisiana poll is interesting. Landrieu is the only Democratic incumbent senator that is considered vulnerable. If she's not knocked off, that means a pick-up of at least two Democratic seats with VA almost certain to flip and NH very likely. And that's before we get to other competitive races where Republican seats are at serious risk such as NM, CO, MN, and maybe ME on the horizon.

    The GOP's problem is if they can't flip opposition seats, all they can do is the status quo or fall further behind. Democrats may not run the table with the competitive races in the Senate, but neither will they strike out, so some kind of increased majority looks highly likely.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 13 April, 2008 21:57  

  • Reading the New Jersey story the word dysfunctional popped into my mind.

    As for Louisiana, I would rank that state below Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, and possibly Mississippi and Nebraska in terms of take over possibility.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 14 April, 2008 21:08  

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