Senate: OR and KY pick their nominees, Dem leads in MS

The week's biggest political news continues to be Ted Kennedy's health condition, as the longtime Massachusetts Senator was released from the hospital today in seemingly excellent condition. It is still difficult to talk about the political consequences of these developments as we know too little about Kennedy's condition and his plans.

Meanwhile, the Oregon and Kentucky Senate races were set last night as two contested primaries were settled. In Oregon, state House speaker Jeff Merkley narrowly bested Steve Novick who ran a surprisingly strong campaign and ended up 4 percent short of victory. The DSCC thus got its wish, though there were few indications that Merkley would be a particularly stronger candidate against GOP incumbent Gordon Smith. The latest Rasmussen poll shows Smith besting Merkley by only 3 percent, though that by far the best poll Merkley has seen.

The DSCC's choice also won in Kentucky, as Bruce Lunsford handily beat businessman Greg Fisher. Lunsford, who lost the 2007 gubernatorial primary, will now face a Senate giant, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Senator looked to be very vulnerable in the fall but a series of recruitment failures by Democrats made his a much safer bet. Lunsford should not be able to do much more than take advantage of the toxic environment for the GOP; even if elected, he would be a very conservative Democrat. He endorsed Republican Ernie Fletcher in 2003's gubernatorial race after he did not get the Democratic primary, and has donated to McConnell's senatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, two new polls from Senate races that were supposed to be second-tier at best are bringing good news for Democrats:

  • In North Carolina, it is SUSA's turn to confirm that Elizabeth Dole is in very real danger. She leads state Senator Kay Hagan 50% to 46%, a very narrow margin for an incumbent facing a little-known opponent. This is a contest in which Obama boosting black turnout could have a very real effect down-the-ballot. One area Hagan will have to work on: independents prefer Dole by 16%.
  • In Mississippi, an internal poll released by the DSCC shows former Governor Ronnie Musgrove leading Republican incumbent Roger Wicker 48% to 40%. Like every partisan poll, this has to be taken with a grain of salt but it does paint a worrisome picture for the GOP. Musgrove is well-known and well-liked (his favorability rating is 57% to 30%) while Wicker is still mostly unknown 5 months after his appointment to fill Trent Lott's seat. That does mean that he has room to grow in the coming months.
  • Update: Rasmussen released a new poll from Colorado, showing Udall slightly expanding his lead against Schaffer. He is now ahead 47% to 41%. Given how tough the past month has been for Schaffer, it is a disappointment for Dems that they are not further ahead and a relief for the GOP that all is not lost.
Both North Carolina and Mississippi have Democrats licking their lips at the extent to which they are expanding the map this cycle. It is numbers like this that make a 60-seat majority not as utopian a dream as was thought just a few weeks ago. The numbers in Mississippi are particularly interesting as they confirm a prior poll taken in late 2007 that showed Musgrove in the lead. Remember that Democrats were trying to force a special election in March, before Wicker had time to develop an incumbency advantage. A lower court judge ruled in their favor but the state Supreme Court overturned that decision. This poll suggests that Musgrove could be Senator now if Democrats had gotten their wish, but the road could get tougher in the months ahead as Wicker improves his name recognition and the GOP advantage of a presidential year kicks in.

In other down-the-ballot but non-Senate news, here are two polls from 2 of the only 4 contested gubernatorial races, both released by SUSA:

  • In what is shaping to be an unexpectedly tight race, Beverly Perdue has a small lead over Republican Pat MacCrory, 52% to 45%. Both won a contested primary on May 6th. A Rasmussen poll released last week showed MacCrory besting Perdue.
  • In Missouri, however, it will be very difficult for the GOP to even keep the race competitive as they are running against Jay Nixon who has been preparing for this race for years. He is trouncing the two Republican candidates running for this open seat, by 25% and 26%.
The primary victory of Charlotte Mayor MacCrory means that the North Carolina gubernatorial race is the GOP's best pick-up chance among all the Senate and governor's contests. That the race remains a toss-up speaks to the Republicans' disadvantage this cycle.

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  • Taniel,

    I would like to see you update your Senate rankings (not to beat a dead horse). You and I think alike, and I'm curious on how you would rank the races.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    By Anonymous Jim W, At 21 May, 2008 19:21  

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