Wednesday, October 31, 2012

RRH Election Preview Series, Part 4: ND, MN, WI, IN, & TX

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.

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There is not really a consistent theme to this batch of states. From the Great Plains and the Rust Belt to the Lonestar State, this preview covers a lot of ground. The following states are included in this preview:

North Dakota * Indiana * Wisconsin * Minnesota * Texas

North Dakota

Senate: Republicans should have put this one away awhile ago, but for a variety of factors it is closer than we would have anticipated six months ago. Rep. Rick Berg (R) faces Heidi Heitkamp (D) in a race that has significant tightening. Berg wants this to be a national contest, while Heitkamp is trying to keep this affair local. The good news? Heitkamp may have peaked already, giving Republicans time to regroup before election day.

ND-AL: While Rep. Berg runs for US Senate, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer (R) is running for Berg's seat. Cramer faces Pam Gulleson (D), a former state Representative. Gulleson actually outraised Cramer and his Republican opponents for some time as the action centered on the Republican primary. Nevertheless, Cramer now has unified party support, and he is now outraising Gulleson. The only public poll of the race (besides the controversial Pharos Group, which had him leading) at the beginning of October had him leading by a substantial margin.

ND-Supt.: Republicans may have the edge in this state, but the race here is non-partisan. Still, Republicans endorsed Mandan school board member Kirsten Baesler, while the 2010 Democratic Senate candidate Tracy Potter is also in the running. The primary had Democrats splitting 63% of the total vote, so this is still winnable even by a candidate like Potter who got blown out in 2010 (h/t shamlet).

Indiana

President: President Obama won Indiana in 2008, but nobody expects it to remain in the Democratic column this cycle.

Senate: Democrats had already recruited a strong enough candidate in Rep. Joe Donnelly, but Indiana is always an uphill climb for Democrats. However, when Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who primaried incumbent Senator Dick Lugar this cycle, started talking about rape, it never ends well. Now Mourdock is locked in a close race with Donnelly, who is capitalizing on the comments to the fullest. This race has definitely tightened as election day approaches.

Governor: The gubernatorial race has featured less fireworks than the Senate race, with polls showing a consistent lead for Rep. Mike Pence (R) over former Speaker of the IN House John Gregg (D) and Survivor star Rupert Boneham (L).

IN-02: Before he ran for Senate, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) was the incumbent here. Now after redistricting his base in union-friendly Kokomo is gone, while State Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) has a strong pool of votes from South Bend. This district is more Republican-friendly than ever before, and Democratic nominee Brendan Mullen has faced some challenges on his residency that could prove problematic.

IN-08: After redistricting, some Republican parts of the district were lost to Todd Young in neighboring IN-09 in exchange for more competitive turf in the southern half of the district. This is still a very winnable seat for incumbent Rep. Larry Bucshon (R), who faces a challenge from former state Rep. Dave Crooks (D). Nevertheless, the "bloody eighth" has a reputation for throwing out incumbents, so it is worth keeping an eye on.

IN-Supt.: The incumbent here is Republican Tony Bennett, and he had made a major push for education reform during his tenure. His campaign has outraised his opponent, Democrat Glenda Ritz, about five times over, and it is unclear that the union-backers of Ritz are really representative of the broader, Republican-leaning electorate of Indiana.

Wisconsin

President: In the presidential race, Wisconsin will be one of the most closely watched battleground states on election night. Republicans are obviously banking on this being the home state of Rep. and VP nominee Paul Ryan, on top of a strong organization from the recall effort of Gov. Scott Walker.

Senate: After a contentious primary, former Governor Tommy Thompson (R) was left with little money and a battered image. While he was still considered favored with a record of bipartisanship in Wisconsin, his opponent Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) took the opportunity to run an energetic campaign while Thompson coasted. The result is a significantly tightened race that was Thompson's to lose. Baldwin, who is lesbian and represented Dane County, may not be the best fit statewide for Wisconsin, but this could be a race that really hammers home that campaigns matter.

WI-07: When Sean Duffy launched an energetic bid against Rep. David Obey (D) in 2010, few gave him much of a chance. His strong campaign pressured Obey into retirement and gave Duffy an opportunity to win this congressional seat in 2010. Now Rep. Duffy (R) faces former state Senator Pat Kreitlow (D). This seat was significantly improved in redistricting, becoming a few points more Republican. That plus incumbency should assist Duffy in holding down this seat.

WI-08: Rep. Reid Ribble unseated incumbent Rep. Steve Kagen (D) in 2010. Kagen passed on a rematch, leaving the nod to business consultant Jamie Wall. The district changed little in redistricting, but it has shown a natural swinginess on the presidential level. Ribble has consistently outraised Wall and has the advantage of incumbency in a race that really has not garnered substantial attention.

State House: There is some fluidity with 18 incumbents having retired, but Republican redistricting means the body should return a Republican majority for at least this cycle. Republicans currently have a 58-39 majority, with one vacancy and one independent.

State Senate: After 2010, Republicans claimed a narrow 19-14 majority in the state Senate. However, after a series of recalls, three Republican state Senators were defeated, giving Democrats a narrow 17-15 majority (with one vacancy) in the body. Republicans are in a solid position to reclaim the majority after redistricting.

Minnesota

President: Who would have thought even two weeks ago we would include a blurb about Minnesota for the presidential race? This is now a single-digit affair in recent polling, but the problem in Minnesota is similar to that of Democrats in Georgia- how do Republicans crack 49 or 50% here?

MN-06: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) faces the usual well-funded challenge, this time from DINO and hotel magnate Jim Graves (D). Graves is running as everything to everybody, which makes sense- no Democrat would win this district if they had to defend a voting record. Like other Bachmann challengers, this will probably be close, and Bachmann is counting on the strong red tendencies of Anoka and other blood-red counties to pull her over the top.

MN-08: The most competitive race in Minnesota is the eighth congressional district, where Rep. Chip Cravaack (R) won in one of the biggest congressional upsets of 2010. Now he faces former Rep. Rick Nolan (D), central Minnesota Congressman back in the 1970s. Nolan has boasted a small single-digit lead in most public polling of the race, often within the margin of error.

State House: Republicans won this chamber in 2010 after a red tide swept in a new wave of freshmen. Now Republicans are on defense as redistricting has thrown open seats across both parties as incumbents jockey for new state Senate or county commission seats. Republicans currently hold a 72-62 majority and the advantage of incumbency in many races, but Democrats have a stronger state party apparatus and may have an edge on the generic ballot.

State Senate: Like the state House, the state Senate is a tossup. Republicans had a 37-30 majority going into the last session, the first time since 1974. Republicans in the Senate were roiled by a sex scandal and leadership struggles last legislative session, but with redistricting changing up the map control could go either way. Each side has the same advantages as in the House: Republicans have incumbents, particularly in tough metro seats, that could help them get over the edge, while Democrats simply have an organizational edge.

Amendment 1: The constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman is also up there with MN-08 in competitiveness. The Vote No campaign, MN United For All Families, is well-funded and well-organized. However, some of the more socially conservative, farmer-labor DFL types are expected to defect, just as you will see a number of suburban defections for Republicans. Polling is always unpredictable on marriage amendments, and this one could go either way.

Amendment 2: The numbers for photo ID have tightened as election day approaches and Democrats jump onto their party's position, but this constitutional amendment is expected to pass easier than the marriage amendment.

Texas

TX-14: The good news is that Galveston County is both reddening and growing, so Ron Paul's old district is trending Republican. However, Democrats found a strong recruit here, former Rep. Nick Lampson, who represented both minority-heavy parts of Jefferson County in his first stint in Congress and NASA country after Tom Delay's scandal in a return bid. State Rep. Randy Weber is essentially a generic conservative Republican running against President Obama, while Lampson emphasizes bipartisanship as a Democrat running in an uphill district.

TX-23: This seat is seen as the most competitive congressional race in Texas, with Rep. Francisco 'Quico' Canseco (R) facing State Rep. Pete Gallego (D). Gallego was favored by national groups in a contentious Democratic primary with former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez; while he won, he has had difficulties keeping his campaign staff around. Turnout is a big issue here, with lots of low-turnout Hispanic voters without a strong Democratic apparatus to get them to the polls. Interesting piece of trivia: after scheduling conflicts, this is probably the first time a debate was only held in Spanish, never in English, for a congressional seat.

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