LOUISIANA: Poll Finds 2 Democrats Splitting Senate Vote

Posted February 11, 2004 at 4:49pm

Rep. David Vitter (R) holds a 10-point lead over his nearest Democratic opponent in the open-seat Senate race, according to a new poll commissioned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Vitter received 33 percent to 23 percent for state Treasurer John Kennedy (D) and 19 percent for Rep. Chris John (D).

Public Opinion Strategies conducted the poll of 500 likely voters on Feb. 5, 8 and 9; it had a 4.4 percent margin of error.

A recent poll conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland for Kennedy showed similar results, with Vitter at 34 percent, John at 16 percent and Kennedy at 15 percent.

Under Louisiana law, all Senate candidates will run Nov. 2 in an open primary. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two votegetters, regardless of party, advance to a Dec. 4 runoff.

The NRSC polling memo goes into significant detail on why Kennedy and not John is the leading Democrat in the race at this point.

Kennedy had a 2-1 name-identification edge over John (80 percent to 37 percent) and led John among black voters (a key voting bloc in Bayou State politics) 50 percent to 21 percent.

“By every measurement Kennedy is much better positioned than Chris John,” wrote POS pollster Gene Ulm. “Kennedy’s advantage over John is no small amount and will be a tall order for John to overcome.”

John’s campaign immediately struck back in a news release, calling the GOP poll “proof positive that [the] national and state Republican parties are afraid of a David Vitter-Chris John matchup.”

National Democrats have made clear they are behind John, who has the so-far tacit support of retiring Sen. John Breaux (D).

John had a major fundraising advantage over Kennedy at year’s end. He showed $1.1 million in the bank, while Kennedy had not yet begun raising money for the contest. Vitter ended the year with $1.8 million on hand.

— Chris Cillizza

Alexander Releases Poll Showing Him Far Ahead

Attempting to dissuade former Rep. John Cooksey (R) from a comeback attempt, the campaign of 5th district Rep. Rodney Alexander (D) released a poll Wednesday that showed the incumbent with a 16-point lead over the former Member.

Alexander took 52 percent to 36 percent for Cooksey in the Anzalone-Liszt Research poll of 500 likely voters. He led 2002 GOP nominee Lee Fletcher (R), a former Cooksey aide, 63 percent to 22 percent.

The survey was in the field from Jan. 11-15 and had a 4.4 percent margin of error.

Other internal numbers in the poll also bode well for Alexander, as 72 percent of those tested had a favorable opinion of him personally and 74 percent thought positively of the job he has done since winning the open seat in December 2002.

Cooksey, who held the seat from 1996 until 2002 when he embarked on an ill-fated Senatorial bid, has openly flirted with the race for much of the past year. He is apparently holding out for a promise from the GOP leadership that he would be given a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee if he defeats Alexander.

Coming off a 974-vote margin in 2002 and sitting in a district where George W. Bush would have taken 57 percent in 2000, Alexander remains a major Republican target.
— C.C.

It’s Lawyer v. Lawyer in Republican Senate Row

Lobbing the harshest attack yet in what is expected to be a nasty GOP Senate primary, former Rep. Bill McCollum launched a Web video this week attacking former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez’s “liberal trial lawyer” background.

The spot juxtaposes Martinez and presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), a trial lawyer. It highlights Martinez’s service as president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers and past contributions to Senate Democrats. Martinez is a former Democrat.

The video is currently posted on McCollum’s campaign Web site, and a similar television ad will air in the future, according to McCollum’s campaign.

“Martinez has a long history of supporting Democrats and led the charge in Florida to defeat a key component of the Republican agenda — tort reform,” a news release from the McCollum campaign states.

Martinez’s campaign, meanwhile, responded by calling the attack a desperate attempt to distract voters from a “faltering campaign,” and chastised McCollum, also a lawyer, for breaking Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment to not attack fellow Republicans.

A statement released by a campaign spokeswoman said the matter really boils down to “a lawyer attacking a lawyer for being a lawyer.”

“It is disingenuous for Bill McCollum to attack Mel’s Republican credentials,” said Martinez spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe. “The fact is, Mel was the Florida Co-Chair of [then-Sen.] Bob Dole’s [R-Kan.] Presidential campaign in 1996, the Florida Co-Chair of George W. Bush’s 2000 Presidential campaign and as a member of President Bush’s Cabinet, he raised more money for GOP candidates than any other Cabinet member.”

The Martinez statement also charges that McCollum’s law firm has given to political action committees that support Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

The spat prompted a response Wednesday from another GOP Senate hopeful, who said there isn’t a lot of difference between what he termed the “M&M Brothers.”

“We have two Washington insiders (the M&M Brothers) ‘mud wrestling’ each other, playing the same inside-the-Beltway games bought and paid for by Washington fat cats,” judicial watchdog group founder Larry Klayman said in a statement.

A total of six Republicans are battling for the Senate nomination, but Martinez’s bid was boosted at an event Tuesday night hosted by top GOP Senate leaders and held at the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee’s headquarters in Washington.

Although the White House has maintained that it is staying neutral in the race and polling so far has shown he is still relatively unknown statewide, Martinez is widely viewed by national Republicans as the candidate with the best shot of winning the Senate seat.
— Lauren W. Whittington

War of Words Escalates on ANWR Drilling

In the opening salvos of this closely watched Senate campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee this week attacked former Gov. Tony Knowles (D), who is challenging Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R), for being weak on ANWR drilling.

The NRSC circulated a press release castigating Knowles for holding a Washington, D.C., fundraiser with Members of Congress opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“Tony Knowles travels all the way to Washington, D.C., to raise money with people that are against jobs for Alaskans,” said Jay Timmons, the NRSC’s executive director.

The “special guests” in question were Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.).

“All told, Harkin has voted against efforts to deliver on ANWR nine times, Lincoln four and Ford seven times,” Timmons continued.

“So what?” asks Scott Sterling, chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party. “There are Republicans who are against ANWR [drilling] too,” he said.

Some gave money to Murkowski, prompting Sterling to ask whether the Senator should return those donations.

The only problem with the attack on Knowles, says his spokesman Bob King, is that Knowles supports drilling.

The issue of drilling in the Last Frontier was long ago settled by Alaskans hungry for jobs and oil revenue, but the issue rages on in Congress.

Who can best break the logjam and open portions of ANWR to drilling will be a major issue in the Alaska Senate campaign.

Murkowski’s campaign argues she, working with the Republican majority, can deliver. Knowles’ camp says that’s not so.

Regardless of how the Senate breaks down next year, it will be very close, King said. It’s in Alaska’s interest “to have someone in both parties” making the case for drilling, he said, pointing out that Alaska already has Sen. Ted Stevens advocating on its behalf within the GOP.

Republican pollster David Dittman of Dittman Research in Anchorage says Murkowski cannot paint Knowles as a typical “green” Democrat.

Throughout his career, Knowles has positioned himself as a resource development advocate, blurring the usual distinction between national Republicans and Democrats, thereby muting the issue, Dittman said.

Republicans will try to spin it that the best way to deliver ANWR drilling is by presenting a unified GOP front in Congress, says Ivan Moore of Ivan Moore Research, an Alaska-based Democratic pollster. But Knowles has the stronger argument that he can make inroads by “talking sense” into Democrats, Moore said.

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, charges that Knowles was unable to move one Democrat to the pro-drilling side in his two terms as governor.

“Why would Alaskans risk his continued ineffectiveness” on the issue, Ruedrich asked.

As the war of words over ANWR heats up, Murkowski’s campaign boasted that she is winning the fundraising war.

Her campaign announced that she reached the $2 million mark this week, meaning she has raised that much so far this cycle.

Knowles reported raising more than $1 million last year but had only $600,000 in the bank to start 2004.

Murkowski’s release pointed out that “Lisa spent less in all 12 months of 2003 than Tony spent in just six months, showing her efficiency and wise use of resources.”

King shot back that Knowles does not have the “perks” — such as being able to fly to Washington and back or across the state at tax-payer expense — at his disposal.

Murkowski also has the NRSC sending out news releases for her, King said, “because of the appointed position she holds.”
— Nicole Duran

Newspaper Poll Shows Bunning Scoring Well

Forty-one percent of Kentucky voters said they would vote to re-elect Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in the latest Bluegrass Poll.

Thirty-two percent of the 659 likely voters polled said they would either “consider someone else” or “vote to replace” the freshman Senator. Twenty-seven percent said they didn’t know how they would vote.

Sixty-two percent of those tested either strongly or somewhat approved of Bunning’s “handling of the job,” while 17 percent strongly or somewhat disapproved. Twenty-one percent had no opinion.

The poll was conducted by the Louisville Courier-Journal and was in the field from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4. It had a 3.8 percent margin of error.

Bunning was considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents heading into the 2004 election. But Democrats saw their challenger-in-waiting — then Gov. Paul Patton — commit political hari-kari when he acknowledged an affair with a state employee.

After several months of scrambling, Democrats settled on state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo as their preferred nominee.

Mongiardo has a significant hill to climb, most notably on the fundraising front. At the end of last year, Bunning showed $3.2 million on hand; Mongiardo had $269,000 in the bank.
— C.C.

Redistricting Bill Will Be Introduced in Assembly

The Republican leader of the state Assembly is putting the finishing touches on a bill to change the way the state redraws Congressional and legislative district boundaries every decade.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy (R), a former top aide to House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R), proposes to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and give the responsibility to a commission of retired judges that would be appointed by the state Supreme Court.

The idea is not new — a host of Republicans and reformers have been pushing the idea for years. A group called the People’s Advocate, which started the successful recall of former Gov. Gray Davis (D) last spring, is collecting petition signatures for a November ballot measure to create a three-judge panel for redistricting.

But several Democrats and experts told the Bee that they doubted McCarthy’s bill would get very far this year, even though new Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) supports redistricting reform in theory. Democrats have pointed out that the current Supreme Court has six judges appointed by Republican governors, compared to just one appointed by a Democrat.

“The Supreme Court is just as political as the Legislature,” state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D) told The Sacramento Bee.
— Josh Kurtz

GOP Incumbents Taking Full Advantage of Status

The power of incumbency has been on vivid display in the two Republican primaries involving challenges to incumbent Members, with the incumbents holding huge fundraising advantages.

Through Dec. 31, 6th district Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) had $280,000 in the bank, while his opponent, Frederick County States Attorney Scott Rolle (R), had just $23,000.

Bartlett is traditionally a lackluster fundraiser, but he has accelerated the money chase in the past few months. Last week, former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) hosted a fundraiser for Bartlett in Virginia, and Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Vice President Cheney could follow suit.

In the 1st district, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R) was sitting on $186,000 at the end of the year, while state Sen. Richard Colburn (R) showed an operating deficit in his Federal Election Commission report. Colburn held a crab feast fundraiser in his home town of Cambridge last week.

In related news, House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) on Wednesday hosted a fundraiser for former Berwyn Heights Mayor Brad Jewitt, who is seeking the GOP nomination to take on House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D) this year.

Jewitt is on active duty as a major in the Marine Corps Reserves. Although he is the favorite of state GOP leaders, he faces a contested primary on March 2.
— J.K.

DA to Take On Udall, Who Had No Foe in ’02

New Mexico Congressional candidates made their bids official on Tuesday’s filing deadline, with all three incumbents seeking re-election and none attracting a primary challenger.

Democrats are hoping to compete against Republican incumbents in the swing 1st and 2nd districts, with the 3rd considered safe for Rep. Tom Udall (D), who ran unopposed in both the 2002 primary and general election.

Udall will get a general election opponent this year, however. San Juan County District Attorney Gregory Tucker (R) will challenge Udall, who has about $539,297 on hand, in the northern New Mexico 3rd district.

In the Albuquerque-based 1st, several candidates are vying to unseat Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, who has $744,323 in the bank. State Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, Eli Chavez, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, and Miles Jay Nelson, an emergency room physician, are all seeking the Democratic nod.

Romero, Wilson’s challenger in 2002, is far ahead in the Democratic money chase, with $219,284 on hand on Dec. 31, 2003, and he is heavily favored by national Democrats. Through the end of the most recent filing period, Nelson showed $9,667, while Chavez had just $57 on hand.

Two Green Party candidates, Abraham Guttman and Jeremy Brown, have also filed for the seat, which could have repercussions for Democrats. In 2000, the last time a Green ran in the general election, Wilson won the seat with just 50 percent of the vote, with the Green — Daniel Kerlinsky — taking 6 percent. Greens have taken as much as 10 percent of the vote there in recent elections.

Guttman has told The Associated Press that if he wins the Green nomination, he will urge voters to support the Democrat.

In the southern-tier 2nd district, Democrats Jeff Steinborn, a former aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M) and then-Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), and ex-state Rep. Gary King, son of former three-term New Mexico Gov. Bruce King (D), will square off for the chance to face freshman Rep. Steve Pearce (R) in the general. The most recent campaign filings showed Pearce with $504,873 on hand, Steinborn with $81,284 and King with $41,948.
— Bree Hocking