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For GOP, Some Good News at Last -- on the Gubernatorial Front

By Chris Cillizza
Monday, October 27, 2008

The 2008 election could be the worst in a generation for Republicans, with the White House slipping away and heavy losses predicted in the Senate and the House.

Looking for a bright spot? Look no further than two governor's races, in Washington state and North Carolina.

In each, the Republican candidates have successfully snatched the "change" mantle from the Democratic candidates, and polls show both states are the truest of tossups.

In Washington, former state senator Dino Rossi (R) is back for a rematch against Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), to whom he lost by 129 votes after a series of contested recounts in 2004. The race has been tied since the Republican announced his second candidacy, and strategists on both sides acknowledge that it could go either way with a week remaining before the vote.

Working in Rossi's favor is Gregoire's long résumé in politics -- three terms as state attorney general before being elected governor, disadvantages in this year's hostile climate -- and some sense of buyer's remorse among the Washington state electorate. Working for Gregoire is the strong Democratic wind in the state and the power of incumbency.

In North Carolina, the departure of Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, term-limited out of office, seemed to open the door for his lieutenant governor, Bev Perdue, to step into the governor's mansion.

But Republicans smartly nominated Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a business-minded, pragmatic politician who has successfully painted Perdue as a defender of the status quo.

A recent Civitas Institute poll showed Perdue and McCrory knotted at 43 percent, with the Libertarian candidate receiving 2 percent.

Although Republicans could be on the ascent in Washington and North Carolina, not all the news on the gubernatorial front is good. In Missouri, Attorney General Jay Nixon (D) is swamping Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) in the open seat race to replace retiring Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.

Bachmann Digs Big Hole for Herself

The electoral saga of Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) continues.

Bachmann, a freshman Republican seen as close to a shoo-in for reelection just 10 days ago, now finds herself struggling for her political life -- all because of an inexplicable decision.

That decision? To appear on national television -- MSNBC's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews, to be specific -- and suggest that Sen. Barack Obama holds "anti-American" views.

Whoops. In the immediate aftermath of Bachmann's comments, former Blaine mayor Elwyn Tinklenberg, whose campaign seemed close to finished before the controversy, received a massive influx of donations, to the tune of more than $1.5 million. (That sum, raised in a single week, is more than what any other Democratic challenger has raised in a fundraising quarter in the entire two-year election cycle.)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began banging on Bachmann with $1 million worth of ads. The National Republican Congressional Committee, rapidly running out of fingers to plug the leaks that have sprung up of late nationwide, canceled its ad buy, leaving Bachmann to fend for herself.

"Some candidates, like Congresswoman Bachmann, are sitting on more than $1 million cash on hand in districts that President Bush won in 2004 by double digits," wrote Karen Hanretty, communications director for the NRCC, in a memo to reporters explaining the committee's decision.

Backed into a corner, Bachmann did what comes naturally to imperiled politicians: apologize (sort of).

On Friday, Bachmann launched an ad in which she only obliquely references the "Hardball" hoopla. "I may not always get my words right, but I know my heart is right because my heart is for you," Bachmann says in the commercial.

That semi-sorry may be too little, too late, according to a new poll conducted for Minneapolis Public Radio that showed Bachmann at 45 percent and Tinklenberg at 43 percent. In the survey, roughly four in 10 voters in the suburban 6th District said Bachmann's comments made them less likely to support her Nov. 4, compared with 8 percent who said the remarks made them more likely to back the incumbent.

Home State Advantage Slipping?

Is Arizona, the home state of Sen. John McCain, in play at the presidential level on Nov. 4?

A new poll conducted by two pollsters for Project New West, a Democratic strategy group, showed McCain with a 48 percent to 44 percent edge, well within the survey's margin of error. In the last poll conducted for New West in the state, in mid-September, McCain held a 14-point edge.

The good news for McCain is that the most recent New West poll shows the race to be far closer than other surveys conducted in Arizona.

Pollster.com's average of polling conducted in the state puts McCain at 48.9 percent and Sen. Barack Obama at 39.1 percent.

And, neither campaign has advertised in the Grand Canyon State, a sign that Arizona and its 10 electoral votes are not part of Obama's efforts to expand the playing field next week. Arizona went for President Bush by 11 points in 2004; he had won by a narrower six-point margin in 2000.

McCain doesn't seem to be in danger of following in the footsteps of Vice President Al Gore. Gore, who had represented Tennessee in the House and Senate for better than two decades, lost the Volunteer State to Bush by a four-point margin, 51 percent to 47 percent. Had Gore carried his home state -- and its 11 electoral votes -- he would have been elected president.

Eight days: After months of waiting, Election Day is almost here. Will it be an early night for political junkies?

36 days: If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 4 in the U.S. Senate race in Georgia, the battle for a filibuster-proof Democratic majority could extend all the way into an early December runoff. National Democrats have poured money into the state of late under the belief that Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) can be beaten, either on Nov. 4 or Dec. 2.

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