Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nikki Haley's star rises

1.Nikki Haley's star rises1. South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley's easy victory in the state's gubernatorial runoff Tuesday is sure to establish her as the newest rising star in the GOP ranks and a coveted 2012 endorser.

Not only does Haley look different than the stereotypical Republican -- she is an Indian-American woman -- but she is also the favorite to be the next governor of a state that will play a very large role in selecting the 2012 presidential nominee.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a near-certain candidate for that office, was quick to praise Haley, who he had endorsed earlier this year and who has endorsed his 2008 presidential campaign as well. "Against the longest of odds, Nikki Haley took on the political establishment and won," said Romney.

(Romney also announced endorsements of Sen. Jim DeMint as well as state Sen. Mick Mulvaney who is running against Rep. John Spratt in the 5th district and state Rep. Tim Scott who is seeking the open 1st district.)

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another likely 2012 candidate, told reporters Tuesday that he planned to donate to Haley's campaign from his Freedom First political action committee and has plans to be in South Carolina on June 29 and 30.

And, Haley, for her part, gave credit to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who not only endorsed her candidacy but came to the Haley's defense when allegations of martial infidelity emerged. "She gave us that boost we needed when we needed it," Haley said of Palin at her victory speech last night. ( Palin tweeted her congratulations to Haley.)

As for her own future on the national stage -- vice presidential pick, perhaps? -- Haley consultant Jon Lerner downplayed such talk. "Nikki Haley is a remarkable candidate and a remarkable person," he said. "She knows how to stay focused, and her focus will be on winning her general election and improving the lives of South Carolinians.

"Still, it's easy to see Haley -- whether she likes it or not -- winding up on some vice presidential long lists and maybe even a few short lists.
2. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall's crushing defeat of former state Sen. Cal Cunningham in the Democratic primary race for Senate showed -- yet again -- that this is not a cycle to run as the establishment candidate.

Cunningham was recruited into the race by national Democrats who did not believe that Marshall represented the party's best chance against freshman Sen. Richard Burr (R) in the fall. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee funneled nearly $200,000 in coordinated funds to Cunningham but it proved to be for naught as Marshall's superior name identification and support from black leaders -- including third-place primary finisher Ken Lewis -- gave her a wide winning margin.

In the immediate aftermath of Cunningham's loss, the DSCC tried to circle the rhetorical wagons with Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) releasing a statement touting Marshall as a "proven reformer" and the committee's press shop sending out a PPP poll that showed Marshall trailing Burr by single digits.

Republicans are not likely to let voters forget that Democrats preferred someone other than Marshall as their nominee, however. While that won't likely make much difference to voters in the long run, it is certain to be a part of almost every story about the race in the next few days -- a fact that could slow any momentum Marshall might hope to enjoy from her win.

It's not yet clear whether the DSCC and White House will continue to make the argument that Marshall can beat Burr once the glow of the runoff disappears. Marshall is not a terribly strong fundraiser -- she has raised $846,000 for the race -- and would almost certainly need financial help from national Democrats to stay competitive with Burr in the fall.

Simple math may keep national Democrats interested. Aside from Louisiana and, maybe, Iowa, North Carolina represents one of the only states where a case can be made that a Republican incumbent could fall in the fall.
3. South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis turned in a historically bad performance in Tuesday's primary runoff, becoming the third Member of Congress to lose his bid for re-nomination this cycle.

Inglis lost to Spartanburg County prosecutor Trey Gowdy 71 percent to 29 percent. That was the one of the worst showings in several decades for an incumbent in a primary, according to political analyst and University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato. Sabato noted that one candidate in California took 21 percent in 1972.

Inglis' vote total was on-par with Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton who took 30 percent but still managed to win a five-way primary in May. Former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) took 33 percent of the vote in his 2008 loss but that was in a five-candidate field. Another primary loser from last cycle, Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.), took 37 percent but that was in a six-candidate field. Inglis, of course, faced only one opponent.

And, Inglis barely improved his percentage in the runoff over his showing in the June 8 primary when he took 28 percent. That's tough to do, especially when roughly one-third of the vote was up for grabs after the primary and the third and fourth place finishers both hailed from Inglis' home base of Greenville.

Why did Inglis lose so badly?

His apostasy on major issues including the surge in Iraq (he opposed it) and, more recently and more importantly, his support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in late 2008, didn't sit well with conservative primary voters.
4. Seeking to blunt the impact of a recent independent poll that showed her trailing Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck badly, former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton's Senate campaign released its own poll Monday showing her ahead in the GOP primary by six points.

Norton's 39 percent to 33 percent margin in the  Public Opinion Strategies poll stands in stark contrast to the 53 percent to 37 percent edge Buck held in a Denver Post survey released this weekend.

Norton's campaign acknowledged, however, that it is banking on high turnout to help push her over the top against Buck in the Aug. 10 primary -- an odd admission given that primary turnout tends to be quite low. "This poll shows very clearly that the good news for Jane Norton is bad news for Ken Buck -- the more Republicans who vote, the bigger the lead Jane claims," Norton campaign manager Josh Penry said.

The Norton poll shows the more reliable primary voters -- those who have voted in previous primaries -- favored Buck 41 percent to 37 percent. Voters with no history of voting in primaries favor Norton 40 percent to 23 percent.

Buck appears to be the latest anti-establishment candidate -- following on the heels of Rand Paul and Sharron Angle -- in position to pull off an Senate primary upset that would have been unthinkable in many other election cycles.

Democrats have a primary of their own on Aug. 10 although the Denver Post poll showed Sen. Michael Bennet with a clear edge over former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.
5. Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) is facing a lawsuit from the widow of a wrestler who died in a 1999 incident although it remains unclear whether the development will be a game-changer in her open seat Senate race against Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Martha Hart, the widow of the late wrestler Owen Hart, is suing WWE and McMahon for using her husband's image after his death. Attorneys for McMahon contend that Martha Hart "does not have some exclusive right to the story of her husband.

"The lawsuit comes roughly a month after former Rep. Rob Simmons suspended but didn't end his campaign for the GOP nod. (Simmons' tactic appeared to be aimed at preserving a return to the ballot if McMahon imploded.). Businessman Peter Schiff (R), a huge longshot for the nomination, qualified for the primary ballot yesterday.

It also creates an opening for Blumenthal to steer the conversation in the race away from the controversy surrounding his characterization of his military record. (Although it's worth noting that Blumenthal, who led McMahon by 20 points in a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month, isn't exactly in dire need of help.)

Connecticut Democrats appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the lawsuit; both Blumenthal's campaign and the Connecticut Democratic Party have remained quiet on the issue thus far.With 

Aaron Blake and Felicia SonmezBy Chris Cillizza  |  June 23, 2010; 6:00 AM ET

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