Friday, December 11, 2009

Appoint the most viable candidate

Today's Rasmussen poll showing Michael Bennet trailing all three Republicans running against him, including a nine point deficit to Jane Norton, is a reminder that Democratic Governors sure didn't do their party in the Senate any favors with their appointments last year.

The appointments of Michael Bennet in Colorado, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, Roland Burris in Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York put all of those seats in play for next year and it really didn't have to be that way.

If David Paterson had appointed Andrew Cuomo and Rod Blagojevich had appointed Lisa Madigan there's no way we'd be talking about those seats right now. End of story.

There were better choices in Colorado and Delaware too. We did some polling right after the announcement of Ken Salazar's cabinet appointment last year that showed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper with a 14 point lead over former Colorado Governor Bill Owens and Congressman John Salazar (Ken's brother) with a 52-43 lead. A month later, after Bennet's appointment and before the climate started turning against Democrats, we tested an Owens/Bennet contest and found Owens up 44-41. So essentially Bennet was 17 points weaker than Hickenlooper and 12 points weaker than Salazar. That's the difference in Colorado right now between Democrats leading in the polls and trailing in the polls.

It's harder to say what should have happened in Delaware- the situation there was complicated by Beau Biden's military service. But it seems likely that if someone had been appointed to the seat and had hit the ground running in preparation to run to keep it Mike Castle would have been less inclined to try to make the jump to the Senate. And if Castle doesn't get in this seat isn't competitive.

All four Governors who had the opportunity to make these appointments last year were too cute in their selections. And it's interesting to note that two of them- Bill Ritter of Colorado and David Paterson of New York- saw almost immediate downturns in their approval ratings due at least partially to unhappiness with how they handled them. And the other two- Rod Blagojevich and Ruth Ann Minner- aren't in office anymore.

Democratic Governors need to think more about appointing the strongest candidate electorally to these seats in the future.

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