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Rand Paul Finally Gets Senate Challenger In Lexington’s Mayor

By Eli Yokley, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington, Ky., filed paperwork on Tuesday declaring his candidacy for Senate – a last-minute move by a man viewed by most Kentucky Democrats as the party’s hope to take on Republican Sen. Rand Paul for re-election this fall.

His candidacy – in the works for months, but made official on the very last day of candidate filing in the Bluegrass State – comes just a few months after Democrats there lost all but two statewide elections that swept away the chances of their first choice candidate to challenge Paul, former Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen.

“There’s no question that the Republican tsunami here in Kentucky in 2015 has made 2016 more difficult,” Edelen told Roll Call ahead of Gray’s announcement. But if anyone can do it, he thinks it is Gray, the wealthy construction businessman who became mayor of the state’s second largest city in 2010.

“He has a real chance to draw some powerful distinctions between a guy who has created a lot of jobs in Kentucky verses a guy who treats Kentucky like a rental home,” Edelen said.

Gray, he added, is “a hell of a likable guy,” but admitted 2016 will be a tough fight for Kentucky Democrats. Along with a Senate race, the two parties expect to be in a vicious fight for control of the state House of Representatives, the last chamber of its kind held by Democrats in the South, whose dominance by Republicans is a pet project of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the powerful Republican of Kentucky.

“There’s going to be a lot of energy on the Democratic side to hold the House of Representatives and I think that will go to the benefit of a Jim Gray or any other Democratic candidate for other offices,” said former Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear, the 71-year-old lion of Democratic electoral politics there.

But Beshear, who watched Republican Matt Bevin ride a wave to the governor’s mansion as an anti-Obama, becoming one of the few Republicans to do so since the Civil War, admits beating Paul will be tough.

“Whether you’re running for dog catcher or governor, if you’re a Democrat, the Republicans run a picture of you and Barack Obama together. That’s the sum total of their campaigns here in Kentucky,” he said, adding that, depending on how the Republican presidential nomination race shakes out, that effect might be weakened in 2016. “I would predict that Hillary would be more popular at the ballot box than President Obama has been.”

Greg Blair, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Republicans can be expected to do all they can to not let Gray shake that Obama label.

“As Alison Lundergan Grimes, Jack Conway and Adam Edelen can all attest, any statewide candidate who puts a ‘D’ next to his or her name has already suffered irreparable damage in the Bluegrass State,” he said, referring to Grimes’ loss in 2014 to McConnell (before she won re-election as secretary of state in 2015), and Conway’s loss to Bevin. “Like those who came before him, Jim Gray will be sunk by Obamacare, the war on coal, and the rest of Barack Obama’s toxic agenda.”

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, October 31, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

 

Presidential Primary Calendar Could Help Congressional Challengers

By Eli Yokley, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — In more than a dozen states, House and Senate primary elections will happen on the same ballot with the presidential race — timing that could pose a challenge for incumbent candidates in intraparty battles.

Presidential candidates such as New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are hoping to lure new, anti-establishment voters to the polls, a change that would skew the kinds of voters candidates will face.

“The SEC states,” said Midwest-based Republican consultant James Harris, using the nickname for the group of Southern states that share the March 1 primary date, “will have an uptick in their normal turnout because of the presidential primaries.”

“Trump and Cruz? They could bring out new people, and they’re using messaging that helps challengers,” he added.

One of those early states is Alabama, where Harris is helping ex-Marine Jonathan McConnell, one of the four Republicans running against Sen. Richard C. Shelby in the primary. With the totals of Trump and Cruz combined, Harris said about 67 percent of primary voters are so far aligning with the candidates viewed as anti-establishment. To avoid an April runoff, Shelby needs a majority of those voters to be with him, too.

Shelby backers insist the fifth-term Republican is not worried. He chairs the powerful Senate committee that oversees banking, and had about $19 million in his campaign account as of Sept. 30. But, his campaign announced last week that it would spend $6 million of that on a television advertising campaign through primary day.

Richard Fording, chairman of the department of political science at the University of Alabama, said “barring a major scandal or something catastrophic,” he thinks Shelby will be fine in his re-election effort. Still, he said anti-establishment energy by voters could come to play further down the Republican primary ballot in his state, where Rep. Martha Roby is facing opposition by Becky Gerritson the leader of the Wetumpka, Ala., tea party group.

“Although Roby was elected in the 2010 midterm during the peak of the tea party movement, she has a reputation for being one of the more moderate members of Alabama’s Republican House delegation,” Fording said, voting with House Republican leadership on spending bills controversial to parts of the party’s base. There, Gerritson has found an opening. She has already taken to social media to criticize “the Washington cartel,” an anti-establishment phrase made famous by Cruz.

“I think that we could see an unusually large primary turnout due to the number of Republican candidates competing and the ‘Trump’ factor, which will undoubtedly mobilize a lot of Republicans on the far right — Gerritson’s crowd,” Fording said.

In all of these states, the known unknown is whether the people telling pollsters they are mad at the establishment will actually show up.

“Trump has put together a group of voters who feel disaffected and are angry at Washington. The big questions are, will their anger translate into votes, and will they participate in the political process they hate beyond watching him on TV,” said Ron Bonjean, who has worked on top Senate races in the past. “Nobody knows the answer.”

The Republican presidential race — with its large number of candidates — might drag on for some time before the Republican national convention in the third week of July. So the month of March, during which 59 percent of the delegates will be decided, will be important. By the end of that month, 64 percent of the delegates will have been decided, a Republican National Committee official said.

Prior to March 14, delegates must be committed proportionately unless they reach a certain, state-selected threshold — a rule that could help a lower-performing candidate limp along and drag out the nominating contest.

Because of that, a similar dynamic to the one in Alabama could play out just two weeks later in North Carolina. In that March 15 primary, Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers faces conservative challenger Jim Duncan in the 2nd District. Both the more moderate Main Street Partnership backing Ellmers and the conservative Club for Growth supporting Duncan are playing there in what could be one of the year’s most contested primaries.

For incumbents considered not conservative enough for the base, Bonjean said, “Some of these races will stay local, but it does not help when you have a very conservative presidential candidate that is leading a state.”

The primary election problem may not be exclusive to the Republican establishment. If the Democratic race drags out between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, March 15 is a primary date to watch in Ohio and Illinois, where establishment-backed Democrats are facing challengers for Senate nominations ahead of two marquee races in November.

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (R) speak during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

 

Every Dollar Isn’t Equal In 2016 Digital Advertising

By Eli Yokley, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Just before Christmas, the Senate Majority PAC — a group formed to help Senate Democrats win seats in the Senate — announced a nearly $1.5 million digital advertising campaign. Starting in Pennsylvania, it targeted states where Democrats are hoping to pick up seats in 2016.

That announcement is sure be followed by more, touting seemingly major spending to spread messages to voters across digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the massive Google ad network, as well as growing platforms such as Snapchat. But what is not clear is just how far each dollar on digital will go.

“If one campaign spends $500,000 and another spends $500,000, they have spent equal amounts but it is not always equal in the outcome or equal in the number of persuadable voters it reached,” said Tim Cameron, the chief digital strategist at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Even more than television advertising rates, which vary from hour to hour in different markets, pricing for digital advertising — simply because of the nature of the Internet — is even more fluid.

“Digital buying is much more democratic than TV buying,” said Mark Skidmore, a partner and chief strategist at the Democratic media firm Bully Pulpit, who has shepherded the digital efforts for the successful campaigns of President Barack Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Both Skidmore and Cameron said campaigns should not neglect digital advertising and said a candidate should leverage at least 30 percent of their advertising budget digitally. Cameron said, “There’s been explosive adoption from people 55-plus who are using social networks like Facebook who are now on iPhones,” which he said makes the platforms even more lucrative.

In most cases, digital advertising is auctioned off to the highest bidder. If a campaign wants to have the ad before last night’s hot clip from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, it would likely be the case that they would pay significantly more than to have the ad run as pre-roll to last week’s buzzy cat video.

“There’s a lot more value in being behind a clip on YouTube that is very high quality content,” Cameron said. A user, he said, will “sit through the entire ad and then watch the clip with the sound on and be exposed” to the campaign’s message.

Ad placement has a lot in common with the rest of new economy, where costs depend on user volume — think Uber’s surge pricing, led by a high-tech auctioneer.

At Twitter, “What the system does is it looks at all the other potential advertisers coming for the same ad, evaluates all of those, and allows one of the advertisers to serve” its content at the cost of only one penny more than the second highest bidder, said Jenna Golden, the company’s head of political advertising sales.

Unlike on television or radio, Skidmore said, digital platforms allow advertisers to test the effectiveness of their messages in front of segmented audiences before putting their budgets behind them. Rather than buying a television ad and then surveying a TV market, digital platforms lets advertisers spend a relatively small amount of money and then present a user with a survey — such as one that might show up before a video or news website before a user can see the content — to determine whether the message persuaded. That metric is one that is particularly valuable to campaigns.

“A lot of folks, not just in politics, have been using digital metrics like engagement metrics to be a proxy for whether people like a brand or not,” he said, adding that in his view, those do not tell the entire story. “Just because I sign up for an email or like something, it doesn’t mean I’m favorable. It just means that I saw them and chose to follow it.”

Unlike television advertisements, the purchase of which are reported to the Federal Communications Commission, the placement of digital ads is not transparent. Cameron, who has done digital work for outside groups and the House Republican Conference, said it “is very hard to track exactly what our opponents are doing and what we’re doing, just in the sense that ad buys aren’t recorded out.”

And for users, Twitter’s Golden said, “you’re never going to know how you’re being targeted or why,” in part because there are so many ways for advertisers to find them. They can target hashtags or key terms with which they want their messages associated. They can pinpoint geographical location as large as a state, a congressional district or as small as a single ZIP code. They can find a list of people based on demographic factors, their ties to a campaign’s email list, or their shared interests — such as a list of Washington opinion makers.

“For the most part,” Skidmore said, “the platforms and tools and partners of ours that have been the best — and you’ll see over 2016 — are the ones where they’ve allowed custom list-matching and custom segments.”

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

 

The Hangover Issues For 2016 Elections

By Eli Yokley, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Not too long after the New Year’s champagne is popped and the parties have ended and it’s back to the business of the 2016 elections, candidates and voters will wake up to a slate of issues that have hung over from the year before.

Of course, new issues or problems candidates did not expect to deal with always emerge. In 2014, Sen. Kay Hagan wanted to talk about Thom Tillis’ record on education while he was speaker of the North Carolina House, but the rise of the Islamic State and fears of Ebola played up by Republicans changed the conversation.

And in 2012, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill was supposed to be in a fight for her life with then-Rep. Todd Akin until he stepped in it in a few months before the November election — dooming his campaign and distracting Republican candidates across the map who had to spend time trying to take his foot out of their mouths.

“The known unknowns are less easy to find, or we wouldn’t be surprised,” said Ben Ray, now the communications director at American Bridge who was involved in both Hagan’s and McCaskill’s races.

But, both Republican and Democratic operatives said they expect a few themes that emerged in 2015 to play heavily in 2016 — and more to come over the next 11 months.

THE ESTABLISHMENT WOES

The Republican establishment decried by people like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as the “Washington Cartel” will wake up to 2016 still bruised by the “year of the outsider,” which elevated anti-establishment candidates such as him, Ben Carson and businessman Donald Trump to the top of the polls.

The Trump effect could trickle down to a number of House and Senate races. If either he or Cruz end up at the top of the ticket, Brian Walsh, a longtime Republican communicator who has worked for numerous Senate candidates, said, “you’ll see Republican senators localize issues” rather than align with their nominee as their Democratic challengers will surely try to do.

Democrats, meanwhile, are experiencing the opposite. In the presidential race, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent until 2015, has accused the Democratic National Committee of being in the bag for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Despite cries from him and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, in the Democrats’ case, the establishment held its ground in 2015.

Down the ballot, the party’s establishment is leveraging its strength, too. In Illinois, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is supporting Rep. Tammy Duckworth over Chicago businesswoman Andrea Zopp to challenge Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk, and in Florida, it endorsed Rep. Patrick Murphy, lending him key institutional support over Rep. Alan Grayson.

NATIONAL SECURITY

In 2015, the economy went out and national security came in at the top of the issue matrix in minds of Americans following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. And in turn, it has already become an issue in 2016’s House and Senate contests.

Republicans, like Sen. John McCain of Arizona or Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, have always viewed the issue as one on which they dominate. McCain is a respected veteran who has been involved in military issues for much of his career in Washington, and Blunt has served on committees overseeing intelligence and the military for all but two of his years here.

But their challengers have attempted to flip the script, accusing them of being weak on terror for their opposition to legislation that would disallow people on the terror watch list from purchasing guns, or, in Blunt’s case, his support of a measure that would make it easier for people to get travel visas to enter the country.

In other races, Ray said, “there’s definitely going to be wedge uses of guns in primaries and general elections.”

PLANNED PARENTHOOD

The steady release of anti-Planned Parenthood videos by the Center for Medical Progress put some red state Democrats on the defense and made the organization an easy target for Republicans.

But, the issue of reproductive health care is one that Walsh expects Democrats to turn against his party’s candidates. That effort to perpetuate the notion that the Grand Old Party is anti-women would be harder to counter with Trump at the top of the ticket, he said.

“I don’t necessarily think the video will be the issue, but I think Democrats will make the case that Republicans are trying to take away access to women’s health care,” Walsh said. Pointing to some of the most vulnerable senators on the ballot, he added, “I have a lot of confidence in folks like Rob Portman, Pat Toomey and Kelly Ayotte to rebut that.”

Adrianne Marsh, a Democratic consultant, said she thinks Republicans have lost ground in the debate around reproductive rights and the videos give them a safe way to talk about the issue. But Marsh said she also thinks that in the end, most voters are more concerned about security and the economy.

“Reproductive rights are a double-edged sword for Republicans. They need to be able to let their base know that they’re still fighting this battle, but not to the point that independent voters think the Republican Party is still trying to take away birth control,” she said. “At the end of the day, both parties will stick to their usual positions on this issue and not a whole lot will likely change.”

IMMIGRATION

Trump is right about one thing: Nearly as soon as he descended down his gold escalator to a stage to announce his presidency in June, the issue of immigration rose to the national conversation.

With his comments about Mexican immigrants, a wall he said he will make Mexico pay for and his proposal to prevent Muslims from entering the country, the issue will undoubtedly be at play up and down the ballot.

“I think immigration reform is going to be a very big issue next year, particularly if Cruz or Trump are the nominee,” said Walsh.

Ray said he expected immigration “to be litigated fairly heavily” in the primary and general election campaigns in states like Colorado and Nevada, and like Walsh, even more with the wrong kind of presidential nominee at the top of the ticket.

EDUCATION

Ray said one of the sleeper issues that quietly moved in 2015 is education, particularly — but not exclusively — in some of the most competitive gubernatorial races and in Republican primaries over the divide over Common Core and local education policies.

In federal races, Ray said the issue could rise because of proposals to eliminate the federal Department of Education, where “you’re talking about thousands of teachers and textbooks in each congressional district,” along with the number of millennials voting who are dealing with student loans.

“There’s going to be a lot of student debt taking out ballots this cycle. So for them, when you talk about student loan reform, you’re talking about a pocketbook issue,” he said.

(c)2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The United States Capitol dome in Washington in a file photo. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Gubernatorial Races To Watch In 2016

By Eli Yokley, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Despite Democrats’ surprising victory last week in Louisiana — where state Rep. John Bel Edwards beat Republican Sen. David Vitter in the runoff — they hold only 18 gubernatorial seats, compared to the 31 held by Republican governors.

Next year, Democrats will defend eight seats, including ones in targeted U.S. Senate battle grounds such as Missouri and New Hampshire, while Republicans will defend four.

MISSOURI: With incumbent Democrat Jay Nixon on his way out, Republicans believe one of their top pickup opportunities is in Missouri, where the chief executive’s office has been held by Democrats for all but four of the past 22 years.

Democrats have mostly solidified behind Attorney General Chris Koster, but for Republicans, the race has already been brutal. State Auditor Tom Schweich killed himself in February, just weeks after announcing his campaign in what was already a nasty primary fight between him and Catherine Hanaway, a former federal prosecutor.

Hanaway was joined in the race this summer by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, wealthy St. Louis businessman John Brunner and ex-Navy SEAL Eric Greitens. While Greitens, a former Democrat, holds the cash advantage, Kinder, the only statewide elected Republican, is perhaps best known among conservative primary voters.

The race has heated up between Greitens and Brunner, both trying to run as political outsiders, over allegations that Brunner has pushed anti-Greitens messaging about his past affiliation with Democrats. It came to blows recently, when Brunner recorded and subsequently released a phone call between him an angry Greitens.

Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call Rating: Tossup

WEST VIRGINIA: After serving two consecutive terms, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is term-limited, giving Republicans another open race to try turn one more office in this state red, which they have done only once in the past 26 years.

Republicans have mostly settled behind state Senate President Bill Cole, a prominent auto dealer in the Mountain State who, when he was elected to the Senate in 2012, beat a sitting Democrat.

On the Democratic side, two candidates have lined up to lead the state ticket in the coming presidential election year: state Sen. Jeff Kessler, who was replaced by Cole as Senate president when Democrats lost control of the chamber in in 2014, and businessmen Jim Justice.

In Justice, some Democrats say they could have the chance to do what Republicans did to them when businessman Matt Bevin beat Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway in the 2015 election. Republicans might have a harder time painting Justice, one of the richest men in the state who has earned his wealth in the coal business, as conniving with President Barack Obama to tear down the industry, as they did Conway with in Kentucky.

Despite the compelling business story, it does not come without its challenges. A news report found that companies operated by the billionaire owe about $3.5 million in back taxes, and has faced criticism for a verbal altercation with a police officer in which he appeared to pull rank, saying, “You can explain it to your boss.”

Rating: Tossup

NORTH CAROLINA: In this state, where Democrats have tried to paint the picture of the GOP overplaying its hand — from tax policies that have caused trouble for the state budget to a controversial voter identification bill — the party is looking to knock out Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in this state Mitt Romney won with 51 percent of the vote in 2012.

The party is mostly rallying behind Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who has been elected to his job four times in a row. While North Carolina has flipped from supporting President Barack Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012, Democrats believe they could turn McCrory’s upside down popularity rating into their own gain.

Rating: Tilts Republican

NEW HAMPSHIRE: With New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, not seeking a second term to instead challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte next year, Republicans are cautiously eyeing an opportunity for a win in the Granite State for the first time since 2002.

Their top candidate is Chris Sununu, one of the five members of the New Hampshire Executive Council. Sununu, whose father John Sununu was once governor before he joined George H.W. Bush’s administration as White House chief of staff, is viewed as the establishment favorite, but state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a vocal conservative who showed up at the recent meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Las Vegas, is also eyeing a run.

Colin Van Ostern, a Democrat who serves on the executive council with Sununu, has emerged as a strong early contender to carry the party’s torch next year to hold on to Hassan’s seat, but he might face a challenge by Stefany Shaheen, the daughter of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Rating: Tilts Democratic

INDIANA: Former U.S. Sen. Mike Pence was elected Indiana’s governor with 49.5 percent of the vote in 2012, beating out Democrat John Gregg by just 75,000 votes. Four years later, Gregg is readying a rematch.

Pence has been criticized by Democrats and even some of the moderate, pro-business members of his own party for his support of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act earlier this year. Still, Indiana — where the legislature is dominated by Republicans and where Romney won by 11 points in 2012 — poses an uphill climb for Democrats.

Rating: Leans Republican

MONTANA: Despite Obama’s 13-point loss here, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, pulled out a win in 2012 with fewer than 8,000 votes to spare. Four years later in another presidential election year, Republicans see an opportunity to add another governor to the party’s ranks.

Greg Gianforte, a wealthy Republican businessman, is likely to seek the party’s nomination, and Brad Johnson, a public service commissioner there, is already running.

Rating: Leans Democratic

©2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Louisiana Gubernatorial candidate John Bel Edwards speaks to reporters during a Veterans Day event in Baton Rouge, Louisiana November 11, 2015.  REUTERS/Lee Celano 

 

Planned Parenthood Says Shutdown Would Hurt GOP Senators

By Eli Yokley, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — If Republicans in targeted Senate races like those in New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania vote to defund Planned Parenthood after its recent controversies, polling released by the group claims they could face political backlash of their own.

On Monday, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund unveiled the results a set of polls conducted last week by Hart Research Associates, which found that nearly two-thirds of likely voters in all three states still support the group — even after an anti-abortion group released videos that appear to show officials from the group speaking callously about the sale and harvesting of fetal tissue.

“They really see through that this is about making abortion illegal in this country,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

According to its polling, more than 66 percent of voters and large percentages of independents oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, a non-profit health care group that gets some of its funding from government grants. That opposition grows to nearly three-fourths of voters in the three states when the notion of shutting down the government over defunding the group is added to the equation.

The numbers are not unlike other polls, such as one conducted by Monmouth University that showed supporters of defunding Planned Parenthood in the minority, or another by NBC News that showed the support for the group holding up.

Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, said Republicans such as Sens. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Rob Portman in Ohio, and Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania — all of whom are being heavily targeted by Democrats this cycle — could lose support if the government is shut down over Planned Parenthood funding.

“This discussion of defunding Planned Parenthood is a political loser,” said Garin, a Democratic pollster. “Marrying the defunding drive to the idea of shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood would, quite simply, be a political debacle for the Republican party brand and for Republican party candidates.”

All three Republicans voted to cut the group’s federal funding before lawmakers left town for the August recess. Portman said, “We’ll see,” when posed with the idea of a shutdown, but, Ayotte has said she is going “to want to make sure we keep the government funded.”

Toomey, a longtime vocal opponent of abortion rights, has been less definitive about the shutdown talk. Before he left Washington, Toomey slammed Planned Parenthood and said he was supportive of the effort gaining steam among congressional Republicans to “help community health centers or other organizations that provide affordable health care services to women.”

Despite its findings on support for Planned Parenthood, the poll showed a challenging road ahead for Democratic candidates in both New Hampshire and Ohio. Against a generic Republican, the survey found Ayotte, who does not yet have an opponent, with a 21-point advantage and Portman with a 12-point advantage.

In Pennsylvania, the Planned Parenthood poll found Toomey with a 2-point lead over a Democratic candidate, well within the poll’s margin of error.

The poll found Ayotte with a 58 percent job approval, the highest of the three races surveyed. Toomey followed with 45 percent and Portman with 42 percent.

Planned Parenthood’s polling surveyed just more than 500 active registered voters by telephone — including cellphones, landlines and VOIP — from Aug. 3 through Aug. 6. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Photo: Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, MN. Fibonacci Blue via Flickr