April 22, 2009

Sen. Michael Bennet's First Reviews--A Mixed Bag

Coloradans' support for President Barack Obama and Sen. Mark Udall may be slipping, but neither will face voters in 2010.

Sen. Michael Bennet, on the other hand, faces his first election test after having been appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill a vacant Senate seat. Public Policy Polling's April 17-19 phone poll results are not that encouraging (pdf):
Three months into his appointment as a Senator, Michael Bennet isn’t making a strong positive impression on Colorado voters.

41% say they disapprove of his job performance so far, with 34% approving. 25% don’t have an opinion one way or the other. He is meeting with approval from 59% of Democrats but only 11% of Republicans, and his overall reviews from independents are negative as well, with 32% approving but 43% disapproving.

Bennet does lead three of his most mentioned possible Republican opponents next year in hypothetical match ups. He’s up 39-35 on Ryan Frazier, 40-34 on Ken Buck, and 41-34 on Josh Penry. He trails former Congressman Bob Beauprez 43-42.

There’s still some indication within the numbers that Hispanic voters might be angry that one of them was not appointed to replace Ken Salazar. Bennet’s spread with Hispanics is 36/45, much worse than Barack Obama’s 58/36 and one he’ll have to improve with that Democratic leaning demographic if he’s going to be reelected.

“These numbers for Michael Bennet are not very good,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “The good news for him is that he still hasn’t had the opportunity to define himself the way he wants to the voters in a campaign, and when he has the opportunity to do that next year he may fare better than he is now.”
The Rothenberg Political Report, on the other hand, moved Sen. Bennet into a "Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party" in a report updated on April 21.

FiveThirtyEight.com puts Bennet's seat in 10th place in likeliness to change hands in 2010 in its April update, and Chris Cillizza's "The Fix" at The Washington Post had nearly the same positioning in March's update (at #9).

Not a great start, but certainly not horrible either--and the eventual winner of the emerging GOP field will have his work cut out for him, given Bennet's early fundraising prowess.

Big questions remain for Bennet, however:
**Can he maintain his early fundraising juggernaut?

**Will continuing to waffle on major issues--ones like EFCA, cited consistently in the analsyses above--not only anger some segment of the potential power structure (labor unions vs. businesses), but prove accusations that Bennet, like his appointer Ritter, is ultimately indecisive?

**Will he able to build name recognition without also elevating his negatives (see previous question)?

**And will Bennet prove to be an effective campaigner and stump speaker, not only on the rubber chicken dinner circuit and $1000-a-plate galas but also on the campaign trail throughout the state?

Bennet's potential reelection hinges on a couple factors--how the state perceives him as an appointment (effectively a referendum on Ritter and Bennet simultaneously) and how well he has distinguished himself in office between this January and next November. While the Democrats want to push the idea that the Senate race is over as early as possible for fundraising/recruiting/turnout purposes while citing a "weak" GOP field, they have a long way to go before the next election in proving that Sen. Bennet is the best choice of the people for the state of Colorado.

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