What we at The Hotline learned this week:
-- Public opinion over House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan isn't as clear-cut as the conventional wisdom once suggested. In a Gallup poll that tested the Ryan plan against President Obama's plan (with no mention of specifics), seniors supported the GOP plan most of any age group -- a sign that underscores the entrenched overall GOP advantage with older voters. But when words like "cuts" and "vouchers" are mentioned in poll questions, seniors respond most negatively in polling.
It means the messaging over the competing visions are as critical as ever. And while Democrats are noting unrest at Republican town halls, it's nothing like the uproar many Democratic members faced in the summer of 2009 over the health care bill. Both parties came prepared for this consequential fiscal fight, and are playing for keeps.
-- Still, here's why some Republican strategists are worried Ryan's budget has given Democrats a big advantage: A new survey in New York's open 26th Congressional District shows Democrat Kathy Hochul leading Republican Jane Corwin by three points among those over 55. The poll was conducted as Hochul was running an ad blasting Ryan's budget. Sure, three points isn't a lot, and it's well within the margin of error - but Corwin should be winning seniors by double digits.
-- The new Siena poll showed the once-sleepy race in New York's 26th District is much closer than once though, with Corwin only taking a 5 point lead over Hochul. Tea Party candidate Jack Davis throws a kink into the race, and is taking nearly equal support from both candidates. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee remains noncommittal on whether they'll help Hochul against two self-funding candidates, but the poll is the best indicator to date that an upset could be possible.
-- In the special election in Nevada's 2nd District, several factors could muddle what impact the Medicare vote will have. If parties are allowed to pick their nominees and there's a more traditional two-party race, it could be a defining issue, especially in a swing district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) only won by 89 votes in 2008. But if there's a party free-for-all, with multiple GOP candidates running and attacking each other, but just one or two Democratic candidates, Medicare could be less of an issue with a vote split among several candidates.
-- Democrats this week bowed to political reality: They're going to have to take the embarrassment of benefiting from outside PAC, lobbyist and undisclosed contributors after lambasting American Crossroads and the rest of the GOP's benefactors. But a day of bad press is well worth a year and a half of an even fight -- otherwise, what's the point of bringing a butter knife to a nuclear war?
-- The North Dakota Senate race kicked into gear, as Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk
(R) unsurprisingly entered the race, while numerous North Dakota legislators signed a letter of support for another potential candidate, Rep. Rick Berg
(R). Meanwhile, state GOP chair Stan Stein
issued a call for unity to state Republicans, on the heels of the recent formation of the North Dakota Tea Party Caucus. And to top off the week, the Club for Growth sent out a press release attacking Berg. The race looks promising for Republicans, with no heavyweight Democratic contender in sight. But we don't yet know what the GOP field will look like, and with the Club going after Berg, a divisive primary could be in offing if he runs.
-- Television executive Tim Donner
's (R) entrance into the GOP primary for the open Virginia Senate seat reinforces the notion that hard line conservatives are handing the Republican nomination to former Sen. George Allen
(R) regardless of whether he gets 50 percent of the vote. Allen now has four announced challengers -- Donner, attorney David McCormick
(R), Faith Exodus Ministries Bishop E.W. Jackson
and Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation co-founder Jamie Radtke
(R). Unlike other southern states, there is no run-off in Virginia, with the top vote-getter winning outright. This means that for Allen and his mega war chest, the more divided the electorate, the better.
-- Democrats blasted Rep. Denny Rehberg
(R-Mont.), a Senate candidate who is one of the wealthiest Members of Congress, for saying
he and his wife are "struggling like everyone else with the economy" and that he is "land rich and cash poor" at an appearance in Missoula. It's not yet clear if the Democrats' line of attack -- highlighting his wealth and painting him as out of touch -- will be effective in the long term, but in trying to downplay his wealth, Rehberg is only drawing more attention to it.
-- In Kentucky's gubernatorial contest, Republican front-runner and state Senate President David Williams
(R) included his running mate, Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer
(R) in his first television ad in April. Farmer is a former college basketball standout, so it wasn't surprising that the campaign sought to feature him. But the last few weeks have brought distracting stories
-- from word that the state had spent money for Farmer to stay in a hotel suite during a visit to a boys basketball tournament to his initial refusal to participate in mandatory furlough days. Even if the stories don't do the campaign major damage in the long-term, they are a distraction surrounding a candidate whose personal story was supposed to provide the ticket with a boost.