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Could Dianne Feinstein Lose Her U.S. Senate Seat in 2012?

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Feinstein's approval rating has dropped steadily since 2006; Senators who have never previously won with 60+ percent of the vote (like Feinstein) have lost half of their 5th term bids

Since Dianne Feinstein was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, the state of California has certainly been a Democratic stronghold in federal elections.

During these 18 years, Democrats have carried California in all five presidential races, won all eight Senate contests, and claimed 315 of 525 general election U.S. House seats (60 percent) in the Golden State.

As a result, of the 23 U.S. Senate seats held by the Democrat caucus on the ballot in 2012, Feinstein's is viewed by most D.C. prognosticators as one of the safest - rated as "Safe Democrat" by Stuart Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, and Larry Sabato.

Feinstein is also looking to become just the second five-term female U.S. Senator in American history, joining fellow Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who accomplished this feat last November.

All this suggests Feinstein will be a shoo-in for a fifth term, right?

Perhaps not.

For starters, the senior Senator from California's job approval rating has been languishing in the 40s for well over a year and has been on the decline for half a decade.

SurveyUSA's most recent poll from February of this year found Senator Feinstein with only a 43 percent approval rating - down by more than a quarter from the 59 percent rating she received in November 2006 when she was elected to her fourth term.

That means Feinstein has suffered through a 29-point net drop in job approval from her reelection in November 2006 (+25 points; 59 percent approve, 34 percent disapprove) to February 2011 (-4 points; 43 percent approve, 47 percent disapprove).

And the February poll is not an aberration.

Feinstein enjoyed a string of 34 consecutive months from June 2005 through March 2008 of approval ratings at or above 50 percent in SurveyUSA polling.

Since April 2008, however, Feinstein has seen her job approval rating fall below 50 percent in 25 of 33 SurveyUSA polls through February 2011, including each of the last 12.

Looking at the yearly aggregation of Feinstein's job ratings across the last six years of SurveyUSA polling finds the Senator gradually shedding support from Californians - a decline that started well in advance of the GOP surge in 2009.

Feinstein's job approval rating has fallen from a yearly average of 55.6 percent in 2006, to 53.6 percent in 2007, to 50.3 percent in 2008, to 48.6 percent in 2009, to 43.5 percent in 2010, to 43.0 percent during the first two months of 2011.

Feinstein's disapproval rating, meanwhile, has increased from 36.3 percent in 2006 to 39.1 percent in 2007, 41.6 percent in 2008, 43.1 percent in 2009, to 47.8 and 47.5 percent in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Senator Dianne Feinstein Job Approval Rating by Year, 2005-2011

Year
Approve
Disapprove
Difference
# Polls
2005
53.4
35.3
18.1
8
2006
55.6
36.3
19.3
12
2007
53.6
39.1
14.5
12
2008
50.3
41.6
8.7
10
2009
48.6
43.1
5.5
12
2010
43.5
47.8
-4.3
12
2011
43.0
47.5
-4.5
2
Table compiled by Smart Politics with monthly SurveyUSA polling data.

And then there is the following historical point to consider.

While Senator Feinstein has won four consecutive Senate contests, she has failed to reach the 60 percent mark in any of them.

Feinstein notched 54.3 percent of the vote in her 1992 special election victory over John Seymoure, 46.7 percent in 1994 against Michael Huffington, 55.8 percent against Tom Campbell, and 59.4 percent in 2006 against Richard Mountjoy.

This is not the usual electoral pathway for politicians who have built long careers in the nation's upper legislative chamber.

A Smart Politics study of U.S. Senate election results over the last century finds that of the 140 Senators who have been elected to four or more consecutive terms, only 23, including Feinstein, failed to record at least one with 60+ percent of the vote in their first four victories.

And what happened to these other 22 Senators after being elected to a fourth term?

· Two are currently serving in the Senate: James Inhofe (R-OK) is up for a fifth term in 2014 with Barbara Boxer (D-CA) up in 2016.

· Two died in office during their fourth term: Everett Dirksen (R-IL) in 1969 and Pat McCarran (D-NV) in 1954.

· Two resigned from their seat prior to the completion of their fourth term: Robert Wagner (D-NY) in 1949 and Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) in 1993.

· Six retired and did not run for a fifth term: Theodore Green (D-RI) in 1960, Bourke Hickenlooper (R-IA) in 1968, John Williams (R-DE) in 1970, Wallace Bennett (R-UT) in 1974, John Tower (R-TX) in 1984, and Kit Bond (R-MO) in 2010.

That leaves just 10 Senators who, like Feinstein, launched a bid for a fifth consecutive term.

Only half were successful.

Two of these are Feinstein's fellow Democratic colleagues: Carl Levin (D-MI) in 2002 and Tom Harkin (D-IA) in 2008, along with James Murray (D-MT) in 1954, Dennis Chavez (D-NM) in 1958, and Jesse Helms (R-NC) in 1996. (Levin, Harkin, and Chavez all eclipsed the 60 percent mark winning their fifth term).

Five Senators, however, failed to win a fifth straight term: William King (D-UT) in 1940, David Walsh (D-MA) in 1946, Joseph O'Mahoney (D-WY) in 1952, Alexander Wiley (R-WI) in 1962, and Jacob Javits (R-NY) in 1980.

(Note: O'Mahoney would go on to win a fifth (non-consecutive) term two years later when he won Wyoming's other Senate seat).

In short, four-term Senators with Feinstein's only quasi-dominant electoral track record have been quite vulnerable in their appeal to voters for a fifth term.

To be sure, Feinstein's 54.1 average vote percentage across her four victories is historically low for long-serving members of the Senate.

Overall, Feinstein holds the sixth lowest career percentage of the vote won in election victories among the 87 Democrats who have won at least four consecutive terms since popular elections were first introduced a century ago.

Among Democrats only Thomas Walsh of Montana (48.9 percent average), Harry Reid of Nevada (52.1 percent), Robert Wagner of New York (52.5 percent), fellow delegation member Barbara Boxer of California (52.7 percent), and William King of Utah (53.5 percent) have notched a lower average percentage of the vote won across their respective U.S. Senate victories.

Lowest Average Career Percentage of the Vote Won in U.S. Senate Elections by Democrats with 4+ Consecutive Term Victories

Rank
State
Senator
Ave.
1
Montana
Thomas Walsh
48.9
2
Nevada
Harry Reid
52.1
3
New York
Robert Wagner
52.5
4
California
Barbara Boxer
52.7
5
Utah
William King
53.5
6
California
Dianne Feinstein
54.1
7
Montana
James Murray
54.2
8
Nevada
Key Pittman
54.3
9
California
Alan Cranston
54.5
10
Washington
Patty Murray
55.0
11
Massachusetts
David Walsh
55.2
12
New Mexico
Dennis Chavez
55.4
13
Iowa
Tom Harkin
55.7
14
Wyoming
Joseph O'Mahoney
56.0
15
Rhode Island
Theodore Green
56.3
16
Idaho
Frank Church
56.8
17
Nevada
Pat McCarran
56.9
18
Kentucky
Alben Barkley
57.0
18
New Jersey
Harrison Williams
57.0
18
Texas
Lloyd Bentsen
57.0
21
Nevada
Howard Cannon
57.1
22
Michigan
Carl Levin
57.2
23
Oregon
Ron Wyden
57.4
23
Connecticut
Joe Lieberman
57.4
25
Nevada
Alan Bible
57.7
26
Washington
Warren Magnuson
57.8
26
New Mexico
Clinton Anderson
57.8
28
West Virginia
Jennings Randolf
58.2
29
North Dakota
Quentin Burdick
58.8
30
Delaware
Joe Biden
59.2
31
Arizona
Henry Ashurst
59.3
32
Missouri
W. Stuart Symington
59.5
33
Wisconsin
Herb Kohl
59.8
34
South Carolina
Fritz Hollings
59.9
35
North Dakota
Kent Conrad
60.2
36
New York
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
60.4
37
Oklahoma
Elmer Thomas
60.5
38
Vermont
Patrick Leahy
60.6
39
New Mexico
Jeff Bingaman
60.7
40
Maryland
Paul Sarbanes
60.8
41
Montana
Max Baucus
60.9
42
Ohio
John Glenn
61.7
43
Massachusetts
John Kerry
62.0
44
Wisconsin
William Proxmire
62.3
44
Connecticut
Chris Dodd
62.3
44
Maine
Edmund Muski
62.3
47
Montana
Michael Mansfield
63.0
48
Montana
Burton Wheeler
63.1
49
Maryland
Millard Evelyn Tydings
63.4
50
Tennessee
Kenneth McKellar
63.8
51
Kentucky
Wendell Ford
64.0
52
West Virginia
Jay Rockefeller
64.2
53
Arizona
Cary Hayden
64.3
54
Massachusetts
Ted Kennedy
64.9
54
Hawaii
Daniel Akaka
64.9
56
Maryland
Barbara Mikulski
65.8
57
Arkansas
Dale Bumpers
66.1
58
Rhode Island
John Pastore
66.2
59
Rhode Island
Claireborne Pell
66.4
60
Washington
Scoop Jackson
69.8
61
North Carolina
Samuel Ervin
71.9
62
West Virginia
Robert Byrd
72.1
63
Virginia
Harry Byrd, Sr.
73.4
64
Georgia
Sam Nunn
73.8
64
Virginia
Absalom Robertson
73.8
66
Hawaii
Daniel Inuoye
74.9
67
Alabama
John Sparkman
76.5
68
Florida
Spessard Holland
78.4
69
Arkansas
J. William Fulbright
79.2
70
Alabama
J. Lister Hill
82.6
71
Mississippi
John Stennis
82.8
72
South Carolina
Olin Johnston
83.1
73
Virginia
Carter Glass
84.7
74
Florida
Park Trammel
84.9
75
Louisiana
Russell Long
85.1
76
Mississippi
James Eastland
85.2
77
Florida
Duncan Fletcher
86.9
78
Georgia
Herman Talmadge
87.3
79
Texas
Morris Sheppard
87.9
80
Arkansas
Joseph Robinson
89.4
81
Texas
Tom Connally
90.2
82
Arkansas
John McClellan
92.3
83
Louisiana
Allen Ellender
96.6
84
Georgia
Walter George
98.0
85
Mississippi
Pat Harrisson
98.8
86
South Carolina
Cotton Ed Smith
99.3
87
Georgia
Richard Russell
99.5
Note: Table compiles average vote won in election victories only in popular vote elections. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

Among the 140 Democratic and Republican senators who have won at least four consecutive terms via popular vote elections, Feinstein has the 18th lowest career average.

The clock is now ticking for Republicans to find a strong candidate and begin fundraising to make a competitive run for this seemingly 'safe' Democratic seat.

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1 Comment


  • THANK YOU for posting this! I love your blog!!

    Steve
    Common Cents
    http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com

  • Leave a comment


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