Five of the 22 GOP senators whose seats are up for election next year, have announced they will not seek re-election. By contrast, all 12 of the Democrats whose seats are in play next year are running for new terms.
If there are no more Senate retirements — and any additional incumbent withdrawals at this point would be a surprise — the partisan distribution of “open” Senate seats would be the most lopsided in half a century, according to a comprehensive CQPolitics.com analysis of elections over that period... The Democratic campaign to defend or increase its Senate majority has been helped by that fact that none of the party’s senators is retiring. The last time one party had every incumbent senator run for re-election was in 1990, when all 16 Democrats up for re-election ran — and won."
Here's the skinny on the competitive races:
Virginia - Now that former Democratic governor Mark Warner is in, this one is ours. The latest poll shows him beating his two potential Republican challengers by insurmountable margins. Warner beats Jim Gilmore, another former governor and presidential candidate (he dropped out a little while back), 61-31. Against Rep. Tom Davis, Warner topples him 63-28! Gilmore has become the more likely candidate because the Virginia GOP has decided to pick the nominees via a convention instead of a primary.
Warner could also help us win the state (which wasn't look that red anyway after Democrat Tim Kaine won and kept the governorship for us in 2005) in the presidential, as an earlier poll showed Hillary Clinton slightly ahead of Giuliani and Thompson there in a head-to-head match-up. Bill Clinton was the last to win the state. Should Warner win, we would have two Democratic senators from Virginia (the other is the ever-awesome Jim Webb, who won last year), a first since the 1970s. Sen. John Warner retiring was a godsend. The only downside is without Warner, there is no solid contender for the next governor's race right now, but I'd rather have another Senate seat.
New Hampshire - Sen. John Snunu is a Republican in what has become a solid blue state since 2004 when Kerry won it after Gore hadn't. In 2006, Democrats took over the state legislature and Gov. John Lynch won with 70% of the vote. So, at the start, Snunu is in trouble. But now that popular former governor Jeanne Shaheen has announced she will run in a rematch against him, he looks like a goner. Though Snunu narrowly beat Shaheen in 2002, a recent poll showed Shaheen would now best Snunu 54-38.
New Mexico - Now that Sen. Pete Domenici has decided to retire, this is a very competitive race. Republican Rep. Heather Wilson has announced her intention to run (likely giving Democrats a pick-up in the House), as will soon Rep. Steve Pearce (who is the stronger candidate). On the Democratic side, Rep. Tom Udall has said he won't run, Albuquerque Martin Chavez will, and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is considering it. She's the won the DSCC most wants to run after Gov. Bill Richardson. Polls show Richardson would utterly crush any opposition, but he is still running for president. However, if he decides to drop out after the first few caucuses and primaries, he will still be able to run in the primary.
Colorado - Sen. Wayne Allard is retiring and the GOP has failed to recruit any of the most top-tier candidates and former Congressman Bob Schaffer is the only Republican who has announced his candidacy. Meanwhile, we have a great one in Rep. Mark Udall. Colorado has also been trending Democratic since 2004 when Ken Salazar won a Senate seat and we took over the legislature. In 2006, we took the governorship as well. Currently, the race is a dead heat, but it is early.
Nebraska - This race is very similar to the Virginia situation, though not as wrapped up. Sen. Chuck Hagel announced he was retiring this week, as he was facing a Republican primary challenge he might not have survived. Former Democratic senator Bob Kerrey had been heavily courted and said he might jump in should Hagel retire. An announcement of his plans is expected fairly soon, but should he get in, he'd be the favorite to win. It wouldn't be as guaranteed as a Warner victory in VA, but Kerrey is still extremely popular. The two major Republican candidates include the recently resigned U.S. agriculture secretary Mike Johanns and state attorney general Jon Bruning. As with Virginia, a victory there would give us two Democratic senators (the other being Sen. Ben Nelson) in a state that is even more traditionally Republican.
Oregon - Like Snunu, Sen. Gordon Smith is in the wrong party in the wrong state. This is one reason he has decided to support Democratic efforts to end the war in Iraq, unlike most of the rest of his colleagues right now. Unfortunately, none of the Democratic House Reps in Oregon decided to enter the race. The current two candidates running on our side are Jeff Merkley, the current Oregon House Speaker, and also grassroots activist Steve Novick. Political analysts agree that Merkley would be a formidable candidate. Smith is definitely very endangered and could be one of several blue-state Republicans who fall next year. John Frohnmayer, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts under President George H.W. Bush, announced he will run as an independent in the race. He could potentially draw votes from both disaffected Republicans and Democratic-leaning independents, but it is unclear how much of an impact he could really have as a potential spoiler for either of the major party candidates.
Minnesota - A new poll out today also bears bad news for Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican who won in this blue state solely because Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash a few weeks before the 2002 election (and he still only one by two points against former Vice President Walter Mondale). Al Franken, of "Saturday Night Live" and Air America Radio fame, is just five points behind Coleman now, whereas he was 20 points behind when he started running. Minneapolis attorney Mike Ciresi, the other Democrat running, is also only four points behind. And recently, Al Franken outraised Coleman - $1.9 million to $1.7 million. Things aren't looking too good for Coleman.
Maine - The last endangered blue state Republican on the list in Sen. Susan Collins who isn't quite as popular as the other senator from there, Olympia Snowe. Democratic House Rep Tom Allen is running and will definitely make this competitive. It could the be the Rhode Island (in which moderate Republican Sen. Chafee lost simply because he added to the GOP's numbers in the Senate caucus) of this year. Like Snunu, Smith, and Coleman, Collins will fall if Democrats sweep these races where the majority of Democrats and independents are sick of the Republican Party and the Iraq war.
Alaska - Sen. Ted Stevens is under an FBI investigation for bribery and could be in serious danger, as new information keeps coming out. For this reason, he is the Republican Senator most likely to retire next. The DSCC most wants Anchorage's mayor Mark Begich to get in and his entry would indeed make this race competitive. But he is unlikely to get in if Stevens does resign and popular Gov. Sarah Palin runs for the Republican nomination.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts approval rating hovers around the 50% mark and the state has grown more Democratic-friendly in recent years, as evidenced by Governor Kathleen Sebelius' popularity and easy re-election last year, as well as Nancy Boyda re-capturing Kansas' 2nd Congressional district seat for the Dems. The previous Democrat to hold that seat was former Rep. Jim Slattery who is considering running against Roberts next year. Slattery was a popular congressman and represented KS-2 for 12 years until '94, when he ran for governor and lost in the Republican tide of that year. Kansas hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in 75 years (read the great book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" by Thomas Frank), but historical precedents didn't stop Democrats in '06 so why should they in '08?
Kentucky - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has lost a lot of popularity by leading an obstructionist Republican Party and is under 50% in recent approval polls. Democrats are already running hard hitting ads against him, in an effort to exact retribution for the ousting of former Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle in '04. A a serious Democratic candidate could make this competitive and, as with a lot of these second tier races, Republicans will still be forced to spend money to defend a normally safe seat that they'd much rather spend on the big targets. State attorney general Greg Stumbo has formed an exploratory committee.
North Carolina - Like McConnell, Elizabeth Dole's popularity has taken a hit. She's the favorite right now, but polls suggest vulnerability. A January 2007 poll showed Democratic Governor Mike Easley defeating Dole, 44% to 41%. Unfortunately, Easley has indicated he is not interested in running. State representative and Afghanistan war veteran Grier Martin is apparently considering a run now. But even if we don't have the most optimal candidate, Dole is at risk enough that she could lose if 2008 is another Democratic-landslide year.
Texas - I dare put this here in the second tier despite the fact that Texas hasn't seen a Democrat hold a statewide office for a decade. Why? Because Senator John Cornyn is the most unpopular GOP incumbent running for re-election. The latest SUSA poll has him not only under 50% but also with a -1 net approval rating (meaning his disapproval rating is 1 point higher than his approval rating!). The two Democratic candidates include state representative and Afghanistan war veteran Rick Noriega and wealthy trial attorney Mikal Watts. DailyKos recently commissioned polling for Noriega, who won the DFT endorsement and raised $570,000 recently (Watts is self-financed). But Democratic primary voters will have to decide who is the best candidate for the job, but Cornyn's abysmal numbers and 2006 Democratic gains in the Texas legislature and in Dallas County suggest this race is going to be a lot more competitive than any statewide election we've had in awhile.
SAFE REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRATIC TOSS-UPS
Seats in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming, are all third tier races for right now, but things could always change (which goes for any of these races, of course). For instance, if Sen. Thad Cochran retires, we'd have a top-tier race in Mississippi with the very popular former Attorney General Michael Moore as our probable candidate; State senator Andrew Rice seems to be a pretty damn good candidate out in Oklahoma, as is Larry LaRocco in Idaho (though Lt. Gov. Risch would be the odds-on favorite if he gets in), or Rep. Jim Marshall, should he declare, in Georgia.
Republicans had originally targeted three Democrats for potential pick-ups, but with Sens. Frank Lautenberg and the recently-recovered Tim Johnson deciding to run for re-election (Johnson hasn't made a"final" decision yet, but it looks good), Republicans have little change in their respective states of New Jersey and South Dakota. However, Sen. Mary Landrieu in Lousiana is vulnerable, in part because of Katrina, but also because Karl Rove got popular state treasurer John N. Kennedy to switch to the Republican Party. If he gets in to challenge Landrieu, as expected, this race could be tough though I think Landrieu would edge it out in the end.
But still, having to only defend one seat while being on the offense against 22 Republican seats make for pretty good odds that we'll not only definitely keep our majority, but we are likely to substantially expand it (at least based on how things look now). Things could certainly change and will one way or another, but I'm pretty happy with the way things are shaping up right now. I don't think it could favor Democrats more.