Sunday, April 13, 2008

Senate Outlook 2008

Here's the latest skinny on the competitive races this year:


Virginia - This is still the most clear pick-up opportunity for Democrats. Polls still show former Democratic governor Mark Warner beating Jim Gilmore, another former governor and presidential candidate (he dropped out awhile back), by large margins.

Warner could also help us win the state (which hasn't looked that red lately) for the presidential race. Bill Clinton was the last Democratic candidate 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 Mexico - Republican Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce have announced their candidacies (likely giving Democrats at least one pick-up in the House). On the Democratic side, Rep. Tom Udall is in and he beats both by double-digits in the polls that have been taken.

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. With popular former governor Jeanne Shaheen in the race, he's really in trouble. The last two Rasmussen polls show Shaheen leading Sununu 49% to 41%.

Colorado - We have a great candidate in Rep. Mark Udall (cousin of Tom Udall). Former Congressman Bob Schaffer is the Republican. Looks like a tight race, but 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.

Minnesota - Polling 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 in a statistical tie with him.

Alaska - This one gets an upgrade. The latest Rasmussen Poll shows corrupt Republican Sen. Ted Stevens is also in a tie with Anchorage's mayor Mark Begich, the expected Dem candidate.

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. The current two Dem candidates running on our side are Jeff Merkley, the current Oregon House Speaker, and also grassroots activist Steve Novick. Smith is still running strong in polls, but he can definitely be beaten.

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, despite how well she is doing right now.


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 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. Democrat Greg Orman, a Kansas businessman, will challenge Roberts at least. 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. Greg Fischer and Bruce Lunsford are running for the Democratic nomination, but McConnell still has the clear advantages against Dems without much name recognition.

Mississippi - Because Sen. Trent Lott retired, both seats are now up in 2008. Sen. Thad Cochran is running for re-election, and will win. Roger Wicker, formerly the representative of Mississippi's 1st congressional district, was appointed by Governor Haley Barbour on to fill the vacancy left by Lott. Former Democratic governor Ronnie Musgrove is running and will give him a run for his money. Recent wins by Democrats in the state legislature also show oppurtunity here.

North Carolina - Like McConnell, Elizabeth Dole's popularity has taken a hit. She's the favorite right now, but polls suggest vulnerability and she could lose if 2008 is another Democratic-landslide year. As for Dem challengers, state senator Kay Hagan joined the race and is seen as the most formidable candidate.

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. State representative and Afghanistan war veteran Rick Noriega thankfully survived a runoff in the Democratic primary and will be the nominee. 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.


Seats in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, Nebraska, 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). State senator Andrew Rice seems to be a pretty damn good candidate out in Oklahoma, as is Larry LaRocco in Idaho.

Republicans had originally targeted three Democrats for potential pick-ups, but with Sens. Frank Lautenberg (Rep. Rob Andrews is challenging him in the primary, but Lautenberg will likely survive) and Tim Johnson deciding to run for re-election, Republicans have little chance in their respective states of New Jersey and South Dakota. However, Sen. Mary Landrieu in Lousiana is a vulnerable Dem, in part because of Hurricane Katrina, but also because Karl Rove got popular state treasurer John N. Kennedy to switch to the Republican Party and run against her. But even then, she's got a big lead in the latest Rasmussen poll.

But still, having to only defend one seat while being on the offense against 23 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.

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