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Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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Alaska

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 14, 2008 Update:

Ten days after Election Day and still no official winner. Democratic challenger Mark Begich trailed by a few thousand votes on November 5, but as absentee and other uncounted ballots were added to the tally, he now has gained a slight lead. With still over 40,000 ballots to count, Begich leads incumbent Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted on seven felony counts just weeks before the election.

As of November 14, that lead stands at 814 votes, a slim enough margin that the contest will most likely proceed to a recount. Alaska election officials have stated that the election results will most likely be certified in early December with a recount almost certain to follow.

October 4, 2008 Update:

An overly dramatic Hollywood writer would almost certainly call Ted Stevens re-election campaign ?phoenix-esque? after watching his return from ignominy to competitiveness in less than two months. Left for dead after his July 29th indictment, Stevens remained in the race and cruised to an easy August 26 primary victory. After the primary, the Stevens campaign launched an aggressive ad campaign lauding his experience and ability to bring the bacon back to ?The Last Frontier.? The surprise elevation of Governor Sarah Palin?who has a frosty relationship with Senator Stevens?as John McCain?s running mate has energized the Alaskan Republican party to the benefit of all downballot candidates. Whether it be Palin fever or simply GOPer coming home to roost, Stevens has surged in the polls from as much as seventeen down to a slim two point deficit to Mark Begich.

Still, Stevens has a McKinley-sized mountain to climb: Stevens will spend the better part of October in a Washington federal court facing charges of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from Veco CEO Bill Allen. This means that Stevens must campaign in absentia, debating Begich via teleconference and taking the ten hour flight back to Anchorage every weekend. Given this, especially in a Democrat-friendly election cycle like 2008, Begich is still favored. But if Stevens is acquitted of all charges prior to election day (his trial is expected to end by then), don?t be surprised if the unthinkable happens and ?Uncle Ted? makes a triumphant return to the Senate.

July 29, 2008 Update:

The sound you just heard was a bombshell hitting the hallowed halls of the Senate. Today, Senator Ted Stevens, icon of Alaska politics, was indicted on seven counts of making false statements in relation to the VECO renovation of his Girdwood house. Barring extraordinary developments, the longest serving member of the world?s most exclusive club will not be returning for another term. Stevens has yet to reveal his future plans, but his options are few.

Alaska’s filing deadline has already passed and its primary is less than a month away; it is too late to recruit a top-tier replacement for the embattled incumbent. Furthermore, the indictments breathe new life into the primary challenges of developer Dave Cuddy and attorney Vic Vickers who can self-fund and have already hit the television airwaves. “Uncle Ted,” the veritable founder of the Alaska Republican Party, may well succumb to the establishment he created.

If Stevens remains in the race and wins the Republican primary, he will be defeated by Anchorage mayor Mark Begich who holds a pre-indictment lead in most polls. Perhaps the best scenario for Alaska Republicans is if Stevens wins the primary, but steps aside (a la Tom Delay in 2006), allowing the state GOP to name a ballot replacement. Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, should he lose his primary challenge to Representative Don Young, seems to be the best replacement option right now with the popularity of the Palin administration breaking from the Alaska politics of old. Even if a credible alternative emerges, Stevens indictment and the woes of the Alaskan GOP will cast a long shadow over the Senatorial race. Regardless of Steven’s future, the events of today prompt the Crystal Ball to switch this race’s rating from Toss Up to Leaning Democrat.

June 17, 2008 Update:

Things are looking as bleak as the Alaskan tundra for incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens. Stevens has still been unable to shake the ethics charges that have been nipping at his heels for months. As a result, Anchorage mayor Mark Begich has made inroads and now leads in polls conducted by a myriad of groups. A poll sponsored by the liberal blog Daily Kos found Begich leading in mid-May by 5 percent, just outside the 4 percent margin of error. A poll conducted at roughly the same time by a Republican-leaning firm had Begich up by 7 percent, again just outside the 6 percent margin of error. Stevens’ unfavorable numbers are creeping north of 40 percent, and with bad news on the legal front, it will be five more months of winter for Stevens between now and the November general election.

May 13, 2008 Update:

Nothing much has changed in the Last Frontier State. The FBI is still sniffing around at Ted Stevens, but has yet to move into an indictment phase, while Anchorage’s Democratic Mayor, Mark Begich, has officially announced his candidacy after several months of exploratory committee limbo. The storyline remains the same: if Stevens is indicted, this seat is very much in play; unless that happens, it should be a Republican hold.

March 3, 2008 Update:

Republican incumbent Ted Stevens is still, somehow, narrowly, holding on. Despite the lengthy federal investigation into possible charges of corruption, Stevens has been able to avoid indictment. Stevens’ record for getting federal funding for Alaska (such as the infamous ”Bridge to Nowhere”) has bought him plenty of goodwill with the people of the Last Frontier State, and odds are an indictment is one of the only blows that could knock him from this seat.

The Democrats have a few blows of their own prepared, though. Ray Metcalfe and Frank Vondersaar both have considerable experience in state-wide campaigns: Metcalfe has run for governor and Alaska’s at-large House seat, while Vondersaar has run for the House seven times now. Metcalfe has been a very vocal critic of Stevens, even providing the FBI and state watchdog agencies with evidence of the incumbent?s alleged corruption. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has announced he?s thinking about running, and has formed an exploratory committee.

This particular collection of Democratic challengers doesn’t look like they’ll be too strong come November. For all of Metcalfe and Vondersaar?s experience, that very well could turn into voter fatigue; time and again, Alaskans haven?t voted for them, and seeing their name on the ballot this time around may not yield any different result. Begich has the advantage of being a relatively fresh face, and has won election in Alaska’s biggest city. However, with his late entry into the race, he may not have time to raise the kind of money he’d need to take down Stevens. As we’ve said before, if Stevens can continue to avoid substantive charges, he should squeak through, into another term.

December 14, 2007 Update:

Who could have believed that a Republican incumbent would be in trouble here? But at least initially, the longest-serving Senate Republican, Ted Stevens, is mired in a major corporate scandal involving pay-offs and bribery. He has not been indicted and may be able to clear himself. He may or may not run again, no matter what he says now. He may or may not be seriously challenged in the GOP primary or the general election. So, on this one, we’ll just have to watch and wait. Based solely on the strength of his past electoral record, we’ll call it, for now, LEANS REPUBLICAN.

September 17, 2007 Update:

With Republican incumbent Ted Stevens still under a federal corruption investigation, the situation in Alaska is impossible to predict. Should Stevens avoid indictment on the corruption charges, he should sail into another reelection fairly easily, unless his health becomes an obstacle. If, however, the feds decide they have enough to indict the Senator, this race will be blown wide open. The Crystal Ball will keep its eyes and ears trained on the Last Frontier State for any developments.


Background

Senator Ted Stevens, an icon of Alaskan politics and champion of pork barrel federal spending, may face an unexpectedly competitive challenge in 2008. His suddenly sour electoral outlook is due, not to his opponents, but instead to an ethics scandal.

Renovations to Stevens’ Anchorage home has become the apparent focus of a federal corruption investigation involving the Veco oil services company. The probe had been thought to primarily target Steven’s son, state senate president Ben Stevens, but an FBI raid of the home caused political watchers nationwide to sit up and take notice.

The DSCC is pinning its hopes on a yet-announced candidate, Democratic Anchorage mayor Mark Begich. Begich would be a big fish to land, but even he would need some help from federal investigators before this race could be called truly competitive.

Republican fiscal conservative groups, most notably the Club for Growth, have begun courting possible primary challengers. These groups have been incensed by Stevens unabashed earmarking and pork-barrel project, including his championing of the most infamous earmark of all, the ”Bridge to Nowhere.” Although they have yet to find any takers for a primary challenge, the list of possible candidates is extensive and will likely only grow if the federal investigation headlines keep up.

Although it would take quite a scandal to unseat this entrenched Alaskan Republican, Alaskan Democrats are hoping for an early Christmas gift to be delivered on Election Day in November 2008. It is impossible to predict what the legal authorities will do, but Stevens is in more trouble than he has ever experienced since his appointment in 1968.

Candidates

Ted Stevens (I) – Republican – current Senator
Website

Mark Begich – Democrat – mayor of Anchorage
Website

Alabama

Outlook: Solid Republican


June 17, 2008 Update:

Democrats now have their nominee, but still not much of chance to knock off Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions. On June 3rd, Democratic voters selected state senator Vivian Davis Figures for the party nod, giving her 63% of the vote in a three-way race. Figures hasn’t impressed with the rest of her numbers, though, reporting just $14,000 cash on hand in mid-May, while Sessions showed $4 million in the bank. A lack of fundraising isn’t the only reason Figures will lose – a thirty point deficit in recent polling comes to mind – but it is indicative of a campaign short on cash and confidence.

May 13, 2008 Update:

2008 could prove to be quite a fruitful election cycle for the Democratic Party, but Alabama won’t be counted amongst the Democrats’ successes. Jeff Sessions’s monstrous leads in fundraising and recent polling, coupled with incumbency and Alabama’s deep Red tendencies, point to a Republican landslide in November. Barring major catastrophe or scandal, Sessions will hold his seat for another term.

March 3, 2008 Update:

Nothing much has changed down Alabama way. Republican incumbent Jeff Sessions is still the prohibitive favorite in this showdown, and the end-of-2007 fundraising numbers show it. Sessions reported nearly $4 million in cash on hand; his biggest challenger, Democratic state senator Vivian Davis Figures, had less than $18,000. Alabama in 2008 looks like it will uphold the Southern political tradition of incumbents waltzing to sizable victories.


Background

Jeff Sessions, the Republican incumbent in Alabama’s 2008 Senate race, must like his chances. Recent approval polls in the Yellowhammer State show a 59% approval rating for Sessions, including a 47/44 approve/disapprove rate among Democrats. The fifth-most conservative Senator (as ranked by National Journal) should fare pretty well in a state that gives President Bush a 41% approval rating (a dozen points higher than his national numbers).

Sessions isn’t just a rank-and-file Republican, though. He has been one of the most vocal opponents to the recent immigration package, and has spoken out and voted against embryonic stem cell research and the ”nuclear option” agreement by the Gang of 14 during his two terms.

State senator Vivian Davis Figures is the only Democratic candidate currently on the radar in the 2008 race, after state agriculture commissioner Ron Sparks announced his withdrawal from the contest. Sessions, as a right-wing conservative in a very red state, shouldn’t have too much trouble against the Democrats’ second-string.

Candidates

Vivian Davis Figures – Democrat –
state senator

Website

Jeff Sessions (I) – Republican
Website

Arkansas

Outlook: Solid Democratic


May 28, 2008 Update:

The ballot is set and there will be no GOP challenger for Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor. The Green Party has thrown a candidate into the race in attorney Rebekah Kennedy. Kennedy was the Green candidate for Attorney General in 2006, and received just over 4 percent of the vote. As if she didn’t face enough of an uphill climb as a third-party candidate against a popular incumbent, Kennedy is $3.7 million behind Pryor in cash on hand. Pryor will coast into an easy second term.

March 3, 2008 Update:

Want to know what the cat-bird’s seat feels like? Ask junior Senator and Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor. The election is only 8 months away, and Pryor has yet to draw a serious challenge from either party. While early thinking was that former Governor Mike Huckabee would get shellacked in the Republican presidential race, and then return to Arkansas to challenge Pryor, Huckabee has enjoyed quite a bit of national success. As a result, it seems highly unlikely we’ll see Huckabee enter this race, making things all the easier for Pryor?s reelection. With as much ammo as Pryor has been able to stockpile up until now, he should be able to protect his Senate seat just fine come November.


Background

Junior Senator Mark Pryor should be able to keep the Democratic stranglehold on statewide office in 2008. In the land that once was Clinton’s, Pryor is enjoying a 63% favorability rating at the tail end of his first term. Numbers like those, and no announced challengers from either party, make 2008 look like easy sledding for Pryor.

Even if he should be challenged, Pryor’s emphasis on constituent service and moderate positions will win him tons of votes. He’s been outspoken in calling for the resignation of Alberto Gonzales after Gonzales fired the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, then bypassed Senate confirmation for his replacement. Pryor has also announced his endorsement of former Arkansas first-lady, Senator Hillary Clinton for president.

The most likely challenger for Pryor might be Republican ex-Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, currently running for the Republican presidential nod, trails Pryor 49-42 in recent polls.

Candidates

Mark Pryor (I) – Democrat – current Senator

Website

Rebekah Kennedy – Independent – Green Party candidate and attorney

Website

Colorado (Open Seat)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


October 17, 2008 Update:

We are beginning to feel that whenever we go to update a Senate race in this crazy month of October, the theme is the same for many of them: a Republican seat is being seriously challenged by a Democrat who?s numbers are getting inflated by the economic crisis and a general disregard for Republicans during this election cycle. The same is beginning to hold true in the race to replace retiring Sen. Wayne Allard, as ?Boulder Liberal? Mark Udall has seen a bump in the polls and has a clear, if not dominant, lead over former Rep. Bob Schaffer. The GOP has tried to attach the aforementioned negative moniker to Udall in an attempt to make him seem too leftist for the traditionally conservative Colorado electorate, but the Democratic gubernatorial victory in 2006 appears to have been the prologue to a shift towards the Centennial State becoming decidedly purple (another refrain we keep seeming to mention on more than one occasion). Udall?s counter claim that Schaffer is too Conservative for Colorado has seemed to stick more in this election year, oddly enough. Make no mistake about it: Mark appears to be in for a much tighter race than the one cousin Tom is experiencing just south of him in New Mexico. But Schaffer?s numbers are trending downward just like fellow Republicans across the country, and he will have to try and turn things around to avoid remaining a Crystal Ball theme and variations all the way to defeat on November 4th.

June 19, 2008 Update:

Although it?s often overlooked in these days of highly paid consultants and million dollar ad buys, the most important part of a campaign is the message. The message permeates all other aspects of the campaign and establishes a narrative for the election that voters can assimilate. In Colorado?s Senate race, both candidates are already hard at work in the battle of messaging.

For Democrat Mark Udall, the trick will be trying to shed the ?Boulder liberal? moniker that comes with his left-leaning district and establish himself as a credible statewide candidate for all Coloradans. Surprisingly, Udall is making his pitch on, of all things, national security and military issues. He?s a member of the House Armed Services Committee and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, but his first two television ads stress his resolve in fighting terrorism and maintaining an effective military. For a liberal Democrat, such an approach seems odd, but with the strong contingent of Air Force families in traditionally Republican Colorado Springs, it just might work this time.

Meanwhile, Bob Schaffer realizes that the traditional Republican playbook won?t apply to this cycle. Schaffer?s avoided the hot-button social issues of past Colorado elections and instead focused on fiscal conservatism and cutting wasteful spending. Schaffer?s biggest messaging vulnerability on the environment. Already he?s had to respond to independent attack ads by airing ads highlighting his conservation voting record. If liberal groups or the Udall campaign can turn Schaffer into ?Big Oil Bob,? he?ll face the wrath of Colorado?s many environmentally-conscious voters.

It?s too early to tell which candidate?s narrative has more appeal to Colorado voters, but one thing is clear. The more money you have, the louder your message, and for now, Udall has a clear advantage on the financial front.

May 28, 2008 Update:

The race for retiring Republican Wayne Allard’s seat is still as close as ever. Democrat Mark Udall retains slim three- to five-point leads over Republican Bob Schaffer in recent polling, with both candidates hugging approval ratings in the upper 40s. With such razor-thin margins, every factor gets magnified in importance: the general electoral climate for the 2008 cycle, the top-of-the-ticket nominee for each party, and so on. One key measure that tips this race in Udall’s favor is fundraising. Udall has been able to nearly double-up Schaffer in the funds race, leaving Udall with $2 million more cash on hand despite outspending Schaffer 2-to-1. If Udall’s fiscal success continues, he and his campaign should be able to outmaneuver Schaffer in advertising and other publicity. From what we’ve seen, this Rocky Mountain race leans Democratic.

March 3, 2008 Update:

The race for Colorado’s open Senate seat remains extremely close. Recent polls show Republican Bob Schaffer holding a statistically insignificant single-point lead over Democratic Congressman Mark Udall, 44-43. The margin hasn’t changed since November 2007, which points to this race continuing to be very tight all the way to the wire. In such a closely contested race, one of the keys to this seat could be who ends up being the presidential candidate for each party.

For the Republicans, the nominee will clearly be John McCain, which actually presents something of a problem for Schaffer. Udall and McCain have voted very similarly in Washington over the years, especially on hot-button issues like stem cell research, immigration, and same-sex marriage. The similarity between their two records will limit how Schaffer can really go after Udall. On the other side, the Clinton/Obama dynamic could heavily impact voters in Colorado. Udall is getting support from 43 percent of Colorado’s unaffiliated voters. If Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, his ability to appeal to independents could swing things in Udall’s favor; conversely, the polarizing nature of Hillary Clinton as a candidate could drive many of those voters into Schaffer’s camp.

With all of the factors acting to balance the two candidates out, there?s one thing that may give Udall a slight advantage: his name. The Udalls are known as the ”Kennedys of the West”; Mark?s father Mo was a long-time Congressman from Arizona, Tom Udall (Mark?s first cousin) is currently a Congressman and Senate candidate in New Mexico, and another cousin, Gordon Smith, sits as a Senator from Oregon. If everything else is a wash, the political connections of his family ties could give Udall the slightest of edges in November?s election.

December 14, 2007 Update:

When Republican Wayne Allard (R) announced his retirement after two terms, the assumption is that this Purple state might well lean Democratic in 2008, just as it did in 2006 when it elected a new Democratic Governor (Bill Ritter) in a landslide. Perhaps that will prove true, and the early polls show the Democratic candidate, Congressman Mark Udall, out in front of the GOP candidate, former Congressman Bob Schaffer (who had lost the GOP Senate primary in 2004 to Pete Coors, who in turn lost to now-Democratic Senator Ken Salazar). Republicans say that Hillary Clinton is most unlikely to carry Colorado, and that her nomination will give them a chance to turn the Senate battle around. Maybe so, but for right now, the justifiable rating is LEANS DEMOCRATIC.


Background

The Centennial State promises one of the most intriguing races of the 2008 Senate cycle. Republican Wayne Allard is living up to his 1996 promise of a two-term cap and retiring after his current term expires. His retirement sets up a showdown, likely between Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer.

Udall, the Democratic Representative from the 2nd District, has irked some national Dems over his support for the Iraq War spending bill that passed in May 2007, a vote almost certainly made with an eye toward the Senate campaign when one considers the liberal leanings of his Boulder-area constituents. Udall raised over $1 million in the second quarter of 2007, bringing his cash-on-hand to $2.5 million.

Here’s a state where the identity of the Democratic presidential nominee really matters. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee then Udall may have to keep her at arm’s length in order to win. Another Democrat might run more strongly in Colorado, thus increasing Udall’s chances.

Schaffer is the former Republican Representative from Colorado’s 4th District, in the eastern part of the state. Schaffer’s staunch conservatism has some GOPers worried about his ability to appeal on a statewide basis, and moderate Republican Josh Penry of the state Senate has been pushed to challenge Schaffer in the primary; Penry has turned away all his Republican suitors thus far.

With Udall’s impressive fundraising in the past 3 months, this seat could become a pick-up for the Dems. Ken Salazar pushed past his Republican opponent by 4 points in 2004, and President Bush has consistently polled well below 40%. If the Republicans go to a primary, with the in-fighting and spending that comes with it, Udall’s chances will go from good to great.

Candidates

Mark Udall – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Bob Schaffer – Republican – former Congressman
Website

Delaware

Outlook: Solid Democratic


May 28, 2008 Update:

No major developments out of Delaware, which is bad news for Republicans. With long-time Democratic incumbent Joe Biden running again, any Republican hopes for this seat would require a sea change of nearly incomprehensible proportions. Biden has coasted to victory in each of his last several campaigns, and has a well stocked war chest to fend off all comers. His challenger from across the aisle is Christine O’Donnell, a public relations consultant who fell in the Republican primary for Senate in 2006. O’Donnell’s chances don’t appear to be much better this time around; Biden isn’t going anywhere.

March 3, 2008 Update:

Welcome back, Joe Biden. With his bowing out from the presidential race, Biden finds himself back in the role he?s become accustomed to: senior Senator from the First State. The results of November’s presidential election could have impact on this seat?s future, as Biden’s name has been bandied about as a potential Secretary of State for a Democratic president. But in November 2008, the scene is pretty well set. This is Joe Biden’s seat, it has been since 1973, and it will remain his seat for as long as he chooses to keep it.


Background

If Joe Biden decides to make an official run for the Presidency in 2008, Delaware could see a very competitive race with its first open seat since 1970. However, with Biden never polling higher than a distant fourth it seems unlikely that he will fully commit to a run for the Oval Office. Biden himself has said he will decide on his chances by the end of the year. Though Delaware rules allow candidates to run simultaneously for Congress and the Presidency, so far it does not appear that Biden will become the Democratic nominee in 2008.

Though Biden is not looking strong in the early polls for the 2008 presidential race, a long history of service to Delaware certainly has him as a shoo-in for the senate seat. As Delaware’s longest serving senator, Biden has won re-election solidly in his past two terms and enjoys a 63 percent job approval rating. If he gives the Senate another run, Biden will be a next-to-impossible incumbent to beat in this truly blue state.

With Biden’s future plans uncertain, so is the list for potential challengers and successors. Current eight term U.S. Representative and former two term Delaware Governor Mike Castle is speculated to be the biggest threat Republicans have in their arsenal. With his long service to the state and overflowing piggybank ($1.2 million on hand), Castle would prove a difficult challenger for Biden. However, a run from Castle is mere speculation, since his failure to challenge Biden in the past and his age (68 years) have discouraged Republicans from hanging their hopes on him yet.

As for Democratic successors, Delaware Attorney General and Joe’s eldest son, Beau Biden, has been cited as a potential successor. This would seem a logical next step in Beau’s career and would seem to offer his father an incentive to step down. Democratic state Treasurer Jack Markell’s name has also been thrown around, however he is currently a candidate in Delaware’s gubernatorial race, also to be decided in 2008.

Only time can tell what will happen in this race, as much can happen between now and Delaware’s July 2008 filing deadline.

Candidates

Joseph Biden (I) – Democrat – current U.S. Senator

Website

Christine O’Donnell – Republican – 2006 candidate
Website

Georgia

Outlook: Leans Republican


October 20, 2008 Update:

It?s hard for us here at the Crystal Ball to believe that such a Republican purging is possible so as to extend all the way to the dethroning of incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss. The ?November blowout? we last reported for Chambliss is merely a distant memory now, as Democratic nominee Jim Martin, despite being underfunded, has pulled to within the statistical margin of error in some polls. Martin?s blowout victory in the August 5th Primary over Vernon Jones gave him some momentum that the Democrats have been able to build upon. Georgia Democrats do not forget Chambliss? infamous ads run against Max Cleland six years ago, basically tearing apart the Vietnam veteran?s national security reputation, and they are attempting to get even. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, raising just oodles of money and channeling it to places never thought to be competitive, has been running sharp ads criticizing the ?Saxby Economics? of a National Sales Tax and his ties to Big Oil, while Chambliss has not matched the campaign vigor of the Democrats or of his own campaign in 2002. The economic crisis which has altered the electoral landscape throughout has helped make this race closer than anybody thought.

Let?s be clear on this one: a defeat for Chambliss would be a major upset and most likely be indicative of a massive and widespread rejection of Republican candidates across the country. We see Chambliss holding on to win in one of the reddest of red states. But with Barack Obama?s registration efforts swelling the Democratic ranks and making the state competitive further up the ballot, even our switch into the ?Leans Republican? column is a timid statement at best. A Martin win would now simply look surprising, as opposed to the shock it would have been a few months ago.

July 16, 2008 Update:

In the words of legendary Chicago Cub Ernie Banks, ?Let?s play two.? After no candidate garnered a 50 percent majority yesterday, Georgia Democrats are headed to a runoff rematch between Vernon Jones and Jim Martin on August 5th. Depending on your take, the primary results can either be seen as good news, bad news, or no news for Democratic chances of unseating Saxby Chambliss.

The good news: the frontrunner Jones didn?t win outright, and supporters of the eliminated candidates are likely to gravitate toward the establishment-favored Martin, the more electable candidate. The bad news: Democrats must go another month without a nominee, meaning Chambliss can relax while Jones and Martin continue their internecine fight. The non news? In the end it likely won?t matter who is the nominee as Chambliss is gearing up for a November blowout. All the vitals?money, polling, and demographics?are in the incumbent’s favor, and the only thing going for Democrats, Barack Obama?s ability to compete statewide, is highly speculative at best.

June 9, 2008 Update:

In the Democratic primary, set for July 15, the lead belongs to former state representative and 2006 Lieutenant Governor candidate Jim Martin. According to a poll released by his campaign on June 4, Martin leads his nearest rival, Vernon Jones, by a margin of 21% to 16% and all other competitors trail in single digits. Still, no matter who emerges from this primary, don’t expect the Democrat to unseat Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in November.

May 28, 2008 Update:

In a state as politically red as the clay underfoot, Republican incumbents usually have a pretty easy go of it. 2008 doesn’t look to be any different for Senator Saxby Chambliss. The Democrats have yet to choose their candidate, but polling seems to indicate it won’t particularly matter who they choose. Numbers from earlier this month show Chambliss holding sturdy double-digit leads over all three major Democratic contenders, from 51-37 in a race against reporter Dale Cardwell, to as high as 58-30 against DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones. Chambliss has also lapped the Democrats in fundraising and campaign expenditures, spending over $5 million so far this cycle while the Democratic candidates have raised just over $1 million combined. This is definitely one seat where the Republicans will fend off any chance of a Democratic pick-up.

March 3, 2008 Update:

Here’s the skinny on Georgia: Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss is going to win, and he’s going to win big. Chambliss has a strong right flank, with heavy support from Georgia’s large evangelical Christian populace. His incumbency and conservative appeal combine to make this an uphill battle for even the strongest Democratic candidates. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they don’t have the strongest candidates. Both Vernon Jones and Dale Caldwell trail Chambliss by gargantuan margins (Jones by 25 points, Caldwell by a slightly more respectable 16). Don’t look for those gaps to close much between now and November.


Background

Peach State Republican Saxby Chambliss is yet another Southern GOP incumbent looking forward to a fairly smooth reelection campaign. His approval rating has hovered at or above 50% in recent polls, and is running in a state that went 58% for Bush in 2004.

Chambliss was first elected to the Senate in 2002, defeating Democratic incumbent and triple-amputee Vietnam Vet Max Cleland by a 7-point margin. Chambliss’ campaign drew sharp criticism, including from fellow GOPers John McCain and Chuck Hagel, for airing ads that questioned Cleland’s patriotism and paired images of him with ones of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. In his first term, Chambliss’ voting record has gotten high marks from the Christian Coalition and the NRA.

The Democratic opposition to Chambliss will struggle in 2008, as both challengers are more than 20 points behind the incumbent: former investigative reporter Dale Cardwell trails by 28 points, and DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones trails by 24. Facing an incumbent with the conservative credentials of Chambliss, the Dems will be lucky to even keep this one close.

Candidates

Dale Cardwell – Democrat –
former investigative reporter

Website

Vernon Jones – Democrat –
DeKalb County CEO

Website

Saxby Chambliss (I) – Republican – current Senator

Website

Jim Martin – Democrat – former state representative and attorney

Website

Iowa

Outlook: Solid Democratic


June 4, 2008 Update:

Businessman Christopher Reed will face off against Democratic incumbent Tom Harkin in November, after winning a Republican primary that flew under the radar in most media. Harkin is almost a certain bet to win reelection, especially since he sits as the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, one of the most important positions in the Senate for representing Iowa’s largely agricultural economy. As a popular incumbent wielding influence that directly affects the lives of his constituents, Harkin will hold this seat for the Democrats.

March 3, 2008 Update:

As much excitement as Iowa provided us with its caucus this past January, it doesn’t look like it will be able to replicate that once November rolls around. Democrat Tom Harkin, a one-time presidential candidate himself, should cruise to reelection without too much difficulty. Harkin is enjoying a 58 percent approval rating as of February polling, and the Republicans aren’t fielding what one would consider blue chip challengers. In fact only one, businessman Steve Rathje, has even filed with the FEC. In his end-of-year filings, Rathje reported $58.07 in cash on hand; Harkin has almost $3.5 million. The presidential race in Iowa may be interesting (John McCain is in a tight race with Hillary Clinton, but loses soundly to Barack Obama), but the Senate campaign promises much less entertainment.


Background

Four-term incumbent Democratic Senator Tom Harkin had been dogged by retirement rumors until he put them to rest this spring. He may not have to run much of campaign, however, unless he has a definite Republican contender, which is currently not the case.

Many people are buzzing about the prospect of Congressman Steve King challenging Harkin in ’08, but he has yet to confirm his entry into any race. While incumbent Harkin has never garnered more than 55% of the vote in a senate election, he did take a ten point advantage in his last race in 2002.

Harkin currently has over $2.6 million in cash-on-hand, supported largely by his over $1 million raised in the second quarter. That financial base, coupled with his name-recognition, history, and entrenchment in the job, give him a great jumping-off point for a campaign. King is a serious contender, though, and Harkin’s fundraising shows that he’s not taking any opponent lightly.

Candidates

Tom Harkin (I) – Democrat – current Senator
Website

Christopher Reed – Republican –
businessman
Website

Idaho (Open Seat)

Outlook: Solid Republican


May 28, 2008 Update:

The candidates are set; let the horse race begin! Republican Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch won yesterday’s Republican primary, while former Congressman Larry LaRocco won the Democratic primary. Neither result was exactly a surprise, as polling and fundraising figures had shown the two rising to the top of their respective fields. The two can now turn their focus toward each other, and all indications are this could be closer than many statewide races have been in recent memory. Risch holds a polling lead, but hasn’t broken the magical 50 percent mark. As we’ve said before, those same polls show an electorate with a large “undecided” segment, giving LaRocco a chance to close the gap in the next five months. LaRocco will need to step up his fundraising to do so, however: he is currently trailing Risch nearly 2-to-1 in funds raised this cycle. LaRocco has a chance, but it will be an uphill climb. This seat is likely to remain Republican.

March 5, 2008 Update:

Who would’ve thought that Idaho would bring us as much political intrigue as it has in the last six months? Republican Senator Larry Craig gets arrested in Minneapolis, pleads guilty then withdraws his plea, says he’ll resign, and then says he’s serving out his term. More than half a dozen Republicans step up to fight for the nomination, only to have Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch rise to the top, setting up a showdown with former Congressman Larry LaRocco, who faced off against Risch for the Senate in 2006. If this keeps up until November, Idaho newspapers will run out of ink!

Despite the whirlwind, this seat still looks like the Republicans should do OK. Risch has good name recognition, having served as interim governor for a brief while before winning reelection as Lieutenant Governor. Early polling shows him with comfortable ten to fifteen point leads over LaRocco. Risch also has the endorsement of the governor, Republican Butch Otter, as well as other state Republicans.

But this race is far from over. LaRocco isn’t exactly an unknown in Idaho political circles, and is willing to fight Risch tooth and nail. One of LaRocco?s biggest strengths could be his staff: among his top-level advisors are Jessica Vanden Berg and Steve Jarding, both of whom were integral in Virginia Senator Jim Webb?s upset defeat of Republican incumbent George Allen in 2006. Just like Webb, LaRocco is hoping to harness the power of the internet, relying on YouTube videos and mass emails to supporters. The same polling that shows Risch with a lead also says that voters give a slight edge to a generic Democrat over a generic Republican, and nearly a quarter of the electorate is still undecided between Risch and LaRocco. Based on what we see now, we still think this seat is likely to be a Republican hold.


Background

What a difference a month makes. When the Crystal Ball was finalizing its first round of Senate predictions back in mid-August, the only reason Idaho Senator Larry Craig was in the news was amidst speculation he might retire. Now, one can hardly turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper without finding reference to Craig’s alleged tomfoolery in a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport restroom. (We always thought the toe-tapping was because people had on their iPods!)

The official word from Craig’s camp is that his resignation is not too far distant. However, Idaho Republicans shouldn’t have trouble holding on to this seat. With Republican Butch Otter in the governor’s mansion, Craig’s replacement for the remainder of his term is bound to be another Republican. Otter has announced he will choose from one of five candidates: state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, former state senator Dane Watkins, or one of two current state senators, John McGee and Mike Jorgenson.

Flying under the radar during this ordeal is former Congressman Larry LaRocco, who has expressed interest in pursuing the seat for the Democrats. LaRocco ran for the Senate in 2006, but struggled to raise money. Whichever of the five Republicans Governor Otter chooses will have the benefit of incumbency come November 2008, as well as a strong state party machine behind them. Even the distraction of Larry Craig won’t enable Democrats to snatch this seat from Republican hands.

Candidates

Larry LaRocca – Democrat – former Congressman
Website

Jim Risch – Republican – current ID Lt. Governor
Website

Illinois

Outlook: Solid Democratic


May 28, 2008 Update:

When running a campaign in a media market the size of Chicago, money becomes one of the better indicators of electoral success. On top of his incumbency and party advantages, Democrat Dick Durbin is winning the money war, and winning it handily. Durbin has wrangled up more than $9 million in the 2008 election cycle, compared to only $1.5 million for physician Steve Sauerberg, his Republican challenger. Illinois is a very Blue state, Durbin is one of the nation’s more liberal Senators, and all evidence points to him holding onto his seat for another term.

March 5, 2008 Update:

At least one Illinois Senator shouldn’t have electoral problems to worry about in the next few months. Democratic incumbent Dick Durbin should coast through the next eight months on the strength of his incumbency, and the fact that, thanks to Chicago, Illinois is very much a Blue State. Physician Steve Sauerberg won the Republican primary, and will rely on his personal wealth to mount a challenge to Durbin, which could be aided by the fact that Durbin has consistently been rated one of the Senate’s most liberal members. Even with that, Sauerberg is fighting from way behind in this race, and it certainly doesn’t appear that he’ll get close enough to make Durbin sweat.


Background

Though Illinois’ favorite son, Barack Obama, is receiving a lot of attention during his very high profile bid for the presidency, it seem Illinois’ other Democratic Senator will face a rather boring senatorial race next November.

As the current majority whip, Dick Durbin has received some heat for his ranking as the Senate’s most liberal member. Most notably, Durbin received criticism in 2005 due to his scathing remarks about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In his speech on the Senate floor, Durbin compared American torture tactics to those of Nazis and other genocidal regimes, causing many to accuse him of disrespecting US troops. Though Durbin immediately apologized for these remarks, the title of extremist lingers with him still. Despite this, Durbin still holds what many term to be a very safe seat. With estimates of an Illinois senate campaign costing being between $15 million and $20 million, Durbin’s current balance of $6 million certainly gives him a leg up. Moreover, Illinois’ decision to hold the Senate primaries six weeks earlier than normal, decreasing the time any challengers will have to raise funds and campaign, will also help the incumbent Durbin. Perhaps most importantly, Illinois’ position as a solid blue state will likely help this ranking Democrat.

With the high cost of campaigning in Illinois being what it is and with their focus shifted to more competitive races, Republicans are hopeful that one of the many wealthy Chicagoans will take on Durbin in 2008. However, so far no such candidate has officially stepped to the plate. Yet, a draft movement to push Katy Salvi, the wife of Durbin’s 1996 opponent, into the race has some Republicans excited; however, this still appears only to be buzz. Mrs. Salvi is a former candidate for the House, herself, and might be considering another run for that chamber instead.

As for the official challengers, the pickings look slim for Republicans. Middle East expert and self-titled Illinois corruption fighter Andy Martin seems a long shot at best, as his own party has chosen not to back him. Though Martin may have gained fame as a very opinionated radio talk show host, it likely will not be enough to get him to Washington. With a story resembling an inspirational Lifetime movie, Mike Psak takes the cake for least likely to win. The white color professional-turned truck driver has taken on the cause of the little man, and hopes to ride this blue color wave to DC. Psak’s biggest weakness is due to one of the very issues he stumps against, the high cost of political campaigns. Finally, of the official challengers, it seems it is Physician Steve Sauerberg who presents the biggest threat to Durbin. Sauerberg has the endorsement of his party and has pledged to contribute $1 million of his money to his campaign. However, Sauerberg has a long way to go if he wants to seriously compete in this very expensive race.

Candidates

Steve Sauerberg – Republican – physician

Website

Richard Durbin (I) – Democrat – current U.S. Senator

Website

Kansas

Outlook: Solid Republican


June 17, 2008 Update:

A pair of Democratic-sponsored polls taken in early June both showed former Democratic Rep. Jim Slattery with a twelve point deficit to make up against Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. While one showed Roberts leading 48-36, the other showed a 50-38 advantage for the incumbent senator. Also notable was one of the polls showing Slattery with a 56% name identification, far behind Roberts’ total of 93%, but well ahead of most challengers at this time in the cycle. With Roberts, according to Democrats’ pessimistic projections, already near the crucial 50% mark, Slattery’s road to the Senate will have perhaps the steepest grade of any Kansas cartpath.

June 2, 2008 Update:

With Jim Slattery, a former Congressman and the 1994 Democratic nominee for governor, jumping into the race, Democratic prospects for a pick-up here improved, but only ever so slightly. Slattery brings the benefit of name recognition that his primary opponent, railroad engineer Lee Jones, simply can’t, but voters knowing Slattery’s name won’t be enough to unseat a popular Republican incumbent like Pat Roberts. Roberts appeals across the spectrum of Kansas Republicans, a party starkly divided between business conservatives and social conservatives; that divide helped carry Democratic Governor (and possible VP choice) Kathleen Sebelius to victory in 2002 and 2006. But since Roberts bridges the gap, he should be able to fend off his Democratic challenger, be it Slattery or Jones.

March 5, 2008 Update:

With virtually all of the major Democratic faces backing out of this race, Republican incumbent Pat Roberts seems to be in a pretty good position for reelection. Democratic leaders in the Sunflower State had hoped one of several current and former U.S. Representatives would step up to challenge Roberts, but none have materialized. The last Democrat standing appears to be Lee Jones, a railroad engineer and 2004 Democratic nominee for Kansas’ other Senate seat. Jones has been beat once, and nothing makes us think he won’t meet the same fate this time around. Roberts will hold this seat for the Republican Party.


Background

Pat Roberts may need to change his address to Easy Street. As a Republican incumbent, first elected in 1996 with 62% of the vote, then reelected in 2002 with 83% (the highest rate for any statewide election in Kansas history), with no announced Democratic challengers, Roberts’ chances of election are through the roof.

Roberts replaced a retiring Senator in 1996, after 15 years of service in the House. He sits on the Senate Finance Committee, as well as the Select Committee on Ethics. Before the Democrats recaptured the majority in the Senate in 2006, Roberts served as the chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, the committee tasked with investigating pre-Iraq intelligence.

Kansas Dems may think the 2006 election of governor Kathleen Sebelius gives them hope against Roberts. Sebelius’ name has been tossed around by some pundits in the state as a possible Democratic nominee, as have those of former U.S. Representatives Jim Slattery and Dan Glickman. Any of the three face an uphill climb; that is, if there are any hills in Kansas.

Candidates

Pat Roberts (I) – Republican – current Senator
Website

Jim Slattery – Democrat – former Congressman

Website

Lee Jones – Democrat –
railroad engineer, former Senate candidate
Website

Kentucky

Outlook: Leans Republican


October 20, 2008 Update:

Kentucky? Competitive? The list grows ever larger of Republican seats being threatened as we move closer to November 4th and a defeat here would serve as a crippling strike right at the top of the Republican Congressional leadership. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell no longer enjoys the double digits leads he held through mid-September, and our quiet suggestions from the beginning of a potential barn-burner now appear prophetic. This one won?t be easy for the Bluegrass State?s Senior Senator.

The story here is this: Bruce Lunsford is a well funded candidate going up against a Republican incumbent who is tied a little too much to the Bush administration for his own good. McConnell represents the face of GOP Senate leadership during a time when Republicans are being blamed for the economic mess. Kentucky is not averse to giving Republicans and incumbents a hard time, from Jim Bunting?s close victories to ousting of Gov. Ernie Fletcher last year, to McConnell himself, who has never been one for overwhelming popularity and consistent landslide victories. This race, along with the Georgia Senate race among others, represents a battle the GOP needs to win to avoid the possibility of a 60 seat filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, a situation once thought to be highly unlikely. We give a slight nod to the Incumbent Minority Leader, who has been known to slug out tough victories come Election Day, and who, unlike some of his more threatened Republican colleagues, will enjoy the up-ticket boost of a comfortable John McCain victory. But keep your eyes on this one; if the Democrats sweep the field on November 4th, Kentucky would be the ?straw that broke the GOP camel?s back.?

June 2, 2008 Update:

At least now we know which Democrat will lose in November. After months of a hotly contested primary, businessman Bruce Lunsford pulled away from the pack and secured the Democratic nomination. Unfortunately for him, most major polls show him losing by double digits to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has continued to make the efficacy argument, saying that his position as Minority Leader affords Kentuckians more benefit than replacing him with a bottom-of-the-totem-pole freshman Senator. It’s an argument that seems to be working, and should keep McConnell in his seat through another term.

March 5, 2008 Update:

As of now, all signs point to Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell being able to right the Republican ship come November. After Democrat Steve Beshear won the state house last November, hopes were high among Democrats that they could field a strong opponent to McConnell. Unfortunately, top-tier Democratic candidates have walked away from the race one by one. The leading candidate for the Democratic nomination appears to be businessman and two-time gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford, who has garnered support from New York Senator Chuck Schumer and the DSCC. Greg Fischer, the other main contender for the nomination, has opened up with several salvos against Lunsford’s string of electoral defeats, claiming that the only chance Kentucky Democrats have for a victory is someone without Lunsford’s baggage. The reality is that whichever of them wins the nomination will be soundly defeated by McConnell, who has the triple threat of incumbency, a huge war chest, and the argument that his position as Senate Minority Leader benefits the people of Kentucky in a way that no freshman Senator can.

December 20, 2007 Update:

Democrat Greg Stumbo, the outgoing Attorney General of Kentucky, has announced he will not seek Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell’s Senate seat in 2008. Stumbo will instead campaign for a return to the Kentucky House of Representatives.

State auditor Crit Luallen, seen as another of the Democrats’ top choices for unseating McConnell in this election cycle, also announced that she won’t challenge the Senate Minority Leader. With Luallen and Stumbo both gone, the Democratic race to take on McConnell gets blown wide open; unfortunately for the Democrats, none of the handful of candidates still in the race have much chance of defeating the well-known (and fairly popular) McConnell.

November 26, 2007 Update:

Which one means more to the people of Kentucky: the endorsement of their recently elected Governor, or the position of Senate Minority Leader? Come November 2008, we should know the answer to that question.

Mitch McConnell is something of a Kentucky icon, a Republican Senator with more than 20 years’ experience under his belt. Senate Republicans rewarded his experience after the 2006 election cycle by giving him an increased leadership role in that august chamber. Kentuckians certainly appreciate what that means for their state: when the leading Senator of the GOP hails from your neck of the woods, you get a little more attention. But what’s unclear in Kentucky is just how much more of McConnell’s support for the war in Iraq people are willing to take.

With the election of Democrat Steve Beshear, McConnell’s Democratic opponents get a leg-up from their previous position. Beshear obviously has statewide appeal, and his voice in favor of the Democratic nominee could be a significant factor in how competitive this race becomes. Democrats feel they have several strong nominees, in particular newly elected state auditor Crit Luallen. Also high on their list is outgoing attorney general Greg Stumbo, who like Luallen and Beshear has been elected to statewide office, and who should make an official announcement in either direction in early December.

As of now, it’s hard to see a Democrat dislodging McConnell from his seat. He’s a shrewd politician with a long and distinguished record in Kentucky. Beshear’s ascension to the governor’s mansion was more likely a product of outgoing governor Ernie Fletcher’s scandals than a true shift in Kentucky’s political leanings, but Democrats who are feeling their oats are likely to give it a shot anyway. McConnell won’t be a shoo-in, but he is the odds-on favorite until Democrats prove otherwise.


Background

As the Senate Minority leader with over 20 years of experience, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell would appear to hold a fairly safe seat as we approach the 2008 Senate race. Nonetheless, due to his steadfast support of President Bush’s Iraq policy and an unavoidable connection to a still reeling Republican party, the 2008 Kentucky race may turn out to be a real run for the roses.

Recently, McConnell has received a lot of criticism for falling out of touch with his voters, declaring that his constituency was behind him in his firm support of the President’s Iraq policy, while polls showed that over half of Kentucky’s voters thought differently. Moreover, the Senator’s job approval rating remains below 50 percent. If that is not enough, McConnell faces intra-party challenges as well. Kentucky’s Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher has shown support for McConnell but recently stopped short of endorsing him after McConnell spurned Fletcher in the 2007 gubernatorial primary. A movement has even been started to draft former Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Forgy to challenge McConnell in the primary. While it appears McConnell still has not taken his blinders off when it comes to Iraq and his support of the Bush administration, he does have a very large war chest, $7.6 million to be exact, to soothe old wounds.

Though several potential challengers graze in the paddock, no Democratic challenger has officially entered the starting gate to run against McConnell. Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo has formed an exploratory committee, but certainly has some deciding to do as he is still reeling from a recent electoral loss and carries the personal baggage of an extra-marital affair and DUI. Louisville businessman and former U.S. Assistant Attorney Charlie Owens has also expressed interest in running for the seat, and certainly has the money to put up a good fight. Finally, it is Congressman Ben Chandler who is receiving all the hype from his fellow Democrats. A major push is underway to get him to run; however, he has yet to enter the race.

With no Democrat entered into the race, Mitch McConnell will likely keep his ”Old Kentucky Home” yet. However, if Ben Chandler or Greg Stumbo enter the race, Democrats will hope that Kentuckians will break out their big hats and mint juleps once again, and that the derby might come twice next year.

Candidates

Bruce Lunsford – Democrat – businessman

Website

Mitch McConnell (I) – Republican – current U.S. Senator

Website

Louisiana

Outlook: Leans Democratic


October 20, 2008 Update:

Here we have the only remotely threatened Democrat-held seat in all of the Senate, and the race hasn?t even been as close as many thought. In a state wrought with demographic changes and partisan shifts all over the spectrum, it appears that incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu has opened up a significant, if not commanding, lead in the polls over former Democrat and Republican state treasurer John Kennedy.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has concentrated its efforts to unseat the senior Senator, has been strapped for cash as it fights battles on a few too many fronts across the country. Forced to almost pull ads and funding from the state, a last minute decision was made based on ?tightening polls,? causing them to reverse course and continue the ad buys (a Kennedy internal poll does have the challenger within 5 points). It remains to be seen if National Republicans can afford to continue pouring money into the Bayou with the same vigor given the previously safe Republican seats in North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky now seemingly up-for-grabs. Furthermore, the Republican brand has met with mixed results, given the positives of John McCain’s and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s statewide popularity versus the negatives of Sen. David Vitter and his prostitution controversy (how ironic would Vitter?s potential adverse influence on Kennedy be, given the fact that he beat the then Democrat Kennedy for the other seat in 2004?). This race still leans in Landrieu?s favor, and considering the national trends in recent weeks, we remain skeptical of Kennedy?s ability to close the still-present gap between him and the incumbent. Kennedy could very well end up being the lone star Quarterback forced to watch from the sideline as the Democrats? constant offense keeps a tiring GOP defense on the field as the clock reaches 0:00.

June 2, 2008 Update:

The post-Katrina demographic changes within the state, most notably the diaspora of African-Americans to other Gulf states, suggests that Louisiana may lean in a much more Republican direction than it has of late. As a result, the race between Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and Democrat-turned-Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy looks like it will be decided on a razor-thin margin. But with Democrat Dan Cazayoux’s victory in Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District, one of three Democratic victories in special elections for long-time Republican seats, Landrieu may be breathing just a touch easier. While the election of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal reinforced the perception of a pro-Republican shift in state politics, Cazayoux’s surprising win has buoyed Democratic hopes for a 2008 election cycle that will be kind to Democratic candidates. The next few months will be a long and bumpy ride for both candidates, as this race is still far too close to call.

April 10, 2008 Update:

Three months into 2008 and the race for Louisiana’s Senate seat has yet to heat up. Perhaps between the ongoing presidential campaign and the two House special elections, there is too much competing for the attention of Bayou State voters. Whatever the case, the continued low profile of this race stands to benefit incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu who will need all the help she can get to overcome the demographic changes in post-Katrina Louisiana.

Her challenger, former Democratic state Treasurer John Kennedy has yet to catch fire with conservative voters. Although he is a top notch candidate, Kennedy’s preferred message of fiscal conservatism does little to quiet the state’s Republican base concerns about his liberal social views. Fortunately for Kennedy, Louisiana’s old free-for-all primary election which rewards ideological purity is no more, and to date, he has not drawn a primary challenger to the right. After the national Democratic primary and state special elections fade from the news cycle, Kennedy must take the fight to Landrieu and jumpstart a race that has been slow to develop.

Landrieu, on the other hand, has benefited from the developments of 2008. In the past month, she picked up the endorsements of several North Shore Republican elected officials and has continued to raise money at a steady clip. Landrieu’s appeal to voters is simple: put aside partisan differences and focus on the needs of the rebuilding state. Her two terms of seniority, Landrieu argues, are the state’s most valuable asset, given the relative youth of Louisiana’s congressional delegation (1 freshman senator, 2 open House seats). Her coveted seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairmanship of a FEMA oversight subcommittee, Landrieu protests, should not be discarded lightly either. In the end, the election may come down to whether Landrieu can convince voters that her seniority best serves the state’s interest or whether the incumbent succumbs to the irresistible forces of Governor Jindal, Senator McCain, and Louisiana’s changing demographics.

December 14, 2007 Update:

This is the only contest involving a Democratic incumbent because, incredibly, this is the only incumbent that Republicans have any reasonable shot at defeating. Senator Mary Landrieu has won two close contests for Senate, and with the exodus of Democratic African-American votes from New Orleans to other states after Hurricane Katrina, she can take nothing for granted. Her GOP opponent will be state Treasurer John Kennedy, a party-switcher. This is likely to be a tight race from beginning to end. Our instinct is to give the edge to Landrieu, but newly elected Governor Bobby Jindal (R) is a big asset for Kennedy, and the national Republican Party, having no other targets, can be expected to pour resources into this race. Also keep in mind that a court decision has required the state to hold regular party primaries in 2008 instead of the unique all-party primary that has characterized Bayou State politics for decades. This could be a wild card, too.


Background

Democratic Incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu is in dire danger of falling victim to the Republican trend that is taking over this post-Katrina, rapidly-Reddening state.

Whether Landrieu sinks or swims will be dependent in large part on the identity of her future contender, but no matter who she runs against, Landrieu will always have the invaluable advantage of entrenched incumbency and name-recognition. Looking to capture a third term in 2008, Landrieu won her first two elections by incredibly narrow margins – showing that while her base may not be as strong as other incumbents’, she does know how to win the close ones.

Another advantage for the incumbent is her fundraising capability (she took in $1 million in the first quarter of this year, thrice her total of the last quarter in 2006), in addition to the financial strength of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Yet the Senator will also have to contend with changing demographics in the post-Katrina state, where the margin of victory for a Democrat in a much smaller New Orleans may no longer be enough to cover the Republican votes in the rest of the state.

If Landrieu and her team can use her incumbency to their advantage, while simultaneously adapting to her constituency’s shifting demographics, she may be able to hold onto her seat. At this point, anything is possible, but one certain fact is that Landrieu ends 2007 as the most vulnerable Democrat in 2008.

Candidates

Mary Landrieu (I) – Democrat – current Senator
Website

John Kennedy – Republican –
state Treasurer
Website

Massachusetts

Outlook: Solid Democratic


June 4, 2008 Update:

Retired Air Force officer Jim Ogonowski won’t be on the primary ballot in Massachusetts. He came 30 signatures short of the 10,000 required, and as a result, Sen. John Kerry will be facing former CIA, FBI, and Delta Force officer Jeff Beatty who is now unopposed. Ogonowski was the favorite to win the GOP primary until this campaign misstep removed him from consideration. While there are certain legal remedies available to him, it appears at this point that he will no longer be a Senate candidate in 2008.

March 25, 2008 Update:

There’s safe, and then there’s Democratic incumbent in Massachusetts safe. While the Republicans have been making lots of noise about knocking off four-term incumbent John Kerry, they have pretty much nothing to show for it. Kerry has the cash, experience, and party machinery to hold off any Republican challenge, especially when that challenge isn’t coming from a top-notch candidate. Air Force veteran and 2007 House candidate Jim Ogonowski appears to be the Republican’s best shot, but he’ll need a quantum shift in state politics to get within sniffing distance of Kerry.


Background

Though John Kerry has decided not to run in the 2008 Presidential race, his bid for a 5th term in the Senate will surely give him more of an electoral workout than usual. Even though Kerry’s seat has often been thought to be safe, he will still have to flex some muscle to keep it in his hands. With low job approval ratings and recent polls showing that 56 percent of the Bay State’s voters think it is time for Kerry to step down, it seems that given a serious challenge, Kerry could be in hot water. However, luckily for the experienced Senator, money and lack of exceptional competition have the odds in his favor so far. With over $11 million in his campaign coffers, Kerry is a tough candidate to beat.

Kerry will have to battle his way through this race at every level, as he even faces some friendly fire, as Massachusetts attorney Ed O’Reilly has said he will run against Kerry in the Democratic primary. Kerry can still count on the firm backing of the Democratic Party, but primaries can still be a nuisance for even the most prominent Democrats, as Joe Lieberman can attest.

From the Republican side, Kerry has no official challengers, but he does face several interested candidates. Businessman and former member of the Army, FBI, and CIA Jeff Beatty has recently established an exploratory committee. Certainly his credentials will make him a strong candidate on homeland security issues; however, his past history of poor fundraising skills will present him with a major weakness. In 2006, Beatty only garnered only 29 percent of the vote in a bid for the House, and many speculate that his mere $100,000 in campaign contributed to his loss. A recent poll shows him within the margin of error of Kerry (45 percent to 48 percent) after a short bio of each candidate is read. The good news for Beatty is that voters think he has the qualifications for the job, but the bad news is that he will need to raise the money to get his name, and credentials, out there to the whole electorate in order to stay competitive. Other names have been thrown around for the Republican ticket, including Red Sox legend, Curt Schilling and talk show host and former Representative Peter Blute. However, none of these rumors have materialized into campaigns yet.

Though this race will have Kerry working hard, it hardly signals the end of his Senate career. With more money than any Senator in his war chest and no A-list competitor, Kerry will likely see a 5th term as Massachusetts’s junior Senator.

Candidates

Jeff Beatty – Republican – former CIA, FBI, and Delta Force officer and former House candidate

Website

John Kerry (I) – Democrat – current U.S. Senator

Website

Maine

Outlook: Leans Republican


October 20, 2008 Update:

It?s funny: of ALL the contested Senate seats in this cycle, with Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky ALL in play, the GOP incumbent in dark-blue Maine is one of the safest of them all. Democratic Congressman Tom Allen has all of the advantages we laid out in the last update, but has made no inroads in the polls against Republican Susan Collins. Her poll numbers have remained in the double digits since June, and her image-making as a moderate Republican, combined with the natural advantage of the incumbency, has prevented Allen from successfully tying her to failed Republican policies like other Senate candidates have done this year (also funny: it has worked in Oregon; see Merkley, Jeff). Sure Barack Obama should easily take the state on Election Day. Sure Collins may not be as popular as fellow GOP Sen. Olympia Snow. But one thing is definitely for certain: amidst all these amusing anecdotes, if these poll numbers persist, Tom Allen won?t be laughing on November 5th.

June 19, 2008 Update:

Politics can be just like fishing. You can have the best equipment, find the best location, and have the perfect conditions, but sometimes, the fish just aren?t biting. That?s how Maine Democrat Tom Allen feels right about now. Once considered one of the top recruits of the cycle, Allen seemed poised to unseat yet another Northeastern Republican in Senator Susan Collins. He has the fundraising ($2.75 million cash on hand), the name ID, and the national mood at his back, but Allen just can?t seem to make the sales pitch to Maine voters.

A recent poll shows Collins holding a commanding 53 to 37 lead which has not changed since the campaign began. To be sure, Collins has not committed a fireable offense, but neither did Senators DeWine or Chafee in 2006, yet both found themselves unemployed last November. This cycle, Collins has done a better job of consolidating independent and moderate Republican support from headliners like Joe Lieberman (aside: does he endorse Democrats anymore?), John McCain, and George Bush Sr. to inoculate herself from the poisonous national mood. Thus far, Allen?s attempts to tie her to the Bush administration have fallen flat, and if he doesn?t fundamentally reshape Maine?s electoral landscape, so too will his bid for the Senate.

March 25, 2008 Update:

Here’s a race that’s shaping up to be pretty remarkable. Republican incumbent Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Tom Allen have both been in Washington for 12 years, Collins in the Senate; Allen in the House. As they’ve begun to square off, their combined fundraising totals point to this being the most expensive race in Maine history; however, Collins is enjoying only the slightest edge in cash on hand. Allen faces something of an uphill battle, since Collins has enjoyed fairly strong job approval ratings. If he hopes to overcome his deficit in the polls, Allen is going to need to change a lot of minds. Unlike most challengers, Allen shouldn’t have problems with name recognition thanks to his tenure in Congress, but unless he can create some major momentum, Collins still appears to have the upper hand in what will be a closely contested race.

December 14, 2007 Update:

Two-term Senator Susan Collins (R) is still the favorite for reelection, but if a Democrat wins Maine by a wide margin, the coattail effect could work in favor of Congressman Tom Allen (D). We will be carefully monitoring this one, but Collins is holding up well so far.


Background

In Maine, the race for Senator Susan Collins‘s seat is shaping up to be a barnburner. Democratic Representative Tom Allen continues to impress the DSCC by banking $1.1M in the second quarter, leaving him with $1.7 million cash-on-hand. Not to be outdone, Senator Collins trumped Allen with almost $1.3 million in the second quarter, filling her coffers to a total of $2.3 million cash-on-hand.

Collins is generally respected within the state and enjoys favorable approval ratings, but her stance on Iraq and the unpopularity of President Bush are the twin albatrosses around the Senator’s neck. Unlike her Republican Senatorial counterpart Olympia Snowe, who avoided challenge in the wave of 2006, Collins did not support the Democratic-led Iraq withdrawal plan and has unsuccessfully attempted to find middle ground on the partisan divide over the Middle East. Still, it would take quite an impressive anti-Iraq war movement to unseat Collins, and Maine does not yet seem to have that type of movement afoot.

Allen does still have a fighting chance in November 2008, given the Lincoln Chafee precedent of 2006. The parallels are many; both Collins and Chafee are moderate, popular Republicans in Northeastern states bogged down by an unpopular president. Democrats hope that Collins, like Chafee in 2006, will be ultimately swept away by a Democratic wave.

Republicans, on the other hand, are quick to point out that Chafee had to endure a bruising primary and Maine is naturally more conservative than Rhode Island. The other big difference is Senator Collins’s stance on the Iraq war (Chafee was the only Republican to vote against it, Collins is more hawkish), but only time will tell whether Mainers are fed up enough to unseat this still-popular incumbent.

Candidates

Susan Collins (I) – Republican –
current Senator
Website

Tom Allen – Democrat – U.S. House Represenative

Website

Michigan

Outlook: Solid Democratic


June 18, 2008 Update:

Two things are certain in this Michigan Senate race. One, Democratic Senator Carl Levin will face Republican nominee Jack Hoogendyk in the November general election. Hoogendyk was the only Republican to qualify for the August primary ballot, assuring him the GOP nod.

Certainty number two: Levin will win this now-finalized match-up. Hoogendyk has raised about $100,000, which pales in comparison to Levin’s $5 million cash on hand. And while Levin has served for nearly thirty years in the U.S. Senate, Hoogendyk has spent six years in the state house of representatives. This race will go Levin’s way, as he has a wealth of both experience and campaign funds.

March 25, 2008 Update:

Michigan looks like it will be spending all of its political drama on the presidential delegate battle, since it won’t need much in the Senate race. With a lack of any substantial Republican challengers, Democratic incumbent Carl Levin should coast to reelection come November. Levin has kept the pedal to the floor on fundraising, setting himself up with nearly $4 million in cash on hand; his closest Republican opponent has a paltry $10,000 by comparison. In the unlikely event that a major challenger arises, Levin should be able to simply bludgeon them with cash, and ease right on into his sixth term.


Background

Democratic Senator Carl Levin, so far, has no announced GOP opponent, but has still found a way to put his spare time to good use. In the second quarter alone he raised $1.76 million, third among non-presidential candidate incumbents, and has $2.86 million cash-on-hand. Republicans vow that they will eventually produce a candidate, but none have volunteered and no one is going across the state to set up a campaign structure. Against any incumbent, but especially Levin with his fundraising prowess, that could be a fatal mistake. With 2006 Republican nominee Mike Bouchard passing on a challenge and Republican state representative Jack Hoogendyk voicing limited interest, this seat looks as safe as can be.

Candidates

Carl Levin (I) – Democrat – current Senator
Website

Jack Hoogendyk – Republican – state representative

Website

Minnesota

Outlook: Leans Republican


November 14, 2008 Update:

Those holding their breaths awaiting final results from the Gopher State can’t breathe easy quite yet. With just 206 votes separating Democrat Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, this contest likely won’t be resolved until mid-December.

While Coleman holds the incredibly thin lead, the recount preparations are all but finalized. At the center of attention is state Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the Democratic office-holder who will oversee the recount. While Coleman’s forces have praised the panel Ritchie appointed to oversee the recount, many have accused Ritchie of overt partisanship. At issue are his comments to Fox News which were seen as overly harsh to Coleman. The comments stirred up a frenzy of criticism, although there have been no concrete allegations of misconduct. Even with the Minnesota winter rapidly approaching, this race is still heating up.

October 4, 2008 Update:

It?s amazing what a wacky election cycle will do to a popular, well-financed incumbent going up against a famous late-night comedian in a state where a man nicknamed ?The Body? once served as governor. Senator Norm Coleman has made it his job to point out all of Al Franken?s crude and satirical pokes throughout the years in an attempt to demonstrate his opponent has neither the gravitas nor the temperament to hold high office. On some level, Franken’s his recent collaboration on Saturday Night Live skit critical of John McCain only cemented this un-Senatorial impression, but on the whole, things are looking up for the challenger.

For most of the campaign, Mr. Franken has been on the defensive, but recently he has countered with ads that have resonated with Minnesotans. Turning away from satire, Franken?s ads feature the candidate looking straight into the camera and denouncing Coleman?s ties to Bush, indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, and the tarnished GOP brand in general. Even more provocative spots feature the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq condemning Coleman for failed oversight and leadership. For Franken, the campaign?s serious turn has worked: recent polls have shown Coleman?s once-strong lead to be fading fast.

Despite Franken?s recent momentum, however, the Independent Party candidacy of former Senator Dean Barkley scrambles the Democratic challenger?s path to victory. Polls show that Barkley?who was appointed by Governor Jesse Ventura to fill the 2002 vacancy following Senator Paul Wellstone?s death? registers in the low-to-mid teens and appears to be siphoning votes away from both candidates, but odds are Franken is hurting more. In a blue-state ?change? election, there is a significant bloc of anti-Bush, anti-Republican, anti-incumbent voters, enough perhaps to knock off even the popular, well-financed Coleman. With a controversial Democratic challenger, this ?change? vote may split between Franken and Barkley, allowing Coleman to sneak through with his pro-incumbent coalition intact. As presidential polls show a close race further up the ballot, national events may also influence the contest as it continues to tighten. In any event, this race has become one to watch as we careen towards November 4th.

July 16, 2008 Update:

Pundits and prognosticators nationwide breathed a collective a sigh of disappointment Tuesday when Jesse ?The Body? Ventura chose surfing in Mexico over campaigning in Minnesota. (Seriously, can anyone really blame him?) Although three ring circus between a sitting Senator, a comedian, and a former professional wrestler would have been hugely entertaining for political junkies, Ventura?s no-go was the best news for Al Franken in months. Had the former Governor stepped into the ring, his votes almost certainly would have come at Franken?s expense.

Ventura?s non-entrance, however, won?t drain all of the energy from the race. Franken?s off-color writings continue to simmer with more undoubtedly to come by November, and Norm Coleman has drawn scrutiny over renting bargain-basement DC apartment from a lobbyist friend. For now, though, Coleman retains the advantage over Franken, despite the state?s liberal lean and the nation?s Democratic mood. The passing of the filing deadline without new entries also means that Democrats are stuck with a severely flawed candidate in Franken. Come 2009, the party may well remember Minnesota as their biggest missed opportunity of the entire cycle.

June 18, 2008 Update:

In the state with the Twin Cities, Democratic candidate Al Franken has hit twin stumbling blocks. The first were tax problems, after it was revealed that he would have to pay nearly $100,000 in back taxes due in various states where the touring comedian had earned income over the previous five years. While Franken claims he paid roughly the correct sum and merely sent it to the wrong states, he garnered headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Franken’s second recent revelation regarded a somewhat explicit article the comedian wrote for Playboy magazine in 2000. His political opponents have been mining his past writings, of which they are countless, looking for the most egregious examples to represent that Franken is unfit to serve as a United States senator. Despite the fiery criticism of his 2000 Playboy article and his overdue taxes, Franken still sewed up the DFL, as the Democratic Party is known in Minnesota, endorsement. While former candidate Mike Ciresi, who dropped out in March, is rumored to be considering a return to the race and could therefore still force a primary, it is almost certain that Franken will be the nominee.

The next stage is the general election. A May poll showed Franken trailing incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by 7%, with nearly 40% of voters having a unfavorable opinion of Franken and only 30% with a favorable opinion. A later Rasumussen poll, taken in June, also showed Coleman leading, but Franken was within the margin of error. Clearly, this race will be close all the way until November, but Coleman has managed to avoid bad press for the past few months while Franken has been wallowing in it. Advantage: Coleman.

March 25, 2008 Update:

If you’re in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and it seems a bit warmer than usual, that’s probably because how hotly contested this Senate race has already become. Writer and comedian Al Franken has emerged from a very close Democratic nomination process to be the party’s likely challenger to Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. Franken has shown a remarkable ability to raise money, reporting over $3 million in cash on hand as of December 2007. He’s going to need every last cent of it, as Coleman?s war chest hovers around $6 million.

As much money as the two have, this is a race that could come down to image. Coleman is attempting to paint Franken as a divisive, mean-spirited Hollywood liberal, making sure voters know every last crack Franken has made at Republicans during his time on Saturday Night Live and other shows. Franken will undoubtedly retort by lumping Coleman in with George Bush and the Republican establishment; if he calls Coleman a lying liar, then we’ll know the gloves are all the way off.

When Franken first entered the race, many pundits were quick to dismiss him as basically a protest candidate. But after all-but-clinching the Democratic nomination, Franken has proved his campaign is no laughing matter, and that he’ll be a serious challenge to Coleman winning a second term in the Senate. Coleman has incumbency and healthy approval ratings going for him, tilting this race in his favor, but it’s going to be very interesting for months to come.

December 14, 2007 Update:

Here’s a state that still leans Democratic but overall can be unpredictable politically. Six years ago, Republican Norm Coleman won a narrow victory over former Vice President Walter Mondale (D), the substitute nominee after the tragic death of Senator Paul Wellstone (D) in a plane crash. Coleman is beatable in 2008, but it’s far from certain that either of the two likely Democratic nominees, comedian Al Franken or the wealthy Mike Ciresi, can do it. For now, Coleman continues to work his state hard, and we’ll call it LEANS REPUBLICAN.

November 20, 2007 Update:

Al Franken is no joke. Since March, he’s halved the polling gap between himself and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, to single digits. He’s fundraising like crazy, and always shows genuine emotion when talking about the war in Iraq, improving healthcare, and other hot button Democratic issues.

However, Franken may not even get a shot at Coleman. His opponent for the Democratic nomination, attorney Mike Ciresi, trails Coleman by even fewer points than Franken, actually breaking into the margin of error in some polls. If Minnesota Dems see Ciresi as the more likely candidate to take back a Democratic seat in the Senate, November could see Coleman v. Ciresi, not Coleman v. Franken.

One wild card in the Democratic nominating process is what happens with Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a professor at St. Thomas University who trails Franken and Ciresi by wide margins in the fundraising race. Nelson-Pallmeyer stands little chance of actually winning the nomination, but could deliver his supporters into the camp of one of the more viable candidates, swinging what is sure to be a close convention in favor of either Franken or Ciresi.

The general election is bound to be a bloodbath. Coleman is polling under 50% in hypothetical contests with both of the Democratic frontrunners, numbers that don’t bode well for an incumbent less than a year from the election. Democrats are resentful that a Republican holds this seat, one that belonged to the late Paul Wellstone for almost 12 years. Whoever their nominee is, expect for Dems to come out swinging, and swinging for the fences.


Background

Senator Norm Coleman took his seat in the Senate in 2002, narrowly defeating former Vice President Walter Mondale. After just four years in office, he faces further opposition to his post that will likely result in another close election. Coleman’s approval rating, according to a March 2007 SurveyUSA poll, was at 47%, with 43% disapproving. Those numbers are not strong enough by any means to guarantee re-election, especially for a Republican candidate in Minnesota in a presidential election year.

Celebrity comedian Al Franken‘s name recognition has given him a boost in the early days of campaigning. In the second quarter, Franken raised $1.9 million. His first quarter donations totaled $1.35 million, making him an economically serious challenger to Coleman. The current Senator raised $1.5 million in the first quarter and $1.6 in the second, but has a total of $3.9 million cash-on-hand. Franken also faces at least three other Democratic opponents who, though less financially successful, will surely attempt to discredit him as a funnyman who lacks the gravitas to be a United State Senator.

Lawyer Mike Ciresi will have no problem financing a campaign either; he raised $750,000 in the second quarter alone. As a successful attorney who has faced-off against tobacco companies, Ciresi will be able to donate extensively to his own campaign. Ciresi’s previous attempt at the Senate failed in 2000, when he lost the Democratic primary to eventual Senator Mark Dayton.

Environmental activist Jim Cohen rounds out the list of Democratic contenders. Facing a financial hurdle that his opponents do not, fiscal concerns could cause him to be lost in a crowd of other, better-known hopefuls.

The primary battle will be further complicated by the convention nominating system utilized by the Minnesota state parties. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has scheduled their statewide convention for June 2008 and it is there that party activists and leaders will choose their Senate nominee. This system could neutralize some of Franken’s money advantage, rewarding instead grassroots organization and the support of party insiders.

In recent statewide campaigns, Minnesota voted against Bush twice, though narrowly, and ex-Governor Jesse Ventura proved that the state is unafraid to elect a different personality to office. However, three of the past five senators have been Republicans, showing a more recent Republican trend in the state. The conflicted nature of Minnesota’s party politics, coupled with such diverse and high-profile candidates, will lead to an unpredictable and exciting 2008 race.

Candidates

Al Franken – Democrat – comedian, liberal activist

Website

Norm Coleman (I) – Republican – current Senator

Website

Dean Barkley – Independent – former Senator

Website

Mississippi (1)

Outlook: Solid Republican


March 25, 2008 Update:

With much of the attention focused on Mississippi’s other Senate race, it would be almost possible to forget that Thad Cochran is up for reelection. Cochran announced his intentions fairly late in the game, but state Democrats failed to drum up any serious candidates, unable to take advantage of the brief period of uncertainty. As a result, Cochran is running against Democrat Erik Fleming, a former state legislator who ran against retired Senator Trent Lott in 2006. Cochran has stepped up his fundraising efforts, breaking the $1 million mark in cash on hand by the end of 2007. With an incumbent enjoying approval ratings above 60 percent, there’s little question that this will be a Republican hold in 2008.

November 26, 2007 Update:

Republican incumbent Thad Cochran laid to rest months of speculation when he announced that he is in fact seeking reelection in 2008. Cochran’s announcement means that Mississippi Republicans will only have to deal with one open seat in November 2008. (Trent Lott has announced he will be retiring as well, although it’s unclear precisely when his retirement will take effect.) Cochran may very well not even face a challenger if the Democrats choose to focus their attentions on Lott’s open seat instead of taking on the venerable Cochran. Certainly this picture will become more clear when more is known about the race for Lott’s seat.


Background

There’s been no official word from the Thad Cochran camp about whether or not the senior Senator from Mississippi will run for reelection in 2008. Low fund-raising totals (only $275K in the second quarter) have raised speculation that this may be his last go in Washington. He does, however, have over a million dollars cash -on-hand, the same amount he had at this time six years ago.

Retirement would not be a huge surprise. Cochran has been in the Senate since 1978, and would leave behind quite a track record. He was the first Republican to hold statewide office in Mississippi since Reconstruction, and was the first Republican from a former Confederate state to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee after gaining that position in 2005. His moderate positions on stem cell research and other social issues haven’t dimmed his appeal in Mississippi, as he constantly polls above 60% approval.

Whether or not Cochran hangs up his hat, the only likely Democratic contender is Gene Taylor, Congressman from the 4th District. Taylor is a right-leaning Democrat, which could appeal to Mississippi’s very red voters. No Republican heirs to the seat have arisen, and none likely will before an official announcement from Cochran.

Candidates

Erik Fleming – Democrat – former state representative

Website

Thad Cochran (I) – Republican – current Senator

Website

Mississippi (2)

Outlook: Leans Republican


October 1, 2008 Update:

As election day grows nearer, Democratic challenger Ronnie Musgrove has to find a way to bridge the gap between him and appointed Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who has opened up a decent lead since July. Musgrove has made a point of running as far away from Barack Obama ideologically, yet his success will ultimately rest on the Democratic turnout throughout the state, especially among the substantial African-American vote in the state. He would be as ?Blue Dog? as one can get in the Senate (he opposes a number of positions of the Democratic platform, including most notably guns and abortion), and his hope is that such a moderate record will resonate with voters in the Magnolia State. But any up-ballot influence in the Democrats favor has appeared to have come and gone, as Obama has pulled out of the state and John McCain appears headed for a comfortable victory. This, as well as Musgrove?s negative image given his prior marital indiscretions and electoral ousting as Governor in 2003, makes the Democrat’s chances seem bleak.

Still, anything is possible, especially in THIS election cycle. The election of Travis Childers in a special election for Mississippi?s first Congressional district in May has set a precedent for a moderate Democrat to find success here with such a platform as Musgrove?s. While the Democrat had been putting up respectable but not superb polling numbers during the, summer, a recent Rasmussen poll has him only down 2 points. An additional development has come within the past couple of weeks, as controversy has erupted over the sample ballot endorsed by Republican Governor Haley Barbour that has been approved to go out to voters. The ballot puts this race at the very bottom of the column, a move that has Democrats up in arms, claiming election fraud and accusing the Republican administration in of trying to hide the race (the State Supreme Court declared the ballot illegal, and the race has been moved back up next to the other Senate Race). Could this be a sign that Republicans are scared? Stay tuned to this race: because of these developments, as well as Musgrove?s modest gains in the polls, we are for the moment placing this race in the ?Leans Republican? column.

July 16, 2008 Update:

With three months to go before election day, the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates running for Mississippi?s open Senate seat have grown ever more pronounced. The candidate, either Roger Wicker or Ronnie Musgrove, who can best highlight his strengths and address his weaknesses will likely emerge victorious in this unlikeliest of tossups.

By now, the Wicker campaign knows that it cannot rest upon their laurels of party identification and demographics to secure the remainder of Trent Lott?s term. Instead, Wicker must overcome an anti-Washington national mood and his limited statewide appeal to avoid the fate of MS-01 candidate Greg Davis (R), whose suburban Memphis base wasn?t enough to defeat a candidate who could deliver the downstate ?Bubba? vote. Already, Wicker is blitzing central Mississippi and the Gulf Coast with ads aimed at establishing himself as an everyman?s conservative Mississippian before Musgrove can make the Washington label stick.

Musgrove, meanwhile, can?t win without money. Thus far, Wicker enjoys a commanding lead in fundraising, banking $2.9 million to the former Governor?s $716K. This quarter, Musgrove nearly matched Wicker with $814K, and the DSCC has already started to air independent ads, but Musgrove must narrow the gap to turn his statewide potential into electoral results. Perhaps more than any other competitive race in the country, Mississippi?s special election is one where the quality of campaigns will matter, and whoever rises to the occasion can claim four years as an elected Senator.

March 25, 2008 Update:

This is what we’ve been waiting for: a legitimately competitive race in the Deep South. With the retirement of long-time Republican Senator Trent Lott, Mississippi finds itself in the midst of a real political battle, a rarity in a state that’s usually red as red can be. Republican Roger Wicker was appointed to the open seat by Governor Haley Barbour back in December, and will enjoy almost a full year of incumbency once Election Day rolls around. Opposing him is Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, a former governor who is no stranger to Mississippi voters.

The election date to replace Lott has been a source of much contention. Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood fought Barbour’s setting of a November date tooth and nail, recognizing the disadvantage any Democratic candidate would have against a well-entrenched incumbent. In late February, the state Supreme Court ruled that Barbour’s date would stand; after an extended battle, Hood and the state Democrats declined to take the fight any further.

Neither Wicker nor Musgrove has exactly exploded onto the fundraising scene. Wicker reported approximately $500,000 cash on hand to end 2007, while Musgrove had not filed any reports with the FEC. Statewide polls have been all over the place, some showing Musgrove up by double digits, others reporting substantial leads for Wicker. With everything else appearing to be more or less a wash, we have to return to the issue of incumbency. Wicker will have had 11 months to make a name for himself in Washington; if he’s succeeded, he can hold on to this seat for the Republicans, if just barely.

January 7, 2008 Update:

Two Democrats have officially entered the race to succeed outgoing Republican Trent Lott. Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove and former Congressman Ronnie Shows both announced their candidacies last week. As a Democrat who recently held statewide office in Mississippi, no small feat in the Deep South, Musgrove would appear to have the early edge for the nomination. Either Shows or Musgrove will have their hands full with Republican Congressman Roger Wicker, who was appointed to the vacant seat and will hold the advantage of a brief incumbency in the general election.

The issue of the election date is still somewhat up in the air. Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, had announced the election would be held on November 4, in conjunction with the general election nationwide. If the election is held on that date, then Wicker’s incumbency advantage would be even greater. However, Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, has challenged the November 4 election date, arguing that since Lott resigned in 2007, the election to fill his seat must happen within 90 days of the resignation; had Lott waited until after January 1 to resign, then the election could be held November 4.

It may be a while before everything in Mississippi is entirely sorted out, but for the time being we still see this race as LEANS REPUBLICAN.

December 14, 2007 Update:

It is not yet certain whether this special election for the seat of the resigning Sen. Trent Lott (R) will be held in March or November. Mississippi law is less than definitive on the subject. However, Gov. Haley Barbour appears determined to hold it in November, when the GOP presidential nominee will almost certainly be carrying the state and helping the party’s nominee. The temporary Senator, to be appointed by Barbour, will also have most of a year to establish himself. Still, this could be a real contest if former Governor Ronnie Musgrove decides to run as the Democratic candidate. For the moment, given the decidedly Republican nature of the Magnolia State, we will rate this one as LEANS REPUBLICAN.


Background

With the announcement that Republican Trent Lott will retire before the end of his term, the Senate picture in Mississippi got a whole lot murkier. Lott’s counterpart, Republican Thad Cochran, held off on announcing he would be running for reelection until the middle of November; just when we thought things had settled down, Lott decided to retire.

The thinking for the Democrats almost has to be that they’ll gun for the open seat and leave the incumbent Cochran alone. Several notable state Democrats (yes there are a few, even in this deeply Red state) have been mentioned as possible candidates to replace Lott. Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, Clinton Secretary of Agriculture and former Representative from the Mississippi 2nd Mike Espy, and former mayor of Jackson Harvey Johnson, Jr. have all confirmed that they are considering a bid for the seat. One of the more attractive candidates for the Democrats is Gene Taylor, Representative from the Mississippi 4th; Taylor’s camp has denied that he’ll abandon his Congressional district to run for the open Senate seat.

Republicans also have a fairly full slate of potential candidates. State senator Charlie Ross’s name has been thrown around some, but Ross insists he’ll focus on the open seat of retiring Representative Chip Pickering in the 3rd District. Pickering is considered one of the frontrunners to replace Lott, as is Representative Roger Wicker of the 1st District.

Republican Governor Haley Barbour, who has denied any interest in running for the seat himself, has announced that he will appoint a successor to Lott 10 days after the outgoing Senator makes his retirement official. The special election to fill out the remainder of Lott’s term will be held in November of 2008. The timing of those two decisions lends a lot of help to the Republicans who hope to step into Lott’s shoes. Barbour’s selection for the interim will have the advantages of incumbency come November. Even if Barbour doesn’t choose someone who’s interested in filling the seat for the long-term, then the presidential election could trickle down the ballot to the Senate election; Mississippi hasn’t cast an electoral vote for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter. The Crystal Ball will keep a very close eye on how the situation develops in Mississippi, but our initial read is that this seat looks likely to remain in Republican hands.

Candidates

Ronnie Musgrove – Democrat –
former Governor of Mississippi

Website

Roger Wicker (I) – Republican –
current Senator
Website

Montana

Outlook: Solid Democratic


June 4, 2008 Update:

Attorney Bob Kelleher emerged from the Republican primary to challenge incumbent Max Baucus. Kelleher, who is 85 years old and has run for office in Montana 15 times, shouldn’t be much of a bother to Baucus, who will dominate in both name recognition and all financial aspects of the campaign. This will be a hold for the Democrats, as they work toward expanding their narrow lead in the Senate.

March 25, 2008 Update:

Technically, there are six Republicans running against Democratic incumbent Max Baucus. If you didn’t know that, don’t worry, Baucus probably didn?t either. None of the candidates can pose any sort of threat to the four-term incumbent, or at least nothing that will amount to more than a nuisance. Baucus has strong fundraising numbers, and job approval ratings near 70 percent. Add those ingredients to the lack of quality opposition, and Baucus finds himself with a recipe for electoral success come November.


Background

With Republican Representative Denny Rheberg officially announcing that he will not run in Montana’s 2008 Senatorial race, it appears that we will see little electoral excitement under the Big Sky State, next year. With recent approval ratings nearing 70 percent or more, five successful terms as Senator and $6.1million in campaign funds, Max Baucus looks to be a sure thing.

Though Representative Rheberg has decided not to run, one challenger remains: Montana state legislator Michael Lange. However, the scandal-tinged Lange appears to be more of an annoying fruit fly than a killer bee. The once promising Lange would have given Baucus a tough fight had he not been removed from his position as Montana House majority leader after a vulgar rant against Montana’s Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer. With not even his full party backing him, Lange appears to be a long shot.

Though early on many pundits saw Montana as a key battleground state in 2008, for now it seems that with no strong challengers to the mighty Baucus, this race will go to the incumbent once again.

Candidates

Bob Kelleher – Republican – attorney and perennial candidate

Website

Max Baucus (I) – Democrat – current U.S. Senator

Website

North Carolina

Outlook: Leans Democratic


October 4, 2008 Update:

The battle for the Senate in the Tar Heel State is a tough nut to crack: Elizabeth Dole, an incumbent Senator with high favorability ratings and a vast campaign war chest, was poised, as we last reported, to take a commanding lead over challenger Kay Hagan and virtually any Democrat not named ?Mike Easley? (the popular NC governor who passed on the race). Yet, in mid-September, even the most optimistic polls show the Republican hovering at the decent margin of 6-8 points, while a recent Democracy Corps (read: Democratic) poll had Hagan up by 5! Both sides are quick to point to each one?s favorable numbers as the true state of affairs, but it appears at this point that Dole?s lead has basically evaporated.

Hagan?s resurgence can be attributed to a number of things, not the least of which is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee?s significant involvement in the state. The DSCC has pledged nearly nine million dollars in support of Hagan, and their independent ads attacking Dole?s effectiveness in Congress have hit home against an incumbent whose stock has fallen ever since her oft-criticized chairmanship of the NRSC in 2006.

As time passes, North Carolina?s sleeper Senate race is looking ever more like the late-developing Virginia contest of last cycle?except without the colorful characters? and language (?Macaca? anyone?) of the latter campaign. Both contests were late to develop with lukewarm challengers and overconfident incumbents. In 2006, George Allen?s defeat handed Senate control to the Democrats; could a 2008 Hagan victory give Democrats an even more significant achievement: a filibuster-proof, sixty-seat majority? Win or lose, the race for the White House, as previously noted, will be key in determining the outcome in the race for Liddy Dole?s Senate seat.

June 18, 2008 Update:

After clinching the Democratic nod on May 6th, things looked bright for state senator Kay Hagan. Her campaign released a poll that showed her down by just 4% to incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Two days after the primary win, a Rasmussen poll showed Hagan actually leading by 1%. Now that the dust has settled and the initial over-excitement has ended, the actual landscape is a little more clear. What once seemed to be a dead heat is probably more like a 8-10% lead for Dole, perilous, but certainly no reason to begin writing her obituary just yet.

Dole also has a substantial cash advantage, with almost ten times as much cash on hand as Hagan. Dole, as of mid-April, had $3.2 million on hand, and Hagan had just $320,000. With that sort of advantage, Dole looks poised to expand her lead instead of watching it shrink. Still, Democrats nationally seem willing to bet on Dole’s vulnerability and can be expected to pour money into Hagan’s coffers if this stay tight into the fall. The wild card may be the other marquee races in the state, as both the presidential and gubernatorial race dynamics may spill over into the senate race. If either of those races become a blowout by one party, expect that party’s senate candidate to prosper as well.

March 25, 2008 Update:

Where have all the Democrats gone? With a gubernatorial race in the Tar Heel State this election cycle, many top-tier Democrats have shied away from taking on Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole. Dole is a well-seasoned candidate who poses a formidable challenge to any upset bid, so the lightweight competition she’s facing shouldn’t give her much to worry about. The messy nomination battle between state senator Kay Hagan and businessman Jim Neal isn’t going to make things any easier for the Democrats, instead just paving the road even smoother for Dole’s reelection.

November 26, 2007 Update:

UNC and Duke may both have blue in their school colors, but this Senate seat from North Carolina should stay red in 2008. Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole has seen a sharp increase in her approval ratings in the last few months, back up over the 50% danger zone. Even though President Bush is still wildly unpopular, that shouldn’t drag Dole down in the general election next November.

But more than any other reason why Dole shouldn’t sweat 2008 is the lack of a top-tier Democratic candidate. Governor Mike Easley actually led Dole in a recent hypothetical polling matchup, but he isn’t running for the seat. The only candidates the Democrats have been able to round up are investment banker Jim Neal, who’s never run for office before, and state senator Kay Hagan, who had dropped out of the race and had to be talked back into it by DSCC chairman Chuck Schumer. While Hagan’s gender may help her against Dole, it won’t be enough to unseat a savvy, experienced incumbent. The Democrats have an uphill battle, and Dole should end up playing Queen of the Hill.


Background

Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole appears to be in good shape for her 2008 reelection bid. Even though her approval ratings are below par–43% in the most recent polls, dangerous territory for an incumbent–no Tarheel State Democrat seems willing to step up to the plate and challenge her.

Dole ascended to the Senate in 2002, replacing long-time Senator Jesse Helms. She rolled over former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, 54 percent to 45, in a race that was never particularly close. In 2006, she was the head of the NRSC; not the most positive mark on her resume in light of the Democratic takeover in the Senate.

With a gubernatorial race looming for North Carolina in 2008, it seems state Dems are unwilling to yield to national party wishes and challenge Dole. Governor Mike Easley, Attorney General Roy Cooper, state Treasurer Richard Moore, and Brad Miller of the 13th House District have all announced they won’t challenge the incumbent Senator. Cooper and Moore are running for governor, Miller wants to stay in the House, and even though Easley is term-limited out of office in 2008, he still refuses to take the bait. North Carolina Democrats have a deep bench in the state, but it seems that most prefer the security of their seats in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and House of Representatives, leaving few, if any, prominent personalities as viable challengers.

Candidates

Kay Hagan – Democrat – state senator

Website

Elizabeth Dole (I) – Republican – current Senator
Website

Nebraska (Open Seat)

Outlook: Solid Republican


June 18, 2008 Update:

Rancher Scott Kleeb won the May Democratic primary, marking the second straight election cycle Kleeb will be running as an underdog in the Cornhusker State. In 2006, Kleeb ran in Nebraska’s 3rd congressional district and lost by just 10%, a strong showing in a district that voted 75% for Bush in 2004. This year, Kleeb will be facing off against former Republican Governor Mike Johanns in an open seat battle. Once again, Kleeb will be the underdog as Johanns has popularity, funding, and a substantial lead in recent polling. Johanns has $1.4 million cash on hand to Kleeb’s $250,000 and polls show him somewhere in the high 50% range with Kleeb trailing in the thirties. Kleeb is used to the role of underdog and good thing too. It is a role he will certainly be playing in 2008.

March 25, 2008 Update:

In a state where corn is king, it’s good to have a history in agriculture. Republican Mike Johanns has just that, having served as Secretary of Agriculture for George W. Bush. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats Scott Kleeb, a rancher and 2006 House candidate, and Tony Raimondo, an industrialist and businessman, are duking it out for the nomination, with several ”also ran” candidates filling out the Democratic field. Kleeb leads the pack in fundraising, but lags far, far behind the numbers Johanns has reported. Polling for hypothetical matchups shows Johanns with nearly double-digit advantages over Kleeb. Barring a miracle, Johanns will hold this seat for the Republican Party.

November 26, 2007 Update:

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has pulled out of the race for the Republican nomination. Bruning had trailed former Governor and Bush Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns in both polls and fund-raising for some time, and his withdrawal from the race leaves Johanns in excellent position. The Democrats still don’t have a true top-tier candidate in the mix, and if Johanns doesn’t have to slug it out in a primary, he can focus his resources on November 2008. Bruning’s decision gives even more weight to the chances of this seat remaining in Republican control.

November 19, 2007 Update:

With the dust still settling in this race, it looks like Democrats will have to settle for their third pick, rancher and 2006 House candidate Scott Kleeb. Kleeb surprised just about everyone in 2006, winning 45 percent of the vote in a district that went 75-25 for Bush in 2004 and 2000. A recent poll however, showed Kleeb losing 59-28 and 55-29 to the two leading Republican candidates.

On the Republican side, polls from early October showed former Governor Mike Johanns leading state attorney general Jon Bruning in primary polling. The margins varied according to the source, with the NRSC poll showing Johanns at 58 percent to Bruning’s 16, while Bruning claimed the actual deficit was only nine percentage points.

Former Republican Congressman Hal Daub has since dropped out of the race, citing fundraising hurdles that he considered to be insurmountable, while the Green Party is pinning its hopes on oft-candidate Steve Larrick.

October 24, 2007 Update:

Former Senator Bob Kerrey has announced he will not resign from the New School to run for a Senate seat. With the Dems strongest candidate eschewing the race, former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns appears to be the favorite.

September 19, 2007 Update:

Nebraska Republican Hal Daub has announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Daub was a member of the House from 1981-89, mayor of Omaha from 1994-2001, and has twice before run for the Senate, losing the Republican primary to incumbent David Karnes in 1988, and losing the general election to incumbent Jim Exon in 1990. Two other candidates have already announced: Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, and investment adviser Pat Flynn.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has begun contacting friends and colleagues in Nebraska, informing them of his plans to resign from his position in the Bush administration and wade into the Republican primary fight. Johanns served as governor of Nebraska from 1998 until his confirmation as Secretary of Agriculture in 2005. He is seen as the early front-runner for the nomination, as he brings a unique blend of Washington experience and statewide name recognition. Johanns’s entry into the race provides the GOP with a very strong candidate, both in the primary and the general election.


Background

Now here’s a race that’s as wide open as the Great Plains. Long-serving Republican Chuck Hagel announced he will neither seek a third term in the Senate, nor run for President. Even before Hagel’s announcement, candidates on both sides of the aisle had begun to prepare for the impending campaign battles; now that he’s officially out, the gloves are off and fists are flying.

The only officially announced candidates so far are Republican state attorney general Jon Bruning and Republican businessman Pat Flynn. Former governor and current Bush Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has been mentioned as another potential Republican candidate, and Johanns is undoubtedly the strongest candidate the GOP could field. National GOP leaders are doing everything they can to assure his entry into the race. Congressmen Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry won’t run if Johanns does but former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub may throw his hat into the ring regardless. Businessman Tony Raimondo could run, too.

On the Democratic side, the dream candidate is former Senator Bob Kerrey, who is considering entering the race with the intense encouragement of his former Democratic colleagues in the Senate. Current Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey will consider the race should Kerrey pass on running. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to restore Kerrey’s seniority should he return to the Senate, an offer which should sweeten the deal considerably. While some Nebraska observers think Kerrey has been away from Nebraska too long, serving as president of the New School in New York City, others believe Kerrey could quickly rekindle his magic with Cornhuskers. Time may tell.

Bruning has gotten off the first salvo in the impending war of the words, lambasting Kerrey, Hagel, and Johanns as carpetbaggers. Johanns has locked up the support and endorsements from many state officials, as well as prominent Republicans from outside the state, such as Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. With so many candidates and so little certainty as to who is actually running, we will be keeping a close eye on developments. Nebraska holds the possibility of a Democratic pick-up in a somewhat unlikely place–though quite a few Democrats have served in the U.S. Senate from Nebraska in recent decades.

Candidates

Scott Kleeb – Democrat – rancher and 2006 NE-03 Democratic nominee

Website

Mike Johanns – Republican – former governor, current Bush Agriculture Secretary
Website

Steve Larrick – Independent – perennial Green Party candidate

Website

New Hampshire

Outlook: Leans Democratic


October 10, 2008 Update:

Incumbent Republican Sen. John Sununu just cannot shake the funk he has been in this election cycle, and things are getting worse before they are getting better. With New Hampshire changing hands towards the Democrats in both the State Legislature and Congress in 2006, as well as criticism both inside and outside the beltway of his voting record, Sununu?s job had already started out hard enough. Now with the economic downturn favoring Democratic candidates across the board, and Barack Obama?s lead in the Granite state growing by the day, our previous argument that John McCain?s coattails may benefit the incumbent considering his popularity in the state seems weaker as we reach November. At this point, it is safe to say that Sununu is in SERIOUS trouble.

Enter Jeanne Shaheen, the former governor and challenger to Sununu when he won this seat back in 2002 (she lost by only four points in a much different political environment both statewide and nationally). Except for a few extreme outliers, she has never relinquished her lead in the polls since polling began. Democrats have flagged this race from the beginning as a potential pickup, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been pouring in money and running ads determined to paint Sununu as a ?Stay the course? Senator. Shaheen?s name recognition and popularity within the state put the finishing touches on what seems to be a ?perfect storm? against the embattled Sununu. It is worth mentioning that Sununu has been known to close strong, and has kept up with Shaheen?s fundraising efforts while maintaining his large Cash-on-Hand advantage. But things remain bleak, and the economic crisis menacing Republicans throughout the country might just provide the last nail in the coffin for John Sununu.

June 19, 2008 Update:

If 2008 is a redux of 2006, then John Sununu may be this cycle?s Rick Santorum. No, Sununu doesn?t have the national profile of the former Pennsylvania Senator, but his New Hampshire reelection bid seems eerily similar to Santorum?s ?06 campaign. Both conservative Senators faced popular Democratic challengers with statewide voter recognition and both trailed by double digits in polls throughout the campaign. Analysts expected Santorum?s race to tighten?it never did and Bob Casey won by eighteen percent. Now, Sununu faces the same challenge: how to close a polling gap against Jeanne Shaheen in a poisonous electoral environment.

John McCain will help, as he is perhaps the only Republican who could put New Hampshire into play, but presidential coattails won?t be enough to carry the incumbent across the finish line. If the election were held today, John Sununu would be out of a job, and therefore, Sununu must fundamentally alter the electoral environment before November if he is to avoid Santorum?s fate and secure a second term.

March 25, 2008 Update:

Republican John Sununu is a weak enough incumbent that half a dozen Democrats lined up to take a shot at him. Democrat and former governor Jeanne Shaheen is a strong enough challenger that all the other Democrats backed off. Couple that with fundraising that’s almost neck and neck, and you’ve got yourself with one interesting race.

Without a doubt, New Hampshire has swung quickly from being a Red State, through being a Purple State, and now sits pretty solidly amongst the Blues. Opposition to the war in Iraq drove both of New Hampshire’s Republican Representatives out of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, and looks like it could be the albatross around Sununu’s neck in this cycle as well.

The other defining characteristic of New Hampshire voting is the huge portion of independent voters. Recent polling shows upward of 40 percent of Granite State voters view themselves as independents; of them, 60 percent are in favor of Shaheen. The double-digit advantage Shaheen has shown in recent polls has to be attributed to that swath of independent votes, since Democrats and Republicans split cleanly along party lines in favor of their respective candidates.

In a race that hinges on independents, the presidential nominee could play a crucial role in deciding New Hampshire’s Senate race. Republican John McCain has always done very well in New Hampshire, and has an ability to bring together coalitions of independent voters. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has shown much the same ability, but the polarizing figure of Hillary Clinton could drive independents away from Shaheen. For now, though, before we know more about the top of the tickets, all signs point to this race ever-so-slightly tipping in favor of the Democrats.

December 14, 2007 Update:

No state in the nation has moved so quickly from Republican to Democratic in party orientation. This is a state that dislikes both President Bush and the Iraq War, and it showed from top to bottom of the state’s 2006 elections. Freshman GOP Senator John Sununu has his hands full in a re-match with former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). All major public and private polls show her ahead, some by a wide margin, so for now we’ll list this one as LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

September 24, 2007 Update:

The Democratic field continues to narrow in New Hampshire. Citing the strength of front-runner Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign, Katrina Swett announced that she is dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Her announcement came shortly after Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand also pulled out of the race. Only former astronaut Jay Buckey remains in the Democratic contest. With the Democratic field getting less and less contentious, Shaheen looks to gain even more of an advantage over Republican incumbent John Sununu.


Background

New Hampshire is a whole new ballgame. Former Governor Jeanne Shaheen has thrown her hat in the ring for the Senate seat currently held by Republican John Sununu, sending the Democratic nominating process into a full-on shake up. Portsmouth’s Democratic mayor, Steve Marchand, has lived up to a promise he made early in 2007, bowing out and throwing his weight behind Shaheen’s efforts. The two other Democratic candidates, Katrina Swett and Jay Buckey, have both kept their campaigns going even after Shaheen’s announcement. Shaheen is a heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee, however. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is sure to back her strongly.

Sununu’s unpopularity (his approval rating hovers around 45%, not good news for an incumbent) has given rise to predictions that he will be overtaken in the 2008 Senate election. Even with some moderate votes on social issues, Sununu is handicapped by his dogged support for the Iraq war–a giant albatross around his political neck. New Hampshire voters made it very clear during the 2006 midterm elections that they were displeased with the war in Iraq: both Republican congressmen were run out of Washington.

Assuming the contest comes down to Sununu vs. Shaheen, we’ll see two candidates with some history between them: in the GOP-inclined 2002 Senate election, Sununu edged Shaheen 51 percent to 46. However, in a July poll, Shaheen led Sununu by sixteen points. With New Hampshire’s movement to the left since their last battle, Shaheen seems to be the early favorite.

Candidates

John Sununu (I) – Republican – current U.S. Senator

Website

Jeanne Shaheen – Democrat – former Governor of New Hampshire
Website

New Jersey

Outlook: Solid Democratic


October 4, 2008 Update:

This race may have looked awfully close at times, but New Jersey is starting to show its true ‘Blue State’ colors. Painting Democratic Incumbent Frank Lautenberg as too old for the job did not work for primary challenger Bob Andrews, so who is to say it would work for Republican challenger Dick Zimmer (who, by the way, has had some practice in losing elections for this very seat when he was defeated by Bob Torricelli back in 1996)? The polls certainly do not say so, as Lautenberg has opened up a decent lead that has never dipped below seven points since early summer. It seems as though the Democratic equilibrium has returned, and come Election Day, the liberal bastions of Essex and Hudson Counties in North Jersey should help to propel Lautenberg to his fifth (non consecutive) term in office.

June 4, 2008 Update:

Long-time incumbent Frank Lautenberg cruised to victory in the Democratic primary yesterday, beating his very vocal opponent, Rep. Bob Andrews, 59-35. Andrews had repeatedly attacked Lautenberg’s age (he turned 84 in January of this year), saying the people of New Jersey needed someone younger to carry the torch in the Senate. Lautenberg’s margin of victory seems to indicate that the people of New Jersey disagreed. He’ll face former Congressman Dick Zimmer in November’s general election. Considering Zimmer has been out of Congress since 1996, Lautenberg should be able to keep this seat a Democratic hold.

April 14, 2008 Update:

This race is getting more crowded than the Jersey Shore on the 4th of July. With Democratic incumbent Frank Lautenberg having turned 84 in January, aspiring politicos on both sides of the aisle are jumping into the fray. Representative Bob Andrews has announced he’ll challenge Lautenberg in the Democratic primary, despite recent polls that show Andrews with a deficit of 31 points. Assuming Lautenberg wins the nomination, which looks to be a solid bet, he’ll face one of three Republican challengers: state Senator Joe Pennacchio, college professor Murray Sabrin, or businessman Andrew Unanue, though rumor has it that Unanue may withdraw before the Republicans even hold their primary. Regardless of who he faces, Lautenberg has a well-financed war chest, and should beat back any challengers to win a fifth term.


Background

While New Jersey voters have their eye on next year’s election, many wonder how much that focus should be on current Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg’s approaching 84th birthday. If Lautenberg were just 20 years younger, most would hail him as a shoo-in incumbent; his strong and consistent criticism of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, his Congressional experience, and his being a Democrat in this dark blue state would all greatly work in his favor. However, his old age has many pulling for retirement rather than re-election. In Lautenberg’s favor is New Jersey’s ranking as the second most expensive state to campaign in. With $2.9 million on hand and $1 million raised in the first quarter alone, Lautenberg certainly has the funds needed.

As it is still early in the race, thus far only two exploratory committees have been formed, with no Republicans officially entering the race as of yet. Strongly conservative Assemblyman Michael Doherty has formed one of these committees, but seems an unlikely candidate in this very blue state. The successful real estate developer Anne Evans Eastbrook is the only other potential Republican challenger to have formed an exploratory committee. Though Eastbrook may have the funds to contend with the big boys of New Jersey, she is a widely unknown figure among voters. Finally, it is the undecided state Assemblyman, Joe Pennacchio that seems to be Lautenberg’s biggest worry. Often deemed Reagan-esque, many Republicans feel that Pennacchio’s bipartisan appeal would make him very electable.

In a state that has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, the GOP will have their work cut out for them. Though Lautenberg’s age certainly poses a real threat to Democrats, many speculate that presidential election fever will bring Democrats out to the polls in full force next November. Nonetheless, if Giuliani makes it onto the Republican ticket, such a theory could be turned on its head.

Candidates

Frank Lautenberg (I) – Democrat – current U.S. Senator

Website

Dick Zimmer – Republican – former Congressman

Website

New Mexico (Open Seat)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


October 17, 2008 Update:

It appears as though Steve Pearce?s rise in the polls late in the summer, cutting fellow Congressman Tom Udall?s lead into the single digits, was more of a blip on the ever-gloomy Republican radar screen then an encouraging trend. Udall?s large war chest continues to loom large as Pearce is still trailing financially after a brutal primary, and his lack of name recognition relative to Udall (he is a sitting Congressman, but his opponent has the famed Udall name to run on) has complicated Pearce?s ability to make this a truly competitive race. Things have gone to bad from worse, as the National Republican Senatorial Committee has all but left town after pulling a previously planned $2.3 million dollar ad buy. Udall?s poll numbers have been the strongest they have been at any point in the race, and at this point a landslide victory appears not only possible but likely.

Throw in Barack Obama?s growing lead in the polls, as well as the struggles Republicans are seeing in Senate and Congressional races across the country as a result of the economy and other national issues, and Pearce?s struggles against Udall seem to just bury him further. This race started out as anybody?s game, as all three of the Congressmen from the Land of Enchantment threw their hat into the ring to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici. But the primary victory of the conservative Pearce over the more moderate and Domenici-endorsed Heather Wilson has given the GOP a nominee whose further-right ideology will quite likely doom the party?s chances in today?s political climate. As it stands now, less than three weeks out, both sides see this as a contest with one of the highest probabilities for a red-to-blue flip on November 4th.

June 4, 2008 Update:

Rep. Steve Pearce won the Republican nomination last night in a hotly-contested primary against his fellow New Mexico delegation member, Rep. Heather Wilson. Pearce garnered 51% of the vote, while Wilson took 49%. During the primary, Pearce portrayed himself as the more conservative choice, a strategy which allowed him to prevail in the end despite an eleventh-hour endorsement of Wilson by the man Pearce hopes to replace, retiring Sen. Pete Domenici.

In the November general election, Pearce will face the third member of the U.S. House from New Mexico, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall. Udall’s lack of a primary leaves him much better funded for the matchup, holding nearly $3 million to Pearce’s $250,000. The poll numbers also currently favor Udall, with most polls showing him between 50 and 60 percent and Pearce hovering in the mid-30s.

April 10, 2008 Update:

With two months out from the primary election, the GOP nomination battle between Representatives Heather Wilson (R-01) and Steve Pearce (R-02) shows no signs of winding down. Meanwhile, New Mexico’s final Congressman, Tom Udall (D-03) has dispatched with his primary challenge from Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez and can sit back and watch the Republican candidates lob haymakers at each other.

Even now, New Mexico Republican insiders concede that their primary remains too close to call. Representative Heather Wilson–long seen as the moderate heir apparent to Senator Domenici–has the tacit support (but not endorsement) of much of the party establishment, but her colleague, Steve Pearce, has captured the enthusiasm and support of the GOP grassroots. Both candidate’s sales pitches are predictable: Pearce touts his New Mexico conservative values, and Wilson argues that she alone can defeat Udall in the general. In the pre-primary posturing, Wilson has taken the position of aggressor, hitting Pearce on his supposed votes to close Cannon Air Force Base. Wilson’s aggression may be due to her extensive experience in tight races, but it could also reflect Pearce taking the lead in her campaign’s internal polling. On June 3rd, Wilson and Pearce should each win their own districts convincingly, and the race will come down to which candidate can win in Udall’s liberal 1st district–which Republicans haven’t contested in decades.

Udall, however, is well prepared to face whoever emerges from the bitter Republican primary. While Wilson and Pearce duke it out, Udall can keep his favorables high and warchest full. A February poll shows Udall with commanding advantages over both Pearce (53-31 percent) and Wilson (58-30 percent), and though these margins will narrow after Republicans have their nominee, there is no denying Udall’s frontrunner status. However, Udall should not rest too easy–his liberal record and votes to cut funding from Los Alamos National Laboratory will liabilities in a general election.

December 14, 2007 Update:

What a free-for-all! The retirement of longtime Sen. Pete Domenici (R) has led all three of New Mexico’s U.S. House members to throw their hats in the ring: Democrat Tom Udall and Republicans Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson. The Land of Enchantment is also the land of close presidential races, at least in competitive years, and this leads us to suspect that the Senate race is up for grabs. Should Gov. Bill Richardson end his presidential campaign at some point and seek the Senate seat, this would become a likely Democratic pick-up. Democrats may well win it anyway, and once the nominees are set we’ll reclassify this race, but for now, the only reasonable rating is TOSS UP.

November 19, 2007 Update:

Since incumbent Republican Senator Pete Domenici announced his retirement in early October, a bevy of candidates have revealed their intentions to run for his seat. Perhaps the most interesting development was that all three of New Mexico’s U.S. Representatives have thrown their hats into the ring.

On the Democratic side, NM-03 Representative Tom Udall is joined by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, although Udall released a poll taken in late October that showed him with a 50-30 advantage over the mayor in a primary matchup. Wealthy Democratic developer Don Wiviott has announced that he will instead run for the House seat Udall is vacating, ending his Senate campaign.

Republican voters will likely choose between NM-01 Representative Heather Wilson and NM-02 Representative Steve Pearce. Udall, however, has an advantage over both GOP contenders, with hypothetical general election matchups showing him leading Wilson 52-36 and Pearce 50-33.


Background

This race has all the elements to be a little bit more interesting that it normally would, given the potential atmosphere of the 2008 electoral season. Marred by recent scandal due to his supposed involvement in the U.S. Attorney firings, New Mexico’s longest serving Senator, Pete Domenici, may face a tougher battle than usual.

Though a long list of potential challengers has surfaced, the wealthy Santa Fe developer, Democrat Don Wiviott, merits particular attention, already pledging $400,000 of his own money, with hopes to spend close to $1 million on his campaign. These dollar signs go far in discouraging other potential challengers.

Though it is too soon for the pollsters to show any real leanings amongst New Mexico’s voters, Domenici’s current approval rating of only 51 percent provide a hint about what could shape up to be somewhat competitive race. In Domenici’s favor is his incumbency, length of service to New Mexico, and recent opposition to the Bush Administration Iraq policy. By distancing himself from his GOP counterparts on the very contentious Iraq issue, Domenici is battening down the hatches and preparing for the very nasty electoral storm looming on the horizon.

In New Mexico, a reliably unreliable state for both parties, there is no telling which way the political winds will blow in the 2008 election, but even when the winds are swirling, the political weather vane usually points to the incumbent.

Candidates

Tom Udall – Democrat – U.S. Congressman from NM-3

Website

Steve Pearce – Republican – U.S. Congressman from NM-2

Website

Oklahoma

Outlook: Solid Republican


June 19, 2008 Update:

Voters worldwide are worried about the global rice shortage, but come November, state senator Andrew Rice better worry about an Oklahoman voter shortage. Incumbent Senator Jim Inhofe owns a commanding twenty-two point lead in a recent DailyKos poll, despite weak favorability numbers, and Inhofe isn?t resting on his laurels. The Senator is already on TV with an ad turning his biggest weakness (?stubbornness?) into political strengths by highlighting his ?hardheaded? fights to defend Oklahoma?s interests in the Senate. This race is over before it even started, and other than unforgivable puns on the challenger?s name, there?s nothing to see here, folks.

April 14, 2008 Update:

Don’t look to Oklahoma for your fill of political intrigue this cycle. Republican incumbent Jim Inhofe is sitting pretty with the election only seven months away: the most recent polling data gives him an almost unreal 60-19 advantage over Democratic challenger and state senator Andrew Rice. Polls conducted for Rice narrow that lead to 14 points, but still have well over half of Oklahoma?s electorate approving of Inhofe’s job as Senator. Inhofe has won his last two elections with 57 percent of the vote; Rice may get slightly closer than his two predecessors, but Inhofe still should win.


Background

Republican incumbent Senator Jim Inhofe is looking to win a third full term in 2008. Until recently, he had no declared opponents on whom to unleash his $1.4 million treasury. That all changed on August 2, when Democratic state senator Andrew Rice, just one year into his first term, filed with the FEC to seek the seat.

Rice and Inhofe will produce quite a distinct choice for voters. Rice ran for his state senate seat as a self-proclaimed ”social progressive,” garnering endorsements from the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club. Inhofe, on the other hand, called ”man-made global warming” the ”greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” He also has received support in the past from the American Conservative Union, the National Rifle Association, and the Club for Growth.

The Democratic side of the ballot isn’t necessarily set in stone, however, as state Attorney General Drew Edmonson and former Lieutenant Governor Jack Mildren are both weighing potential runs and have set tentative announcement dates of September.

While Inhofe’s November 2006 SurveyUSA poll disapproval rate of 41% shows that there is some chance for a take-over, most Oklahomans seem to be ideologically closer to Inhofe than to Rice. Oklahoma is one of the most conservative states in the nation, making up for their Democratic governor with four out of five U.S. representatives and both senators serving as members of the Republican Party. In 2004, Bush carried Oklahoma with 66% of the vote after a 22% margin of victory in 2000. Although Democrats finally have a challenger, there is still work to be done before they will have a chance.

Candidates

Andrew Rice – Democrat –
state senator

Website

James Inhofe (I) – Republican –
current Senator
Website

Oregon

Outlook: Toss-up


October 20, 2008 Update:

Let?s face it: Gordon Smith?s lead is gone. The incumbent Senator has gone from relative safety to one of the most endangered species of Senator around this year. State House Speaker Jeff Merkley has been hammering Smith on his ties to President George W. Bush, and the growing negativity of the race and concentration on economic issues makes this race eerily similar in dynamics to the Presidential election.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, flush with money, has come to Merkley?s aid as it has in numerous races across the country, in one instance running an ad portraying Smith as clearly in Bush’s corner of the boxing ring. Smith has been running as fast as he can away from the Bush administration this year, even putting up ads that tout his work with Sen. Barack Obama (forcing an amusing series of events in which Obama had to reiterate that he was actually supporting Merkley). Such ads, projecting the necessary image of a moderate Oregon Republican, have been combined with independent expenditures from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and others to paint Merkley as a democrat who just ?taxes, spends, and borrows? in attempt to turn the economic crisis against the Democrat. Oregon is likely Obama country, however, and Smith has been reeling of late recently, with Merkley actually gaining a small lead in recent polls. This one will be a close one right down to November 4th, and the stakes are high as Republicans are desperate to hold on to every Senate seat they possibly can.

June 18, 2008 Update:

Republican Sen. Gordon Smith has managed to forge a successful political career in an unfriendly, Democratic environment. But he must always be careful to project a moderate image in order to win the swing independents that, when added to the GOP base, can produce victory in November. He has done so on issues ranging from Iraq to the environment, but will it be enough in 2008?

Once again, the Democratic nominee for President will be the favorite to carry Oregon, creating a headwind for Smith. (McCain has the potential to surprise here, though it is an uphill contest for any Republican.) Smith?s Democratic opponent will be state house speaker Jeff Merkley, who defeated attorney Steve Novick in a competitive May primary. It?s a close race. Based on Smith?s record, we give the early edge to the incumbent, though it could turn into a tense election for him.

May 21, 2008 Update:

State Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley will be the Democratic challenger to Republican incumbent Gordon Smith. Merkley held off his opponent, activist Steve Novick in yesterday’s Democratic primary. Barack Obama’s strong showing in the presidential aspect of the Democratic primaries could bode well for Merkley: if the electorate favors Obama, Merkley could ride his coattails to victory. But this far out, with the top of the ticket still uncertain, this race still leans in Smith’s favor.

April 14, 2008 Update:

If your mom’s rule about not being able to say something nice was a campaign law, then neither Democratic candidate would be allowed to say anything at all before next month?s primary. State Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley and attorney Steve Novick have taken every opportunity to snipe at one another over the last several months. Merkley has accused Novick of being divisive, as well as essentially a joke candidate, and Novick has responded in kind on several occasions. Both are buying up chunks of television advertising time to try and sling more mud than the other.

Oregon looks to be another shining example of a long-held trend in politics: the more vicious the nominating process for one party, the easier the general election should be on the other. Republican incumbent Gordon Smith must feel like he’s getting a second Christmas as he watches Merkley and Novick beat each other up. Oregon is a long-time Democratic stronghold when it comes to presidential campaigns, and Smith has had to fight to retain the seat he’s held for two terms now. He has both of the Democrats outpaced in campaign funds, and the longer he gets to sit on that wealth while his Democratic opponents spend theirs on in-fighting, the sweeter Smith?s seat becomes.

One important question mark in this race will be how the top of the ticket affects Smith and whichever Democrat emerges the least scarred. A strong Democratic nominee for President could heal some of the damage done by a protracted nomination process in Oregon, and maybe tilt the scales back toward the Blue. But considering how long the national process is taking, the effect could just be compounded. We won’t know for sure until November, but we like Smith?s odds for now.

December 14, 2007 Update:

Senator Gordon Smith (R) has managed to forge a successful political career in an unfriendly Democratic environment. But he must always be careful to project a moderate image in order to win the swing independents that, when added to the GOP base, can produce victory in November. He has done so on issues ranging from Iraq to the environment, but will it be enough in 2008? Once again, the Democratic nominee for President will be a strong favorite to carry Oregon again, creating a headwind for Smith. His likely Democratic opponent, state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, is a serious candidate who will eventually have solid party backing and financing. Still, based on Smith’s record, we give the early edge to the incumbent, though it could be a tense year for him.


Background

Incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith has a tough road ahead of him as he faces reelection in November 2008. He has drawn two energetic challengers who will try their hardest to spend the next year tying him to George W. Bush and the failed Iraq War.

Democratic activist and former DOJ Evironmental Division attorney Steve Novick has raised about $200,000. Even though he is only 4 foot 9, he calls himself a ”fighter,” noting that instead of a left hand, he has a ”left hook.” If Oregonians are hungry for change, and want a large helping of it, there could hardly be a stronger contrast with the current Senator who not only looks very distinguished, but has the political lineage to match.

The most recent addition to the race has been the Democratic speaker of the Oregon House, Jeff Merkley, who announced his bid on August 1. After almost ten years in the House, Merkley will be a candidate to be reckoned with. Already, the sitting Governor Ted Kulongoski and former Governor Barbara Roberts have signed on to Merkley’s campaign, suggesting that the Democratic primary could be over before it even begins.

In a state with a Democratic governor, that voted for Democrats for president in the last five elections, and has a Democrat in the other Senate seat, a Democratic takeover in 2008 is possible. Smith has the advantage of incumbency and massive personal finances that mean his campaign should never see monetary difficulties, but he will have to work to hold on to his seat in a year when Democrats see a chance to gain back seats. Smith has distanced himself from both Bush and the war in Iraq, but his Republican affiliation could still cost him. With Merkley’s entry, this race has become much more interesting – though Smith has the initial advantage, Merkley and Novick could both prove to be tough opponents.

Candidates

Gordon Smith (I) – Republican – current Senator

Website

Jeff Merkley – Democrat –
current speaker of the Oregon House
Website

Rhode Island

Outlook: Solid Democratic


June 18, 2008 Update:

While Democratic Sen. Jack Reed finally has an opponent, he still doesn’t have any real competition. Reed will face off in November against Republican Robert Tingle, who was Reed’s 2002 opponent and was renominated at the state GOP’s convention in early June. Thus far, Reed has banked over $3 million, while Tingle has yet to file with the FEC. In 2002, Tingle lost a lopsided 78-22 result. Don’t expect much to be different in this November’s rematch.

April 14, 2008 Update:

Seven months to go, and still no Republican opponents for Democratic Senator Jack Reed. Reed is a wildly popular incumbent in a very Blue state, so we can understand the hesitancy to put forward a challenger. If someone does decide to step up, Reed should be able to handle them without much trouble, as he had more than $2.7 million in the bank at the end of the third quarter.


Background

Second-term incumbent Democratic Senator Jack Reed has little to worry about in 2008. The Providence Journal called him ”probably the safest incumbent of the cycle,” an assessment that is spot on. Reed enters the race bolstered by a November 2006 poll showing that 66% of people polled approved of the job he was doing as a US Senator, while a paltry 27% disapproved.

No challenger has stepped up to date, and though speculation continues, it appears that Republicans are hard-pressed to find a candidate willing to step up against such a popular and successful legislator. Rhode Island Democratic chair Bill Lynch says, ”I don’t see any way you can beat the guy unless he puts his arm around George Bush and says, ‘Bush is the best president we’ve ever had.”’ Don’t expect to hear Reed to start talking like that any time soon, and don’t expect a close race in Rhode Island either.

Candidates

Jack Reed (I) – Democrat –
current Senator
Website

Robert Tingle – Republican – casino pit boss

South Carolina

Outlook: Solid Republican


June 18, 2008 Update:

In the June 10th primaries, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham handily defeated his opponent, former Republican National Committeeman Buddy Witherspoon, by a 67-33 margin. The contest for the Democratic nomination was much closer, with pilot Bob Conley apparently edging attorney Michael Cone by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Realistically, Witherspoon was Graham’s biggest hurdle in his path to reelection. Now that he has dispatched Witherspoon, and done so convincingly, he should be all set for November. Democrats have already all but given up on Conley, citing his Republican leanings and lack of electability. Graham should have nothing but smooth seas ahead in the Palmetto State.

April 14, 2008 Update:

In a state as solidly Red as South Carolina, even a Republican can face significant challenges from the right. That’s a lesson incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham is learning firsthand this time around. After emerging as someone willing to step across the aisle and make peace, as he did in joining the Gang of 14 during judicial nomination hearings in 2005, Graham has taken some flak from South Carolina’s more conservative quarters. Graham’s support for the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform legislation in 2006 hasn’t helped secure that right flank any, either.

Former RNC committeeman Buddy Witherspoon, though not nearly as well funded as the sitting Senator, will be the biggest obstacle to Graham’s reelection campaign, as the two will face off in the state’s June 10 primary. Graham has taken an interesting tack in approaching the nomination process, airing an ad across South Carolina that features President Bush acknowledging Graham for his support on key Republican issues. While it may seem strange when looking at the President’s approval rating nationwide, it doesn’t when one considers the fact that 81 percent of South Carolina Republicans approve of the job Bush has done. Whoever wins the Republican primary is almost certainly going to win in November. With a campaign war chest with nearly $5 million, and support from his political allies, Graham should be able to pull this one out.


Background

Despite a controversial stand in support of the Bush immigration solution, Lindsey Graham is sitting pretty, as a Republican Senator in a Republican state, with no real Republican challengers. Graham is finishing up his first term in office after replacing the retired Strom Thurmond in 2002. He trounced his opponent in that year’s election, Democrat Alex Sanders, by double-digits. The recent immigration flare-up isn’t Graham’s first tango with trouble during his tenure: Dems accused Graham of having coached Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito before Alito’s confirmation hearings.

The cocaine indictment of Republican state treasurer Thomas Ravenel eliminated what may have been the biggest threat to Graham’s reelection bid. Businessman John Cina has announced he’ll challenge Graham in the GOP primary, and state representative Jeff Duncan is considering entering the race as well. Neither should cause Graham to lose any sleep, yet the overall situation in South Carolina will need Graham’s close attention between now and the Republican Senate primary.

Candidates

Bob Conley – Democrat – pilot and engineer

Website

Lindsey Graham (I) – Republican –
current Senator
Website

South Dakota

Outlook: Solid Democratic


October 4, 2008 Update:

State senator Joel Dykstra knew he was in for an uphill battle when he challenged popular Senator Tim Johnson who was recovering from a severe brain hemorrhage. But Dykstra has to feel livid that he?s not even getting a fair shake from the Johnson campaign that?s been running as if the election were already over. After promising at least one televised debate, the Johnson campaign has backtracked and declined to participate in any debates whatsoever. Although Johnson is in fine mental health and has returned to the Senate, his speech, the campaign claims, has yet to recover enough to submit to rapid-fire questioning. Understandably, exposing the recovering Johnson to unscripted debates would pose a huge risk to the Johnson campaign which is otherwise guaranteed victory.

Dykstra, however, is right to question whether Johnson is fit to represent South Dakota if he is not fit to debate, but the challenger?s protests have fallen on deaf ears for two reasons. First, Johnson monopolizes the sympathy vote, and if Dykstra raises issues of health, he risks accusations of insensitivity and opportunism. Second, as bluntly stated by Johnson campaign manager Steve Jarding, Dykstra ?hasn?t earned [the right to debate Johnson].? In truth, Dykstra is the Republican nominee because the GOP couldn?t find a credible challenger against the ailing incumbent. Dykstra, who has raised little money ($40K cash on hand to Johnson?s $2.7M), made few headlines, and gained no statewide traction, has yet to show he?s in the same political league as Senator Johnson. The Johnson camp has withdrawn from debates because they can, and there?s virtually nothing that Dykstra can do about it. Yes, Dykstra can call foul and claim Johnson?s dodge is unfair, but the truth is that politics, like life, sometimes just ain?t fair.

June 4, 2008 Update:

State Representative Joel Dykstra won yesterday’s Republican primary, and will try to unseat Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson. The goodwill that Johnson garnered by battling back from his near-fatal brain hemorrhage 18 months ago helped boost his fundraising attempts, and he sits with more than $2.5 million in cash on hand as he prepares for November’s general election. Despite the state’s general Republican tendencies (60 percent for Bush in 2004), Johnson should win reelection, and hold this seat for the Democrats.

April 14, 2008 Update:

With no more uncertainty as to the health or return of Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson, this seat should be a solid Democratic hold in 2008. After his December 2006 brain hemorrhage, it was unclear whether or not Johnson would regain anything resembling full health, much less return to the Senate. But less than a year later, he was able to return to the floor of the Senate, and has resumed his full duties as a Senator. State Republicans were unable to use the period of uncertainty to secure a top-notch candidate to challenge Johnson, leaving them in a dismal spot now that he?s returned. Johnson is enjoying approval ratings near 70 percent, and has more than $2 million more cash on hand than his closest challenger. Having fought his way through two remarkably close elections in 1996 and 2002, Johnson should win by a more comfortable margin this time around.


Background

Incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Johnson has two big mountains to climb going into 2008: recovering from his December brain hemorrhage and protecting his Senate seat next November. Johnson has regained much of his speech, albeit at a slower pace, and some of his mobility, intending to return to his D.C. Senate office sometime in the fall. Though associates have assured the media of a complete recovery, uncertainty still lingers as to whether Johnson will run for reelection and in what condition he would do so. At the moment, however, every indication is that Johnson will run for reelection and if that is the case, then he would be the likely favorite to hold on to the seat.

Both sides, however, are still drawing up contingency plans in the event of a competitive 2008 race without the ailing Senator. In Johnson’s absence, the Senate Democratic caucus has raised more than $660K in the second quarter and $2.9M for the election cycle, leaving Johnson with $1.8M cash on hand. Should Johnson, for whatever reason, decline to run in 2008, the state’s Democratic at-large representative, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, would likely step in to provide a top-tier replacement with statewide electoral credentials.

South Dakota Republicans are also preparing for all contingencies of the 2008 race. As of yet, candidate posturing and campaigning has been minimal out of respect for Senator Johnson’s health. Only one candidate, state representative Joel Dykstra, has announced his intention to challenge the incumbent, and if Johnson stays in the race, top-tier politicos will likely pass on the seat.

However, should Johnson appear physically incapable of effective campaigning or serving in the Senate, or, more importantly, should he withdraw from the race, a GOP heavyweight like Governor Mike Rounds may be enticed into contesting the Senate seat in this mostly conservative state. As for now, both sides are holding their breath, but with Johnson looking likely to run again, even the best laid plans may be for naught.

Candidates

Tim Johnson (I) – Democrat –
current Senator
Website

Joel Dykstra – Republican – state representative

Website

Tennessee

Outlook: Solid Republican


April 14, 2008 Update:

Someone should bring Tennessee Democrats up to speed on what seems like a fairly self-evident principle of politics: When you’re trying to unseat a strong incumbent, it’s not a good idea to have seven candidates duking it out until a mere three months before the general election. That’s right, seven Democrats are competing for the chance to knock off Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander, but we won’t know who gets the daunting task until early August. Since current Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen has announced he won’t run for the seat, former state party chairman (and Barack Obama?s state campaign chairman) Bob Tuke appears to be the front runner. Alexander, however, will be waiting with more than $2 million cash on hand, and a full term of incumbency under his belt. The Volunteer State gave us an election with high drama all the way down to the very end in 2006; we doubt it will be so kind in 2008.


Background

While Fred Thompson has been acting on Law & Order and toying with the media over his presidential bid, Lamar Alexander has been holding down his old Senate seat for Tennessee and the Republican Party. His seats on several prominent committees, coupled with a lack of Democratic challengers, make Alexander appear to have a near-lock at this point.

Alexander replaced Thompson after Thompson’s retirement in 2002, edging out conservative Congressman Ed Bryant in the GOP primary, and Congressman Ed Clement in the general election. He currently sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Rules Committee, along with several others. In early 2007, he announced he had the votes to become Minority Whip for the 110th Congress, but lost by a single vote to Trent Lott (R-MS).

The Democrats have stayed away from any official announcements as of yet, though several lurk in the wings. Harold Ford, Jr. , who narrowly lost to Bob Corker in 2006, expressed interest in late 2006, but has since backed off those comments. Another potential candidate is current governor Phil Bredesen, who became the first candidate to carry all 95 counties in his 2006 reelection. Former state Democratic Party chair Bob Tuke or businessman Mike McWherter, the son of fomer Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter, are two other candidates that could have the personal finances necessary to fund a strong campaign. Considering how close Ford made things in the last Senate election, if the Democrats put their best foot (or candidate) forward, the Volunteer State could remain interesting all the way down to the wire.

Candidates

Bob Tuke – Democrat – former state Democratic Party chair

Website

Mike Padgett – Democrat – Knox County clerk

Website

Lamar Alexander (I) – Republican – current Senator

Website

Texas

Outlook: Likely Republican


October 20, 2008 Update:

Ok, so Democratic challenger Rick Noriega has continued to poll well within single digits of Republican incumbent John Cornyn. Peachy. We would like to take this opportunity to extend our previous analogy for Texas perhaps a little too far. Like New Jersey, where the Democratic Party faithful should shore up a relatively easy victory for Frank Lautenberg after a brief scare, so too should the Republican establishment in Texas put the oft-beleaguered Cornyn over the top. Yes, Cornyn has demonstrated a full-throated support of the Bush Administration and has seen falling favorability numbers as a result. Yet despite that, as well as the presence of big shots like Bill Clinton coming down to campaign and fundraise for the Democrat, we just cannot see Noriega catching up to Cornyn and his obvious financial advantage in one of the most expensive states to run a campaign. The Republicans have plenty of states to worry about on November 4th in terms of Senate Races. The Lone Star State is not one of them. But hey, we’ll change the outlook to from “Solid” to “Likely” Republican just for kicks.

June 19, 2008 Update:

This cycle, Texas is for Democrats what New Jersey is to Republicans. Both Senator John Cornyn (low approval ratings) and Frank Lautenberg (age) are vulnerable, but will win reelection over weak challengers in expensive media markets. With respect to Texas, a DailyKos poll (take polls from liberal sponsors with a grain of salt) shows Democratic challenger Rick Noriega within striking distance at 48-44, but count the Crystal Ball as skeptical of the challenger?s chances in November.

Noriega has virtually no statewide name recognition, and although he can self-finance to a degree, he is at a severe disadvantage to Cornyn?s over $3.8 million cash on hand. Neither is Cornyn taking this race for granted: he?s already started to shore up his biggest weakness among Hispanic voters by rolling out endorsements from Latino mayors and announcing his support for extended visitor visas. In the end, this race is just a teaser as the Republican turnout machine will be in high gear come November, but in a different year, with a different candidate, Democrats just might be able to make a run for Cornyn?s seat.

April 14, 2008 Update:

Maybe, just maybe, the Republicans are losing their stranglehold on statewide elections. Democratic state legislator Rick Noriega sure hopes so. Noriega is set to square off with Republican incumbent John Cornyn, who is finishing up his first term in Washington. While the prospects of being a Democratic candidate in Texas may seem bleak, some recent numbers could give Noriega hope.

Polls are showing disapproval ratings for Cornyn in the low 40s, significant when coupled with approval ratings below 50 percent. Only 31 percent of those polled said they would definitely vote for Cornyn, while 53 percent said they would consider someone else. Noriega still lags well behind Cornyn in the matchup polling, but the other numbers point to the possibility of Noriega making a significant move. Also, surprising numbers could give major Democratic donors outside of Texas incentive to chip in on Noriega’s behalf. And we mustn?t forget about the fastest growing minority in the country: Hispanics and Latinos. Noriega’s heritage, and Cornyn’s record on immigration policy, could appeal to Texas’s large Hispanic population, and swing a large bloc of voters in Noriega’s favor.

But what about the aura of Republican invincibility in the Lone Star State? Senior Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison won reelection in 2006 with roughly 62 percent of the vote, perhaps less than would be expected given the exceptionally weak fundraising of her opponent. Governor Rick Perry was reelected as well in 2006, but with less than 40 percent of the vote in a four candidate field; the Democratic candidate won 30 percent. Republicans certainly do still hold the upper hand in Texas, as no Democrat has been elected to statewide office since 1994. At this point, we still see this race as a Republican hold. But, don?t be surprised if Noriega makes this race closes than some might think; we sure won’t be.

November 26, 2007 Update:

The Democratic side of the Texas Senate equation sure got a lot clearer recently. Millionaire attorney Mikal Watts has dropped out of the race, making state representative Rick Noriega the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Noriega has already received endorsements from Massachusetts Senator and 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry, as well as retired General Wesley Clark and is the favorite son of the netroots. With the monetary giant of Watts out of the way, Noriega should be able to rally the troops for a full-year charge at Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

But even with Noriega gaining momentum, this is still Texas, the state that hasn’t elected a Democratic Senator since Lloyd Bentsen more than two decades ago. While Cornyn may catch some fire in some quarters for his positions on immigration (especially against a Hispanic candidate) he’s still a Republican incumbent in a very Red state. He has healthy fund-raising and poll numbers, and should be able to stave off whatever the Democrats throw at him. Don’t look for this seat to switch to Blue in 2008.


Background

Incumbent Republican Senator John Cornyn is likely sweating, and not just from the Texas heat. Even though Texas is usually red-hot for Republicans, the immigration debate has eroded Hispanic support, a key constituency in this just-North-of-the-border state. Though George W. Bush remains a golden boy in the eyes of many Texans, national polls consistently show his job approval rating at an all time low and last year’s election showed that his Republican counterparts are taking the heat for it. As a staunch Bush supporter, Cornyn will have to brace himself for an onslaught of anti-Iraq criticism in this campaign. And with only a 43 percent approval rating, a happy ending for Cornyn is no sure thing.

Democrats have already started lining up to take on the freshman Senator. San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts has already pledged to spend $10 million of his own money if he wins the Democratic primary, and has pumped almost $4 million into the campaign already. Though Cornyn has already raised $2.1 million and has another $5.4 million on hand, like everything else in Texas, both sides’ campaign war chest better be big.

Already at a disadvantage in this category, state representative Rick Noriega, who recently formed an exploratory committee, will have his work cut out for him if he decides to make a real run at the seat. However, already supported by the large group that drafted him into running, Noriega is not short of potential donors. Moreover, in a state that prizes its military, Noriega’s 26 years of service and stint in Afghanistan will surely be factors in his favor; not to mention his obvious appeal to Texas’ many alienated Hispanic voters.

With two serious contenders in the running, it is likely that Senator Cornyn will be able to keep Texas ‘Red’ hot, but the Iraq issue might make things a bit more competitive if the Democrats find a capable challenger. An upset here would produce Texas’ first Democratic Senator in fifteen years, but The Lone Star State’s status as the home of President Bush and a hotbed of conservatism makes this seem unlikely.

Candidates

John Cornyn (I) – Republican – current U.S. Senator

Website

Rick Noriega – Democrat – state representative

Website

Virginia (Open Seat)

Outlook: Solid Democratic


October 4, 2008 Update:

This race is getting ugly, and by that we do not mean ‘rough,’ ‘hard fought,’ or ‘close.’ Former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner has a 20-point lead in EVERY poll since early May over his statehouse predecessor, Republican Jim Gilmore. Pick your poison in terms of proof: both Senatorial Campaign Committees have left the state for dead, the Gilmore name is actually being shied away from by the McCain campaign as it attempts to hold on to the state’s 13 electoral votes, and Warner is more or less on autopilot as he breezes across the state in what could be referred to as ‘an early victory lap.’ The writing is on the wall: Warner is primed for a huge landslide victory, and nothing less than an apocalyptic event will stop the Old Dominion from having two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor-at least until next year (stay tuned, down-trodden Virginia Republicans).

June 18, 2008 Update:

The Old Dominion hasn?t moved nearly as far as New Hampshire across the political spectrum, but it has undeniably become more Democratic in recent years, primarily because of the growth of moderate Northern Virginia. The GOP has lost races for Governor in 2001 and 2005, U.S. Senator in 2006, and the state Senate in 2007.

The man who started the movement to the Democrats, former Governor Mark Warner, is very likely headed to the Senate in 2008. He may or may not be handicapped by the Democratic presidential nominee, but he has such wide appeal among independents that he should be able to make up any lost ground, and it is far from impossible that Barack Obama (unlike Hillary Clinton) could carry Virginia.

On May 31st, Republicans nominated Warner?s controversial predecessor, former Governor Jim Gilmore, who is having trouble funding his candidacy. Gilmore?s already severe problems were compounded by what happened at the convention. He barely squeaked by a far-right, gadfly state legislator, state delegate Bob Marshall, a staunch abortion opponent, with a mere 50.3% of the votes case. Even more shocking was the convention?s ouster of incumbent chairman and former Lt. Gov. John Hager as party chair. Hager, whose son Henry recently married the President?s daughter, Jenna, lost decisively to yet another far-right 32-year old state legislator, Jeff Frederick.

The Virginia GOP has moved even further right at a time when the state as a whole has dramatically moderated, making the Republican party?s brand unpalatable to the key swing moderates and independents who determine the results of general elections, not to mention the band of Virginians who fund the candidates. All this is great news for the Democrats. Should Mark Warner succeed the retiring John Warner (R), as is highly likely, Democrats will control the Governorship and both Senate seats for the first time since January 1970. Virginia?s years as a Republican stronghold are well over.

April 14, 2008 Update:

It appears the Republicans may have a nomination fight on their hands in Virginia after all. Most of us thought they had dodged that bullet when Congressman Tom Davis announced he would withdraw from the race, leaving former governor Jim Gilmore as the last man standing. However, state delegate Bob Marshall has emerged as a right-wing alternative to Gilmore for anti-tax and anti-abortion elements of the party. Gilmore should win the nomination, since the decision will be made via state convention instead of a primary and state party leaders see Gilmore as the stronger general election candidate, but perhaps not as easily as he would have without Marshall drawing away some of his resources.

And resources could be the difference-maker in this race. Democratic candidate and former governor Mark Warner has been able to raise money at what has to be described as simply a ridiculous pace. In the first two weeks after announcing his candidacy, Warner raised a million dollars. Fourth quarter of 2007 and first quarter of 2008? $2.7 million and $2.5 million, respectively.

Warner’s wild popularity as governor seems to be carrying through to his Senate campaign, as he’s routinely polling 15 points or more ahead of Gilmore, and his appeal to independents should help him brush off any negative effect the Democratic presidential nominee may have. But this is Virginia, where crazier things have been known to happen. Remember 2006? Republican incumbent George Allen was sitting on a 20 point lead in March and April; then came the summer of ”macaca,” and the swift evaporation of Allen?s reelection bid. How about 1989, when polls showed Doug Wilder with double-digit leads heading into election day, only for him to win by a mere 0.3 percent? Now of course the cases are different, since ”racial leakage” won?t come into play in polls regarding Warner, but polls are a fickle beast, and can change rapidly. With the intensity of these two political juggernauts, Virginia should be at the forefront of the battle for the Senate in 2008.

December 14, 2007 Update:

The Old Dominion hasn’t moved nearly as far as New Hampshire across the political spectrum, but it has undeniably become more Democratic in recent years, primarily because of the growth of moderate Northern Virginia. The GOP has lost races for Governor in 2001 and 2005, U.S. Senator in 2006, and the state legislature in 2007. The man who started the movement to the Democrats, former Governor Mark Warner, is very likely headed to the Senate in 2008. He may be handicapped by the Democratic presidential nominee, especially Hillary Clinton, but he has such wide appeal among independents that he should be able to make up any ground she costs him (if she is the nominee). The Republicans will nominate Warner’s controversial predecessor, former Governor Jim Gilmore, who may have trouble funding the contest. Should Mark Warner succeed the retiring John Warner (R), Democrats will control the Governorship and both Senate seats for the first time since early 1970.

November 26, 2007 Update:

Boy what a difference a month makes. Just a few weeks ago, all signs pointed to Tom Davis, Representative from the Virginia 11th, and former Governor Jim Gilmore gearing up to square off for the Republican nomination. Since then, the state party announced it would pick its nominee at a convention, which gave Davis enough concern that he backed out entirely. Gilmore has officially announced his candidacy, and it doesn’t appear he’ll face any significant competition (if any at all) for the Republican nod.

So where does that leave things in the Old Dominion? Gilmore’s successor in the governor’s mansion, Democrat Mark Warner, enjoys a substantial lead in the polls (at least 15 points in all polls, in some as much as 30), as well as in funds (Warner raised over a million dollars in only two weeks after his announcement). Republicans insist that this time, Warner has a record they can run against, and that the early deficit Gilmore faces can be overcome when they hit full stride. One unfortunate certainty is that this race will get nasty. Warner has accused Gilmore of hiding the true economic plight of the Commonwealth when he handed the reins over in 2002; Gilmore has fired back that Warner broke campaign promises by raising taxes during his four years in Richmond. Considering the stakes (a Warner victory would give Virginia two Democratic Senators for the first time since 1970), both candidates will fight tooth and nail for this seat. We’re still a year from election day, but it looks like Gilmore will need to come up with a little bit of campaign magic in order to overtake Warner, and keep this seat in Republican control.


Background

Virginians will bid farewell to a good and faithful public servant when Senator John Warner retires at the end of his current term. Warner’s retirement will signal the end of a 30-year career of serving in the United States Senate, decades during which he often served as a voice for moderation.

Potential candidates have fully embraced the message Warner expressed in his retirement speech, of yielding his ground so that others can advance. Former Governor Mark Warner has officially thrown his hat into the ring, and appears to be the front-runner for the seat. M. Warner (of no relation to the outgoing John) was wildly popular during his four years in the Governor’s Mansion, implementing business and tax policies that helped to restore balance to the state’s budget while working reasonably well with a heavily Republican legislature. M. Warner actually ran against J. Warner in the famous Warner vs. Warner Senate race of 1996, when John beat Mark by a closer than expected five percentage points. M. Warner also had a brief fling at the Democratic nomination for the Presidency after he left the governorship in early 2006, but he withdrew, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Given his broad base of support and his immense personal wealth, Mark Warner begins the Senate race as a clear, substantial frontrunner.

Virginia Republicans say they’re up to the challenge, though. Congressman Tom Davis, of the 11th District in Northern Virginia, seems the standard-bearer for moderate Republicans, while M. Warner’s gubernatorial predecessor Jim Gilmore is the favorite of some of Virginia’s more conservative, anti-tax Republican voters. Davis comes from the wealthiest congressional district in the country, and has a knack for getting the most from his supporters’ deep pockets. Congressman Eric Cantor of the 7th District has also been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate, as has Bob Goodlatte of the 6th Congressional District, but they do not appear to be running. A Davis-Gilmore match-up would be competitive in either a primary or a convention; the GOP state central committee will decide the nominating method this autumn.

M. Warner should benefit from the brewing Republican brouhaha. The Republican candidates put themselves at a disadvantage if Davis and Gilmore have to spend time, resources, and rhetoric beating each other up simply to capture the Republican nomination, while Warner sits by with no substantial (if any) Democratic challengers. At the starting gate, Virginia appears likely to give the Democrats another Senate seat, and also save the taxpayers a little money since the office doorways and all the printed materials with the Senate voting roster can remain Warner embossed. A 14-month campaign is a long ordeal with plenty of potential for slip-ups (ask ex-Sen. George Macaca Allen), plus the peril of an unpopular Democratic presidential nominee such as Hillary Clinton making the contest closer than expected. But should Warner triumph, the ex-Red State of Virginia will have a very Blue team at the top, the first time Democrats will have controlled both U.S. Senate seats and the governorship since early January of 1970.

Candidates

Mark Warner – Democrat – former Governor

Website

Jim Gilmore – Republican – former Governor

Website

West Virginia

Outlook: Solid Democratic


June 18, 2008 Update:

After prevailing easily in West Virginia’s May primary, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller turns his sights to November. Rockefeller’s general election opponent will be former state senator Jay Wolfe who has run twice for the U.S. Senate and been unsuccessful in both previous attempts. At this juncture, Wolfe’s current attempt appears to be slated for a similar fate, as Rockefeller should easily hold the seat.

April 14, 2008 Update:

The Mountaineer State media sure seems to think Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller has this year’s election locked up. The state’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette, endorsed Rockefeller last week, and predicted that he’ll win “with such ease he needn’t bother campaigning.” We wouldn’t go quite that far, as he does face a nominal challenge in next month?s Democratic primary and, presuming he retains the nomination, another in a string of subpar Republican challengers come November, but do expect to keep seeing Rockefeller in a Senate chamber near you.


Background

It’s hard to believe that someone who has been in the Senate since 1985 is a junior Senator. But Jay Rockefeller is just that, thanks to fellow Democrat Robert Byrd‘s 48-year tenure. Both have approval ratings over 60%, and unless Byrd retires mid-term, neither should lose his seat in 2008.

Rockefeller is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and uses that seat as a platform for his position opposing the Iraq war. He has won his last two elections by absurdly large margins: he carried 63% of the vote in 2002, and 77% in 1996. His populist positions have gained him much respect in working-class West Virginia, positions such as his strong support for the Clinton healthcare plan in 1993.

The NRSC has Rockefeller on its targets list, but state Republicans have been wary to tangle with the financially overwhelming incumbent. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito of the 2nd District (and West Virginia’s only Republican Representative) had made overtures at a campaign, but announced she will eschew the Senate campaign in favor of running for reelection in the 2nd. John Raese, who was crushed by Byrd in 2006, has also received mention as a possible candidate. If Rockefeller brings the barrel of his political and financial networks to bear on a challenger, he should easily secure himself yet another term.

Candidates

Jay Rockefeller (I) – Democrat – current Senator
Website

Jay Wolfe – Republican – former state senator

Website

Wyoming (1)

Outlook: Solid Republican


June 18, 2008 Update:

Only three candidates filed to run for this seat as of the filing deadline on May 30th and, lo and behold, one of the candidates was incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi. With Enzi’s filing, the outcome of this race is all but settled, as he should easily win reelection in this deep Red state. Still to be decided is which of the other two filers will be his general election opponent. Professor Chris Rothfuss will face felon and perennial candidate Al Hamburg in the August Democratic primary to determine who will win the mantle of “likely loser” in this race.

April 14, 2008 Update:

Will he or won’t he? That’s the question for Wyoming Republicans right now, as incumbent Senator Mike Enzi has not yet formalized his intentions to run for another term in Washington. Enzi is finishing up his second term in the Senate, and at 64 is only slightly older than the average Senator, but press reports allude to Enzi being frustrated, and possibly bowing out this time. That would be great news for Christopher Rothfuss, a professor at the University of Wyoming who has announced he’ll represent the Democrat’s attempt to unseat Enzi. Wyoming is a very Republican state, and if Enzi is still in it, he’ll hold on to this seat. Should he decide to retire though, an open seat with a last-second Republican candidate creates a whole new ballgame.


Background

As of now, incumbent Republican Mike Enzi will seek his third term unopposed. Even if he does pick up a challenger, it is doubtful that the entrenched incumbent will be giving up his post anytime soon. With 73% of the vote in 2002, Enzi’s command performance is a daunting deterrent to challengers. In addition, the recently-vacated seat of Senator Thomas opened an easier door to would-be Democratic opponents looking for a seat in the Senate.

Enzi has just $400,000 in cash-on-hand, a nod less to reelection ambivalence than reelection confidence. While such trifling finances would be insufficient for most other candidates, Enzi’s lack of competition and incumbency will most likely keep him safe in his spot for a third term. Those factors, coupled with the state’s Republican trend, (an overwhelming 69% of voters in Wyoming picked Bush in both 2000 and 2004) outweigh the fact that Wyoming is currently governed by a popular Democrat.

Candidates

Chris Rothfuss – Democrat –
professor at the University of Wyoming

Website

Michael Enzi (I) – Republican –
current Senator
Website

Al Hamburg – Democrat – perennial candidate and Army veteran

Wyoming (2)

Outlook: Solid Republican


June 18, 2008 Update:

Republican Sen. John Barrasso ended the speculation when the filing deadline passed on May 30th, and his name appeared under the heading for Wyoming Senate “B”, the seat he currently occupies. Barrasso has no primary opponent and, in November, will face the winner of the Democratic primary between attorney Nick Carter and city councilor and former state senator Keith Goodenough. Even before knowing the identity of the Democratic nominee, Barrasso is a very strong favorite in what is perhaps the Reddest state in the nation.

April 14, 2008 Update:

As it stands right now, this race should be pretty run of the line. Republican John Barrasso, though an appointed replacement for the late Craig Thomas, has gotten nearly a year of incumbency under his belt already. His potential opponent from the Democrats is still unknown, since the two candidates have to go through their party’s nominating process first. In a state as Republican as Wyoming, that’s that, right?

Maybe not. Thomas was reelected in 2006, meaning whoever wins this seat will only have four more years in the Senate instead of the usual six. Republican Mike Enzi, the incumbent in Wyoming’s other Senate seat, has expressed some frustration with the whole scene in Washington, and has yet to say whether or not he intends to run for another full term. The Wyoming press has floated the idea of Barrasso running for Enzi’s seat, and the full six-year term that comes with it, with Enzi running for this seat and serving out the remaining four years before retiring. Neither Barrasso nor Enzi’s camp has flat-out rejected the idea, and nothing in Wyoming law prohibits it. Don’t get us wrong, the Democrats stand little chance of putting either of Wyoming’s seats in the Blue column, but we still may have an intriguing situation should Enzi and Barrasso go for the old switcheroo.


Background

Following the death of Senator Craig Thomas, the Wyoming Republican Party and Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal were charged with appointing a replacement Senator to serve until the next election cycle. Wyoming law requires that the party of the former Senator submit three candidates to the governor who chooses one to fill the seat. From thirty-one applicants, the party nominated former state treasurer Cynthia Lummis, former Wyoming GOP chair Tom Sansonetti, and state senator John Barrasso. Freudenthal chose Barrasso, the most inexperienced of the three candidates, causing some to suggest a strategic motivation and towards creating a potential competitive race in 2008.

Freudenthal, who is term limited in 2010, however, has publicly ruled out running for the seat in 2008, and the Republican demographics of Wyoming make a competitive race unlikely without an A-list Democratic challenger. The leading Democratic candidate is the 2006 at-large House nominee Gary Trauner, but he could decide to make another bid at the state’s House seat, after losing by only a thousand votes in 2006. Other Democrats who could run include state senator Mike Massie, former gubernatorial candidate Paul Hickey, and former state representative Patrick Hacker.

Despite a weak Democratic base in Wyoming, Barrasso has not yet secured a lifetime membership to the most exclusive club in America. Lummis, passed over by Freudenthal, has not ruled out a primary challenge in 2008, and former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead and former state House majority leader Colin Simpson, both snubbed by their Party’s selection committee, have signaled intentions to contest the Republican nomination for either Barrasso’s seat or Rep. Barbara Cubin‘s at-large Congressional seat. Any of these Republican challengers would be formidable primary opponents, so Barrasso may well have to earn the Senate seat he was handed by Governor Freudenthal.

Candidates

John Barrasso (I) – Republican – current Senator
Website

Keith Goodenough – Democrat – former state senator

Nick Carter – Democrat – attorney

Website