Senate 2008 Guru's Week in the Senate Races

This past week in the Senate races was a good week for Democrats and a bad week for Republicans.  Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, Dick Morris, Bob Novak, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Politico all said so.  Even conservative blog Redstate has already completely written off two Senate races.  That may be why Republicans are working as hard as they are to lower expectations for the 2008 Senate races.

This past week wasn't just good for Democrats and bad for Republicans, though. It was the most pivotal week yet in the 2008 election cycle as far as Senate races are concerned.  Why?  You already know why.  Three reasons: 1) Chuck Hagel formally announced his retirement, putting Nebraska very much in play; 2) popular former Governor Mark Warner entered Virginia's Senate race, taking Virginia out of play by many pundits' measures; and, 3) popular former Governor Jeanne Shaheen entered New Hampshire's Senate race, taking New Hampshire out of play by some measures.  The DSCC unveiled more accomplished recruiting just this past week than the NRSC has demonstrated so far this entire cycle.

And it's not just the words of pundits that place Virginia and New Hampshire into many "Likely Democratic Pick-Up" columns.  Poll numbers more than back up those claims.  In Virginia, a September Rasmussen Reports poll has Mark Warner beating former Gov. Jim Gilmore 54-34 and beating Rep. Tom Davis 57-30.  Similarly, a July University of New Hampshire poll has Jeanne Shaheen beating John Sununu 54-38, and a July Concord Monitor poll has Shaheen beating Sununu 56-34.  Suffice it to say, these are not small margins of victory.  All we're waiting on now is polling out of Nebraska matching up former Senator Bob Kerrey and former Gov. Mike Johanns.

While the NRSC is left licking its wounds, there was much afoot in the Senate races this week:

Nebraska: Chuck Hagel's retirement led CQPolitics to change its Nebraska Senate rating from "Safe Republican" to "Leans Republican" - expect another adjustment if/when former Senator Bob Kerrey or Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey enters the race.  Meanwhile, Republican former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub is expected to join the race tomorrow.  As he is criticized for being "too aggressive and divisive," I wholeheartedly welcome him to the GOP primary.  Also, current Gov. Dave Heineman "fully expects" former Gov. Mike Johanns to enter the race.  I expect it, too; I mean, the NE-GOP gushes over Johanns and just named their state headquarters after him!  To stave off the notion that Johanns would steamroll him in a primary, state Attorney General Jon Bruning released poll numbers showing him running only nine points behind Johanns in a hypothetical primary.

Virginia: Mark Warner's entry led CQPolitics to change its Virginia Senate rating from "No Clear Favorite" to "Leans Democratic." Some in the VA-GOP consider Davis not conservative enough and Gilmore unelectable, leading to a search for another Republican to face Mark Warner.  Some hope that GOP Rep. Eric Cantor will consider a bid.  However, they may wind up with conservative pundit Pat Buchanan.

New Hampshire: With Jeanne Shaheen's entry, one of the only unknowns was what the rest of the Democratic field would do.  Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand kept his pledge and withdrew from the race, immediately endorsing Shaheen.  Had Shaheen not entered the race, I do believe that Marchand would have gone on to win the primary and beat Sununu, so I hope he maintains his Senatorial aspirations, what with Republican Judd Gregg up for re-election in 2010.  Jay Buckey has made it clear that he will remain in the primary.  "Liebercrat" Katrina Swett's plans remain a question mark.

Minnesota: Speaking of poll numbers, back in March, Rasmussen Reports found that Norm Coleman led then-recently announced Senate candidate Al Franken by 10 points, 46-36.  Well, the latest Rasmussen numbers see the lead cut in half, to 46-41, with Coleman leading Mike Ciresi by a similar 46-42.  What's also very notable is how Franken's approval has shot up. In March, he stood at 39-46. Now, he's at 46-47. Clearly, he has to get those disapprovals down. But undecideds on Franken are obviously finding him favorable for his approval to go from 39 to 46.  A good sign indeed.  Meanwhile, it doesn't help Norm Coleman's case to Minnesota voters that he would be content staying in Iraq until 2010 before half of the troops, much less all of them, are brought home.

Alaska: Two more shoes dropped this week in the ongoing Ted Stevens corruption investigations.  First, in the corruption trial of former Alaska Speaker Peter Kott, Stevens was named in a recording of two oil contracters as a "powerful ally" who could build support for a "dirty deal" to keep Alaska oil taxes low.  Then, ex-VECO CEO Bill Allen admitted in court that he had his employees "work several months" on Stevens' home renovations and that the work was paid for out of a $400,000 pool used specifically to bribe legislators.  Stevens, of course, had no comment in his own defense.  I can't fathom how Stevens makes it to Christmas without being indicted for something.

Maine: Speaking of illicit activities, Susan Collins is finally taking heat in the Maine media for inappropriately using taxpayer-funded Senate resources for political purposes.  We know that Collins' Senate staff has used their Senate computers to update Collins' Wikipedia profile to appear more politically palatable. And we know that Collins' taxpayer-funded Senate Chief of Staff has been quarterbacking her political battles with Maine Democrats. It seems pretty clear that Senate resources are being used by the Collins camp for political purposes. Sounds like we need a Senate Ethics investigation to formally determine if Collins is breaking the rules.

Colorado: Tricky Dick Wadhams demonstrates again how terrible he is at handling a political crisis.  Wadhams was a top adviser of George Allen's during the notorious "Macaca" incident; we all know how well they handled that.  Then, as head of the CO-GOP and de facto adviser to Backwards Bob Schaffer's Senate campaign, his early ridiculous reaction to Schaffer's ethics scandal helped propel the story in the local media rather than silence it.  And now, Wadhams is getting very up-in-arms over the entry into the CO-GOP Senate primary of a relatively unknown county commissioner.  The commissioner, Wayne Wolf, wants to run a positive, issue-focused campaign.  Let's see how Wadhams and Schaffer unnecessarily flip out and go negative.

Oregon: John Frohnmayer, a Bush 41 appointee and brother of Republican former state AG Dave Frohnmayer, has formally announced his entry into the 2008 Senate race as an independent.  While his resume may suggest that he'd take more votes from Republicans, early numbers say he acts more as a spoiler to Democrats.

Kansas: With Democratic six-term former Congressman Jim Slattery considering a challenge to the potentially vulnerable Republican Bush-rubber-stamp Pat Roberts, I offered a profile of Slattery's background to acquaint the netroots with him.  Take a look.

Tennessee: Speaking of states where the competitivity map can be expanded, Democratic businessman and gubernatorial son Mike McWherter is expected to enter the 2008 Senate race against Lamar! in the next couple weeks.  His father was a very popular Governor; if the McWherter name still has some juice while Mike establishes himself in his own right, we could see a race here.

Rhode Island: Former Senator Lincoln Chafee is no longer a Republican.  Discuss.

North Carolina: Need another reason why Elizabeth Dole will lose in 2008?  Her internal polling has her approve-disapprove at a delusional 64-23.  Last November, Survey USA put her approve-disapprove at 52-40.  And, last month, Public Policy Polling put her approve-disapprove at a similar 48-41.  If Dole wants to embarrass herself by publicizing the delusion that her approve-disapprove is a laughable 64-23, I say "Be my guest, Liddy."

Louisiana: One of David (I quite honestly typed "John" and had to delete it - Freudian mis-type, I guess) Vitter's prostitutes passed a lie detector test this week.  It turns out that she was seeing Vitter two or three times a week for four months, and that records show that she wasn't even the same prostitute as the one(s) Vitter saw via the DC Madam.  The prostitute also shared some choice nuggests about Vitter, including that Vitter and his wife were trying to conceive another child while he was cheating on his wife with the prostitute.  And here are your Republican family values.  At the very least, Vitter still has yet to be fully honest with his constituents about the whole affair and his chronic patronage of prostitutes. Is it too much to ask that the Louisiana press maybe follow up with Vitter about it?

South Carolina: Larry Craig's scandal has renewed interest among some in the South Carolina media regarding whether or not Lindsey Graham is gay.  Is it fair game for the media to inquire about a public official's private life?  I wondered about this earlier this week and figured that if the legislator is in favor of privacy (i.e. supports of legislation that prohibits the government or a commanding officer or a prospective boss from making judgements based on sexual orientation), then it is not fair game.  However, if the legislator opposes privacy (i.e. supports allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation - as Lindsey Graham has), then it would be hypocritical for the public official to proclaim his own private life off limits, since he is happy to legislate others' private lives.  I conclude that I don't care that if Lindsey Graham is gay.  Nobody should.  I do, however, care that he is may be a hypocrite.  And I very much care that he is legislating discrimination.

Idaho: Speaking of Larry Craig (as we should whenever talking about David Vitter, Lindsey Graham, or most any other Senate Republican), he will have his day in court regarding the rescinding of his guilty plea.  His court date is September 26 at 1:30pm.  He needs a favorable outcome here if he is to retain any hope of not resigning.  Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter has declared that if an appointment is needed, he will not appoint a placeholder; rather, he will appoint someone who intends to run for a full term next year.

For daily news and updates on the U.S. Senate races around the country in 2008, check out Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.

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Senate 2008 Guru's Week in the Senate Races

Things are not looking too good for Senate Republicans lately.  The GOP is just getting older and more conservative, which may contribute to Democrats beating Republicans 50-32 in a generic congressional ballot, the 18-point lead almost doubling last month's 10-point lead.  NRSC Chair John Ensign assures us that things aren't really that bad:

"If you scratch the surface, things don't look necessarily that good," he said. "But when you get below the surface, things aren't nearly as bad as what they could be."

Exactly how bad things are for Senate Republicans could be shaped heavily by events in September.  The following numerous decisions will (likely) come to pass before the end of this month:

  • Tomorrow, Nevada's Nebraska's (duh - long day) Chuck Hagel is expected to announce his retirement.  A decision from former Senator Bob Kerrey on a 2008 Senate bid could come soon after.  In fact, the Nebraska GOP has already started very lamely attacking Kerrey's record in preparation for a Senate bid.
  • Later this week, popular former Virginia Governor Mark Warner is expected to announce a decision about whether or not to succeed - er, campaign to succeed - retiring John Warner in the Senate.  Numerous Virginia political insiders expect that Mark Warner will run for Senate.
  • Over in Oregon, former NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer is expected to enter the 2008 OR-Sen race as an independent candidate.  It is unclear who his candidacy would harm more, Republican Gordon Smith or the eventual Democratic nominee, but accurately refering to Frohnmayer as a George Bush appointee and the brother of Republican former state Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer is a good start.
  • According to popular former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen's de facto spokesman, her husband Bill, a decision on a Senate bid should come by the end of the month.
  • Glancing over at the circus in Idaho, should Larry Craig resign at the end of the month as expected, Governor Butch Otter will have to make an appointment to fill the remainder of the term.  Republican Rep. Mike Simpson says that he does not want the job, noting a personal distaste for Mitch McConnell.  While Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is considered the front-runner for the appointment, so many Idaho Republicans are interested in the seat that Gov. Butch Otter is open to appointing a place-holder who will serve until the end of the term but not run for the seat in his or her own right in 2008.  At this point, I'd put it at 50-50 between Otter appointing Risch vs. appointing a place-holder.  Almost comically, the NRSC web site's News page lacks any mention of or official comment on the Craig scandal.

    Further, possible-to-likely Senate candidates are emerging in traditionally red states:

  • In North Carolina, State Representative and Afghanistan War veteran Grier Martin is closing in on a decision regarding a Senate bid.  Says The Independent Weekly's Bob Geary, "There was no mistaking the new bounce in his tone: He wants to run. And he's much closer to doing it." Last Tuesday, I offered an analysis of the potential of a Martin-Dole match-up.
  • In Tennessee, businessman and gubernatorial son Mike McWherter is making the rounds and sounding like he is ready to take on Lamar Alexander.  If/when McWherter officially enters, other Democrats considering a bid have already said that they would defer to McWherter and support his candidacy.
  • In Kansas, six-term former Congressman Jim Slattery has announced that he is considering a challenge to Pat Roberts.  I have long thought that Kansas could be the sleeper competitive Senate race of the 2008 cycle, for reasons ranging from Roberts' unintimidating approval ratings to Roberts' failures and scandals while Chairing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
  • In South Carolina, former State Senator Tom Turnipseed is considering a Senate run, as well.

    Indeed, September could prove a very decisive month in terms of shaping the 2008 Senate races.  This week also saw a plethora of interesting news around the country:

    South Dakota: Senator Tim Johnson returned to the Senate floor and made his first roll call vote in almost nine months.  Badlands Blue has the video of his return, including a nearly-minute-long standing ovation before Johnson spoke and another minute of standing ovation after Senator Johnson's comments.  Truly uplifting.
    Delaware: Senator Joe Biden is definitely moving forward with Senate re-election plans amid his Presidential campaign.
    Texas: Though a majority of Democratic primary voters are still undecided, State Representative and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Noriega currently has about double the support of attorney Mikal Watts, 27-14.  Attorney Emil Reichstadt, who may soon exit the race, clocks in at 6%.  Noriega also recently scored the support of Texas' firefighters.
    New Hampshire and Minnesota: In case anyone thought otherwise, both Sprintin' John Sununu and Smilin' Norm Coleman are still George W. Bush's lapdogs on Iraq.
    Alaska: Ted Stevens appears to be both a climatologist and a sociopath.  All of that insane behavior may just be to deflect attention from his latest earmark scandal.
    Colorado: Backwards Bob Schaffer's own poll numbers see him losing to Democratic Congressman Mark Udall by more than the margin of error.  Schaffer's camp is trying to spin this as a good thing!  I can't wait for the non-partisan numbers to come out.
    Louisiana: The candidate filing period for 2007 passed this week in Louisiana, and Republican state Treasurer John N. Kennedy is running unopposed for re-election while looking ahead to a possible 2008 Senate challenge to Senator Mary Landrieu.  Given Treasurer Kennedy's chronically mercurial career goals, hopefully someone in the Louisiana media can get him to answer questions like "If re-elected to the Treasurer's office, do you pledge to serve out your full term?" and "Why should the voters of Louisiana re-elect you if you're just going to run for another office in a few months?" So far, all that has gone on the record is:

    Kennedy declined to speculate on his political future, and would not commit to serving out his entire four-year term.

    "I've never made promises about things in the future that I can't control," Kennedy said, adding that he wanted to savor re-election before looking ahead.

    Hey, John, running for Senate isn't an involuntary action like sneezing or yawning - you do actually have control over whether or not you run for Senate. Totally disingenuous.
    Virginia: A VA-GOP Senate primary between Tom Davis and Jim Gilmore could get very ugly.  The Club for Growth is already attacking Tom Davis' economic record.  Meanwhile, Davis' campaign has apparently hired adviser Chris LaCivita, whose claims to fame include advising and producing commercials for the notorious Swift Boat Veterans and serving as direct supervisor to the man responsible for the infamous New Hampshire phone jamming scandal.  This could be a historically ugly primary.
    Kentucky: The Public Campaign Action Fund released an ad highlighting Mitch McConnell's record supporting the use of taxpayer dollars to fund iPod-like music players for Afghani tribesman but opposing body armor for our troops.  (Yes, you read that right; Ditch Mitch KY explains.  It of course involves a former McConnell staffer becoming a lobbyist, and McConnell securing an earmark for the clients of his former staffer while the lobbyist/former staffer raises thousands of dollars for McConnell.)  So what does McConnell do?  He uses his contacts and clout to get the ad pulled from cable stations!  In a completely unrelated note, Dictionary.com defines "fascism" as "forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism."
    Arizona: Looking ahead to 2010, popular-but-term-limited Governor Janet Napolitano has established a federal political action committee, seen as an early step toward a 2010 Senate bid.  Meanwhile, early polling sees Governor Napolitano handily defeating John McCain by double digits in a hypothetical 2010 Senate match-up, 47-36.

    Some parting notes:

  • The DSCC announced a winner in its bumper sticker slogan contest.  I really like it - check it out.
  • When George W. Bush took office, the National Debt stood at less than $5.75 trillion.  Last week, the National Debt crossed the $9 trillion mark.  In other words, the National Debt has gone up $3.25 trillion, more than 56%, on George W. Bush's watch of just over six-and-a-half years. Just another indicator of the failure of Bush's policies.
  • Some enterprising soul turned my catalog of the Republican Culture of Corruption: 2007 So Far into a YouTube video.  I truthfully have no idea who did it, but it really is the Citizen Kane of YouTube videos:

    For daily news and updates on the U.S. Senate races around the country in 2008, check out Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.

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  • Former Congressman Slattery Looking at Senate Bid in Kansas

    With many Kansans looking forward towards 2010 when the state's senior Republican Senator Sam Brownback is slated to retire, leaving open the possibility that popular Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius will become the first member of her party to win a Senate election in the state since 1932 and only the fourth member of her party to ever represent the state in the Senate, this cycle's Senate election in the state has been overlooked by a number of people. But one person apparently with an eye on the race is former Democratic Congressman Jim Slattery, as the The Kansas City Star reports:

    Jim Slattery, the former six-term congressman and a golden boy of the Kansas Democratic Party in the 1970s, is considering a run for U.S. Senate next year against incumbent Republican Pat Roberts.

    [...]

    A Slattery decision to enter the race would be a huge achievement for the ongoing revival of the state Democratic Party. The party, with its growing roster of statewide officials, including Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, failed to provide a first-tier challenger to Roberts in 2002 or to his fellow senator, Sam Brownback, in 2004.

    The Associated Press gives us a bit of an idea what a Slattery campaign might look like.

    Slattery said the war in Iraq, health care, immigration, the budget and the state's role in the global economy are key issues in the race next year.

    As the folks at The Star note, Roberts is hardly immune to criticism over the war in Iraq (criticism, one might add, that helped an insurgent Nancy Boyda defeat Republican Congressman Jim Ryun in the state last fall). Specifically, Roberts' role as chairman of the Senate intelligence panel in the run up to the war in Iraq, as well as his stonewalling in the period since, make him a prime target for a Democrat able to articulate clearly and decisively on the issue of Iraq.

    Now I'm not under the delusion that this would be an easy win for Slattery. Sure, unweighted simple averaging shows that Kansas Democrats received about 49.6 percent of the statewide two-party vote for Congress last fall, winning two of four seats in the state. Sure, both Governor Sebelius and Paul Morrison, the Democratic nominee for Attorney General, both received about 58 percent of the vote last fall. But Kansas is a tough nut for any Democrat to crack, particularly in a presidential election.

    That said, and I'm going without much knowledge of Slattery (where's my 1994 Almanac of American Politics when I need it...), but it would seem that he could at least give the Democrats a chance to play in Kansas, something they haven't done in a Senate election in the state in a long time. And though Kansas would probably stack up as the Democrats' 12th, 13th or 14th best pick-up opportunity in the Senate, such large swings have been seen in the past (the GOP most recently picked up 12 seats in 1980, the Democrats last picked up 13 seats in 1958).

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