by Senate Guru, Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 04:01:31 PM EDT
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.