No, it's not Sunday. And this isn't the Senate 2008 Guru's Week in the Senate Races. It's been over nine months since Election Day 2006; and it's less than fifteen months until Election Day 2008. In other words, the 2008 election cycle is more than one-third over already. With all of the discussion about vulnerable Republican-held Senate seats taking place, I thought it might be useful to take a look at how the races are shaping up for the twelve Democratic-held Senate seats in 2008. Soak it in:
|State||Incumbent||GOP's Ostensible 1st Choice||1st Choice Running?||Current GOP Opponent(s)||Possible GOP Opponent(s)||Announced Not Running or Expressed No Interest|
|AR||Mark Pryor||Former Gov. Mike Huckabe||No||None||?||Huckabee|
|DE||Joe Biden||Rep. Mike Castle||No||None||?||Castle|
|IL||Richard Durbin||Your guess is as good as mine.||No||Steve Sauerberg||Who knows? A return from Alan Keyes?||Steve Greenberg|
|IA||Tom Harkin||Rep. Tom Latham||Not Yet (Rumored Possibility)||Steve Rathje,|
|Latham, Rep. Steve King||-|
|LA||Mary Landrieu||Rep. Bobby Jindal||No||None*||Sec. of State Jay Dardenne,|
Treasurer John N. Kennedy,
'02 Sen. candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell
'96 Sen. candidate Woody Jenkins
|Rep. Richard Baker,|
Rep. Jim McCrery,
Rep. Charles Boustany;
Jindal running for Governor
|MA||John Kerry||Your guess is as good as mine.||No||Jeffrey Beattie||State Senator Scott Brown||Former Govs. Mitt Romney, Bill Weld, and Paul Cellucci,|
Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, Former Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card,
Businessman Charles Baker, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling
|MI||Carl Levin||Rep. Candice Miller||No||None||Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land,|
2002 Candidate Rocky Raczkowski
|Miller, Rep. Mike Rogers|
|MT||Max Baucus||Rep. Denny Rehberg|| No||State Rep. Mike Lange||?||Rehberg|
|NJ||Frank Lautenberg||Former Gov. Christie Whitman,|
U.S. Attorney Chris Christie
|No, No||Businesswoman Anne Evans Estabrook||State Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio,|
State Assemblyman Jon Bramnick
Tom Kean Sr. & Jr.,
Assemblyman Mike Doherty
|RI||Jack Reed||Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee||No||None||Jon Scott||Chafee, '06 Sen. candidate Steve Laffey, Gov. Don Carcieri|
|SD||Tim Johnson*||Gov. Mike Rounds||No||State Rep. Joel Dykstra,|
Businessman Sam Kephart
|WV||Jay Rockefeller||Rep. Shelley Moore Capito||No||None||Secretary of State Betty Ireland,|
Businessman John Raese
So what do we see here?
First and foremost, we see that (unless Tom Latham challenges Tom Harkin or Bobby Jindal unexpectedly loses the LA-Gov race and opts for a Senate bid) Republicans don't have a single top choice challenging a Democratic incumbent. Keep in mind, this is not a comparison to Democrats, who have had ups and downs with recruiting (though, with 22 Republican-held seats up compared with only 12 Democratic seats up, that is to be expected). Simply put, I don't know how much time NRSC Chair John Ensign spends recruiting, but if it's more than zero, it may be wasted time. Certainly, there is still plenty of time for candidates to enter a Senate race, as Senators Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, and Jim Webb will tell you (all officially entered their races after August 2005), but, after this point in the 2006, only one single Republican entered a Senate race: Michigan loser Mike Bouchard. If 2006 is at all indicative, the NRSC should be just about done recruiting by now, not just starting.
You'll also note two asterisks, in Louisiana and South Dakota. In Louisiana, statewide elections occur later this year. While several Republican Congressmen have announced that they will be opting against a 2008 Senate challenge to Mary Landrieu, it is not unreasonable that other potential candidates would wait until after the 2007 state election before making any decisions, particularly in the case of statewide officeholders Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and currently-Democratic Treasurer John N. Kennedy. In South Dakota, Senator Tim Johnson is, of course, still recuperating from illness. If he feels able to run for re-election, it is reasonable to assume that he will, and that Gov. Mike Rounds is unlikely to challenge him. However, if Johnson opts against a re-election bid, that changes the entire dynamic, which could lead to a top-tier battle between Gov. Rounds and possibly Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth.
We also see a lot of previously unheard-of names. Jeffrey Beattie in Massachusetts and Jon Scott in Rhode Island are both Congressional race losers, I suppose looking for a promotion to losing Senate races. The announced challengers in Illinois and Iowa are all unknown political entities, charitably considered third-tier opponents. As it currently stands, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota feature a smattering of second- and third-tier opposition. Assuming both that Joe Biden drops his Presidential bid and runs for re-election and that Iowa's Republican Congressional delegation all opt to take a pass on a 2008 Senate bid, it is not unreasonable to expect (barring out-of-the blue surprises) that incumbent Democratic Senators will face no more than token opposition in Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. (At the same time, it wouldn't be wildly shocking if: Tom Latham did enter the race in Iowa; Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land did enter the race in Michigan; Joe Biden did retire from the Senate; and the AR-GOP did find somebody to offer Mark Pryor at least minimal opposition.)
Further, assuming that Senator Tim Johnson is up for a re-election campaign, it is not unreasonable to expect that incumbent Democratic Senators will face no more than second-tier opposition (and thus be strong favorites) in Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. Now, I recognize that I'm suggesting that, given a few reasonable caveats, eleven of twelve Democratic Senate seats are fairly to very safe (though it is also, in part, due to the hurting Democrats took in the Senate in 2002, losing close races in Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, which in turn thinned out Democratic vulnerabilities and created pick-up opportunities for 2008). That is pretty close to a "best case scenario." But it is also a fairly reasonable scenario. The catch is that Republicans, wanting to avoid a repeat of 2006 when they failed to turn a single Democratic-held Senate seat (or House seat or Governor's office) Republican, may pour relatively large sums of money into Louisiana once they have a candidate. With the DSCC trouncing the NRSC in fundraising, Democrats can counteract that, but it could be very expensive.
What do you think?
For daily news and updates on the U.S. Senate races around the country in 2008, check out Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.