Over the past five months, Rasmussen Reports polling on the Virginia Senate race has remained fairly static, with support for former Democratic Governor Mark Warner ranging from 53 percent to 57 percent and support for former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore ranging from 37 percent to 38 percent. The latest numbers from the pollster, released yesterday, are right near that range:
Democrat Mark Warner still has a comfortable lead over Republican Jim Gilmore in the race for Virginia's seat in the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Virginia voters found Warner up 55% to 39%.
The gap was slightly larger last month when Warner led Gilmore 57% to 37%.
Warner dominates among unaffiliated voters. He leads Gilmore 65% to 21% among those not affiliated with either Republicans or Democrats.
Warner is viewed favorably by 65% and unfavorably by 32%. Gilmore's numbers are 51% favorable and 42% favorable.
It's hard for me to remember another Senate race that has consistently had such a large advantage for the challenging party over the incumbent party. Certainly, Bob Casey led Rick Santorum throughout the Pennsylvania Senate election last cycle, but even his double-digit margin tended to be smaller than Warner's current lead (although Casey's final 17-point margin of error was larger than Warner's lead today). In 2004, Barack Obama led Alan Keyes consistently, but Keyes was a joke and had never won statewide, as has Gilmore (who was elected as Attorney General in 1993 and Governor in 1997). So it sure looks like we're watching an unprecedented race here. And truthfully, I would be really excited to see someone with the charisma and leadership ability of Mark Warner in the United States Senate.
So with eight months to go, I figure it's time for an updated look at all the 2008 Senate races. There are 35 seats up for election because of a scenario in Wyoming and Mississippi where both seats are up, due to the passing of Craig Thomas and the resignation of Trent Lott, respectively. Now obviously, quite a few of the races are considered "safe" for the incumbent. So I'll rank these in terms of tiers. The top tier will be the races where there is a serious challenger to the incumbent (or at least the incumbent's party, in cases of retirement), where the party holding the seat has a real shot of switching. The second tier are races that could become top tier races, but are not at this point. Tier III are ones where a major event would need to happen for the seat to come into play. And the safe seats? Well, Mike Gravel has a better shot at winning the presidency than those incumbents have of losing their races.
Follow me below the fold for all the races. Note: Some of this may seem repetitive, with information you already know. That's because I originally wrote this for the Bruin Democrats, many of whom don't follow the national races like we do. Consider this a primer for both newcomers and political junkies alike.
We've been a bit focused on the presidential election lately (ya think?), so I wanted to get us up to speed on some developments happening on the senate and house fronts.
VA-Sen: Mark Warner is still killing Jim Gilmore in the latest Rasmussen Reports poll (500 LVs, Feb. 19, MOE +/- 4.5%) out of Virginia. This is a remarkably stable race (January results in parentheses.)
Warner 57 (53) Gilmore37 (38)
MN-Sen: Al Franken has taken a slight lead in the potential senate showdown against incumbent Norm Coleman in the latest Rasmussen Reports poll (500 LVs, Feb. 16, MOE +/- 4.5%) out of Minnesota (Nov. results in parentheses.)
Franken 49 (42) Coleman 46 (49)
Franken's primary opponent, Mike Ciresi, loses to Coleman by 2 points in the same poll, indicating that Franken has the leg up in the primary.
TX-Sen: Rick Noriega, our people-powered challenger to Bush hack John Cornyn has released his first ad of the cycle.
IL-14: The special election to take over Dennis Hastert's old seat will be held on March 8th. Scientist and businessman Bill Foster won a tight primary to become the Democratic nominee and Barack Obama has already cut an ad for him. Guess what Foster's campaign slogan is: "Democrat For Change."
CA-12 Speaking of special elections, the primary to determine who will be the Democratic nominee in CA-12 to replace the late Tom Lantos in the House is on April 8. Former State Senator Jackie Speier had already announced her intention to run for Lantos's seat once Lantos announced he would not be seeking another term last month; Lantos even endorsed her. But now famed Stanford Law professor and reform advocate Larry Lessig has formed an exploratory committee to consider running against Speier (he must decide for sure by Monday.) At his website, Lessig has posted a long but compelling video about the sort of change he wants to make to Congress.
PVI #: R+4. % Dem. turnout: 50.6. I get bullish on this race more and more. First of all, Hoyt Hilsman dropped out of the race, clearing the field for Russ Warner. Warner, who has raised over $400,000 in his campaign, can now commit that entirely to the general election. David Dreier has completely lost sight of this district and he's facing his first real challenger basically since he was elected in 1980. Now, it's not smooth sailing; Dreier has $2 million dollars in the bank. But look at that Democratic turnout on February 5. That excitement gap will continue at the top of the ticket, and Russ Warner needs to ride the wave.
Plenty more where that came from, no doubt, share some more congressional challenger developments in the comments...
As of the end of the year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had about $16 million more in the bank than the National Republican Senatorial Committee, when debts and obligations are taken into account. While this might not be sufficient to ensure that the Democrats pick up seats in 2008, even in combination with the general sentiments in the country favoring the party, the fact that the Democratic candidates in the top-6 most competitive races are outraising their GOP opponents.
Democratic Senate candidates continued to trump their Republican counterparts in many key races around the country in the fourth quarter.
Financial reports show Democrats topped Republicans by hundreds of thousands of dollars in races in Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia.
GOP incumbents held fast to money edges in other top races in Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas.
Take a look through the numbers:
Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner raised $2.9 million to Republican Jim Gilmore's mere $350,000.
New Mexico: Democrat Tom Udall (with help from the netroots) brought in $1 million -- more than both of his two Republican competitors combined, with Heather Wilson taking $520,000 and Steve Pearce bringing in $430,000.
Colorado: Mark Udall, the presumptive Democratic nominee and cousin of Tom, nearly doubled the fundraising of his GOP competitor Bob Schaffer, $1.1 million to $670,000.
New Hampshire: In the rematch race between freshman Republican John Sununu and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, the latter outraised the former $1.2 million to $920,000.
Minnesota: Democrat Al Franken's nearly $2 million haul bested that of incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman's $1.7 million.
Louisiana: Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, the only Democratic incumbent theoretically vulnerable this cycle, doubled the fundraising effort of her GOP challenger John Kennedy, $1 million to $500,000. This is a particular embarrassment for the Republicans given that Kennedy is supposed to be their top challenger and is the focus of the party's efforts at putting the Democrats on defense in at least one Senate race.
We're not there yet. But it's sure looking like the Democrats have a very good shot at 56 seats -- or more (don't forget Mississippi, where former Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove has a great shot at winning in either a special election or general election this year) -- by the end of this cycle.
It has been more than two months since my last Senate rankings. With the presidential primaries on every one's mind, congressional races are looking less urgent, not to mention that there was just very little news coming out of down-the-ballot contests during the holiday period. But a lot has changed since the beginning of November -- starting with the number of Senate elections that will be decided in 2008. Trent Lott's shocking decision to prioritize lobbying over holding the position he was elected to a year before has added a 35th race to our rankings, and has expanded the map for Democrats with an unexpected opportunity.