VA-Sen: Mark Warner Maintains Robust Lead

For those looking for a brief diversion from today's insanity, here's a bit of polling out of a race that should have a lot of us smiling over the next 10 and a half months. Rasmussen Reports is out with new numbers out of the Virginia Senate race (on a day, coincidentally, when George Allen announced that he would not be running for Governor in 2009) that show Democrat Mark Warner continuing to hold a strong lead over his chief Republican rival in this open seat race, Jim Gilmore.

Gilmore (R)Warner (D)
Rasmussen Reports
Rasmussen Reports
Washington Post
Rasmussen Reports
5-Month Ave.

This race is not yet over. No race for the Senate is ever over this early -- just ask George Allen. But this continues to be, and will likely continue to be throughout this cycle, the Democrats' best pickup opportunity in the Senate. Mark Warner will be a great Senator if elected and will do a lot to help continue to turn Virginia from a red state into a purple state and even into a bluish state.

Republican Primary Ankle Biters

(On a personal note to the MyDD community, it's good to be back after an extended hiatus.  Travels and personal life in general kept me away for a spell, but I'm back every Sunday.  You will notice a change in format, though. Instead of the weekly recaps, which you can just get on a daily basis over at Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races, I will be putting out columns and other original content in my Sunday post here.  I hope you enjoy, and I very much look forward to your comments!  I hope you've had a fun, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving break.)

There is much debate over whether primaries help or hurt the eventual nominee toward winning the general election.  I'm typically of the opinion that, for the purposes of practical political benefit (small-d democratic ideals aside), primaries are only helpful in two cases: first, when the primary opponents need to raise their name identification; and, second, when the primary combatants are completely civil and avoid character attacks on each other, instead jointly turning their offensive aim toward the opposing Party.  That's why the MN-Sen Dem primary is good for Democrats, the NM-Sen GOP primary is bad for Republicans, and the TX-Sen Dem primary could have been good for Democrats.

That said, when there is an incumbent running for re-election or a clear presumptive nominee running for an open seat, an upstart primary opponent can hurt the favorite by forcing the the favorite to deplete financial resources and by testing lines of attack against the expected nominee.  In the 2008 cycle, we see a number of Senate races with such upstart primary opponents, or "ankle biters," challenging Republican incumbents or presumptive nominees.  While it is less than likely that any of these candidates will win their respective primaries in an upset, some of these candidates should be closely followed as they may offer insight into the Achilles' heels of the eventual Republican nominees.  Also, in the case that any of them gain noticeable traction, these upstart "ankle biters" may force the eventual Republican nominees to spend some significant cash.

Much more below the fold.

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VA-Sen: Gilmore Launches Campaign With Worst. Announcement. Video. Ever.

Today former Gov. Jim Gilmore officially jumped into the race for senate against his successor to the governor's mansion, Democrat Mark Warner. The Warner campaign wasted no time in welcoming him to the show (h/t Raising Kaine.)

"Virginians will have an opportunity to make a clear choice between two starkly different records and two dramatically different styles of leadership. [...]

"We look forward to making the case for Mark Warner's brand of commonsense, results-oriented leadership. We welcome Jim Gilmore to the campaign and we look forward to a spirited discussion."

As has become common practice, Gilmore announced his run via an online video, and a quick side-by-side comparison of the two former governors' respective campaign launch videos really couldn't make their differences in style more clear.

Gilmore's video is dark, the camera is static and Gilmore looks shifty, uncomfortable and bored; Warner's video on the other hand is bright, the camera is in constant motion and Warner projects confidence, friendliness and, well, acts as though he's already won.

Perhaps the greatest contrast, though, can be found in what is actually said. Both Warner and Gilmore talk about the challenges facing the country but while Warner talks of war, our stature in the world and our need for a responsible and innovative energy policy, this is how Gilmore frames the country's biggest challenges:

These are challenging times for our country. We're threatened by terrorism, concerned about a difficult war, stuck in traffic...


No wonder, then, with such an inauspicious senate campaign debut, that a young Virginia state Delegate considered by The Hotline to be an "up-and-coming star of Virginia politics," Chris Saxman, would confirm that he's "strongly considering" a challenge to Gilmore at the nominating convention next year. Gilmore is a guy whose tenure as governor ended in 2002, so people know him and have pretty much made up their minds about him and still the most support he can manage to garner against Warner in a head-to-head match-up is 37%. In other words, nominating Gilmore is essentially conceding the seat.

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Senate 2008: Democrats Looking Good

SurveyUSA just released a slew of polls of competitive Senate races around the country (all of which are currently held by the Republicans) commissioned by Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, and by and large the numbers are encouraging for the Democrats.

Virginia (Open Seat)


New Mexico (Open Seat)


Colorado (Open Seat)


New Hampshire









CAPS indicates incumbent
* indicates not likely to run

As you can see from these numbers, the Democrats already hold leads in races for at least four seats currently held by the Republicans, including one race in which an incumbent (Sununu) is running. Democrats have two other incumbents under 50 percent, as well, with one (Coleman) unable to hold a lead wider than the margin of error and the other (Smith) unable to receive a majority of the vote even against two candidates whose name recognition is still quite low. Even the one race where the Republican candidate is above 50 percent (Collins) shows some signs of hope, as other Democratic challengers in the past have overcome even greater margins in the past.

Click through the link to SurveyUSA above to get access to favorable numbers for the candidates, Bush approval in all of the states and other useful numbers, which I'll try to make a useful compendium of at some point if I get a chance.

New Senate rankings: Republicans push back, but are still in a tight spot

September was an awful month for the GOP: John Warner and Hagel retired, Shaheen and Mark Warner jumped in for Democrats... October started much the same way, as New Mexico's Pete Domenici announced he would not run for re-election, opening up yet another very vulnerable seat. But Democrats then ran into a bad patch of their own that culminated in the disastrous news that Bob Kerrey would not run in Nebraska. That by itself made a race that was leaning towards Democrats become a likely hold for Republicans. Meanwhile, the shuffle in New Mexico has still not been resolved, with Democrats scrambling to find a strong candidate.

That Nebraska and New Mexico have dominated Senate news in the past month is obvious in these new rankings: New Mexico rose from the 11th to 4th, while Nebraska collapsed from 4th to 13th (Reminder: Races are organized in order of vulnerability, so that the first ranked race is the most likely to turn-over). But there was some other movement: The departure of Tom Davis from the Virginia Senate race solidified the contest's number one ranking, while Democrats are significantly more upbeat this month about their chances in Kentucky and even in North Carolina. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) should be worried at the Democratic determination to avenge Tom Dashle's 2004 loss and target him for defeat.

The Senate situation is still very fluid with more retirement and recruitment rumors floating around, so that a lot of things could still change in the coming months. But an increasing number of races are settling down, so that we are starting to get a clearer idea of which states are likely to be hotly contested.

Outlook: Democratic pick-up 4-7 Senate seats.

Prediction: Democrats pick-up a net 5 seats, for a 56-41 majority.

Full rankings are available here, on Campaign Diaries. The lean take-over and toss-up seats are listed here.

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