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, 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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  • Senate 2008 Guru's Week in the Senate Races

    I hope you all had a safe and restful Labor Day Weekend.  Others, like Larry Craig, were not so lucky.  Family Research Council President Tony Perkins recently noted of Republicans' numerous ethics scandals:

    "Exit polls show that was the No. 1 factor in depressing Republican enthusiasm," Mr. Perkins said in an interview Tuesday. "There is an expectation that leaders who espouse family values will live by those values. And while the values voters don't demand perfection, I do believe they want leaders with integrity."

    Well, the Republican Culture of Corruption that played a major role in 2006 is alive and well in 2008.  And this week offered an illustration of the gestation period of a scandal from breaking news to resignation speech in about five days.

    Idaho: Late afternoon on Monday, Roll Call broke the story of Senator Larry Craig's June arrest for "lewd conduct" in the men's room of a Minnesota airport.  By Monday evening, Craig had released the first of what would be three public statements, ham-handedly trying to explain the situation.  Then, on Tuesday, Craig made his second statement at a press event, not too dissimilar from prostitute-consorting David Vitter's press conference from two months ago, wife by his side and blaming the media for his ills.  Having done absolutely nothing to rebuke Vitter, Pete Domenici, Ted Stevens, or Lisa Murkowski for their actions in the scandals and investigations in which they find themselves, Republican Senate "leadership"acted quickly, by Tuesday evening, to chastise Craig.  (More on the double-standard later.)  By Thursday morning, rank-and-file Republicans began calling for Craig's resignation, and Craig has given up his committee seats.  And then, Thursday afternoon came the bombshell: audio of Craig's post-arrest interview hit the Tubes.  It was damning; and, after that, it was only a matter of time.  Friday offered much speculation; and, Saturday offered Craig's third of three statements: the resignation speech.

    While Idaho Governor Butch Otter has not revealed who he will appoint to fill the vacancy when it arrives (or even when he will make such a decision), speculation has focused on Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who deferred to Otter when both were considering gubernatorial bids, and who was chomping at the bit for Larry Craig to announce a retirement earlier in the year so that he could run for Senate.  The DSCC has made it quite clear that they will commit the necessary resources toward making Idaho's Senate race competitive.  Meanwhile, NRSC Chairman John Ensign digs himself a hole as he explains the difference in GOP reactions to the Larry Craig scandal and the David Vitter scandal:

    Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., the Senate Republican campaign chairman, said Craig "admitted guilt. That is a big difference between being accused of something and actually admitting guilt."

    "David Vitter never did that. Larry Craig did," continued Ensign on ABC's "This Week" program.

    Put aside for a moment that David Vitter held a press conference acknowledging his indiscretions.  (And if Ensign contends that Vitter never explicitly admitted that he solicited prostitutes, I think the Washington DC and Louisiana media should call Vitter's office every day for as long as it takes seeking a clarification.)  If all Vitter did to deserve a giant round of "thunderous applause" from his Senate Republican colleagues upon his return from hiding after the breaking of his scandal was keep his chronic indiscretion under wraps long enough for the statute of limitations to expire on the crime he committed (yes, soliciting prostitutes is a crime in both Washington DC and Louisiana), then Senate Republicans are devoid of any character whatsoever.  Fortunately for the Senate GOP, the rationale circulating around the blogosphere (but barely permeating into the mainstream media) is one of two other possibilities: either rank partisanship or rabid homophobia.

    Pick your poison.  Rationale One: With Vitter, we see a Louisiana that, for now, has a Democratic Governor who could pick a Democrat to replace Vitter if he resigned.  Idaho's Republican Governor, however, ensures that the Idaho seat stays in GOP hands when Craig resigns.  Convenient.  Rationale Two: With Vitter, we saw a "family values" Republican who admitted to cheating on his wife with a female prostitute.  It's only heterosexual infidelity, so it's fine.  Meanwhile, with Craig, we saw a "family values" Republican, though married, attempting to score a consensual sexual partner who was male.  How dare he?!  (Read: Ewww, that's gay.)  As Republicans try to use this one example of the GOP patrolling their own and weeding out those who commit misdeeds, expect Democrats to readily shoot back numerous examples of corrupt and scandalous Republicans gone unchecked, starting with David Vitter.

    Virginia: In almost any other week, the retirement of John Warner would have been the top story.  Not this week.  But, yes, after what will be three decades in the U.S. Senate, the octogenarian Warner will be hanging it up.  While Democrats anxiously await an announcement from popular former Governor Mark Warner, Republicans see a primary looming between Rep. Tom Davis and former Governor Jim Gilmore, which Real Clear Politics suggests"could be the bloodiest primary in the nation." It is worth noting that the DSCC showed considerable class in withholding politics from the news cycle of Warner's retirement announcement; Tom Davis' confidantes did not want to extend Warner the same courtesy.

    South Dakota: As with Virginia, in almost any other week, the inspirational return to the public eye of a Senator struck with a near-fatal brain injury would have been the top story.  Senator Tim Johnson gave a thank you speech to South Dakotans on Tuesday addressed his condition, his recovery, and the road ahead with humor, humility, gratitude, and perseverance.  He also declared that he intends to seek re-election to the Senate in 2008.  Further, Senator Johnson will return to the Senate on Wednesday.  It is not exaggeration when I say "inspirational."

    Louisiana: Lest people forgot about this in the midst of the Craig scandal, the Warner retirement, and the Johnson comeback, Louisiana had quite the to-do on Monday.  Six weeks after Louisiana's highest ranking elected Republican, Senator David Vitter, made it clear that he cheated on his wife with prostitutes, the state's Treasurer, John N. Kennedy, declared that, "I have concluded that the Republican Party is the party that best reflects my values today." Some great values, huh? Treasurer Kennedy is now a Republican, which heightens expectations that he will challenge Senator Mary Landrieu in 2008. Hopefully Democrats will run a credible candidate for Treasurer against Kennedy later this year, if only to get him on the record with answers to questions like "If re-elected, do you promise Louisiana voters to serve your full term?" and "If you're just going to run for another office next year, why should voters re-elect you to this office this year?" Why is that particularly important?  Because Treasurer Kennedy has demonstrated very mercurial career goals, clearly illustrating that he is always happy to junk his current job for the next rung up on the ladder.

    Oregon: Speaker Jeff Merkley had quite a week, rolling out Veterans for Merkley (featuring a very distinguished trio at the helm) and, in honor of Labor Day, Labor Democrats for Merkley.  Regarding the other side of the aisle, the Oregon Democratic Party laid out why Gordon Smith is bad for veterans. also has a fun feature, Smith vs. Smith, highlighting Gordon Smith's numerous notable flip-flops in rhetoric and votes.

    Tennessee: TN-Dems may avoid a Senate primary as two possible candidates have said that they would step aside if businessman and gubernatorial son Mike McWherter moved forward with his candidacy, suggesting that McWherter is serious about giving Lamar Alexander a run for his money.

    Nebraska: With all of the press former Senator Bob Kerrey is getting recently as he considers a 2008 Senate campaign, one would think that he is really leaning toward giving it a go.

    Minnesota: Norm Coleman's anti-tax zealot base is peeved at him for not being enough of a zealot.  Meanwhile, Nobel Laureate Dr. Peter Agre withdrew from consideration for the Democratic Senate primary.  Also, MN Blue offers a handy comparison of the Democratic candidates, looking at their positions on issues and comparing endorsements.

    North Carolina: State Representative and veteran of the War in Afghanistan Grier Martin continues to give careful consideration to a 2008 Senate challenge to the vulnerable Elizabeth Dole. Given his record of service in the state Legislature and the military, as well as the promise shown by early poll numbers, I hope he does opt for a bid.  Blue NC concurs.

    Oklahoma: Jim "In Denial" Inhofe says that he was "kind of excited" by the attacks in Iraq on the airplane carrying himself, Senators Mel Martinez and Richard Shelby, and Congressman Bud Cramer. The guy is an absolute lunatic.

    Alabama: The first poll matching up Republican Bush rubber stamp Jeff Sessions and Democratic State Senator Vivian Figures shows Sessions with a 59-37 lead.  Given the massive name ID advantage Sessions must currently enjoy and the fact that Sessions currently has the support of 30% of Democrats, this actually isn't terrible for Figures. Once she raises her name ID, ropes back in some of the Democrats who don't yet know there is an alternative to Sessions, and (hopefully) effectively ties Sessions to numerous failed Bush policies (even in Alabama, Bush has a net negative approval rating), we could see this deficit shrink to low-double-digits in short order.

    New Mexico: While Pete Domenici and George W. Bush were sitting in a tree, F-U-N-D-R-A-I-S-I-N-G, large scale protests were organized against Domenici, Bush, and Bush's Iraq War.  After all, Domenici is raising his campaign bankroll thanks to a visit by a man whose approve-disapprove in New Mexico stands at an abysmal 32-67.  (You read that right: 32-67.)

    Kentucky: As the Iraq protest wave found its way to Mitch McConnell's neck of the woods, McConnell lamely pleaded that "there's a good chance that in September we'll go in a different direction" in Iraq.  Yeah, I don't believe anything McConnell says either.  Meanwhile, speculation that former KY-GOP gubernatorial nominee Larry Forgy might challenge McConnell in a 2008 GOP Senate primary intensified as it was revealed that Forgy has close ties to none other than Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Small world.

    South Carolina: Hotline On Call's Quote of the Day last week:

    You know what my goal is? Not for universal agreement. But for a little bit of respect."
      -- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), being heckled on immigration, Columbia State, 8/28

    I suppose that Graham still isn't feeling the love from his base.

    Finally, Sunday's Washington Post featured an article entitled "GOP Faces Growing Peril in 2008 Races: Senate Prospects Dimming" that included some magically delicious quotes:

    A Senate electoral playing field that was already wide open for 2008 has become considerably more perilous for Republicans with the retirement of Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and the resignation of scandal-scarred Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho). ...

    "It's always darkest right before you get clobbered over the head with a pipe wrench. But then it actually does get darker," said a GOP pollster who insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly. ...

    "About the only safe Republican Senate seats in '08 are the ones that aren't on the ballot," a GOP operative with extensive experience in Senate races said. "I don't see even the rosiest scenario where we don't end up losing more seats."

    Doesn't it just make you feel all tingly inside?

    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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    New Senate AND HOUSE Open seats in Virginia

    In what is the best news so far for Democrats in the 2008 entire Senate cycle (yes, better even than the Craig scandal), it has just been announced that Virginia's GOP Senator John Warner will retire from the Senate. He had called a press conference for today at 2pm, and his decision was just made public!

    More details and analysis here.

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    VA-Sen: John Warner To Retire

    Raising Kaine is reporting Sen. John Warner just announced he intends to retire at the end of this term. You can watch his press conference HERE.

    Jim Webb will hold a press conference following Warner's.

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    VA-Sen: John Warner Retires

    More as we have it...

    Update [2007-8-31 14:16:0 by Todd Beeton]: You can watch his press conference HERE.

    Jim Webb will hold a press conference following Warner's.

    Update [2007-8-31 14:33:42 by Jonathan Singer]: Warner declines to make an endorsement, but perhaps suggests that he'd like to see Tom Davis to run, saying that he'd like to see someone with experience, someone like a Congressman, to run. (Perhaps I'm reading too much into that answer, but perhaps not...)

    Update [2007-8-31 15:25:41 by Jonathan Singer]: I think Marc Ambinder's reading is right:

    Ex-Gov. Mark Warner, a once-upon-a-time presidential candidate, is probably going to run for the Democratic nomination. He is extremely popular; he will be heavily favored to win; his race will draw upon the same grassroots energies that excited the Democratic base in 2006. Having Warner on the ballot will help the Democratic presidential nominee in Virginia.

    The problems for the GOP don't end there, however. It's clear that John Warner's retirement represents a disaster for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which simply cannot afford an open seat race in an expensive state that at least some signs indicate is trending blue (even if it is still a slightly red hue of purple).

    But it goes beyond that, as well. The National Republican Congressional Committee is already going to be on the defense in Virginia's second congressional district, where Republican Congresswoman Virginia Thelma Drake only scraped by last year with 51 percent of the vote. The likelihood that Congressman Tom Davis of the 11th district, a northern Virginia district that is extremely expensive to advertise in and only leans about a point towards the Republican, will opt to make a run for the Republican senatorial nomination this year, thus leaving his seat open, only makes it that much tougher for the NRCC.

    In short, regardless of how much of a headache John Warner has been for the GOP over the years, his retirement could not have come at a worse time for the Republicans, whose chances of retaking the House and the Senate, and potentially even retaining control over the White House, have been diminished as a result of today's announcement.

    Update [2007-8-31 16:12:1 by Jonathan Singer]: Tom Davis is apparently intent on running a campaign about nothing.

    There's more...


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