BruinKid's Senate race rankings
by BruinKid, Tue May 27, 2008 at 04:38:53 AM EDT
So with less than half a year to go, it's time for another 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 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. This is meant to be a primer for both newcomers and political junkies alike, so some of the information may seem repetitive for you junkies out there. Also see my previous March diary to see what things have changed since my last update.
First off, whenever I refer to fundraising numbers in the races, I'm using the latest numbers we know of, from the end of March 2008. "Q1" refers to the period of January to March 2008, the most recent quarter that we have the fundraising numbers for. Major hat tip to Senate Guru for putting all the numbers in an easy to read table format.
1. Virginia: Incredibly popular former Governor Mark Warner (D) is running for this seat that opened up when John Warner (R), no relation, announced his retirement. Warner left the governorship with a whopping 80% approval rating. That's freaking unheard of. He'll face another former Governor, Jim Gilmore (R), who some of you may remember tried running for President last year. Gilmore was known as the governor who helped drive the state into near-bankruptcy with his car tax cut, and Warner as the one who fixed the problem when he took over for Gilmore. Rasmussen Reports still shows Warner CRUSHING Gilmore, 55%-37%. And oh yeah, Warner also raised over $2.5 million in Q1, while Gilmore only raised a little over $400,000. To top it off, Gilmore's been burning through the little cash he got, and now barely has $200,000 left, which is more than $4 million less than what Warner's sitting on. This seat's about as safe as you're gonna get.
2. New Mexico: Rep. Tom Udall (D) announced for this seat shortly after Pete Domenici (R) announced his retirement. Yes, he is part of the famed Udall political family; his father Stewart served as Interior Secretary under JFK, and his uncle Mo was an Arizona Congressman for 30 years, also running for President in 1976. Stewart Udall was largely responsible for just about all the environmental laws that were passed in the 1960s. The GOP side features a primary fight between Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce that's been getting nastier lately. So the entire New Mexico U.S. House delegation is running for this Senate seat! Lots of good recent polling news for Udall pushes this race into the number 2 spot, as Rasmussen shows Udall crushing both opponents by at least 15 points each, and SurveyUSA shows him getting at least 60% in the polls and destroying both challengers by at least 24 points each! Now, once the GOP settles on a nominee, expect a "unity bounce" to occur, which should trim Udall's massive leads a bit. But if the polls still show the GOP candidate under 40% even then, it won't be much of a race. Combine that with Udall having three times the cash on hand as Pearce and Wilson combined, and Udall would be number 1 on the list if it weren't for Mark Warner.
3. New Hampshire: John Sununu (R) is about to become 2008's version of Rick Santorum. Democrats could run a ham sandwich against him, and it would be a competitive race. But why settle for a ham sandwich when you can run the former governor? Jeanne Shaheen (D), who Sununu beat in 2002 thanks to some illegal phone-jamming on Election Day for which several GOP operatives went to prison, has led Sununu in every single poll taken in 2008. The latest Rasmussen poll has her leading 50%-43%. A general rule of thumb: any incumbent polling under 50% in an election poll is in trouble. Add to that, the fact New Hampshire strongly went blue in 2006 all over the place, kicking out both Republican Congressmen and flipping over 80 seats in the state House, giving Democrats control of both state legislature for the first time since 1910, and Sununu has to be considered the most endangered incumbent. The only thing keeping this race from being tied at number 2 is that while Shaheen outraised Sununu in the 1st quarter, Sununu still has a significant cash on hand advantage of $4.3 million, compared to Shaheen's $1.8 million. That money will probably make this race closer, but given how much New Hampshire has changed, I'm not sure that money advantage is really going to help Sununu all that much.
4. Colorado: Wayne Allard (R) kept his pledge of only serving two terms, and is retiring from the Senate. Democrats have cleared the path for Rep. Mark Udall here. He's Mo Udall's son, and Tom Udall's cousin. On the GOP side, former Rep. Bob Schaffer is the likely nominee. Colorado has been trending bluer recently, picking up a Senate seat in 2004 (Ken Salazar), and a congressional district and the governor's office in 2006. Schaffer had previously lost the GOP primary for that Senate seat back in 2004 to Pete Coors. At the end of Q1, Udall was sitting on a $4.2 million warchest, with Schaffer trailing by half that amount. Schaffer campaign manager Dick Wadhams (no, really, that's his name) got Allard first elected to the Senate, and became a rising start in the GOP for managing John Thune's 2004 win over Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota. But, he was also in charge of managing George Allen's 2006 re-election bid in Virginia, sending him from a 20-point lead seven months out to defeat. (Allen revealing his inner racist greatly helped, too.) And now it seems that Wadhams has been flipping out at local reporters. Then, the latest Schaffer ad was supposed to show Pike's Peak, a mountain in Colorado. However, the footage in the commercial was actually of Mt. McKinley in Alaska. D'oh! Combine that with Schaffer now being inexorably tied to Jack Abramoff and human rights abuses on the Marianas Islands, and can you say "imploding campaign"? Recent Rasmussen polling shows Udall opening up a 47%-41% lead over Schaffer now, with Schaffer's numbers dropping by a point for each of the last four months. Udall's favorability ratings are also on the rise, while Schaffer's are going in the opposite direction.
5. North Carolina:Kay Hagan easily won her primary two weeks ago, and suddenly the polls have been showing a massive shift in favor of Hagan. Last month she was trailing Elizabeth Dole (R) by double digits. Well, no more. After winning the primary, check out the bounce! SurveyUSA has Dole only up 50%-46% (while underestimating black turnout), and Rasmussen has Hagan leading Dole 48%-47%! What's more, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm specializing in North Carolina polling, shows (.pdf) Dole up 48%-43%, and Civitas Institute (a Republican polling firm) shows Dole only up 45%-43%. These recent polls all show the race to be neck-and-neck now. As a result, Dole has fired her campaign manager and brought gubernatorial candidate Bill Graham's campaign manager, who managed Graham to a 3rd place finish, netting just 9.28% of the vote. Now there's a real winner. In another sign of how much trouble Dole is in, her campaign is asking the DSCC and NRSC not to spend money on her race. Um, isn't that's the whole POINT of those campaign committees? She should know, she headed up the NRSC in 2006 when they lost control of the Senate! She had no problem spending NRSC money in all those key Senate races two years ago. She's only doing this because the DSCC has more than twice the cash on hand as the NRSC does right now. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised at the campaign Hagan is running; after all, she is the niece of the late Lawton Chiles, the longtime Senator and Governor of Florida, who came from behind to win re-election to the governorship in 1994 by defeating Jeb Bush.
6. Alaska: 85-year-old Ted Stevens (R) is seeking a sixth term, but he is in some legal trouble, with the FBI having raided his home last June in connection with possible bribes from Veco Corp., where several executives have already pled guilty to bribing his son Ben, who was the former state senate president. Former Veco CEO Bill Allen admitted some bribe money also went towards Ted Stevens. And Democrats got their top choice when Anchorage mayor Mark Begich entered the race. His father Nick Begich was a former Congressman, who was killed in a plane crash along with House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-LA) in 1972. Earlier this month, two polls shocked the establishment, when they both showed Begich leading Stevens. Rasmussen shows Begich leading 47%-45%, and Research 2000 shows Begich leading 48%-43%. Stevens still has a substantially bigger warchest, but after 35 years in the Senate, Stevens is pretty much a known quantity to Alaskans. Look for really negative ads attacking Begich coming soon.
7. Oregon: Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) won a close primary over lawyer/activist Steve Novick to take on Gordon Smith (R). The two quickly joined forces in a unity event to take on Smith. Smith seemed worried about Merkley, as he spent around $500,000 in attack ads against Merkley before he even won the primary! Now, Smith still sits on a considerable warchest (over $5 million at the end of Q1), but the latest Rasmussen polling, taken before Merkley won his primary, shows Merkley having gained serious ground since early this year, now only trailing Smith 45%-42%. Interestingly enough, an internal DSCC poll also showed the exact same numbers. It will be interesting to see how much of a "unity bounce" Merkley will get in future polling. In an interesting twist, Smith is actually a cousin of the two Udalls running for Senate.
8. Minnesota: Norm Coleman (R) won this seat in 2002 only after Paul Wellstone (D) died just a few weeks before the election. With Mike Ciresi having dropped out, the Democratic nominee looks to be comedian Al Franken. The polls had been steadily favoring Franken, until late April when a story came out that Franken owed $70,000 in back taxes to 17 different states. Now, it turns out that as a traveling comedian, having visited lots of states, he was supposed to pay taxes to those individual states, but paid them instead all to the states he had homes in. As for the fallout, there are very conflicting stories. SurveyUSA had a poll showing 51% of Minnesotans saying Franken should actually withdraw from the race because of this error. But the Star Tribune showed the tax story didn't make much of a difference to 64% of Minnesotans (compared to only 31% in the SurveyUSA poll). At least one of those polls is WAY off. The election polls now show Franken trailing by 7 points to Coleman. Over five months out from the election, it's still way too early to count Franken out simply over this flap, especially given how strongly he was polling against Coleman earlier this year. Plus, Franken did manage to continue his streak of outraising Coleman in Q1.
9. Texas: Democrats got the challenger they wanted to face John Cornyn (R). State rep. and Texas National Guard Lt. Col. Rick Noriega (D) served in Afghanistan after 9/11, and was chosen to coordinate relief efforts in Houston after Hurricane Katrina. An early baseline poll from last September showed Cornyn beating Noriega 51%-35%. How things have changed. Early this month, polls from RasmussenandResearch 2000 came out showing Cornyn's lead had shrunk to just four points! He's now under the 50% mark in both of them. However, the fundraising numbers are troubling, with Cornyn having outraised Noriega by more than a 4-to-1 margin in Q1, resulting in Cornyn sitting on over $8 million more than Noriega had by the end of March. And in a huge state like Texas, money will most definitely matter. This past week, Cornyn gave Noriega some prime ammo to use against him when he was one of only 22 Senators to vote against Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) G.I. Bill. Noriega quickly went up with an op-ed slamming Cornyn for abandoning our troops. Well played, sir.
10. Louisiana:Mary Landrieu (D) is the most endangered Democratic incumbent in 2008. But how endangered that really is remains to be seen. She was still able to win in 2002, a decidedly strong year for the GOP. Karl Rove was able to woo state treasurer John Neely Kennedy (no relation to the Kennedy family in Massachusetts) to switch parties to run for re-election to State Treasurer as a Republican last August, and after winning, he announced he would challenge Landrieu for her Senate seat. (Party switching actually seems rather common in Louisiana.) As for how endangered Landrieu really is, well, there's lots of conflicting data. On the down side, hundreds of thousands of residents from New Orleans and the surrounding areas never came back to the state after Hurricane Katrina, making the staet more red than it used to be. Bobby Jindal (R) didn't even need a runoff to win the governor's race last year, getting over 50% of the vote on the first ballot and performing stronger than expected. On the plus side, however, Mary's brother Mitch won the Lt. Governorship by an even bigger margin. And this month's win by Don Cazayoux (D) in LA-06, a Republican district, has to bode well for Landrieu. Kennedy did outraise Landrieu in Q1, but still trailed her by almost $3 million at the end of March. And Kennedy will have to burn some of that money against primary challenger Paul Hollis. There's been virtually no polling on this race for some reason, so the most recent one is from April, which shows Landrieu leading Kennedy 50%-38%. A boost came to the Landrieu campaign when the Huffington Post obtained an NRSC memo from 2004 that attacked Kennedy when he ran for the Senate that year... as a Democrat. After ripping him for being so wrong for Louisiana, they're suddenly going to say he's the right person for the job? LOL. Still, some more polling on this race would be nice to see (cough Markos cough).
11. Maine: Rep. Tom Allen (D) is running to challenge Susan Collins (R). But even though Maine is a blue state, he has an uphill climb. Collins has worked hard to craft her moderate credentials. The most recent Rasmussen poll has some good news for Allen, with him only trailing Collins 52%-42%. It's good news, considering every earlier poll had Allen under 40%. Allen has been hitting the right notes recently, hitting Collins hard over her shameful tenure as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee from 2003-2007, and doing NOTHING about contractor abuses and war profiteering in Iraq, despite multiple letters from people informing her of serious abuses going on in Iraq. And BTW, the Maine newspapers suck at telling the truth about Collins. I mean, really suck.
12. Mississippi-B: Roger Wicker (R), appointed by governor Haley Barbour (R) on New Year's Eve after Trent Lott (R) resigned to become a lobbyist, won't have all the incumbency power Lott had accumulated over the years. Wicker was the Congressman from MS-01, so he's won elected office previously. But that seat then went blue when Travis Childers (D) won it two weeks ago. So things are changing even in Mississippi. That has to be a shot in a arm for former Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D). However, Wicker has shown himself to be a prolific fundraiser, bringing in over $2.5 million in Q1 alone, amassing a warchest at the end of Q1 of over $2 million more than the one Musgrove had. Granted, Musgrove didn't have the full three months to fundraise, but until we see the Q2 numbers sometime in July, those numbers don't look so good. But what does look good are the latest polls. An internal DSCC poll showed a shocking result: Musgrove was up by 8 over Wicker, 48%-40%! Marc Ambinder explains why the poll can't be that far off. Then Research 2000 released a poll showing Wicker down by four, 46%-42%. But here's the catch; Markos had them cite the partisan identification. But because this is technically a special election (to fill out the remainder of Lott's term), there will be no party identification on the ballot in November, which is consistent with how the DSCC's internal poll asked the question. That can actually work to our benefit in a state like Mississippi. As a result, Wicker has already gone up with a TV ad introducing himself to voters.
I decided, for the sake of my own sanity, not to try to rank the Tier II and III races. These are given in alphabetical order, by state.
Kansas: Pat Roberts (R), known for covering up issues related to intelligence and domestic spying for Bush, looked to be coasting to an easy re-election until former Congressman Jim Slatteryentered the racein mid-March. Given that late start, he still managed to raise over $250,000 in just the first two weeks. Slattery's got a nice 2-minute bio spot on YouTube. Rasmussen gave even more encouraging news this month, showing Roberts with only a 52%-40% lead, when we all thought Slattery would be down by more than that. There are signs that Roberts is nervous, as his people lashed out, attacking Slattery for criticizing the Iraq War, considering he voted for going to war with Iraq. Except... the war he voted for was the FIRST Gulf War in 1991. So... voting for that war makes you unable to criticize this war? Um, OK, that's some great Republican logic for you. At the very least, Slattery makes this race somewhat competitive.
Kentucky: Even though Mitch McConnell (R) became the Senate Minority Leader, he is a top target of the Democrats. And with former Governor Ernie Fletcher (R) losing his re-election bid to Steve Beshear (D) 59%-41% last November, that made Kentucky Democrats even more confident. But then Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo and State Auditor Crit Luallen both declined to run, and netroots favorite Lt. Col. Andrew Horne, a Marine who has served in both the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War, dropped his bid. Rasmussen had shown both Stumbo and Luallen holding McConnell under the 50% mark, and for the Senate Minority Leader who can bring home the pork, that showed significant dissatisfaction with McConnell in Kentucky. Netroots un-favorite and wealthy businessman Bruce Lunsford easily won the Democratic primary last week. He's ticked off a lot of Democrats in the past by endorsing Fletcher over Ben Chandler (D) for Governor back in 2003 after he lost the primary to Chandler. The blogs are, ah, less than pleased. At least it looks like Kentucky Democrats have quickly unified behind Lunsford and are all pledging to do their part to defeat McConnell. McConnell has a HUGE warchest of almost $8 million, but Lunsford can afford to self-fund. And this quote from Lunsford after winning the primary is nice to read. "[McConnell is] going to spend millions of dollars trying to destroy my reputation. But I don't care how many names he's going to call me, because in January he's going to call me `Senator.'" Well played, sir.
Nebraska: With Chuck Hagel (R) retiring, former governor Mike Johanns (R) quit his job as Bush's Agriculture Secretary to run for this seat. The netroots were thrilled when rancher and history professor Scott Kleeb (D) threw his hat in the ring. While Kleeb lost the NE-03 House race in 2006, that district is the most Republican in Nebraska, and Kleeb got a higher-than-expected 45% of the vote. That's had a lot of people thinking he would actually win in the other two districts, and thus a statewide race. Of course, that doesn't take into account how he'd be running against the former governor of the state. Kleeb easily won his primary against Republican-turned-Democrat Tony Raimondo, but the polls show Kleeb still has quite a ways to go. Whereas Rasmussen has Kleeb down 55%-40% (which is actually a good starting point for Kleeb), DailyKos's Research 2000 poll has Kleeb down by a wide 58%-31% margin. Kleeb will also need to improve his fundraising significantly, as he trailed by over $1 million in cash on hand to Johanns to end Q1.
Alabama: The Democrats' top hope in Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks announced he was not running, leaving little-known state senator Vivian Figures (D) the only challenger to incumbent Jeff Sessions (R). But it's unclear if she's running a real campaign, with her last event having been on March 27. But, Jeff Sessions does play a role in the Don Siegelman case. And it seems Sessions was desperate enough to try and kill the 60 Minutes piece about Siegelman before it aired. So if there's a chance Sessions will get ensnared in this scandal, his seat may not be so safe. But for now, it's Tier III, and in danger of falling into the "safe" category.
Georgia: A crowded field of relatively unknown Democratic challengers to Saxby Chambliss (R) didn't seem to go anywhere, until former state representative Jim Martin entered the race on March 19th. Martin was the 2006 Democratic Lt. Gov. nominee, so he's run a statewide race before. And in just 12 days, Martin raised $346,675, which dropped a lot of jaws. Martin would first have to get by DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, who is black and is depending on African-American turnout to win the crowded primary field. Except... Jones voted for Bush... twice, still doesn't know what to think about Iraq, and likes calling us Democrats "losers". Way to, um, not endear yourself to us. It would be great if Chambliss loses; remember, he ousted triple amputee Max Cleland (D) in 2002 by running a despicable ad blending the images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein into Cleland's face. If Martin bests Jones in the primary, I'll move this up to Tier II.
Idaho: With Larry Craig (R) retiring after his airport bathroom... ah... incident, it's looking like a rematch between Lt. Governor Jim Risch (R) and former Congressman Larry LaRocco (D), who lost the 2006 Lt. Gov. race to Risch by a sizable 58%-39% margin. While LaRocco finished 2007 with more cash on hand than Risch, he was absolutely blitzkrieged in Q1, with Risch raising over 4 ½ times as much money as LaRocco raised, and now LaRocco trails by almost $700,000 in cash on hand.
New Jersey:Frank Lautenberg (D) said he's running again, but his age is always a concern, as he is already 84 years old right now. His poll numbers also don't look that good, but no New Jersey politician's numbers ever look really good. As a result, Rep. Rob Andrews has decided to try a primary challenge, even though everyone else is backing Lautenberg. But Andrews has this problem of saying that invading Iraq wasn't a mistake, and was one of the biggest Democratic cheerleaders of going to war in the first place. And when Lautenberg blasts chickenhawks as forcefully as he did, why switch to Andrews? On the GOP side, it's been a wild roller coaster ride as multiple candidates have been declaring, and then dropping out of the race. Blue Jersey has a wild recap of it all.
Oklahoma: James Inhofe (R) looks pretty safe, though interestingly enough, Inhofe has never gotten to 50% approval in the history of SurveyUSA's polling. State senator and netroots favorite Andrew Rice (D), who lost his brother in the 9/11 attacks, has declared for this race. Rice and Inhofe could not be farther apart when it comes to energy and environmental issues. Rice pulled in decent fundraising numbers in Q1, but still trails Inhofe by a wide margin. For some reason, nobody has done a poll of this race yet.
South Carolina: This race is only in Tier III because Lindsey Graham (R) may actually be primaried out of his own party, for his support of Bush's immigration plan. The natives are restless. A party switch is near impossible, but a different senator serving in this seat come 2009 is a distinct possibility. Attorney and Navy veteran Michael Cone is running on the Democratic side. But put it this way, his website doesn't even have a picture of him, and his endorsements page is, ah, copied from an instructions page on how to build a website.
South Dakota:Tim Johnson (D) is fully back at work after suffering a brain hemorrhage in December 2006. His illness had made Republicans hesitant to challenge or attack him. And the polling shows Johnson may be the most popular Senator in the country, to boot.
Tennessee: Former Tennessee Democratic Party chair Bob Tuke entered the race in late February. It remains to be seen if Tuke can make this a real race against Lamar Alexander (R), who was also a two-term governor of Tennessee and the Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush.
Democratic safe seats
Arkansas (Mark Pryor)
Delaware (Joe Biden)
Illinois (Dick Durbin)
Iowa (Tom Harkin)
Massachusetts (John Kerry)
Michigan (Carl Levin)
Montana (Max Baucus; his GOP opponent Michael Lange had less than $2,000 on hand at the end of Q1. I'm not kidding.)
Rhode Island (Jack Reed)
West Virginia (Jay Rockefeller)
Republican safe seats
Mississippi (Thad Cochran)
Wyoming (Michael Enzi)
Wyoming (John Barrasso)
So there you have it, my personal rankings for the 2008 Senate races, as they stand after Memorial Day. Things can still change, and we won't know exactly what the national mood will be 5 months from now. Still, given that, these are my picks, and I'm sticking with them... until my next update, at least.
Feel free to rip me apart in the comments, telling me I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, how could I possibly put a certain race in Tier II or III when it's so obviously a top tier race, why I'm being too optimistic in some seat, etc. Have at it, folks. :-)
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