Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races

Keeping a close eye on developments in the 2008 U.S. Senate races

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ranking Our Targets - Republican Vulnerabilities

In what will become a regularly feature of the Senate 2008 Guru's blog, here is the first Ranking Our Targets. Tomorrow will feature Ranking Their Targets.

First Tier

1) Wayne Allard - Colorado - Age 63
Allard (44-43 approval), when first elected in 1996, promised to only serve two terms. If he runs again, he has to break that promise, stunting his re-election bid from the get-go. On top of that, his campaign cash-on-hand is relatively non-existent, suggesting a retirement. If he runs as an unpopular, cash-strapped promise-breaker, he'll be an incumbent with a big disadvantage against popular Democratic Rep. Mark Udall, who is ready to go against Allard or any of the would-be stand-ins from a fractured and defeated Colorado Republican Party. Trends in the Centennial State have favored Democrats in recent years, seeing Ken Salazar (D) beat Pete Coors (R) for Senate 51-47 in 2004 and Bill Ritter (D) trounce Bob Beauprez (R) for Governor 56-41in 2006. Even Bob Beauprez's CO-07 Congressional seat that he gave up to run for Governor (which he won 55-43 in 2004) went to Democrat Earl Perlmutter 55-42 in 2006. If the Democratic National Convention gets sited in Denver, that will just be the icing on the cake.

2) John Sununu - New Hampshire - Age 42
Sununu only ekes out a 47-44 approval rating presently, lousy for any incumbent. (The standard rule is that anything below 50 is highly vulnerable.) Couple that with the fact that former Governor Jeanne Shaheen looks to be preparing for a rematch of 2002, when Sununu only edged Shaheen 51-47 (a 19,000 vote margin out of 432,000 votes cast). Couple that with the fact that 2002 was a strong year for Republicans, after 9/11 but before the start of the Iraq War. Couple that with the fact that NH went bright blue in 2006, flipping not just one but BOTH Congressional seat from GOP to Democrat, as well as the state legislature. Sununu has a giant target on him.

3) Norm Coleman - Minnesota - Age 57
Coleman (48-43 approval) only won the seat in 2002 because popular Democrat Paul Wellstone tragically died in a plane crash while campaigning for re-election. Simple as that. And even then, he only edged late-entry stand-in former Vice President Walter Mondale 50-47. Jive that with 2006's Senate race seeing Democrat Amy Klobuchar demolish seemingly-popular Republican wonderboy Mark Kennedy by a resounding 58-38. Even incumbent Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty only held on to edge Democrat Mike Hatch 47-46. Beyond that, Minnesota has a remarkably deep Democratic bench of potential Senate candidates featuring Mike Hatch, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (who lately has claimed he is not planning on running), Commentator Al Franken, Attorney Mike Ciresi, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (no relation). I can't wait to start seeing polls on this one.

4) Gordon Smith - Oregon - Age 54
Smith (54-37 approval) is the only Republican to win statewide in Oregon in the last 12 years. He is clearly to the political right of the rest of Oregon, which is why so much was made about Smith's conversion (flip-flop?) on the Iraq War right after Election Day 2006. Several similarities exists between Oregon and Minnesota. Both feature an unaccomplished Republican incumbent who is further to the right wing than the mainstream of their state. Both states have trended blue, particularly on the presidential level (2008 is a presidential election year!). And both have deep Democratic benches of potential Senate candidates - Oregon's includes term-limited Governor Ted Kulongoski, former Governor John Kitzhaber, and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

Second Tier

5) John Warner - Virginia - Age 79
Warner remains a popular figure in Virginia politics, but he is very much on retirement watch. Further, Virginia has famously trended blue over the last half-decade, featuring Mark Warner's 2001 gubernatorial victory, Tim Kaine's 2005 gubernatorial victory, and Jim Webb's 2006 Senate victory. If John Warner stays in, Mark Warner is the only Democrat who could give him a definite run for his money, though John Warner isn't unbeatable given Virginia's Democratic trend. If John Warner retires, the likely Republican candidate would be GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, with George Macaca Allen likely to be a spectator to 2008 politics and former Governor Jim Gilmore looking at a possible Presidential run. The Democrats could top Davis with Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, former Lt. Gov. Donald Beyer, State Senator and former AG candidate Creigh Deeds, or Jim Webb's 2006 primary opponent Harris Miller. If John Warner retired and Mark Warner got in, this would become a first-tier pickup opportunity. While matters are in limbo, it remains a second-tier race.

6) Susan Collins - Maine - Age 54
Collins is simply a more popular version of Wayne Allard, with several similarities between the Maine and Colorado races. Like Allard, Collins was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and also promised to only serve two terms. Running in 2008 would break that self-imposed, term-limit pledge, an immediate campaign issue. Collins, like Allard, does not have an impressive cash-on-hand showing. And, most importantly, Collins, like Allard, has a potential showdown with a popular Democratic U.S. Rep.; in Maine's case it is Tom Allen. However, unlike Colorado's Mark Udall, Allen isn't as publicly committed to a Senate race - he is still debating whether or not to give up his House seat to take the chance. If Allen gets in, this race becomes one of the more exciting ones in the country. If Allen declines, this race probably drops into Tier Three or lower.

7) Jim Inhofe - Oklahoma - Age 72
Before you poo-poo a Democrat's chances here, I'd ask you to note a couple things. First, Inhofe's approvals currently stand at a very unimpressive 46-41. Second, Democrat Brad Henry was just re-elected Governor over GOP Rep. Ernie Istook by a massive 67-33. Also, Former Congressman Brad Carson (D) gave an impressive showing against Tom Coburn in 2004. And, since then, the Montana Democratic Party, through the victories of Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Senator Jon Tester, has given similar states a blueprint on how to win by properly framing environmental, energy, and agricultural issues - and keep in mind that Inhofe is the most anti-environment Senator possibly in history, notoriously calling global warming a big hoax. While Gov. Henry and U.S. Rep. Dan Boren have indicated that they are not planning a 2008 Senate bid, if Brad Carson wanted another go-around, he could give Inhofe a real race. In the meantime, let's all chip in and buy every Oklahoma resident a copy of An Inconvenient Truth.

8) Elizabeth Dole - North Carolina - Age 70
Dole: 1) is not terribly popular, with only a 52-40 approval margin; 2) does not have a significant cash-on-hand showing; 3) may go down as the worst Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee ever; 4) turned 70-years-old this year; 5) just had hip replacement surgery. She is pretty high up on the retirement watch herself and probably would not run the best re-election campaign. The problem is a reluctant Democratic bench. Gov. Mike Easley has said he is not interested in the Senate race at this time, and former Senator John Edwards is obviously preparing for a Presidential bid (and taking Elizabeth Edwards with him). North Carolina has thirteen Congressional seats, 7 Democrat, 6 Republican; no word yet on which Republican would step up to stand in for Dole if she retires, but speculation has focused on NC-02's Bob Etheridge for the Democrats, with speculation also noting former Gov. Jim Hunt. Democrats and Republicans alike are probably waiting for a formal decision from Dole on retirement or re-election before making their own plans.

Third Tier

9) Pete Domenici - New Mexico - Age 74
Domenici enjoys solid popularity, but his relatively light cash-on-hand and increasing age (he turns 76 in 2008) puts him high on the retirement watch. If he runs, he's not unbeatable, but we would do much better in an open-seat race. The New Mexico Democratic Party enjoys a solid bench though, featuring Rep. Tom Udall, outgoing state AG Patricia Madrid, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. New Mexico is as purple a state as there is on the map, with Democrats holding most state offices, but Republicans holding two of three Congressional seats, and the two parties enjoying one Senator each. In 2000, NM went Gore over Bush by 0.1%, and in 2004 Bush squeaked over Kerry 50-49. Anything could happen in New Mexico.

10) Thad Cochran - Mississippi - Age 69
Cochran is arguably the most popular figure in Mississippi politics. Arguably the second most popular, however, is Democratic former AG Mike Moore. If Moore gets in to face Cochran, this becomes a second-tier bout, but Cochran remains the favorite. If Cochran retires, which is not unlikely, the go-to Republican is well-funded Rep. Chip Pickering (Pickering has close to $800K on hand, compared to Cochran's $350K). Moore-Pickering would be a high second-tier race, with the edge narrowly going to Moore. However, the shrewd Moore doesn't seem to want to run against the popular Cochran, and Cochran has said he won't make a final decision on re-election until next September - giving Pickering plenty of time to continue fundraising while boxing Moore out, unless Moore decides on a bold move earlier in 2007.

11) Lamar Alexander - Tennessee - Age 66
Reports had Alexander flirting with retirement until he was awarded some choice committee assignments. Whether or not this race moves up a tier depends entirely on which Democrats get in. People are waiting to see if outgoing Rep. and 2006 Senate nominee Harold Ford Jr. wants another shot or if Governor Phil Bredesen wants to get in. Another potential candidate to watch is party chairman Bob Tuke, at first glance in the Jon Tester-mold.

12) John Cornyn - Texas - Age 54
Democrats have had a lot of trouble getting elected statewide in Texas over the last few years. But the freshman Cornyn possesses an abysmal 45-42 approval rating and has offered Texans an unimpressive first term thus far. TX's other GOP Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, enjoys a 59-35 approval rating and just got re-elected by a similar 62-36 margin against an less-than-top-tier opponent - which does not bode well for Cornyn. While other third tier races could sneak into the second tier with the right match-up, this race could shoot into the first tier with a strong opponent. Unfortunately, Cornyn is amongst the best funded of the 2008 incumbents. If the right candidate can adapt the Montana model on environmental and agricultural issues while motivating the large Latino base in Texas, this could be the surprise race of the cycle (what Arizona could have been in 2006).

Fourth Tier

13) Mitch McConnell - Kentucky - Age 64
McConnell enjoys so-so approval, at 54-39. His Kentucky colleague, the possibly-dementia-ridden Jim Bunning, holds an attrocious 44-47 rating but still narrowly won re-election 51-49 in 2004 against token opposition that came on surprisingly strong in the final weeks of the race as Bunning's mental health came into question. In the coming legislative session, McConnell will enjoy the trappings of being the Senate's GOP Leader, but a minority leader at that. Speculation among the Democrats have run the gamut from Bunning's 2004 opponent Daniel Mongiardo to state AG Greg Stumbo to actor George Clooney.

14) Ted Stevens - Alaska - Age 83
The guy is basically an evil, crazy Yoda. Despite low cash-on-hand, advanced age, and repeated "threats" to retire, he claims he's running again and enjoys significant popularity in the state. And Alaska Democrats don't have much to put in his way if he does run for re-election. With former Gov. Tony Knowles having run-and-lost for Senate in 2004 (46-49) and Governor in 2006 (41-49), his time may be up. The Democrats' hope in this race may be focusing on term-limited Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

15) Jeff Sessions - Alabama - Age 60
In what could challenge Texas as the potential surprise race of the cycle, Sessions is facing a possible challenge from Rep. Artur Davis, a skilled politician and orator. While no one will question Alabama's red state status, 2006 did see Democrats win statewide for Lt. Governor and Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court (an elected position in Alabama). Sessions is popular and well-funded, but Davis could make a race out of it if he jumped in.

16) Saxby Chambliss - Georgia - Age 63
Readers of this blog know that there is no one I'd more like to see lose in 2008 than Chambliss, who ran a despicable campaign in 2002 against incumbent Democrat and war hero Max Cleland. Unfortunately, Cleland has publicly declined a rematch. The Georgia Democratic bench contains more rumors than bodies, unfortunately. Former Gov. Roy Barnes, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall and GA Secretary of State Cathy Cox have had a lot of speculation focus on them, while attorney Jim Butler and Dekalb County CEO Vernon Jones have both expressed interest. Chambliss only has a 52-36 approval rating, but he is extremely well funded and Georgia has had one of the reddest trends over the last half decade.

Fifth Tier

17) Chuck Hagel - Nebraska - Age 60
Hagel enjoys solid popularity in the state, but is looking at a Presidential bid. If Hagel didn't go through with the bid, he would be tough to unseat. If he did, Republicans hold all three Congressional seats and most state offices, so they have no shortage of replacements. Unless Ben Nelson can hold both Senate seats at once, we will have quite the uphill climb. Speculation has focused on Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and 2006 Congressional candidate Scott Kleeb. Rumors about Hagel's Senate retirement have surfaced, but have yet to be significantly corroborated.

18) Pat Roberts - Kansas - Age 70
Roberts does not have especially strong support (51-36 approval), but he does have a strong piggy bank for Kansas. The dream candidate would of course be Governor Kathleen Sebelius who was just re-elected by a 58-40 margin. Her entry could shoot this race all the way up to the second tier or higher, but she just took the reins of the Democratic Governors Association and is seemingly not interested in challenging for a Senate race - in fact, she could be on a lot of 2008 short lists for Vice President. Democrats now hold two of Kansas' four Congressional seats - rumblings from either of them could inch this race into the fourth or third tier, but there has been no speculation yet.

19) Mike Enzi - Wyoming - Age 62
Enzi's colleague Craig Thomas was up for re-election this year, and his 70-30 victory is pretty similar to his 68-25 approval rating. Enzi, similarly, enjoys a 65-26 approval rating and has enough cash for what media market there is in Wyoming. Republicans hold most elected seats in the state, with the notable exception of popular Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal. If he entered the race, it would shoot up the competitive charts, but Freudenthal has not indicated any interest in a race. The only other prominent Democrat at present is Gary Trauner who made a splash in his very, very narrow loss to Barbara Cubin for Wyoming's at-large House seat.

20) Lindsey Graham - South Carolina - Age 51
Graham, strong in cash-on-hand and solid in approval, has established himself as more of a moderate Republican than most expected. He is more likely to get challenged from the right by a Club for Growth-type radical than from a credible Democrat. On top of which, the Democrats' bench in South Carolina is pretty weak. The only statewide office held by a Democrat is is State Superintendant of Education Jim Rex, though Democrat Robert Barber only narrowly lost the Lt. Governor race. Two of South Carolina's six Congressional seats are held by Democrats: John Spratt, who will take over as Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, and is therefore very unlikely to give that up for a Senate run; and Jim Clyburn, whose seat on the House Appropriations Committee gives him more power than he'd want to risk on a Senate run. Maybe Barber would like to take a swing.

21) Larry Craig - Idaho - Age 61
Craig, like Enzi, seems to be in very strong shape, with high approvals and more than enough cash for the Idaho media market. Republicans hold all statewide offices and Congressional seats. The Democrats' bench in Idaho right now seems to only consist of Larry Grant, who surprised many by his strong showing this year for the ID-01 Congressional seat against Bill Sali, and Jana Jones, the only Democrat in Idaho to garner more than 200,000 votes for any office in 2006, in her narrow loss for Superintendent of Public Instruction. There is some speculation that Craig might retire, but the GOP's bench is plenty deep. Idaho is a toughie, and Craig is officially the safest Republican in the Senate for now.


Blogger Mayme Trumble said...

Sununu in NH may not be in as much trouble as you think. Our Libertarians will come out strong for him because he has stood up against the Real ID bill. They are becoming a poliitical force in NH and account for alot of our swing votes.

7:51 AM, January 07, 2007  
Blogger Anchorage Activist said...

Good call on Alaska. Tony Knowles is likely through; even the lefties are urging Knowles to stay out and let the younger folks have their shot.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has invited stalwart ANWR opponent Ed Markey (D-MA) to Alaska to visit ANWR. If he can change Markey's mind and the House's mind on ANWR, that will give him one heck of a bump if he decided to challenge Ted Stevens in 2008. See the letter he sent to Markey HERE. It's a textbook balancing act.

6:30 AM, January 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as Oregon goes, we're actually having trouble with candidates. Among the most widely speculated were two you mentioned, former Gov. John Kitzhaber (who has said he is not running), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (who just landed a seat on ways and means and has said he isn't thinking about running). Other names often bandied: Rep. Peter DeFazio (who has said he is not running), recently converted former Republican State Sen. Ben Westlund (who has downplayed rumors of a run), and State Superintendent of Public Education Susan Castillo (who has said she is not running).

Kulongoski's term isn't up until 2010, and considering his weak approval ratings and consistent problems winning statewide races against mediocre candidates he's probably not the best man for the job anyways.

At this point, Westlund is the only one of the top tier candidates who seems not unlikely to run, but he insists he "is not focusing on it now". Perhaps because the Oregon legislative session just started. How long he takes to decide will probably determine the shape of the Democratic field.

8:33 PM, January 09, 2007  

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