Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races

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

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ranking Their Targets - Democratic Vulnerabilities

Who will the GOP be targetting in 2008? Here's the initial list:

First Tier

1) Mary Landrieu - Louisiana - Age 51
Landrieu will be the Republicans' #1 target. After being unable to turn any Democratic Senate seats to the GOP in 2006, they will pour ungodly sums of money into Louisiana to try to pull away one victory. Landrieu has a diminished popularity, and a heavily weakened base due to Hurricane Katrina-related displacement, forcing out far more New Orleans-based black and low-income voters who would traditionally vote Democrat than it did traditionally-Republican voters. And keep in mind that Landrieu only barely won her 2002 run-off election for a second term 52-48. Louisiana's 2007 Gubernatorial election will be a strong indicator of Landrieu's chances in 2008. If GOP Rep. Bobby Jindal doesn't win his 2007 gubernatorial bid, expect him to take a shot at Landrieu in 2008. If Jindal does win the Governorship in 2007, expect several Republicans to smell blood and jump in, including Louisiana's other GOP Congresspeople and GOP Secretary of State Jay Dardenne.

2) Tim Johnson - South Dakota - Age 60
If you're reading this, you no doubt know about Johnson's well-publicized medical condition. He seems to be steadily recovering, and may even be able to perform his senatorial duties and serve out the remainder of his term, but it is probably a safe assumption until there is news to the contrary that he will not run for re-election (though, if he did, even with reduced public activity, his 70-26 approval rating could see him through - Jim Bunning squeaked to victory in 2004 in Kentucky with less broad support and a rumored-to-be-increasing mental instability). If Johnson does retire, expect Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth (who was the top vote-getter for any South Dakota office in 2006) to step up to the plate for the Democrats. For the Republicans, Governor Mike Rounds would be their top pick, but he hasn't given a consistent indication that he'd be interested in a Senate bid. Republicans also hold every state constitutional office except Public Utilities Commissioner, so their bench is deep enough. Expect a tight race, assuming Johnson is unable to run again, though Herseth would start off as the front-runner.

Second Tier

3) Frank Lautenberg - New Jersey - Age 82
Lautenberg says he is planning on a re-election bid. However, given his advanced age, terribly low approval rating, and relatively low cash-on-hand for a New Jersey candidate (who has to buy media in both NYC and Philadelphia), don't be surprised by a retirement announcement in the spring of 2007. New Jersey teases Republicans, who routinely poll better than they perform on Election Day, as Tom Kean Jr. and Doug Forrester will attest. However, if Lautenberg stays in and the GOP has a strong candidate, this could become much more competitive than needbe, entering the top tier. Meanwhile, there are a number of Democratic Congresspeople in New Jersey itching for a promotion. Assuming polls continue to appear poor for the octogenarian Lautenberg, expect Party leaders to urge him to retire in favor of a younger, more dynamic, and more popular Congressman. For now, though, the ball is in Lautenberg's court as we all await his decision.

Third Tier

4) Max Baucus - Montana - Age 65
Baucus tends to be ranked as more vulnerable in most lists simply because Montana is reliably red for Presidential candidates. But Baucus enjoys an approval rating over 70% and plenty of campaign cash, as well as an energized Montana Democratic Party, following recent victories by Brian Schweitzer for Governor and Jon Tester for Senate. Montana's at-large Congressman Denny Rehberg would be the GOP's top candidate, but he has not made any public decisions about 2008 yet. Rehberg's decision may come down to how much he dislikes serving in the House as a member of the minority party and how much he is willing to gamble because of it. If Rehberg enters the race, it does move up to the second tier or higher.

5) Tom Harkin - Iowa - Age 67
Harkin enjoys less-than-stellar popularity (53-40 approval), but leaves Republicans in the dust by solid margins every six years. He also has very solid cash-on-hand. Additionally, the Iowa Democratic Party had a very strong year in 2006, holding the Governor's office by a healthy margin and even picking up a surprise victory in IA-02 Congressional district. It's not unreasonable to believe that credible Republicans may choose to steer clear of Harkin, offering up only token opposition.

6) Jay Rockefeller - West Virginia - Age 69
This race has the chance to be the surprise tight race of the cycle for the Republicans if they can put somebody strong up, as West Virginia has been slowly moving redder over the last several years. Nevertheless, as of now, Rockefeller enjoys strong approval and a sizeable wallet, so we just need to confirm that he's running for re-election and wait for the GOP to put somebody up.

Fourth Tier

7) Dick Durbin - Illinois - Age 62
Durbin's scenario is much like Harkin's: a 60something with so-so approvals, but solid cash-on-hand and in a state with a very strong Democratic Party currently. Durbin will also enjoy the support of his colleague uberpopular Barack Obama. Durbin might also have the luxury of facing only token opposition. We'll have to wait and see what Illinois Republicans are willing to step up.

8) Joe Biden - Delaware - Age 64
Biden is serious about his Presidential run, but he doesn't have to back out of a Senate bid until late in the process under Delaware's timetable, so he can wait and see if his national bid gains traction. If he focuses on the Presidential race, expect a tight match-up between Biden's son, state AG Beau Biden, and longtime at-large Rep. Mike Castle. If Biden does go for re-election, then the tightness of the race, like in Montana, comes down to whether or not the at-large GOP U.S. Rep. decides that its worth giving up a minority party House seat for an underdog shot against a popular incumbent Senator.

9) Mark Pryor - Arkansas - Age 43
The Arkansas Democratic Party had the second best 2006 of any state party after New Hampshire, so the wind is at Pryor's back. With the Arkansas GOP on a downswing, it isn't clear who they'd put up, but until they float a credible name, Pryor's seat is fairly safe.

10) Carl Levin - Michigan - Age 72
Levin has said he'll run again and should be in strong shape as the Michigan GOP has sputtered in recent years. As an indicator, note that Levin enjoys similar popularity to Senator Debbie Stabenow and greater popularity than Governor Jennifer Granholm. Stabenow and Granholm won their 2006 re-election bids by margins of 57-41 and 56-42 respectively. Expect similar results for Levin in '08.

Fifth Tier

11) John Kerry - Massachusetts - Age 63
Expect Kerry, like Biden, to keep his Senate options and Presidential options both open for as long as possible. Kerry should retain the seat comfortably if he runs for re-election; and, if he doesn't, Massachusetts features the nation's largest entirely-Democratic Congressional delegation, all waiting for a promotion. Meanwhile, the Bay State's GOP is practically non-existent.

12) Jack Reed - Rhode Island - Age 57
Reed enjoys massive popularity and a solid pocketbook. Meanwhile the RI-GOP is in almost as bad shape as the MA-GOP, with Lincoln Chafee getting knocked out of office and Donald Carcieri barely winning re-election. This seat is very comfortably Reed's.


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