Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races

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

Monday, March 26, 2007

Monday Morning Fodder

  • Courtesy of Political Wire highlighting the Washington Times, even NRSC Chair John Ensign agrees with the Guru (and pretty much anyone with common sense and a newspaper or internet connection) that the GOP is burdened with the disadvantage of a "steep, uphill climb" in 2008:

    In a "wide-ranging" interview, Ensign "acknowledged that his party faces a steep, uphill climb in next year's Senate elections when 21 Republican seats will be up for grabs, compared with 12 for the Democrats."

    Ensign "singled out five Republican seats that are in danger in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and New Hampshire, compared with two vulnerable Democratic incumbents in South Dakota and Louisiana and long-shot possibilities in Iowa and Montana."
    Even the Senate GOP's #1 cheerleader sees five "danger" spots for the GOP with only two "vulnerable" seats for the Democrats. And that is before we get into Dole's overall lousy poll numbers, Domenici's role in the Attorney Purge scandal, and the possible retirement of John Warner coupled with the possible entry of Mark Warner to the Virginia Senate race.

    PW also mentions the New York Times article this morning on Republican Senators dancing between making the party establishment happy vs. actually representing their constituents.

  • New Hampshire: Blue Hampshire offers two new interesting posts: Dean writes on Sprintin' John Sununu enabling Bush's abuse of executive privelege, and Laura on the impact of meeting Mayor Steve Marchand.

  • Alabama: SSP offers an impressive profile of Ron Sparks, the man who might just give Jeff Sessions a run for his money:

    Ron Sparks has been Alabama's Agriculture and Industry Commissioner since he was elected in 2002 over his Republican opponent by a 51-46 margin. In 2006, he was one of Alabama's top vote getters, enjoying a 59-41 victory while winning 62 of the state's 67 counties. During his first term in office, he secured new trade markets for the state in Cuba, improved Alabama's school lunch system from a grade of F to a B-plus (you can see Sparks' video message on YouTube), moved to protect Alabama's water resources, and generally served as a hard-nosed consumer safety advocate. His successful tenure allowed him to build a broad coalition of support, from the Alabama Education Association, to the conservative Alabama Farmers Federation (which endorses very few Democrats), to the AFL-CIO and the Business Council of Alabama. And he was able to build this coaltion all while being a fiery, populist Democrat.
    Sounds like a Jon Tester-style populist who knows how to appeal to diverse crowds. His entry could make for a more exciting Senate race in Alabama than Sessions would like, I'm sure.

  • Tennessee: A little over a month ago, Sidof79 gave his rundown of possible Democratic challengers to Lamar Alexander in 2008. He has now updated the list. Notable addition: Tipper Gore (who considered a bid in 2002) should Al decide absolutely against a Presidential bid.

  • Iowa: Conservative Republican Steve Rathje, who says things we couldn't make up if we tried, will be getting company in a GOP primary, courtesy of tae kwon do instructor Bob McDowell. Not exactly A-list names from the Iowa GOP, but, then again, all of their possible candidates are significantly flawed.

  • 19 Comments:

    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    No one has ever denied that the numbers are working against the GOP. That's been evident since 2002. The question is, for Ensign, how to overcome that, which the rest of the Washington Times article addresses. Unfortunately, you link to an abridged version found at the Political Wire. Here is a link to the main story.

    Link.

    I think if Ensign was worried about North Carolina, Virginia, or New Mexico, he would have mentioned it. He mentioned Maine, when Susan Collins is one of the most popular senators in the country, so I think his list of vulnerable seats is pretty inclusive.

    You forget that Jon Tester won in Montana--by less than a percentage point--by defeating a corrupt incumbent. Jeff Sessions is not Conrad Burns. Ron Sparks may excite some Democrats in Alabama, but Sessions would still win with at least 55% of the vote. Jim Fulsom still remains your strongest candidate, but he's set on running for Governor in 2010.

    And its disingenuous to call all the possible GOP candidates from Iowa "significantly flawed". Your admittedly biased opinion against anybody with an (R) next to their name doesn't make them flawed candidates. King, Latham, Nussle, and (especially) Branstad would all put Iowa on the map of competitive races (though I'm objective enough to concede that Harkin would have the edge on all of them but Branstad).

    12:14 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Johnny C said...

    I'd put New Mexico, Virginia, and North Carolina in the same category as Iowa and Montana. That is 2nd tier now but could be competitive depending on events - eg retirements, big name challangers (Richardson, Warner, Branstad) who have all said no so far. The thing about the senate is that it tends to follow national trends more than House elections so that it is possible for a party to run the table on all of the competitive races just as the Democrats went 5 for 6 last year in the truly competetive races. The GOP has a very very tough map especially if the Democrats can promote one or two of those second tier races into the truly competitive category. However the elections are not until Nov 2008 and a lot can change. I do not see it right now but if something big changes even given the skewed map the Republicans could run the table and get the Senate back. That looks like a real long shot right now and if I had to guess I'd say the Dems pick up 2 to 3 seats (NH, CO, MN, OR less LA)

    12:48 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Senate2008Guru said...

    va blogger - you've come pretty close to denying that the numbers are working against the GOP when you said "The liklihood [sic] of the Democrats sweeping all the competitive races it the same as the liklihood [sic] of the Republicand [sic] doing the same."

    Why would Ensign mention NC, VA, or NM? Are you inside his head? Everyone agrees the five he mentioned are oft-mentioned as vulnerable, so it's pretty unavoidable. Why would Ensign want to bring additional attention to the Domenici scandal in NM, Dole's polls in NC, or Warner-Warner in VA?

    Sessions isn't Burns. You're absolutely right. Another gold star for you. And I don't forget that Tester narrowly won. Even with a terrific candidate, a Sessions challenge will be more difficult than the Burns challenge with Burns' obvious corruption and Abramoff-ties leading the way. I don't question that for a second - nor do I indicate that a Sessions challenge will be cake-walk, so I'm not sure why you bring that up. I just said that the right candidate could make for a more exciting race than the free-walk Sessions would probably prefer.

    I do question why you say "Ron Sparks may excite some Democrats in Alabama, but Sessions would still win with at least 55% of the vote." Should we not bother to hold elections anymore? Just ask va blogger for the results and save the money and time of an actual vote. va blogger - before Jim Webb got in the race, would you have predicted that George Allen was a shoo-in to win re-election with at least 55% of the vote? Kinda puts things in perspective.

    And it's not disingenuous to call several of the GOP candidates from Iowa significantly flawed. I'm not suggesting they're flawed because of the R next to their name. Their flaws are the following, in my opinion:

    -Tom Latham is considered a relatively weak fundraiser

    -Steve King, kind of like Steven Pearce in New Mexico, is too far to the right to run statewide; his far-right conservatism suits his district well enough, but makes appealing to a broader, more moderate constituency much more difficult

    -Jim Nussle just lost the 2006 Gov race; it was supposed to be a neck-and-neck affair, but Culver solidly beat him 54-44 - why you think Nussle would do better against Harkin is unclear

    -As for former Gov. Branstad, I haven't seen him comment on a possible Senate race - if you have a statement from him in the press indicating interest, you're certainly encouraged to share it. I don't know what his popularity in the state currently stands at, but would certainly love more info.

    1:48 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    JC, I would argue the opposite, that the Senate is less influenced by national events, and more by individual character and state events. You used 2006, but let's look at them:

    --I'll grant you Missouri, straight up. And Rhode Island was a state that became increasingly intolerant of the Republican label, even if Chafee was a liberal Republican, so I'll give you that one, too.

    --Santorum and his increasingly blue state were an obvious mis-match. The more liberal PA got, the more conservative Santorum got.

    --I'll give you Ohio as the product of a national wave, but DeWine was even further in a hole after the Taft/Noe scandal and a lackluster campaign at the top of the ticket.

    --In Montana, the only reason that Tester won is because Burns was corrupt. A significant portion of Montana Republicans voted against him, enough for Tester to eek out a victory.

    --In Virginia, Allen was assured of re-election until he got cocky with a video tracker, and ran his campaign straight into the ground. You can't credit Webb's victory to anything but Allen's self-destruction.

    The national wave was much more prevalent in the House races, with seats like KS-02, IA-02, MN-01, NY-19, PA-04, NH-01, NH-02, et al., races which few people thought would flip over, but did so because of national politics, instead of the individual characters in the race.

    I agree with putting Iowa and Montana in the same category as North Carolina, Virginia, and New Mexico, in the sense that you can insert each state into the sentence: "________ will be competitive if..."

    Right now, I put the Dems picking up one seat (NH, CO, minus LA).

    2:46 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    S2G, I'm constantly baffled by your inability to understand my point.

    At this point, we can agree that there are six, maybe seven (with Maine) truly competitive races. Because the numerical disadvantage of the playing field, five of those seats are Republican, and only two are Democrat. That is the disadvantage that everybody knows about, that has existed since 2002, that Ensign is acknowledging in the article, and that I have never attempted to deny.

    My point with that sentence was merely to point out the likelihood of one party sweeping all of those seats. I think there is as good a chance as the GOP to win in all seven states as there is for the Democrats to win in all seven states. A GOP sweep, however, will mean less, since they already own five of those seats.

    I'm glad you recognize all the nuanced differences between AL '08 and MT '06. I just wish you would post such nuances when you flatly compare Ron Sparks to Jon Tester on your main page.

    And I would never advocate that we don't have to hold elections. Me saying that Sessions would win with at least 55% of the vote is a prediction, based on the assumption that Sessions isn't as dumb as George Allen. My larger point, however, is to balance the implication that Sparks could put Alabama on the map. Even if you didn't say it, I wanted to make sure that no one would interpret it as such.

    My biggest grief is that you apply an alarmingly large amount of subjective qualifications to the Iowa group. First is the adverb "significantly", as if any of the supposed flaws you pointed out would preclude them from making the race competitive.

    Latham is untested as a statewide fundraiser; before redistricting, he never faced a credible challenger, and even after redistricting he's never won by less than double digits. And media markets in Iowa are significantly less expensive than in other states. I think its a bit much to call him "significantly" flawed on that account, especially if the NRSC puts some muscle behind him.

    Steve King is from a more conservative district, but Tom Harkin was elected despite being far more liberal than the state's makeup would suggest.

    Jim Nussle had the unfortunate chance of running as a Republican in 2006, a terrible environment for any Republican. He also lost to the son of former Senator, which gave Culver a leg up. Against a different opponent in a different environment, Nussle could make the race competitive. Harkin would obviously have the edge on him, but to categorically dismiss Nussle would be a mistake.

    The only thing I've heard about Branstad is that many Republicans want him to enter the race, and whisper campaigns about his intentions. Its unlikely at this point, but he remains an incredibly popular figure in Iowa--as popular as you would expect any four-term Governor to be--and his entry into the race would immediately shoot Iowa to the top of the list of competitive races this cycle.

    3:10 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Senate2008Guru said...

    I'm not "unable to understand your point," va blogger - it's just a lame/inaccurate point you're trying to make. Sorry.

    I can compare Ron Sparks to Tester without comparing the AL-Sen-08 race to the MT-Sen-06 race - your fault if you can't tell the difference. I said that Sparks' style of communication and populism seemed Tester-esque. That's it.

    Sessions isn't as dumb as Allen. If you put the 2006 VA-Sen race in a vacuum, I don't think any individual on the planet is as dumb as Allen. That said, if Sparks is the fiery populist he's purported to be, it can put Alabama on the map. It wouldn't jump to a first tier race simply because he's in. But it would take a fourth tier race (on my five tier scale) to the third tier right away by having a successful statewide official running, with the potential for a jump into the second tier if Sparks gets traction. Would you disagree with that?

    You attribute Nussle's loss, in part, to Culver being the son of a Senator. Well, Harkin is the current Senator - so, again, how will Nussle fare better? And King is more conservative than the "moderate-to-conservative" challengers Harkin has taken down over and over again - so, again, how will the super-conservative King fare better than the more moderate Republicans who have lost to Harkin? And with the NRSC spread as thin as it will be spread in 2008, I can't imagine they're going to dump the sums of money in Iowa that Latham would need to make up the difference against Harkin.

    Now, I would like to take issue with your statement:

    "I agree with putting Iowa and Montana in the same category as North Carolina, Virginia, and New Mexico, in the sense that you can insert each state into the sentence: '________ will be competitive if...'"

    Yes, all five states, IA, MT, NC, VA, and NM have if's attached to them - but the competitivity of the races don't just hinge on whether or not there is an "if" - it also hinges on the likelihood of the "if" coming to reality.

    For instance, John Warner is significantly more likely to retire and Mark Warner is significantly more likely to enter the race than the Iowa GOP is likely to get a top tier competitor for Harkin. Though both VA and IA hinge on if's, VA is more competitive because the if is more like to come to fruition.

    Similarly, the only way MT is competitive with the super-popular Baucus is if Rehberg gets in - and even then, it's a notably uphill climb for Rehberg, who may face a House challenge of his own. Compare that with the if of what happens to Domenici in New Mexico with the scandal fall-out. Domenici's poll numbers are already beginning a downward move, so I'd argue that the NM "if" is more likely to come to fruition than the MT "if" making NM more competitive than MT.

    4:07 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    I'll buy Alabama as a third-tier race with Sparks in.

    As for Iowa, you still can't count out Nussle, since a major part of his loss was the environment. In 2008, with a strong top GOP Presidential candidate, if Nussle was the nominee it could be a close race.

    King could trump Harkin if the race was about character and not ideology. I agree that King would be the worst of the group, but all I'm saying is that he would make it competitive. Again, I would give Harkin the advantage.

    And if the NRSC decides its worth the gamble to invest in Latham, they just may. Its not like Iowa costs alot, and Latham is unproven in statewide fundraising. I would like to see the support you have for this "weakness".

    As for the likelihood of each of the races listed becoming competitive, its absolutely pure speculation to try and rank different and independent what-if scenarios. I disagree that Warner is more likely to retire; I also disagree that Mark Warner, who is eyeing a VP nomination or a Governor's race in 2009, is "significantly more likely" to enter the race than a top-tier IA Republican. Mark Warner's entry into the Senate race is a remote possibility--especially with his comments that he wouldn't challenge John Warner--and the rumors surrounding it can be explained away with a variety of reasons, such as testing the waters or seeing what John Warner's reaction would be.

    Rehberg is currently on the fence, but either he or Mark Racicot would make the race very competitive. Rehberg's approval ratings for his statewide office are identical to Baucus's, and Montana is a very red state, especially in presidential years. I think the odds would be even up in a Rehberg/Baucus or a Racicot/Baucus matchup.

    And the only thing you have on Domenici so far is a phone call. Inglesias says he "felt" "leaned upon", but the scandal right now is focusing on Gonzales; it also hasn't really captured the attention of most people. As far as scandals go, this isn't the most enthralling one, let's be honest. And since the race is still 20 months away, it remains unlikely that it'll be a campaign issue. Until a NM Democrat bites the bullet and jumps in the race soon, its very likely that the issue will pass.

    4:53 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Senate2008Guru said...

    I can count out Nussle. There. Boom. Just counted him out.

    He didn't just lose because of "environment" - surely more voters liked him or his positions less than they liked Culver - that could have played a role. And 2008 overall, and certainly Congressionally, seems like it will be more of a Dem year than a GOP year. And which GOP Presidential candidate will help put Nussle over the top against an institution like Harkin after losing by 10 points for an open seat in 2006? Who is this magical Presidential candidate? And what supposed character defects does Harkin have that King can "trump" him? Seriously, where are you pulling this stuff out of?!?

    Well, we can disagree on the likelihoods of the various "if" situations. But, I do think you are seriously underestimating the potential impact of the scandal on Domenici. While his involvement may seem too esoteric for the average voter, there is a Senate Ethics investigation underway. For background on the specific Senate Ethics standards allegedly violated, take a look at CREW's formal complaint (in PDF). If the Ethics Committee opts to censure Domenici for his involvement, that becomes a lot less esoteric to voters. While the average voter might not grasp the specifics or nuances of the case, they will get that he somehow "broke the law" - feeding very comfortably into the Corrupt Republicans narrative established by Jack Abramoff, Scooter Libby, Alberto Gonzales, and many, many others. Domenici becomes a rule-breaker who is just getting older and has less clout as a member of the minority party. Plenty of reasons for purple New Mexico to give Tom Udall or another Dem a shot at better representing the state.

    5:27 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Blue South said...

    Interesting numbers from the DSCC frontpaged by kos
    "If the November 4th, 2008 general election for U.S. Senate were held today and the candidates were: Peter DeFazio, Democrat or Gordon Smith, Republican, for whom would you vote or are you undecided?

    DeFazio [D] 42
    Smith [R] 38"

    5:48 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    Hmm. I wonder what an equally partisan poll from Republicans would say about Smith.

    7:34 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    The Senate isn't going to censure Domenici. Let's be honest here, the focus is on Gonzales, and the reason is because Gonzales lied to Congress about the firings. But its extremely important to note that the firing themselves weren't illegal. After the Gonzales stuff flames out, the matter will be, for the most part, over and done with.

    Any attempt by Schumer to spearhead a movement to censure Domenici will look like the pure politics it is, and it will backfire. An ethics complaint would be lodged against Schumer for using an investigation chairmanship for purely partisan gain. Besides which, there is very little to go on against Domenici, certainly not enough that would warrant a censure.

    Finally, even if the above things happen and Domenici is censured, he still would not have done anything illegal, and any attempt to say that he had would be libel.

    7:38 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Blue South said...

    influencing a criminal investigation isnt illegal?

    the charge is that he used his power as a Senator to exert influence upon the investigations undertaken by a United States Attorney, and that he might have used his influence to have the guy fired for not following his wishes.

    If that isnt illegal it should be. And if he did it then he should be censured.

    8:50 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Senate2008Guru said...

    va blogger - really, quit pulling things out of your ass! "The Senate isn't going to censure Domenici"???? Oh really? Did your crystal ball tell you that?

    And "Besides which, there is very little to go on against Domenici, certainly not enough that would warrant a censure." How about Domenici admitted making the phone call to Iglesias - a call that Iglesias called unprecedented. Do you even know what "warrants a censure"???

    Seriously, va blogger, you are just talking out of your ass.

    10:59 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    Blue South-- How can you say Domenici was influecing a criminal investigation into wrongdoings by Democrats? All he did was call and see if any action on the charges would come down before November. When Inglesias said "No", Domenici ended the phone call. The "unprecedented" nature of a U.S. Senator contacting a U.S. Attorney aside, there was no attempt to influence anything, let alone a crime. Of course, I trust that you have nothing but the purest intentions at heart when you beg for a Republican senator up for re-election to be censured.

    S2G, I don't think the number of question marks you provided in your post were enough. Please add some more.

    I'm not quite sure why you can't recognize a prediction when you see one, but let's go ahead and get this out of the way: I predict that the Senate will not censure Domenici. Does that make my post easier to understand, or does it just warrant more question marks?

    And yes, I know what a censure is. Its an official condemnation for an action--any action--deemed inappropriate. But handing down a censure for Domenici's actions, especially after an exclusively partisan investigation spearheaded by the chairman of the DSCC, will open the door for future Senate majorities to censure members at whim. Such a proposal will hardly get any traction in the Senate.

    At any rate, besides the rambling thoughts of two strict partisans, Domenici remains in good shape to be re-elected in 2008.

    11:15 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger Blue South said...

    "besides the ramblings of two partisans... let me throw in my own partisan line"

    My purpose in life is to get Democrats elected. I dont hide from that.

    Lets not sugar coat these facts though. When Iglesias was asked by a sitting US Senator to violate the law and said no he was hung up on. Said phone call occured only minutes after a sitting member of the US House had asked him to violate the law. He was later fired for reasons no one seems to be able to pin down.

    Domenici might be innocent of any crime. But he might also be guilty.

    11:33 PM, March 26, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    When you're prepared to have this conversation based on the facts of the case, I'll welcome it.

    "Iglesias was asked by a sitting US Senator to violate the law."

    What on Earth are you talking about?

    All Domenici did was ask whether any action would happen with his investigation before November. That's it. Please point out to me, in any public record or any credible source, where Inglesias was asked to, or did, something illegal, and where Domenici did anything but ask about the timeframe of the investigation.

    No wonder you're so convinced he'll be censured; you have absolutely no clue what actually happened.

    12:16 AM, March 27, 2007  
    Blogger Blue South said...

    For a US attorney to comment on an ongoing investigation is against the law. Therefore, when he was asked to comment on a potential investigation he was asked to break the law.

    http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00001512----000-.html

    1:19 AM, March 27, 2007  
    Blogger VA Blogger said...

    That's quite a stretch.

    Whatever. You can continue to feign your outrage all you like. I doubt this will be on anybody's mind in three months, let alone a campaign issue next year (if there even is a challenging campaign).

    7:34 AM, March 27, 2007  
    Blogger Blue South said...

    if it wont be on anyones mind and no one cares then why are you so afraid of an investigation?

    I am glad that we went from "you have no facts" to "a stretch". I am glad we are making progress. Maybe Thursday we can talk about how Clinton did it too.

    10:34 AM, March 27, 2007  

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