Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races

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

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

May Retirement Watch Update

In early February, the Guru offered his first Retirement Watch rundown, and in mid-March there was the first Retirement Watch Update. Allow the Guru to present you with the brand new May Retirement Watch Update.

Key Statistic: Courtesy of Swing State Project, since the 1988 election cycle, mid-term election cycles have seen an average of 4.8 Senate retirements per cycle, while Presidential election cycles have seen an average of 7.7 Senate retirements per cycle. With only Colorado's Wayne Allard officially out, statistical trends suggest that we should see a few more retirement announcements.

↑ Virginia's John Warner: Most notably, the five-term incumbent raised a mere $500 in the first quarter of 2007. This is a gigantic red flag. Further, Warner just today announced the departure of his Chief of Staff to the private sector. He has continually suggested that he is still unsure of his future electoral plans, but it just takes too much effort for a longtime incumbent Senator to raise next-to-nothing for a quarter. Barring an unexpected fundraising surge in Q2, a retirement announcement is quite likely.

↑ New Mexico's Pete Domenici: Domenici has not been vocal about a re-election bid, particularly considering his involvement in the Attorney Purge scandal. Two factors suggest a hightened likelihood of retirement here. First, since Domenici's involvement in the scandal has come to light, his approval rating (previously comfortably in the mid-to-high 60's) has been in a consistent and unabated free fall, plunging from a 43-point net approval in November 2006 to a 16-point net approval last month. Next month's polling data will offer further insight into the momentum of the trend. Second, Domenici had a lackluster fundraising quarter for a longtime incumbent facing a potentially tough re-election bid. Even the Republican netroots are suggesting that Domenici ought to consider retirement. While there is no end in sight for Domenici's continued negative press coverage and while his approvals continue to sink, his retirement may ultimately hinge on whether the Democrats field a strong opponent, and soon.

↑ Idaho's Larry Craig: Craig delayed his 2008 electoral plan announcement from "this summer" to "late summer or fall." Also, regardless of how inexpensive the Idaho media market is, by any measure Craig had a very weak Q1 fundraising take, suggesting that his heart isn't in a re-election bid. It also doesn't help perceptions that GOP Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is chomping at the bit for Craig to retire so that he can enter the race.

↔ Mississippi's Thad Cochran: Fundraising has been the biggest signal that Cochran may in fact run for another term, as he nearly met his fundraising goal for the first quarter of 2007 while his likely understudy, GOP Rep. Chip Pickering, raised only a meager sum in Q1. However, two subtle hints suggest a Cochran retirement is more likely than some may suspect. First, Karl Rove's presentation on the Senate's "Republican Defense" states included Mississippi, likely to only be competitive if Cochran retired. Did Rove have inside info on Cochran's decision-making process? Second, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania suggested that he would be the senior Republican Senator on the Appropriations Committee in 2010, despite Cochran's committee seniority. Did Specter have inside info on Cochran's decision-making process?

↔ Nebraska's Chuck Hagel: Since Hagel's notorious non-announcement, he has suggested that he is ramping up his fundraising to prepare for a Senate re-election bid. But state Attorney General Jon Bruning has demonstrated early strength in a possible NE-GOP Senate primary. And Hagel's approval-disapproval has seen better days. Meanwhile, Hagel's own comments as well as his time spent with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has fueled speculation of an independent Presidential bid.

↔ Utah's Orrin Hatch: Yes, Utah's Orrin Hatch. Documented rumors have suggested that Hatch has been "campaigning" in a sense for the position of U.S. Attorney General should Alberto Gonzales resign, be fired, or otherwise lose the position. An unknown, to be sure, but something to keep an eye on.

↓ Tennessee's Lamar Alexander: Alexander declared in early April that he "plans to run for re-election in 2008."

↓ Alaska's Ted Stevens: While Stevens' advanced age will perpetually keep him on the Retirement Watch radar, the fact that he has just recently taken lengths to distance himself from his son's involvement in a corruption scandal rather than defend his son suggests that he's still most interested in politically protecting himself, suggesting that he plans on making good on his threat to run for re-election.

With the dust settling, the Retirement Watch breakdown currently stands at:

Definitely retiring: Wayne Allard (CO)

On Retirement Watch: Thad Cochran (MS), Larry Craig (ID), Pete Domenici (NM), Chuck Hagel (NE), Jim Inhofe (OK), John Warner (VA)

Running (or most likely running) for re-election: Lamar Alexander (TN), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Norm Coleman (MN), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Elizabeth Dole (NC), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), Mitch McConnell (KY), Pat Roberts (KS), Jeff Sessions (AL), Gordon Smith (OR), Ted Stevens (AK), John Sununu (NH)


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