Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thoughts on "Unknown"

[Cross-posted at my SSP and DKos diaries.]

In the left-hand column of the Guru's website, there is a list of "Democratic Senatorial Incumbents and Candidates" featuring Democratic incumbents, announced Democratic challengers for GOP-held seats, and Democrats considering bids for GOP-held seats. Though there is still much time left to recruit challengers, there are seven states on the list featuring only "unknown" - in other words, there are seven states with Republican incumbent Senators where there are no Democrats even publicly considering a Senate bid, only rumors at best. Let's look at those seven states.

Alaska: Given Ted Stevens' advanced age (he's 83), his penchant for flying off in a tizzy from time to time, and his proximity to scandal, Democrats ought to field someone credible just in case. Much speculation has focused on Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who is term-limited out of office in 2009. I think he should definitely run. Best case scenario, he wins. Worst case scenario, he loses but he increases his statewide profile for a 2010 challenge to Lisa Murkowski, who is significantly less popular than Stevens at a time when the Murkowski name isn't worth what it used to be in Alaska. (Her father, former Senator and now-former-Governor Frank Murkowski, had a dismal 19% showing in his 2006 primary bid for re-election after having taken heat for the nepotism associated with naming his daughter to his old Senate seat.) If the DSCC offered him continued support in 2010 if he didn't win 2008, he could go for it. Otherwise, we ought to check with Alaska Democratic mainstay former Governor Tony Knowles or, perhaps more quixotically, former Senator and current Presidential candidate Mike Gravel to see if they wouldn't mind having their name on the line just in case. Race tracker wiki: AK-Sen

Georgia: The Peach State has arguably shifted more than any other state in the nation from Democratic- to Republican-trending over the last decade. Right now, the only thing Democrats have resembling a candidate under the Democratic banner is self-proclaimed "conservative Democrat" and 2004 Bush voter Vernon Jones, the weak-fundraising CEO of DeKalb County. Beyond that, some Democratic insiders have been urging Congressman Jim Marshall to consider a Senate bid, though Marshall may have a tough House re-election bid on his hands (could that motivate him to just jump into the Senate fray?). Meanwhile state Attorney General Thurbert Baker has done nothing to quash speculation about Senate interest. DKos diarists biglib (also now at Tondee's Tavern), Mister Gloom, and VolvoDrivingLiberal offer thoughts on the GA-Dem bench - mostly just rumors, former candidates, or current office-holders that like where they are. "Shameless" Saxby Chambliss is the Republican incumbent I would most like to see lose in 2008 as a result of his despicable 2002 campaign, so I hope the GA-Dems come up with something interesting. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: not a day goes by where I don't hope that true American patriot and former Senator Max Cleland doesn't reconsider a rematch of 2002. (If you'll forgive the triple-negative in the previous sentence, I just really want Cleland to get in the race and give Chambliss his comeuppance.) Race tracker wiki: GA-Sen

Kansas: Pat Roberts' approval hovers right around the 50% zone, but Kansas is still a red state. The dream candidate remains popular Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who has expressed no interest in a 2008 Senate race and may be holding out for the 2008 Veepstakes. With an approval in the 60-70% range and approval among Republicans over 50%, I'm confident she could beat Pat Roberts. Kansas does enjoy other Democratic statewide elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson (a former KS-GOP Chair who switched parties to run with Sebelius) and state Attorney General Paul Morrison, as well as Democratic Congresspeople Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda (half of Kansas' four-person House delegation), but none have indicated interest in a Senate bid. It would be disappointing to see a potentially competitive race in the heartland fall by the wayside; and, as long as Roberts hovers around 50% approval, Kansas is potentially competitive. Race tracker wiki: KS-Sen

Mississippi: There is a question as to whether or not incumbent Thad Cochran will run for re-election. Despite the unusual signals that might suggest retirement, if I had to make a prediction right now, I would offer that Cochran would run for another term, given Cochran's steady fundraising compared with the meager showing of Cochran understudy Chip Pickering. The dream candidate in Mississippi would be former state Attorney General Mike Moore, but it has been suggested that Moore would only put the effort into a run if Cochran retired - the catch-22 being that Cochran might only retire if he faced a stiff challenge from someone like Moore. Like Kansas, half of Mississippi's four-person House delegation is Democratic, but there have been no rumblings. Even yearnings for celebrity candidates like author (and former state legislator) John Grisham or actor Morgan Freeman have made the rounds. But, so far, silence. Race tracker wiki: MS-Sen

South Carolina: With a very lean SC-Dem bench, Lindsey Graham could be more likely to face a primary challenge from a Club for Growth-style right-winger unhappy with Graham's maverick nature than a viable Democrat. Nevertheless, every state should have a challenger. The race tracker wiki only offers speculation on the SC-Dems' 2004 Senate challenger, former State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, and former state Party Chair Joe Erwin. Tenenbaum's successor as Superintendent, Jim Rex, remains South Carolina's only statewide elected Democrat (and barely, at that, with Rex taking 47.50% percent of the vote to the Republican's 47.45% of the vote, winning by less than 500 votes in a race where the Green Party candidate took about 9,000 votes, while the Libertarian, Independence, and Constitution Party candidates combined for over 45,000 votes or over 4% of the total vote). The Palmetto State's six-person House delegation features two Democrats, both of whom have plum committee assignments in the new Democratic House majority that they probably would not want to part with. A second-look at the 2006 state election results offer that the top vote-getting Democrat was not Jim Rex but rather Robert Barber, who narrowly lost his bid for the Lieutenant Governor's office and who has a very interesting background. If I were the DSCC, I'd give Mr. Barber a ring and find out if there was any interest. Race tracker wiki: SC-Sen

Tennessee: Tennessee actually enjoys a fairly solid, intriguing bench of potential Senate candidates. Still, pretty much nothing but silence. Meanwhile, Lamar Alexander's approval looms unintimidatingly in the low-50's. 2006 Democratic TN-Sen nominee former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. has taken the reins of the DLC and seems to have backed off of speculation about a repeat bid in '08. Extremely popular Governor Phil Bredesen has not shown any interest in a Senate bid that he could very reasonably win. Perhaps he, like Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, is waiting on the 2008 Veepstakes. (Come to think of it, the "popular Democratic Governor uninterested in a very winnable Senate challenge against a lackluster Republican incumbent in favor of the '08 Veepstakes" motif fits a few states, including Tennessee, Kansas, and North Carolina, and even Wyoming minus the Veepstakes angle.) Ford's 2006 primary opponent, state senator Rosalind Kurita, lost a lot of goodwill when she voted for the Republican Speaker of the Senate/Lt. Gov. over the Democratic incumbent. Speculation has also surrounded Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, former state Party Chair Bob Tuke, Tipper Gore, and musician & Bush critic Tim McGraw. DKos diarist Sidof79 keeps regularly tabs on the potential candidates, offering a near-monthly update. However, so far we have only heard speculation. Race tracker wiki: TN-Sen

Wyoming: It frequently feels like there are only two Democrats who live in Wyoming: extremely popular Governor Dave Freudenthal, who has demonstrated no interest in a Senate bid; and Gary Trauner, who very narrowly lost his 2006 at-large House challenge to Barbara Cubin and looks like he may be opting for a rematch there. If I were to gauge the landscape right now, I would deem Mike Enzi the safest Republican up for re-election in 2008 (and the most likely to get a free ride), unless Governor Freudenthal finds the desire to run for Senate. Surely, somewhere in Wyoming is a Jon Tester/Scott Kleeb-style progressive, populist farmer/rancher. Race tracker wiki: WY-Sen

Again, every state should find a challenger. These seven states are not un-winnable. In fact, most of these states have the potential to be highly competitive races. Of the seven, three (Kansas, Tennessee, and Wyoming) have very popular Democratic Governors who could immediately make for top-tier races in their respective states. Alaska has, in my mind, a clear choice to pursue in Mayor Begich, with the offer of continued support through 2010. Mississippi sees a possible retirement in Cochran as well as another obvious preferred candidate in former AG Moore. In Georgia, Chambliss' approval also looms around the low-50's; maybe if we ask for Senator Cleland politely enough he'll change his mind and immediately turn Georgia into a highly competitive race. South Carolina is tough, but there should be no free rides.


Blogger Blue South said...

I would love to see Gravel run. They could have a crazy off. We could take bets on who would get the most national headlines on something stupid they said.

Im excited about the idea.

4:06 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger Ari said...

I seriously think we need to give up on Georgia & South Carolina. When the only potential challenger to emerge in Georgia is an '04 Bush voter, you know we're in trouble. I've said it before and I'll say it again-- why waste resources where we don't have a chance?

1:01 PM, May 24, 2007  

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