Updated Senate 2008 Outlook

By SIConservative Posted in Comments (2) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »

This post is an update of my first Senate 2008 Outlook, which was posted back in September. Many of the races have changed little since then. Others have changed significantly. In opening, let me restate my introduction for the previous post, as that still holds:

I'm not going to make any friends here, I know, but for those who want to engage in a reasonable discussion about how we can work/contribute to have as many Republicans as possible in the Senate in 2009, I'm putting this out there as a starting point for a discussion. Having an accurate assessment of where things stand will help to concentrate our resources in the races on which they will have the most impact. This will help us to avoid the mistakes that we made in 2006, such as spending money to support Sen. Rick Santorum, who consistently polled 20 points behind Bob Casey, Jr. from even before Casey entered the race, instead of using those resources in Montana, where Conrad Burns lost by less than 4000 votes, or Virginia, where George Allen lost by less than one percent.

Blanket comments saying, "It's 11 months out" are meaningless. If you want to say that I'm way off on a particular race - and I could be - please explain a reasonable sequence of events that would significantly change the dynamics of a particular race between now and next November. Time itself is means nothing.

Please understand that I am writing this from the perspective of someone with limited resources for a discussion of people who have limited resources. If you have unlimited time or money to contribute toward Senate races in 2008, by all means max out as you choose. If not and you choose to volunteer or contriubte to a race that won't be competitive, obviously that's your choice. You have your reasons, be they political experience, party building in a given state, attraction to a particular candidate, that's your business. I've done it before for my own reasons. Just do so knowing that you will not be impacting the make-up of the Senate in 2009.

That said, here is my assessment of where things stand:

Democrat-Held Seats

Mark Pryor (AR) - With Gov. Huckabee's surge in the Presidential polls, it is difficult to see him entering this race. That said, the filing deadling is just over a month after Super Tuesday. If Huckabee does himself proud but comes up short, he could make this a race.
Joe Biden (DE)
Tom Harkin (IA) - Rep. King has not yet ruled out the possibility of challenging Sen. Harkin, but as of the end of the third quarter, King's cash on hand was just over $100,000 with a $20,000 debt. If King wants to run, he's going to have to make that decision quickly.
Dick Durbin (IL)
John Kerry (MA)
Carl Levin (MI)
Max Baucus (MT)
Frank Lautenberg (NJ)
Jack Reed (RI)
Jay Rockefeller (WV)

Potentially Competitive
Tim Johnson (SD) - Gov. Rounds is not challenging Sen. Johnson. Although the local media is rightfully raising the issue of Johnson's health, Republican front-runner Joel Dykstra's $37,000 as of the end of September won't scare anybody. Senator Johnson would likely have to have a relapse for this race to become competitive.

Mary Landrieu (LA) - The Senate's only vulnerable Democrat is in serious trouble indeed. Democrat-turned-Republican (who isn't in Louisiana?) State Treasurer John Kennedy, who was recently reelected without opposition, has jumped into the race and leads the incumebent by eight points.

Republican Seats

Jeff Sessions (AL)
Saxby Chambliss (GA)
ID (Open) - Senator Craig has made things here politically more difficult than they have to be with his on-again, off-again resignation. Even so, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch should once again be able to handily defeat former Rep. Larry LaRocco, whom he defeated in the Lt. Gov. race last year by 19 points.
Pat Roberts (KS) - Democrats finally found a challenger to Sen. Roberts in businessman Greg Orman. Roberts should be fine mainly because he is taking Orman's challenge seriously. Orman can self-finance, and it should be noted that parties frequently turn to self-financing candidates when they think it's too steep a hill to climb and simply want to force the incumbent to burn some cash.
Mitch McConnell (KY) - Sen. McConnell caught two breaks last week when Auditor Crit Laullen and Attorney General Greg Stumbo were likely to pass on bids. This race could become more competitive if Democrats are successful in recruiting Lt. Gov.-elect and '04 Senate nominee Dan Mongiardo, but the filing deadline is just weeks after Mongiardo takes office. It'd be more than a little odd to see him announce his Senate candidacy at his swearing in ceremony. The other wild card, and I hesitate to mention this, is that there are rumors that Larry Flynt has something on McConnell. I won't give as yet unsubstantiated rumors more credibility than they deserve. I only mention this because we should be prepared to deal with the political realities should that turn otu to be true.
Thad Cochran (MS) - Since the last posting, Sen. Cochran has announced that he will seek reelection, meaning that he will be reelected.
NE (Open) - Former Gov. Mike Johanns is in. Attorney General John Bruning did the right thing and stepped aside for him. Now no viable Democrats, most significantly including former Gov. Bob Kerrey, want to challenge Johanns. This one's over.
Jim Inhofe (OK)
Lindsey Graham (SC) - Graham has frequently angered conservatives and is facing multiple primary challengers, including RNC Committeeman Buddy Witherspoon. Unfortunately, the divided opposition will likely mean that Graham wins renomination. Regardless of the nominee, the Democrats aren't challenging this seat.
Lamar Alexander (TN) - Mike McWherther, son of a former Governor, was challenging - and I use the word in its loosest definition - Sen. Alexander. He has since bailed on the race and the Democrats don't currently have a candidate.
John Cornyn (TX) - Self-financier and Democrat front-runner Mikal Watts has ended his bid. That leave Rick Noriega, a state Rep. who, at the end of September, had less than half a million dollars in the back (when taking debt into account). That won't do it against Cornyn's $6.6 million.
Mike Enzi (WY)
John Barrasso (WY) - While he was safe at last writing, he has become even safer with the retirement of Rep. Barbara Cubin. Those looking to head to DC are now much more likely to run for the open House seat than the Senate seat.

Potentially Competitive
Susan Collins (ME) - Collins continues to lead handily.
TBD (MS b) - The cycle's newest race was started when Sen. Trent Lott announced that he would retire by the end of the year. Democrats have trouble reading, so they will likely take Gov. Barbour to court for naming a replacement Senator until a special election can be held on the day of the general election, as the law requires. Republicans will likely enjoy Presidential coattails, but for the time being, it is difficult to say just how competitive this race will be since it is still entirely unclear just whom the candidates will be.
John Sununu (NH) - Just after I posted my last update, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen announced her candidacy and I declared the race "gone", as the polling on the race up to that point showed Shaheen leading by numbers that can only be compared to Bob Casey's numbers against Rick Santorum at the same point in the cycle. Shortly thereafter, horaceox posted some new data that showed a much more competitive outlook. I would like to say that the new numbers convinced me that the race was competitive, but they did not. They did, however, make me wonder just how accuarate the previous numbers were, leaving me, quite frankly, entirely confused about this one. I have seen plausible attempts to explain the tremendous difference between the sets of polls, but I remain uncertain as to which, if either, set of numbers accurately reflects the state of this race.
Elizabeth Dole (NC) - Democrats convinced state Sen. Kay Hagan to get back in the race, but she has her work cut out for her. Dole has a $2.3 million advantage to get started, but her approval ratings continue to lag.
NM (Open) - Sen. Pete Domenici announced his retirement, flipping this from "advantage Republican" to "advantage Democrat". All three members of the state's Congressional delegation are seeking the seat. Democrats have united behind Rep. Mark Udall, just days ago pushing Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez from the race. Republicans will have a spirited primary between liberal Republican Heather Wilson and conservative Steve Pearce. Polling shows Udall leading both by around 15 points and around the 50% mark. If we're going to hold this seat, we're going to have to spend a lot of time and money exposing Udall's far left record. I think it's possible, but Udall certainly has the upper hand.

Likely Competitive
Gordon Smith (OR) - Anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore still hasn't made a decision on the race, which makes me think he's unlikely to launch a primary challenge. The filing deadline is in March and the primary is in May, so he'd have to run a lightning-speed campaign and fundraise at an astronomical pace to be competitive. Me thinks the CFG just wants to keep Smith on his feet. As for the Democrats, House Speaker Jeff Merkley's march to the nomination hit a stumbling block when former Rep. Les AuCoin endorsed his primary opponent Steve Novick. This is the first serious sign of division among the Democrat ranks and may force Merkley to run hard left, making it difficult to return to the middle for a general election faceoff against Smith. With a recent bump in Smith's approval numbers, things look better for him than they did in September, but he's still not out of the woods.

Ted Stevens (AK) - Discovering that "I understand you're recording this, but I told you again I made the statement. It's issued. That's what my lawyers told me to say and that's all I'm going to say," is not an effective campaign slogan, Sen. Ted Stevens now finds himself trailing Mike Begich, whom many think will run for the seat. The FBI's investigation of Stevens continues and will likely continue for at least the next several months, meaning that he could have a cloud hanging over his head from now until the election. Unless we can replace Stevens with a non-corrupt Palin ally, we are more likely than not to lose this seat in November.
CO (Open) - The latest poll on the Schaffer v. Udall match-up shows a dead heat, with Schaffer's numbers staying put and Udall's dropping about six points. Since the last update, Schaffer has dumped his primary opponent and Udall has gained one , Mark Benner, a Kucinich supporter who will either force Udall to run hard left and alienate the middle or somehow manage to make Udall look moderate, thus souring much of the party base on his candidacy. This race remains highly competitive and likely will remain so until November, but Schaffer's prospects have certainly improved of late.
Norm Coleman (MN) - I've said it before and I'll say it again, Al Franken will win this race if we (collectively) fail to take his candidacy seriously. That said, Sen. Coleman is taking Franken very seriously and is informing the voters of Minnesota about Franken's record records on Iraq. Franken has given us the ammo. We need to use it effectively, consistently, and overwhelmingly.

While I have called back my projection on New Hampshire, uncertain as to which polling firms to believe, this one is, in fact, a done deal.

OPEN (VA) - Former. Gov. Mark Warner will be the next Senator from Virginia. Since the last report, the state committee decided in favor of a nominating convention as opposed to a primary. That made former Rep. Tom Davis opt out of a bid. A little-known state Rep. has also declined to challenge former Gov. Jim Gilmore, who trails Warner by something in the neighborhood of 2:1.

Overall, the news over the last several months has been more positive than it had been earlier in the cycle. Nebraska came off the board. Sen. Mitch McConnell is now looking much safer than he was up until last week. Democrats' attempts to expand the map in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas have all fallen flat. It's not all good news, though, as Sen. Domenici announced his retirement and Ted Stevens now trails. Scratch that last one. Sen. Stevens deserves to be trailing, and he should trail badly enough to be defeated in a primary.

If the election were held today, we would lose Alaska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Virginia, while taking Louisiana. Colorado, Minnesota, and Oregon would be too close to call. We have it within our power to take one of those races all but off the board by defeating a corrupt Republican in a primary. We won't take back the Senate, but it is conceivable that we could break even, assuming an amazing anti-Udall effort in New Mexico. If I were to guess, though, I'd say we will lose a net of five seats, dropping Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Virginia while winning Louisiana. Of course there's a reason we have campaigns.

That being said, at this point conservatives would do well to focus on:

Primary Targets
Alaska (if a primary challenger emerges)
New Mexico

Secondary Targets
Mississippi b (Depending on how things pan out, this could easily move up or down.)
New Hampshire (I'd put this in the top tier if I were convinced that recent polling were more reliable than older polling.)
North Carolina
South Dakota (if and only if Sen. Johnson's health deteriorates)

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Focus on achievable goals.
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