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2006 Midterms: Early Spin From Both Sides

Five top-level House and Senate operatives gathered at the Hotel Washington in downtown D.C. this morning to offer up their views on where things stand in the 2006 midterm elections.

The panel was hosted by The Hotline and the Center For Politics at the University of Virginia.  For the most part, both sides spun their respective viewpoints and made little news.  But moderator John Mercurio did manage to break the surface a few times.

Asked to name their two most vulnerable incumbents in 2006, both Guy Cecil, political director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Brian Nick, communications director at the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, provided frank responses.

Nick ticked off Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine.  Santorum comes as no surprise -- polling shows him trailing state Auditor Bob Casey (D) by double digits. But DeWine being mentioned over Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) signals a slight shift.  Nick explained that given Ohio's current political environment, DeWine is vulnerable to a challenge from Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett or Rep. Sherrod Brown.  A recent Columbus Dispatch poll showed both Democrats with small leads over the incumbent.

On the Democratic side, Cecil mentioned Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell as the party's most vulnerable senators. Nick touted former Ameritrade President Pete Ricketts as a top-tier recruit against Nelson, but Cecil said his mention of the Nebraska race had much more to do with the fact that President Bush carried the state by 33 points in 2004. As for Cantwell, Cecil pointed out she is seeking reelection for the first time. In 2000 she defeated Sen. Slade Gorton (R) in 2000 by just 2,000 votes and Republicans came within a handful of votes of winning the governor's race last year. Republicans have united behind former Safeco Insurance Co. executive Mike McGavick as their nominee against Cantwell.

On the House side, the main topic was ethics and its potential impact on the midterms.

"Ethics is a losing issue for Democrats," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ed Patru. He said voters don't identify the issue solely with Republicans -- mentioning the ongoing investigation of Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-La.) as evidence that neither side has a clean record.

Not so, countered John Lapp, top staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He said the scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff "is a Beltway scandal but it won't be for long. This is going to be a big election about big national issues."

For a complete blow-by-blow of the Hotline conference, make sure to check out Hotline's On Call blog.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 1, 2005; 12:39 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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Ben Nelson and Maria Cantwell are both comfortably ahead in the latest polls from their states. I think both are over 50% with significant double-digit leads. Cantwell's was 52-37 I think. And WA is a Democratic state. Plus she's less liberal than the very popular Sen. Patty Murray. I think Cantwell is pretty safe. WA hasn't elected a Republican Governor or Senator since 1994.

I also think appointing Nia Gill would be a good thing and hope Gov.-elect Corzine does so.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | December 2, 2005 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Ben Nelson is as popular today as he was as a governor of Nebraska, as red a state as they come. I dont see Nelson losing. Speaking of Nelson, the Florida Nelson is not at risk as long as Kathrine Harris is the GOP nominee.

The GOP is going to cost Lincoln Chafee by supporting Cranston, RI mayor who is the favorite of the the right. This is driving a division in the GOP. If Chaffee survives the primary which he probably will, he will be weakened because the right will stay home and hand the seat to a Democrat.

Cantwell I think is in trouble. Not because Washington is strong GOP state, but because of the money this guy has. If Cantwell can match the money, she wins.

Posted by: db | December 1, 2005 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Shuler was a party boy and is not that old that he can say it was youthful indiscretions. Womanizer while in DC as a young qb.

That aside, I hear he is now a born again Christian which means these indiscretions will be overlooked.

Schuler is a popular choice for a congressional seat.

On a side note, if the rumor is true that Ben Affleck is running against George Allen, any bets that he can win. I think not as he will be painted as a Hollywood liberal.

However, I personally think if he moves to Charlottesville, VA, he would run against Virgil Goode who is going down due to the Abamsoff. MZM scandal.

Heck is JC Watts, an African-American can win on the GOP ticket in Oklahoma, I wouldnt count out either Schuler or Affleck as congressman.

Posted by: DB | December 1, 2005 11:45 PM | Report abuse

There's no way Ben Nelson loses...

I'm curious about the NRCC's spin on Dem recruits Heath Shuler (NC-11) and Charlie Wilson (OH-06)...

The NRCC guy openly mocked the dem recruit in OH-06, suggesting he has skeletans in the closet... (though since the guy was a funeral director isn't that what you'd expect? :-P)...but, serioously, what does the NRCC have on this guy?

On Heath Shuler, they comment:
"And Heath the time we're doing, he's going to be longing for the days when he was in the NFL getting knocked in the rear end."

In November, meanwhile, the NRCC's Carl Forti was quoted as saying "we're going to destroy him."

What, I wonder does the NRCC have on this guy? He seems like a very nice recruit, particularly when compared to the lackluster and scandal-tainted incumbent, Charles Taylor.

Posted by: seank | December 1, 2005 9:09 PM | Report abuse

jon corzine may appoint nia gill to the senate. that's a bold move and a smart one for the national party. the democrats can't take black voters for granted and this is a way to get real credibility with a large chunk if their base: not just black people but progressives who believe in broad and diverse representation.

that will bode well for the 06 strategy and further their case that they are different from the republicans.

Posted by: sam | December 1, 2005 5:51 PM | Report abuse

santorum, de wine, nelson will all lose. looking for santorum to get beat down pretty badly. cantwell hangs on. and since you mention chafee as well, i'll predict that he hangs on next election, too.

Posted by: jay lassiter | December 1, 2005 2:30 PM | Report abuse

This is off topic, but I posted these last night and am curious to hear your response Mr Cilliza (or anybody in the GOP):

1) Define Military Victory in Iraq.

2) What is the Military Mission in Iraq?

3) How do you explain the multi-tiered "Victory Strategy" that dates to 2003 when officials told America pre-war that the war would be extremely fast and painless?

plus a new one for you today:

4) Did they design the Victory Strategy AFTER they got bogged down in a guerrila war, or did they intentionally mislead us pre-war with their "quick-and-easy" rhetoric?

Thanks in advance for your answers.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | December 1, 2005 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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