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Vilsack a "no" for Senate, playing field crystallizes

Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack will not run for Senate in 2010. Photo by Katherine Frey of The Washington Post

Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack (D) told the Des Moines Register this morning that she would not pursue a challenge to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) in 2010, taking a big-name recruit off the table and likely ensuring that the Republican will win a sixth term next November.

In a statement released to the Register's Tom Beaumont, Vilsack said she was "flattered and humbled" that people had asked her to consider running but that she did not believe a candidacy represented the best way she could serve Iowa.

Vilsack, the wife of the former Iowa governor and current Secretary of Agriculture, would likely have given Grassley his toughest race in decades although it was not entirely clear that the incumbent was in real peril.

Democrats often cited the precipitous drop in Grassley's approval numbers in the Iowa poll but the GOP incumbent has proven resilient -- never winning re-election with less than 66 percent of the vote -- through all sorts of political weather.

With Iowa almost certainly off the board of competitive Senate races -- wealthy attorney Roxanne Conlin (D) is expected to run but has a long way to go to make Grassley sweat -- the playing field for 2010 is nearly set.

By the Fix's count, only four states remain up in the air as we approach the one-year-out marker until the midterms.

In North Dakota, Gov. John Hoeven (R) continues to mull the idea of challenging Sen. Byron Dorgan (D). Even those close to Hoeven say they have no idea when he will make a decision on the race; as a popular and well known governor he has a longer time frame than most candidates. Most GOP strategists are pessimistic that Hoeven will run but if he does this seat immediately becomes one of Republicans' best pickup chances.

In Delaware, Democrats expect state Attorney General Beau Biden to run for his father's old seat but Biden the younger has made no announcement yet and Rep. Mike Castle's (R) candidacy ensures that even if Beau does run, he will face a stiff test next November.

In New York, there is still some speculation that former Gov. George Pataki (R) is considering a challenge to appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). We can't find anyone in Washington -- Republican or Democrat -- who seems to think that will happen, however.

And, in North Carolina, Democrats continue to wait and see whether Rep. Bobby Etheridge will join the race against Sen. Richard Burr (R). Democratic strategists have grown more optimistic in recent weeks about that possibility though Etheridge has come close to running several times in the past before ultimately backing away.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 26, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Senate , Short Takes  
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Noone can beat Grassley, not even the Vilsacks. With Brandstad in the governor's race, Iowa will be a Republican state in 2010. I think Brandstad takes back the governor's race & Grassley keeps his senate seat.

Of those 4 other seats, no way all 4 potential challengers will run. I think Hoeven & Etheridge will not run. I think Pataki will run. Not sure about Biden now that Castle is in.

Posted by: reason5 | October 27, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Noone can beat Grassley, not even the Vilsacks. With Brandstad in the governor's race, Iowa will be a Republican state in 2010. I think Brandstad takes back the governor's race & Grassley keeps his senate seat.

Of those 4 other seats, no way all 4 potential challengers run. I do not think Etheridge will run against Burr here in North Carolina. He will bow out and Democrats will have a really tough time getting anyone to volunteer to be that sacrificial lamb. I think Etheridge keeps his House seat. I think in Delaware Beau Biden will shock and not run for the US Senate seat, giving Castle the easy win. Biden may stay at AG or run for Castle's US House seat. It will be interesting to see what he does. My hunch is that he will not run. In North Dakota, I am really not sure if Hoeven will run or not. Polls have shown him with wide leads against Dorgan. The thing is, I think Hoeven likes his job as North Dakota governor where he's popular and has more authority to do things with the state. I think Hoeven stays put in the governor's seat. In a year where it seems Republican governor's are running for US Senate seats, I think George Pataki will enter the race against Senator Gillbrand. It will immediately become a competitive race when he does.

Posted by: reason5 | October 27, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans are going to be surprised when they lose another four or five seats in the Senate in places that they considered safe this time. There just are not that many people left in this Country that consider themselves to be republican.And the people are katching on. You can't buy those seats anymore like you used to.

Posted by: Opa2 | October 27, 2009 3:02 AM | Report abuse

I don't think the Republicans will send in a serious contender to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand in 2010. They will do what they did with Hillary when they threw in Lazio.

Many underestimate Kirsten Gillibrand and think she's vulnerable --- she is not. She may be even more secure in the Senate than Hillary was because Kirsten is not taking anything for granted.

Posted by: Arshad_Sherif_MA_MEd | October 26, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

CNN is reporting that Barbara Lawton is out for the race for governor of Wisconsin. Too bad since she was definitly the front-runner in that state.

Posted by: AndyR3 | October 26, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Who wants to sign up for the Obama backlash? the lib express train out of town is not getting a lot of volunteers.

It seems a few of the jobs saved or created won't be Democrat congressmen or Senators.

Posted by: snowbama | October 26, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I don't see Grassley as being a real target even if Vilsack's wife did run.

I doubt Dorgan is in any real danger, although I will say that Hoeven does have a sweet moustache. I doubt that Ethridge will end up challenging Burr unless the national environment changes in the next four months.

Posted by: AndyR3 | October 26, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse


Grassley is such a known figure that Mrs. Vilsack is wise not to challenge him.

Posted by: sverigegrabb | October 26, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

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