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The Line: Senate Map Is Messy for GOP

Most of the recent action in the budding 2008 Senate campaigns came in races that didn't make our last rankings.

In Texas, wealthy attorney Mikal Watts (D) not only formed a campaign committee but also dropped nearly $4 million of his own money into it.

In Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens (R) confirmed to washingtonpost.com's Paul Kane that he had been asked by the FBI to preserve documents in relation to a probe in the Last Frontier state that involves a number of elected officials, including the senator's son. The burgeoning investigation has stoked talk that Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) -- the son of former Congressman Nick Begich -- might consider a challenge to Stevens.

And in Nebraska, state Attorney General Jon Bruning made it official: He is taking on Sen. Chuck Hagel in next year's Republican primary.

Only one of these three races makes our Line this month (scroll down to see which one), but the fact that Texas, Alaska and Nebraska are even mentioned here reveals the impact that the national environment is having on the Senate landscape. Democrats are on offense nearly everywhere, trying to put as many states as they can into play next November, while Republicans are largely focused on protecting their incumbents.

Make no mistake: We are still skeptical about Democrats' chances in deep "red" states, but the more seats that are in play, the better chance that one of these races gets very competitive over the next year.

Remember: The No. 1 ranked race below is the one most likely to change party hands next fall. To the Line!

10. New Mexico (Currently R): After a huge hubbub over his involvement in the firing of former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, things have calmed down somewhat for Sen. Pete Domenici (R). But the "no confidence" measure on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that came before the the Senate earlier this week produced a story in the Albuquerque Tribune about whether Domenici should have recused himself from the vote. Not good. Still, Domenici has a lot of good will in the state, so it's hard to imagine that if he runs for reelection that any serious Democrat will emerge to challenge him. In an open-seat scenario, however, all bets are off. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. South Dakota (Currently D): The two parties are playing a game of chicken here. Democrats spend most of their time talking about how well Sen. Tim Johnson's (D) rehabilitation from emergency brain surgery is going and how invigorated he is about running for a third term. Republicans insist that a number of quality candidates -- including Gov. Mike Rounds -- are actively interested in a challenge to Johnson. The reality is somewhere in between. We believe Johnson has yet to make any definitive decision about his reelection prospects and won't do so until the fall. If he runs again, he's tough to beat. In an open seat, Republicans would start with an edge, especially in a presidential year where the state is expected to go for the GOP nominee by huge margins. (Previous ranking: 8)

8. Nebraska (R): No one we talk to thinks Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) is going to run for reelection to the Senate. Say what you will about AG Jon Bruning (too ambitious, too soon), he is a hard-charger and poses serious problems for Hagel given the incumbent's opposition to the war in Iraq -- a position not widely held among Republican base voters. If Hagel doesn't run for reelection, Democrats feel confident that Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey (D) would jump in and run a campaign in the mold of successful Nebraska Democrats like Ben Nelson, Bob Kerrey and Jim Exon. We're intrigued by a Bruning-Fahey general-election match-up, but Nebraska is still one of the rubiest red states in America, so we can't justify the race being any higher on the Line. (Previous ranking: N/A)

7. Virginia (R): We won't know what to make of this race until September when Sen. John Warner (R) will decide whether or not to run for another term. If he runs, this race never appears on the Line again, as Democrats' strongest potential challenger -- former Gov. Mark Warner -- is not likely to take a second shot at the incumbent. An open-seat race is an entirely different story, as Warner (Mark, that is) is almost certainly the Democratic candidate. The Republican side is less clear, but Rep. Tom Davis (R) is doing everything he can to keep a more conservative challenger out of a potential primary. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Oregon (R): The debate between strategists of each party about this race is fascinating to be a part of. Republicans argue that this race should be ranked lower on the Line (or not even make the Line at all) after Reps. Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumeanauer as well as state Treasurer Randall Edwards pulled out of the contest. Democrats think that Sen. Gordon Smith (R) is in real trouble and express little outward concern for their current lack of a candidate. The last Democratic name to emerge is New Seasons supermarket founder Eileen Brady. We don't know which side to believe, so for now we are leaving this race in the same slot on The Line. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Minnesota (R): Sen. Norm Coleman's (R) path to reelection may get more rocky if retired Lt. Col. Joe Repya decides to run against him in next year's Republican primary. Coleman would obviously be favored, but anything that diverts attention and resources away from the general election is troublesome for the incumbent. Of course, there is also a line of thinking that a challenge from his ideological right could help Coleman appeal to the moderate and independent voters he'll need to win a second term. While comedian Al Franken and attorney Mike Ciresi are both running credible campaigns for the Democratic nomination, a recent independent poll pointed out the challenge before them: Coleman bested Franken by 22 points and had a 23-point lead over Ciresi. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Maine (R): Is Sen. Susan Collins (R) this cycle's Lincoln Chafee? She has been one of the most moderate voices in the Senate over the past decade, but that record might be trumped by the "R" after her name. We just don't know yet. Rep. Tom Allen (D) is running a serious and aggressive campaign and appears to have the Democratic field to himself. Collins is doing the same and, unlike Chafee, has proven herself to be a savvy pol over her years in public office. This is shaping up to be a terrific race. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Louisiana (D): It's hard to overstate Republicans' confidence in their chances of defeating Sen. Mary Landrieu next November. They believe that Hurricane Katrina displaced a large number of Democratic voters, making it nearly impossible for Landrieu to win. And they point to the likely win by Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) in November's gubernatorial race as a momentum builder for the party heading into 2008. State Treasurer John Kennedy (D) appears to be the likely Republican choice -- having met recently with White House senior adviser Karl Rove. Can a party switcher be top-tier candidate? In most states, no. But in Louisiana party switching is nearly an everyday occurrence (Democrats' likely candidate for governor was until recently a Republican) and therefore carries less political peril. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. New Hampshire (R): When we were up in New Hampshire to cover the back-to-back presidential debates last week, we got a chance to sit down with former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) -- the preferred Democratic candidate against Sen. John Sununu. "I'm still thinking about it," she said, but the conversation, which ranged from talk of the presidential race to the changing demographics of the Granite State, showed that Shaheen is still very much engaged in the political process. That doesn't mean she will run, but it does mean that a potential candidacy is much more than a pipedream for national Democrats. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Colorado (R): The race between former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) and Rep. Mark Udall (D) for the seat being vacated by Sen. Wayne Allard (R) is likely to be won by the candidate best able to define his opponent as being out of the state's mainstream. Democrats believe Schaffer's voting record during his time in Congress reflects a too-conservative world view; Republicans argue the counter -- that Udall has defined himself well to the ideological left of the average Colorado voter. This is another race we are intrigued to see play out over the next year. (Previous ranking: 1)

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 15, 2007; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Senate , The Line  
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