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Friday Senate Line: Filling Out the Recruitment Dance Card

Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) haven't drawn serious opponents -- yet. Photos by the Associated Press and Getty Images

With just over a year left before the 2010 midterm elections, the Senate playing field is coming into far sharper focus.

In recent weeks, Democrats have landed their top recruit in Louisiana -- Rep. Charlie Melancon -- and Republicans have seen credible challengers emerge in Arkansas and Colorado.

By our count, only four states that one (or both) parties view as competitive have open recruiting processes: Delaware, Nevada, North Carolina and North Dakota.

In Delaware and North Dakota -- both Democratic-held seats -- Republican recruiting hopes rest on a single candidate; in Delaware that candidate is Rep. Mike Castle, in North Dakota it's Gov. John Hoeven. Castle looks to be somewhere close to a 50-50 shot to run while Hoeven's candidacy seems more unlikely. In each state, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has no backup plan -- if Castle or Hoeven don't run, these states won't be competitive next November.

Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's atrocious re-election numbers, national Republicans haven't been able to lure the big name candidates -- most notably Rep. Dean Heller -- into the race. A number of lesser lights are in the field but most national GOPers seem to be waiting on state party chair Sue Lowden to make up her mind about running.

North Carolina is the only major recruiting hole for Senate Democrats as they remain convinced that Sen. Richard Burr (R) is extremely vulnerable. That conviction isn't apparently shared by the many high profile Democrats who have taken a pass on the race. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall among others is running on the Democratic side but the jury is still out on Rep. Bobby Etheridge who would almost certainly be the party's strongest nominee against Burr.

How each side does in filling out their recruitment dance card in the final few months of the year will play a critical role in determining the size and shape of the 2010 playing field and which side is better positioned to take advantage of the prevailing national winds. You can't beat something with nothing, after all.

As always, the number one race on the Line is the most likely to switch parties in November 2010. And, as always, your thoughts on our rankings are welcome in the comments section below.

To the Line!

Coming Off the Line: Delaware, Pennsylvania
Coming Onto the Line: Arkansas, Nevada

10. Illinois (Democratic-controlled): State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias' path to the Democratic nomination got more complicated this week when EMILY's List endorsed Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson. Giannoulias is still the favorite but the fundraising help that EMILY's List can provide Jackson should help her to be competitive. Rep. Mark Kirk is the heavy favorite for the Republican nod although his tortured explanation of why he supported President Obama's cap and trade bill could be a warning sign about his quality as a candidate. (Previous ranking: 8)

9. Louisiana (Republican-controlled): Political campaigns tend to start late in Louisiana so the fact that Democrats were able to get Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) in the race before Labor Day 2009 should allow him an organizational and financial leg up over past Democratic candidates. Sen. David Vitter (R) has obvious problems centered on his acknowledgment (sort of) that he had been involved in the "D.C. Madam" prostitution ring. But, Vitter is not without strengths -- he is a voracious fundraiser and campaigner -- and, perhaps most importantly, he represents a state that President Barack Obama lost by 20 points in 2008. Will voters see the 2010 vote as a referendum on Obama? Or on Vitter's past conduct? (Previous ranking: 9)

8. Arkansas (D): It's a testament to Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D) political skills (or maybe to the ineptitude of the state GOP) that she has won her two terms with 55 percent and 56 percent of the vote despite the clear Republican lean of the Razorback State at the federal level. But, with the national environment looking less than rosy for Democrats, Republicans believe this is the cycle where they oust Lincoln. Polling conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal Daily Kos blog affirms Lincoln's vulnerability as more voters view her unfavorably than see her in a favorable light and she is only running in the mid 40s against a group of largely unknown Republican challengers. National Republicans believe state Sen. Gilbert Baker is the real deal but he'll have to get through a contentious primary first. (Previous ranking: N/A)

7. Kentucky (R): The retirement of Sen. Jim Bunning (R) vastly improves Republicans' chances of holding the seat next year. The GOP establishment has lined up behind Secretary of State Trey Grayson although Rand Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, will have the money he needs to run a real race thanks to the national fundraising organization his father built in 2008. The Democratic primary between Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and state Attorney General Jack Conway is shaping up as a classic of the genre. Conway's impressive fundraising gives him a slight advantage over Mongiardo. (Previous ranking: 2)

6. Colorado (D): Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet's (D) prospects for re-election grew cloudier over the past 10 days. First, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff announced he would challenge Bennet in next year's primary. Then, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton entered the race, giving Republicans (finally) a credible candidate in what should be one of their best pickup opportunities in the country. While Bennet will enjoy the support of national Democrats -- including the President -- in the Democratic primary, Romanoff is a known commodity among party activists and presents a real problem for the incumbent. A competitive primary -- assuming he wins it -- is not the worst thing in the world for Bennet, however. An untested and unknown candidate, the fight with Romanoff could force Bennet to hone his campaign skills in advance of what will be a competitive general election. (Previous ranking: 7)

5. Nevada (D): Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) is in more trouble in his re-election race than we initially believed. Independent polling in the state shows him trailing both Danny Tarkanian and state chair Sue Lowden despite the fact that neither are at all well known statewide. Reid is caught in a tough spot -- between pushing the progressive agenda put forward by President Barack Obama in Washington and campaigning as a moderate to conservative Democrat back in Nevada. Reid's biggest assets? His massive campaign warchest ($7.3 million on hand at the end of June) and his demonstrated ability to win political brawls (see his race against John Ensign in 1998 as evidence). If Republicans can prove that Lowden -- or anyone else -- is a "B" level candidate, this race will move up the Line given Reid's major vulnerabilities. (Previous ranking: N/A)

4. Ohio (R): The outcome of this contest, perhaps more than any other in the country in 2010, will be strongly affected by which way the national political winds are blowing. Ohio's economy is struggling badly and it doesn't seem likely to turn around before next November. Do voters blame former President George W. Bush for it or do they turn their ire toward Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and President Barack Obama? Former Rep. Rob Portman is among the strongest of Republican candidates in the country while the Democratic field -- led by Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher -- isn't particularly stellar. And yet, a new Quinnipiac poll showed Fisher leading Portman by double digits. Go figure. (Previous ranking: 6)

3. Missouri (R): Picking a winner between Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R) is very tough. Both are running competent, well funded campaigns in a state where voters have shown a willingness to elect Democrats and Republicans statewide. This contest may come down to which candidate is better able to localize their campaign; Democrats will try to cast Blunt as a tool of former President Bush while Republicans will try to hang some of President Obama's more liberal policy proposals around Carnahan. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Connecticut (D): As we wrote earlier this week, Sen. Chris Dodd (D) is in better shape politically than he was in the spring. But, he is still the most vulnerable incumbent of either party running for re-election as a result of the negative publicity he received for his controversial loan from Countrywide and his failed presidential bid in 2008. Former Rep. Rob Simmons remain the favorite to challenge Dodd but a crowded Republican race with two self-funders in the mix means the former Congressman must devote his full attention to the primary -- taking precious time away from making the case against Dodd. (Previous ranking: 1)

1. New Hampshire (R): The Republican field in the Granite State continues to grow more crowded with Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney and businessman Ovide Lamontagne expected to join former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte in the primary. National Democrats have done a very good job of casting Ayotte as a finger in the wind pol who is not ready for prime time; regular voters don't pay much attention to those sorts of things this far from an election but perception created in off years can turn into reality in an election year. As Republicans head toward what looks likely to be a confrontational, ideological primary, Rep. Paul Hodes has the Democratic nomination to himself. (Previous ranking: 3)

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 18, 2009; 12:33 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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I should say North Carolina is likelier to change parties than deep-blue Illinois going red.

One thing that seems certain is that the GOP will mobilise its (far-)right base. That bodes well in the "Southern Highlands", i.e. KY, AR etc. Of course, the very same rhetoric that mobilises that regional base, plays pretty badly in CT, IL and NH. So I don't see those being GOP pick-ups. Sure, Dodd's hurtin', but in the end I think Democrats will go with the Democrat.

Bottom line: I expect a regionally polarised electorate in 2010.

Posted by: charlesf1 | September 21, 2009 8:19 PM | Report abuse

Dear JakeD: Law, whether federal or state, shouldn't come from the Bible. To have a valid argument, perhaps you should consult the Constitution.
Gov 101

"Where in the Bible does it say that the FEDERAL government should provide healthcare?
Posted by: JakeD"

Posted by: megschmitt | September 21, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Learn your history, cannula. Reagan was blaming Carter for problems in the mid-80s.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | September 19, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

cannula cherry picks data almost as well as the Fix. Obama has made every effort available to him to bring our economy back -- and it's working. Stock Market is closing on on 10,000 -- would anyone have figured that 6 months ago?

I hate that unemployment has gone over 10% -- I have several friends, hard working people from 40 to 62, who have been laid-off in the past year, including my husband (he's showing that you can fall UP as well as fall down). The great news is that new lay-offs have slowed, even if we aren't getting people back to work fast enough. I think this is a reflection of the collapsed purchasing power of the average American. That collapse was the result of 8 years of Bush propping-up industry, finance and business at the expense of the worker and the consumer. Sigh, they killed their golden goose.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | September 19, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

thecannula is one of those people who can't read a graph. Here are the official unemployment statistics:

If you look at it, it's a striking picture. You see unemployment start to go up in 2007, start rocketing up in 2008, and level off four months into Obama's term. It's a pretty clear picture to someone who isn't statistically illiterate.

Posted by: nodebris | September 19, 2009 1:58 AM | Report abuse

Yesterday's NY Times-
Unemployment Hits 10.3% in New York City
Continuing layoffs on Wall Street drove the city’s jobless rate to a 16-year high in August.

Yep after 9 months of fledgling governance- it's hard to blame the RISING unemployment (9.7% national 9/1/09) on the prior administration....c'est vrai?
The pendulum is going to swing a lot faster than anyone imagined. There's a time for oratory and a time for sleeve rolling. I guess two years of senate experience with no executive experience is costing people their jobs. Well, for a job, even enlightened change lovers will vote for a Republican.

Hey WHERE are all those "Good Paying Jobs" making SOLAR PANELS that Candidate Obama promised? Just another pander uttered in an effort to seem different? Not really CHANGE we can believe in? Oh, I see.....

Posted by: thecannula | September 18, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

A top adviser to Barack Obama says the present ident will not meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations next week.

Instead they will meet down the street to have a beer and discuss their anti-Israel plans and laugh about all the protesters.

Posted by: snowbama | September 18, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

WASHINGTON - Forty-two states lost jobs last month, up from 29 in July, with the biggest net payroll cuts coming in Texas, Michigan, Georgia and Ohio. The Labor Department also reported Friday that 27 states saw their unemployment rates increase in August, and 14 states and Washington D.C., reported unemployment rates of 10 percent or above.

More anger coming. Call it the Obama effect.

Posted by: snowbama | September 18, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Some of the angry kooks didn't get an invite.

Posted by: snowbama | September 18, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

The "wisdom" of Jake leaves everyone silent for an hour.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | September 18, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse


I doubt we are lucky enough to have them actually go through with their "boycott". Maybe there's a DailyKOS Convention today?

Posted by: JakeD | September 18, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Where in the Bible does it say that the FEDERAL government should provide healthcare?

Posted by: JakeD | September 18, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse







Posted by: DOUGLASFIELD2 | September 18, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, of course Senator Gordon Smith

Posted by: shrink2 | September 18, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I am annoyed the Republican Rising! has bypassed Oregon.

The front runner from the Republicans for the Governor's race looks to be this guy, who last year shot himself in the knee fixing his friends bike, failing to realize that his friend had left a chambered bullet in the hand gun [a derringer, no Safety I guess], the one he carried in the tool bag behind his seat.

Meanwhile, our former (R) Governor, Gordon Smith, we find out today has left politics to become the CEO of the American Association of Broadcasters.

Posted by: shrink2 | September 18, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The auto industry bailout affected so many lives in OH that it should not surprise CC that the D is polling well.
There is no "go figure" involved.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | September 18, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Edit: I was thinking of that as the half of the line for Republican pick-ups, should have listed that as the DemocratIC half of the line.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | September 18, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Farlington Blade writes
"I think the balanced nature of this line-up is a consequence of a favorable electoral cycle for Democrats (Republicans did well in 2004 and have more to defend) and an unfavorable economic climate."

Yup. Where the Dems will really have to start playing defense for Senate seats is in 2012, when they'll try to retain all the freshmen from 2006.

Posted by: bsimon1 | September 18, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Wow, without drindl and chris fox, this blog is actually worth reading.

quelle surprise!

Posted by: snowbama | September 18, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

I think the balanced nature of this line-up is a consequence of a favorable electoral cycle for Democrats (Republicans did well in 2004 and have more to defend) and an unfavorable economic climate.

Of 9 open Senate seats, only 3 are held by Democrats and all of these are in very blue states (Illinois, Delaware, Massachusetts). The Democrats are going to pick up at least one of Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida and Missouri. So, the Republicans are going to have to knock off incumbents and that's not easy.

Schumer, Inouye, Mikulski, Leahy, Murray, and Feingold are locks for re-election. New York (Gillibrand), Oregon (Wyden) and California (Boxer) are deep blue territory. Bayh (74% approval rating) and Dorgan (68% at last re-election) looks to be solid, even if in a reddish states.

And now you're left with the Republican half of the line with the addition of Specter and deletion of Illinois.

Blanche Lincoln (AK)
Michael Bennet (CO)
Christopher Dodd (CT)
Harry Reid (NV)
Arlen Specter (PA)

As I DO live near Buzz Bakery, I'll be chatting later.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | September 18, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

"Louisiana-Vitter benefits from anti-Obama feelings. Louisiana voters hold democrats more responsible for Katrina then the rest of the country-a weird dichotomy but true."

Not really. In New Orleans, it's Bush that let the city drown. The rest of the state is just red. Their political views aren't really affected much by Katrina.

Posted by: DDAWD | September 18, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Lets say the top five switch (and give me a break Reid will win easily). The democrats would still pick up a seat in that scenario. The GOP just has too many retirements this cycle to really make any headway into the 60 seat super majority that the democrats have.

Also I still think that in a stunner Dodd survives, and I would move Colorado up the list some and move Nevada down.

Posted by: AndyR3 | September 18, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

1 Ohio (putting up a Bush guy in a state where they blame Bush still isn't smart-plus populist-independants haven't left Obama the way libertarian-independants in the west have)

2 Nevada (Never very popular, and his antics are catching up)

3 Connecticut (Nationwide scandal plus putting your kids in Iowa schools during the primaries isn't a good combination

4 Arkansas (Not a good state to be a democrat on federal level)

5 Colorado (libertarian-minded independants in the west that supported Obama are not happy with him now)

6 Missouri (if Carnahan comes out for ObamaCare this will drop off the top 10)

7 Pennsylvania (Specter did it to himself, senior revolt against ObamaCare doesn't help either)

8 Delaware (only if Castle runs)

9 Kentucky (only if Paul wins the primary)

10 Illinois (Blago's legacy)

Next up:

Texas-special elections are dicey (look at LA-Jefferson, Tedisco-NY)

California-(if Boxer has a couple more incidents like the Black Chamber of Commerce or the Military commander who called her ma'am)

Florida-(Rubio would still be favored if he won, but a divisive primary doesn't benefit anyone but the democratic party)

North Carolina-(Burr needs exposure, but a deeply unpopular dem governor and Obama isn't doing much better here helps)

Louisiana-Vitter benefits from anti-Obama feelings. Louisiana voters hold democrats more responsible for Katrina then the rest of the country-a weird dichotomy but true.

New York-if Pataki or Rudy run, you can move it into the top 5, but otherwise no

New Hampshire-Libertarian minded independants are rebelling against Obama, and New Hampshire is home to plenty of those voters. GOP lands the perfect recruit for state too. If the GOP nominates anyone else, move this into the top 5

North Dakota-if Hoeven runs, this is top 5, if not then it's a safe seat.

Posted by: TexasProud1 | September 18, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

bondosan writes
"We are a LONG way from November 2010, but if all 10 spots on the line flip, then it's a push."

What is interesting is the distribution of the races. Given the prediction that the #1 race is most likely to flip, the order of the rankings currently favors the dems. i.e. if they only flip in sequence, the dems will come out ahead or even, whether only 1 flips, or all 10 flip. or, to summarize:

1) d+1
2) push
3) d+1
4) d+2
5) d+1
6) push
7) d+1
8) push
9) d+1
10) push

Obviously, its not that simple. But it is interesting, particularly given all this nonsense about a 'republican resurgence'.

Posted by: bsimon1 | September 18, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse


You are missing that the past few Senate "Lines" have consisted of 5 GOP and 5 Dem "flips" -- there's statistically no way all 10 contests flip -- I'm sure that our gracious host is doing it that way in the interest of being "fair and balanced" (even though that doesn't stop drindl and broadwayjoe from falsely claiming he is partisan ; )

Posted by: JakeD | September 18, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

We are a LONG way from November 2010, but if all 10 spots on the line flip, then it's a push.

Not bad.

Posted by: Bondosan | September 18, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Glad to see Melancon jumping in the race. I think it's a bit of a longshot. People don't really seem to care that Vitter spends his time in DC f*cking wh0res just as long as he spouts his family values nonsense.

But Melancon will be a blue dog if he wins. Still, it will be an improvement. Vitter is perhaps the most anti-Democratic Senator there is right now.

I hope Melancon HAMMERS him on FEMA.

Posted by: DDAWD | September 18, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Good point.

Posted by: JakeD | September 18, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

As somebody from NH, The feel in NH that it depends on who is pick in the GOP primary will be the difference. If it is Ayotte, she will stand a good chance, and it is 50-50, but if its Ovide, Hodes as a much better shot. Hodes voted twice against TARP, so that helps him a lot.

Posted by: jtackeff | September 18, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

As somebody from NH, The feel in NH that it depends on who is pick in the GOP primary will be the difference. If it is Ayotte, she will stand a good chance, and it is 50-50, but if its Ovide, Hodes as a much better shot. Hodes voted twice against TARP, so that helps him a lot.

Posted by: jtackeff | September 18, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I think we've made the decision about moving to New London, CT. That way, we can both personally vote against Sen. Dodd.

Posted by: JakeD | September 18, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for the Line. I wonder why PA took such a precipitous dive in the rankings, though I thought #5 was way too high in the first place. Was it PA related or just that other races got tighter?

Don't forget to update the widget!

Posted by: mnteng | September 18, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that it's not just Dodd's controversial loan from Countrywide and his failed presidential bid in 2008 -- although that is a handy shorthand reference -- Dodd was involved in every mess with the financial sector, not the least of which was LYING about the AIG bonuses:

Posted by: JakeD | September 18, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I agree with including Sen. Reid and admit that Sen. Dodd should fall to # 2, but I still hope they are are both thrown out of office. I believe that New Hampshire's seat stays GOP.

Posted by: JakeD | September 18, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

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