Friday Senate Line: Filling Out the Recruitment Dance Card
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)
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