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The Friday Line: Momentum for Senate Democrats

The election year is finally here, and the first Friday Line of 2006 looks at key Senate races.  Democrats continue to be well-positioned to pick up seats in November (though not necessarily to regain the majority, which would require a net pick-up of six seats). GOP incumbents in three races -- Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Ohio -- are facing very strong challenges. Polls also look good for Democrats against Republican incumbents in Missouri and Montana, but neither race is a sure thing.

Republicans hold an open-seat edge since just one of their incumbents is retiring compared to three Democrats. The race in Minnesota represents Republicans' best pickup opportunity, although the Democratic tilt of the state makes it a tough fight for the GOP -- especially in a political climate that favors the Democrats.  That same argument can be applied to the Maryland race where Republicans are very high on Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's candidacy but the blueness of the state complicates their winning formula.

Keep an eye on Tennessee's open-seat race where Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) has impressed and Nebraska where former Ameritrade executive Pete Ricketts (R) looks like the real deal against Sen. Ben Nelson (D). New Jersey falls off the line for now, but it's by no means an easy race for the state's newly appointed senator, Bob Menendez (D)

Remember: The no. 1 ranked race is the most likely to change parties. Questions and quibbles are always welcome in the comments section below.

10. Tennessee -- OPEN (Republican Bill Frist is retiring): As noted yesterday in The Fix, Harold Ford Jr. is running a very sound campaign.  His $1 million raised in the final three months of 2005 is an impressive take, and Ford's boast that he will raise and spend $12 million on the race no longer seems all that far-fetched. Republicans seem headed for a nasty three-way primary between two conservative candidates (former Reps. Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary) and a moderate/establishment candidate (former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker). Much depends on the political environment when calculating Ford's chances here. In a neutral environment, he likely loses. But if the atmospherics clearly favor Democrats in November, Ford has put himself in position to steal a seat. (Previous ranking: N/A)

9. Nebraska - Democrat Ben Nelson: Pete Ricketts is winning converts among the Republican establishment with his TV ads -- produced by Doug McAuliffe, who also did the ads for then businessman Chuck Hagel's (R) upset defeat of Nelson in the 1996 Senate race. Ricketts has financed the spots with $935,000 in personal donations to the campaign, and he appears willing to put considerably more of his personal wealth into the contest as the primary and general election near. Nelson is a hard target for Republicans, however. He rarely gives them an opening to attack him and has a battle-tested campaign team. Ricketts must get through a primary against two other Republicans (including 2000 nominee Don Stenberg) for Republicans to have a chance here, but the likelihood of that scenario continues to grow. (Previous ranking: 10)

8. Washington - Democrat Maria Cantwell: Cantwell had a strong December, emerging as the leading opponent of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and winning a face-off on the issue with Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens. Mike McGavick, the former chairman of Safeco insurance and the likely Republican nominee, continues to maintain a low profile -- focusing on building a statewide organization and raising campaign cash. In a neutral year environmentally, Cantwell could be in major trouble. But given the likely Democrat tilt of the playing field and the Democratic nature of Washington State, she is an early favorite. (Previous ranking: 8)

6. (tie) Maryland - OPEN (Democrat Paul Sarbanes is retiring): It remains to be seen whether former Rep. Kweisi Mfume can be competitive with Rep. Ben Cardin in the September Democratic primary given the latter's massive fundraising edge. Republicans acknowledge a general election pitting Cardin against Steele is a more difficult fight than an Mfume-Steele matchup, but they are convinced their candidate is a national star in the making. Democrats are confident that either Mfume or Cardin can beat Steele, who they see as a decidedly overrated candidate in this strongly Democratic state.  (Previous ranking: 6)

6. (tie) Missouri -- Republican Jim Talent: Democrats are quick to point to a Rasmussen Research poll out this week that shows state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) with a 46 percent to 43 percent lead. The Fix remains skeptical of Rasmussen's automated-dialing methodology (as opposed to employing human callers), but what the survey shows is that the race is probably closer than Republicans are prepared to concede. Talent has committed no fireable offenses since beating Sen. Jean Carnahan (D) in 2002, and given his campaign skills he doesn't seem likely to make a major gaffe. McCaskill needs a Democratic wind at her back to knock off Talent in this increasingly red state. (Previous ranking: 7)

5. Minnesota -- OPEN (Democrat Mark Dayton is retiring): Of all the races in the top 10, none has been quieter than Minnesota over the past month. Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) is running a solid (if unspectacular) campaign, and Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar (D) still seems to be the likely Democratic nominee. Wealthy attorney Mike Ciresi (D) continues to mull a candidacy and could cloud the Democratic picture if he decides to run. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Montana -- Republican Conrad Burns: The plea deal struck by lobbyist Jack Abramoff earlier this week is bad news for Burns since it means the disgraced influence peddler and his connections to members of Congress will be a major story both nationally and locally for weeks and months to come. Democrats have already run two television ads linking Burns to Abramoff, and there will be many more between now and Election Day.  A Mason-Dixon poll released on Christmas Day showed that Burns's leads over two potential Democratic nominees -- state Auditor John Morrison and state Sen. Jon Tester -- had slipped. Burns is in for a battle but has shown an ability to win tight races -- his 2000 victory over now Gov. Brian Schweitzer being the best example. (Previous ranking: 5)

3. Ohio -- Republican Mike DeWine: In the last incarnation of the Friday Senate line, we contemplated leapfrogging Ohio into the no. 2 slot over Rhode Island. After another month of reflection, we believe this race is in the right spot.  DeWine's sole vulnerability appears to be the dismal state of the Ohio Republican Party, a situation likely to get worse before it gets better considering Rep. Bob Ney's (R) problems in connection with the Abramoff investigation. Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett and Rep. Sherrod Brown seem headed for a knock-down, drag-out primary brawl; Hackett's recent endorsement by the Ohio United Auto Workers shows that he is a candidate who needs to be taken seriously. DeWine faces his toughest reelection bid but should not be counted out yet. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Rhode Island -- Republican Lincoln Chafee: The fundraising reports covering the last three months of 2005 -- due out later this month -- should provide an interesting barometer on how focused Chafee really is on his reelection race. If he makes a significant improvement on his dismal ($287,000) fundraising total from July 1 to Sept. 30, it is a sign that Chafee is engaged in the contest. If he continues to flag on the fundraising front, it could be a dire sign for his chances against Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey in the GOP primary.  (Chafee, of course, has considerable personal wealth and could simply cut himself a check at any point, though he has not done so in previous campaigns.) For Democrats, Secretary of State Matt Brown is running the more aggressive campaign, but former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse remains the frontrunner for now. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Pennsylvania -- Republican Rick Santorum: Santorum remains in grave danger of losing his reelection race. But now that the calendar reads 2006, The Fix wonders whether state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) will finally make the rounds in Washington, D.C., and begin to make clear where he stands on the issues of the day. Casey's "rose garden" strategy was effective in 2005 (as evidenced by his double-digit poll lead), but he must now take his case to the voters -- and the press -- if he hopes to beat the resilient Santorum. Some inside-the-Beltway political pros are already laying money down on a Santorum upset. (Previous ranking: 1)

Read the last Friday Line on Senate races here.

-- Chris Cillizza

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 6, 2006; 9:08 AM ET
Categories:  Senate , The Line  
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Comments

To Sujay:

Gore made his own bed in Tennessee during his campaign. He did not focus on his own back yard in order to capture the state, and many fellow Democrats in the state felt as if they had been forgotten. Unfortunately that was his demise. However, I would not compare the two in the same grouping. Harold Ford, Jr. is not like any other member of his family and continues to strengthen the base in Tennessee. Harold Ford, Jr. tends to make his own way and will do so with his own merit, seems to be working for him with an excess of $3 Million in his war chest for campaigning across the state, and is becoming increasingly popular among both White and Black's respectively, something is own father struggled with. With Memphis and Nashville being a very democratic stronghold I honestly believe that he stands a very good chance in becoming the first African-American Senator since reconstruction.

Posted by: Mark M. | January 9, 2006 10:27 AM | Report abuse

To vivabush04oh: I'm liberal Dem., but I think your analysis just about hit the nail on the head, esp. the part about the declining union vote. I do, however, think that DeWine's decline is explained more by the overall decline in the Senate's popularity. Disappointment among Ohio's GOP base cannot fully account for his lower numbers. He still probably wins b/c he's already won twice statewide (not including prior lt. gov. stint) and has $$ and name recognition. Hackett/Brown likely won't win, for the reason you explained. And DeWine, w/several reasonable moderate stands, won't really energize the Dems.; they (we) will, one hopes, channel energies into more winnable races, like gov., AG, treasurer.

Your comments about Delaware and Lorain Counties are not remarkable; it should come as no surprise that bourgeois exurbanites who live in just-built tract McMansions vote GOP in large numbers. Further, the significance of their "growth" rate is exaggerated b/c they're small counties to begin with.

Taft's misdemeanor was a FIRST degree misdemeanor. The ranges include first, second, third, fourth, and minor misdemenaors (traffic offenses). Taft's charges are very serious for any chief executive.

Finally, I see in the paper this morning that a special prosecutor is looking into four more Noe conduits, including a former state rep (Perz) and former Industrial Commission hack appointee Donna Owens. Stay tuned ...

Posted by: sjuay | January 7, 2006 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Let me say that 2006 will not be a picnic for Ohio Republicans. By no means do I minimize any of the so-called "scandals." Noe is the one who has been indicted, not any office holder. Taft is "dead" and thankfully won't be on the ticket. Blackwell, Petro and Montgomery are all proven vote-getters and are raising the necessary $$.

Ohio GOP has its work cut out for us but we know what is needed and where to get the votes and the Dims know this as well. No way can we take them lightly as we are already gearing up.

Yes Hackett would be a formidable opponent for Dewine and can run as an outsider. Trouble is, I don't see him beating Brown in the primary. In the primary the most liberal Dims turnout and this favors the most liberal of the two, Brown.

Dewine's numbers are down because he has hacked off the conservative base. When I suggest to my fellow GOPs that if they wish to carry their dissatisfaction with Dewine further, then they can have Brown as their next Senator, the response is a grudging acknowlegement that they will vote Dewine. I know more than a few GOPs who will be energized to work for Dewine and the ticket if Sherrod Brown is Dim senate candidate.

National election results are only a snapshot of national issues and candidates in a given year. More telling is the numbers of elected office holders and in Ohio, the fact is that Republicans control everything and that covers a long period of time. The state senate favors GOPs 22-11 while the house is GOP 61-39. All these are reflective of many things such as candidates, money, party, issues and demographics. Over the past 20 years the base of the Democrat party has lost its members, the blue collar worker and union member. Population has declined significantly but more in the urban areas than anywhere else. The double whammy for Dims is that even with concerted efforts for registration and GOTV like in 2004, they still could not get enough Dims, union members, blacks to pull out a Kerry win. Look at the urban vote and you will see that 60% turnout was the best they could muster.

Conversely, the areas of growth are the exurbs and the demographics here favor the GOP. Delaware County N of Columbus is one of the top growing 100 counties in the USA and of these top 100, 97 went for Bush. Bush carried Delaware with a GOP turnout in the high 70's. Avon in Lorain County west of Cleveland had a 79% turnout for Bush.

Watch the close polls from afar but I will keep you posted on the real scene from RED STATE OHIO.

Posted by: VIVABUSH04OH | January 7, 2006 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I totally disagree with VivalaBush. Ohio is no red state, well it once was a solid one, then after Clinton took it two times in a row, and Kerry's good showing as a liberal, plus Taft 17% approval rating (That 17% is not a typo), Rob Ney scandals, plus the economy already in shambles sets up a turning of the tide to the Democrats for years to come. Ted Strickland is leading in polls by 8% amongst all Republican challengers, Paul Hackett being a moderate, an Iraq veteran with a backbone will be able to take on DeWine. Dewine could beat Brown but not Hackett. Brown is too liberal for Ohio voters, which are very moderate as a whole. Hackett is fairing very well against DeWine in polls, and DeWine has a far far greater name recognition to Ohio voters. Once, Hackett starts campaigning as an outsider one not corrupt by Republican scandals, is not a career politician, and is a Independent Democrat voters will love him. Thank God, Ohio is turning blue, with all those Republican drunk on power in Ohio, like Taft, the education system in shambles in Ohio, and the jobs being outsourced Ohio needs some Dems to clean things up. Once we get Strickland in for 8 years, Paul Hackett as Senator, and maybe have Sherrod Brown run for another state wide office and the voters will see good results instead of the failures of the Repubs Ohio will see a Democrat reign like the Repubs did before they screwed everything up.

Posted by: SwingState04 | January 7, 2006 1:41 AM | Report abuse

To vivabush04: Your analysis about the Ohio Dems., I'm sorry to say, is pretty much dead-on. But you blindly ignore/minimize the GOP's woes. They're not in a "so-called scandal"; the Noe thing has shorted the state out of millions of dollars and, worse, has shown that to get appointed to anything in this state you first must give big $ to GOP candidates. As a result, people like Noe (w/no college education) is appointed to the Board of Regents and the BGSU Bd. of Trustees. Yeah, he's done, in the words of your president, "a heck of a job." This scandal has affected all of the statewide GOP officeholders (they all took Noe money, attneded his parties, and dined with him at the Noe Supper Club) and, more broadly, the Ohio GOP has acquired a reputation of corruption. Don't minimize Taft: though a misdemeanor, he's the first Ohio gov. w/a criminal conviction, and his poll ratings are the worst of all governors. This stuff, to "coin" a popular GOP term, "trickles down" to lower-level GOP officeholders and candidates in the eyes of voters.

That said, the Ohio Dems., as you correctly point out, are in little position to take advantage of these wide-open opportunities, esp. in Ney's district.

Posted by: sujay | January 6, 2006 11:53 PM | Report abuse

To Mark M.: Thinking that a Black Democrat could win a solid red state in Tenn. just b/c Barack Obama won in solid blue Illinois is misguided. I wish you were right, but Gore couldn't even win Tenn. in 2000 despite his political pedigree there. And don't balme Ohio for failing to deliver in '04; had Gore won HIS OWN STATE in 2000, there'd be no such thing as Geo. W. Bush today.

Posted by: sujay | January 6, 2006 11:12 PM | Report abuse

To Dole4Pineapple: Ohio's not a red state? 16 years of GOP governors, all non-judicial statewide offices held by Republicans, House and Senate have lopsided GOP majorities, 6-1 GOP majority on the state Supreme Court ... and all you can point to is that Kerry "only" lost by a few points to a complete boob? Ohio lost more jobs than any other state b/t 00 and 04, yet it still went for Bush (!). Any other state that lost anywhere near as many jobs would have voted hands-down for Kerry. Look at Michigan (which lost the 2nd-highest number of jobs in the same period). I wish it weren't so, but Ohio (look at those neanderthals that central and southern Ohioans routinely send to the state house and to congress) IS an increasingly Republican state, and, apart from a few standouts, the Ohio Dems. are still in nearly complete disarray.

Posted by: Sujay | January 6, 2006 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Santorum is toast. Democrats have kicked themselves for letting him slide by to reelection in 2000. They won't make the same mistake again. Santorum's views & votes are more in line with a deep red state like Idaho or Kansas not a purple state like PA. The PA senate race will get closer but Casey should win by 3-6 points in the end.

Posted by: Andrew | January 6, 2006 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Joe August, you seem to be very hypocritical in your comments at best, and foolish in your thoughts as well. Doesn't the Rethuglican party say that it is the party with a big tent. Doesn't it endorse the likes of Gulliani, who is pro-choice as the frontrunner for the next presidential election and Arlen Specter, another pro-choice heavyweight in the Senate? I didn't see Bush bite his fingernails in nervousness as he campaigned for Specter in his Senate bid some time ago. I don't see your other leaders bitting their nails because Gulliani is mentioned as a potential presidential nominee. Why are you taking issue with Schumer who clearly isn't concerned about a pro-lifer in his party? Casey may be a pro-lifer, but he has other Democratic ideals that make him more Democratic than most. As far as I see it, it's good to have varying shades of people in your party so that critical thinking brings sense to the many issues that confront the party. Sorry...I forgot...you wouldn't know about that. The Rethuglican party claims to have a big tent, but it really has one-note politicians and followers who say and do the party's bidding...sorry I meant the party's talking points.

Posted by: Marve | January 6, 2006 6:17 PM | Report abuse

as to PA--this is an interesting race and also shows why the democrats-including Schumer are very hypocritical when it comes to winning an election-- you have Schumer as the leader against the Alito nomination,basically about the abortion issue and you have him endorsing Casey ,a pro life Democrat in a pro life state. That is why you have to be careful to count out Santorum -many on the democratic side will see through this charade employed by Schumer -- I wonder if Schumer bites his lip everya time he endorses a prol life democrat.And will the "feminazis" pro death democrats enthusiastically endorse Casey--I think not--they at least have the courage to stand up for their convictions...

Posted by: Joe August | January 6, 2006 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I have worked campaigns all over TN and I wish the state was open minded and racially tolorate, but it aint! Ford is going to have a hard enough time keeping rural and suburban Democrats on his side because of his race and image of an urbanite let along independants and republicans.

Posted by: Brent Parrish | January 6, 2006 5:51 PM | Report abuse

To Sujay-

Your comment about Tennessee and Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. is unfounded, as you indicated you know nothing about Tennessee, then my suggestion, as a former Tennessean is to stick to politics in Ohio. I find this amusing considering Ohio had to deliver the Presidency to GW in 2004 to become the next Florida. Oh, and by the way do not discount a Democrat, much less, and African-American to not only run for Senate, but, undoubtedly win the seat just as Senator Barrack Obama from Illinois. Harold Ford, Jr.'s political lineage is one that you are not aware of, which, by the way is quite a politcal dynasty in Tennessee.

Posted by: Mark M. | January 6, 2006 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Vivabush04oh:

Your Bravado does not impress me. Ohio is no Red state.

Competitive Senate primaries are not necessary bad as long as they are not bloody. Also the Ohio primary is 6 months before the general election - a long time in the world of politics.

Unlike the GOP side, I don't think the Democrats will have a truly competitive primary for Governor... Strickland should win in a walk.

You are correct to say just because Republican have ruled the governorship for the last 16 years does not mean Republican candidates will lose next year. However low approval ratings for Bush & especially Taft along with Ney's linking to Abramoff plus voters' natural willingness to see change makes a great recipe for the Democrats to pick up the Governorship & the Senate seat.

Posted by: Andrew | January 6, 2006 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I've said this before and will say it again,Mike Dewine will be re-elected comfortably on November 7, 2006. Brown will beat Hackett in the primary and Dewine will beat Brown. Some good points posted above. Hackett is unknown and unqualified for the senate. Brown can't win outside his district. If Kerry couldn't win Ohio, what makes you think Brown who's just as left wing will?

Ohio is a RED STATE. Sixteen years of GOP rule from top to bottom is more decisive of that than the vote percentages of the last 2 presidential campaigns. To say that GOP longevity works against the Party and favors the Dems is just as illogical as saying that the NE Patriots won't win the SB this year since they've won it more times than anyone else in the past 6 years.
More telling is the fact that in 2004, Ohio voters passed the Pro-Marriage Amendment 63-37%.

Ohio GOP in disarray? Yeh right. 99.9% of GOP office holders have NOT been affected by any so-called scandals. Taft? A misdemeanor. Ney? Nothing yet and even if he goes down, what Dem can win his GOP Dist.

LAst year I was a Bush county chair and we put together a helluva group of volunteers to beat back the paid out of state mercenaries of ACT, ACORN, and oh by the way, the vaunted Ohio Dem Party, "the gang that can't shoot straight" and who has only one state-wide elected official, a Supreme Court Justice who was recently busted for DUI.

The Ohio Dems need to prove themselves since their track record is dismal and faces the possibility of getting shut out again. Their first most recent mess-up was Brown changing his mind and causing a primary against Hackett. Trust me, this was a huge mistake since it pissed off Hackett and his supporters. One needs to ask why the state UAW overwhelmingly endorsed Hackett over Brown. What happens to them when Brown wins the primary? And brown's district seat? It is now in play and up for grabs since there is no Dim heir-apparent. Thanks Sherrod for giving us a chance to increase the Ohio GOP delegation in the House

Want more, not wanting to leave well enough alone, the Dem's best governor candidate Ted Strickland now faces primary opposition from Cleveland St. Sen Eric Fingurehut. Just a few weeks ago Dems were mebroiled in an election to replace the State party chair. The Ohio Dim Party should be the dictionary icon for "disarray."

The Ohio senate race should not be #3, it shouldn't even be on the list.

Posted by: vivabush04OH | January 6, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

McCaskill has a good chance to beat Talent in November. McCaskill has great statewide recognition after her narrow loss Matt Blunt for Governor in 2004 (lost by 3%). However after only one year in office, Governor Blunt's approval ratings are only in the mid - 30's. With Bush's approval ratings in the low 40's this seat is should be a good pickup for the Dems.

Posted by: Andrew | January 6, 2006 3:52 PM | Report abuse

In Ohio, I think Brown will easily beat Hackett to win the Democrat nomination. Brown is a much more seasoned political candidate which will enable him to raise more money & appeal to more voters statewide. Hackett is a good candidate for the House of Reps but is not polished enough to run for the senate against a two term incumbent like DeWine. He should drop out of the Senate race to run again "Mean Jean" Schmidt again in November.

Posted by: Andrew | January 6, 2006 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Counting Jeffords as a de facto Democrat gives Democrats 45 current seats, meaning they will have to pick up a net total of 6 to win a majority and 5 to get a tie, in which case there would probably be a restoration of the arrangement of January-June 2001, when the parties were evenly represented on committees but Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote still kept the GOP in control.

Jeffords' Vermont seat will likely be won by another Independent, Bernie Sanders. Sanders functions as essentially a very liberal Democrat in the House and in the Senate he'd likely do the same, especially if at some point his vote proved crucial in organizing the Senate.

Posted by: MHK919 | January 6, 2006 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The political climate in PA is particularly hostile to incumbants after the state legislature awarded itself an unconstitutional, midnight raise. Mr. Santorum played rip off politics with his local school district in Western PA and was forced to forego the practice. These are major issues for Santorum because Casey is squeaky clean and has a major record of cleaning up messes that bilk the tax payer. Politics is always local.

Posted by: mitzer | January 6, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Actually, considering Independent Senator Jeffords often sides with the Dems, they would need to pick up 5 (not 6) to get the majority and 4 to make things interesting.

Posted by: scootmandubious | January 6, 2006 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Your analysis of the Montana race assumes that Conrad Burns will be the GOP nominee. Don't bet on it. Most likely, he'll retire--voluntarily or involuntarily--and Congressman-at-large Denny Rehberg will replace him and cruise to victory.

Posted by: Heywood | January 6, 2006 1:16 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats will most likely do very very well in 2006. The atmosphere amongst swing voters favor Democrats with the recent failures of the Bush administration and Republican corruption. Plus, the Republicans themselves, especially the libertarian Republicans, and fiscal conservative Republicans are tired of seeing this administration expanding government, racking up federal deficit's, and infringing on civil liberties (NSA wiretapping case) and will punish the current Republicans by staying home. That factor will hurt Republicans more in 2006 than before, in 2002, 1994 the Republicans were rallied and came out in large numbers now in 2006 with all the things mentioned above a large portion of discontent Republican voters will stay home, and the Democrats will reap the benifits.

Posted by: PopulistDemocrat | January 6, 2006 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Mike DeWine is in very very real trouble not only does he have one of the lowest approval ratings of any Senator in America, the Ohio GOP is in shambles, (hard not to when the Republican Governor has a 18% approval rating, Rob Ney associated with Abramhoff, and many other GOP linked to criminal charges), the national atmosphere favors Democrats, plus the Democrat candidate for Governor Ted Strickland is dominating polls which will cause lots of straight ticket votes for the Democrat opposing DeWine. Paul Hackett, being a moderate veteran that fairs well in rural areas will do better than Brown in general election. If Paul Hackett can do as well as he did in the Special election where he won 48% of the vote compared to the 29-%of previous Democrats in that district he will be DeWine. The Democrats in Ohio, needed a candidate that can play well in rural counties plus our usual city dominance, they have found this candidate in Paul Hackett.

Posted by: OhioVoter | January 6, 2006 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I am curious as to why Chris raises concern over the credibility of Rasmussen Reports' automated polling. I remember Slate having a piece comparing the various polling services and Rasmussen doing well. I searched and found the link. If you are interested, here it is:

http://www.slate.com/id/2110860/

Posted by: BGH | January 6, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I don't recall the exact numbers, but I think Santorum won by about 6 or 7 points last time. I don't consider that "barely" winning, although it was closer than the polls forecast. Nonetheless, I hope anyone who is "laying money down on a Santorum upset" in 2006 has plenty of it left in the bank to feed his family. For an incumbent's potential for victory to be considered an "upset" is in itself bad news for the incumbent, and Santorum can't blame lack of money or name recognition for his current underdog status. The PA race will probably be a lot closer than in recent polls, but Santorum will have to make up considerably more ground in order to pull ahead.

And about Ohio, I hear Republicans claim that they should win there this year because "they've won every major statewide race since 1994". Yes, and that's why the state GOP is in trouble; blame for the state's problems can't plausibly be placed on or shared with the Democrats. And if Ohioans don't like what's going on in Washington, then they have themselves to blame more than anyone else, as they could have turned the national election with a small swing of votes. But now they have the chance to fix some of that.

Posted by: MHK919 | January 6, 2006 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Ohio is an increasingly GOP state...huh, wouldn't have guessed it from Bush's 51-49 victory, which was much smaller than his 2000 victory margin. As for Santorum, I'm sure the Beltway folks want him to make a comeback, but it is not going to happen. Santorum could barely beat a poorly funded opponent the last time. Santorum is the Tom Daschle of this election cycle. Like Daschle, he's way out of line with the political positions of his state's electorate, but can keep getting re-elected as long as he doesn't face a serious challenge. But if a serious challenge is made, there's a certain threshold at which if enough resources are committed, there's no way Daschle or Santorum can overcome the political realities in their state. It took a high price to defeat Tom Daschle but Republicans were willing to commit whatever was neccessary, and you can bet the Democrats have the same attitude toward Santorum.

Posted by: dole4pineapple | January 6, 2006 11:58 AM | Report abuse

What about New Jersey? Has Menendez locked that one up already? I'd rank him or any other Democrat a favorite, but Tom Kean, Jr., can't be counted out. This may be a better GOP pickup than Minnesota, and definitely better than Maryland.

I live in Maryland, and while this seat is not assured of remaining Democratic, I think the GOP and the press are overrating Michael Steele's strength, especially against Ben Cardin, who I think will be the next Senator. Cardin is quite popular in the Baltimore suburbs, an area where the GOP has to win by huge margins to win statewide; Gov. Ehrlich did this in 2002, and still only won narrowly. I think Cardin will run about even there which combined with huge leads in Baltimore City and the DC suburbs (Montgomery and Prince George's) will be more than enough for a statewide win even if some African-Americans defect to Steele (and I think the possibility of many such defections is largely wishful Republican thinking.)

I find an Mfume primary win unlikely, as he trails severely in fundraising and has some scandal baggage to contend with, leading many Democrats to find Cardin the more electable candidate. If nominated, though, I think Mfume would have at least an even chance of winning in a blue state.

MD is one of many Northeastern Democratic states (like NY, CT, MA) where people don't mind electing a Republican governor, but that doesn't mean they're willing to give the Bush administration and the national GOP another Senate vote. We see the same dynamic in reverse in many "red" states in the South and Rocky Mountain/Plains areas.

Posted by: MHK919 | January 6, 2006 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Putting MN at #5 is overstaing things. Mark Kennedy cannot win in my home state. He barely beat a political novice in children's advocate Patty Wetterling for Congress in 2004 in a solidly Republican district. He is a hokey campaigner with very little zest. He epitomizes "opportunist". Plus he has very little appeal in Minneapolis, St. Paul and northern MN. This state leans democrat in normal times and with the Republicans down right now and Bush unpopular, Klobuchar or Wetterling, should be able to beat Kennedy with around 53% or more.

Posted by: Sean | January 6, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I like the list but do not see Lincoln Chafe's fundraising as a significant Achille's heel (whereas his party's performance is a more likely candidate). According to www.opensecrets.org, he's raised $1.5 mil as of September (2001-2006) and won in 2000 with $2.5 57-41%.

Santorum, in contrast, has raised $11.5 mil as of September (with energy and their lawyers largely to thank). He won his last election 53-45 with 4x the funds of his opponent. This time, however, it is unlikely he will enjoy such an advantage and may be forced into a debate on the merits. Seeing as people are generally more concerned with education, the economy and health care, as opposed to government-mandated 1950s family-values, it's not altogether surprising that the burden has been placed on the incumbent.

Posted by: Seeds | January 6, 2006 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I like the list but do not see Lincoln Chafe's fundraising as the Achille's heel suggested. According to www.opensecrets.org, he's raised $1.5 mil as of September (2001-2006) and won in 2000 with $2.5 57-41%.

Santorum, in contrast, has raised $11.5 mil as of September (with energy and their lawyers largely to thank). He won his last election 53-45 with 4x the funds of his opponent. This time, however, it is unlikely he will enjoy such an advantage and may be forced into a debate on the merits. Seeing that people are generally more concerned with education, the economy and health care, as opposed to government-mandated 1950s family-values, it's not altogether surprising that the burden has been placed on the incumbent.

Posted by: Seeds | January 6, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

For the Maryland race, I think The Fix is off its rocker. I'm amazed every time I see this contest listed in the Friday Line at all. Cardin is going to mop the floor with Steele. While Michael Steele wears very nice suits, politically he's just the suit. Where the votes will count is in Baltimore and PG County - both with large black populations, but both decidedly Democratic. With Ben Cardin's Baltimore-based congressional district a lock for him, it's PG County that will be the focus for garnering black voters in MD later this year. But Steele's appeal is enormously overstated, and largely because the Ehrlich-Steele campaign made easy work of a terrible candidate (kathleen kennedy-townsend) in the 2002 race for governor.

Posted by: corbett | January 6, 2006 10:48 AM | Report abuse

To Sujay: Do not underestimate the power of Hackett, especially if Iraq remains in status quo or actually unravels during the next 6 months. His House opponent, which he barely lost to in the special election, did DeWine no favors by indirectly calling Mr. Murtha out on the floor several months ago.

Hackett is bright (Case Western Reserve) and articulate, not to mention a 16+ year marine veteran. And, he's picking up endorsements of the Reagan Democrats who will be ready to come back in nine months.

If anything, this seat could vault to #1 (to turnover) during the next several months as Santorum uses his lobbying power and moneyed connections to close the gap with Casey.

Posted by: wxman1 | January 6, 2006 10:26 AM | Report abuse

As an Ohioan, I don't know much about Tennessee, but I must say that the notion of a Democrat -- to say nothing of a Black Democrat -- winning a statewide race in Tennessee in this day and age seems absurd on its face.

Posted by: Sujay | January 6, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

The DeWine #3 ranking is way overstating things. True, the Ohio GOP is in bad shape, but so, too, are the state Dems. Of all Ohio Republicans, DeWine is the least associated with Ohio's current scandals. And he's a likeable moderate on ANWR, budget issues, and Gang of 14. Hackett and Brown have little statewide recognition among non-junkies (Brown's last statewide race was in 1990; he lost). In short, this is an increasingly GOP state, DeWine has no primary challengers, and Hackett-Brown are not widely known statewide. Thus, while DeWine does have problems, concluding that his seat is the 3rd most likely to change hands is a bit over the top.

Posted by: Sujay | January 6, 2006 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I think the Missouri race will be interesting. McCaskill just went through a tough govenor campaign and now wants to jump into the senate race. She made mistakes in that race and I hope she gets better advice this time around. Too many rural votes of people who would vote for Pat Robertson for president even today! Talent will cultivate those people enough to be able to get them to the polls on election day. If they don't show up he loses.

Posted by: jenniferm | January 6, 2006 10:06 AM | Report abuse

In Ohio, the CW is that a knock-down, drag-out primary is just what is needed to prepare for the anticipated republican onslaught in the General Election.

Both Brown and Hackett are fighters in their own ways and whomever prevails will be battle-ready for November.

Posted by: RMill | January 6, 2006 9:57 AM | Report abuse

In reference to the Maryland race, I guess I would think that the GOP would be more excited about a Cardin-Steele race than a Mfume-Steele race. In a state with such a large African-American population, I would think there would be a potential for the GOP to exploit any potential feelings of resentment over the Democratic Party "taking the African-American vote for granted."

Posted by: AR | January 6, 2006 9:22 AM | Report abuse

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