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The Friday Line: Senate Races to Watch

Beginning today, The Fix unveils a weekly feature: the Friday Line. Each Friday this blog will look at  the 2006 Senate, House or gubernatorial playing field. The top 10 races will be listed with No. 1 being the seat most likely to switch parties and No. 10 the least likely. These lines will be updated regularly and -- as always -- comments, quibbles and even (gasp!) compliments are welcome. The Senate kicks things off.

1. Pennsylvania -- Republican Rick Santorum: No incumbent in either party faces a more daunting challenge to win reelection as Santorum. A slew of recent independent polls have shown him trailing state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) by double digits -- never a good sign for a two-term senator. Casey also outraised Santorum in the third quarter -- $2 million to $1.7 million -- although the incumbent still has a hefty cash-on-hand lead.  This race is sure to tighten.  One thing to note is that Casey -- unlike Santorum -- has never been tested on such a high-profile stage. But, as of today, Santorum looks like he is in trouble.

2. Rhode Island -- Republican Lincoln Chafee: Chafee faces double trouble: He has drawn a serious primary challenge as well as two potential Democrats who have been elected statewide. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has come up guns a-blazing against Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R) with a major ad buy attacking Laffey for his alleged hypocrisy on the oil and gas industry. A strong NRSC presence runs the risk of tying Chafee too tightly to the national Republican Party, a dangerous gambit in a state that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) won by 21 points last year. Waiting in the wings for Chafee (or Laffey) are former state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse (D) and Secretary of State Matt Brown (D). Whitehouse seems to have the inside track at this point.

3. Minnesota -- OPEN, Democrat Mark Dayton is retiring:  Democrats probably have a better chance of holding this as an open seat than they did if Dayton had sought reelection, but it is still Republicans' best pickup chance next year. The White House and National Republican Senatorial Committee helped clear the field for Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), while Democrats must pick between two primary candidates -- Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and Patty Wetterling, who was the party's nominee last year for the 6th District House seat. If wealthy trial lawyer Mike Ciresi decides to run (an open question), the Democratic math becomes even more complicated. (Ciresi lost to Dayton in the 2000 Senate primary.)

4. Missouri -- Republican Jim Talent: Score a major recruiting coup for Democrats here as they convinced state auditor Claire McCaskill (D) to make the race against Talent. McCaskill is coming off a near-miss gubernatorial loss in 2004 and should be able to put together the money to be competitive with Talent.  This race will be a test of whether Missouri is still a toss up between the parties or whether it has completed the transformation into a red state.

5. Montana -- Republican Conrad Burns: This race just seems destined to be close. Couple Democrats' seeming resurgence in the state with Burns's ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and this has the makings of a barnburner. Establishment Democrats seem to believe that state senate president Jon Tester would be a tick too liberal as their general-election nominee. They prefer State Auditor John Morrison.  We'll wait to see how this plays out, but Burns has all the marking of an endangered incumbent.

6. Maryland -- OPEN, Democrat Paul Sarbanes is retiring: Republicans landed a top recruit in Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, while on the Democratic side the field seems to grow by the day.  Rep. Ben Cardin's (D) second straight big fundraising quarter ($900,000 raised) should help him cement his frontrunner status, but former representative Kweise Mfume remains a wildcard in the primary (Mfume headed the NAACP until this year). Given the state's strong Democratic lean, this is a state Democrats should hold.  But Steele's profile as an African American Republican and the ongoing investigation into an illegal search of Steele's credit report by Democrats complicate the equation.

7. Ohio -- Republican Mike DeWine: After months of failing to recruit a candidate against DeWine, Democrats now have one more than they need.  Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett and Rep. Sherrod Brown are in the race on the Democratic side, and so far neither has blinked.  Brown seems the better bet for Democrats in the general election, but he may be too liberal for Ohio voters. Hackett is the national party's darling these days as he nearly won a GOP-leaning seat in an August special election. The state is ground zero of Republicans in the 2006 election, and DeWine may find himself swept up in a Democratic tide, should one develop.

8. Washington -- Democrat Maria Cantwell: Sure, Republicans didn't convince near-governor Dino Rossi (R) to challenge Cantwell, but they seem thrilled with the early performance of former Safeco insurance CEO Mike McGavick (R). McGavick raised more than $700,000 in the third quarter -- none of which came from his own pocket. Cantwell beat Sen. Slade Gorton (R) by just more than 2,000 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast in 2000 and spent much of the past five years paying off personal debts accrued from that race. McGavick remains something of a question mark as a candidate, but we're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt right now.

9. Nebraska -- Democrat Ben Nelson: Yes, we know Republicans didn't get either their first choice (former governor Mike Johanns) or their second choice (ex-Nebraska Cornhuskers coach and current-Rep. Tom Osborne) into this race. And yes, we know Republicans now have a three-way primary without a clear frontrunner.  But we also know George W. Bush won Nebraska by 33 points in 2004 and Nelson barely eked out a win in 2000 despite a lackluster campaign by his Republican opponent.

10. Tennessee -- OPEN, Republican Bill Frist is retiring: We've waited for most of the past year for either Van Hilleary or Ed Bryant to drop from the GOP primary race. Neither has.  If Bryant and Hilleary both stay in and divvy up the conservative vote in the primary, former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker (R) will be the beneficiary. If either former House member drops from the race, the remaining candidate could unify conservatives and beat the better-funded Corker.  Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. is keeping his head down and raising money --$519,000 in the third quarter alone.  Given the state's Republican tilt, it's an uphill battle for Ford regardless of the Republican nominee, but he is a strong candidate and could make this competitive.

If every Senate seat listed above changed hands in 2006 -- and I'm NOT saying they will -- the Republicans would still keep their majority.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 14, 2005; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Senate , The Line  
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Next: Potential Hillary Challenger Gets Gov.'s Support


Very interesting is this blog

Posted by: Dublin Flats | March 22, 2006 10:07 AM | Report abuse

The "Sandwich Repairman" accuses Jim Stein of calling Bob Casey, Jr. a liberal, but Jim Stein did not say he was. Stein only said by continually winning he dashed "liberal hopes." Bob Casey, Jr. has the full support of the left-wing. Organizations like, and the Daily Kos are fervently backing Casey. These are people who want to get rid of Joe Lieberman, destroy the DLC, and generally remove all moderation from the Democratic Party.

DDD actually has a point when he says the word liberal has been abused. The truth is the word liberal used to denote someone who would be considered a libertarian today. The definition began to change with the rise of FDR. But it was the ascension of the New Left to power in the DNC in 1972 that "liberal" began taking on so many negative aspects. That's why so many formerly proud liberals are now neo-conservatives. Given the idiotic practice of calling the DNC the "Democrat Party", I think conservatives should stop saying liberal and say leftist. There is nothing truly liberal at all about today's American Left.

Regarding Santorum's chances, his numbers are about the same as Jesse Helms were in 1983 when he was up for his third term. The difference is Helms was facing a stronger political opponent. It's also clear that Santorum's fortunes are not tied to Bush's given that in 2000 he won relection while his state went to Gore (and many other Republican '94 freshmen were defeated).

Mike DeWine may actually be the most vulnerable incumbent given the GOP's problems in OH and the lack of enthusiasm conservative have for him. But this Brown/Hackett battle shows promise of becoming a very nasty bloodfeud. It's already caused internecine warfare amont the Liberal blogs forcing one Blogger to retire until least '09.

My picks for right now:
1. Santorun
2. Chafee
3. Kennedy
4. Talent
5. Burns
6. Steele
7. DeWine
8. Cantwell
9. Nelson
10. Ford.

Net Loss/Gain: Republicans +1.

If Ford and Steele both win, we know what the cover of Time will be. Ford's coverage would probably eclipse even Obama given he's from a "red State"

Posted by: fearthesame | November 5, 2005 7:36 AM | Report abuse

I think the unethical scandals in the White House,the senate and congress, all involving Repulicans is enough to wake up the voters. We need to clean the slate and hope the democrats can pull the country together. I am voicing my opinion as a "swing voter".I want the best for my country, whatever party looks qualified. I do not want my country involved in anymore "wars of choice".

Posted by: Shirley Scheidt Scott | October 29, 2005 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I think the unethical scandals in the White House,the senate and congress, all involving Repulicans is enough to wake up the voters, that is the ones that are not "brain dead" . We need to clean the slate and hope the democrats can pull the country together. I am voicing my opinion as a "swing voter".I want the best for my country, whatever party looks qualified. I do not want my country involved in anymore "wars of choice".

Posted by: Bernie Scott | October 29, 2005 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I think the unethical scandals in the White House,the senate and congress, all involving Repulicans is enough to wake up the voters, that is the ones that are not "brain dead" . We need to clean the slate and hope the democrats can pull the country together. I am voicing my opinion as a "swing voter".I want the best for my country, whatever party looks qualified. I do not want my country involved in anymore "wars of choice".

Posted by: Bernie Scott | October 29, 2005 10:07 AM | Report abuse

DDD, If "Liberal" is a badge of courage then why do so many members of the Dem party run from this label?

Posted by: JW | October 28, 2005 9:47 PM | Report abuse

What an Orwellian concept, turning a word derived from "liberty" into a four letter word. It worked for a while through repetition, repetition, repetition, but I agree, Sandwich, people are waking up. Four letter words can become more powerful once the barrier is broken down. Heck, Cheney uses them on the Senate floor.

Posted by: DumbDumberDumbya | October 23, 2005 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Jim, is opposing abortion rights the new sign of a "liberal"?

Ron Klink was no liberal, and neither is Bob Casey. I think Republicans' thoughtless and desperate reliance on the tactic of reflexively branding all Democrats as liberals is wearing thin with the public. Just ask Bob Dole. A recent poll found that only 18% of Americans call themselves liberal, but support for liberal positions on the issues was in the 60% range. I think Americans are ceasing to be instinctively paranoid of the word liberal and realizing that liberalism offers much of what they want.

Chris, I no longer work on the Hill but greatly appreciated your reporting for Roll Call. Are you still with them? I'm glad you're here doing this blog for the Post which is pretty intriguing to any political junkie. Which brings me to my real question: any chance that with you at the Post they'd resume the Political Junkie column they discontinued a couple years ago? I read that religiously and have missed it ever since. Please, please, please do whatever you can to bring it back! ;^D

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | October 23, 2005 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Nothing personal, Jim, I just think the anti-neocon tide will be surprisingly strong. All the dems have to do it put up some decent candidates. People are going to want the keys back after this long hard ride with the Repugs. I think we've had enough war, debt, and corruption to last for awhile. The press is finally getting it after being duped into this war.

Posted by: DumbDumbDumbya | October 22, 2005 8:36 PM | Report abuse

If Sanitorium is "firmly in step" with Pennsylvanians, then your state must be full of Goose-stepping nut jobs. I doubt that's the case, they has sense enough to reject the Rove machine.

Posted by: DumbDumberDumbya | October 22, 2005 8:23 PM | Report abuse

I proudly admit I voted for Rick Santorum, and will again. He is firmly in step with more Pennsylvanians than the national media will admit. Yes, he is behind. Casey is a media darling. Take a look at Santorum's election history, and you will see a trail of crashed and burning liberal hopes. They habitually underestimate him, and have habitually lost.

Posted by: Jim Stein | October 22, 2005 10:12 AM | Report abuse

a quote from Beyond Thunderdome...

"Two men enter, one man leave"

Posted by: OH Dem | October 21, 2005 11:28 PM | Report abuse

Do you think West Virginia will return the Koo Koo BIRD to the Senate.

Posted by: R Lambert | October 21, 2005 7:50 PM | Report abuse

As someone who has lived in both the 8th and 9th districts in Southern Indiana, I can tell you it is unlikely either will change hands. Those districts were re-drawn a couple years ago and now favor Republicans, although only slightly, in both. The problem for Dems is, the margin of error isn't many independents, but is mostly diehard conservatives who will never vote Dem. Why do you think Hostettler wins by about the same 3-4% each time?

Posted by: Former IN Dem | October 21, 2005 12:29 PM | Report abuse

What about New Jersey? Corzine is going to move to the governor's offics soon, allowing him to appoint a senator. Reps. Menedez and Pallone both are frontrunners, and the GOP's Tom Kean Jr. beats them both in early polls. Kean's got big money, a big name in Jersey, and he's a moderate. Kean is free and clear in the primary, while Dems, maybe including the popular acting gov. Codey, will have to fight it in a blockbuster primary. This makes my top ten. Stay tuned to this one.

Posted by: Summit GOP | October 16, 2005 12:50 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the rundown, but....

"If every Senate seat listed above changed hands in 2006..."

2006 could be a strong Dem year, with lots of marginals breaking their way, leading even to a takeover. Or it could be a mixed bag. A good GOP year seems less likely.

But the one thing that seems highly improbable would be for every close race to change hands. There just isn't any underlying force that could arise to make such a bizarre result. It will be either a very strong dem sweep, a weak dem trend, or a haphazard, locally driven mixed bag.

The GOP majority will probably endure, reduced, but it may not...

Posted by: Observer | October 15, 2005 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Hackett just blogged that he is in the Ohio Senate race on DailyKos.

Let the games begin!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Ohiodem | October 14, 2005 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Good Stuff. I think McGavick in WA is turning out to be a stronger challenger than previously thought.

Also the Dem primary in MN is really turning into a mess. Not only is Wetterling sticking in, but now Ciresi might enter?

The Dems should have an edge here, but Mark Kennedy's campaign looks a lot more efficient and professional that any the Dems are running.

Posted by: PoliSciZac | October 14, 2005 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Dems keep all seats, take GOP incumbent seats, and regain control in the Senate.

Posted by: Daniel | October 14, 2005 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Cillizza, you get it pretty hard from everyone and sometimes you deserve it for your "popping off," but this is a great idea and really will become a "Fix." Thanks, we owe ya.

Posted by: Propper | October 14, 2005 3:31 PM | Report abuse


Santorum's toast unless he changes his name to Casey and runs as a Democrat with Benedict XVI gigging for him.

Santorum is fated to perish in a Pennsylvania storm in '06.

Pennsylvanians from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia know well the loss and destruction from floodwaters. Many in our large senior citizen ranks will struggle to heat the homes that they struggle to maintain.

Thug-with-gun gas prices have moved into the PA suburbs down Sizing Street, displacing concerns that maybe two Penn State Football players will be able to marry each other without Rick Santorum in the Senate. The only Big Name Republican who'll be winning in '06 from PA is Joe Paterno.

Posted by: Bob Davies | October 14, 2005 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Chaffee in Trouble is misleading. The Nat. Rep. Senate Com. is pouring money into the primary because Steve Laffey would be a major loose cannon for them, and any Republican President. Linc is independent of the Republican Senate leadership partly because of what they did to his father John Chaffee, when John qualifed for one of the Senate leadership positions. It must be heart-wrenching for the Republican Senate money people to have to use money to support a Senator that irritates them to no end.

The latest Brown Poll ( ; as good a source of information on the pulse of Rhode Island as there is) taken in the middle of September has Sen. Chaffee with a 13 point lead over A.G. Whitehouse (up from 5 points in June), and a 23 point lead over Sec. State Brown (up from 13 in June).

John Kerry's 21 point win in Rhode Island last year means nothing. Rhode Islanders split their tickets regularly. One of the two Senators has been a Republican for decades (both Republicans have been named Chaffee though), there are Republican governors elected regularly, etc.

There is still almost a year to go, but from an election perspective, Linc is a La. Gov. Edwin Edwards type. It used to be said of Edwards that the only way he would lose was if he was "...caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy." With Gov. Edwards, people thought there was always a chance of that, even if remote. With Linc there's not even the remotest chance. Rhode Islanders repsected Linc's Father, they respect him also, probably because he reflects the state in how he votes and acts.

For betting purposes Linc's re-election is as much of a "lock" as any in the country, as long as Steve Laffey doesn't get out a large block in a small turn-out primary. If Laffey should somehow win the Republicna primary, then the Democrat becomes the betting "lock."

Posted by: RI Native in DC | October 14, 2005 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Allan Lichtman will become a serious contender in the Maryland race for the democrats. Stay tuned

Posted by: Evan | October 14, 2005 2:41 PM | Report abuse

You list six Republican seats and four Democratic ones, so your last sentence is hardly as dramatic as you're trying to make it sound. A net gain of two seats wouldn't put the Democrats in control? Oh, no, they must be doomed!

Besides, it would be a pretty bizarre election year if the political winds blew so differently in those states that all the Republican seats went Democratic and all the Democratic seats went Republican.

Posted by: KCinDC | October 14, 2005 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Sanity Santorum comes to Pennsylvania. Now that would be a headline worth reading the day after election day!
Interesting information, but, am I wrong or isn't there a senatorial race in Florida in 2006 as well? A race in which incumbent Bill Nelson should retain his seat against the opposition Katherine Harris. Perhaps I just don't understand why there is no mention of that one in your article.
As to the Tennessee race, Harold Ford, Jr. is a formidable candidate. He is knowledgeable, smart, quick on his feet, and has a familial and image familiarity in the state that will be hard to beat regardless of whom the Republicans select and despite the fact that the state has elected so many Republican senators in the recent past.

Posted by: Tim Brannan | October 14, 2005 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Love this kind of stuff. Thanks for bringing it to us. I can believe that there truly is a God in heaven if my Senator, Rickie Santorum, gets a sound thumping by Bob Casey. Nobody that I know admits to ever voting for him but somebody must have because he did get two terms in spite of being someone quite out of step with his constituency.

Posted by: Donna Hizer | October 14, 2005 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I disagree what you said about Ohio that Brown would do better in the general but rather Hackett would do better. Brown would be labeled as a waffler, Hamlet, and "he is more liberal than John Kerry says the DeWine camp". Hackett would have the NRA support since he is pro-guns that neither Brown nor DeWine would get. Guns are big in Ohio, as "goose-hunting" John Kerry knows. Thus advantage Hackett over Brown in general.

Hackett if wins the primary would actually have a better chance to beat DeWine in this anti-establishment, anti-Washington, "throw the bums out" mentality that is in Ohio right now.

However, in the primary Brown has the advantage since he is establishment. It would be interesting to see who the democratic Ohioans pick in the primary, an establishment liberal that maybe too liberal to win the general versus a novice liberaterian democrat Iraq war veteran. The first appeals to people's head, the latter appeals to people's heart. Thus sensibility versus passion.

Posted by: Drdemocrat | October 14, 2005 1:48 PM | Report abuse

By my math, If the Republicans lost all of their seats listed here, and the Democrats retained theirs, The Republicans would lose their majority in the Senate.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 14, 2005 1:39 PM | Report abuse

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