The Friday Senate Line: Appointments A-Plenty
On its face, an appointment to the Senate seems to be about the best gift an aspiring politician could ask for.
Rather than spend two years of your life running for the office -- raising the millions (or tens of millions) necessary to stay competitive, watching as your personal foibles are dredged up for the world to see and trudging around to every corner of a state to meet and greet voters -- you simply need to impress one person (the governor) and voila, you are a member of the world's greatest deliberative body.
A look back at Senate appointments made over the past 50 years shows a decidedly mixed electoral record. Of the 51 Senators who sought a full term in their own right, just 23 (45 percent) won their races. (Twenty one appointed Senators did not seek election to their appointed post.)
While the last three appointed senators -- Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), John Barrasso (R-Wy.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) -- were elected in the next cycle, there also have been high profile losses by appointed senators in recent years including the defeats of Sens. Bob Krueger (D-Texas), Sheila Frahm (R-Kan.), and Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.).
It's always helpful to keep that history in mind when considering the races to come in New York, Delaware and Colorado (and possibly Illinois) where appointed senators will be faced with a decision on whether to seek election or step aside.
What's clear is that no matter what they decide (Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman in Delaware has already said he will not seek a full term), none of the appointed senators -- yes, even you Caroline Kennedy -- can be assured of an easy election in 2010.
With the New Year fast approaching, we have decided to begin ranking the top 10 Senate races this week -- a little early Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanza/Festivus present for the Fixistas out there.
Obviously, this Line will change MANY times between now and November 2010 -- depending on candidate recruitment, retirements and a thousand other factors. So if your pet race isn't on the Line this time, don't fret -- it's better to be on the Line at the end of the cycle than the beginning of it.
As always, the number one ranked race is the most likely to switch parties in November 2010. Kudos or critiques? The light on the comments section is blinking "Open."
To the Line!
10. (tie) Nevada (D): Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) is public enemy #1 for Republicans who will ensure he has a tough race. Reid did himself a favor by helping to defeat likely 2010 challenger Rep. Jon Porter (R) last month, but a Research 2000 poll done for the liberal blog Daily Kos shows Porter still quite competitive with Reid. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki's (R) candidacy is a non-starter and it's not clear whether Porter will run. Regardless, Republicans will find someone.
10. (tie) Ohio (R): Democrats' gains in Ohio over the past two cycles -- wins in races for Senate and governor in 2006 and at the presidential level in 2008 -- should make Sen. George Voinovich (R) nervous. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows Voinovich in decent shape (51 percent of voters approve of the job he is doing while 31 percent disapprove) although he is in a statistical dead heat with a generic Democrat candidate. The most likely Democrat to run is Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher. Speculation over whether Voinovich will decide to run for reelection is still out there as well.
9. Illinois (D): Knowing what will happen next in the ongoing scandal surrounding Gov. Rod Blagojevich is absolutely impossible and, therefore, handicapping this Senate seat is tough. Democrats seem (generally) unified against a special election to fill the vacancy created by Barack Obama's election as president, believing -- probably rightly -- that in two years time no voter will make his/her decision based on whether there was a special election or an appointment. Even so, Republicans should have their best shot in recent memory of taking this seat back whether in a special election -- with Reps. Mark Kirk and Peter Roskam both mentioned.
8. Kansas (R): Sen. Sam Brownback's decision to return to the state to run for governor in 2010 gives Democrats a real chance at a pickup. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius's decision to unilaterally remove herself from consideration for open slots in Obama's Cabinet led some to speculate that she had decided to run for Senate. If she takes that road, she would start the race as the favorite with Reps. Jerry Moran (R) and Todd Tiahrt (R) both far less well known than Sebelius. Still, Democrats haven't won a Kansas Senate seat since 1932. That's, um, 76 years.
7. Colorado (D): Sen. Ken Salazar's (D) surprise appointment as Obama's choice to head the Interior Department means that Gov. Bill Ritter (D) will be charged with making an appointment to fill the two years remaining on Salazar's term. Any of the leading Democrats in the appointment race -- Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Rep. John Salazar -- would start off the general election as a favorite but Republicans are almost certain to seriously contest the race. A slew of GOPers are mentioned led by state Attorney General John Suthers, former Rep. Scott McInnis and Rep. Tom Tancredo.
6. New Hampshire (R): Sen. Judd Gregg is one of the last Republicans standing in the Northeast, and the changes in the Granite State over the last two elections show that he will stand for reelection to a fourth term with a very different electorate than in races past. Rep. Paul Hodes (D) said earlier this week he is taking a serious look at the race and national Democrats believe he is the real deal. This is a race that could move up the Line quickly in the coming months.
5. Missouri (R): Democrats make the case every six years that Sen. Kit Bond is ripe for defeat and yet the Republican incumbent just keeps on winning -- with 53 percent in 1998 and 56 percent in 2004. This time around things may be different due to the potential candidacy of Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who is widely seen as the most naturally talented politician of her decidedly political family. A Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos showed the race tight with Bond at 47 percent and Carnahan at 43 percent. Democrats believe that in spite of Obama's narrow loss in Missouri in 2008 they have cracked the code of electing members of their party statewide in the Show Me State. Bond's reelection race will put that theory to the test.
4. Pennsylvania (R): No 2010 race will draw as much national attention in the next two years as this one -- at least until "Hardball" host Chris Matthews makes up his mind about whether or not to run. Our guess is that it's probably 50-50 right now with a decision expected sometime early next year. A number of other Democrats also are looking at the race -- Reps. Allyson Schwartz, Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak as well as state Rep. Josh Shapiro -- but no one will make any moves until Matthews decides whether he is in or out. On the Republican side, the big question is whether former Rep. Pat Toomey tries to knock off Sen. Arlen Specter again in a Republican primary. Six years ago, Toomey came within 17,000 votes of pulling off the upset.
3. Florida (R): It's rare when a retirement improves the incumbent party's chances of holding a seat. But, Sen. Mel Martinez's (R) decision to step aside and the possible candidacy of former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) may be one of those cases. Martinez was facing a VERY tough climb to re-election; Bush, if he runs (Democrats believe he will, Republicans are more non-committal), starts the race as the frontrunner. Democrats are working hard to convince state CFO Alex Sink to run; if she doesn't, expect a crowded primary field.
2. Louisiana (R): Voters in the Pelican State may have forgotten the fact that Sen. David Vitter's (R) name was listed in the "D.C. Madam" call book but they will be reminded of it quite a few times between now and 2010. Vitter has apologized for what he called a "very serious sin" but voters detest hypocrisy and Democrats are certain to cast him as someone who says one thing publicly and does another in private. Secretary of State Jay Dardenne is already being floated as a possible primary challenger to Vitter and Democrats have several potential candidates including Rep. Charlie Melancon and wealthy businessman Jim Bernhard.
1. Kentucky (R): When Sen. Jim Bunning (R) narrowly escaped an upset defeat in 2004, most party operatives expected he wouldn't seek reelection six years hence. But Bunning insiders insist he is ready to run for a third term -- although doubts persist. Assuming he is running again, Bunning is in real trouble. While we don't expect Rep. Ben Chandler (D) to run -- he is perfectly happy sitting on Appropriations in the House -- Democrats are certain to field a strong candidate with Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who lost to Bunning 51 percent to 49 percent in 2004, probably having the right of first refusal. Among the other Democrats mentioned are state Attorney General Jack Conway and state Auditor Crit Luallen.
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