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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.

Or not.

Friday Line

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!

Harry Reid
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., talks with media after a policy luncheon meeting on Capitol Hill, Oct. 10, 2008. (Post/ Richard A. Lipski)

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.

Jeb Bush
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answers questions at the Excellence in Action conference, a national summit on education reform, in Lake Buena Vista, Fl., June 19, 2008 (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 19, 2008; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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I think that Chuck Grassley (R-IA) may have a race brewing, Iowa has been trending D for awhile and I can't think of a thing that Grassley has done to promote his reelection.

I think that Sam Brownback (R-KS) is getting out because of the Dole factor - having an energentic Dem (Kathleen Sebelius) come in and just take him out. With an open seat likely, look to see Sebelius as Kansas' next US Senator.

Judd Gregg (R-NH) should be at least number two on the WP list. Can anyone say "John Sununu?"

George Voinovich (R-OH) is out. His only possibility? Switch parties. Hell, he sided with the UAW with the auto bailout issue. After what the Republicans did, he might consider that possibility.

Harry Reid (D-NV) - forget it.

I wonder if Schwarzenegger runs against Barbara Boxer (D-CA)?? It would be nice to see him lose a campaign race.

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) won't lose. Hell, the Republicans couldn't find anyone to run against Mark Pryor, what makes the Rs think that they can take out the senior Senator?

Ken Salazar's seat (D-CO) poses an interesting situation so we'll have to see who gets it to begin with. This might be the Republican's best shot.

Mark Vitter (R-LA) is toast. Can we all say "little black book?" Louisiana voters don't forgive. Ask William Jefferson.

A net pick-up of five seats for the Dems, not counting Specter's seat (PA), Burr's seat (R-N.C., Bunning's seat (R-KY)or Martinez' seat (R-FL.) That also assumes that the Dems keep the Delaware, the New York, the Illinois and the Colorado seats.

Posted by: LooneyTuneBuddy | December 20, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Reason5 - your comments are exaggerated and you are dreaming.

1. Delaware will be won by a Democrat in 2010, no matter who the Republican is.
2. Florida will be a hard-fought contest, even if Jeb Bush wins. Part of the reason Florida went for Obama in 2008 is disgust with the Bush name and his party.
3. In North Carolina, Richard Burr will have a fight on his hands as the state is trending blue due to the liberals moving in to the Research Triangle. It's about time.

Posted by: Cowb | December 20, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse

reason5, you do present solid arguments for Burr (NC) being left off the line, but it must be noted that that seat has changed hands 5 times in the past 5 elections. And with Democrats' continuing dominance of statewide and local politics, the Dems have a long bench of potential candidates that can give Burr a run for his money.

If Easley runs, or Heath Shuler, we could have a race on our hands.

Posted by: HoosierBorn | December 20, 2008 6:21 AM | Report abuse

It's too bad Napolitano went to Washington otherwise McCain would be toast. Just the same, he could be in for a real tough fight if the right Democrat decides to run.

Posted by: Opa2 | December 20, 2008 1:03 AM | Report abuse

You left out Franken / Coleman in Minnesota. They should be pretty close to picking a winner in 2010.

Posted by: DonJasper | December 19, 2008 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Is it too much to ask for people to make their comments applicable to the subject of the column at hand? In this case, it's King_of_Zouk who is writing about materials that have nothing to do with the subject of Senatorial elections in 2010; in other cases, it's been other people. Please...just be relevant to the post that you're supposedly commenting on!!

Posted by: al_jal | December 19, 2008 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Do you honestly believe that a senator with a D next to their name will lose in NY? If Kennedy gets Clinton's seat all she has to do is win the primary. I would say the same about Illinois, except for Hot Rod. Will voter's care in two years? Not that long ago Chicago was Democrat and the rest of the state was Republican, but the Republican party imploded in Illinois and it is now as Democratic as NY or CA. I would be surprised if whatever Democrat gets Obama's seat cannot win reelection, but you never know how Hot Rod will factor.

Posted by: caribis | December 19, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I think CC did a smart thing by not putting NC Senator Richard Burr on the Line. Burr is a great fundraiser and saavy politician. Burr is now our senior senator with the Dole loss. Dole was painted as a Washington insider who was only using NC for personal gain. Richard Burr is a Wake Forest grad., played football there, grew a family here and NC is really his home. B/c of this, expect Richard Burr to be NC's senior senator for a long, long time. La. & Florida are ranked up way to high, CC. With Jindal running La. & Jeb Bush likely to run for the Martinez senate seat, both of those are fairly safe GOP seats. Even if Cooper & Sink run, Burr & Bush are likely to keep the seats GOP. I have to ask: how about Delaware? I hear that US Rep. Mike Castle may well run. If he does, he could win Biden's seat in a special election. If Castle runs & Beau Biden runs, that would be a very tough race. But, Castle could pick that unlikely seat up for the GOP. However, if Castle doesn't run, the dems should hold that one with ease. I do agree that right now, Jim Bunning is the US senator in the biggest fight for re-election. But, Bunning is a good fundraiser and McConnell will stump for him hard as a defender of Kentucky against the liberal agenda of Obama & the liberals. He is not a sure loss, but is in for a tough reelection.

Posted by: reason5 | December 19, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

He can talk all day and not say a thing:

Every day this week, Obama has held a press conference to introduce new members of his team. In each instance, Obama has said . . . not a whole lot.

Here’s a sampling from his opening statements:

Monday: “In the next few years, the choices that we make will help determine the kind of country and world that we will leave to our children and our grandchildren.”

Tuesday: “In the next few years, the decisions we make, about how to educate our children, will shape our future for generations to come.”

Wednesday: “Our wide open spaces are not only a blessing to be enjoyed; they are the foundations of a brighter future.”

Thursday: “We need to restore and renew those rules today, so that every American from Wall Street to Main Street can have the chance to prosper once more.”

Then the thankful appointees do their best imitations of Oscar winners (“Thank you, Mr. President-elect”; “ I wish to thank you, President-elect Obama”).

Posted by: king_of_zouk | December 19, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Is it that Libs don;t like facts, or facts don;t like Libs? Al gore, you have jumped the shark and are now offically a joke:

A major winter storm cut a broad swath across the Midwest on Friday, snarling traffic and cutting power to thousands of households. Schools across the Northeast closed in anticipation as the storm lumbered eastward.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | December 19, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: DDAWD | December 19, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

And on and on:

But the Illinois drama has also thrust new light on the ongoing ethical controversies of House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel. At the rate the House Ethics Committee is receiving complaints -- over Mr. Rangel's real-estate problems, tax problems, his privately sponsored trips to the Caribbean, and donations to his center in New York -- this too will make headlines for a while.

One unfortunate side effect of Mr. Obama's long coattails was that they helped the party's more ethically challenged members get re-elected. Pennsylvania's Paul Kanjorski and John Murtha, who both struggled to keep their seats because of earmarking travails, will continue to answer questions about their actions. Mrs. Pelosi lost a problem when Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson -- with his $90,000 in freezer cash -- lost in November. Yet she has potentially gained a new headache with Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who may have wanted that Obama seat a little too much.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | December 19, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

the list is long:

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune published a new story about Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who racked up $420,000 through a series of suspicious real-estate deals. Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, came under scrutiny this fall for questionable earmarking. West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan has been under investigation for a separate earmarking mess. And then there's Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who has yet to answer questions about the sweetheart mortgage deal he received from Countrywide.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | December 19, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

One of the reasons that appointed Senators fare so poorly is that governors often abuse the appointment to place their friends in the seats. However, when they stick proven politicians in the Senate, they do better. Congressmen appointed to the Senate do very well. According to tthe link I'm going to post, six out of seven Congressmen appointed to the Senate won the subsequent election. Seven people out of their state legislatures were also appointed and five of them won. That's 11/14 (79%) in the past 50 years.

Among appointees that DIDN'T fall in one of those two groups, eight out of the remaining 35 appointees won a subsequent election (23%) Although that number rises to 32% when you look at people who actually sought an election victory.

Pretty bad considering that about 80% of sitting Senators win reelection.

By the way, during that time, five governors appointed themselves, all ran in the subsequent election, all of them lost.

The good news is that typically the seat doesn't change parties through this manner.

Posted by: DDAWD | December 19, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Mr transparancy - not so much:

This political problem arose in part because Obama was so eager to appear purer than any politician can actually be. In his initial statements, he sounded as if he was trying to say that he knew nothing at all about the selection of his successor. "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening," he told the press, and refused to elaborate.

That remark clarified nothing; today it seems like obfuscation at best and prevarication at worst. Nobody is likely to believe that Emanuel spoke more than 20 times with Blagojevich or the governor's aide John Harris without informing Obama about those conversations. To insist that he had "no contact" when his top aide was involved in so many contacts is precisely the kind of parsing that undermines confidence.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | December 19, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

It appears you have Florida at #3 because Jeb hasn't committed to run yet. Given the dynamics I find that to be a simplistic notion. The political upside to the party and to Jeb are just too high for him to stiff his party. They will correctly tell him that he is their only hope. He'll be loyal to the party and run. And his national ambitions may be rekindled. I'd put Florida at #7 and expect Jeb to win the open seat, but not without a spirited battle from the Dems.

Posted by: optimyst | December 19, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

"better for fundraising to use the name of a beloved animal than the word "human", I think."

'The Human Fund' is a reference to a Seinfeld episode.

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 19, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

What is the status of Arlen Specter's health? If he retires, is there another liberal R who would run?

I thought Sestak had removed himself from consideration. If anyone has current info, please share.

bsimon, better for fundraising to use the name of a beloved animal than the word "human", I think.

I have always been partial to the Golden Cheeked Warbler.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | December 19, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

plathman writes
"maybe i can set up a non-profit to launder my income."

I always thought 'the human fund' had a nice ring to it.

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 19, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the others that Burr should be on the list and take off Reid, he has been making many attempts to be accountable to his fellow Nevadans. I dont think it will be a close one.

Posted by: sjxylib | December 19, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

not only is bunning in trouble with a short list of strong democratic challengers, but he also has a looming ethics scandal. questions are swirling about his income from his "charitable" foundation. he apparently takes more in personal income (as the foundation's only paid employee) than the foundation dolls out in donations. check this report from Thursday:

"There couldn't be a Jim Bunning Foundation unless there was a Jim Bunning, said Rick Robinson, a Washington lobbyist who handles the foundation's records.

'The foundation is a charity that hired Jim Bunning to work for it," said Robinson. 'Without hiring him to do this, the charity wouldn't have any income.'"

well, bully! maybe i can set up a non-profit to launder my income.

Posted by: plathman | December 19, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

"Where is Richard Burr (R-NC) on this list?! After Sen.-elect Kay Hagan totally trounced Elizabeth Dole (a Dole!!) in North Carolina, how is the less well-known Richard Burr going to win re-election?! Especially if NC Attorney General Roy Cooper (Dem) runs, it's over, and the Democrats will have both Senate seats in North Carolina!"

Just like its neighbor to the north, Virginia. With its increasingly educated, affluent population, NC is definitely trending blue.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | December 19, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Add to the list: Dodd of CT. According to the latest polls, he is almost as unpopular in CT as Lieberman. And that's saying something! Of course the Republicans have to find someone to take on that challenge. The only CT Republican who could give Dodd a problem is Governor Jodi Rell. If she decides to challenge Dodd, then you will have to add the Nutmeg State to your 'top ten' list.

And, what about Arkansas? Especially if Huckabee gives up entertaining the right on FOX television and, instead, decides to entertain them by challenging Blanch Lincoln?

Posted by: harry_boston | December 19, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Where is Richard Burr (R-NC) on this list?! After Sen.-elect Kay Hagan totally trounced Elizabeth Dole (a Dole!!) in North Carolina, how is the less well-known Richard Burr going to win re-election?! Especially if NC Attorney General Roy Cooper (Dem) runs, it's over, and the Democrats will have both Senate seats in North Carolina!

Posted by: jk46517 | December 19, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

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