The Line: Let the Senate Rankings Begin!
The Fix likes a challenge. So after several Senate Lines in which we listed the ten most competitive race alphabetically, this week's installment kicks off our attempt to rank them based on their likelihood of switching party control next November.
It goes without saying that these ranking are very preliminary and are sure to change many times between now and November 2008. But the beauty of The Fix is that we will be there every step of the way -- charting the changes for political junkies nationwide.
Remember that the No. 1 ranked race is the one most likely to switch parties in the 2008 election. The comments section awaits your analysis.
To the Line!
10. Iowa: Sen. Tom Harkin (D) presents something of an electoral conundrum. On one hand, he has held his Iowa Senate seat since 1984. On the other, his reelection percentages suggest vulnerability -- 54 percent in 2002, 52 percent in 1996, 54 percent in 1990. Unfortunately for Republicans, close doesn't count in politics, and they have yet to figure out the formula to beat Harkin. The national party seems committed to trying again in 2008. Rep. Tom Latham (R) is their preferred candidate, but Rep. Steve King (R) and former Rep. Jim Nussle, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006, are also mentioned. We fully expect Republicans to find a serious candidate and for that candidate to make a strong race against Harkin. But beat the incumbent? That's another story.
9. New Mexico: Is the worst over for Sen. Pete Domenici (R) in the U.S. Attorney backlash or is it just beginning? How you answer that questions says a lot about where you think this race will go over the coming months. Domenici admitted he made a mistake by placing a call to prosecutor David Iglesias but says he did not pressure him to speed up an investigation into several New Mexico Democrats. Domenici has repeatedly maintained that he plans to seek reelection next fall, but it remains to be seen how the strain and pressures of this controversy will impact his decision-making. Domenici remains something close to a political icon in New Mexico, and the current controversy would have to drag on for some months to have any effect on his status.
8. South Dakota: This race has been in stasis since Sen. Tim Johnson (D) underwent emergency brain surgery last December. The Democratic senator continues his slow-but-steady recovery, and there appears no evidence yet that he plans to do anything but run for a third term next November. We continue to believe that Johnson will at some point in the future need to make a final judgment on whether he is willing and able to run a full-fledged campaign. An open-seat race would likely pit Gov. Mike Rounds (R) against Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D) -- a match-up in which Republicans like their chances.
7. Virginia: The news that former Gov. Mark Warner (D) was considering a run against Sen. John Warner (R) in 2008 immediately bumped up the level of interest and excitement in this race. The two Warners have grown friendly since John beat Mark in 1996, and even the most gung-ho Democrats caution that a Mark Warner candidacy is far from a done deal. Speculation continues to swirl that Sen. Warner will ultimately decide against running for a 6th term; the senior senator has already told Rep. Tom Davis (R) to be ready in just in case. In an open-seat scenario, Mark Warner would be a likely Democratic candidate and the favorite.
6. Oregon: A new independent poll out of Oregon shows that Sen. Gordon Smith (R) is well-liked by Democratic as well as Republican voters. But don't expect that to curtail national Democrats' efforts to find a serious challenger to the two-term incumbent. The list of candidates not interested in the race -- former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Rep. Peter DeFazio to mention just two -- is longer than the list of those mulling bids. Rep. Earl Blumenauer hasn't dismissed the prospect out of hand but is postponing a final decision until the fall. Given the state's demographics, it would be a major recruiting failure if Democrats can't find a top-tier challenger.
5. Maine: Ever since being elected to the Senate in 1996, Susan Collins (R) has been a Democratic target. Democrats look at the fact that their presidential nominees won the state in 2000 and 2004 and that Collins is somewhat unassuming as a senator and see a recipe for success. But Collins has proven a surprisingly strong candidate -- defeating a highly touted Democratic candidate by 16 points in 2002. Democrats believe the political landscape has changed fundamentally over the past several years -- noting the near-wipe out of Republicans in the Northeast in the 2006 election. Rep. Tom Allen will be the Democratic nominee and is drawing solid -- if not rave -- reviews at this early stage in the cycle.
4. Louisiana: Hurricane Katrina did more than physical damage; it dramatically reshaped the political demographics of New Orleans and much of the rest of Louisiana. The destruction inflicted by the storm prompted a massive out-migration of African Americans from New Orleans. This development -- coupled with Louisiana's growing Republican tendencies on the federal level -- severely complicates Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D) bid for a third term. Landrieu has never won with more than 52 percent of the vote, and even Democrats acknowledge that she is far and way their most vulnerable incumbent up for reelection in 2008. Republicans recently released a poll that showed Landrieu trailing Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) by double digits. The only problem for the GOP is that Jindal is running for governor in 2007 and has no intention of switching races, according to those who know him well. Rep. Richard Baker is seen as the next best Republican candidate and is seriously interested in running now that he finds himself serving in the House minority. If Baker opts out, Republicans may not have an acceptable Plan B, as Rep. Charles Boustany (R) recently removed himself from consideration.
3. New Hampshire: The Granite State typified the 2006 election. After several cycles of trying, Democrats defeated Republican Reps. Jeb Bradley and Charles Bass with candidates who focused heavily on the need for change in Washington -- particularly when it came to the war in Iraq. That brings us to Sen. John Sununu's (R) reelection race in 2008. Sununu is clearly vulnerable and knows it; he was the first Republican senator to call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign in the wake of the burgeoning scandal over the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys last year. National Democrats insist that internal polling affirms Sununu's vulnerability, but their field of candidates -- Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand and former congressional candidate Katrina Swett -- isn't terribly impressive. Can national Democrats convince either Gov. John Lynch or former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen to make the race? We're skeptical. But if they do, Sununu would be in even more danger of losing his seat.
2. Minnesota: We know all the arguments in favor of Sen. Norm Coleman (R): He's a savvy pol, he's raising tons of money and his voting record is moderate enough to please the voters of the state. But we also know that in 2006 Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) took what was widely expected to be a close race at the start of the cycle and turned it into a blowout by the end. Klobuchar ran a solid campaign, but she also benefited from extreme voter discontent with the national Republican Party -- particularly congressional Republicans' willingness to go along with President Bush's strategy in Iraq. What's changed? If anything, the war has become more of an anchor around Republicans' necks. Democrats seem headed for a serious convention fight next May between comedian/activist Al Franken and attorney Mike Ciresi. Republicans seem convinced that Franken is unelectable, but The Fix is not there yet.
1. Colorado: The lone open seat of the 2008 cycle so far is also a prime pick-up opportunity for Democrats. Rep. Mark Udall (D) has been planning a candidacy for the last several years and looks to have taken care of his local politics as no serious primary challenge appears likely. For Republicans, former Rep. Scott McInnis has formed an exploratory committee for the contest and most party strategists believe he will be the eventual nominee -- although few seem particularly enthused about that prospect. Former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) continues to consider the race. Two other GOP candidates are also mentioned: Bentley Rayburn, the 2006 nominee in the state's 5th District, and radio talk show host Dan Caplis. Given Colorado's relatively rapid transformation from a red to blue state and the dismal national political environment for Republicans, this may not be a nomination worth having.
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