The first in an occasional series of posts ranking the competitive Senate races. Many of my friends and colleagues, like Chris Cillizza, have followed these races more closely than I have, and I would commend you to consider their reporting and analysis as well.
In order of competitiveness:
VIRGINIA – Democrats are enthusiastic about their nominee, ex-Gov. Mark Warner, and Republicans are not enthusiastic about their nominee, former Gov. Jim Gilmore, who was formally anointed this weekend by the barest of majorities. National GOPers don’t intend to put money into the race, and they don’t even pretend that it’s going to be competitive.
50/50 Chance Of Flipping To Democratic Party
NEW HAMPSHIRE – The race between incumbent John Sununu and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen will tighten, and John McCain’s standing in the state may help Sununu in the end, but Republicans concede that they are not terribly optimistic about Sen. Sununu’s re-election chances. That said, Sununu is a great campaigner, is a realist, and has carved out his own niche in the state. Perhaps he can withstand the GOP brand rot; probably not.
NEW MEXICO – Internal polling conducted for Democrat Tom Udall confirms what public polling shows to be a substantial lead over either of the Republicans running for the Republican nomination. (Rep. Steve Pearce won Tuesday night's primary.) Indeed, Udall’s lead troubles Republicans on John McCain’s presidential campaign; it reflects, they believe, a momentum shift in the state toward the Democratic Party. Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) remains very popular with Democrats and Independents.
COLORADO – The good news for Republicans is that the race remains close, even though Republican Bob Schaffer has been beset by gaffes and potential scandals. They reason that candidate Mark Udall can’t escape the “Boulder Liberal” tag played by Schaffer’s slash-n-burn campaign manager, Colorado’s own Dick Wadhams. they’re happy that the DNC convention in Denver will force Udall to associate himself with liberals and liberalism. Still, Udall is campaigning on the right subjects (national security policy and energy), his campaign team is strong and tested, and Schaffer has Jack Abramoff associations to explain.
25% Or Higher Chance Of Flipping To Republican Party
LOUISIANA – Mary Landreiu won re-election by 50,000 votes in 2002, with more than her margin coming from Orleans Parish; she bragged about siding with President Bush; John McCain will be helpful to Democrat-turned-Republican state treasurer, John Kennedy (the GOP nominee), and Barack Obama may not be able to campaign for Landreiu. Katrina has changed the fundamental dynamics of statewide politics, and Landreiu will win handily only if Republican turnout is depressed somehow. Kennedy, a new Republican, has been an OK candidate so far. Like popular Gov. Bobby Jindall (R), he touts himself as a “conservative reformer.” Recent polling gives Landreiu a slight edge.
OTHER VERY COMPETITIVE STATES
ALASKA – Sen. Ted Stevens has taken hits and his popularity has suffered; it remains to be seen whether Alaskans will project their anger over potential corruption scandals into Rep. Don Young, who is in even more trouble. The Democrats have a great candidate in Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage; he will most likely stream through the primary in August. Stevens is basically content to ignore Begich until the fall while reminding Alaskans of how much money the incumbent has brought to the state. Begich leads in every public poll.
MINNESOTA – Al Franken’s campaign has at times turned into an internal tussle between his heart and his head; though he is running a better campaign that his press would suggest, the mistakes he’s made and the drip-drip-drip of news about his past engagements (like one with Playboy) are keeping him from making a run at Coleman, whose campaign alternates between bipartisan encomiums and quotes like this: “Eight years ago I was making the streets of St. Paul safer and he was writing porn.” Franken’s new election manager, Stephanie Schriock, is one of the best in the business, but his campaign needs to steady the ship: there are too many rumors about Democrats who want to dump Franken from the ticket and run Mike Ciresi instead.
OREGON – The McCain campaign knew exactly what it was doing when McCain gave a major environmental speech in Portland. We’ll know early in the fall if Smith will fall victim to the anti-Republican environment; Smith has the lowest job approval rating of any Senate Republican in the country. Democratic candidate Jeff Merkley has underwhelmed, so far, and the DSCC will spend money here.
MISSISSIPPI -- Three recent polls have showed the race between Republican Roger Wicker and Democrat Ronnie Musgrove within the margin of error; black turnout will be huge if Obama is the nominee; no party on the ballot b/c it's a special election. Still, Wicker has lots of money now and Musgrove has little.
ON THE MARGINS
NORTH CAROLINA – Democrats insist that this race will competitive and that Kay Hagan will, even if she doesn’t beat Sen. Elizabeth Dole, come within a few points. Watch for both parties to put money into the race. Prediction: if the presidential race is somehow competitive in NC, the Senate race will be, too.
KENTUCKY -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is mean, lean and a smart campaigner, but his opponent, Bruce Lunsford, is well-funded, although he was not the DSCC's first choice.
MAINE – Mainers don’t seem to be in the mood to kick out Sen. Susan Collins; it’s a stretch to label her a “Bush Republican,” as Democrat Rep. Tom Allen is finding out.
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