Dole in Trouble?
Before next week’s financial deadline, and before new polls come out of the first debate, I’ll update my Senate projections now. To run the table and get to a 60-seat Democratic majority (even counting Lieberman), the Dems need to win the top 11 races on my list (9 GOP-held seats, 2 Democratic).
Below is the list of my 19 tracked races, in the order in which they will be voting Democratic. My methodology currently looks at polling averages and fundraising numbers. I will be soon injecting some additional factors for the DSCC/NRSC and the Obama/McCain battle, assuming I get reliable data.
19. Idaho (Risch vs. LaRocco) – Likely Republican
This race was never likely to get that competitive, although Risch is hardly popular, even among Idaho Republicans. Still, as a former Acting Governor, and a conservative in a red state, Jim Risch has been and continues to be the front-runner. As new polls and the fundraising reports come in, I’d expect this race to move into “safe” zone. Risch will be one of likely just 2 Republican freshmen in the 111th Senate.
18. Kansas (Roberts vs. Slattery) – Likely Republican
Briefly, ex-Rep. Slattery looked like he could make a race against Senator Roberts, especially over intelligence failures and Roberts’ lack of major achievements. However, as Obama pulled out of his mother’s homestate, Slattery dropped off the radar. Roberts looks safe for another term, although I’m guessing his poll ratings will still be in the low 60s, which isn’t too great for an incumbent Republican in Kansas.
17. Nebraska (Johanns vs. Kleeb) – Likely Republican
This race has had potential from the start. Scott Kleeb is young, attractive, smart, and had strong populist appeal in the rural, western, and most conservative part of the state – not a bad starting point for a Democrat. His problem has been low name recognition in the eastern part of the state, which Johanns has taken advantage of. Kleeb could still tighten this race up, but I can’t see it closing enough in the next 5 weeks for him to pull it off. Johanns is likely to be one of 2 Republican freshmen in the 111th Senate.
15 (tie). Georgia (Chambliss vs. Martin) – Likely Republican
Having an abrasive personality, and having unfairly maligned ex-Sen. Max Cleland, Saxby Chambliss has had a problem with his popularity even in this reddening state. The Democrats got the nominee they needed in Jim Martin, but his fundraising is off to a slow start, and Obama has all but conceded Georgia to the McCain campaign. So unless Martin’s pulling in the big bucks, which we’ll know in a few days, I can’t see this race headed our way.
15 (tie). Oklahoma (Inhofe vs. Rice) – Likely Republican
Slowly but surely, Rice is building a case for his campaign with an impressive staff, and some ingenious ads (his latest Lemmings attack on Inhofe was hilarious). He’s probably raising enough money to keep his ads going, but his mainly problem is going to be the same as Brad Carson’s in 2004 – the winning formula here requires a high base vote (40%) and a high number of crossover voters (at least 10%). It’s a shame, too, because, like Scott Klebb in Nebraska, if he were in a purpler state, he’d have a bright future in politics.
14. Texas (Cornyn vs. Noriega) – Likely Republican
Polling is scarce in this state, but like Chambliss in Georgia, Cornyn isn’t all that liked. Fortunately for the incumbent, he has a formidable fundraising machine. This state is expensive to run ads in, so even the DSCC might not take a bite here despite its fundraising advantage. In a different year, with fewer opportunities elsewhere, this could have been a race. But not in 2008.
13. Maine (Collins vs. Allen) – Likely Republican
Tom Allen never lit a fire in the state over his opponent’s enabling of the Bush Administration on issues like the Iraq War. While Obama’s building a landslide in this state, Allen is coasting through his campaign to much, as if expecting to ride coattails. Or maybe he’s using this campaign to retire from politics? Either way, a missed opportunity here.
12. Kentucky (McConnell vs. Lunsford) – Lean Republican
Kentucky will not vote for Barack Obama, but it just might vote for Democrat Bruce Lunsford, whose deep pockets and corporate connections help overcome the generic disadvantage of being a Democrat in this state. McConnell has to watch his back here, for an upset can’t be ruled out. But McConnell is in much better shape than Tom Daschle was in 2004.
11. Mississippi (Wicker vs. Musgrove) – Lean Republican
This state perhaps more than any other will be a test of Obama’s coattails, particularly in driving turnout among African Americans. Obama won’t win the state, but he might inspire enough blacks to vote to enable Musgrove’s appeal to white Mississippians to put him over the top. So far, polls show a 5 point race, although it’s not clear how much of an impact will be felt by the fact party labels won’t be listed.
10. Minnesota (Coleman vs. Franken) – Lean Republican
Coleman has clung to a narrow lead pretty much throughout this contest, with some notable exceptions. His biggest challenge will be overcoming Obama’s field operation in the state. Franken’s controversial past as a comedian is causing heartburn for local Democrats, but this race is far from over.
9. North Carolina (Dole vs. Hagan) – Tossup (tilt Republican)
Liddy Dole visited North Carolina just 30 days in all of 2005 and 2006. Her absenteeism, mediocre effectiveness, and lack of accomplishments is causing her real problems in a state that is far more purpler than it was when she road her celebrity status to a carpetbagging victory in 2002. If Obama can keep this state in play by late October, with Hagan and the DSCC pounding on Dole’s negatives, it could be curtain time for the 72-year-old Washington insider.
8. Oregon (Smith vs. Merkely) – Tossup (tilt Republican)
Gordon Smith is trying to attach himself to national Democrats, in part because he sees his state headed for an Obama/Biden landslide. He’s got something of a problem with illegal immigrants working at his family business, while Merkely is taking full advantage of Smith’s vulnerabilities. This race, like North Carolina, just began moving toward the Dems in the polls – the question is whether Merkely has the resources to finish the job.
7. Alaska (Stevens vs. Begich) – Tossup (tilt Democratic)
Alaskans are standing up for their man as he sits through trial for charges of accepting gifts from an oil company and not disclosing it. Begich doesn’t have quite the killer instinct here that could help seal the deal, but he might not need it if the nearly 85-year-old Republican is convicted. Palin’s coattails are also not what they first appeared to be (she’s now widely seen as a PR liability for the McCain campaign, which is why they’ve blockaded her from the press). Their next round of fundraising could reaffirm the trouble Stevens is in.
6. New Hampshire (Sununu vs. Shaheen) – Lean Democrat
Shaheen has not trailed in the polls except in 2 fluke outliers in the last 12 months. But the polls are now tightening, in part as McCain has moved back into a tie with Obama in the state. Sununu is also aided by a financial edge that he is finally bringing to bear here. Can Shaheen outlast the incumbent Senator and finally win the seat that was phone-jammed away from her six years ago? Quite possibly.
5. Colorado (Schaffer vs. Udall) – Lean Democrat
Colorado saw a Palin bounce that helped lift Schaffer too, especially in the wake of over ten million dollars in third-party attack ads against Mark Udall. But now that the economy is front and center and Palin’s lost her luster, the race is back to where it was earlier this summer – with Udall in the driver’s seat. With Obama regaining the lead here, and virtually all polls show Udall ahead narrowly, I have a hard time believing the Democrat will lose, although the margin could be quite modest.
4. Louisiana (Kennedy vs. Landrieu) – Likely Democrat
The Bayou State had lost many minorities when New Orleans was devastated by Katrina. However, many moved back in or moved to Baton Rouge. Landrieu has acquitted herself quite well, and Karl Rove had to look outside his own party to find someone to challenge her – a heavily ambitious former liberal named John Kennedy, who came in a weak 3rd in the 2004 Senate race against now-Senator Vitter. After being whacked as a flip-flopper, and with polls giving Landrieu a double digit lead (even as they gave McCain an ever wider victory), Kennedy’s challenge has fallen off the radar almost completely.
3. New Jersey (Zimmer vs. Lautenberg) – Likely Democrat
New Jersey never really likes its politicians, but they do prefer them to be Democrats. So Lautenberg’s polling has been more modest than expected, but he has deep pockets and a strong fundraising machine. This race might end up with a smaller margin than Louisiana’s, but no one really expects Zimmer to win.
2. New Mexico (Pearce vs. Udall) – Safe Democrat
Pete Domenici’s retirement convinced all 3 congressmen from New Mexico to run for the Senate seat. Even so, it looks like the state has settled on Congressman Tom Udall, a former state Attorney General who has deep family ties to the Mountain West. Polls tightened during the Palin buzz, but that has subsided. We’re now seeing polls with nearly a 20-point lead for Udall, and his fundraising appears to match that lead. Another state in the bag.
1. Virginia (Gilmore vs. Warner) – Safe Democrat
Mark Warner’s principal success as governor was cleaning up the mess left behind by Jim Gilmore. That, combined with Gilmore’s anemic presidential bid and pathetic showing in his state’s nominating convention for U.S. Senate, puts Mark Warner squarely in the driver’s seat. A recent poll gave him a 33-point lead (61-28), a margin bigger than some senators who aren’t even on this list.