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Are Democrats Creeping Into Contention? (2006 Senate Outlooks)
National Journal ^ | June 22, 2005 | Chuck Todd

Posted on 06/22/2005 6:26:32 PM PDT by RWR8189

 With just under 18 months to go until Election Day 2006, things continue to look up for Senate Democrats. The ingredients -- violence in Iraq, the uneven economy and partisan tension -- are there for the party to make a comeback after two cycles of GOP dominance.

Iraq, the number one issue for voters, is devouring the Republican Party. And with no new moment to look for that doesn't have the word "withdrawal" in it, it's hard to see how the situation improves before next November. We've caught Saddam Hussein, we've turned over power, we've held elections and the level of violence appears to be the same to the lay voter. We've been writing for months that at some point, Iraq was going to hurt the Republicans as much as it helped them in 2002. They lucked out in 2004, but 2006 is a whole new ballgame.

With at least six legitimate targets for the Democrats, the Senate is officially in play for the first time this cycle. We're not naïve. Minnesota and Maryland won't be easy for the party to defend. Add North Dakota and Democrats have their work cut out for them. But on the plus side, Republicans haven't found A-list recruits in places like Nebraska, Washington and Florida. While those three seats won't be easy for the Democrats to defend, things could be much worse.

And with that, our latest rankings. Remember, these seats are ranked in order of vulnerability to a party switch, i.e., the top-ranked race is the seat we view as most likely to flip to the other party, while the bottom-ranked race is the seat we see as the least likely:

Senate Ratings


  1. Pennsylvania (Santorum-R)
  2. Rhode Island (Chafee-R)
  3. Minnesota (Open-D)
  4. Maryland (Open-D)
  5. North Dakota (Conrad-D)
  6. Montana (Burns-R)
  7. Florida (Nelson-D)
  8. Tennessee (Open-R)
  9. New Jersey (Open?-D)
10. Nebraska (Nelson-D)
11. West Virginia (Byrd-D)
12. Arizona (Kyl-R)
13. Missouri (Talent-R)
14. Michigan (Stabenow-D)
15. Washington (Cantwell-D)
16. Vermont (Open-I)
17. Ohio (DeWine-R)
18. Indiana (Lugar-R)
19. New Mexico (Bingaman-D)
20. Maine (Snowe-R)
21. Virginia (Allen-R)
22. Nevada (Ensign-R)
23. New York (Clinton-D)
24. Wisconsin (Kohl-D)
25. Wyoming (Thomas-R)
26. California (Feinstein-D)
27. Mississippi (Lott-R)
28. Connecticut (Lieberman-D)
29. Hawaii (Akaka-D)
30. Delaware (Carper-D)
31. Texas (Hutchison-R)
32. Massachusetts (Kennedy-D)
33. Utah (Hatch-R)

    Rick Santorum (R)
     Last ranking: 2
The only incumbent up in 2006 who consistently polls behind his announced opponent is Santorum. For that reason alone, we have to move him into the top spot. Bob Casey Jr. (D) may not be tough enough to win, but it's possible that Santorum is just carrying too much baggage to take this swing state. However, questions about Casey date back to 2002 when he not only lost a primary for governor, but suffered a double-digit defeat to Ed Rendell. Plus, he was dragged into this race. Will there be enough fire from him once this thing gets down and dirty?

    Lincoln Chafee (R)
     Last ranking: 1
Speaking of baggage, Chafee's certainly carrying a lot of it. And it's the weight of that baggage, not the worthiness of his Democratic opponents, that makes him so vulnerable. Democrats are down to their third and fourth choices in Sheldon Whitehouse and Matt Brown. And it's likely that the nastiness of the Democratic primary will be just the thing Chafee needs to survive. If you think all this reads as if it's a replay of the 2000 campaign, you're not alone. In that campaign, Democrats failed to get their first or second choices and were stuck with a nasty primary. The only difference this cycle is that Chafee might have to deal with a primary challenge of his own. If that happens, Democrats may find an opening.

    Open SeatMark Dayton (D) is retiring
     Last ranking: 3
In nearly half of the in-play Senate races, Democrats must deal with a primary before they can unite against the GOP. In this race, that primary is not just a problem for the party but for one of the party's leading interest groups, EMILY's List. With both Patty Wetterling and Amy Klobuchar running, the pro-choice women's campaign group faces a dilemma. While the group has tried to encourage Wetterling to seek the state's open 6th District seat, she's not taking the bait.

Right now, it appears Klobuchar has the best shot at garnering that key endorsement. And, should Klobuchar secure the backing of the state party, Wetterling has promised not to run in the primary. That's not the case with self-funding Kelly Doran, who has no plans to participate in the party endorsement process and has every intention of contesting the actual primary.

All this Democratic action allows GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy to continue stockpiling cash. While there have been rumors he could still face a primary challenge, it appears this former Rep. Vin Weber boomlet started by the state's right-leaning blogs is nothing but hot air.

4. Maryland
    Open SeatPaul Sarbanes (D) is retiring
     Last ranking: 24
Maryland's strong Democratic nature is the only thing keeping this race as low as fourth. Likely GOP nominee Michael Steele is the real deal, and the field of Democrats is underwhelming. The combination could be enough for Steele to pull off the near-impossible. At a minimum, this is going to be a real contest.

The Democrats' two best candidates -- Martin O'Malley and Doug Duncan -- are running for governor , leaving the party with a field of good, but not great, alternatives. Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin has all the respect in the world from his state colleagues, but he hasn't had a competitive race in nearly 25 years. Is he up for this? Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume has plenty of problems that could worsen when the second quarter Federal Election Commission report is released. Rep. Chris Van Hollen is the wild card. He's the only battle-tested Democrat in the field. Van Hollen may have the best chops for what will be a very competitive general against Steele.

    Kent Conrad (D)
     Last ranking: 7
The longer GOP Gov. John Hoeven stalls, the more convinced we become that he's leaning toward a run. It appears he's trying to hold off "lame-duckdom" in his gubernatorial term for as long as possible by announcing a bid as late as possible. Hoeven won't need a lot of money to make this race competitive so he can afford to wait until the end of the year.

    Conrad Burns (R)
     Last ranking: 17
One of the more surprising primary problems facing the Democrats is here. Auditor John Morrison and state Senate President Jon Tester are both solid recruits, particularly since Burns is always a slow closer. It's unclear which Democrat would give Burns the tougher race. Apparently, Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is whispering good things about both candidates because we've heard from partisans in each camp who claim the governor is behind them.

    Bill Nelson (D)
     Last ranking: 6
If Nelson were the political juggernaut some Florida Democrats want us to believe he is, we'd have this seat ranked lower. But he's not. Nelson has always benefited from weak GOP opponents and, should he win re-election, that reputation will only grow thanks to GOP Rep. Katherine Harris. Divisive political figures don't normally do well in Florida, which is why we're having trouble picturing Harris actually winning. Still, Nelson's not the best campaigner, and we fully expect the former secretary of state to keep this race very close. If the GOP has wind in its favor next fall, she could pull the upset.

    Open SeatBill Frist (R) is retiring
     Last ranking: 5
We know we're supposed to believe Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. doesn't have a chance, but we're not there yet. Fresh off of a disastrous announcement week thanks to his uncle's arrest, Ford decided to roll the dice by going up with the very first TV ad of the 2006 cycle. This is the type of move that should convince Republicans that Ford's not going to be the pushover they expected. Spending a lot and focusing on Iraq, not his biography, tells potential Democratic donors that Ford is serious.

Meanwhile, the GOP primary appears to be no closer to being sorted out. While Bob Corker's fund-raising abilities seemed impressive early on, this next quarter should tell us which one of the two conservative candidates, Van Hilleary or Ed Bryant, will be Corker's chief challenger.

    Open Seat?Jon Corzine (D) is running for governor in 2005
     Last ranking: 10
Until we know Corzine's fate, this race is still undeveloped. That said, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. is getting a great head start as the potential GOP standard-bearer while the three likely Democratic replacements -- Reps. Bob Menendez, Frank Pallone and Rob Andrews -- remain locked in limbo. It's a bizarre situation for the three Democrats -- raising money for a potential primary while also making a case to the one voter who matters most, Corzine.

There was a lot of pushback from supporters of the other two major Democrats when we wrote earlier that Menendez seemed to be the perfect successor. But Corzine could shock all three contenders and name a caretaker, a prospect that may not thrill the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. For now, the incumbent's got to focus on the task at hand, a gubernatorial campaign that will be tougher than many Democrats realize.

      Ben Nelson (D)
       Last ranking: 4
This state represents a great recruiting disappointment for the GOP, and the White House is to blame. By naming Mike Johanns secretary of Agriculture, President Bush took away one of the two Republicans who could probably beat Nelson. The other Republican, Rep. Tom Osborne, is running for governor and apparently has no interest in taking on his old friend. The state is Republican enough that any nominee could give Nelson a close race, but the Democrat's been pretty smart in handling himself so far. It's hard to see how the Republicans will make the case to Nebraska voters to fire Nelson.

      Robert Byrd (D)
       Last ranking: 13
This race only cracks our top 12 because of the chance GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito may run. Word is her father, former Gov. Arch Moore, has been pushing Capito to join the race, and according to our sources, his advice is among the most influential to her. That said, Byrd's been taking no chances and is raising money at a surprisingly fast clip. Clearly Capito can give the incumbent a race; it's not clear whether she can actually win.

      Jon Kyl (R)
       Last ranking: 16
It's not easy being the junior senator in Arizona and that fact more than any other probably contributes to the notion that Kyl is more vulnerable than he should be. The presence of a self-funding Democratic opponent, state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson, will mean this could be a long cycle for Kyl. And John McCain (R) is a double-edged sword. While we fully expect Pederson to make the case that Kyl's "no McCain," Kyl will have no more powerful endorser toward the end of the contest than the popular senator.

The previous 12 races are the one that we're fairly convinced will remain competitive the entire cycle. These next nine depend solely on recruiting by the out party. Call them our "tweeners":

      Jim Talent (R)
       Last ranking: 14
Auditor Claire McCaskill might actually make this a race. We're not convinced enough to move it out of our "tweener" section just yet, but should she announce, it's yet another sign the Democrats will be making a much more serious run at the majority than any of us would have expected six months ago.

      Debbie Stabenow (D)
       Last ranking: 9
National Republicans are still searching for a candidate while in-state party officials begin rallying around the Rev. Keith Butler (R). At the end of the day, we expect Stabenow's chances to depend more on the political health of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm than any GOP Senate challenger.

      Maria Cantwell (D)
       Last ranking: 12
With almost-Gov. Dino Rossi all but out, Republicans probably are not going to be able to give Cantwell the race they would have liked. There are still a few interesting names circulating but nothing certain just yet.

      Open SeatJames Jeffords (I) is retiring
       Last ranking: 27
Without the Democrats nominating someone, it's hard to see how the GOP stops Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders from becoming a member of the world's most exclusive club. Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie or businessman Dick Tarrant might make things somewhat interesting, but we don't see it just yet.

17. OHIO
      Mike DeWine (R)
       Last ranking: 22
There's something going on in this state, and it's not pretty if you're a Republican. The scandal plaguing Ohio has nothing to do with DeWine, yet we can see a scenario where elected officials running in 2006 with an "(R)" next to their names are in big trouble. Democrats are still searching for someone to challenge DeWine, which is why this seat is still low on our rankings. But if either former Attorney General Lee Fisher or former Rep. Dennis Eckart runs, expect this race to move up.

      Richard Lugar (R)
       Last ranking: 31
The only reason we have this race in the "tweener" section is because of the sudden interest by former Democratic Rep. Tim Roemer. While we can't fathom Roemer actually beating Lugar, he is a respectable enough figure to make things a bit uneasy for the very popular Republican. This is an "icing" type race for the DSCC if Roemer jumps in.

      Jeff Bingaman (D)
       Last ranking: 8
It looks like the GOP won't find a credible challenger to Bingaman, who is potentially vulnerable. This race could easily end up in snoozerville before the year is out.

      Olympia Snowe (R)
       Last ranking: 15
Speaking of still searching, Democrats are doing just that in this state. Did someone say "snoozerville"?

      George Allen (R)
       Last ranking: 18
Democratic Gov. Mark Warner seems unlikely to run. No doubt some of Allen's potential GOP presidential rivals wish Democrats would find somebody to keep Allen busy next cycle but that doesn't seem likely.

Our "snoozer" section continues to get a little bigger. We'd like to officially welcome Herb Kohl and Kay Bailey Hutchison to the list since our last rankings.


22. Nevada: John Ensign (R) (Last Ranking: 28)
23. New York: Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) (Last Ranking: 21)
24. Wisconsin: Herb Kohl (R) (Last Ranking: 19)
25. Wyoming: Craig Thomas (R) (Last Ranking: 20)
26. California: Dianne Feinstein (D) (Last Ranking: 23)
27. Mississippi: Trent Lott (R) (Last Ranking: 25)
28. Connecticut: Joseph Lieberman (D) (Last Ranking: 26)
29. Hawaii: Daniel Akaka (D) (Last Ranking: 29
30. Delaware: Tom Carper (D) (Last Ranking: 30)
31. Texas: Kay Bailey Hutchison (D) (Last Ranking: 11)
32. Massachusetts: Ted Kennedy (D) (Last Ranking: 32)
33. Utah: Orrin Hatch (R) (Last Ranking: 33)

-- Chuck Todd is a contributing editor and editor in chief of The Hotline. His e-mail address is

TOPICS: Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: 2006; bigspin; bs; bullshirt; georgeallen; senate; ussenate
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1 posted on 06/22/2005 6:26:41 PM PDT by RWR8189
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To: RWR8189

That's some excellent reading...thanks for the post!

2 posted on 06/22/2005 6:34:50 PM PDT by sierrahome (Colfax, CA; "A Small Drinking Town With A Rail Road Problem.")
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To: RWR8189

If things look so bad for the GOP, then how come 3 of 5 seats most likely to turn over are currently held by Democrats?

3 posted on 06/22/2005 6:36:58 PM PDT by nj26
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To: RWR8189
James Jeffords (I) is retiring

Jumping Jim is giving up his shingle

Good riddance

4 posted on 06/22/2005 6:38:55 PM PDT by Popman (In politics, ideas are more important than individuals.)
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To: RWR8189
I'm surprised they left off Torricelli from N.J. making a run for the seat.

Jersey politics are so corrupt he will probably win even if he was in jail.

If a dead guy, Lautenberg can win, the Torch can pull it off.

5 posted on 06/22/2005 6:43:01 PM PDT by Popman (In politics, ideas are more important than individuals.)
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To: sierrahome

Best candidates to run in these states:

Rick Santorum for U.S. Senate

Stephen Laffey for U.S. Senate

Mark Kennedy for U.S. Senate

Michael Steele for U.S. Senate

John Hoeven for U.S. Senate

Conrad Burns for U.S. Senate

Connie Mack IV for U.S. Senate

Ed Bryant for U.S. Senate

Tom Kean Jr. for U.S. Senate

Don Stenberg for U.S. Senate

Shelley Moore Capito for U.S. Senate

Jon Kyl for U.S. Senate

Jim Talent for U.S. Senate

Rev. Keith Butler for U.S. Senate OR
Jane Abraham for U.S. Senate

Jennifer Dunn for U.S. Senate

Brian Dubie for U.S. Senate

John Kasish for U.S. Senate

Richard Lugar for U.S. Senate

John Sanchez for U.S. Senate

Brian Duprey for U.S. Senate

George Allen for U.S. Senate

6 posted on 06/22/2005 6:52:01 PM PDT by BillyBoy (Find out the TRUTH about the Chicago Democrat Machine's "Best Friend" in the GOP -
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To: Popman

The Democrats should be in contention if for no other reason that it's the second midterm election and the party out of power is supposed to make major gains. The fact that it looks so iffy for them at the moment is not a good sign. Even the Casey challenge is sort of a "cross your fingers" kind of thing because until now Casey has largely skated into office, and his true mettle has yet to be tested. He could just as easily bomb on the campaign trail and lose to Santorum.

7 posted on 06/22/2005 6:52:22 PM PDT by Galactic Overlord-In-Chief (Any Freepers who enjoy fantasy, I welcome to look at my FR homepage to take a look at my new book)
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To: nj26

I think the premise that Iraq is the biggest issue is total B.S... The Downing Street "memo" was a fraud, now the media pundits have to invent something else...

8 posted on 06/22/2005 7:19:01 PM PDT by Sir Francis Dashwood (LET'S ROLL!)
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To: RWR8189
the uneven economy

The economy is chugging along nicely.

By election day next year the Dow will be at or above 12000 and the Nasdaq 2600.

Unemployment will be at 4.6% and Iraq will not be an issue.

New oil and gas discoveries off the east and west coasts will drive down fuel costs and plans for several new nuclear power plants will be approved.

And don't forget Karl Rove.

He has something devilish up his sleeves.

Just wait and see!!

9 posted on 06/22/2005 7:24:45 PM PDT by CROSSHIGHWAYMAN
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To: RWR8189
Anyone from Vermont care to run as a democrat? You won't have to do much , the D next to your name on the ballot would automatically get the vote of a bunch of RATS and might therefore split the vote enough to have a real republican win the seat for six years.
10 posted on 06/22/2005 7:36:00 PM PDT by Nateman (Morality 180 degrees out of phase with reality: welcome to the left side!)
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To: RWR8189
Kay Bailey Hutchison (D) (Last Ranking: 11)

Kay Bailey Hutchison is a Demonrat?????

He must really know what he is talking about!!!!!

11 posted on 06/22/2005 7:42:43 PM PDT by democrats_nightmare
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To: RWR8189
They lucked out in 2004, but 2006 is a whole new ballgame

And since the Republicans have demonstrated that they have no balls, even with a solid majority in both houses, obviously they cannot, and do not derserve to, win. It will serve them right to lose control. They don't know what to do with it when they have it anyway.

12 posted on 06/22/2005 7:43:58 PM PDT by Chuckster (Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoset)
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To: RWR8189
Without an heir apparent candidate for the White House in 2008, Republican Senators and Congressmen are scrambling for the position. As a result, they don't want to cooperate on anything coming before Congress lest a potential rival receive credit.
13 posted on 06/22/2005 7:52:27 PM PDT by fso301
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To: RWR8189

I never understood why Bush made Johanns Ag Secretary. I wonder if Johanns had no interest in the Senate all along?

I am a bit worried about this Ohio thing now.

14 posted on 06/22/2005 7:59:10 PM PDT by Aetius
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To: democrats_nightmare

Anyone that lists Kay Bailey as a Democrat as the credibility of a gnat. Less than impressed with the analysis.

15 posted on 06/22/2005 8:12:59 PM PDT by PhiKapMom (AOII Mom -- J.C. for OK Governor; Allen in 2008)
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To: RWR8189
Of all the races, I'd really like to see us unseat Kent Conrad. Simply put, the Dakotas should have this many democrats NOT representing their interests.

Maryland's democratic senate primary should be quite this point it's Kweisi Mfume's to win, unless they "allow" Chris van Hollen (who beat RINO Connie Morrella for congress) to run. I say "allow", because he's white and I don't think they want to see a racial race in their primary. Chris would ultimately win over Mfume. Primarily because Mfume makes alot of people (mostly white democrats) uncomfortable. Michael Steele the black republican lieutenant Governor could have a strong position in the senate race running against the whiter than white bread Chris V. Hollen.

16 posted on 06/22/2005 8:17:39 PM PDT by Katya (Homo Nosce Te Ipsum)
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To: Katya

I should have added....the only thing the democrats might throw at Mr. Steele, is his familial connection with Mike Tyson, who happened to have been married to Michael's sister, a Washington pediatrician.

17 posted on 06/22/2005 8:18:59 PM PDT by Katya (Homo Nosce Te Ipsum)
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To: Chuckster

"will serve them right to lose control."

That's cutting off your nose to spite your face. We cannot let the Rats win back the Senate. It would be a disaster.

18 posted on 06/22/2005 8:21:08 PM PDT by California Patriot
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To: nj26

I think this is the MSM pushing democrats so somebody will bother to watch.

If the race is over before it started the MSM will get no ratings.

19 posted on 06/22/2005 8:22:41 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE!)
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To: RWR8189

The way I see it, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island quite possibly Democratic pickups. Actually, the only debate is whether to consider Chafee's defeat a "Hold" or a "Pick-up" for the Demonrats. Montana is in play. I can't see the Demonrats gaining a seat in a southern state that the Democrats couldn't pick up for its own native son. And it ain't gonna be Harold Ford! Meanwhile, if DeWine is in trouble, it's from his own party; and Talent is quite safe.


Meanwhile: Minnesota is nearly a lock for a Republican pick-up. North Dakota and Florida look very weak for Demonrats. Lt. Gov Steele could carry Republican-slipping Maryland, where even the crabs aren't as blue as they should be. Byrd is in deep doo-doo. And Stabenow (MI) and Cantwell (WA) are leading very blue states where the locals are feeling very let down by their ruling parties, particularly in Washington where the mood is that Demonrats stole the statehouse. And the big shocker could be in Hawaii, where Akaka is seemingly medically and financially challenged, and the Republicans are in ascendency, capturing the statehouse for the first time since colonialism. True, the supposed shocking Republican challenge in the '04 Presidential race fizzled, but that could've been affected by false media reports saying Kerry had wrapped up the national contest.

New Jersey and New York should be safe, but those two states may have to siphon huge bucks away from other contests. And there are NINE endangered races.


Overall prediction:

20 posted on 06/22/2005 8:40:39 PM PDT by dangus
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