George Allen vs. Jim Webb
Paul's Projection: Allen
I know this is not a daring call on my part, and I don't mean it to be. The Democrats need to be realistic about this state and it's current crop of voters. The Democrats have done an amazing job transforming this red state to a distinctly purple commonwealth, with a great deal of thanks to Mark Warner's dynamism, Tim Kaine's smarts, and the President's glaring failures.
But the state is not blue yet. Warner is a rare politician who seems to transcend party and ideology. Kaine rode the Warner wave and was helped by the fact that his opponent, Jerry Kilgore, was a one-dimentional, one-note, parody of a candidate...who almost won. And the Democrats won't have Bush to kick around forever.
Truly, Allen has been digging his own grave, and very likely his prospects for a presidential run have become almost laughable. However, incumbency is a powerful thing. He is still charming and folksy, and as recently as a couple of days ago, polling at 50%.
Jim Webb, while a very strong candidate, is not the real reason this race is close. It helps that he is palatable to more conservative voters, and can safely reap the benefits of Allen's stumbles, but as I see it, he is failing to inspire on a grand scale. Surely, if a more liberal candidate were in his place, Allen's lead would be solid, but Webb has done little to push his numbers past the "I'm not Allen" mark.
In the end, I like to assume that come election day, barring extreme circumstances, the incumbent will enjoy an extra 2-4 points more than may have appeared in polls. Given Webb's lack of pizzazz, Allen's charm and incumbency, and the fact that Allen is now polling at a less-than-dangerous 50%, this race will probably go to Allen at a safe 5-7 point spread. Even so, the groundwork has been laid in Virginia for big Democratic gains, and this may be the last hurrah for GOP domination of this state.
Bob Corker vs. Harold Ford, Jr.
Paul's Projection: Ford
This is a dangerous call, especially since recent polls have reversed their trend, and Corker has a tiny lead. It can not be denied, however, that Harold Ford Jr.'s campaign against Corker has been a lesson in playing offense by not yielding an inch of the national security issue. But it's not enough just to say you're the tough security candidate. Most, if not all Democratic candidates are doing just that. How often, though, do you actually buy it?
In my mind, there's always been something about Ford that communicated deadly seriousness. That's not to say robotic or dull. On the contrary, his gravity stems from what seems to be a calm energy behind his words, delivered succinctly, with serene confidence. Nothing seems to throw him off or get under his skin as he projects a laser-like focus on this point. Is it a means to overcompensating for his youthful looks, his sketchy family history, or the capital `D' following his name on cable news graphics? I can't say for sure, but I can tell you that since I first started seeing Ford appear on talk shows years ago, it was clear he was a serious guy with some real policy goals. And no one can say he is unambitious. In Ford, it looks like we have a candidate who has found some reasons to run, and wants it more than the other guy.
Corker seems like a place holder. Running because someone has to. This should not be the case, because this is a Republican seat in a Republican state, being vacated by a Republican majority leader. Maybe the party thought they could throw any hack into the race and let statistical precedent win it for them. If so, they have miscalculated badly. Statistical trends are indeed on Corker's side, but that's all he's got. He's dull, projects disgust and disdain more than hope or inspiration, and I can't see anyone being moved to vote for him, Republican or not. Ford wins this one by 1 to 3 percentage points.
New Jersey Senate
Bob Menendez vs. Thomas Kean, Jr.
Paul's Projection: Menendez
There's no clean-conscience choice in this election, which is nothing new for my home state. Menendez walks with a cloud of innuendo and suspicion around him, Kean is trying to inherit gravitas from his dad with little substance of his own, and no third party candidate has any chance of even making a showing. I am sure many Jersey folk feel frustrated by this, but in the end, they will go with the most useful of two evils.
New Jersey is a blue state through and through, but it feels the national security pull more strongly than maybe any other state in the Northeast. Kean's name helps him there, especially if people not only associate him with his popular father, but confuse him with his dad, as well. His name, along with Menendez's oft-alleged corruption are why this is a race at all. Incumbency doesn't help Menendez all that much, since there are probably lots of people in the state who never realized he was appointed to the Senate at all (when Corzine took office as governor).
When it comes down to it New Jersey will want a Democratic Senate, and a candidate with some poise and savvy, and Menendez has all of that. In the end, the voters of New Jersey will hold their noses, and keep Menendez in the Senate, by about 5 points.
Rhode Island Senate
Lincoln Chafee vs. Sheldon Whitehouse
Paul's Projection: Chafee
Once again, I am predicting against the current polls that show Whitehouse ahead by a few points. I point again to the power of incumbency. Chafee is non-threatening, congenial, and serves as an ambassador of moderation to the current extreme powers holding sway in the GOP Congress. I think Rhode Islanders like the man more than they disliked his party, and don't feel one way or the other about Whitehouse, except that they like that he isn't a Republican.
When the dust settles, folks will decide they're quite comfortable with Chafee, and vote to keep him around by 4-6 points.
I think the remainder of the close races are running themselves at this point. DeWine, Talent, and Burns are out of here, barring any surprises (see: Pelosi-as-Cylon). Lieberman is going to win Connecticut pretty comfortably, and it's impossible to say who's side he'll be on when he comes back to work. Given all that, I would say it's a safe bed that the Senate stays Republican, if only barely so.
In my next posting, I'll be handicapping the 2008 presidential race, because no one else is doing that these days.