It's been five LOOOONG months since I last posted a Senate '08 diary. Back then, Fidel Castro still ran Cuba (in name, at least) and Iowa was anyone's game to predict. Two weeks before my diary was posted, a loon held Clinton's Rochester, New Hampshire office hostage for several hours. And about the time my diary was posted, the hottest news on Campaign Trail '08 was Sex On the City (if you don't remember, it's okay...it was Rudy Giuliani's 497th scandal of 2007).
Anyway, much has changed, and the Senate '08 picture has seemingly gotten brighter and brighter for the Democrats. Retaining a Senate majority seems just about assured, and expanding it significantly looks likely. That's what a basket-case economy and unanimously disdained President will do for the opposition party. Good times.
My Senate roundup below the fold! . . .
- Virginia (OPEN) - Likely Democratic pickup
John Warner (R) retiring after 5 terms
This epic race between two former governors of the Commonwealth is turning into a barn-burner. Just kidding, sorry. Former Gov. Mark Warner (D) is still crushing former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) by solid double digits and outraising him by an insane ratio.
- New Mexico (OPEN) - Likely Democratic pickup
Pete Domenici (R) retiring after 6 terms
What started out a tossup has become almost as pleasantly boring as Virginia. Rep. Tom Udall (D) is easily beating fellow Reps. Heather Wilson (R) and Steve Pearce (R), who are engaged in a competitive and ugly primary showdown. The primary is on June 3, so the GOP nominee (Pearce, I wager) should get a slight poll bounce, but what it comes down to is this: Udall's got the money, the name recognition, the commanding double-digit lead. The NRSC will have to pull out of this one sooner or later to fund more competitive races in Alaska, Maine, Oregon, or North Carolina (maybe even Kentucky or Texas).
- New Hampshire - Leans Democratic pickup
John Sununu (R) running for 2nd term
A rematch from 2002, with Sununu facing former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Shaheen has consistently led in high single digits (50-43 in last poll), since she entered the race. Shaheen has a new ad on the air which plays off bread-and-butter concerns. Some have compared this race to Pennsylvania in 2006, with the incumbent simply unable to recover from a consistent poll deficit. That said, Sununu isn't quite as hated by Democrats as Santorum was, and his name is noticeably more fun to say.
- Colorado (OPEN) - Tossup or Leans Democratic pickup
Wayne Allard (R) retiring after 2 terms
Rep. Mark Udall (D), cousin of Tom, is finally breaking away from former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R). The two have been statistically tied since each announced his campaign, but the latest poll has Udall up 47-41. If you forced a prediction, most analysts would have given this to Udall by a hair, but up until recently the campaign was characterized by ideological mud-slinging ("Boulder liberal!" "Hick wingnut!"). Recently, Schaffer's true idiocy has begun to make itself clear. FYI, Mount McKinley is in Alaska -- Mark Begich country -- not Rocky Mountain Colorado.
- Alaska - Tossup or Leans Democratic pickup
Ted Stevens (R) running for 17,027,036th term
Of course the analysts are cautious not to talk up Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D)'s chances -- this is deep red Alaska, they say. But any incumbent tied or insignificantly trailing his challenger at this early date is in deep, deep trouble, especially with Alaska threatening to be to 2008 what Ohio was to 2006 (a microcosm of the national anti-GOP wave).
- North Carolina - Tossup
Elizabeth Dole (R) running for 2nd term
Wow, what happened here? Dole was supposed to be safe according to the entire pundit class, but State Sen. Kay Hagan (D) got a major poll boost from her primary victory and is suddenly even or nearly even with Dole in every poll. With more than three months remaining before most voters tune in, and with the heightened black turnout of an Obama candidacy, this is a precarious position at best for the incumbent.
- Oregon - Tossup or Leans Republican hold
Gordon Smith (R) running for 3rd term
The competitive Dem primary was won narrowly by State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, who won just about everywhere except Multnomah County (Portland). Since he's from Multnomah County, the statewide rural appeal was a bit surprising, and an interesting sign for the general election here. Democrats are uniting behind Merkley, and a new Dem internal poll has Smith leading just 45-43. As in Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, and North Carolina (not quite as noticeably in New Mexico or New Hampshire), this is Barack Obama country and the excitement level is high.
- Minnesota - Tossup or Leans Republican hold
Norm Coleman (R) running for 2nd term
Al Franken's numbers have taken a real hit since the negative media coverage about his "tax evasion" (not actually, but the GOP spins it that way). A lot of misinformation is going around and Norm Coleman has reasserted the lead. But all is not lost: up until now, the Chris Cillizzas of this world have been quite impressed by Franken's operation, and there is plenty of time to make up the gap. Yet again, Obama should help considerably.
- Mississippi special election - Tossup or Leans Republican hold
Roger Wicker (R) running for 1st full term
Our own Research 2000 poll has Wicker leading former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) just 46-42, and a Dem poll has Musgrove leading 48-40. Is this just a name recognition thing? (Wicker is still building up his statewide name ID after representing Travis Childers' new seat for 13 years, while Musgrove ran the state for four years.) While the state should go McCain in the fall, Obama's turnout operation may register enough black voters to keep Musgrove even.
- Maine - Leans Republican hold
Susan Collins (R) running for 3rd term
Susan Collins' once-massive lead has closed considerably, as Rep. Tom Allen makes himself known to rural voters. Latest poll has her up 52-42, much closer than before. Once she hits 49%, Allen has a real shot, and I mean a real shot. This is New England, in a Democratic year, and Maine is typically a lot bluer than New Hampshire.
- Louisiana - Leans Democratic hold
Mary Landrieu (D) running for 3rd term
We all keep looking for signs that Landrieu is seriously endangered; it's too hard to believe that all the competitive races could be Republican-held. But the initially close polls have widened significantly, and the incumbent is now said to have a pronounced advantage over turncoat State Treasurer John Kennedy (R, I guess). Hey Karl, wasn't Katrina supposed to turn Louisiana red forever?
- Texas - Leans Republican hold
John Cornyn (R) running for 2nd term
I'm as skeptical as anyone, believe me. In my short lifetime, Texas has gone from good ol' boys and gals like Jim Wright and Ann Richards to the Bush-Perry Midland machine. But Texas wants change too, as evidenced by Perry's 39% reelection in 2006, and the polls say State Rep. Rick Noriega is not far behind Cornyn. Given surprisingly close McCain/Obama numbers in the state, the Obama and Noriega campaigns should be working in tandem to register Latino and black voters, not just in Houston and Dallas but everywhere. I realize the Ron Kirk and Tony Sanchez failed to do that in 2002, but call me crazy to think a lot has changed in six years.
- Kentucky - Leans or Likely Republican hold
Mitch McConnell (R) running for 5th term
No polling since businessman and two-time gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford won the Democratic primary, but given Lunsford's bucks this could be a race. Most of us in the netroots say that without overwhelming enthusiasm, but a Senate seat is a Senate seat, right?
- Kansas - Leans or Likely Republican hold
Pat Roberts (R) running for 3rd term
This definitely came out of the clear blue sky. Nobody seriously thought Pat Roberts would face a close race, but the first poll shows him leading former Rep. Jim Slattery (D), out of office for 14 years, by just 52-40. Could Kansas have a real Senate race? It hasn't elected a Democratic Senator since (get ready) 1932, but since this basically is 1932...
Anything Likely Republican/Likely Democratic hold or beyond is not included. Notice that only one Democratic seat made the list of 14? And at the moment, I'm not even that worried about Landrieu.
As of today, the Democrats appear poised to pick up anywhere from three to eight Senate seats, with five or six most likely. Even with only Virginia, New Mexico, and New Hampshire flipping, we will have a 53-47 majority, counting Lieberman with the GOP instead of the Dems (which I now do thanks to his endorsement of McCain). At the high end, we are looking at a solid 58-42 majority, the largest Senate majority since the era of Jimmy Carter, stagflation, disco, and the Shah.