|These Senate races are going to be a lot of fun to follow, John. This rundown by National Reviews Political reporter is fair, I think. |
How the Senate races are stacking up.
Is it ever too soon to start talking about the next round of Senate elections? Certainly not in Washington, where the Republicans hold a slim 51-seat majority. Herewith, a summary of what the 2004 cycle looks like right now.
For starters, the Republicans hold a slight advantage on paper, in that they have to defend 15 seats compared to 19 for the Democrats. But this, of course, is a meaningless figure: Last year, Republicans had more seats to protect and wound up thriving in November.
What really matters is how many competitive seats each party must defend. By this standard, the GOP advantage actually increases. Republicans have only 5 competitive seats to defend, versus 12 for the Democrats. In the months ahead, some of these races will become decidedly uncompetitive ? even to the point where this apparent Republican edge disappears. At the moment, however, things are fluid enough to consider a total of 17 seats to be up in the air.
ALASKA: Republican Lisa Murkowski is a senator because her father made her one last year, after he vacated his Senate seat and became governor. She will have to fend off charges of nepotism, plus a possible pro-life primary opponent. The Democrats are rallying around former governor Tony Knowles, whose main challenge will be distancing himself from a national party that opposes Arctic drilling ? something that's very popular in our northernmost state. This is one of the GOP's most worrisome races.
ARKANSAS: Democrat Blanche Lincoln will coast to reelection if Gov. Mike Huckabee decides to sit out. He says he'll make a decision following a special state legislative session in September.
CALIFORNIA: Many Republicans wish that Gov. Gray Davis weren't facing a recall election ? they'd prefer to have Democrat Barbara Boxer linked to an unpopular governor leading a demoralized party. The GOP takes some solace from the fact that Boxer hasn't done a lot of fundraising yet. The Republican field won't be settled until after October's recall vote.
FLORIDA: Democrat Bob Graham can't run for reelection and national office at the same time. Even though his presidential campaign is floundering, he remains a strong possibility as a veep candidate. Republicans seeking the GOP nod include former Rep. Bill McCollum, Rep. Mark Foley, and state Speaker Johnnie Byrd. Rep. Dave Weldon and others may also run.
GEORGIA: The retirement of Democrat Zell Miller has attracted a group of strong GOP contenders, including businessman Herman Cain, Rep. Mac Collins, and Rep. Johnny Isakson. This is the GOP's best pick-up opportunity.
ILLINOIS: Republican Peter Fitzgerald's pending retirement makes this one of the GOP's two most vulnerable seats. Many Republicans were disappointed by former governor Jim Edgar's decision not to run; Andrew McKenna and Jack Ryan appear to be the current leaders for the nomination, though others may yet emerge. The Democrats have a crowded field, but the establishment appears to favor state comptroller Dan Hynes.
LOUISIANA: Everything rests on Democrat John Breaux ? if he seeks reelection, he wins easily. If he quits the Senate, this seat becomes competitive, with Rep. David Vitter as the leading Republican.
MISSOURI: Earlier this year, a Democratic poll showed Republican incumbent Kit Bond looking more vulnerable than expected. State treasurer Nancy Farmer apparently thinks she can win. She'll be a long shot, but the Democrats keep sounding optimistic about their chances here.
NEVADA: Democrat Harry Reid won reelection in 1998 by less than 500 votes. He will be a top Republican target if Rep. Jim Gibbons gets in the race. If Gibbons stays out, Reid probably keeps the seat.
NORTH CAROLINA: Golden-boy Democrat John Edwards isn't looking so golden these days ? his presidential campaign isn't taking off and his popularity back home is sinking. Rep. Richard Burr will give him a tough time, assuming he seeks reelection.
NORTH DAKOTA: In 2000, George W. Bush ran 25 points ahead of Al Gore and Ralph Nader in this bright-red state. This simple fact gives Republicans hope that they can beat Democrat Byron Dorgan in a presidential-election year. But first they need to find a viable candidate. Their best bet would be former governor Ed Schaeffer, but he says he's not running.
OKLAHOMA: Nobody will beat Republican Don Nickles if he runs for reelection ? but he says he won't make an announcement until early next year. If the seat opens, GOP Rep. Ernest Istook may throw his hat in the ring. Without Nickles, though, the race would be competitive.
PENNSYLVANIA: Republican Arlen Specter faces a conservative primary challenger in Rep. Pat Toomey. A Specter loss would be a major upset, but Specter appears to be taking Toomey seriously. Democrats are getting behind Rep. Joe Hoeffel, who would be an underdog against Specter but would give Toomey a genuine race.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Democrat Ernest Hollings hasn't said yet whether he's running for reelection, but he isn't raising money like a man who intends to stay in the Senate. Republicans like their odds no matter what he decides ? though they've often put Hollings in their crosshairs before, only to see him survive. The top GOP candidates are former attorney general Charlie Condon and Rep. Jim DeMint.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Republicans would love nothing more than to defeat Tom Daschle next year, and there's a chance former Rep. John Thune, who narrowly lost to Sen. Tim Johnson last year, could do it. But so far he's undeclared.
WASHINGTON: Republican congressman George Nethercutt announced yesterday that he will challenge Patty Murray. As an incumbent, Murray must be considered the favorite. Nethercutt, however, knows something about knocking off big-time Democrats: He was elected in 1994 by beating Speaker of the House Tom Foley. Murray is sure to bring up the fact that since then, Nethercutt has reneged on a term-limits pledge.
WISCONSIN: Democrat Russ Feingold is the odds-on favorite, but the Republican nominee here may get a boost if the president campaigns heavily in the state, as is expected.
? John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review.