[Cross posted at my blog, Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.]
Let’s revisit candidate filing for the 2006 cycle. At this point in the 2006 cycle (i.e. April 1, 2005), 9 of the 28 listed Senate non-incumbent challengers had filed, or just about one-third. At this point, the Republicans had seen Bob Corker, Mark Kennedy, and Tom Kean Jr. file. The Democrats saw Amy Klobuchar, Bob Casey, and Sheldon Whitehouse file. In other words, while there is lots of time left to recruit candidates and to see strong challengers file, both parties should have a couple promising candidates to point to at this point.
The Democrats, right now, can point to Mark Udall well-situated in Colorado for a pick-up. In New Hampshire, Sprintin’ John Sununu lost in a hypothetical match-up to former Governor Jeanne Shaheen by 10 points, suggesting that she is the #1 potential recruit for the Democrats – though a spirited primary is underway with promising candidates. In Minnesota, Al Franken went from being down 20 points in mid-February, right after announcing, to being only down 10 points a month later. Mid-April polling will give us a fuller indication of the direction of this possible trend. Additionally, strong candidates are considering races in Alabama, Maine, and Nebraska. There is clearly still much work to be done as the year goes in, particularly in states like Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia if Democrats are to take full advantage of the political opportunities before them.
And how are the NRSC and the Republicans doing? Well, not so good. There are twelve Democratic incumbents and one open seat. Let’s run through all thirteen potential battlegrounds, starting with the open seat.
Colorado (open seat): The CO-GOP just saw their top candidate back out of the race and back-ups like state AG Suthers have some conservatives less than enthused. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Arkansas (Senator Mark Pryor): Just yesterday, it was reported that former Governor and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, perhaps the only candidate that a weakened AR-GOP could put up to make the race competitive, has ruled out a Senate challenge. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Delaware (Senator Joe Biden): GOP Rep. Mike Castle is perhaps the only Republican who could offer even a somewhat challenging race against Biden, but he seems to have indicated, for yet another cycle, that he isn’t interested. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Illinois (Senator Richard Durbin): The IL-GOP is reduced to begging wealthy conservatives to martyr themselves in a self-funded campaign to prevent Durbin from having a total cake-walk re-election. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Iowa (Senator Tom Harkin): Right now, the IA-GOP Senate primary consists of two token candidates in tongue-tied conservative Steve Rathje and part-time tae kwon do instructor Bob McDowell. Iowa’s several flawed Republican Congresspeople and former Congresspeople are all still biding their time. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Louisiana (Senator Mary Landrieu): Senator Landrieu is supposed to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent. Then how come nobody has stepped up to her yet? Bobby Jindal seems to be the state’s most popular Republican. But he is running for Governor, not Senate. And against a statewide GOP officeholder and potential opponent, LA Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, Landrieu vastly exceeds expectations, winning 53-38, as some Republican Congresspeople take their names out of the running. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Massachusetts (Senator John Kerry): There are two legitimate challengers (Harvard-Pilgrim CEO Charles Baker and former Governor Paul Cellucci) and one “spectacle” challenger (Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling) that could make a race against Senator Kerry. Baker and Schilling have taken their names out of the running and Cellucci has indicated no interest, particularly in endorsing Rudy Guiliani for President over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The rest of the MA-GOP is fairly irrelevant-to-nonexistant right now. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Michigan (Senator Carl Levin): There hasn’t been a single substantial peep of noise from the MI-GOP regarding a Senate challenger; and speculation rests primarily (if not only) on the wives of former Michigan politicians. In the words of police officers everywhere, “Nothing to see here, folks.” NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Montana (Senator Max Baucus): Despite the redness of Montana in Presidential races, the MT-Dems have had major successes including the races of Governor Brian Schweitzer and Senator Jon Tester, as well as significant shifts in the Montana state Legislature. Also, Baucus is extremely popular in Montana. The only candidate who could even give Baucus a challenge is GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg, who the NRSC must be courting like crazy, only to get zero sustained interest so far. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
New Jersey (Senator Frank Lautenberg): I expected the NJ-GOP to kick this potential race into gear early, but we’ve heard practically nothing from them. Lautenberg’s relatively low approvals aren’t as big of a concern as they’d be in another state, as NJ-Dems can get (re-)elected with low approvals (see: 2006’s Menendez v. Kean Jr.). And the NJ-GOP’s strongest potential candidate, U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, has taken himself out of the running, leaving, at best, a B-team for the NJ-GOP and NRSC to look at. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
Rhode Island (Senator Jack Reed): The RI-GOP has been even quieter than the MI-GOP. In 2006, moderate-to-liberal Republican Lincoln Chafee got bounced primarily for having an R next to his name. Reed is very popular and the RI-GOP bench is slim. Again, “Nothing to see here.” NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
South Dakota (Senator Tim Johnson): Senator Johnson is extremely popular and recovering from a serious health malady. It is unclear how the SD-GOP will approach this race. A political attack on Johnson while he is recovering could seriously backfire. Meanwhile, it is unclear if Johnson will run for re-election or not, though indications are that he will, barring a health setback. Had ultra-conservative Governor Mike Rounds gotten in the race early, he might have stood a chance, but now the SD-GOP and NRSC have to sit on their hands and wait. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
West Virginia (Senator Jay Rockefeller): The WV-GOP has been almost as quiet as the MI-GOP and RI-GOP. At most, they have rumors, but not a single WV Republican has stepped forward, as they wait to see if GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito wants to take a shot. As Capito and other WV Republicans expect this term to be Senator Robert Byrd’s last, they’ll likely wait out that seat for an open race than challenge Rockefeller. NRSC success or failure so far? Failure.
So there you go. The Democrats certainly have some recruiting work to do in some key states, but they have also seen some early success with the ball rolling in other states. Meanwhile, the NRSC is objectively a resounding 0-for-13 so far in challenges to open seats and Democratic-held seats.