Senate Rankings: (Almost) Everything breaks for Democrats in October

September was a great month for Senate Democrats. Is started with news that John Warner was retiring, featured the endless saga of Larry Craig’s guilty plea to lewd behavior, saw another crucial GOP seat open up in Nebraska and was marked with recruitment coups with the candidacies of Mark Warner in VA and Jeanne Shaheen in NH. In fact, the only bad news Democrats are fearing now is that Bob Kerrey might end up taking a pass in Nebraska — but even there, the fat lady hasn’t yet sung.

All of this is really icing on the cake for Democrats, who already felt great before Labor Day. Not only is the GOP is defending 22 seats, and the Dems only 12, but the NRSC has been doing poorly in fundraising and recruitment, failing to move to target states beyond… the one state of Louisiana. Democrats, on the other hand, are expanding the map left and right: While they are huge underdogs in TN, KY, NM, TX, and ID, odds are they will at least put one of those in play (just like VA in 2006 and KY in 2004 became competitive only in the last stretch). And the most problematic second-tier seat is turning to be Alaska, where incumbent Ted Stevens is facing significant bribery allegations.

The coming weeks are likely to bring more news that will determine how some of these races shape up. Bob Kerrey’s decision is obviously what everyone is waiting for, but there are other important questions: Will Craig retire as he had promised? Will there be more open seats, with all eyes turned towards SD’s Tim Johnson, AK’s Stevens, and NM’s Pete Domenici? Will Democrats find candidates to run against Dole in NC, Domenici in NM, Stevens in AK, McConnell in KY? All of these races could end up on the map, but Democrats have to succeed in their recruitment efforts first.

The first 4 states are listed after the jump. For the full rankings, go here, to

Outlook: Democratic pick-up 4-7 seats.

Prediction: Democrats pick-up a net 5 seats, for a 56-44 majority.

Likely Takeover (1 Republican seat, 0 Democratic seats)

1. Virginia (Open seat; Previous Ranking: 3)

Virginia inaugurates the “Likely Takeover” category.  When John Warner announced he was retiring at the end of August, Virginia immediately became a top pick-up opportunity for Democrats. And events in September certainly didn’t help dispel the notion that this is their race to lose: Very popular former Governor Mark Warner entered the race on their behalf, while the GOP is showing every indication that it is heading towards a divisive primary between moderate Rep. Tom Davis and conservative former Governor Jim Gilmore. To make matters much worse for Republicans, a few polls taken this month show Warner with massive leads of about 25% or more against both Davis and Gilmore.

Republicans argue that Warner has never been fully tested, and that they can lower his ratings by finally going on the offensive against him. While this may be true, Democrats can rest in peace (for now) for two simple reasons: (1) Warner has a lot of room to give before being truly threatened given the massive nature of his lead, and (2) Warner will have plenty of time to re-introduce himself to voters and strengthen their good impression of him.

That said, Tom Davis could make the race more competitive. He represents Northern Virginia, the region that has been trended dramatically blue over the past few years. Any Democrat who wants to win in VA has to carry Fairfax and the neighboring counties overwhelmingly, and Davis could cut in Warner’s margins there. He first needs to win the GOP nomination then. If Republicans nominate their candidate through a primary, Davis has a good chance of winning. But if they opt to nominate him through a party convention, conservative activists could opt for the weaker Gilmore.

Lean Takeover (2 Republican Seats, 0 Democratic Seats)

2. New Hampshire (Incumbent: John Sununu; Previous ranking: 1)

A lot has changed in this race in the past month. At the beginning of September, the Democratic field was composed of three candidates who were hoping to take on Senator Sununu. A few weeks later, former Governor Jeanne Shaheen announced she would enter the race, setting up a rematch of the 2002 election. Two of the three Democrats already in the race (Marchand and Swett) withdrew, leaving Dartmouth Professor Jay Buckley as Shaheen’s sole primary opposition. Many grassroots activists are questioning the party’s rush to rally around Shaheen, a moderate politician who supported the war in 2003 and was not known for being particularly progressive during her terms as governor. But Shaheen is likely to coast to the nomination.

Polls throughout the summer showed Shaheen had Shaheen with gigantic leads averaging 20 points. That put Sununu in an even worse position than Santorum was in in 2006. How can an incumbent who is trailing by 20 points a year before the election possibly come back to win another term? But two polls taken shortly after Shaheen jumped in the race made Democrats a bit more confident. Shaheen only led by 5%. That is enough to make her the favorite (an incumbent in the low 40s rarely survives), but certainly not enough to count Sununu out.

Republicans argue that they beat Shaheen before, and they will use the same tactics against her in 2008. They see her record on taxes as particularly prone to attack. But Sununu barely edged Shaheen in 2002, at the height of Bush’s popularity. The GOP took a drubbing in New Hampshire in 2006, and the Republican brand looks even worse today — what fundamentals can Sununu rely on to come-back?

3. Colorado (Open; Previous ranking: 2)

This race has not made much news lately, probably because the basic story-line was settled months ago: Senator Allard retired, and both parties rallied around a candidate. Rep. Udall for Democrats, and former Rep. Shaffer for the GOP. Colorado has been voting for Democrats in open seat races in the past few years (the Salazar brothers in 2004, Governor Ritter in 2006), and have to be considered slightly favored here again. A recent poll commissioned by the Shaffer campaign gave Udall a 5-point lead. That certainly shows the state could still end up going for Republicans, but the poll was a partisan one, so it should be taken with a big grain of salt. This race will certainly shift around on the basis of future polls and campaign developments, but for now it is remarkably static.

Toss-up (4 R, 1 D)

4. Nebraska (Open; Last Ranking: 8)

Chuck Hagel announced his retirement last week, setting up what many people view as the marquee race of the 2008 cycle: former Republican Governor Mike Johanns versus former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey. Both men were rumored to be very interested in the race, but for now only Johanns has announced his candidacy. Recent reports indicate that Kerrey might be leaning against a run after all!

This race’s outlook will change dramatically in the coming days, as Kerrey is likely to announce his intentions very soon. If he does run, the race might edge into “lean takeover” territory — given Kerrey’s popularity in the state. If he ends up staying out of it, this race would drop down significantly, Johanns would be the favorite even if Omaha’s Democratic Mayor Fahey agrees to jump in. Fahey would keep the race competitive, but he would find it difficult to overcome the state’s overwhelming Republican lean, especially in a presidential year.

The second hope Democrats harbor is that Johanns will be stuck in a divisive primary. The state’s Attorney General Bruning had been planning to run against Chuck Hagel in the primary, and he is showing no intention of backing down now that Johanns is in the race. Former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub entered the race for a few days, ran ads, and then decided to withdraw, setting up a two-way primary. This could prove an opening for the Democratic candidate (either Kerrey or Fahey) who would have time to introduce himself to voters and define the terms of the campaign.

Full Rankings are available here, with full detailed rankings of all 34 races!

A personal appeal

“Hey John, so are you going to enter the race or not?” I asked back in the spring as I stood outside near my grape arbor.

“I don’t know [my real name],” he said. “I’m thinking about it. Someone on the Internet is pushing for me to and the DCCC has called.”

I told him the person on the Internet pushing for him to run was me. And I knew the DCCC was interested because our site meter on the old site was filled with visits coming in off Teh Google looking up information on him.

Some of you might remember in 2004 I worked hard mainly on the Kerry-Edwards campaign. I wrote diaries about it (here’s one example, my first ever recommended diary, West Virginia by DCDemocrat and Carnacki, appropriately on Halloween.

I didn’t work much – some canvassing and phone banking for the WV-02 candidate in the 2004 race.

We lost the presidential and the WV-02 race even though we had better candidates in both.

I did all I could in 2006 for Mike Callaghan, the Democratic challenger in WV-02 to beat the faux moderate Shelley Moore Capito, daughter of the federally convicted former Republican Gov. Arch Moore. We lost big, 57-42.

I met wvablue (Clem here) at a campaign event and the two of us became close friends, one of several great friends I’ve made through Daily Kos.

Instead of quitting, the two of us kept working. We didn’t stop with the 2006 election. The day afterwards we were already at work on the old site and with our offline meetings at Waffle House working to lay the groundwork for the 2008 race.

There wasn’t a Democratic or progressive group blog for the state. So we made one. We tried to draft fellow West Virginia Christy Hardin Smith from Fire Dog Lake to run, but she did not want to uproot her family. (Don’t worry, along with Howie Klein, we still have plans for drafting her for an office in the future, even if I have to forge her name on the candidacy papers…mwhahahah…Oh don’t act so shocked and pretend you haven’t committed election fraud in the past eith…you haven’t? Uh, never mind.)

So I thought who would give us the best chance at beating Shelley Moore Capito in WV-02?

I’ve known John Unger before he ran for office and liked him then. As my State Senator, I’ve touted him on the blog before (here’s one example from 2005).

In very Republican Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Unger won against a well financed and popular Republican challenger Jerry May (Berkeley 65 percent, Jefferson 67 percent).

wvablue and I looked at the math. If Unger could match Callaghan’s numbers in the rest of the WV-02 and hold his own in his home turf, because of the high density of the Eastern Panhandle Unger would beat Capito.

Now John is more socially conservative than I’d like on two issues: abortion and gay marriage. Both of those issues are important to me and I’m still working to persuade him to my point of view on them.

The truth of the matter is in this district, my ideal candidate would get crushed. My ideal candidate wouldn’t have a chance.

John does have a chance. CQ has just downgraded Capito’s chances. The DCCC has named this race one of top challenger races so they’re committed and they wouldn’t be committed if they didn’t think he could win.

How often have those of us in the netroots complained that the Democrats don’t listen to us.

John is listening to us. On many other issues important to progressives – the Iraq war, respect for the U.S. Constitution, access to healthcare for every one, protecting labor rights, protecting the environment, opposition to torture, finding alternative sources of clean energy, helping the poor, he’s on our side.

So going back to those depressing days of November 2006. wvablue and I had several goals: find a viable candidate to run. We did that.

Get the DCCC in our race. We helped do that.

Get the Big Boys of Blogging paying attention to the race. We helped do that (clem is wvablue here. See also Kos’s Capito’s in the crosshairs and here.

I know a lot of us are disappointed in the performance of our Democrats.

But I know John. We’ve met with him several times. He’s joined us at Waffle House and talked politics with us from the early evening until 2 a.m.

He’s a guy who worked with Mother Theresa as a volunteer helping the poor and flood victims.

He took a year off from college to do it. Think about this a second if you don’t think John is committed to making the world better: he was the first person from his family to go to college. And he took a year off from doing so to spend a year as a volunteer in India. He went on to become a Rhodes scholar. In 2003 he worked with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Save the Children that followed the troops in after the invasion to do humanitarian work.

Some people talk about helping others. John’s done it.

The rightwingers in West Virginia mock Unger as “St. John.” He has a reputation as an independent voice in the state legislature when it comes to ethics issues.

Meanwhile let’s look at Shelley Moore Capito. Although she calls herself “independent” she’s voted consistently with Bush and the most extremist corporate agenda when it comes to the Iraq war, worker rights, and warrentless wiretapping.

She was the leading recipient of Tom Delay’s illegal PAC funds and formed a PAC with Republican Congressman Mark Foley while he was being a sexual predator of Congressional pages and she was one of three members on the Page Board. Her aides have been linked to Jack Abramhoff scandals and she was a recipient of campaign contributions from the Utah mine owner who wanted to reopen the collapsed mine back up for operations before the bodies were recovered and who has a history of fighting against safety regulations.

Capito is the Zelig of Republican scandals. You name it and she’s in the background. Is it because she’s clueless or turns a blind eye to wrong doing as with the Foley case? Is it because she’s willing to do anything to maintain her seat and help the Republican Party?

I don’t know what’s in her heart. I just know I’d rather have John Unger representing me in Congress.

But forget everything I wrote about Capito and Unger. Donate to his campaign because I’m tired of her. I’m physically and mentally tired of her.

Don’t do it for Unger. Don’t do it for the Democrats. (You know my thoughts on them. Don’t do it to eliminate someone like Capito who’ll vote for endless war and occupation.

Do it for me.

Do it because I spend two or more hours a day slogging it out at West Virginia Blue trying to help the grassroots and the state netroots. And a lot of my time is spent having to counter Capito’s bullshit lies.

No really, if we don’t knock her out of office now, she’s going to run for U.S. Senate in the future – or governor. Who knows? She’s the only big name Republican in West Virginia. And I am sick of writing about her.

Everyone else is asking for money now for their candidate. I’m asking for me. If I ever made you laugh about Wild Monkey Sex or smile with a happy story or you appreciated something I wrote on equality for gays, help me out here.

Unger is very close to meeting his fundraising goal for the quarter. As someone who helped get him into this thing, I’d love to be the one to put him over the top.

I ain’t got no money and if you can’t give I understand. But if you can, do me a favor and donate today.

Because I don’t want to write about Capito after the 2008 election.

If you can afford to donate, please donate. Any amount will help. $5, $10, $50, whatever you can afford. I’ll also assure you that Unger’s campaign won’t spend the money frivolously. I know because he’s a tightwad when it comes to spending money on campaigns. People had to sign out for his State Senate race yard signs so he could get them back after the election. So a $1 in this race will stretch a lot farther (further?) than in other races.

3Q Blue Majority Fundraising Push

Building quality Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate is the continuing mission of the Swing State Project, just as it should be of the larger progressive blogosphere.  In that vein, DailyKos, MyDD, and SSP have joined forces once again to promote candidates that Democrats can be proud of in 2008 with our Blue Majority fundraising page.

Candidates who came painfully close to unseating Republicans in 2006, like Darcy Burner in Washington and Dan Maffei in New York, could use your support to help close the deal. And true progressives like Donna Edwards and Mark Pera need our backing to continue waging primary challenges against out-of-touch incumbents.

Our goal is to amass 500 new contributions for Blue Majority candidates before the end of the third fundraising quarter (Sunday, September 30th).  That means we need 150 more people to step up to the plate.  Can you afford to give $15 today to the Blue Majority candidates?  Let's make sure that Republicans and Lieberdems alike know that we won't back down.

PS: If you're in the area, don't forget to join David and James for the Jim Himes Blograiser & Pub Quiz this Saturday. 

CO-Sen: Udall Stands Up For the Troops

I just got this e-mail blast in my inbox, and thought it’d be worth sharing.  It looks like Rep. Mark Udall is aiming to get the House to pass a resolution condemning Rush Limbaugh for his recent denunciation of servicemen and women who don’t toe Bush’s line on Iraq as “phony soldiers“:


Dear Colleague:

On September 26, 2007 the broadcaster Rush Limbaugh told a nationwide
radio audience that members of the Armed Forces who have expressed
disagreement with current policies of the United States regarding
military activities in Iraq are “phony soldiers.”

On Monday I will introduce a resolution honoring all Americans serving
in the Armed Forces and condemning this unwarranted attack on the
integrity and professionalism of those in the Armed Forces who choose
to exercise their constitutional right to express their opinions
regarding U.S. military action in Iraq.


Mark Udall

MN-06: Tinklenberg Will Take a Second Shot Against Bachmann

It’s official — or it will be on Monday, at least: former Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg will run for Congress next year against freshman Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th District.

Tinklenberg, as you may recall, ran for the Democratic nomination in 2006, but was passed over for the party nomination in favor of Patty Wetterling (after she had dropped out of the Senate race).  Wetterling went on to lose the general by a wider than anticipated margin (50% to 42%), leaving Democrats feeling that their best shot to pick up the 6th slipped through their fingers.  But Bachmann is a true nutter, and has embarrassed herself on more than one occasion, from playing touch and grab with the President on the floor of the House to claiming to have the inside dope on Iran’s secret plan to partition Iraq into “the Iraq state of Islam”.

It would by no means be an easy race to win for Tinklenberg, but his candidacy does put the district back on the map for Democrats.

Race Tracker: MN-06

Why does ActBlue support Every Democrat?

The following post is provided by ActBlue’s President, Benjamin Rahn.

When I’m explaining ActBlue to people who don’t spend much personal or professional time on politics, I usually start with something like “Most PACs operate by endorsing candidates who are strong on their issues and raising money for them.  But we’re not like most PACs.”

At ActBlue we pride ourselves on being an honest broker in the Democratic movement. Concretely, that means that every Democrat running for President, House, Senate, and state executive and legislative races around the country that’s registered with the appropriate election office is listed in our candidate directory (or at least they should be — if you notice someone missing just let us know) and we provide them all with access to exactly the same software and services.

And we’re particularly proud that campaigns trust our neutrality: in primaries including the recent MA-05 special election and the upcoming ME-01 and CA Senate District 3 races, all (or almost all) of the Democratic campaigns are using ActBlue as a core part of their online fundraising program.

But for an organization with an inherently political mission, it’s an odd route to take.  So why’d we do it?

When Matt DeBergalis and I founded ActBlue in 2004, this course was a straightforward choice for several reasons:

  1. Republicans controlled every branch of government and were on an unchecked tear to remake this country in their own horrifying ultra-conservative vision: a disastrous war abroad, erosion of civil rights at home, and a government run for the benefit of corporate greed — social and environmental consequences be damned.  We needed to push back–hard–by returning the Democratic Party to power.
  2. The organizations, bloggers, and grassroots activists we wanted to serve were all making different choices about who to support.  With different issue priorities, different strategies, and different opinions about which campaigns were most likely to put Democrats over the top, the best way to help them all was to build a platform that could support all of the candidates for whom they wanted to fundraise.
  3. It didn’t hurt that this route was easy to implement. We could focus our efforts on building a novel fundraising platform rather than detailed candidate research.

Of course we got a good bit of flack for this choice in various corners: “Why are you supporting [candidate X]? They’re way too conservative/crazy/long-shot to deserve help from ActBlue.”  One of my off-hand responses from 2004 lives on in our Frequently Asked Questions:

You listed a candidate who clubs baby seals-shouldn’t you take them off the site?

We…don’t impose our personal or ideological judgments on our decisions to include or exclude anyone. However, if our users share our anti-baby-seal-clubbing views, no one will promote them on their fundraising pages, and there won’t be any problem. 

In that quip, though, lies a more fundamental reason for our approach that we didn’t fully appreciate when we got started. By offering a trusted, neutral platform for all Democratic candidates and fundraisers, we’re creating a more democratic (little ‘d’) party — and that ultimately makes the movement stronger.

Let me unpack that a bit.

The strategy of most political groups goes something like the following:  “first, we’ll build our capacity to raise funds, recruit volunteers, and/or persuade voters.  Then, we’ll use those resources to help elect the candidates we like.  And, finally, we’ll wield our money, volunteers and votes as carrots and sticks to encourage politicians to see things our way.”

In creating ActBlue, we envisioned ourselves helping fellow progressives build the small-donor fundraising force Democrats need to fight back against the corporate money that fuels the GOP and stymies progressive change. But why be so general as to help support all Democrats?  Why not restrict the use of ActBlue’s fundraising tools so they could only be used to support specific, vetted candidates we like?  If this is really such powerful stuff, why not wield our fundraising platform as a super-duper carrot-and-stick machine?

We’ve chosen to instead make ActBlue an honest broker because we believe that the best Democratic Party, and the best government as a whole, can only be achieved when every part of the political process — including fundraising — is conducted according to the greatest aspirations of our democracy.  Only by changing the rules of the game can the competition for political influence be won by those who best represent the interests of the public as a whole. 

In a Democratic movement with truly democratic fundraising, every Democrat with the courage to throw his or her hat into the ring — regardless of issue positions, previous endorsements, or chance of success — has the opportunity to pitch themselves and make their ask to everyone who wants to make a difference.  And every person involved in our movement has the technology and organizing resources to gather like-minded individuals together and build political power.  Our approach at ActBlue is backed by a belief that if we can level the playing field, the best leaders will emerge and the best ideas will win the day. 

Paired with our idealism about bringing out the best in our movement is pragmatism about building the strength we need to fight the conservative movement.  The standard political modus operandi (“Stay on message!  Focus 100% on the endorsed campaigns — otherwise you’re wasting resources!”) doesn’t make sense for a movement as large and diverse as ours.

When someone goes out to make a fundraising ask, they’re not going to be effective unless they passionately believe in the cause they are supporting.  Of course activists and groups will argue about candidates and strategy.  We won’t all agree.  But even with our differences, at ActBlue we believe that the combined power of everyone’s full effort far outweighs the results when rigid adherence to a specific strategy is enforced. And so if institutions like ActBlue were to force people to follow a specific strategy designed by a few, we wouldn’t increase efficiency at all. We’d just end up with a few people being more effective, and a lot more people staying at home.  By empowering each person and each group to back the candidates they find y inspiring and to fight for the positions that they personally find most important, we maximize the power of our movement. 

Senate 2008 Guru’s “Expand the Map!” Effort

[Check out Senate 2008 Guru’s blog and please check out the Guru’s ActBlue page!  I’m looking for just ten contributors.  Please chip in!]

I have been thinking about what Senate races I would most like to see additional dollars going toward.  The highest tier competitive races, states like (but certainly not limited to) Colorado and Virginia, will receive a great deal of attention.  While I don’t want to discourage anybody from contributing to terrific Democratic candidates in these states (take nothing for granted!), I would like to see the map of competitive states expand as much as possible.  Many races in states that don’t typically see competitive Senate races have the chance to be real pick-up opportunities.  But they need our support!

(Much more below the fold!)

I have inaugurated my “Expand the Map!” ActBlue page with two Senate campaigns that have the potential to be fiercely competitive and where every single dollar contributed can truly make the difference.

In Idaho, Larry Craig’s scandal has left the ID-GOP in a state of limbo. All the while, former Congressman and Army veteran Larry LaRocco has been tirelessly criss-crossing the state through his successful “Working for the Senate” campaign, reaching out to voters and offering Idaho a real opportunity for change in 2008.

In Oklahoma, the dynamic campaign of State Senator Andrew Rice has provided Oklahomans with a strong alternative to Senate anachronism Jim “In Denial” Inhofe, who notoriously called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” an absurd analysis that even California’s Republican Governor Arnold “Conan the Barbarian” Schwarzenegger called “thinking in the Stone Age.”

Larry LaRocco and Andrew Rice can expand the map of competitive Senate seats in 2008, but they need your support.

I’m starting the page with a very modest goal. I would love to see ten contributions made to both LaRocco and Rice by 11:59pm tonight. Every dollar counts, so please help Expand the Map!

NE-Sen: Daub Out… What About Kerrey?

Barely a week after announcing his candidacy, former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub will exit the Republican primary to succeed retiring Senator Chuck Hagel, the Omaha World-Herald reports:

Daub, 66, was expected to announce today that the time is not right for his campaign, said four people close to Daub who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

His announcement comes on the heels of GOP powerhouse Mike Johanns’ expected entry into the race. Johanns, twice elected governor and then appointed U.S. agriculture secretary, shook up the GOP primary battle last week when he resigned his post in President Bush’s Cabinet.

Johanns has the backing of the Washington, D.C., GOP establishment and a proven ability to run a strong, grass-roots campaign in Nebraska. Unlike Daub, Johanns has won two statewide races. Daub, who also is a former congressman, lost two prior U.S. Senate bids.

Daub did not return telephone calls.

But he began to call friends and supporters Thursday afternoon to break the news that he was getting out. He told them it was an uphill battle when he began, and that it became much tougher with a Johanns candidacy.

Despite his resentment towards the NRSC for their efforts to clear the field for Johanns, Daub seems to know what’s coming: a recent poll released by the NRSC had Daub trailing Johanns and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning by a 58%-16%-12% margin among GOP primary voters.  Ouch.

Meanwhile, former Democratic Governor and Senator Bob Kerrey is sending out more mixed signals, this time by saying that the prospect of a Senate candidacy “excites” him, but that his only concern is the toll it might take on his young son, Henry.  We can expect his decision “soon”.

(Big hat-tips to the New Nebraska Network)

AK-Sen: Stevens Sliding

In a recent poll comissioned by the state Democratic party, Alaskan voters said that they were unlikely to re-elect Republican Internet Guru Ted Stevens to the US Senate.

Likelihood to re-elect (Hays Research Group, 9/17-18; June results in parentheses; n=401; MoE=+-4.9%):

Very Unlikely: 29 (30)
Somewhat Unlikely: 16 (13)
Undecided: 11 (6)
Somewhat Likely: 16 (22)
Very Likely: 27 (28)

These numbers are certainly moving in the right direction, as a full 45% of Alaskans say they're unlikely to re-elect the veteran legislator to a seventh full term.

I guess all the corruption was bound to catch up to him at some point.