New Senate rankings: Republicans push back, but are still in a tight spot

September was an awful month for the GOP: John Warner and Hagel retired, Shaheen and Mark Warner jumped in for Democrats… October started much the same way, as New Mexico’s Pete Domenici announced he would not run for re-election, opening up yet another very vulnerable seat. But Democrats then ran into a bad patch of their own that culminated in the disastrous news that Bob Kerrey would not run in Nebraska. That by itself made a race that was leaning towards Democrats become a likely hold for Republicans. Meanwhile, the shuffle in New Mexico has still not been resolved, with Democrats scrambling to find a strong candidate.

That Nebraska and New Mexico have dominated Senate news in the past month is obvious in these new rankings: New Mexico rose from the 11th to 4th, while Nebraska collapsed from 4th to 13th (Reminder: Races are organized in order of vulnerability, so that the first ranked race is the most likely to turn-over). But there was some other movement: The departure of Tom Davis from the Virginia Senate race solidified the contest’s number one ranking, while Democrats are significantly more upbeat this month about their chances in Kentucky and even in North Carolina. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) should be worried at the Democratic determination to avenge Tom Dashle’s 2004 loss and target him for defeat.

The Senate situation is still very fluid with more retirement and recruitment rumors floating around, so that a lot of things could still change in the coming months. But an increasing number of races are settling down, so that we are starting to get a clearer idea of which states are likely to be hotly contested.

Outlook: Democratic pick-up 4-7 Senate seats.

Prediction: Democrats pick-up a net 5 seats, for a 56-41 majority.

Full rankings are available here, on Campaign Diaries. The lean take-over and toss-up seats are listed here.

Likely Takeover (1 Republican seat, 0 Democratic seats)

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

A month after Virginia rose to the top of these rankings, it appears to have permanently secured its place as the most vulnerable seat of the 2008 cycle. The Republicans shot themselves in the foot when their Central Committee voted to choose the party’s nominee at a party convention rather than in a primary. As a result, Rep. Tom Davis, who had been preparing to run for Senate for years, decided to stay out of the race. His moderate profile would have made a win in a party convention very difficult considering the more conservative candidacy of former Governor Jim Gilmore. And if the Republicans had one hope to make this race competitive next year, it was that Davis would be able to pick-up votes in his base of Northern Virginia, thus cutting the margins in the bluest region of the state. Polls continue to show Warner has a strong edge against Gilmore, and that cannot be accounted by name recognition as both men are well-known statewide.

Lean Takeover (2 Republican Seats, 0 Democratic Seats)

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

Former Governor Shaheen continues to be the worst nightmare for Senator John Sununu. Polls this past month confirmed that Shaheen was looking strong and was favored against the man who beat her five years ago. Sununu is certainly not out of it though; he mounted a very strong campaign in 2002, defeating the incumbent senator in the primary and the incumbent governor in the general election. Republicans will at least try to defend the seat, and they could definitely narrow the margin. But New Hampshire’s Democratic turn in 2006 was so strong that the GOP is unlikely to easily overcome it. They might choose to focus their attention to reclaiming at least one of the House seats.

3. Colorado (Open; Previous ranking: 3)

Colorado is one of the quietest top-tier races, mostly of how early Senator Allard announced his retirement. Both parties settled on a candidate early, and primaries will not be particularly contested. Democrats are running Rep. Udall, and Republicans are running former Rep. Shaffer. In the past month, the second poll of the race was released and showed a tie between the two candidates — though it had a very high undecided rate. And middle-of-the-road voters are precisely those that broke Democratic in 2004 and 2006. Democrats picked up a Senator’s seat, the governorship and two House seats in two cycles, and there is no reason to think that Colorado independents are moving back in the Republican column. Udall is favored to pull away ride this blue trend across the finish line, though the race could certainly remain tight to the end.

Toss-up (4 R, 1 D)

4. New Mexico (Incumbent: Pete Domenici; Last Ranking: 11)

New Mexico has been the big story of October. Pete Domenici announced a surprise retirement at the beginning of the month, setting off much movement among state officials. New Mexico is a swing state in most elections, and politicians from both parties see this as a major opening. On the Republican side, the two major candidates are Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, two of the three House representatives from New Mexico. Wilson is supposed to be more moderate than Pearce, which has enabled her to survive cycle after cycle in her Democratic-leaning district (she won by 800 votes in 2006). Wilson is lining up more institutional support, but polls have shown Pearce is running stronger in the general election. The main factor against Wilson is her involvement in the attorney firing scandal — that could hurt her in the primary, but especially in the general election.

On the Democratic side, the big question is whether Rep. Tom Udall will run after all. He ruled it out very quickly weeks ago, but he has been reconsidering in recent days, likely due to intense lobbying from the DSCC. All indications are that he will indeed jump in. If he does, he will start off slightly favored in the general election against either Wilson or Pearce. He has been elected statewide before (he was a two-term Attorney General), and he is a very popular figure. But he would first have to overcome a primary. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, very much disliked by progressives, is also running. Chavez would stay very competitive in the general election, though he would certainly not start off favored.

5. Louisiana (Incumbent: Mary Landrieu; Last Ranking: 6)

Republicans are feeling better about this race after Bobby Jindal’s blowout victory in the governor’s race last month. Granted, Jindal was not facing any significant opposition from Democrats, but his first-round triumph with 54% was nonetheless impressive. Louisiana was trending Republican even before Katrina hit, but Republicans are quite confident that Landrieu has lost much of her base because of hurricane migrations and that newly-turned-Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy will end up the victor.

However, the Republican case should not be overstated. Mitch Landrieu, Senator Landrieu’s brother, overwhelmingly won his re-election race as Lieutenant Governor the same day as Jindal’s victory. Granted, he was not facing much opposition either, but Democrats are not out in the state, and the Landrieu family name still carries some weight in the state.

6. Minnesota (Incumbent: Norm Coleman; Last Ranking: 5)

Just like in Colorado, the field has been set long ago in Minnesotta, which means that the race has been mostly quiet. Coleman and his challengers Al Franken and Mike Ciresi are all busy raising money — lots of it. Coleman also made news recently by endorsing Giuliani in the presidential primary, not that that will have a major impact on his senatorial race. Some Democrats still worry that Franken will not be very strong in the general election, though much stranger things have happened in American politics and many reports have emphasized how well Franken has been able to transition from comedian to politician. It is strange, however, that the DSCC has not pressured more politically experienced Democrats who could potentially be stronger into running.

7. Oregon (Incumbent: Gordon Smith; Last Ranking: 8)

Democrats are confident that Gordon Smith is vulnerable, though they did not convince their top-tier candidates to jump in the race. Ducking it out in the primary are House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Steve Novick, with the former favored by the establishment. Democrats they have to weaken Smith early on, especially considering the large amounts of money the incumbent has been raising. Smith’s main vulnerability is the national anti-GOP environment, and Dems are trying to challenge the image of Smith as a moderate politician. Merkley recently blasted Smith for voting to confirm federal Court of Appeals nominee Leslie Southwick whose nomination was very controversial, especially on the basis of Soultwick’s racial insensitivity.

Weekly Open Thread: Election 2007 Edition

On Tuesday, voters in Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia will head the polls to decide a number of hot gubernatorial and state legislative races.  Which races are you looking at, and what are you looking for next week?  I’m sure that the national party committees will be reading some of these results like tea leaves as we gear up for another bruising round of House and Senate battles in ’08.

Roll Call offers their comprehensive rundown here.  Share your take in the comments.

NM-Sen: Udall is Moving Forward, Local Sources Say (Updated)

It looks like Rep. Tom Udall is well beyond merely “reconsidering” his decision not to run for the open Senate seat of retiring Republican Pete Domenici next year — local sources say that he’s actively assembling campaign team, according to Heath Haussamen:

A number of sources are confirming that U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has moved beyond simply reconsidering whether he should run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Pete Domenici. He’s now trying to put the pieces in place for a Senate run.

That’s sort of obvious, even without the confirmation from sources. Udall considered a Senate run once and decided against it. To reconsider now – and confirm it publicly – means he must be very serious.

With so many Democrats in New Mexico and Washington unsatisfied with the Democrats currently running for Senate, Udall will have no difficulty assembling the team and raising the money he needs for a run. That, coupled with his attempt to put a campaign together, means a Udall Senate run is likely.

Additionally, his press secretary is publicly acknowledging Udall’s decision to give the race another look:

Udall’s press secretary is now confirming that the congressman is reconsidering.

“New Mexicans have urged Tom Udall to reconsider running for the United States Senate, and he’s doing just that,” Marissa Padilla said.

Sounds like this is one “draft” movement that may yield results.  If Udall gets in, this race will be a great example of the type of “DSCC primary meddling” that we can all get behind.

UPDATE: Haussamen says that Lt. Gov. Denish has taken her name out of consideration:

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish has decided to forgo a 2008 U.S. Senate run and instead run for governor in 2010 as she originally planned.

A knowledgeable source confirmed on Thursday that Denish had decided against running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Pete Domenici.

If so, I’d take that as a good sign that Udall is really giving the race a serious look.  It’s no secret that Denish would prefer to be Governor, and would have been glad to pass the race off to someone else who could win it.  Perhaps Udall tipped her off that she no longer had to consider a bid.

100 donors, $1,000 in one week! (Draft Scott Kleeb for U.S. Senate needs your help!)

DraftKleeb for U.S. Senate

The other day I was sitting in my living room wearing my UNO College Democrats hoodie when I picked up the living section of the Omaha World Herald.  Let me share with you what I read:

“The death knell is tolling for the Nebraska Democratic Party, whose last, best hope — a guy from New York — chose Wednesday not to enter the race for U.S. Senate…

The two-party system in Nebraska, in effect, has died.  If you aspire to high office, or even low office, you had better register with the GOP like almost everyone else.”

Now that should upset every Democrat who lives in Nebraska, has lived in Nebraska, has stepped foot in Nebraska, hell, it should upset every Democrat ever!  I know it made me mad, so I framed it and hung it in my office.  Motivation!

Now what are we going to do about it?  I say we make a statement in Nebraska, we give the Omaha World Herald a new story to write about.  That story is fourth generation Nebraskan Scott Kleeb who is pondering a run for U.S. Senate.  His amazing campaign in Nebraska’s conservative third Congressional district is a testament to what Democrats can and should be doing here in the state.

The last week has been a roller-coaster.  Bob Kerrey demurs, the Facebook group explodes, the website launch (, and all the local press has blown me away.  But we can not stop this movement yet, and we need your help.

If you haven’t done so please join the Facebook group (also invite all your friends) and sign the petition.  Post about us on your blog, or a national blog you have yet to see us on.  (also, email me at if you do so I can make sure to participate!)

The next Draft Kleeb initiative will be a fundraising one.

Our goal is to raise $1,000 and have 100 donors in one week.  We have set up an ActBlue page.  All the money will go to Scott Kleeb’s next campaign.  Whether it be for Senate or the House.  We have to show Mr. Kleeb that we will have his back in this race because it will not be an easy one.

This seat is winnable. While untested, Johanns and Bruning (I hear Pat Flynn is running too…) are powerful figures in Nebraska politics.  But they can be brought down if we work hard enough.

That work has to start now and it has to start with us!

The entire ticket in the state of Nebraska depends on who our Senate nominee is.  Believe me when I tell you how amazing out lineup is this cycle.  It’s full of candidates that can make the kind of change we all want to see. On top of that, a successful showing in 2008 will help Nebraska Democrats take back the Governors Mansion in 2010, the Omaha City Council in 2009, and maybe even the State Senate later down the road.  That is truly imperative.

We can not meet our goal without you.  Please just donate five dollars, ten dollars, whatever you can spare.  I plan on putting some in as soon as I get paid this week.  Help us make a difference.  Help us motivate Nebraska Democrats so we can begin to turn the tide in our great state.

Help us…

NM-Sen: Tom Udall Reconsiders

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Rep. Tom Udall is reconsidering his earlier decision not to run for New Mexico's open Senate seat: 

I just got a call from someone very knowledgable about N.M. Democratic politics who says Rep. Tom Udall's people are calling the party's heavy hitters in the state this morning to inform them he is reconsidering a run for the U.S. Senate.

A rapidly growing “Draft Udall” movement online, as well as major arm-twisting from the national Democratic elite (including Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer), has convinced the congressman to reconsider.

Udall, a former two-term New Mexico attorney general, has proven he can win statewide and his polling numbers are among the best of any New Mexico politician. Any ambitious politician would take a hard look at the more prestigious Senate senate seat.

Incidentally, I also heard yesterday from separate – but equally reliable sources – that Gov. Bill Richardson called Udall yesterday to tell him he DOES NOT plan to run for the Senate and would stay out of Udall’s way if the congressman decides to jump in.

Tom Udall's entry into the race would certainly shake things up, greatly increasing our chances of picking up the Senate seat while opening all three of the state's House seats. To keep the momentum going, visit

VA-11: Davis Emptying Warchest?

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) has been the talk of retirment rumors following his decision not to run for the US Senate. Those rumors were reinforced today by news that Davis poured $400,000 of his available $1M COH into the hard-fought re-election campaign of his wife, State Senator Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis.

“He already said he is not running for the U.S. Senate next year, and there’s been a lot of speculation he is going to retire from the House,” said Sean O’Brien, director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. “This is going to get the rumor mill going even more that he isn’t going to run again and will not need that money. On the other hand, he is supporting his wife, who is a moderate Republican like him.”

Considering that his district scores a PVI of R+0.6, it certainly seems like Davis is tossing aside much needed cash if he's planning on running for re-electiton.

MD-04: More & Better Democrats, Donna Edwards Edition

One of the first candidates of the 2008 cycle that we added to the Blue Majority ActBlue list was Donna Edwards. By now, I’m sure many Swing State Project readers are intimately familiar with this race. Maryland’s 4th CD is a whopping D+30. By way of contrast, there isn’t a single red district that’s this Republican (UT-03 is R+26), so you know this is extremely solid blue ground.

And it should, therefore, be home to a loyal team player, a progressive leader who has the luxury of taking bold stands which also happen to be perfectly in tune with his or her constituents. After all, you don’t vote 78% for John Kerry and hope you wind up with a Lieberdem representing you.

But sadly, that just about describes Al Wynn. If you looked at his voting record alone and were feeling extremely charitable, you might imagine he sits in a precarious seat. Of course, it’s not even close – but take a look at a few of the gems he’s managed to rack up on his resume:

Needless to say, MD-04 deserves a lot better. And that’s why Blue Majority – along with a wide array of other blogs and coalitions – is supporting Donna Edwards. Edwards, you may recall, pummelled Wynn within an inch of his political life last year – as a mostly unknown, surprise challenger, she came within just 3.5% of victory.

Next year, Edwards – a bonafide movement progressive – has the chance to finish the job. Wynn, who somnambulated through his last election, has sensed the threat and called in some big establishment guns to raise mega-bucks for him this weekend. The netroots are pushing back, with the goal of raising $100,000 for Edwards by Sunday.

Many hands, as they say, make light work, and I think, on the strength of this broad blogosphere-wide push, we can hit this goal. Donations of any size help, and with the primary still ten months away, small donor list-building is still a valuable exercise, especially for an insurgent candidate like Edwards. So if you can pitch in, please do so!

And, as always, if you’re able to give, please let us know about it in comments.

AK-Sen: Begich Does DC

With ’06 Lt. Governor nominee and former State House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz now in the race to take out Rep. Don Young, there’s pretty much one guy on the Democratic bench in Alaska that could make a race against the scandal-haunted internet guru and Senator Ted Stevens: Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

Begich swung by Washington, DC recently and received the full court press from DSCC Chuck Schumer and six other Senators:

Begich recently spent a day in Washington, D.C., meeting with seven U.S. senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Finance Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, and Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chuck Schumer of New York.

Begich told The Associated Press that meetings lasted at least 30 minutes with each senator. He said each lawmaker urged him to take on Stevens, who has held office since 1968.

Begich, 45, said he hasn’t yet accepted the challenge.

“It’s humbling in a lot of ways because these meetings were not an in-and-out shuffle,” he said. “Their message was clear: They would love for me to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“As the day progressed, it closed out with Reid and Schumer, and it was a hard sell at that point.”

Begich has been procrastinating on committing to the race, but it appears that Senate Democrats are pulling out all the stops to get him to enter the fray.  What could be next?  A weekend ski trip with Bill Clinton?

(H/T: S2G)