House rankings: The field continues to shift towards Democrats, particularly in New York

In the past 3 months, Democrats have increased their House majority as they picked up a remarkable 3 seats in a series of special elections organized in Illinois’s 14th district, Louisiana’s 6th district, Mississippi’s 1st district. What is particularly remarkable is that all three of these districts leaned heavily Republican; in 2004, George Bush had won them respectively with 55%, 59% and 62%. Each defeat increased the chaos of the Republican caucus as the NRCC started to settle in panic mode. After the loss of MS-01 on May 13th, Tom Cole, the chairman of the NRCC, issued a remarkable statement calling on Republican incumbents to brace for the worse and find individual ways to deal with the onslaught.

And Republicans have reason to fear a second November debacle. First, Republicans are now three more seats away from the majority and it is hard to find a GOP operative willing to suggest their party has any hope of reducing that margin in November. Second, the party continues to be at a significant financial disadvantage while the DCCC has a huge pile of cash that it will use in dozens of districts in the coming months, testing any Republican seat that shows any sign of being vulnerable. While the GOP was able to respond in the special elections, they will not have the money to do the same in the fall and will be forced to make some painful choices.

Third, the success of Travis Childers in MS-01 differed from those of Don Cazayoux and Bill Foster in that his opponent was not tragically flawed; in other words, the GOP had no easy excuse to explain the loss of that seat and has to face the terrifying prospect that all of its open seats are vulnerable, no matter how competitive they have appeared in previous cycles. A number of districts that opened up in the past few months and which Republicans believed would be safe bets for re-election are now finding themselves at the center of the storm, districts like NM-02, MO-09, AL-02 and OH-07. Democrats know that they will likely not have such an opportunity to snatch away heavily Republican seats in years – perhaps even decades – and they will do everything they can to make the most of every opening they have this year.

The field has shifted towards the Democratic Party, as a stunning 53 of the 88 seats that are listed in these rankings are held by Republicans. The 25 seats Democrats are defending include the 3 districts that they have just acquired and that are likely to remain in their hands in November. New York in particular is looking to be emblematic of the national catastrophe Republicans fear. Once dominant in the Empire State, the GOP has only 6 districts left today. Next year, they might only have 2. NY-25, NY-26 and NY-29 were already on everyone’s list of vulnerable Republican seats at the time of my last rankings, though the GOP’s catastrophic recruitment process in the first two of these districts has increased their predicament. And in a sign that New York Republicans are doing everything they can to seal their own doom, Vito Fossella’s arrest and subsequent retirement and the farce Staten Island Republicans are currently playing has suddenly moved NY-13 from a barely vulnerable seat to one of the Republicans’ two most vulnerable districts nationally. And to make matters worse, Republican chances in districts Democrats picked up in 2006 are rapidly fading, despite GOP boasting that they would have no trouble recapturing NY-19 and NY-24 (though the first has been making some noise again over the past few weeks, see below).

I have written full descriptions of seats that have made news since mid-February. For detailed descriptions of the other races, check last month’s rankings. I indicated upgraded or downgraded next to the seats that saw their ratings change to indicate whether they became more vulnerable or less vulnerable for the incumbent party. Here is the quick run-down:

  • Less vulnerable: IL-11, IN-07, IN-07, PA-06, OH-15, OH-18
  • More vulnerable: AK-AL, AL-02, ID-01, LA-04, MD-01, MO-09, NM-02, NY-13, NY-19, NY-25, NY-26, TX-22, WY-AL
  • Changed parties: IL-14, LA-06 and MS-01
  • Off the list: DE-AL, FL-10

Outlook: Democrats pick-up 14-20 seats, with a possibility of higher gains. My current prediction is a net pick-up of 17.

Republican seats, Likely take-over (2)

  • NY-13 (open, upgraded): In no other seat did Republican chances collapse as much and as quickly as in this Staten Island seat, the last which the already dying New York GOP controls in New York City. All it took was for Rep. Vito Fossella to be arrested on DWI charges for Republicans to unravel. First, there were revelations that Fossella had an extramarital affair and that he had taken his mistress on taxpayer-funded congressional trips, forcing Fossella to announce his retirement. Second, the top Republicans in the district declined to run, leading the Staten Island party to endorse a weak and unknown candidate, Francis Powers, the island’s representative on the MTA board. Finally, Democrats convinced one of their strongest candidates, councilman Mike McMahon, to  jump in the race. Despite some divisions and the candidacy of Brooklyn Democrat Steve Harrison, Democrats were already favored to pick-up this swing district when the race devolved even further into a farce as Francis M. Powers, the son of the Republican candidate, announced he would run as the Libertarian candidate with the explicit desire to get the Republican Party (and thus his father defeated).
  • NY-25 (Open, upgraded): Democrat Dan Maffei, who was came very close from unseating Walsh in 2006, never stopped running in this district that voted for both Al Gore and John Kerry. Given how toxic the environment is for Republicans in any open seat, the seat became instantly lean take-over as soon as Rep. Walsh announced his retirement back in January. And that was before the disastrous series of GOP recruitment failures, as the only Republican candidate who had stepped forward by mid-March suddenly dropped out, leaving the party with nowhere to turn. The county committees ended up settling on former Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Dale Sweetland. Given how many seats the NRCC has to defend in the next few months, it is unlikely they will put much effort into holding this seat.

Republican seats, Lean take-over (5)

  • AK-AL (Rep. Young, upgraded): Hit by a corruption investigation that is sinking many Alaska Republicans (including Senator Stevens), Rep. Young has a Democratic target for months now, even more so since highly-touted Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz jumped in the race in 2007. Since then, numerous polls have shown Young trailing, the latest being a mid-May Research 2000 survey with Berkowitz up by 10 percent. In fact, the Democrats’ nightmare is that Young lose the Republican primary and the GOP nominate someone with less ethical trouble. The state’s Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell (whose father Young defeated 28 years ago) is challenging him in the primary.
  • AZ-1 (Open)
  • IL-11 (Open, downgraded): Republican prospects in this district have been dismal since the GOP candidate Tim Balderman abruptly withdrew after the primary. The seat was already leaning Democratic with Balderman in the race: the DCCC had hit the jackpot by convincing state Senate President Debbie Halvorson to jump in while the NRCC had failed to recruit its top candidates. With Balderman’s exit, party leaders got the right to select a new nominee and they attempted to convince state Senators that had previously refused to run to do so. Yet, despite the prospect of becoming a candidate without having to go through a primary, none of them changed their mind. At the end of April, Republicans appointed Chicago businessman Martin Ozinga to fill Balderman’s spot on the ballot. They now have a candidate to hold the seat — something they did not have at the time of my previous rankings — which is enough to downgrade the seat form likely to lean take-over. But there is no question that Halvorson is heavily favored to pick-up this seat, particularly with Barack Obama topping the Democratic ticket.
  • NJ-03 (Open): Democratic state Senator Adler and Republican Mayor Chris Myers won their party’s nomination on June 3rd in a race with unbalanced recruitment. Adler is the Democrats’ dream candidate while Republicans did not get their first choice. In a district that is swing in a neutral year, an open race should be fatal for Republicans in a cycle that looks so toxic for them.
  • VA-11 (Open): As soon as Tom Davis announced his retirement, Democrats rejoiced at the opportunity of a sure pick-up in a region that is rapidly trending Democratic, Northern Virginia. But the party’s primary, opposing former Rep. Leslie Bynre to Gerald Connolly, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has gone very negative, even splitting the state’s establishment, with Sen. Webb and Gov. Kaine supporting different candidates. This gives Republicans hope that they might beat the odds and hold on to this seat with businessman Keith Fimian. It is too early to downgrade this race to a toss-up, but Byrne and Connolly better find a way to finish their race in a less brutal manner.

Democratic seats, Lean take-over (2)

  • FL-16 (Rep. Mahoney): Tim Mahoney has had a target on his back ever since his narrower-than-expected victory in 2006 in the seat that had just been left vacant by Rep. Foley. The GOP primary is late so the race will not settle for a few more months, but the number of credible candidates running for this seat contrasts to the situation in many other districts and confirms that this is one of the Republicans’ top opportunities.
  • TX-22 (Rep. Lampson, upgraded): This is a rare seat in which the GOP caught a break over the past few months. The former seat of Tom DeLay was won by Nick Lampson in 2006 after an absurd campaign in which DeLay messed up his retirement, preventing the GOP from replacing him on the ballot. Republicans settled on a write-in campaign on behalf of Shelley Sekula Gibbs. This year, Sekula Gibbs was running to take on Lampson  one more time, but many Republicans were worried that she had become too much of a liability after spending a controversial few months in Washington (she had won the special election to replace DeLay until January 07); they were concerned that nominating her could doom their chances in a district they have no doubt belongs to them. Yet, Sekula Gibbs was crushed in the runoff by Pete Olson despite coming in ahead in the first round of the primary. Olson can now set his sights on Lampson and Republican are upbeat about their chances in this race. However, Lampson can take comfort in Democratic victories in seats like MS-01, as the country’s mood might be anti-Republican enough to save him.

Republican seats, Toss-up (14)

  • CO-4 (Rep. Musgrave): Many feel that Democrats had their best shot here two years ago, when they fell just short of picking-up a second Colorado House seat. Musgrave has always significantly underperformed in this GOP-leaning district, and Democrats are fielding Betsy Markey, a former aide to Senator Salazar. A recent internal poll released by the Markey campaign shows Musgrave held under 50% and leading by 4%.

  • CT-4 (Rep. Shays)
  • IL-10 (Rep. Kirk): Rep. Kirk knows he has a target on his back since the early days of the 2008 cycle and he thus made sure to be the highest fundraising Republican congressman. Last month, challenger Dan Seals  tried a stunt that had already been performed by many other Democratic campaigns across the country: he sold gas at the price at which it was sold when Kirk took office. But unlike similar events held elsewhere, Seals’ version somewhat backfired as many cars were turned away, the police intervened and Kirk asked for a vote-buying investigation to be launched. However, any Illinois Republican has a target on his back now that Obama is sure to top his party’s ticket and drive up Democratic turnout in his home-state.
  • KY-02 (Open)
  • MN-03 (Open): Rep. Ramstad’s retirement was an instant headache for Republicans in this swing district but at the time of my last ratings rumors were swirling that Ramstad would un-retire. That has not happened and both parties have now picked their nominee: Republicans picked state Rep. Paulsen. At the Democratic convention, early favorite state Senator Terri Bonoff surprisingly lost to Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia. This race is still in its early stages and should thus be considered a toss-up but even a weak Democratic breeze would be enough to turn this seat blue.
  • NC-8 (Rep. Hayes)
  • NJ-07 (Open): Republicans nominated state Senator Lance Leonard to lead their party, defeating Kate Whitman, the former Governor’s daughter. The GOP’s obvious trouble in keeping any open seat — let alone one that is competitive on the presidential level — will make it hard for them to defeat Democrat Linda Stender who came close to unseating Rep. Ferguson in 2006.
  • NM-1 (Open): It would be a curious feat if Democrats pick-up NM-02 but not this district, as Heather Wilson’s seat has been one that Democrats have targeted for years. Wilson’s career ended on June 3rd with a defeat in her party’s Senate primary and she opened up her seat in the process. Her campaigning skills were the only reason Republicans were able to retain this Kerry-voting district but sheriff Darren White is one of the GOP’s main recruiting successes this cycle, as the NRCC is confident he will keep the race more competitive than other Republicans would have managed to. Democrats nominated Martin Heinrich, the early favorite and a former Albuquerque councilmember. Given the political environment, Democrats are favored in most open seats — let alone one that leans Democratic usually. Yet, this race should remain competitive and suspensful.

  • NY-26 (Open, upgraded): Rep. Tom Reynolds, the NRCC chairman in the 2006 cycle, unexpectedly retired since my last rankings, giving Democrats an opening in this traditionally Republican upstate New York. The GOP looks to have unified around businessman Christopher Lee but that was only after a disastrous recruitment effort in which the GOP’s top two choices declined to run for the seat — a problem that has haunted Republicans in this state more than in others. Thankfully for the GOP, the Democratic picture looks confused as 2006 nominee and unconventional (to put it politely) candidate Jack Davis wants the nomination and is looking to spend hundreds of thousands of his own money; actually, he is hoping to spend up to $3 million and to do that he has filed suit to overturn the millionaire amendment, which poses conditions on candidates’ self-funding… Meanwhile, most of the Democratic establishment is lined up behind Iraq war veteran Jon Powers. The New York primaries are very late, so if Davis decides to hit Powers it could give th GOP an unexpected boost in its effort to stay alive in New York State.
  • OH-01 (Rep. Chabot): State Rep. Driehaus is trying to unseat one of 2006’s unlikely survivors. Some Democrats point that OH-01 has an important black population and with predictions of an increased African-American turnout in November this is one race in which that could have an impact.
  • OH-15 (Open, downgraded): Mary Jo Kilroy unexpectedly lost her bid to unseat Rep. Pryce back in 2006 and when the Republican incumbent announced her retirement early in this cycle Kilroy was deemed the favorite. The fact that virtually every major Republican in the district passed on the race seemed to give Kilroy a pass in the general election but the NRCC managed to convince state Senator Steve Stivers to change his mind and jump in the race. The GOP is touting Stivers so highly that they at least look certain to devote some of their defensive resources to this race (the same cannot be said of every open seat the GOP will be defending) which warrants the downgrade to toss-up status. However, Kilroy remains a slight favorite. This is a district in which Bush and Kerry tied in 2004, and it will be difficult for the GOP to retain any such open seat. Furthermore, a poll conducted last month for the Kilroy campaign found her leading Stivers by 10%.
  • OH-16 (Open): On March 4th, Republicans selected state Sen. Kirk ¬≠Schuring to be their nominee. Schuring will run against Democratic state Senator John ¬≠Boccieri who has long been one of the DCCC’s most prized recruits.
  • WA-8 (Rep. Reichert): Challenger Darcy Burner lost by a thin margin in 2008 and is back for a rematch. The district leans Democratic, voted for Kerry and should go for Barack Obama in the fall which could help Burner. One of the biggest problems the Democrat faced two years ago was her political inexperience but now that she is running for the second time voters will feel more familiar with her, making it more difficult for the GOP to paint her as a risky vote.
  • WY-AL (Open, upgraded): One of the most Republican districts in the nation, WY-AL was downgraded to lean retention in my last rankings after Rep. Cubin announced she would not seek re-election. Given that most of the GOP’s past difficulties in holding this seat had come from her unpopularity, an open seat made it easier for Republicans to hold the seat. But Democratic special election successes this spring means that no open seat is safe from take-over as long as Democrats have a credible candidate, and Gary Trauner (their 2006 nominee) is very viable. A new Research 2000 survey shows him edging out GOP candidate Cynthia Lummis, confirming a January poll by Mason-Dixon.

Democratic seats, Toss-up (9)

  • CA-11 (Rep. McNerney): Republican state Rep. Dean Andal won his party’s nomination on June 3rd and he is being highly touted as a top recruit to take on Jerry McNerney, an incumbent Democrat in a district that leans Republican. Yet, the Democrats’ special election victories have made the 54% Bush got in this district look like an inconsequential GOP lean, though it is noteworthy that Andal won more votes than McNerney did on their respective primary ballots (both were running uncontested).
  • GA-8 (Rep. Marshall)
  • IL-08 (Rep. Bean)
  • IN-09 (Rep. Hill)
  • KS-02 (Rep. Boyda): The freshman’s incumbent main hope for re-election in this very Republican district is for the GOP primary between former Rep. Jim Ryun and state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins prevents the Kansas Republican Party — which has been divided for years between conservative and moderate wings — from uniting behind the nominee.
  • NH-01 (Rep. Shea-Porter): Shea-Porter is one of the rare freshman Democrats who is facing a rematch with the Republican representative she defeated  in 2006. Jeb Bradley wants his job back — given that this was the upset of the 2006 cycle he probably never fully integrated his defeat — and the latest poll of the race suggests this will be a tough hold for Democrats if Bradley is the Republican nominee. Shea-Porter just joined the DCCC’s Frontline program, meant to help Democratic incumbents raise money and prepare for their re-election; she had refused to join it through 2007, so her change of mind says a lot about her vulnerabilities.
  • OR-05 (Open): The GOP endangered its chances in one of the only competitive Democratic open seats because of the incredible levels of nastiness their primary reached. State Rep. Kevin Mannix attacked his opponent businessman Mike Erickson for getting a woman pregnant and paying for her abortion, leading the National Right to Life is calling for him to drop out of the race. Incredibly, Erickson survived these allegations and became the GOP nominee by the thinnest of margins, most probably because of the strength of early voting and ballots sent in before the scandal was exposed. This is the kind of primary that leaves traces in a general election.
  • PA-4 (Rep. Altmire): Melissa Hart, the Republican congresswoman Altmire defeated in 2006, is back for a rematch and it ought to be a tough one as this is a district that leans Republican and in which a Democratic victory was something of a last-minute surprise. But in the intervening two years Democrats have consolidated their position in Pennsylvania and the thousands of new registrations in the first few months of 2008 have altered the playing field in their favor.
  • PA-10 (Rep. Carney): Republicans nominated businessman Chris Hackett in what is sure to be a tough race for Carney in a district Bush won with 60% in 2004. PA-10 is the kind of district, however, in which Cazayoux and Childers’s victories should reassure the incumbent Democrat the most.

Republican seats, Lean retention (18)

  • AL-02 (Open, upgraded): Rep. Everett announced he was not running months ago, so why is this the first time I am adding the district to my ratings? MS-01 showed that even staunchly Republican districts are offering openings for Democrats, and they will be sure to seize them — who knows when the climate will be this favorable for them again? AL-05 gave 67% of its vote to Bush in 2004, clearly a huge percentage (even in MS-01 Bush “only” got 62%). But Democrats do have a candidate they believe will make this close,   Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright… who Republicans also tried to recruit, underscoring just how conservative Democrats tend to be in this kind of district.
  • CA-04 (Open): A brutal and ideologically driven GOP primary was settled on June 3rd when Republicans chose to nominate the more-conservative candidate,  Tom McClintock. His very high-profile in California circles will help him raise money and attract attention, though some suggest that he might be too identified with ideologically pure conservatism to win in the fall. The district is very Republican, and Democrat Charlie Brown’s best shot might have been to face the ethically challenged incumbent. But he could pull it off if he attracts moderate Republicans disappointed in McClintock.
  • FL-13 (Rep. Buchanan)
  • FL-21 (Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart)
  • FL-24 (Rep. Feeney): Democrats are continuing to play up Feeney’s connections with Jack Abramoff and to tout the candidacy of former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas.
  • IL-06 (Rep. Roskam)
  • IL-18 (Open): Aaron Schock, a state Representative who is the 26 year-old Republican nominee for this open seat, has already created a PAC, signaling his confidence that he will be elected in November and minimizing the competitiveness of the race he is engaged in now. It is true that Democrats did not field the strongest of candidates, but IL-18 is less Republican than other open seats the Democrats picked-up over the past few months.
  • LA-04 (Open, upgraded): The situation is the same as AL-05’s. This is a reliably conservative district that gave George Bush 58% of its vote in 2004. But no open seat seems safe for Republicans this year, and 58% is less than what Bush got in LA-06, which switched over to the Democrats’ side earlier this month revealing how much seats like LA-04 are also endangered. There is a wealth of candidates from both parties, so it will take a while to figure out the general election dynamics.
  • MI-07 (Rep. Walberg): Democratic state Sen. Mark Schauer is outraising the freshman incumbent, a sure sign that the DCCC will pay attention to his campaign in the coming months.
  • MI-09 (Rep. Knollenberg)
  • MO-06 (Rep. Graves): This race has gotten heated early as Sam Graves is using challenger Kay Barnes’s fundraising events with Nancy Pelosi to hit her with two ads accusing her of having “San Fransisco values” along with footage of disco dancing and colorful images depicting gay marriages and the homosexual lifestyle. Beyond  explicit gay-baiting, the aim of these ads is to alienate Barnes, the former Kansas City Mayor from the district’s non-urban voters. In response, the Democratic campaign is airing a brutal ad accusing Graves of neglecting the district’s true concern. Indeed, Graves’s tactics might not be adapted to a in a year in which the GOP brand is toxic and voters are giving signs of privileging non-value issues.
  • MO-09 (Open, upgraded): The NRCC was not too worried when Rep. Hulshof first announced he would retire from the House to seek the open gubernatorial seat as this is a Republican district in which Bush got 59% of the vote in 2004. But the Democrats’ special  election victories this spring mean that open seats like MO-09 are very vulnerable to take-over and Democrats realize they cannot afford to pass this opportunity. Both parties have crowded primaries in this district, with a number of former and current state Representatives seeking their party’s nod. The state primary is not until August 5th, so it will take us a while to have a better sense of the campaign’s dynamics.
  • MN-06 (Rep. Bachmann)
  • NM-02 (Open, upgraded): Steve Pearce’s retirement was not supposed to create that much of a headache for Republicans, but times are tough for the GOP when it comes to open seats and this is the type of Republican-leaning district that Democrats are confident they can make more competitive. On June 3rd, Democrat Harry Teague won a tight primary to become his party’s nominee and he will face Republican Edward Tinsley.
  • NV-03 (Rep. Porter): There has been some unexpected movement in this race over the past few months, as Robert Daskas, the presumptive Democratic nominee who was highly touted by the DCCC, unexpectedly dropped out in late April. Democrats were able to recover, however, as they quickly moved to convince Dina Titus, the state Senate Minority Leader and the party’s 2006 gubernatorial nominee, to jump in the race, guaranteeing that this remains a competitive race.
  • NY-29 (Rep. Kuhl)
  • OH-2 (Rep. Schmidt): In this rematch of their 2006 contest, which Schmidt won by 1%, Democrat Victoria Wulsin is outraising the incumbent and has positioned herself for an upset. But Democrats have suffered two heartbreaks in this district whose GOP leanings (it gave 63% of its vote to Bush in 2004) still appear too difficult to overcome, despite Schmidt’s unpopularity. Democratic hopes in past cycles were fueled by Republican divisions, as some GOPers in the district were hoping for another Republican to represent them but that factor is fading away as cycles are passing.
  • VA-02 (Rep. Drake): Democrats are upbeat about the chances of Glenn Nye, but Thelma Drake might have survived the worst by narrowly prevailing in a hotly contested race in 2006. A recent poll has her leading by double-digit but under 50 percent — a little bit for both candidates to celebrate. Like OH-01 (see above), increased black turnout have have an impact in this race.

Democratic seats, Lean retention (13)

  • AZ-5 (Rep. Mitchell)
  • AZ-8 (Rep. Giffords)
  • CT-5 (Rep. Murphy)
  • GA-12 (Rep. Barrow)
  • IN-7 (Rep. Carson, downgraded): Andre Carson replaced his grandmother mid-March in a special election. Republicans believed they had a strong candidate, state Rep. Elrod, but Carson prevailed in this blue-leaning district by 11%. The special could have been tighter had Republicans had invested resources in helping Elrod but the NRCC did not have enough money to do that — a concrete example of the limitation the House GOP is facing because of their fundraising weakness.
  • KS-03 (Rep. Moore)
  • KY-03 (Rep. Yarmuth)
  • LA-06 (Rep. Cazayoux, changed parties): Coming soon
  • MS-01 (Rep. Childers, changed parties): Coming soon
  • NY-19 (Rep. Hall, upgraded): Republicans had made freshman Rep. John Hall one of their top targets until their much touted candidate dropped out of the race in mid-November. Followed 5 months of confusion in which the NRCC struggled to find a replacement. They had given up when George Oros, the leader of the Westchester County Legislature, announced he would take on Hall, drawing the immediate support of the GOP establishment. Republicans have such a late start by now that it will be hard for them to live up to their potential, but this is a rare seat in which their situation has improved over the past 4 months.
  • NY-20 (Rep. Gillbrand)
  • MN-1 (Rep. Walz)
  • WI-8 (Rep. Kagen)

Republican seats, potentially competitive (14)

  • CA-52 (open)
  • FL-8 (Rep. Keller)
  • FL-15 (open): I forgot to add this seat to my previous rating, though it ought to have been on my list ever since Rep. Weldon announced that he would retire and leave this Republican-leaning seat open. Bush won this district with 57% in 2004, making it winnable for the opposing party but this is a rare race in which Democrats have failed the recruitment game as their favorite candidate, Nancy Higgs, abruptly dropped out of the race in February while the GOP has united around state Sen. Bill Posey. Democrats will need a very strong wind to move numbers in this district.

  • FL-25 (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart): This is the second of two Southern Florida districts which Democrats are trying to pick-up in a battle between Cuban-Americans, the other being FL-21. This Diaz-Balart is facing Joe Garcia, the former chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and the former director of the Cuban American National Foundation. This is a district that leans Republican and Cuban-Americans tend to vote for the GOP, so Garcia will need to convince them to have any shot at unseating the incumbent.

  • ID-01 (Rep. Sali, upgraded): This is one of the most conservative districts in the country, and Bill Sali did the most difficult in 2006 by capturing an open race when most of the state GOP was attacking him.  Yet, Sali won a surprisingly tight primary on May 27th, as he was held to 60% by an underfunded challenger, suggesting that Republican divisions have not yet been resolved. Democratic challenger Walt Minnick has more cash-on-hand than Sali as of May. But Democrats are the underdog here even when everything aligns for them.
  • MD-01 (Open, upgraded): State Senator Andy Harris defeated Rep. Gilchrest in a primary on February 12th, making the seat nominally open. MD-01 has a clear Republican lean, so Harris starts out as the heavy favorite; but an open seat with a defeated incumbent can bring surprises, especially if Gilchrest supporters remain bitter.
  • NY-03 (Rep. King)
  • OH-07 (Open): George Bush won 57% here in 2004, which is less than his share of the vote in LA-06 and MS-01. An internal poll for the Democratic candidate finds Republican state Senator Auria leading by only 6%, though we have to wonder whether Democrats can win in such a district without their strongest candidate, as their first choice declined months ago explaining it was too Republican a seat.
  • OH-14 (Rep. LaTourette)
  • PA-03 (Rep. English): Surprised by English’s unexpectedly low 54% in 2006, Democrats are confident they can test the incumbent more actively this time. Kathy Dahlkemper won the Democratic nomination on April 22nd.

  • PA-06 (Rep. Gerlach, downgraded): A rare Democratic recruitment disappointment, PA-06 should have been at the top of the DCCC’s priority list. But after two very close contests in 2004 and 2006, Democrats have eased the pressure on Gerlach in a district narrowly carried by Kerry. The Democratic nominee will be retired businessman Bob Roggio, and while the national environment is anti-Republican enough that anything will happen, Gerlach demonstrated two years ago that he is a tough code to crack.  
  • PA-15 (Rep. Dent)
  • PA-18 (Rep. Murphy)
  • WV-02 (Rep. Capito)

Democratic seats, potentially competitive (10)

  • CT-2 (Rep. Courtney)
  • IL-14 (Rep. Foster, changed parties): The former seat of Dennis Hastert fell into Democratic hands in March, in the first of the three shocking Democratic victories. IL-14 was also the least Republican of the three, but it still gave Bush more than 55% of the vote in 2004. The Republican candidate in the special election, Jim Oberweis, was a flawed candidate who had lost  elections before and was denounced in state papers for his negative campaigning. The mere fact that he will represent the GOP again in November makes it improbable that Foster will be much threatened. Not to mention that the NRCC wasted enough money defending this seat in March that they will stay away from Oberweis in the fall.
  • IN-02 (Rep. Donnelly): The filing deadline passed in Indiana and Donnelly attracted minor opposition in a district the GOP had vowed to take back this year.
  • IN-08 (Rep. Ellsworth, downgraded): The situation is similar to IN-02. This is a Republican-enough seat that I gave the GOP the benefit of the doubt until now. They insisted that they would make this seat very competitive, but they are sending a former congressional aide, Greg Goode, against a Democrat who atomized his opponent, an incumbent, in 2006.
  • NH-02 (Rep. Hodes): The GOP is concentrating its resources on NH-01, where Rep. Shea-Porter is much more endangered than Hordes. And given that the Senate race will also require heavy GOP attention, there won’t be much left for them to go after Hordes. The same poll that showed Shea-Porter in danger also shows Hordes costing to re-election.
  • OH-18 (Rep. Space, downgraded): Given the district’s conservative nature, Zach Space was expected to receive one of the strongest challenges of any incumbent. But many Republicans declined to run and the party’s nomination was left in the hands of Fred Dailey, the state’s former agriculture director. Dailey’s fundraising has been anemic, especially compared to Space’s fast-paced campaign, and no one is really paying attention to this race anymore. This is a stunning turnaround considering the GOP’s determination 18 months ago.
  • PA-07 (Rep. Sestak)
  • PA-08 (Rep. Murphy)
  • PA-11 (Rep. Paul Kanjorski)
  • TX-23 (Rep. Rodriguez)

Full Senate rankings: The map expands for Democrats

The presidential primaries are heading towards a not so climactic conclusion and so the time has come to focus some attention on the congressional races. I haven’t updated the  rankings since January and a lot has changed in the past 5 months, starting with the resolution of contested primaries in Oregon, Nebraska, North Carolina and probably Minnesota. Both parties have gone through final recruitment pushes, with the GOP playing a tragicomedic farce in New Jersey and suffering through one more round of failures in South Dakota and Iowa.

Meanwhile, a number of seats that had remained relatively quiet up to now have been seeing more action in the past few months. In Colorado, Bob Schaffer had been holding unexpectedly strong for most of 2007 but he was hit by a scandal over his ties with Jack Abramoff. In Oregon, the DSCC decided it had to soften Gordon Smith early to have a chance in November and started airing an attack ad against the incumbent. In Minnesota, it was Democrats who took a hit when it was revealed that Al Franken had trouble with taxes. And in Alaska, Mark Begich officially jumped in the Senate race — though it had been many months that his candidacy had become clear.

But it is the lower ranked seats that created the most wave in the first half of 2008. It has become increasingly apparent that Democrats are successfully expanding the map, putting the dream of a filibuster-proof (however unlikely it still is) back on the table. As poll after poll show that seats like North Carolina, Texas and even Kansas — not to mention Mississippi and Alaska, which were barely on the table back in the fall but which are not first-tier races on their own right — are within Democrats’ reach, the Senate picture is becoming increasingly nightmarish for the GOP. The NRSC is not in quite as big a financial hole as their House counterpart, but the Republicans have to be prepared to have their resources stretched thin. The DSCC is sending staffers to organize in Oklahoma, a clear sign that they are determined to put as many states in play as possible. For now, they are succeeding beyond even their expectations.

Check the January rankings here.

Outlook: Democratic pick-up a net 5-8 Senate seats, with a bigger gain more likely than a  smaller one.

Prediction: Democrats pick-up a net 6 seats, for a 57-43 majority. This is the highest number of pick-ups I have predicted yet, though I think I am remaining on the safer side.

Likely Takeover (1 Republican seat, 0 Democratic seats)

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

If Democrat Mark Warner had not chosen to jump in this Senate race, he would surely have been near the top of both Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama’s vice-presidential list. That he chose to run in Virginia instead demonstrates his confidence that he will be elected in November against fellow former Governor Jim Gilmore. Polls consistently show a double-digit lead for Warner, and given how many other seats the NRSC must defend it is unlikely they will invest anything to defend their chances here.

Lean Takeover (2 R, 0 D)

2. New Mexico (Open; Previous ranking: 2)

The Republican primary between Representatives Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce is getting increasingly aggressive, with two high-profile politicians facing the end of their political careers, in a primary no less. The Club for Growth is now getting involved on behalf of Steve Pearce. Meanwhile, Tom Udall is building his general election campaign and looking increasingly formidable in polls. He is also amassing a considerable financial advantage — he has three times as much cash-on-hand than his opponents combined — and is using the funds to already air his first ads re-introducing himself to all voters. New Mexico is as closely divided a state as there is in the country; but in a year that structurally favors Democrats, any Democratic nominee starts with a clear generic advantage — even more so when he is as popular as Udall.

3. New Hampshire (Incumbent: John Sununu; Previous ranking: 3)

After a slight down-tick in polls at the end of 2007 — perhaps because of her husband’s heavily publicized comments about Obama’s past drug use — Jeanne Shaheen has reclaimed a convincing lead against Senator Sununu. How early the challenger jumped to a clear lead and how stable that lead has been since then confirms that this race is looking to be the 2006 Santorum-Casey election. This is a race in which the Democrats’ success in expanding the map could prove critical, as it is unlikely that the NRSC will have a dime to spend to help a badly trailing Sununu if states like North Carolina, Texas or Mississippi look to be in any way endangered.

Toss-up (4 R, 1 D)

4. Colorado (Open; Last Ranking: 4)



In the first seat to open up this cycle, Colorado’s Senate race was quiet for most of 2007 as both parties settled on their nominees relatively early. Expectations favored Democrat Mark Udall given past trends in the state, but Republican Bob Schaffer held on, as  poll after poll found Colorado to be a toss-up. But the past few months have been rough for Schaffer. First, the Denver Post revealed that Schaffer was associated with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and that a 1999 trip to the Marinas Island that was meant to examine labor conditions was arranged by Abramoff; this controversy gained attention and an independent group chose to air an ad in the Colorado Springs region to soften up Schaffer’s popularity.

Second, the Schaffer campaign committed a major gaffe mid-May when his campaign substituted a picture of Colorado’s Pikes Peak by Alaska’s Mount McKinley in an ad that was meant to emphasize Schaffer’s Colorado roots. While this is certainly a silly controversy, the reason Schaffer was running this ad in the first place was that there were questions about his attachment to Colorado and this only reinforces doubts people might be having about him. The DSCC jumped on the opportunity to air an ad also attacking Schaffer for his connections to Abramoff — confirming that this will haunt the Colorado Republican for many months to come.

The only poll taken since these ads started running showed Udall slightly expanding his lead but he is ahead only 6%, confirming that Schaffer is a much stronger candidate — and is holding on despite controversies — much more strongly than people envisioned a few months ago. This has been a surprising reality Democrats have been dealing with for a few months and while Udall would probably prevail if the election was held today the race is much too close for comfort.

5. Alaska (Incumbent: Ted Stevens; Last Ranking: 8)

This race has been creeping up the rankings for months now. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich officially declared his candidacy at the end of April, in one of the DSCC’s best recruitment coups of this cycle. Democrats have had heartbreaks in Alaska over the past few years, but the state GOP is reaching rock bottom because of a corruption investigation that has engulfed most Republican figures — including Stevens and Rep. Young. Both of these incumbents are in grave danger of losing their seat. Stevens might be the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, but Begich is actually leading by 5 percent in the latest poll of the race. However, this remains Alaska and Stevens is as formidable a political force as it gets so this race will remain tight to the end.

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

With the GOP’s failure to recruit a credible candidate in South Dakota and Iowa and with the farce played by New Jersey Republicans (see below), Louisiana is more than ever the Republicans’ only opportunity for a Senate pick-up come November. The size of the GOP’s Senate losses will likely depend on whether they can cushion their fall with a pick-up here. Louisiana has been trending Republican in recent cycles but Mary Landrieu has been preparing for a tight race for years now. Predictably, as this is the main — only? — seat in which they will go on the offense, Republicans will concentrate a lot of their fire power and resources in defeating Landrieu, as was confirmed by the fact that Republican candidate John Kennedy outraised the incumbent in the year’s first quarter.

But Democrats are certainly not panicking, as two polls in the past two months show Landrieu up double-digits and at or above 50% and found Landrieu with a strong favorability rating. Also, Don Cazayoux’s victory in LA-06’s special election bolsters the Democrats’ case that their party is much stronger than predicted in this state; but Republicans could also point to this special election to argue that the Louisiana environment is less pro-Democrat than the national one, as Cazayoux’s win against a flawed opponent was much tighter than Travis Childers’s victory against a better candidate and in a more Republican district (MS-01) ten days later. Republicans are determined enough to make this race competitive that the race will likely tighten considerably in the coming months.

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

The first three months over the year looked very good for Democrat  Al Franken. His main opponent for the Democratic nomination, Mike Ciresi, abruptly withdrew from the race, essentially handing the DFL’s nod to Franken and allowing the comedian to focus his attention on Senator Coleman, who remains a savvy and fairly popular politician. Enjoying a wave of good press, as the media never ceased being stunned that an actor-comedian could wage a serious political campaign, Franken jumped to a lead against Coleman in numerous polls throughout February and early March. For an incumbent to not only be under 50% but to be trailing this far ahead of Election Day is a sign of great vulnerability.

Yet, it was Franken’s turn to weaken in the months that ensued, as it was revealed that Franken had to pay $70,000 in back taxes and penalties to 17 states. The press started piling on, raising questions about Franken’s sense of business and his competence,  and a SUSA poll found that a majority of Minnesota voters said that Franken should withdraw and that these revelations made them less likely to support him. Election Day is 6 months from now, and Franken will have time to change the topic of conversation, but all polls in the past few months show Coleman has regained a lead and generally comes in above 50%. And Republicans will be sure to use the issue in the fall campaign.

8. Mississippi (Incumbent: Roger Wicker; Last Ranking: 9)

At the time of my previous rankings, we did not yet know whether Mississippi’s election would be held in March or in November, as Republicans insisted that they could wait until the fall to hold the special election, despite the law’s pretty obvious phrasing to the contrary. In mid-January, a judge ruled in favor of the Democratic Attorney General, setting up a March election, only to be overruled two weeks later by the state Supreme Court. This was a huge relief for Republicans, as it means that they would not have to worry about a low-turnout election in which Democrats would surely be more motivated (as we saw with MS-01, they would indeed have been so) and newly-appointed Wicker will have the advantage of incumbency.

Yet, Democrats have a lot going for them as well, and this judicial decision is the only good news the GOP got from Mississippi over the past few months. First, Democrats managed to unify behind one candidate, former  Governor Ronnie Musgrove. Since this is a special election with no primary, it was not necessarily obvious that they would be able to do so and they had to wait until mid-February to convince former Rep. Snows to not attempt a run.  Second, Mississippi Republicans are in as bad a shape as the national party. Travis Childers’ picked-up MS-01 on May 13th, a district that Bush had carried with 62% and confirming that there is a road to victory for Musgrove — a road that some Democrats believe will be only strengthened by Obama’s presence on the ticket, which will bolster black turnout. Third, the November election will be a special election which in this state means that the partisan affiliation of both candidates will not be written on the ballot. In a state as conservative as Mississippi, that is a great asset for any Democratic candidate, one that helped Childers on May 13th and that will help Musgrove in the fall.

Fourth, Musgrove should almost be considered the incumbent in the race; he is better known than his adversary and he is fairly popular, while Wicker remains rather unknown, which could give the Democrat some of the incumbency advantage. Finally, polls are confirming that this race will be tight, with the latest survey showing Musgrove leading by 8%. It is a partisan poll released by the DSCC, so take it with a grain of salt, but other non-partisan polls of the Musgrove-Wicker showdown confirm that it is highly competitive.

For the rest of the rankings, including the lean retention seats (Oregon, North Carolina) and the quickly developing second-tier races (Texas, Oklahoma), check the full rankings here, on Campaign Diaries.  

NM-Sen and NH-Sen Analysis

Cross-posted at Election Inspection and Daily Kos

Overall chart and Virginia here

A couple of things I’d like to make mention of before I go into my analysis of these three senate seats. First of all, for fundraising information, I’ve mostly been getting data from RCP’s Politics Nation and from Senate2008Guru’s website (go to the very bottom of the list).

Secondly, there are some states which I have ranked as being safe that I would like to briefly address. The two biggest disappointments to me this cycle have been Kentucky and Kansas, in both races we could’ve gotten top-tier (or at least second tier candidates who could’ve become top-tier), but unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Greg Orman had actually gotten more individual contributions in the fourth quarter than Pat Roberts, but he dropped out, and so we are left without a viable contender this time. Kentucky is a state which could’ve been in play, but unfortunately Crit Luallen and Greg Stumbo, the two top prospects of the DSCC, both decided against running and the netroots favorite candidate, Andrew Horne, dropped out after Bruce Lunsford entered the race. A lot of people say that Fischer and Lunsford have plenty of money to spend, but, as Mitt Romney has learned, money only gets you so far, and that’s especially true when the Republican you’re running against is the party’s Senate Leader.

Now then, to the lean seats:

New Mexico

  • Status: Open Seat
  • Ranking: Leans Democratic

Democrat running: Rep. Tom Udall (CD3)

  • Money raised Quarter 4: $1 million
  • Cash on hand as of 2007: $1.7 million

Republican running: Rep. Heather Wilson (CD1)

  • Money raised Quarter 4: $516,000
  • Cash on hand as of 2007: $1.1 million

Republican running: Rep. Steve Pearce (CD2)

  • Money raised Quarter 4: $425,000
  • Cash on hand as of 2007: $820,000

Polling Data 

Survey USA (released 11/19) Udall 54% Pearce 40%; Udall 57% Wilson 41%

Survey USA Primary (released 11/19) Wilson 56% Pearce 37%

Analysis: Since Pete Domenici retired and Tom Udall has entered the Senate race, this long-shot race has become the second-most likely seat for Democrats to pick up from the Republicans, (and considering the pick-up opportunities we have, that’s saying something). Now, a few caveats, had Bill Richardson entered the senate race, I would be calling this race Likely Dem instead of only Leans (don’t misread this, Udall is the second-strongest Democrat in the state, and a formidable candidate) just because of Richardson’s popularity in the state. The real question is who the Republican nominee is going to be for the fall. Steve Pearce represents the southern part of the state (Hobbes, Las Cruces, etc.), and we have a nickname for it, Little Texas. Basically Pearce is your typical wing-nut (the other day he was on UNM’s campus, and let’s just say that in Pearce’s world, the spotted owl is the reason why the economy sucks) Pearce’s nomination would basically move me to put this race into Likely Dem territory. Heather Wilson is a psedo-moderate, who has been able to win in CD1 (basically New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque and a slight part of Santa Fe). Everyone here remembers that Heather Wilson barely won re-election in 2006 against Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid. There is a good reason that Heather Wilson has been able to hold onto this seat for a while, it’s because she’s an adept campaigner. Whatever you say about her “moderate” record, she knows how to win.  Now, before anyone gets too nervous, Udall is no Patricia Madrid, he’s a seasoned politician and a strong fundraiser, plus he has a solid base of support, not only in the Democratic stronghold of northern New Mexico (Taos, Santa Fe, etc.), but in Heather Wilson’s base of Albuqurque. Even with Wilson as the Republican nominee, this race is still leans Democratic, but will require us to be VERY cautious about getting too ahead of ourselves (btw: as someone who REALLY wants to hear the words “Senator Tom Udall” please do me a favor and donate a few bucks to Udall’s campaign)

New Hampshire

  • Status: Incumbent seeking re-election
  • Ranking: Leans Democratic

Democrat running: Jeanne Shaheen (former Governor)

  • Money raised Quarter 4: $1.2 million
  • Cash on hand as of 2007: $1.1 million

Republican running: Sen. John Sununu

  • Money raised Quarter 4: $920,000
  • Cash on Hand as of 2007: $3.4 million

Polling data

Analysis: This is the Democrat’s third best pick-up opportunity, and while I think that Jeanne Shaheen will ultimately win this seat from Sununu there are a couple of things which worry me. As many probably already know, Shaheen’s husband has foot-in-mouth disease (the “drug dealer” comment he gave about Obama). Now, I don’t think that this alone is enough to do any significant damage, but things like this really hurt (on a side note: when you have a spouse running for office, the last thing you want to do is to piss off potential voters who are supporting another candidate). Also, Shaheen’s performance against Sununu in 2002 makes me a bit nervous this time around, but again I think that the environment is different in many ways, so a replay of the same election will almost certainly turn out differently. Sununu shouldn’t be underestimated, though, just looking at cash on hand numbers, it’s clear that he’ll be working over-time to protect himself, but Shaheen outraised Sununu by 200K last quarter, and, thanks to a lot of former Massachusetts residents, this race is looking good for us.

Well, next time I’ll be going into Louisiana’s senate seat (Mary Landrieu), and I’ll also give a bit more justification of why I think the safe seats are safe (specifically Kentucky)

Full House Ratings: Democrats feel even better in October


The full rankings are available on Campaign Diaries
.

Plenty of action in House races since our first ratings came out in mid-September. This is recruitment and retirement season in the House, and Ohio has been the center of it all, with three Republicans retiring, two of them in very competitive districts (OH-15 and OH-16). Democrats have had better news on the recruitment front as well (look at AK-AL, FL-24, IL-11 and MN-06), but Republicans reply that they are very satisfied with their newest candidates in NM-01 and OH-07…

A lot will still happen in the next few weeks. Republicans are afraid that many more Republicans will announce their retirement, for that has really been to bottom line so far: Whatever chance the GOP had of reclaiming a majority next year (and it was already a slim chance) has been erased by the number of competitive open seats the party will have to defend, some of them completely unexpectedly. Two good news the Republicans did get recently  were from unexpected places. The first is from VA-11, a blue-trending district held by Republican Tom Davis. It appeared certain that Davis would run for Senate — offering the seat to Dems, but it now seems he will stay where he is. The second good news came from MA-05, where the GOP got a “moral victory” this week in the special election that the Democrat won by only 5% in a very Democratic district. Moral victories might not be much, but Hackett’s near-win in very red OH-02 in 2005 certainly prefigured larger gains in 2006.

I have only written full descriptions of seats that have made news over the past month. For deatiled descriptions of the other races, check last month’s rankings. Only a few seats saw their rating change in the past four months. I indicated upgraded or downgraded next to them to indicate whether they became more vulnerable or less vulnerable for the incumbent party. Here is the quick run-down:

  • Less competitive: OH-02, VA-11
  • More competitive: AK-AL, IN-09, IL-11, KS-03, NM-11, NJ-03, OH-07, OH-14

Outlook: Democrats pick-up a net 7-10 seats.

The full rankings are available here, on Campaign Diaries.

Republican seats, Lean take-over (4)

  • AZ-1 (Open)
  • CA-4 (Rep. Doolittle): Nothing much has changed since last month. Doolittle is under heavy investigation for his ties with Abramoff, and he is refusing to retire, drawing fire from his own party. Democrats are running 2006 nominee Brown, and if Doolittle stays the GOP candidate, they seem assured of carrying the seat. But if the RNCC is successful in getting Doolittle to retire, the race will drop down and strongly favor Republican. It is a red district and is rated so high only because of Doolittle’s troubles.
  • NM-1 (Open, upgraded): Heather Wilson is running for Senate, and this swing district finally opened up. Republicans got the candidate they white when Sheriff White jumped in the race, but the seat slightly leans Democratic and that should play help the Democratic nominee (right now probably Heinrich, but 2006 nominee Patricia Madrid could jump in) cross the finish line. White released a poll showing him ahead in a general election, but it was an internal poll. We will downgrade the race is that is confirmed by independent pollsters
  • OH-15 (Open): Republicans have pretty much given up on this seat since Rep. Pryce announced she was retiring.  A whole line-up of Republicans passed up on the race one after the other, most notably former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. Democrat Kilroy (the 2006 nominee) seems to have the Dem nomination wrapped up, and should sail to victory. With so many other seats to worry about in Ohio, the GOP will likely not spend that much time defending this one.

Democratic seats, Lean take-over (1)

  • FL-16 (Rep. Mahoney)

Republican seats, Toss-up (12)

  • CO-4 (Rep. Musgrave): Angie Paccione, the 2006 nominee, was preparing for a rematch against Musgrave, but announced she was dropping out in late September. This leaves Betsy Markey, a former aide to Senator Salazar, as the likely Democratic nominee.
  • CT-4 (Rep. Shays)
  • IL-10 (Rep. Kirk): Democrats are in the midst of a tight primary fight between Jay Footlik and 2006 nominee Daniel Seals.
  • IL-11 (Open, upgraded): Rep. Weller’s decision to call it quits in this competitive district made it a top target for Democrats overnight. Their hand strengthened when they unexpectedly convinced Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson to jump in, while the leading Republican declined to run.  Depending on where GOP recruitment ends up, this race could soon move up to “Lean Takeover.”
  • MN-03 (Open): Rep. Ramstad’s retirement made this race an instant toss-up, but the GOP is reportedly pressuring him to reconsider his decision, arguing that conditions are too bad this cycle and Ramstad should wait one more to open his seat. That about tells you how vulnerable this seat is.
  • NC-8 (Rep. Hayes)
  • NJ-03 (Rep. Saxton, upgraded): Republicans think they finally have the candidate in this swing district that Bush narrowly carried in 2004 but that Gore won by 10 points in 2000. State Senator John Adler is running, 18 years after a first run against Saxton at age 31. Depending on who tops the presidential ticket, this race could go either way.
  • OH-1 (Rep. Chabot)
  • OH-16 (Open): Rep. Regula announced he would retire in mid-October, after years of speculation that his time had come. Democrats are running a strong candidate in the form of state Senator John Boccieri, but it might very well be that they would have had an easier time defeating the aging Regula than competing for an open seat in a district that is marginally Republican.
  • NY-25 (Rep. Walsh)
  • PA-6 (Rep. Gerlach)
  • VA-11 (Rep. Davis, possibly open; downgraded): In the last rankings, this seat was ranked “lean takeover” because Tom Davis looked sure to jump in the Senate seat and open up this northern Virginia district in a region that has beentrending Democratic. But it now looks like Davis might  not retire after all. Democrats are certain to challenge him more than they did in 2006, but Davis would start up as the favorite if he runs.
  • WA-8 (Rep. Reichert)

Read the rest of the rankings — and detailed accounts of many more races, including Democratic toss-ups, lean retentions, etc…, here!

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 CampaignDiaries.com.

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!

Governor Rankings: Only a few competitive races

Few people are paying attention to the 14 gubernatorial races that will be decided in the next 15 months (3 are happening this fall, and the 11 remaining are set for 2008). Yet, these contests will play a major role in deciding who holds control of Congress in the next decade: The governors who will be elected in those 14 states will hold control of redistricting after the next census, and each party wants to be ready for maximal gerrymandering in 2011.

With that in mind, let’s rank these races, from the most vulnerable to turnover to the one where the incumbent party feels the safest. It immediately appears that very few of these races are likely to be contested at all, especially the ones that will be decided in 2008. Democrats and Republicans will swap Louisiana and Kentucky this fall, and then fight in only  two-three states next year. A stark contrast to the 2006 cycle.

The first 3 races are listed after the jump. The full rankings and detailed descriptions of all 14 races is available here, on CampaignDiaries.com

  • Likely Takeover

1. Kentucky (Gov. Fletcher)
The first of the 2007 races. Fletcher has been facing huge allegations of misconduct and has even been indicted. This pushed Anne Northup, a congresswoman defeated in 2006, to challenge him in the primary last spring, but Fletcher inexplicably survived. He is now almost assured of going down in this November’s election against Democrat Steve Beshear, who has led every opinion poll by an average 20%. Democrats are now running ads using Northup’s words against Fletcher. Count on Fletcher losing his executive immunity in less than two months.

2. Louisiana (Open)
The second of the 2007 races. Republican Bobby Jindal almost became Governor in 2003 but came short against Blanco, who chose earlier this year to not run for re-election given her low approval ratings post-Katrina. Jindal became a House member in 2004, and he now looks unstoppable. Louisiana has no primary system, and the first round will take place in late October. Democrats have fielded weak candidates, and their only hope is to hold Jindal under 50% to force him into a one-on-one runoff in early December, but they would have little chance even then. Louisiana is rapidly drifting Republican.

  • Toss-up

3. Missouri (Gov. Blunt)
Blunt barely won his first term in 2004 against Democrat McKaskill, who since then became Senator. The 2008 campaign started almost immediately, as it became clear that AG Nixon intended to take Blunt on. The race has been nasty for months already. Given Nixon’s statewide recognition and Blunt’s unpopularity, Nixon might have the slightest of edges.

The rest of the rankings, and detailed descriptions of all 14 races, available here, on CampaignDiaries.com

Senate Rankings: How far can the Democats rise?

It’s the first of the month — so it’s time to update our Senate rankings.

It has been obvious for months that the 2008 Senate cycle would favor Democrats. Even before taking into account the anti-GOP national mood that allowed Democrats to prevail in every close Senate race in 2006 but Tennessee, the raw numbers tell the story: the GOP is defending 23 seats (since WY now has two seats to fill this cycle), and the Dems only 12. Add to this the continually deteriorating atmosphere for Republicans, and you get poor fundraising for the NRSC, recruitment failures, and pessimist Republican operatives. The DSCC has been moving aggressively to press its advantage and to expand the playing field to new states. For now, NRSC Chairman Ensign is doing an even worst job than Sen. Dole did in 2005-2006. His fundraising is even worse, and he has failed to recruit top-tier Republican challengers – something Dole had at least done a good job at (Kean in NJ and Steele in MD, who could both have won in an other election cycle).

The rankings reflect this state of affair. The races are ranked from most vulnerable to take-over to safest to the incumbent party – and the top 6 seats are Republican. In fact, there are only 2 Democratic seats (Louisiana and South Dakota) in this list of 15 races! The WaPo quotes a GOP pollster as saying, “It’s always darkest right before you get clobbered over the head with a pipe wrench. But then it actually does get darker.”

It is now too late for Republicans to reverse the situation – their endangered seats can no longer be made safe – but they can still hope to save face if they expand the playing field a bit: Democratic seats in Iowa and Montana have the potential of being competitive, but Republicans have barely made a move to challenge them yet. But this is one of the most important challenges facing the GOP in 2008: It is playing defense in so many states it can afford neither the time nor the money to go on the offensive against Democratic incumbents to at least test their vulnerability, and the NRSC is likely to settle on only challenging Landrieu in Louisiana.

Outlook: Democratic pick-up of 3-6 seats

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

The top 6 is after the jump. Read full rankings here, on Campaign Diaries.

Lean Takeover (3 Republican Seats, 0 Democratic Seats)

1. New Hampshire (Incumbent: Senator Sununu)

The Pennsylvania of the 2008 cycle. Sen. Sununu, preparing for his first re-election race, finds himself in a huge hole. If former Governor Shaheen enters the race in September (there hasn’t been much news from her since Robert Novak reported a few months back that her husband was saying there was a 70% she would run), she will start with a double-digit lead. A few polls already released have her 20% ahead. Casey was in a similar position against then Senator Santorum starting in the summer of 2005 – and he never looked back.

New Hampshire’s monumental swing to the Democrats in 2006 (they pulled two upsets to grab both the House seats and posted huge gains in the state house and in the state senate to take control of both) makes it that much harder for Sununu to hold on in a state that is clearly trending blue. And it also guarantees that the race stays competitive even if Shaheen takes a pass. The race will then undoubtedly be much closer, but the Democrats have other candidates that would make Sununu sweat it out. There are three candidates vying for the Democratic nod for now: Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, Katrina Swett and Jay Buckey. Swett has been painted by the netroots as a Lieberman-type moderate (she did support Lieberman’s independant campaign in 06) who has to be stopped at all costs in the primary, so things could get ugly pretty fast.

The safest bet is that they will all withdraw if Shaheen gets in, but they seem to be increasingly annoyed at the way they are being treated, so some of them might end up staying in. They were in particular annoyed at a DSCC release in early August that argued for the competitiveness of the NH race by touting Shaheen’s candidacy, but there were no mention of the other candidates.

2. Colorado (Open)

Senator Allard had come from behind to win re-election in 2002. But he clearly did not relish the thought of another close election, and he chose to call it quits early in the cycle. Colorado is the only open senate seat for now, and is on every Democrat’s target list. The Democratic field has quickly unified behind Rep. Udall, who has been preparing to run for years now. He has been raising a lot of money, and hoping to capitalize on the state’s blue trend: Salazar’s victory in 2004, two House seats picked-up in 2004 and 2006 and the 2006 take-over of the governorship.

Udall seemed to have closed the deal a few months ago when the Republican front-runner suddenly withdrew, leaving the Republicans without a strong candidate. But they quickly found former Rep. Bob Shaffer, who lost the 2004 Senate Republican primary. Shaffer is strongly conservative, and the Democrats will paint him as too far to the right. But Republicans will strike right back, charging Udall is too liberal for the state (it is true that Udall represents one of the more Democratic districts in the state, and that his voting record has put him in the liberal wing of the House).

The race has not been particularly eventful for now – except for recent allegations that Shaffer has engaged in some unethical conduct, a story to be followed for sure.

3. Virginia (Open seat)

Sen. John Warner announced on Friday, August 31st that he will not run for a six-term. Virginia thus became a huge opportunity for Democrats. But to capitalize on the state’s recent move towards the Democratic Party (, the Democrats need popular former Governor Mark Warner to jump in the race for the Democrats. This would make it very difficult for Republicans to keep the seat.

Yes, Virginia remains a Republican state – and the GOP nominee will be strongly favored in the presidential election. But the Democrats are on a roll in the state with the back-to-back victories of Gov. Kaine in 2005 and Sen. Webb in 2006. And Mark Warner left office immensely popular, which probably is what got Kaine elected in the first place. To make matters worse, the Republicans are likely to break in a bitter fight, with conservatives already lining up behind former Governor (and brief presidential candidate) Gilmore to block Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate Republican who has been raising a lot of money (and who was all but endorsed today by John Warner).

This would not, however, be a blowout for Democrats. Virginia is still a Republican state – and the increased turnout of a presidential year would guarantee that the race stays close. Also, if the Republican candidate is Davis, he could neutralize some of the Democratic advantage in Fairfax, since he represents the Northern part of the state in Congress. And if Mark Warner takes a pass (and he certainly could, either because he wants to run for Governor again in 2009 or because he wants to stay in contention to be the vice-presidential pick next summer), Republicans would be once again favored to hold on to this seat.

Toss-up (3 R, 1 D)

4. Oregon (Incumbent: Gordon Smith)

Gordon Smith has known he has a target on his back for a while now, and he has taken steps accordingly. He has been the first Republican Senator to break with Bush on the War – but is that too little too late? Like all Republican defectors, Smith has never voted against the Administration on war-related issues, and Democrats are poised to use this to attack him. Oregon is a blue state – albeit by the smallest of margins – and the Democrat will benefit from presidential coattails. Until recently, Democrats did not have a candidate, as their top choices passed on the race one after the other. But they suddenly got two! The favorite is shaping to be Jeff Merkley, the Speaker of the Oregon House – widely credited for organizing the Democratic take-over of that chamber last year, and for going forward with a progressive agenda since then.

5. Maine (Incumbent: Susan Collins)

If New Hampshire is this cycle’s Pennsylvania, Maine could be its Rhode Island. A popular Republican incumbent in a very blue state facing a Democrat who does his best to tie him to the Bush Administration and the Iraq War. Olympia Snowe got a pass in 2006, but Sen. Susan Collins is getting no such thing. Rep. Tom Allen has already started running against her, and the race is heating up.

But Collins is no Chaffee. Chaffee committed mistake after mistake, falling behind early in the fall of 2006. He also faced a significant challenge on the Right, only surviving his primary 54% to 46%. Collins faces no such hurdle, and has already set her sight on Allen. Democratic operatives have realized how hard it will to drive Collins down, and it is no coincidence that the blogosphere is going after her the hardest: DailyKos is pouncing Collins for a seemingly minor controversy over her demand that Allen stop sending people to film her, and state papers are jumping in the fray – mostly against Collins.

6. Minnesota (Incumbent: Norm Coleman)

Yes, Al Franken appears to be for real. He has raised millions of dollars, and is attacking Senator Coleman from all directions. But he will first have to survive the primary against very wealthy businessman Mike Ciresi, who is willing to spend his own money to win the race. The big question for now is whether Al Franken is electable – the answer could very well be that this is the state that made Jesse Ventura governor. Coleman is definitely vulnerable, and early polls show him winning against Franken and Ciresi by about 7%. The tragic end of the 2002 campaign – in which Coleman defeated Mondale after Senator Wellstone’s late October death – has made this seat a top Democratic target for five years now.

Read the rest of the rankings – all the way to number 20 – here, at Campaign Diaries!