VA-Sen: A Sigh of Relief

In every ranking of the Senate races, the open seat in Virginia always comes out on top of the heap in terms of those seats most likely to change hands. Former Gov. Mark Warner (D) practically walks on water, and maintains a consistently large lead over his opponent, former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), as they compete for the seat currently held by retiring Republican Sen. John Warner (no relation to Mark). Beneath the confident chorus declaring Mark Warner's lead, however, there has been a faint hum of discordant worry, as Warner's name has been tossed about as a potential VP for Barack Obama. If Warner were taken out of the Senate race, our hold on that seat would be much, much more precarious, as there is no Democrat with the popularity and stature statewide to assure us of victory.

Well, I am pleased to report that we can all breathe a sigh of relief.  At the State Democratic Convention in Richmond today, Mark Warner officially ruled out running for Vice President, stating that he is “110%” committed to winning the Senate seat.  

That is not only good news for us this year; it also means that Democrats who have great potential but need time to build their statewide support, such as State Sen. Creigh Deeds, Delegate Brian Moran, and former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer, can save up their energies for the Gubernatorial election next year, rather than worry about having to jump into the Senate race in Warner's absence.

UPDATE:  The Virginia State Democratic Convention took place in Hampton Roads, not Richmond.  (The Richmond Times-Dispatch article I cited above did not mention as much– h/t Johnny Longtorso).

VA-Sen: John Warner to Announce Re-Election Plans Tomorrow

From the Politico:

Sen. John Warner will announce tomorrow at the University of Virginia whether or not he intends to seek a sixth term, according to two top Virginia sources. Warner is planning a 2 p.m. news conference on the grounds of the Charlottesville, Va., school, where he took his law degree over 50 years ago. The Virginian will give his speech near the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the steps of the school’s famous Rotunda, adding a fitting Warner flourish to the event. 

His office didn’t immediately reply to inquiries about his plans.

Virginia and national political officials have been waiting with anticipation for the Warner decision. His retirement would set off a scramble for the open seat, perhaps pitting former Gov. Mark R. Warner against Rep. Thomas M. Davis or former Gov. Jim Gilmore.

Given John Warner’s recent calls for a minor scaleback of U.S. troop levels in Iraq, the smart money says that a retirement announcement is in store for us tomorrow.  With Tom Davis running for Senate, Democrats would have an excellent shot at picking up his trending-Democratic 11th district House seat (Gore lost this district by 7 points in 2000, but Bush only won it by 1 point four years later).  And while Davis’ base in the DC suburbs would help him against the Democratic nominee, his profile is no match for former Democratic Governor Mark Warner’s.  The only question is: will Mark answer the call?  Or will he bide his time to accept either running mate status on the Presidential ticket, or take another shot at the Governor’s office in 2009–a position that he very enjoyed?

C’mon, Chuck, old buddy, don’t let me down…

UPDATE: Another interesting wrinkle in the story:

A Senate bid by Gilmore in a hotly contested race could be a bruising battle. The ex-governor likely would face strong competition for the Republican nomination from U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, a Fairfax County moderate who raised about $600,000 in the last quarter.

The state party would have to decide whether to hold a primary election or a convention to decide on a nominee. A convention, which the GOP has traditionally favored in Virginia, would appear to benefit Gilmore because it attracts the party’s hard-core conservative base. By contrast, a primary might give the well-financed Davis an edge.

Davis spokesman Brian McNicoll said of Gilmore, “He’s won two statewide elections. He certainly couldn’t be taken lightly.”

Given how utterly disastrous Gilmore’s term as Governor was, I warmly invite him to seek his party’s nomination.

May Senate Retirement Watch Update

[Originally posted yesterday on my blog Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.]

In early February, the Guru offered his first Retirement Watch rundown, and in mid-March there was the first Retirement Watch Update.  Allow the Guru to present you with the brand new May Retirement Watch Update.

Key Statistic: Courtesy of Swing State Project, since the 1988 election cycle, mid-term election cycles have seen an average of 4.8 Senate retirements per cycle, while Presidential election cycles have seen an average of 7.7 Senate retirements per cycle.  With only Colorado’s Wayne Allard officially out, statistical trends suggest that we should see a few more retirement announcements.

(See below for the full update.)

UP Virginia’s John Warner: Most notably, the five-term incumbent raised a mere $500 in the first quarter of 2007.  This is a gigantic red flag.  Further, Warner just today announced the departure of his Chief of Staff to the private sector.  He has continually suggested that he is still unsure of his future electoral plans, but it just takes too much effort for a longtime incumbent Senator to raise next-to-nothing for a quarter.  Barring an unexpected fundraising surge in Q2, a retirement announcement is quite likely.

UP New Mexico’s Pete Domenici: Domenici has not been vocal about a re-election bid, particularly considering his involvement in the Attorney Purge scandal.  Two factors suggest a hightened likelihood of retirement here.  First, since Domenici’s involvement in the scandal has come to light, his approval rating (previously comfortably in the mid-to-high 60’s) has been in a consistent and unabated free fall, plunging from a 43-point net approval in November 2006 to a 16-point net approval last month.  Next month’s polling data will offer further insight into the momentum of the trend.  Second, Domenici had a lackluster fundraising quarter for a longtime incumbent facing a potentially tough re-election bid.  Even the Republican netroots are suggesting that Domenici ought to consider retirement.  While there is no end in sight for Domenici’s continued negative press coverage and while his approvals continue to sink, his retirement may ultimately hinge on whether the Democrats field a strong opponent, and soon.

UP Idaho’s Larry Craig: Craig delayed his 2008 electoral plan announcement from “this summer” to “late summer or fall.”  Also, regardless of how inexpensive the Idaho media market is, by any measure Craig had a very weak Q1 fundraising take, suggesting that his heart isn’t in a re-election bid.  It also doesn’t help perceptions that GOP Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is chomping at the bit for Craig to retire so that he can enter the race.

EVEN Mississippi’s Thad Cochran: Fundraising has been the biggest signal that Cochran may in fact run for another term, as he nearly met his fundraising goal for the first quarter of 2007 while his likely understudy, GOP Rep. Chip Pickering, raised only a meager sum in Q1.  However, two subtle hints suggest a Cochran retirement is more likely than some may suspect.  First, Karl Rove’s presentation on the Senate’s “Republican Defense” states included Mississippi, likely to only be competitive if Cochran retired.  Did Rove have inside info on Cochran’s decision-making process?  Second, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania suggested that he would be the senior Republican Senator on the Appropriations Committee in 2010, despite Cochran’s committee seniority.  Did Specter have inside info on Cochran’s decision-making process?

EVEN Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel: Since Hagel’s notorious non-announcement, he has suggested that he is ramping up his fundraising to prepare for a Senate re-election bid.  But state Attorney General Jon Bruning has demonstrated early strength in a possible NE-GOP Senate primary.  And Hagel’s approval-disapproval has seen better days.  Meanwhile, Hagel’s own comments as well as his time spent with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has fueled speculation of an independent Presidential bid.

EVEN Utah’s Orrin Hatch: Yes, Utah’s Orrin Hatch.  Documented rumors have suggested that Hatch has been “campaigning” in a sense for the position of U.S. Attorney General should Alberto Gonzales resign, be fired, or otherwise lose the position.  An unknown, to be sure, but something to keep an eye on.

DOWN Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander: Alexander declared in early April that he “plans to run for re-election in 2008.”

DOWN Alaska’s Ted Stevens: While Stevens’ advanced age will perpetually keep him on the Retirement Watch radar, the fact that he has just recently taken lengths to distance himself from his son’s involvement in a corruption scandal rather than defend his son suggests that he’s still most interested in politically protecting himself, suggesting that he plans on making good on his threat to run for re-election.

With the dust settling, the Retirement Watch breakdown currently stands at:

Definitely retiring: Wayne Allard (CO)

On Retirement Watch: Thad Cochran (MS), Larry Craig (ID), Pete Domenici (NM), Chuck Hagel (NE), Jim Inhofe (OK), John Warner (VA)

Running (or most likely running) for re-election: Lamar Alexander (TN), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Norm Coleman (MN), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Elizabeth Dole (NC), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), Mitch McConnell (KY), Pat Roberts (KS), Jeff Sessions (AL), Gordon Smith (OR), Ted Stevens (AK), John Sununu (NH)

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Senate 2008 Retirement Watch Update

(From the diaries – promoted by James L.)

[Cross-posted at my blog Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.]

About a month and a half ago, the Guru offered you his first Retirement Watch post, looking at any GOP Senators who might be considering retirement over a re-election bid for any number of reasons.  Here is the Guru’s first update of the Retirement Watch:

UP New Mexico’s Pete Domenici: Pajamas Pete was on the RW because of his advanced age (he is turning 75 this May) and questionable mental state.  Over the last several weeks, his role in the U.S. Attorney firing scandal has come to light, as well as his subsequent hiring of lawyers as a result.  Ethics complaints have been filed against him.  It is unclear what ramifications await Domenici, but it does suggest that this previously strong possibility for re-election has undermined his own chances with one very inappropriate phone call.  Should he retire (or otherwise not seek re-election), GOP Rep. Heather Wilson would have been the likely front-runner for the GOP nomination to replace him, but she apparently made an inappropriate phone call similar to Domenici’s, leaving super-conservative Rep. Steve Pearce as the go-to Republican, a man who is likely too conservative to win statewide in New Mexico.  So the NM-GOP’s likely choices are a politically damaged Domenici or a too-conservative-for-statewide Steve Pearce.  If a prominent Democrat steps up early to challenge Domenici, it may put enough pressure on him to opt for retirement.

UP Idaho’s Larry Craig: Since the last RW, voices both liberal and conservative have suggested that Larry Craig is not long for the Senate.  Whether the ID-GOP is trying to urge him out or are prepping a primary challenger is unclear, but the rumors are growing.

UP Virginia’s John Warner: Before the last RW, J. Warner had publicly gone back-and-forth as to where he was leaning between retirement and a re-election bid.  It has appeared that J. Warner would take another term if he didn’t have a tough challenge for it.  He has even planned a little bit of fundraising.  However, former Governor Mark Warner may be more interested in a 2008 Senate bid than previously thought.  Also, former Senator George “Macaca” Allen has held a meeting to gauge support for a 2008 Senate bid should J. Warner retire.  One wouldn’t think that Allen would hold such a meeting unless he had info that the likelihood of a J. Warner retirement was stronger than the 50-50 conventional wisdom.

EVEN Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel: Before the last RW post, questions existed as to whether Hagel would run for President, run for Senate re-election, run for both, or retire from politics.  Then, Hagel held a big press conference and answered none of those questions.  He did say that “he would actively raise money for a Senate re-election bid in 2008.”  It did come out that Hagel, before he served two terms in the Senate, made it crystal clear that he felt twelve years was enough and that he supported term limits.  Does he still support such limits?  (Probably not.)  However, GOP state attorney general Jon Bruning has already begun putting together an exploratory committee for a Senate bid.  Is he just getting a head start in case of a Hagel Senate retirement, or does he enjoy inside info?

EVEN Mississippi’s Thad Cochran: Cochran had been publicly undecided on a re-election bid, holding off on a decision until late 2007, as of the last RW.  Since then, he has planned some moderately aggressive fundraising, but he has also moved even further back his declared deadline for announcing his 2008 intentions and stated that being in the minority party would make him “less inclined” to run.

DOWN North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole: Her age, health issues, and failure as NRSC Chair had led many to consider her a strong possibility for retirement.  Nevertheless, she says she is running for re-election and has begun aggressive fundraising.  Also, while polling for her has been pretty weak for her overall, they are polling her as the expected Republican in the race, indicating that the media outlets expect her to run again as well.

VA-Sen, VA-11: Could Blue Dreams Come True?

As we all know by now, the DSCC is heavily courting former Virginia Governor Mark Warner to run for the U.S. Senate in 2008–and, remarkably, Warner is not ruling it out, even if longtime incumbent John Warner decides not to retire.

What this creates is a possible dream scenario in Virginia:  John Warner, having survived a close call by a self-funding Mark Warner in 1996, had a difficult enough time beating back a challenge against a political unknown, winning by only 5 points.  At the time, the elder Warner remarked:  “It was tough – a tough two years.”  The conventional wisdom is that John Warner, who will be 81 in 2008, would not mind another term in the Senate–he just doesn’t want to campaign for it.

So, Mark Warner enters the race.  John Warner gets the spooks and announces an early retirement, making way for his preferred successor: 11th district Rep. Tom Davis (R).  In fact, the WaPo has already indicated that Warner has signaled Davis to get ready:

However, some doubt John Warner’s commitment to run. One Republican active in Virginia politics said that Warner has told U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) to prepare to run if the senator decides against another bid. “Davis is actively calling people and is saying on the calls that he has been told by Warner to get ready,” the source said.

Davis would be a pretty strong candidate for the Republicans: he currently represents one of their weaker areas of the state–the rapidly diversifying D.C. suburbs in Prince William and Fairfax counties.  This is the one region that has been nudging Virginia closer and closer to the left.  Take a look at the district’s chronolgy:

2004: John Kerry wins 49.29% of the district’s vote to George Bush’s 49.92%
2005: Tim Kaine (D) wins 55.67% of the vote to Jerry Kilgore’s 42.42%
2006: Jim Webb (D) wins 54.69% of the vote to George Allen’s 44.20%

So Davis could be strong statewide against an average Virginia Democrat, but he wouldn’t stand a chance against Mark Warner, who retired with a mind-boggling 80% approval rate.  And with the recent robust victories of Tim Kaine and Jim Webb in the 11th, Democrats would clearly be well-poised to capture this open seat with a strong candidate.  Any idea who we’d run for it?

Man oh man, what a glorious twofer it would be: a pick-up in both the Senate and House–both of which will be badly-needed to protect and expand the Democratic majorities.  If Chuck Schumer pulls this off (and he has had some stellar success in the past in this area–see Missouri, 2006), he could very well be elevated to demigod status.

Race Tracker: VA-Sen | VA-11

Senate 2008 Retirement Watch

(From the diaries. – promoted by James L.)

(Cross-posted on my DKos diary.  I originally posted this to my blog on February 4, but I want to get the input of the DKos and SSP communities on the topic.  What have you heard in your states?  Note that since I posted this, Thad Cochran has delayed his retirement vs. re-election bid decision, and Pete Domenici has made stronger assertions toward a re-election bid.  Also, Frank Lautenberg has made his intentions crystal clear.)

We know that the numbers favor Senate Democrats in 2008.  21 GOP vs. 12 Democratic Senators up for re-election gives the GOP a great deal more territory to have to protect.  And, as hard as it can be to hold incumbent seats, it’s even harder to retain open seats.  This again favors the Democrats, as there are many more Republican Senators on “Retirement Watch.”

DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer has said that he has gotten assurances from every Democratic Senator that they are all running for re-election, except for Iowa’s Tom Harkin, who has since demonstrated public steps toward a re-election bid.

Aside from Harkin, I’m not sold that New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg is definitely going to run for re-election, which might not be a bad thing given Lautenberg’s low approval ratings and NJ’s wealth of Democratic Congresspeople waiting for a promotion, not to mention that Lautenberg is the Democrats’ oldest 2008 incumbent by just over a decade.

Also, Delaware’s Joe Biden is looking at the White House, but is hardly a favorite to win the nomination in 2008, meaning that he will likely opt for Senate re-election and have plenty of time to do so.

This leaves only the recovering Tim Johnson of South Dakota as a significant question mark, and even his camp is showing signs, from staffing to fundraising, that a re-election bid could still be on the horizon, health-permitting.

Meanwhile, more than half of the GOP’s 21 incumbents are on the retirement watch spectrum.  After spending much of the last decade-plus in the majority party, many of these Senators will find that spending 2007 in the minority will make for a less pleasant work environment.  And with many states, like Colorado and Virginia, on a blue-trend, some Republican Senators may opt for retirement rather than risking ending their career on a loss.  Beyond that, many Republican Senators are just really old.

1) Colorado’s Wayne Allard: Definitely retiring

2) Maine’s Susan Collins: Is under a self-imposed term-limit-pledge, but is planning a re-election bid.  However, if Tom Allen gets in the race and Collins’ broken promise becomes a major issue, with polling going strongly Allen’s way, it’s not inconceivable that Collins would step aside

3) Virginia’s John Warner: Publicly leans one way, then publicly leans the other – definitely considering retirement

4) Alaska’s Ted Stevens: Is 200 years old and threatens to retire every time he doesn’t get his way on a vote – claims to be preparing for a re-election bid, but we’ll see

5) Mississippi’s Thad Cochran: Publicly undecided on a re-election bid and says he may not make up his mind until November

6) Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel: Considering a White House bid, with rumors afoot that he may retire from the Senate regardless of a Presidential bid

7) Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander: Was considering retiring until he received choice committee assignments – still not publicly confirmed for re-election, though – if he dislikes serving in the minority enough, he may just hang it up

8) New Mexico’s Pete Domenici: not publicly committed to a re-election bid, as rumors of retirement thoughts persist, as well as rumors of a questionable mental state, including wandering the halls of Congress in his pajamas

9) North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole: her staff has claimed that she’s planning on re-election, but she has not made any definitive comments; meanwhile, many factors, including her age, her horrible job as NRSC Chair, and her recent hip replacement, suggest that retirement may be a strong possibility – also, polling has the reluctant Mike Easley ahead of Dole; if he got in, maybe she’d prefer to avoid a tough re-election campaign

10) Texas’ John Cornyn: While he is very clearing planning a re-election bid, he is also one of Bush’s top choices (if not Bush’s first choice) for a Supreme Court opening should there be one more before the end of Bush’s term – granted, I’d rather have Cornyn in the Senate running for re-election than enjoying a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court

11) Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe: Rumors exist that he is considering retirement, though this is a rare situation (perhaps akin to NJ’s Lautenberg) where the non-incumbent party might have an easier time beating the incumbent than a replacement (say former Governor Frank Keating)

12) Idaho’s Larry Craig: Another situation of more rumors circulating while Craig waits on a formal public announcement one way or the other

Running (or most likely running) for re-election: Saxby Chambliss (GA), Norm Coleman (MN), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), Mitch McConnell (KY), Pat Roberts (KS), Jeff Sessions (AL), Gordon Smith (OR), John Sununu (NH)

Though only one retirement is announced, if the stars aligned well enough, the GOP could face a meltdown with more than a half-dozen retirements.  While we can’t hang our hats on that many open seats, we can probably expect a couple more to follow Wayne Allard.

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