Meanwhile, third wheel state Sen. Paula Dockery said she wouldn’t put her personal wealth into her campaign – and also opined that she’d veto an abortion bill she voted for if she became governor. I’m not even sure John Kerry could come up with something that good.
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.
As reported on front page over at Kos.
With Johanns jumping in and Kerrey backing out, I think I know what the early polling looks like. Personally, I’m willing to get a LOT more excited about a Scott Kleeb or someone else, who will probably also lose, but can get Nebraska Dems excited and working hard.
Popular former Governor Mike Johanns (R) has announced that he’s resigning from his position as Agriculture Secretary and returning to Nebraska to run for the open Senate seat being vacated by Chuck Hagel.
“Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has decided to resign from President Bush’s cabinet to return to Nebraska and enter the 2008 Senate race.
Johanns, the former two-term Republican governor, began placing phone calls to a number of friends and supporters in the state Tuesday night to inform them of his decision.
A formal announcement is expected in Nebraska next week after Johanns has submitted his resignation to the White House, according to a source close to Johanns.”
Johanns joins two other prominent GOPers in the state, former Omaha Mayor and former four-term Congressman Hal Daub, who got in the race last week, and Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has been actively campaigning since the spring. Tony Raimondo and Pat Flynn have also announced their intentions to run.
Johanns is widely seen as the strongest possible GOP nominee (some even count him as stronger than Chuck Hagel), and the best person to keep the seat in the Republican Party should former Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey decide to run. Johanns was the mayor of Lincoln, NE when he was elected Governor in 1998, then re-elected in 2002 with 69% of the vote.
In preperation for Johanns expected entry, Jon Bruning released a poll last week that showed himself only nine points down against Johanns in the GOP primary. The same poll, conducted on behalf of Jon Bruning, gave Johanns a fav/unfav of 60%-6%. Rumors in Washington though have Mike Johanns’ internal polling blowing Bruning out of the water.
Strategically speaking, Johanns position also puts prospective candidate Bob Kerrey in a bind. Kerrey has yet to announce his intentions, though he has told the board of his school that his retirement to run for Senate is a possibility. But given Mike Johanns’ popularity and strength in the red state, especially during a Presidential election year, Bob Kerrey may think twice before leaving his job in New York to run–and potentially lose–a Senate race in his home state.
Assuming Johanns wins the GOP nomination, which he is the odds-on favorite to do at this point, in a match-up against Bob Kerrey most pundits will rate the seat as Leans GOP or a toss-up. If Bob Kerrey decides not to run, the nominee would likely be either Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey or NE-03 nominee Scott Kleeb; against either of these candidates, Mike Johanns would be the strong favorite to win.
From the New Nebraska Network:
The table is set. Labor Day is upon us, and a number of political deadlines are approaching. Decisions ready to be made. Political heavyweights ready to enter the arena, and some apparently ready to exit.
I’ve devoted quite a bit of virtual ink to this race, repeating myself dozens of times, going over every single sign, detail, rumor, or press account to get a better picture of what I believe is the most important race in Nebraska – for Nebraska – in 2008.
The evolution of this race – from the initial rumors of Hagel’s retirement, to Mike Fahey’s potential entry into the race, Hagel’s March “announcement,” and Bruning’s primary challenge, followed by Kerrey’s interest in a potential candidacy, has been one of the most fascinating stories of this young election cycle.
In Don Walton’s article in the Lincoln Journal Star today, this quote stands out:
If it’s ultimately Kerrey versus Johanns after 2008 primary voters have spoken and all the smoke has cleared, Nebraska may play host to next year’s premier Senate race.
So say Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray in The Washington Post.
“A Kerrey-Johanns matchup would be the early front-runner for the marquee race of the 2008 cycle,” they wrote last week.
We wait in anticipation for Kerrey’s decision. More after the jump…
The right-wing blog Leavenworth Street reports a few rumors of note, including this one:
The word on the Street is that Mike Johanns has hired a campaign manager.
Which would be interesting to say the least, because there’s at least two things in that sentence that have Mike Johanns directly violating the Hatch Act. Maybe the rumormongers want to back off a bit before they get their preferred candidate into trouble with the law? Oh, wait, that’s right, the Justice Department doesn’t prosecute Republicans – especially members of the Bush administration.
Speaking of Republicans having total disregard for campaign law, there’s Jon Bruning, who placed an ad in the Omaha World-Herald on Thursday. Okay, you say, so what’s the problem? It was paid for by Jon Bruning for Attorney General. The NDP blog explains the rest:
This ad was financed with soft money – money collected without adhering to the rigorous standards required by the FEC in federal elections. State-level and lower candidates use only soft money for their campaigns.
The problem is that Mr. Bruning has announced – three times, no less – that he’s running for a federal office. And I think even a lawyer as practiced as Jon Bruning would be hard-pressed to convince Nebraskans that this ad is not intended to help his numbers in his bid for Senate.
Then, of course, there’s Pat Flynn, the fringe candidate who, in his campaign announcement, decided it was a good idea to get out in front of the story:
Pat has not always led an exemplary life. He had some encounters with the law regarding alcohol and marijuana when he was in his twenties. Thankfully, the law won these battles and today these experiences are looked upon as an asset because of the life-change that occurred. With the help of God, a recovery program and the love of friends and family, Pat’s life has changed and he has been able to help effect change in other’s lives because of this experience. Pat is not proud of this part of his past but has taken full responsibility for his actions and understands well the concerns and challenges of many others who are dealing with these issues in their own lives.
Here’s guessing that Flynn’s candidacy is already “up in smoke.”
Don Walton has the story:
Bob Kerrey stepped to the brink of a possible 2008 Senate bid Thursday.
Kerrey placed a conference call to New School University trustees in New York City to inform them he may be returning to Nebraska.
A decision on whether to return to his roots and attempt to once again represent Nebraska in the Senate is likely “within the next couple of weeks,” Kerrey said in a telephone interview.
This pretty much lines up with the timeline of Hagel's decision. By Labor Day, we're going to know what the field looks like.
On every issue outside of Iraq and Social Security, Kerrey's as progressive a Democrat as you will find in the state of Nebraska. He's popular, he's not afraid of a fight, and he knows how to win elections.
You can talk about his “Liebermanesque” tendencies to bash Democrats, but he doesn't pull punches on the Republicans (I'm sure you've heard his take on the etymology of Rick Santorum's last name, or at least what Rudy Giuliani should have said on 9/11).
He was a huge supporter of Jim Webb in Virginia, and of course Scott Kleeb in Nebraska. And in four years as governor, and twelve years as Senator, he did everything he could for the state of Nebraska. I'd support a Kerrey for Senate campaign without reservation. We'll see in the next couple of weeks if that's a reality.