Ok, I’ll do the top vulnerable Dems:
FL-Bill Nelson (D)
Red state Florida, which Bush won by 5% in 2004, should have been a gimme for the Republicans, but poor recruiting (in almost all races, infact) has left them with damaged goods Katherine Harris, the lightning rod of the 2000 Florida recount as the nominee. She hasn’t run a particularly professional campaign, and now there she’s been tainted with a possible funding scandal. Even if it has no merit, she doesn’t need another drag on her already limping campaign. The GOP establishment didn’t want her to run, but where is a viable alternative? Ask Libby Dole. Regrettably, I think the Dems hold this one. Harris trails Nelson by 9 points according to Rasmussen. Harris seems too polarizing to defeat the affable and popular Nelson (27% unfavorable to Harris’ 34%).
This is one to watch. Republican nominee Michael Steele, theAfrican-American lieutenant governor, was elected in 2002 with Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich. The Democrats have been running a divisive primary campaign, with a whinging Kweisi Mfume accusing Congressman Ben Cardin of dirty tactics and even playing the race card (who’d a thunk it!). Steele leads Mfume narrowly in recent polls, so he would be the GOP’s preferred rival, but a sex scandal from Mfume’s tenure at NAACP may sink his candidacy. Steele made a few gaffeshimself recently, but he is a strong candidate and this is a chance fora Republican pickup. At the moment however, most polls show him trailing Cardin by double digits; Rasmussen:Cardin 49% Steele 35%. Steele leads when pitted against Mfume 42%-41%.If Republican Governor Ehrlich has any coat-tails, Steele may yet ride to victory. Maybe.
MI-Debbie Stabenow (D)
In 2000 Stabenow upset one-term Republican Senator Spence Abraham. Abraham ended up as energy secretary in the first Bush administration. Strangely, his wife, Jane, a political neophyte, considered challenging Stabenow in 2006, but decided against it (probably a good idea).
The Republicans are left with African-American Detroit city councilman (a rare Republican in Detroit city government) Rev. Keith Butler or Oakland County sheriff and former state senate majority leader Mike Bouchard. Butler would be a great candidate, he’s feisty and has a fresh slant on national politics,although word is the party prefers Bouchard, believing him more experienced and therefore more electable. Michigan is a fairly Blue state (Kerry won the state by about 3% in 2004) and weak as she is, Stabenow is the incumbent, and without a popular, well-known challenger, this seat is likely to stay Democrat. Rasmussen has Stabenow leading 54% to 33% versus Mike Bouchard and 50% to 25% versus Butler in late February.
Again, I blame Libby Dole.A city councilman and a county sheriff, even one who was in the state senate? Is that really the best the Republicans can do to challenge a shallow one-termer who barely won in 2000? Losing this one is going to be a real shame and an inexcusable missed opportunity, as several of these races are.
One-term Democrat Mark Dayton (known as Brave Sir Dayton) is retiring, and its too bad. He would have been highly beatable, due to his wacky statements and his cowardly antics. Well-funded and well-organizedCongressman Mark Kennedy will be the GOP nominee. The Democrat nominee is likely Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, who is not particularly well-known statewide and not a very charismatic figure. Ford Bell, a veterinarian and an heir to General Mills, is also running but is lagging badly in fundraising. Kennedy is energetic and a dynamic speaker, and if he can buck the anti-Republican wave that seems to be washing over Congress, he has a very good chance to take this seat from the Democrats. Polls have been very close and volatile. Its probably the Republican’s best chance for a pickup.
ND-Kent Conrad (D)
If only Governor John Hoeven had run, the Republicans would pick this up in a walk. Both Karl Rove and Dick Cheney made personal appeals, to no avail. Elizabeth Dole’s failure to line up a good candidate here is going to be directly responsible for very Red ND (President Bush won ND 63%-36% in 2004) sending all 3 members of its congressional contingent to Washington as Democrats, again. Public Services Commissioner Kevin Cramer is the likely nominee, but the power of incumbency is hard to overcome for a little known bureaucrat. Rasmussen has Conrad leading 57% to 35%. This probably stays Democrat.
NE-Ben Nelson (D)
While Nelson is more liberal than most Republicans, he cannot be tarred with the brush of being an “East Coast” type liberal either. If only Nelson would switch parties, he could avoid all the back-biting from the hard-lefty wingof the Dems, the GOP would pick up a seat and the Democrats would have no viable opponent in this very Red state (Bush won Nebraska in 2004 by even more than N. Dakota; 66%-33%). Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for Ameritrade Holding Corporation, Pete Ricketts, wants to start right at the top in politics by going straight to the Senate. He is a wealthy self-funder and is by all accounts running a good campaign, but jumping right into the Senate with no prior experience isa bit of a stretch in any race, and Nelson is very popular in Nebraska.
The only distinction this race may have is its going to be anexpensive one: Ricketts anted up $1.435 million of his own money and raised $485,000 in contributions. Nelson raised $3.9 million, making this a record for Nebraska elections.
Nebraska is a long-shot this year for the Republicans. Even though he won in 2000 with only 51% of the vote, it would be more likely Nelson switch parties than lose this year.
NJ- Robert Menendez(D)
Governor Jon Corzine appointed Bob Menendez to fill the rest of his (Corzine’s) term, so he holds a nominal incumbent’s edge, and this is avery Blue state. However, there was some grumbling about the fact he was named over more senior and ‘worthy’ Democrats, leaving him without whole-hearted support from the party, plus he’s had brushes with scandal- not that things like that seem to bother NJ voters (remember Robert “Torch” Torricelli?).Republican State Sen. Tom Kean, Jr., the son of the former, popular GOP governor is a top-notch candidate. This is another very possible, if not probable, Republican pick-up. Latest pollsput Menendez 39% to Kean 36%, with momentum on Menendez’ side (up 5pts.from Jan) but with 25% (!) still undecided. One last note, the last time New Jersey elected a Republican U.S. Senator was in 1972. Ouch.
WA-Maria Cantwell (D)
Dino Rossi lost the Governorship after 3 dishonest and corrupt recounts in King Countyin 2004. Still very popular and the favorite for the 2008 WA Governorship, the “fair play” sentiment, especially after the classy way he conceded even though it was apparent he had been robbed, would likely have swept him into office in this Democrat-leaning state (Kerry won by 7%). After all, Cantwell won by only 2,000 votes in 2000. Rossi and his wife declined to chance the move to Washington D.C. and he will probably run for WA Gov again in 2008. Mike McGavick, the CEO of Safeco and former staffer for Slade Gordon (whom Cantwell defeated in 2000) will be the GOP nominee. While McGavick is competent and a self-funder, he is not well-known enough to seriously challenge an incumbent, even one as weak as Cantwell. Rasmussen’s February poll has Cantwell up 50%-36% while Strategic Visioncalls it closer, 48%-40% with the Democrat still ahead. A lack of a strong challenger probably leaves the execrable Cantwell a member Washington’s Washington D.C. contingent come November.
In other races, Shellie Moore Caputo looked to run a strong race against the seemingly invulnerable and venerable Robert “Sheets”Byrd, but she eventually bowed out. John Raese, the fifth choice of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, trails by 26 percentage points, 58% to 32%.
In Vermont’s open seat, Democratic Socialist Representative Bernie Sanders is running for Jim Jeffords’ (the turncoat Republican) seat and would caucus with the Democrats, but the Republicans have yet to come up with a challenger. A November 2005 poll showed Sanders leading businessman Richard Tarrant, who has expressed some interest in running, by nearly 50 percentage points. Greg Parke, a Republican who received 24% of the vote versus Sanders’ 76% in the 2004 Congressional election, has also joined the race. Governor James “Jim” Douglas and Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie both considered a run but later bowed out of contention. Since the Republicans are barely contesting this seat its not listed above.
It wasn’t considered an especially vulnerable seat, but no one is challenging Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). Another failure by the NRSC.
So, out of the eight, only two look like reasonably possible pickups, and the GOP candidate leads in neither. All eight of these incumbents (or open seats), plus Jeffords’ Vermont seat, were very possible Republican pickups, but poor recruiting, along with the fact that the best challenger in several races decided against running (that’s what the recruiters are supposed to do, strong-arm ors weet-talk them into it anyway) leave the Republicans with a slim chance for a net gain in Senate seats in 2006.
I would like to be more optimistic and call more for the good guys,but that’s the trap the Democrats fall into with their pie-in-the-sky happy talk, which leads to devastated and disillusioned troops on the day after election day. Realistically, you have to deal with the fact the Republicans will be lucky to break even, let alone pick up one or two seats. Still, its possible. Its a long time until November and a lot can change. Of course, this is true on the other side too.
Best guess: Republicans -1 or -2 net, probably picking up 0-2 and losing 2-3