November 17, 2004


First Looks at 2006: Racing for the Senate (John J. Miller, 11/17/04, National Review)

There will be 33 Senate elections in 2006, for seats currently held by 17 Democrats, 15 Republicans, and one independent. Top Republican targets probably will include Florida, Minnesota, and Nebraska; Democrats will take aim at Missouri and Pennsylvania and possibly Virginia.

Herewith, an early look at the playing field: [...]

FLORIDA: When Mel Martinez formally succeeds Bob Graham next year, Sen. Bill Nelson will be Florida's last remaining Democrat elected statewide. Martinez emerged from a crowded GOP primary field this year and the group of Republican candidates interested in taking on Nelson may be even larger, especially because Gov. Jeb Bush says he's not running. The contenders could include attorney general Charlie Crist, Rep. Mark Foley, businessman Tom Gallagher, Rep. Katherine Harris, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, former statehouse speaker Daniel Webster, and Rep. Dave Weldon.

HAWAII: Political reporters may try to convince their editors that this race will be close — they desperately want Hawaii to become a swing state worthy of journalistic junkets — but Democratic senator Daniel Akaka can't be beat. [...]

MARYLAND: Democratic senator Paul Sarbanes, 73 years old in 2006, is a potential retiree. Republicans will have a tough time winning an open seat, but Gov. Bob Ehrlich recently showed that Maryland is not a one-party state. If Sarbanes steps down, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele — a GOP rising star — may think about a race.

MASSACHUSETTS: Democratic senator Ted Kennedy will be 74 in 2006. He has to quit sometime — but his energetic stumping for John Kerry this year suggests that it won't be in 2006.

MICHIGAN: As a first-term incumbent in a swing state, Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow is a likely GOP pickup target. But Republicans may have trouble recruiting a top-tier candidate if potential contenders decide to take a pass and wait for Democratic senator Carl Levin to step down in 2008. Keep an eye on state GOP chair Betsy DeVos, Rep. Candice Miller, and Rep. Joe Rogers.

MINNESOTA: First-term Democratic senator Mark Dayton will sit near the top the GOP's hit-list, especially if Sen. Coleman heads the NRSC. Dayton's decision to close his Capitol Hill office shortly before Election Day encountered almost universal criticism and highlighted his extreme vulnerability. The GOP's best potential candidate may be Rep. Mark Kennedy. Wouldn't it be neat to have a Republican named Senator Kennedy? [...]

NEBRASKA: Republican governor Mike Johanns will face enormous pressure from the national party to challenge Democratic senator Ben Nelson, who has raised more than $1 million to defend his seat. The Omaha World Herald already has polled likely voters on this matchup: Nelson holds a small lead, 41 percent to 38 percent. Potential monkey-wrench: What if Nelson decides to switch parties? It would probably have to involve a deal to stop Johanns from taking him on in the GOP primary. [...]

NEW MEXICO: Democratic senator Jeff Bingaman is safe.

NEW YORK: Democratic senator Hillary Clinton is surprisingly popular. There is probably only one Republican who can beat her: Rudy Giuliani. Odds are he won't try. Gov. George Pataki has demonstrated the ability to win statewide, but he appears to have his eye on the White House. Republican congressman Pete King would guarantee a feisty race and there's even a chance he'd surprise.

NORTH DAKOTA: If Republicans can come up with a good candidate, they may give Democratic senator Kent Conrad a scare. Former governor Ed Schafer is a possibility, but his refusal to make a run this year against Byron Dorgan — during a presidential-election year, when Republicans do very well in North Dakota — doesn't bode well for GOP recruiters. [...]

WASHINGTON: Democratic senator Maria Cantwell won her first election, four years ago, by a little more than 2,000 votes. Republicans would love to recruit former Rep. Jennifer Dunn, but her retirement from politics may be permanent. Another possible contender is Dino Rossi, this year's Republican nominee for governor. His election is so close that they're still counting ballots; as of this morning, he holds a 19-vote lead over his Democratic opponent, Christine Gregoire, with about 6,100 ballots left to go. There are probably a few GOP senators who privately hope Rossi loses — so that he can take on Cantwell and win.

WEST VIRGINIA: Democratic senator Robert Byrd will keep this seat as long as he wants it — and he's going to want it for at least one more term, sources say. He'll be just shy of his 89th birthday on Election Day in 2006.

Supposedly the White House is offering Ben Nelson a Cabinet slot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 17, 2004 4:47 PM

Seeing old Strom totter through his last term was pathetic enough, but it seems that come '007, a majority of the Dems Senators going to emulate him and try and break his record.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 17, 2004 6:18 PM

Steele can take on Sarbanes and have a prayer. He does not need to wait for retirement if he does not want to.

Posted by: JAB at November 17, 2004 7:07 PM

Strom was from GOP solid SC. Byrd is from increasingly GOP WV who may not want to put up with him anymore. I believe Asaka of HI is in his 80s. As is Lautenberg of NJ. Overall I think Miller is being his usual conservative self (i.e. underestimating the GOP) - The GOP shouldn't lose any seats and has a good chance at picking up a bunch of seats. But they will need decent candidates to pull it off.

And getting Nelson into the cabinet (Agriculture?) would help pick up a Senate seat in NE.

Posted by: AWW at November 17, 2004 10:17 PM

Akaka's health is not good. He could not lose today.

If he is unable to run, I would expect Case to be the leading replacement, though Abercrombie no doubt would want a look in.

It's hard to think of any Republican who could beat any of them.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 19, 2004 1:36 PM
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