April 8, 2005


Senate 2006: From Venerable to Vulnerable: The 14 seats most likely to change hands in 2006 (Larry J. Sabato, March 31, 2005, Crystal Ball)

All Crystal Ball junkies know the drill. Every election year, most Senators skate by, especially the venerable elders who well fit their states. Meanwhile, a handful of Senators are vulnerable, and those are the contests we watch like hawks. In last week's Crystal Ball email, we examined seniority and the 109th Senate, as well as the seats that are currently open and those that might open between now and 2006. This week, we've brought you the 14 seats out of the 33 up for election that appear to be moderately to very vulnerable. In alphabetical order by state, they are:

* FL-Bill Nelson (D)
* MD-Open (D)
* MI-Debbie Stabenow (D)
* MN-Open (D)
* MT-Conrad Burns (R)
* ND-Kent Conrad (D)--only if GOP Governor John Hoeven runs
* NE-Ben Nelson (D)
* NJ-Open (D)--only if Senator Jon Corzine is elected governor in 2005
* PA-Rick Santorum (R)
* RI-Lincoln Chafee (R)
* TN-Open (R)
* TX-Open (R)--only if Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison runs for governor in 2006
* VA-George Allen (R)--only if Governor Mark Warner (D) decides to run
* WA-Maria Cantwell (D)

On the surface, this appears to be an impressive total: 14 of 33, with another three potential retirees (mentioned in last week's email: Dianne Feinstein, Trent Lott, and Craig Thomas), which could bring the competitive total to 17 of 33--more than half! But let's look again. All three possible, additional retirees come from states that strongly favor the current party to retain control of the seat (CA, MS, WY). New Jersey would likely elect another Democrat to replace Corzine, and Texas would probably choose another Republican to succeed Hutchison. The incumbent senators, endangered though they are in FL, MI, MT, NE, PA, and RI, are all still favored to win. (We'd bet that a couple of them will be defeated in the end, but it is too soon to know which ones.) Tennessee may well elect another Republican to succeed Bill Frist, and Maryland will likely pick another Democrat to replace Sarbanes. Governor Mark Warner is actually unlikely to challenge Senator George Allen in Virginia. And Governor John Hoeven, the only real GOP hope, has not committed to challenging Senator Kent Conrad in North Dakota.

So what is left?

The GOP would also have a good shot at the NM seat if Jeff Bingaman retires, as rumored.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2005 6:57 AM

What about that principled and utterly forgetable independent from Vermont, Jeffords?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 8, 2005 1:19 PM

If the MN DFL is crazy/stupid enough to let Al Frankin run for them, put MN in the R column.

Posted by: Gideon at April 8, 2005 3:47 PM

If Santorum runs hard, he will win. I find it difficult to believe that Bob Casey, JR.! will muster up the energy to dance to Chuck Schumer's tune. I suspect Casey will run about as diffidently as Ron Klink did 5 years ago.

Pundits say Santorum is vulnerable, and was weakened by the Schiavo case. The woman starving to death in LaGrange, GA will put the lie to that. And as more of these "dump them in the hospice" cases are publicized, a fear factor is going to grow among the elderly and disabled. In the end, I doubt if Santorum is hurt at all.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 8, 2005 8:49 PM