April 28, 2005


Springtime for Senators: The 2006 Senate races are underway. (John J. Miller, 4/28/05, National Review)

[T]he GOP performed well in 2002, and there's reason to think the outlook for 2006 is anything but bleak. [...]

CONNECTICUT: Democratic senator Joe Lieberman's job-approval rating among Republicans (72 percent) is higher than it is among members of his own party (66 percent), according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Will the Greens at least put up a candidate?

FLORIDA: Democratic senator Bill Nelson is a big, fat target for Republicans — neither his approval ratings nor his reelect numbers are especially healthy in this more-red-than-blue state — and the GOP's bench is deep. Looking good in very early polling is Rep. Katherine Harris, who became a household name during the 2000 election controversy. One or more of the candidates now running for governor might switch to the Senate race. The name of retired general Tommy Franks is heard as well. [...]

MICHIGAN: As a first-term senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow should find herself vulnerable to a Republican challenge. But the GOP's top candidates are staying on the sidelines, in the belief that they're better off waiting for 2008, when they assume Democratic senator Carl Levin will head into retirement. Nationally, Republicans would love to see a potential self-funder, such as Domino's executive David Brandon, jump in — not so much because they think he'll win, but because they believe he would free up cash for more competitive contests. Another possible candidate is Jane Abraham, the wife of the senator Stabenow beat in 2000.

MINNESOTA: With former GOP senator Rod Grams announcing that he won't run for the seat of retiring Democrat Mark Dayton, the Republican primary field is now clear for congressman Mark Kennedy. Think about it: Republicans cheering on a Kennedy. This one, of course, isn't related to that one. Surprisingly, Democrats are having trouble finding a top-notch opponent. (Maybe they think there really is a relation.) This is a very good pickup opportunity for the GOP, and it keeps looking better. [...]

MONTANA: This could be a dark-horse race for Democrats. The incumbent, Republican senator Conrad Burns, is less popular than his Democrat counterpart, Sen. Max Baucus. State auditor John Morrison says he'll take on Burns.

NEBRASKA: Democratic senator Ben Nelson breathed a big sigh of relief when President Bush tapped Gov. Mike Johanns — a possible challenger, and a very strong one — to become secretary of agriculture. Republicans once had high hopes here, and they've by no means abandoned the idea of winning, but the odds are looking longer.

NEW JERSEY: The key question here involves Democratic senator Jon Corzine's bid to become governor this year. If he wins, his seat in the Senate will become available. If he loses, Republicans will consider him battered and weakened. Likely Democratic candidates include congressman Rob Andrews and Bob Menendez; on the GOP side, there's state senator Tom Kean Jr.

NEW MEXICO: Democratic senator Jeff Bingaman is a popular incumbent. Among Republicans, congresswoman Heather Wilson possibly could provide an interesting challenge — but this would require her to quit a competitive House district that the GOP might lose. Denny Hastert won't want her to do that. Moreover, she's not the type of candidate who would excite conservatives, which is probably a prerequisite for beating Bingaman in an upset. [...]

NORTH DAKOTA: Democratic senator Kent Conrad will face a tough fight if Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, decides to challenge him. [...]

PENNSYLVANIA: Republican senator Rick Santorum is the top target for Democrats, and several polls show him trailing state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. One survey from a couple of weeks ago had Casey ahead by 14 points — seemingly too wide a margin to be credible, but certainly not welcome news for the incumbent. This may become the closest and most-watched race in America.

RHODE ISLAND: Wouldn't it be cool if John Bolton could run against Republican senator Lincoln Chafee in a primary? As it turns out, Chafee may face Cranston mayor Stephen Laffey, who hopes to become the Pat Toomey of 2006. Among Democrats, challengers include former attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse (what a name for a politico!) and secretary of state Matt Brown. [...]

VERMONT: The retirement of "independent" senator Jim Jeffords creates an open-seat opportunity for Republicans, but only if newly elected governor Jim Douglas declares. He'll probably decide this summer. Meanwhile, Democrats are rallying behind socialist congressman Bernie Sanders, another "independent" (who has not yet formally announced). Isn't it at least a little bit embarrassing for DNC chair Howard Dean that he can't get an official Democrat to run for the Senate in his home state? [...]

WASHINGTON: Democratic senator Maria Cantwell barely defeated Sen. Slade Gorton in 2000, and her reelection numbers are best described as fair to middling. This is a blue state and she's the incumbent, which makes her the favorite against just about anybody. Republicans are waiting for Dino Rossi to decide whether he wants to run — and Rossi is still waiting for his challenge to last year's gubernatorial race, which he apparently lost by a handful of votes, to make its way through the courts.

WEST VIRGINIA: If Democratic senator Robert Byrd proposed naming West Virginia after himself, it's possible that most of his constituents would say that's just fine with them. The man won't be defeated, even though a recent poll raised some GOP eyebrows: Tested against Rep. Shelly Capito in March, he led by only 10 points.

So the GOP is vulnerable in PA and RI but the Democrats, with a couple more retirements to come, are vulnerable in as many as 10 races?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2005 2:09 PM

It might be better for Rossi if a new election doesn't happen and he runs for the senate instead. He has a good shot at winning and could be a big asset to Bush as he tries to get his initiatives passed.

Posted by: erp at April 28, 2005 3:18 PM

The thing about the Democrats right now, and their overblown demonization instincts, is they could channel all their energy in 2006 towards defeating Santorum, achieve their goal amid much celebration ... and then turn around and notice they've lost 4-5 other lower-profile Senate seats to Republicans that were in their hands.

Posted by: John at April 28, 2005 3:47 PM

Couple of points.
Miller underestimated GOP gains in '02 and '04 (had them losing seats in '02, only 1 pickup in '04). Also he tends to use an inside-the-beltway convenational wisdom take on the races.
John has a good point. The Dems could go all out to defeat Santorum or make sure Byrd gets reelected and lose a bunch elsewhere.
It is early. Outside events like the economy, war, Bush approval rating, etc. make tip the election for or against the GOP.
That said, right now, based on some good recruiting by the GOP in FL, MD, and elsewhere I expect the GOP to pick up a few seats but not get to 60.

Posted by: AWW at April 28, 2005 4:10 PM

Mfume might be having a lots of little women problem.

Posted by: Sandy P. at April 28, 2005 6:04 PM