Friday, November 14, 2008

The 2010 Senate Landscape

It’s never too early. Looking to 2010, the Fix lays out the Senate landscape and what could be another tough election for Republicans. Overall, they must defend 19 seats including six (North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio) in states that went blue for Barack Obama. On the Democratic side, they have only one incumbent ( Ken Salazar) who won with less than 55 percent of the vote in 2004. Looking to each particular race, here are the Fix’s top 10:

California (D): While Republicans acknowledge beating Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is something close to an impossibility, they have long believed that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is far more vulnerable. In her first re-election race in 1998, Boxer took 53 percent but improved on that margin six years later when she took 58 percent against former Secretary of State Bill Jones. The hottest name among Republicans to take on Boxer is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger although the Governator has offered no public comment on the contest. The only announced Republican to date is state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

Florida (R): This Sunshine State seat -- currently held by Sen. Mel Martinez (R) -- is at the top of nearly every Democratic strategist's list of potential pickups. Why? Obama's win in the state has bolstered Democrats' confidence and the $14,000 Martinez raised between July and September has Republicans worried. Rep. Ron Klein (D) is giving every indication that he will run; as of Oct. 15 he had $1.8 million in his House bank account. A number of other Democrats -- including Florida's Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and state House Minority Leader Dan Gelber -- are mulling the race. For Democrats to win, they must try to avoid the nasty primary fights that have foreclosed their chances in other recent statewide races.

Kansas (R): Sen. Sam Brownback (R) is planning to leave the Senate after two terms to make arun for the open governor's office in 2010. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), who will be term limited out of office in 2010, is seen as a leading candidate to run for Brownback's seat and may well be the only Democrat who can make it a legitimate takeover possibility. (If Sebelius -- a close ally of Obama -- takes a job in the new Administration, Democrats have next-to-no chance of winning this seat.) On the Republican side, Rep. Jerry Moran has already announced he is running to replace Brownback and Rep. Todd Tiahrt -- among others -- is considering the contest.

Kentucky (R): For those Republican strategists hoping that Sen. Jim Bunning (R) would retire rather than seek a third term, think again. Sources close to Bunning insist the Kentucky Senator has made up his mind to run and is beginning to put the pieces into place to do just that. Bunning is absolutely certain to be one of Democrats' highest priorities in 2010 since he has never won with more than 51 percent of the vote. Democrats' strongest candidate would be Rep. Ben Chandler but the smart money seems to believe he will stay in the House. If Chandler does stay out, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who lost to Bunning by 23,000 votes in 2004, probably has the right of first refusal. State Auditor Crit Luallen and state Attorney General Jack Conway are also mentioned and would be serious and credible candidates.

Louisiana (R): Sen. David Vitter's admission (sort of) of his involvement in the "D.C. Madam" prostitution ring virtually ensures that he will have a serious race in 2010. Rumors are that Secretary of State Jay Dardenne could challenge Vitter in a primary and, while no serious Democrat has stepped forward so far, you can bet the national party will find someone soon enough.

Nevada (D): Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is as wily a politician as there is operating in national politics today. Knowing that national Republicans would be gunning for him in 2010, he worked to recruit and fund a serious challenge to Rep. Jon Porter this election in hopes of taking out his strongest potential Republican opponent before his re-election bid even started. It worked, as Porter fell to 2006 gubernatorial nominee Dina Titus. Reid still isn't out of the woods yet, however, as Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) announced on Thursday that he is considering a race against the Democratic leader. No matter who runs, this race will be a priority for national Republicans, particularly Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

New Hampshire (R): Over the past four years, the Granite State has collapsed on Republicans. In 2006, both incumbent House members were defeated. Then this November not only did Obama carry the state by a whopping nine points but Sen. John Sununu (R) was defeated in his rematch against former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. That leaves Sen. Judd Gregg (R) as one of the last of his kind and makes him a potential target in 2010. Gregg is something of an institution in the state -- his father, Hugh, served as governor and he has been in the Senate since 1992 -- and so Democrats would have to find a top tier candidate to take him out. The strongest nominee would be popular Gov. John Lynch but even the most optimistic of Democratic strategists don't believe he will run. Rep. Paul Hodes is apparently interested, however, and could be credible enough to make this a top-tier race.

North Dakota (D): The math on this one is very simple. If Gov. John Hoeven (R) decides to challenge Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) then this is one of the top contests in the country and perhaps Republicans' best takeover opportunities. If he doesn't, Dorgan will be a heavy favorite to win a fourth term.

Ohio (R): The last two elections have been very good to Ohio Democrats. In 2006, they claimed the governor's mansion and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) defeated then Sen. Mike DeWine (R). Earlier this month, Obama carried the state -- the first Democrat since Bill Clinton to do so. All of that adds up to potential trouble for Sen. George Voinovich (R) who is up for a third term in 2010. The Democratic field remains a work in progress and party strategists acknowledge that their bench is not as deep as they would like. A number of Ohio House Democrats -- Tim Ryan, Zack Space, Betty Sutton -- are likely to look at the race as are some statewide elected officials including state Attorney General Richard Cordray and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher.

Pennsylvania (R): Every indication is that Sen. Arlen Specter (R) is running for a sixth term in 2010. And, from what we hear, "Hardball" host Chris Matthews is very serious about running as a Democrat against Specter. As we wrote earlier this week, if that race comes to pass it will be the biggest -- and most high profile -- contest of the 2010 midterms. Several other Democrats including Reps. Alyson Schwartz and Joe Sestak are also mentioned as potential challengers to Specter.

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