Now that the 2006 election is over, I'm trying desperately to fill the empty hole in my life by focusing on 2008.
Predictions this far out are silly, but it's looking like the overall environment favors neither party. The Republicans will be defending 21 seats to 12 for the Democrats, but only 4 of these are in states won by John Kerry (Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Oregon. On the other hand, the Democrats will have to defend 5 seats in states won by Bush (Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia).
A seat-by-seat analysis, however, suggests that the Democrats are likely to have more pick-up opportunities than the Republicans. This is especially true if Chuck Schumer, who will remain chair of the DSCC, can convince popular Democratic governors in places like Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oklahoma to challenge Republican incumbents.
Safe Republican Seats:
New Mexico—Pete Domenici
South Carolina—Lindsay Graham
Alaska--Ted Stevens: Stevens may choose to retire. In addition to turning 85 just after the 2008 election, recent scandals involving Stevens’s son may also come back to haunt him. Nonetheless, even if Stevens retires, the Republicans seem likely to hold the seat.
Update: Stevens has announced that he will run again.
Georgia--Saxby Chambliss: Chambliss was a surprise winner over incumbent Democrat Max Cleland in a bitter 2002 campaign. Democrats are still steamed that Chambliss ran ads suggesting that Cleland (a disabled Vietnam vet) was soft on terrorism and would love payback. Chambliss is not particularly popular (47-40 approval/disapproval), but this will be a hard seat for the Democrats to win.
Kansas—Pat Roberts: Republicans may well be the ones these days asking, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” Democratic governor Kathleen Sebelius won reelection this year in a 58-40 landslide. In addition, Nancy Boyda managed to knock off Republican incumbent Jim Ryun 52-47, giving Democrats two of the state’s House seats. Both victories were aided by divisions within the Kansas Republican party between moderates and conservatives. Roberts is not particularly popular right now (47-42 approval/disapproval) but the state remains heavily Republican. Still, if the popular Sebelius, who can’t run for reelection in 2010, decides to enter the race, she will present Roberts with a stiff challenge.
North Carolia—Elizabeth Dole: Dole hasn’t amounted to much as Senator and may face trouble if Democratic Governor Mike Easley decides to run. Otherwise, this seat should remain Republican.
Oklahoma—James Inhofe: Despite this being a strongly Republican state, Inhofe is relatively unpopular (40-49 approval/disapproval). If popular Democratic governor Brad Henry (just reelected in a 67-33 landslide) decides to run, Inhofe could be in trouble.
Oregon—Gordon Smith: Despite being more conservative than most Oregonians, Smith remains popular.
Virginia—John Warner: If Warner runs for reelection this will be a safe Republican seat. But Warner will be 81 in 2008. If he retires and former governor Mark Warner goes for the seat, the Democrats have a real shot at picking up the seat.
Colorado--Wayne Allard: Allard barely hung on in 2002, despite it being a strong Republican year, and he’s done nothing to improve his standing. He now has a 42-46 approval/disapproval rating. In addition, the state has trended Democratic in recent years. Kerry only lost the state by a 52-47 margin, while Democrat Ken Salazar picked up the other Senate seat and Democrats won back both houses of the state legislature. Look for this to be a highly competitive seats and one of the best chances for a Democratic pick-up.
Minnesota—Norm Coleman: Though it has shifted to the center in recent years, Minnesota remains a Democratic state. Republicans thought they had a shot at winning this year’s open seat contest, but Democrat Amy Klobuchar romped to a 58-40 victory over the relatively popular Representative Mark Kennedy. Coleman’s best shot is if comedian Al Franken makes good his promise to return to his native state to run against him.
New Hampshire—John Sununu, Jr.: Sununu is relatively popular, but the state has trended Democratic. Not only did John Kerry win this state in 2004, but Democrats won both U.S. House seats this year. If Democratic governor John Lynch decides to run, this could be a very competitive race.
Update: Lynch has announced that he will not run for the seat. Former governor and Sununu's opponent in 2002, Jeanne Shaheen seems likely to run again. She will be competitive, but not as much as Lynch would have been.
Rhode Island—Jack Reed
West Virginia—Jay Rockefeller
Arkansas—Mark Pryor. Pryor is popular but Democrats have had a tough time in the South.
New Jersey—Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg will be 84 in 2008 and is one of the least popular U.S. Senators (39-51 approval disapproval). No surprise if he decides to retire. The state votes heavily Democratic, but seemingly while holding its nose.
Louisiana—Mary Landrieu. Landrieu had a tough reelection in 2002 and will probably face another stiff challenge in 2008.
South Dakota—Tim Johnson. Johnson won in 2002 by only 524 votes. He should be safer this time, but this will still be a competitive race.
Overall, I would say that the Democrats could pick up one seat, perhaps two. On the other hand, if they manage to recruit some strong candidates and have a competitive presidential candidate, they might be able to increase that to three or four seats.