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It feels like it's the right time to look at the US Senate races for 2006. I've ranked the races in order of where the Democratic candidate is most likely to win.

1) North Dakota - Kent Conrad, once thought to be vulnerable, GOPers couldn't find someone to run against him. Really, the only Republican in the state who could have made it a race is Governor Hoeven, who wouldn't risk a race he could lose. Kent Conrad is the most popular Senator is the Senate, with a 75% approval rating. He could win reelection by 70 or more points.

2) Wisconsin - Herb Kohl has been running against no one for a while now, as GOPers tried to get a number of people to run for his seat, including former Governor and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. The race never materialized and Kohl's money (yes, he owns Kohl's stores) will make it a sleeper. Expect Kohl to win by 50 points.

3) Massachusetts - I don't even know if Kennedy has an opponent in this race, and I'm not gonna bother to check. The man's a freaking legend, and a great drinker to boot.

4) New Mexico - Jeff Bingaman will win by 30 points. His opponent is nominal, Bingaman has tons of cash, is pretty popular, and will ride on the coattails of Bill Richardson, who will win reelection as governor in a landslide.

5) Delaware - Tom Carper will cruise to reelection.

6) Vermont - Jim Jefford's retirement as the sole Independent in the Senate, will lead to his replacement by another liberal Independent from the U.S. House, Bernie Sanders. The Democrats in the state and nationally have agreed to support Bernie and not run a Democrat this year. Sanders is facing opposition from rich Republican Richard Tarrant, but Sanders is immensely popular, having won eight statewide elections in a row in Vermont. Sanders will win with at least 60%, possibly even topping 70%.

7) California - Dianne Feinstein needs to get a brain, and I'm much more possible to the Junior Senator form California, Barbara Boxer, but she'll be easily reelected in a huge landslide.

8) West Virginia - Robert Byrd, 'nuff said.

9) Hawaii - Congressman Ed Case, a conservative Democrat, gave up his safe House seat to challenge incumbent Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka, a great progressive Senator. Akaka will probably win the primary and Case's career will be over, and thank God, because he wasn't a sure vote for us in the House anyway. Hawaii is so overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal that it's a wonder that Republican Governor Linda Lingle will be easily reelected. The game is the primary here; and I don't even think a Republican has filed for the general.

10) Connecticut - This race could take up nine blog posts, and it already has, but this post is about control of the Senate, and whoever wins the primary, and if Lieberman ends up running as an Independent or not (he could still decide to bow out if Lamont wins the primary), Lieberman or Lamont will be the next Senator and Lieberman will register as a Democrat once4 reelected, caucusing with the Dems. This is about the primary, and possibly about the general between Lieberman and Lamont, but Republican Alan Schlesinger stands zero chance of even nipping at the heels as these two guys go at it.

11) Florida - Bill Nelson is being nominally challenged by Cruella DeVille Katherine Harris. Once thought to be a prime pickup opportunity for the GOP after Nelson barely upset an incumbent GOP Senator in 2000, Harris is about to be romped in one of the greatest campaigns of the year. She will lose by at least 20 points, and she will spend $10 million of her own wealth to do it. This is payback for 2000 when she rigged the vote in FL.

12) New York - Hillary Clinton should have no problem dispensing of John Spencer, crazy conservative former Yonkers mayor, or KT McFarland, who thought Clinton sent black helicopters to her Long Island home to spy on her (that would be George Bush, KT). The question is, will the margin of victory be more or less than twenty points, and how much money will HRC spend on this race and save for the Prez campaign?

13) Nebraska - The GOP thinks it has a chance in this state with Pete Ricketts, a rich CEO, against incumbent Democrat (not really, but for practical matters) Ben Nelson. Nelson is the most conservative Democrat in the caucus by far; he votes with Republicans 50% of the time. This is for the best anyway, because he is from a very red state (though he replaced Bob Kerrey, who was a much more progressive Senator). Nelson was governor of the state for two terms and is very popular, with a 72% approval rating, the third highest in the entire Senate. Polls have shown him way ahead of Ricketts, and he is ahead in the money race too. But Ricketts is rich and will spend a lot of money to defeat Nelson. Nelson will probably end up winning by double digits, but this could get nasty.

14) Pennsylvania - This clearly is the best opportunity for Democrats to win come November. Rick Santorum is immensely unpopular, with his extreme views on social issues (man on dog, man on child comments anyone?) and his not even living in Pennsylvania (his children and wife live full time in Virginia, he owns a home in Pennsylvania, but rents it out to other people). His approval rating is 36% according to SurveyUSA and he has a disapproval rating of 55%, second only to one other Senator. He is running against the very popular Bob Casey, Jr., son of the former Governor, who is State Treasurer and was formerly State Auditor. Even though Santorum is far ahead in the money race, and will throw a lot of slime at Casey, his numbers are just really bad. Out of seven Quinnipiac polls taken over the last 14 months, Casey has never led by less than 11 points and has led by as much as 18 points in two of those polls. Rasmussen Reports, a GOP firm, gives similar numbers. Out of their nine polls over the last year, Rasmussen shows Casey up by at least nine points in every poll and as much as 23 points in one. This has been one of the most static races in the Senate this year, with nearly four dozen polls conducted by a variety of firms over the last year and a half, and not a single poll showing Santorum up over Casey. The average of all of these polls shows Casey up by 14 points and it looks like is is getting better. The average of the 10 polls taken in the last four months shows Casey up 16 points. Bush is also extremely unpopular. His approval in the state is 33% and he has a 65% disapproval rating. Unless Casey has a huge scandal in his closet, expect him to win this race by double digits. I've been surprised that Charlie Cook has kept this race in the Toss-Up column for so long considering how dead Santorum looks.

15) Michigan - Debbie Stabenow could be vulnerable. She barely knocked off Spencer Abraham, the incumbent Republican in 2000, who later became Energy Secretary. She is not the most popular Senator, and Democrats are taking a lashing in her state, especially Jennifer Granholm, Michigan's governor, who is trailing in polls to billionaire Dick DeVos (really, when you're that rich, and he's one of the top 50 richest people in the world, it's really not fair, how can Granholm compete financially). But the Republicans have terrible candidates, all three of whom are whipping each other brutally in a primary that will leave the winner with even less of a chance of winning the general than they had before. Stabenow has led in the low double digits for months now, and unless Granholm goes down even more, and the GOP nominee comes out of the primary flush with cash and unscathed, expect Stabenow to win by double digits.

16) Maryland - Ben Cardin and Kweisi Mfume are deadlocked in a close primary race for the Democratic nomination. There are sixteen other candidates for the nomination, though most are fringe candidates, but a few may have enough appeal and money to swing the race to Cardin or Mfume. I would bet that Cardin wins the nomination in the end, but just by a few points. Even though Michael Steele is running as the GOP nominee, and many tout his appeal, especially to the African-American community, expect eith Mfume or Cardin to win handily over Steele. Maryland is just too much of a Democratic state, and with O'Malley going to land a huge win over Governor Bob Ehrlich, Republicans up and down the ticket will suffer.

17) New Jersey - My home state pits Senator Bob Menendez, a really excellent, progressive, and principled Senator versus Tom Kean, Jr., the son born with a silver spoon in his mouth of our former governor and 9/11 commission chairman. Tom Kean, Jr. is a really bad candidate, and it showed in his first two debates with Menendez. He has no grasp of the issues and cannot communicate effectively. He is seriously underfunded in comparison with Bob Menendez and New Jersey is a very Democratic state, with no Republican winning a Senate seat here since 1972 and no Republican winning with more than 50% of the vote since 1988. However, the polls show a lot of undecided's and show the race too close for comfort, though Menendez has opened up a larger lead lately. I expect this to go to Menendez by at least five points, but we'll have to spend a lot of money and time here unnecessarily.

18) Montana - Conrad Burns has been wrapped up in the Abramoff scandal like no other. He has taken more money from Abramoff than any other member of Congress and his staff and himself are under investigation for possible bribery. Burns' numbers are the worst in the Senate, only 36% approve and 60% disapprove. We have a great candidate in Montana with State Senate President Jon Tester, who is a great straight-shooter who won his State Senate seat in a very Republican area. Bush's numbers are bad for Montana, typically a Republican state. Bush has a 42% approval rating and a 56% disapproval here. Montana has been becoming a more Democratic state, with Democrats taking over the governorship, the State Senate and the State House in Montana in 2004, even with John Kerry losing the state by 20 points. Max Baucus is already one Democratic Senator and Tester will make it whole. Polling on this race is close, but Tester holds the edge; Rasmussen shows Tester with 48% and Burns with 44% in the last poll in mid-May, before Tester had won the primary and got amazing press and before he started running great ads and kicked Burns' butt in their first debate. Expect the new poll that comes out today or tomorrow to show Tester ahead by more than six points. This race will be close due to the Republican nature of the state and the money that Burns will spend, but because this is a Democratic year and Tester is such a great candidate and Burns is so unpopular, Tester will definitely win.

19) Minnesota - This will be a very close race. It is an open seat, being vacated by one-term Senator Mark Dayton, who did not think he could win reelection (I think he could have, but that's another matter). Amy Klobuchar, who is the Hennepin County DA (Hennepin County covers Minneapolis and St. Paul, and is the largest county in the state, with 25% of the state's residents in it), is a very strong candidate. She faces opposition in the primary from liberal veternarian Ford Bell (veternarian is not a strike against Bell and neither is liberal, I like both labels) and the Republican nominee will be Congressman Mark Kennedy. The polling is tight, with Klobuchar holding a slight lead pretty consistently. Bush's number's in MN are in the tank: 34% approve, 63% disapprove. This race will be very close, but expect Klobuchar to eke out a slight win of a few points.

20) Washington State - Maria Cantwell is possibly the most endangered Democratic incumbent in the Senate. Polls have shown this race narrowing over the past six months, and SafeCo CEO Mike McGavick has a lot of money. Bush isn't popular here, but he's more popular here than in any other blue state in the country; 38% approve, 60% disapprove. Cantwell's numbers are not very good either, 48% approve, 43% disapprove. Cantwell squeaked by a win over a GOP incumbent in 2000 and Governor Christine Gregoire, who won by a few hundred votes out of millions cast in 2004, is very unpopular. Cantwell is having more trouble with the left right now than the center; if she can convince the base to mobilize for her, she should come out ahead. Even though her numbers are falling, she has never tied or trailed McGavick, with at least a three point lead in every poll. This will be a close race, but Cantwell will squeak out a win.

21) Rhode Island - Lincoln Chafee's in a terrible position. He is a Republican in arguably the most Democratic state in the country. He has a hard-right Republican, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, running against him in the primary (and since there are so few Republicans in Rhode Island, they're all conservatives). He's running against moderate liberal Sheldon Whitehouse, former Attorney General of the state, who is primary free. Therefore, Chafee has two candidates, one from the left and one from the right, who are both attacking him hard. Every vote Chafee casts must strike a delicate balance; can't vote for the liberal position because he might lose his primary, and can't vote for the conservative position because he might lose the general. On the gay marriage ban, the flag burning ban, and the estate tax repeal, Chafee sided with the liberals, alienating GOP primary voters. Laffey is getting stronger and polls show the GOP primary neck and neck. With the Republican primary being so small, the candidate who turns out their vote better on primary day will win. Because Laffey's voters are more energized, I expect the primary to be razor thin. Either man could win. If Laffey wins the primary, Whitehouse will win in a landslide. If Chafee wins the primary, Whitehouse has the edge because of polling and the fact that Dmeocrats will do well nationally, not to mention that the primary will have seriously wounded Chafee, possibly fatally. Bush's numbers are among the worst in the country in Rhode Island, with only 27% approving and a whopping 71% disapproving. Don't expect Bush to make campaign trips to RI and expect Whitehouse to run ads that put Chafee and Bush next to each other in a loving embrace. Chafee's numbers are not very good either, 49% approve, 44% disapprove. Polling shows the race with Whitehouse in the margin of error, with Whitehouse slightly leading. But the key number to watch is Republicans; 54% disapprove, while 39% approve, and among conservatives, 52% disapprove, 41% approve. With numbers like these, it's hard to see how Chafee wins the GOP nod, unless GOPers in RI realize they have no chance of holding onto the seat with Laffey.

22) Missouri - Jim Talent just barely won his seat in 2002 against Jean Carnahan, the wife of former Governor Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash as he was about to beat John Ashcroft for the Missouri Senate seat in 2000. Jean Carnahan was not a very smart or political woman and just barely lost to Talent in a year that went very Republican. This time, with Democrats doing well nationally, and a great candidate in Claire McCaskill. According to Rasmussen, these two have been within the margin of error for the last year, with McCaskill opening up a six point lead in a recent poll from Research 2000. Talent's numbers are not great with 48% approval and 43% disapproval. But what's interesting is what is behind those numbers. Independents disapprove of Talent 49% to 44% and Democrats only disapprove 56% to 34%. Since I doubt 34% of Democrats will vote for Talent over McCaskill in the end, expect McCaskill to win this race based on whether Independents come to her side (which they probably will on stem cell research, which has become a big issue in this race because of a proposed state constitutional amendment supporting funding, which McCaskill and most of the state support, and Talent opposes).

23) Ohio - Mike DeWine is not a particularly terrible Republican. He is not a radical conservative, he is not scandal-ridden, and he is not particularly disliked by his constituents. But he is in the perfect storm. Because of coingate, the scandal that has destroyed the Republican party in Ohio, giving GOP Governor Bob Taft an 18% approval rating, the lowest in gubernatorial history, in any state. Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee for Governor, is headed for a landslide win, and Bush's numbers in the state are just terrible, with 36% approval and 62% disapproving. DeWine's numbers have followed suit, with 41% approval and 49% disapproval. By all measures, it seems that this would be a great pickup opportunity, possibly the best in the country, even better than Pennsylvania. But alas, Democrats are very stupid. For no reason, Democrats pushed Paul Hackett, a great candidate, who barely lost a congressional race against Jean Schmidt in a special election in 2005 in a district where Bush won two-thirds of the vote in 2004, out of the race. Rep. Sherrod Brown won the Democratic primary and is now our nominee. While a pretty good candidate, Brown has a very liberal voting record, and is far less effective in communicating than Hackett would have been. DeWine is piling up money and will attack Brown with no shame. While I expect this race to be close, and polling shows this race all over the place, with both candidates up and by varying margins, I would give DeWine the slight edge because Brown just is not a terrific candidate. That said, if there is a Democratic sweep nationwide, and Strickland wins the governor's race by double digits, expect Brown to ride on the coattails of these two factors to a substantial, five or six point win.

24) Tennessee - Harold Ford, Jr. is a great candidate. He is moderate for Tennessee (a little conservative for me, though), great communicator, affable, no skeletons from himself (though some scandal in his family), and can raise money. Unfortunately, Tennessee is in the South. And even though the whole country is sour on the GOP, Tennessee is not as sour as most places. Bush's numbers here are pretty bad: 37% approve, 61% disapprove, about the same as the national average. But polls show Ford trailing any of his three Republican opponents by anywhere from two to six points. Considering that Republicans are bloodying themselves in their nasty three way primary, and no one is attacking Harold Ford yet, you'd think the race would be dead even or Ford slightly ahead. Tennessee may be too reluctant to elect a Democrat, especially a black Democrat (the South has moved a lot in the last forty years with respect to racial tolerance, but not that far). Unless there is a strong national wave, and the GOP candidate is very bloodied by the primary, expect the race to be close, but for the GOP to eke out a slight win.

25) Virginia - George Allen is more vulnerable than people think. He has spent most of his time outside of Virginia for the last two years, running for President. He has made comments syaing he is bored with the Senate and he wished he were born in Iowa, not Virginia (he was born in California actually). The state has become far more moderate since he was last elected in 2000, with Mark Warner and Tim Kaine winning statewide in the last few years and with John Kerry increasing his total over Gore's in VA in 2004. Northern Virginia's population is booming, and it has a decidedly liberal tilt. The immigrant and Hispanic population are booming, not helpful this year, but when they become citizens, expect VA to become a Democratic stronghold. Tim Kaine is a pretty popular governor and Mark Warner remains extremely popular in the state. Jim Webb is the best candidate we could have hoped for; he is a former Democrat-turned Republican-turned Democrat again and is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former Navy Secretary and Assistant Secretary of Defense. He will be able to go to the military communities in Norfolk and Virginia Beach and reach out to servicemen and women who feel abandoned by the anti-military family and anti-veteran policies of Republicans and the huge failures of Republicans on national security and economic issues. The man is quite a libertarian populist, with pro-gun rights, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and anti-corporate views that fit in well with VA voters. The DSCC has made it known they will make a huge stand in this state, and GUCD will be heavily campaigning for Webb. Webb's advisors, Steve Jarding and "Mudcat" Saunders, rising stars in VA Democratic politics, who ran Mark Warner and Tim Kaine's campaigns, are working for Webb, and trust me, they're good. Bush is really unpopular here: 40% approve, 58% disapprove, and Allen is not extremely popular, with only 52% approving. Polls have shown the race all over the place, but the average has shown that the race is in the single digits, though the high single digits. There are a lot of undecided's here. If Webb can raise money, I think he can win. We picked a great candidate here.

26) Arizona - Jim Pederson is loaded. He's got lots of money, is running a great campaign, and has changing demographics on his side. Arizona's Hispanic population has grown enormously and the state is becoming more Democratic. Janet Napolitano is very popular as the state's Governor; 58% approve, 38% disapprove. She will likely win her race this year in a twenty point landslide. Jon Kyl is not that popular, with a 45%-43% approval-disapproval. John McCain's numbers are far higher at 64% approval, and Kyl will not be able to get John McCain's magic to rub off on him; McCain has endorsed Kyl but probably will not campaign that much for him because they have a very bad relationship. Bush's numbers in Arizona are pretty bad; 39% approve, 58% disapprove. I expect this race to get a lot closer, as polls now show Kyl with an average lead of 10 points, but it's gotten much closer from when Kyl was up by more than twenty points. But even with the race getting closer, Arizona is still a red state, and Pederson will probably lose; though probably by only a few points. If there is a Democratic wave, this is certainly a seat that will come our way, but short of that, we'll lose.

27) Nevada - I see this as a great opportunity for us. Jack Carter, Jimmy Carter's son, is actually a great candidate, and is working his butt off to win this race. Bush's numbers in Nevada are worse than in any other state that Bush won in 2004; 34% approve, 64% disapprove, and John Ensign has voted with the President over 90% of the time. Polls show Carter down by double digits, but Ensign has never gotten above 53% in any poll and his approval ratings are not terrific; 52% approve, 37% disapprove. If Harry Reid actively helps Carter and Carter can raise big money, this could become a real race, though I doubt Carter can pull it off without significant funds and a national wave. Expect this race to be closer than anyone could have imagined, possibly with Ensign winning by less than five points, but in the end, we will probably not win.

28) Texas - Not a great state for us. The governor's race this year is crazy with four serious candidates. Kay Bailey Hutchison is popular, and Bush is not doing that bad in his home state; 51% appr0ve, 48% disapprove, one of a very small number of states that actually approve of the President. Barbara Ann Radnofsky is our candidate here, and she's actually a pretty good candidate; but she'll have no money, no national support, and I'm sorry for those Texas Democrats, but she's in Texas.

29) Wyoming - Craig Thomas is running for reelection against professor Dale Groutage, who is a really nice and quirky former weapons scientist for the DoD. But this is a no-brainer, Thomas will win in a landslide.

30) Utah - Internet developer Pete Ashdown is a really motivated fellow and should run for a local office or Congress one day, but incumbent Orrin Hatch is very popular, and so is Bush, in this extremely red, conservative state. Hatch will win by 30 or more points.

31) Maine - Olympia Snowe, why are you still a Republican? Better yet, why couldn't we find a good Dem to run against you (Snowe has a nominal Democratic opponent)? You're more conservative than Chafee and Maine is a pretty liberal state. But you're so popular (she's the most popular Senator in the country). Alas, in 2012, please retire, and a good Dem will nab your seat.

32) Mississippi - Trent Lott, who I enjoy for comic relief, will easily win reelection (unfortunately, he almost decided not to run because of his financial situation, sucks to be hurt and down in the gutter, doesn't it Trent).

33) Indiana - Richard Lugar has no opponent. Very upsetting, Bayh should have run for his seat (oh, no wait!).

In conclusion, and I'm impressed if you've read all of this, if there is a Democratic landslide this year, expect Democrats to win every seat rated 27 and above, for a net pickup of nine seats. This is unlikely. If there is a Democratic wave, but no landslide, expect Democrats to win virtually all of the seats listed 25 and above, for a pickup of between five and seven seats. If Democrats pickup with only a light breeze at their backs, expect virtually every seat above 21 to go Democrat, with a net gain of about 2-4 seats. Right now, I'd say that the safest bet is a net pickup for Democrats of anywhere between 2-6 seats. But just wait, in 2008, Republicans have 21 seats to defend, to only 12 for Democrats. The Dem seats are almost entirely safe, even with retirements, while the Republicans face multiple retirements and a host of vulnerable incumbents. If we don't take back the Senate this year, expect Democrats to pick up six to ten Senate seats in 2008, giving us a strong majority.


Liz Fossett said...

true dedication. i have no idea how long that took you to write it. but i want you to know that i read the whole thing.

i have an actual comment too. as for ohio, i love paul hackett and i was totally bummed when he lost last summer. though i would've liked to have seen him run, i did see yesterday that he made a big show of endorsing the new candidate. this move is great for the race, i think, and seems to signal that he has decided to continue political involvement (yay!).

Rach C said...

i think i deserve a medal for reading all of that!

spot-on analysis (although, if you listen to charlie cook...)

Anonymous said...

as a woefully uninformed gtown dem, i have to say this post is awesome. as a wisconsinite, thought you should know that sen. kohl actually sold kohl's stores a few years ago, although he still owns the milwaukee bucks...

Brenna said...

Being from Rhode Island, I can tell you that the Republican primary is very up in the air right now. The problem is, there are so few Republicans in Rhode Island, and most of them do not turn out for the primaries, so polls about who is in the lead can be very inaccurate, because it is hard to predict how many Republicans are going to vote. According to an article in the Providence Journal (6/23/2006), "Rhode Island Republican primaries are particularly difficult to survey accurately because voter turnout is usually very low. For example, in a state with 660,000 voters, the GOP record turnout is only about 45,000....the more independents...who vote, the better Chafee does." Most of the GOP's core constituency is in favor of Laffey, so the lower the turnout, the higher the chance that Laffey wins the primary. However, this race is generating a lot of publicity, which may make the moderate Republicans and independents come out and vote, which will favor Chafee. That being said, I think people are underestimating Chafee's chances of winning the general election if he does win the primary. Both he and his father (the late Senator John Chafee) are extremely well-respected by Rhode Islanders, while Whitehouse is seen as a typical politician. Having met both candidates before, I can tell you that Chafee is extremely unpretentious and comes off as a thoughtful Senator who is trying to do what's best for his state and country, regardless of his party's positions. Whitehouse, on the other hand, comes off as the career politician. That being said, Whitehouse is definitely the candidate whose policy positions most closely follow Rhode Island's overwhelmingly Democratic population. The question is, will voters be able to overcome their loyalty to the long-serving Chafee family and vote for the best candidate? I certainly hope so, but I do not think we will be able to predict the answer to this question until after the primaries.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I don't think keeping Sen. Akaka is a very good thing, either. His track record in getting bills to the floor and onto passage is not... well, terrific.

And Senator Feinstein has a terrific head screwed on her shoulders. With a great brain.

And where are the House predictions? Key races, only, I don't think we need a synopsis of all 435 races (or in some districts, no-races)...