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As the adrenaline from the midterm elections starts to die down and Democrats settle into the business of actually governing in Washington, the 2008 election season has already begun to ramp up.

Quick Political Updates:
-Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), serving a second term as chair of the DSCC, has said that he has firm commitments from all but one of 12 Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2008 to run. Tom Harkin of Iowa remains the lone holdout, but in a caucus-going year, it seems likely that Harkin is just looking for a little good old fashioned butt-kissing before making the inevitable announcement that he will run again. If Harkin unexpectedly decides to opt out of the race, Iowa’s Senate seat will become competitive in 2008.

-Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland was chosen by Speaker Pelosi to head up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 2008 cycle. Of the announcement, Roll Call reported that “While Van Hollen was seen as a favorite in the race to replace outgoing Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who said he would not serve another term, the Maryland lawmaker is not viewed as a Pelosi loyalist.” Van Hollen, who co-chaired the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program in the ’06 cycle, was elected to his seat in the affluent Washington suburbs by a very tight margin in 2002 following a hard-fought primary, defeating moderate Republican incumbent Connie Morella by 4%. Van Hollen was one of only 2 Democrats to unseat incumbent House Republicans in that cycle (he also benefited from 2000 redistricting that moved part of heavily African-American Prince George’s County into Maryland’s 8th District). An affable wonk known affectionately to members of his district simply as “Chris,” Van Hollen—who spoke to GUCD members at October’s general meeting—was chosen for the position over Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, an Emmanuel protégé who shares the Chicago native’s pit-bull attitude. Rahmbo said of the Van Hollen pick, “There is no one better prepared to take the reins of the DCCC than Congressman Van Hollen. Both his personal electoral experience and his leadership of the Red to Blue and recruitment efforts have shown that he is a political strategist and thinker of the first order.” (You can see his full statement here.)

-DNC Chair Howard Dean decided this week that the 2008 DNC presidential nominating convention will be held in Denver, Colorado. In choosing Denver over New York City, Chairman Dean made a strong political statement about the future of the Democratic Party, saying on Thursday that, “I have long believed that the essence of a Democratic victory goes through the West. If we are going to have a national party, we are going to have to have Westerners vote Democratic again on a reliable basis.” Though the Mountain West has been reliably Republican in recent presidential elections, the 2006 midterms showed a region that is trending increasingly blue. In 2004, Colorado had a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, and a 5-to-2 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation. Today, both houses of the state legislature as well as the governorship are in Democratic hands, and a majority (4 out of 7) of its congressional seats are held by Democrats. In 2004, Democrat Ken Salazar won a Colorado Senate seat that was previously held by a Republican. In nearby Montana, libertarian Democrat Jon Tester defeated GOP Sen. Conrad Burns in November, a victory that would have been unfathomable just a few years ago in the solidly red state. Today, the picture in the West is far different for Democrats, and Dean made an excellent political calculation in his long-delayed decision about where to hold the 2008 convention. Though the Denver bid had problems from the start—the city’s original bids were riddled with logistical problems, and labor unions threatened to rebel unless Denver began to unionize its hotels—any future electoral success for the Democrats will depend on recognizing the strong gains Democrats have made in the West. (A sidebar: Some in the party—such as UMBC political scientist Thomas Schaller in his influential new book “Whistling Past Dixie”—have even argued that Democrats should concede the “solid South” to the GOP and concentrate instead on winning votes in the Midwest and Western frontier. This is a dangerously extreme view that overlooks recent Democratic successes in the South. Besides the fact that the last two Democratic presidents have come from the South, Southern states were a sizable part of Democratic victories in 2006, providing prominent freshman Democrats like North Carolina’s Heath Shuler, and the 50 state strategy relies on the premise that Democrats will not concede a single state to the Republicans.)

-But we all know that all of this is just a side show to the real race in 2008: the race for the White House. The 2008 election will be the first time since 1952 that no sitting president or vice president will be running for the White House, representing a primary field that is wide-open in both parties. Though the Iowa caucus is still 356 days away, already a sizable field of contenders is shaping up. A quick glance at who’s in—and out—will be posted later today.


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