Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Senate Preview

I've previewed 13 of the more competitive Senate races. While 33 seats are officially on the ballot come November, only about 10 are truly competitive. The breakdown now is 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 1 Independent. Considering Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords caucuses with the Dems, and Georgia Democrat Zell Miller with the Republicans, it's actually 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. We know with absolute certainty that Obama will take Fitzgerald's seat, so we start with a 51-49 GOP advantage.

Republicans have a slight advantage in that this race is fought on their terrain. Five Southern seats have been vacated by Democrats. We must keep at least three of them to have a shot at the Senate. I also think that we have to win 2/3 in Colorado, Alaska, and Oklahoma.

I'm not ready to make any official predictions. I'll wait another week before doing so. My belief is that it could go either way. A lot of it will depend on how Kerry fares at the top of the ticket. This could be disastrous for Democrats if Bush performs better on Election Day. In the past, I have projected a Senate still evenly divided. I'll revise these predictions shortly.

Solid Democratic
Illinois: Barack Obama (D) vs. Alan Keyes (R): The only reason I'm even talking about this race is that it's for an open seat. This is as safe a Democratic victory as any of the 33 seats in play in 2004. Remember that Jack Ryan was the original GOP nominee, but had to drop out due to a messy divorce. After Mike Ditka turned down the offer, Keyes was left as the GOP's man. Nobody thought Keyes would win, but the disaster has been worse than expected. Republicans fear that Keyes will bring down other Republicans running in Illinois. So confident of victory, Democrats are sending Obama out to campaign for other Democrats nationwide. A 50 point Obama victory is not out of the question.

Washington: Patty Murray (D) vs. George Nethercutt (R): Rep. Nethercutt won't be able to pull off another miracle. Nethercutt is famous for knocking off former Speaker of the House Tom Foley in 1994. That was part of Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution. Murray came under fire last year for some comments praising Osama Bin Laden for the great shape of Middle Eastern roads. Nevertheless, Republicans have taken a few million out of this race in the past week. This tells me that they understand Murray wins re-election by a comfortable margin.

Leaning Democratic
South Dakota: Tom Daschle (D) vs. John Thune (R): The incumbent Senate Minority Leader Daschle is facing a tough challenge from 2002 GOP nominee John Thune. Daschle must feel that he's been running against Thune for three years now. The Daschle political machine helped Sen. Tim Johnson win re-election in 2002 by only a few hundred votes. Daschle is one of only two sitting Senators in either party to face a potential defeat. South Dakota will go to President Bush by a fairly large margin. Daschle will need a solid GOTV effort to win this one. On the basis of a new poll putting Daschle five points up, I'll call this a leaning Democratic seat. Also, Daschle has a 2:1 fundraising advantage over Thune.

Colorado: Ken Salazar (D) vs. Pete Coors (R): This race is being contested for the seat held by retiring Republican Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. With Campbell running, this would have been an easy GOP hold. However, after Campbell dropped out, the Democrats recruited former State Attorney General Salazar. The Republican running is Pete Coors, head of the Coors Brewing Company. Both candidates won their primary without trouble. Salazar appears to be the stronger candidate. In a recent Meet the Press debate, Coors came off as unprepared. Even with the name recognition, the race leans against Coors. Kerry's resurgence in Colorado moves this race from toss-up to leaning Democratic.

Florida: Betty Castor (D) vs. Mel Martinez (R): Castor and Martinez are vying for the seat vacated by three-term Democratic Senator Bob Graham. Castor, the former Education Secretary of Florida, is playing up her moderate credentials. Mel Martinez is the hand-picked candidate of the Bush White House. Martinez served as HUD Secretary before resigning last year. Martinez may have fatally injured his campaign by veering too far right in the final week of his primary campaign against Bill McCollum. This race will likely be decided by which Presidential candidate does the best job motivating their supporters. I'm calling this race a toss-up, but I expect it to be won by Castor.

North Carolina: Erskine Bowles (D) vs. Richard Burr (R): They are competing for the seat vacated by Democratic V.P. nominee John Edwards. Bowles jumped out to an early start, in large part because of name recognition. He ran a good campaign in 2002, eventually losing to Elizabeth Dole. Were it not for Dole's big name, Bowles would have replaced Jesse Helms last election cycle. However, Rep. Richard Burr has closed the race in recent weeks. Once leading by double-digits, Burr has made the race a dead heat. Burr has attempted to link Bowles to former President Clinton. Bowles was a staff member during the Clinton Administration. Bowles probably has the moderate record to get elected in conservative North Carolina. However, the race goes from leaning Democratic to a toss-up. For what it's worth, this seat has changed parties in each of the last five elections. Hopefully Bowles can stop that trend.

Oklahoma: Brad Carson (D) vs. Tom Coburn (R): This is one of the year's most interesting races. Like Colorado, the Republicans had this seat in the bag. But earlier this year, Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles decided to retire. Rep. Brad Carson, a very conservative Democrat, easily won his party's nomination. Former Rep. Coburn came from behind to overtake former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys. Coburn has been plagued by scandals. One report states that Coburn, a physician, sterilized women without their permission. More recently, Coburn has stated that he wants to place abortion doctors in jail. Carson has the potential to be another Zell Miller. He recently said that, "No Democrat supports President Bush more than I" in reference to the Iraq War. I'm calling this a toss-up, in spite of a recent poll giving Coburn an edge. The DSCC will certainly put a lot of resources into this open seat.

Alaska: Tony Knowles (D) vs. Lisa Murkowski (R): Sen. Murkowski was appointed Senator in 2002 after her father Frank was elected governor of Alaska. Murkowski has been relatively unpopular ever sense. Tony Knowles is a very popular former Governor of Alaska. There are no non-partisan polls out on this race. My gut tells me that this race is a toss-up. If I had to make a guess, I'd say that Knowles wins despite a strong performance by Bush.

Louisiana: Chris John/John Kennedy (D) vs. David Vitter (R): Much like Election 2002, we probably won't have a winner until December. In Louisiana, it takes 50 % to win election outright. We'll likely see Vitter get a plurality on November 2, but have to face either John or Kennedy a month later. After John gets second place, I expect him to defeat Vitter. Democrats have had a good time the last two cycles in Louisiana. In 2002, Mary Landrieu overcame a tough challenge by Suzanne Haik-Terrell. In 2003, Louisiana elected a Democratic Governor in Kathleen Blanco. Retiring Democratic Senator John Breaux has endorsed his protegee John to replace him. Provided Vitter doesn't get 50 % on November 2, John has an excellent chance at keeping Louisiana in the Democratic column.

Leaning Republican
South Carolina: Inez Tenenbaum (D) vs. Jim DeMint (R): Tenenbaum is the strongest candidate that the Democrats could find in South Carolina. Only her name recognition as state Education Commissioner makes her a formidable foe for DeMint. Tenenbaum has been able to hammer DeMint on a sales tax increased that he proposed. One recent poll actually gave Tenenbaum a slight lead. However, I expect this state to trend Republican. Retiring Sen. Ernest Hollings would have had a tough battle for re-election. Tenenbaum could win, but I have to place it in the leaning Republican category.

Georgia: Denise Majette (D) vs. Johnny Isaakson (R): Rep. Denise Majette faces an uphill battle against Rep. Johnny Isaakson. I can't see an African American Democrat winning a state-wide office in Georgia. This is the same state that brought us Zell Miller, Sonny Perdue, and Saxby Chambliss. I'm sorry if I'm pessimistic about Majette's fortunes. Majette will have to turn out massive amounts of Atlanta Democrats to keep this race close. I like Isaakson to win the seat vacated by Zell Miller, but by a smaller margin than expected. One positive for Democrats. This cannot be considered a loss. Miller has voted with the Republican caucus for the last two years. This is nothing more than a GOP hold.

Likely Republican
Pennsylvania: Joe Hoeffel (D) vs. Arlen Specter (R): Specter won re-election in April when he fended off a primary challenge from the more conservative Pat Toomey. Hoeffel vs. Toomey would have favored the Democrat. However, Specter is a more moderate Republican and should easily defeat Hoeffel. Specter has the backing of labor groups that usually favor the Democrat. After a victory, this will likely be Specter's last term. He'll be 80 when his term expires in 2010.

Ohio: Eric Fingerhut (D) vs. George Voinivich (R): I'm not sure why I'm even talking about this race. It was only interesting when Jerry Springer considered running. Now it looks like Springer will wait to face unpopular incumbent Gov. Bob Taft in 2006. Springer hasn't officially decided whether or not to run. Voinivich was a popular two-term governor and will win a second Senate term handily.


Blogger Eric Cioffoletti said...

Excellent report here Taylor. I read one similar to it on the New York Times webpage. But it wasn't nearly as interesting.

We've talked about Obama winning Illinois before. Keyes is a fool and we all know it.

I honestly hope that Daschle gets the win this time around. I remember you expressed some doubt in this area in the past. I'm not a fan of the guy as our leader in the senate. I think he is weak and has allowed Repukes to walk all over us. But as a man I like him.

Coors sounds like a real jerk. I'm actually worried that he might be able to make this thing really close in Colorado. Lord knows he has more money to campaign with.

I'll be seriously concerned if Martinez wins Florida. I'd like to think that Florida is state that just barely leans Democratic but this (combined with Jeb's re-election in 2002, might change my mind. We can only hope that Kerry wins the state of Florida. If that happens, I would naturally assume that Castor's odds would be much better.

Bowles is a little to close to bowel imo. But Burr reminds people of Aaron Burr from our nation's past. I don't know...I'm trying to get inside the heads of our more unenlightened voters.

What is the situation in Louisiana. It seems to me that the Democrats are at a horrible disadvantage having two guys run while the Republicans only have one. Am I wrong?

It looks like the rest of the elections will pretty much go to the Republicans. So I won't worry about those. Eric Fingerhut stands no chance in Ohio because of that name alone. I must be honest: I would have a hard time voting for a man with a name like that. :) The finger thing, not the Eric thing.

So some great work here Taylor. You really know your politics. I'll do some more research by November 2nd. I don't need to be fluent in all the races. I would just like to have an understanding of who is favored and what it all means to us as a whole. Your analysis here is great because it's easy to understand.

October 12, 2004 at 7:33 PM  
Blogger tsias said...

Thanks for the compliments. I tried to condense my thoughts down to a couple of sentences per race.

I'm still worried about Daschle. One poll had Thune leading 50-45. A more recent one showing Daschle ahead gave me more confidence. You're right about not wanting Daschle to lose. It would be embarrassing for the Democratic leader to get defeated.

I'm not so worried about CO. Salazar has raised and spent more money than Coors. I do agree with one thing Coors said. He thinks the drinking age in CO should be lowered to 18. I wonder why that is?

Castor's in for a tough battle. Frankly, these hurricanes have not helped the Democrats. Any incumbent would be helped by events like those. I'm not counting Castor out, but another bad poll and I put this in leaning GOP territory.

The Dems are okay in LA. As long as nobody gets 50 %, we'll see a runoff that leans Dem. However, if Vitter somehow gets 50 %, I'll be pissed at the Democratic Party. They probably should have forced Kennedy out of the race by now. Kennedy is the more liberal candidate, while John is centrist. I concede John has a better chance in the general election.

I forgot a couple of things. Some of these candidates are crazy. In Oklahoma, Tom Coburn says kids can't even use the bathrooms in middle school because of "rampant lesbianism". Jim DeMint thinks that gays shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools.

October 13, 2004 at 3:38 PM  

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