The Republicans have 23 seats at stake in 2008 and the Democrats have just 12.
Nevertheless, many of these are safe seats, so the numbers don't tell the whole
story. Below are the races expected to be competitive. However, potential retirements
in half a dozen states could easily change the picture. See also our list of all
2008 Senate races
and also the hottest
2008 House races.
If you Google "The bridge to nowhere" you will find over 50,000 hits, all
of them describing Ted Stevens' pet project of spending $320 million of
the taxpayers money to build a bridge from Revillagigedo Island (pop.
13,950 including Ketchikan) to its airport, to spare its residents a $5
ferry ride. Outside of Alaska he is the poster boy
for pork barrel legislation gone berserk, but within the state he is seen as the
guy who is trying to bring home the bacon.
Stevens has served longer in the Senate than any Republican ever, which is good,
but will be 91 at the end of his next term, which is bad for such a young state.
In July 2007, the FBI and IRS raided his home as part of a corruption probe.
This event launched a small war between Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of
the DCCC and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), chairman of the DSCC. Both of them want
Anchorage mayor Mark Begich to run for Congress, only Schumer wants him to challenge
the badly weakened Stevens and Van Hollen wants him to run for the House against
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who is also under investigation for corruption.
Another sign of Stevens' vulnerability is that he has a primary challenger,
wealthy real estate developer David Cuddy.
When he was first elected in 1996, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) promised to
serve only two terms. True to his word, he has announced he will not run for a third term.
Colorado has been trending Democratic in
recent years. While George Bush carried the state by 6% in 2004, Colorado
also elected Ken Salazar (D) to the Senate the same year and just elected
Bill Ritter (D) governor by 15%. Furthermore, the Democrats control both
houses of the state legislature. Colorado will be the Democrats' number 1 target
in 2008. Rep. Mark Udall has announced he is running and unlikely to
be challenged in a primary. He has a very strong environmental record in
this environmentally conscious state.
The most likely Republican is former Rep. Bob Schaffer.
Schaffer ran for the Senate in 2004 but lost to
Pete Coors in the Republican primary.
Mary Landrieu is one of the two Democrats who barely squeaked by
in 2002, having won in a runoff with 52%. The Republicans have her in their
crosshairs. They might try to blame hurricane Katrina on her (or more
specifically, her response to it), but that would be playing with fire as she would
would likely then blame the Republican administration. Her net approval rating
is +10%--not great--so this is one of the Republicans best chances for a pickup.
Her worst problem is that hundreds of thousands of people, most of them
Democrats, left the state after the hurricane.
Her likely opponent is state treasurer John Kennedy, who recently switched from the
Democratic party to the Republican party to run against Landrieu.
Landrieu trivia: Her father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978,
and her brother is the current Lt. Governor of Louisiana.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) represents a dying breed: moderate Republicans from the
Northeast. New England used to be run by them, but they have suffered major losses
in recent years. Collins is personally popular, but so was Sen. Lincoln
Chafee (R-RI), and it didn't save him. Also working against
Collins is her 1996 pledge to serve only two terms, something she repeated
in 2002. She recently decided to break that promise and run for a third term.
Her opponent, Rep. Tom Allen from ME-01 (who already represents
half the state in the House), will undoubtedly harp on the
broken promise. This seat will be very competitive.
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) will be the Democrats number two target in the Senate in 2008.
He won his seat in 2002 by a tiny margin after his Democratic opponent, Paul Wellstone,
was killed in a plane crash two weeks before the election. The Democrats hastily
got former Vice President Walter Mondale to take Wellstone's slot on the ticket, but
Mondale was unable to do what Frank Lautenberg pulled off in New Jersey--suddenly
jump in and win. Both parties are keenly aware that in Nov. 2006, Hennepin County
Attorney Amy Klobuchar (D) crushed Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) by over 20% for an open
Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) had not really been on the radar until Nov. 7, 2006, when a political
tsunami hit New Hampshire. Gov. John Lynch (D) was reelected with
the largest margin in state gubernatorial history at the same time two unknown Democrats
knocked off the state's two Republican House members.
The Democrats also swept to power in both
houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1874.
In this environment, the rematch between three-time governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) and
Sununu is likely to be very different than Sununu's 2002 4% victory over Shaheen.
Early polling gives Shaheen a 15-20% lead.
Sununu has the additional
burder of being a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, a highly unpopular position
in New Hampshire. At this point, the seat leans Democratic.
Sununu trivia: Sununu is the youngest member of the Senate
and his father was governor of New Hampshire and Bush 41's chief of staff.
New Mexico is truly a swing state. In presidential races, it is split right down the
middle. It also has one Democratic senator (Jeff Bingaman) who wins in landslides and
one Republican senator (Pete Domenici) who wins in landslides.
Under normal conditions, Domenici would be a shoo-in for a seventh term, but in Oct.
he announced his retirement due to brain disease.
Two Republican members of the House, Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, want the
nomination, so there will be a bruising primary.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Tom Udall (cousin of Mark in Colorado) is
the likely candidate. This means that all three
of New Mexico's congressional seats will be open. However, only NM-01
(Wilson's seat) is in a swing district. Pearce's district is R+6 and
Udall's is D+6.
Also, if Bill Richardson's presidential campaign crashes and burns,
he has until Feb. 12, 2008 to file for the Senate.
Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) did a spectacularly bad job as head of the NRSC recruiting strong senatorial
candidates to challenge weak Democratic senators, such as the Nelson boys. Will the
people of North Carolina blame her for losing the Senate? Probably not since most
people (except politicians and political junkies) have never even heard of the NRSC.
She won by 9% in 2002 and has a +20% net approval rating, so if she decides to stay
she has a decent shot at it unless the Democrats can recruit a strong challenger.
Two relatively unknown Democrats, state senator Kay Hagan, and wealthy businessman Jim Neal, have
announced they are running.
Dole trivia: Her husband was a long-time
senator from Kansas and the losing Republican presidential candidate in 1996.
Then he switched from elections to erections and became the national spokesman for Viagra.
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) is a moderate senator in a state that is trending Democratic.
Although he won by 16% in 2002, his net approval rating is only 11%. While he has
a fair shot at being reelected, his likely opponent, state House speaker,
Jeff Merkley (D), could run the same
campaign against him that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) ran against former senator Lincoln
Chafee (R) in Rhode Island: "Smith is a nice guy but do you want Mitch McConnell
to be majority leader?"
Merkley has an unknown primary opponent who will be defeated easily if he does not
drop out first. This seat is definitely a Democratic priority.
Tim Johnson is one of the two most endangered Democratic
senators. He got just 50% of the vote in 2002 against
John Thune, who ran again in 2004 and beat Tom Daschle.
Furthermore, South Dakota is a heavily Republican state.
Despite his narrow win in 2002, Johnson has a +46% net approval rating,
so the people of South Dakota like the way he is doing his job.
Unfortunately, Johnson suffered a cerebral hemorrhage Dec. 13, 2006. He was
operated on immediately and is now recovering. All signs show that he intends to run for reelection in 2008.
While he is in no condition to campaign now, a group of his (Democratic) friends in the Senate
have begun holding fundraisers for him, so when he is ready to hit the campaign trail, he will
have plenty of money.
All this puts potential Republican candidates in a bind. Actively campaigning against a
very popular senator who had a stroke makes them look mean. If Gov. Mike Rounds
runs, it will be a real horse race; if Rounds declines, Johnson will be reelected as
the GOP bench is thin here.
Sen. John Warner (R-VA) has decided to retire after his term is over in Jan. 2009.
Former governor Mark Warner (D) is the Democratic
nominee. Warner is young, attractive, and made about $200 million as a cell phone
entrepreneur, so he can finance the campaign himself.
The only announced Republican so far is former governor Jim Gilmore.
troublesome for the GOP is that the Northern Virginia suburbs,
which are heavily Democratic, are growing rapidly and led to the election of
Jim Webb (D) as senator in 2006 and Tim Kaine (D) as governor in 2005. Warner's
retirement has suddenly made Virginia a likely Democratic pickup in the
Senate. Even though the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry
Virginia was Lyndon Johnson, due to the changing demographics,
in 2008 it will be a huge battleground.