Let’s say that there is a very well-financed Bloomberg-Hagel ticket. And let’s say that there’s a Obama-Richardson ticket. And let’s say, I don’t know, there’s a Thompson-Romney ticket. Isn’t it possible that the Republicans will come in third place? Imagine the religious bigot’s quandary, choosing between Jews, blacks, Hispanics, and Mormons. What a nightmare. But I want to consider something else. If the Republicans come in third place in the popular presidential vote, what might it do for their candidates down-ticket? Could we see an epic collapse, for example, in the Senate?
The Republicans are already at risk of taking a drubbing in the 2008 Senate elections. They have to defend 22 seats, while the Democrats only have to defend 12. And it is much worse than that. None of the 12 Democratic senators appears to be vulnerable. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is at risk on paper. Over a half a million Louisianans migrated to Texas alone after Hurricane Katrina, and the vast majority of them were Democrats. But Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) has been unable to recruit anyone to take her on. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) barely eked out a re-election in 2002. But after suffering a brain aneurysm he has too much sympathy for any Republican to announce they are running against him. Sens. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Harkin (D-IA) and Kerry (D-MA) have polling numbers that indicate they are beatable. But, again, no viable candidates have been recruited to run against them. As of right now, it looks unlikely that any Democratic senators will lose in 2008.
But the Republican side is a mess. Let’s start by just looking at how many Republican senators are facing a possible primary challenge. Sen. Lindsey Graham has a 46 disapproval rating among Republicans. His most likely opponent just got busted for distributing cocaine, but that might not spare Graham from a challenge. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the target of big anti-immigration media buys and a major draft movement to get right-winger Larry Forgy into the race. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is probably not going to run for re-election, but even it he does he will face a challenge from Attorney General Jon Bruning and former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub. Rep. Bob Schaffer appears to be the Republican choice to succeed the retiring Wayne Allard (R-CO), but he may not win the nomination unopposed. Military veteran Joe Repya is considering a challenge to Norm Coleman (R-MN) and former candidate for governor, Bill Sizemore, is threatening Gordon Smith (R-OR). There will also be a primary in Wyoming over the newly appointed Sen. Barasso’s seat.
Then there are the Republicans (in addition to Hagel) that are on retirement watch: John Warner (R-VA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Larry Craig (R-ID). To these we must add the legally challenged Ted Stevens (R-AK), who is under FBI investigation, and Pete Domenici (R-NM), who is under a Senate ethics investigation.
That presents a lot of unhappiness and uncertainty on the Republican side. And if we dig a little further we’ll find even more problems. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) all have unenviable polling numbers. Saxby Chambliss was worried enough about a possible primary challenge that he flip-flopped on the immigration bill. And things are even worse.
Lamar Alexander may be facing an unexpectedly strong challenger in Michael Ray McWherter, the son of a popular ex-Governor. And John Sununu (R-NH) may have to face a rematch in ex-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Add to this, news that former Senator Bob Kerrey may be looking to take over Chuck Hagel’s seat (should he retire).
Is this looking bleak yet? Well, a look at the Chuck Schumer’s recruiting efforts and the comparative fundraising of the DSCC and the RNSC makes ‘bleak’ look too kind. The Democrats have already lined up strong challengers in Colorado (Rep. Mark Udall) and Maine (Rep. Tom Allen). And they have strong candidates considering runs in New Hampshire (Fmr. Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, Mayor Steve Marchand), Kentucky (Charlie Owen, AG Greg Stumbo), North Carolina (Rep. Brad Miller), Tennessee (Mike McWherter), Nebraska (Fmr. Sen. Bob Kerrey, Mayor Mike Fahey), Idaho (Fmr. Rep. Larry LaRocco), Virginia (Fmr. Gov. Mark Warner), and Texas (Mikal Watts, State Rep. Rick Noriega).
We even have some compelling long shot candidates considering like: State Senator Andrew Rice (Oklahoma) and State Senator Vivian Figures (Alabama). In Minnesota and Oregon the Democrats have to sort out a crowded field of potential candidates that includes some colorful characters like comedian Al Franken and activist Steve Novick. Both seats should be competitive for the eventual nominee.
The Republicans are being challenged on nearly all fronts. If Gary Trauner or Gov. Dave Freudenthal want to challenge for Sen. Mike Barasso’s (R-WY) it could fall into the Dems hands. In Georgia, ecologist Dr. Rand Knight and muckraking
journalist Dale Cardwell are both considering runs and both could be competitive. In New Mexico, former USA attorney John Kelly could make a compelling opponent to Domenici.
Although I don’t think Vivian Figures stands much of a chance against Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and the Democrats still have no candidates in sight in Kansas or South Carolina, Senator Mike Enzi’s (R-WY) seat appears to be the only Republican seat that is truly safe for the incumbent.
If Hillary Clinton is not the Democratic nominee (which I think would limit the Dems chances in many of these senate races) and there is a strong third-party challenge from Bloomberg-Hagel, the Republicans could be truly decimated in the 2008 senate races.
Social conservatives may stay home if they have to vote for the pro-choice Guiliani or the Mormon Mitt Romney, or the co-author of the McCain-Feingold bill. Independents may turn out in larger numbers to vote for Bloomberg and then turn to Democrats in the senate races.
With so many Republican seats up in the air, we could see the Dems pick up 10-15 seats. If the stars align right, it is not out of the question. And, for the most part, the Dems are running, or considering running, a decent crop of candidates. These aren’t a bunch of Zell Millers we’re talking about.
Here’s to hoping.