After suffering a six-seat loss in 2006, the electoral math only got worse for Senate Republicans as they headed into the 2007-2008 electoral cycle.
The GOP will be defending 23 seats in November -- including a couple vacated unexpectedly by resignation or death -- while Democrats must protect just a dozen. Republicans also had to contend with five retirements: Sens. Wayne Allard of Colorado, Larry Craig of Idaho, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia Democrats are strongly favored to capture one of those open seats, and are seen of having a good shot at picking up two others. By contrast, none of the 12 Democrats who were up for re-election opted to retire in 2008.
Given these statistics, it's not hard to see why National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign of Nevada said in June that it would be a good election night for his party if it held its losses to three seats. Senate Minority Leader McConnell, in a televised appearance a couple of weeks later, was not a lot more optimistic. "We are not going to be back in the majority in the Senate next year. The numbers make that impossible," he acknowledged. McConnell did say: "I'm optimistic we can stay roughly where we are. We have a robust minority."
McConnell's comments came as some Democrats were starting to suggest the possibility of turning the party's current 51-49 edge into a 60-40 margin next year -- a filibuster-proof majority.
Meeting with reporters in June, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer carefully avoided making such a prediction -- while nonetheless suggesting it was possible. "There are a handful of races we think we are ahead significantly...and there are six where we think we are close'" he said. "Then there are four or five others, if the winds at are back, where we could also win." By September, with the Democratic presidential candidate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, leading in the polls and an economic maelstrom gripping the country, Schumer appeared somewhat more optimistic that a 60-vote majority was in reach.
Most independent analysts agree that the getting to 60 on Election Day would require the Democrats to virtually "run the table," with the odds of doing that unlikely. Nonetheless, independent analysts see the party ending up with a gain that could put them in striking distance of the 60-threshold.
Ensign, meanwhile, initially grew more hopeful in September as the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential candidate put the party on a roll for several weeks. But the Wall Street meltdown, while brightening the prospect of Democratic gains, put the Republicans even further in a hole -- with once safe seats, such as those of Saxby Chambliss in Georgia and even McConnell in Kentucky, suddenly appearing to be in jeopardy. In an appearance at the National Press Club just two weeks prior to Election Day, Ensign conceded that the Democrats might win enough Senate seats to gain a filibuster-beating 60-seat majority. But he also contended that most competitive Senate races remain in play, adding, "It's also possible that we could end up with 44, 45 or 46 votes left in the U.S. Senate" -- translating into a three to five seat loss for the GOP.
Senate Republicans' ability to hold their losses to a minimum will depend in part on the strength of the GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in key states on Election Day. Of the 23 Republican seats up this year, President Bush lost just four of the states involved in 2004.
The bad news for the Republicans is that in each of those four states -- Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oregon -- sitting GOP senators face highly competitive challenges. The non-partisan Cook Political Report in mid-October listed three of these four contests as tossups, with Maine Sen. Susan Collins only a slight favorite in the fourth.
Add to that the unexpected retirement of former Sen. Trent Lott less than a year after winning a fourth term in 2006, coupled with the late October conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens -- the Senate's senior Republican -- and the GOP is in a fight for a couple more seats once considered safe.
Meanwhile, a disappointing season in candidate recruiting has made several states where Bush won by a landslide in 2004 seemingly out of reach in terms of possible GOP pickup opportunities in the 2008 Senate battle. Of the 12 Democratic seats up for re-election, only Louisiana -- which underwent a political upheaval due to the population losses following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 -- currently seems to offer Republicans the chance of ousting an incumbent Senate Democrat.
Following is a state-by-state look at how the 2008 contests for Republican-held seats are shaping up.
Alabama. Buzz about Democratic Rep. Artur Davis' senatorial ambitions started the morning after the 2006 midterm elections, and Davis - an African-American member of his party's moderate wing -- could have posed an interesting challenge to two-term Sen. Jeff Sessions in 2008. However, in January 2007, Davis opted out of running, citing his appointment to the influential House Ways and Means Committee. With Davis out, both state Sen. Vivian Davis Figueres and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said they were considering entering the race. But Sparks ultimately declined to run, and Davis went on to handily win the Democratic primary. Figueres is a black candidate in a state with a 25 percent African-American population, and could benefit from a heightened turnout this fall for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. But once solidly Democratic Alabama gave nearly 60 percent of its vote to President Bush in 2004, and is expected to remain firmly in the Republican camp this fall. Sessions, who was re-elected by an almost 3-2 margin in 2002, is considered politically safe - and Democrats in the state appear to be focusing their efforts on retaining one open House seat and trying to pick up another.
Alaska.While he will turn 85 two weeks after Election Day, Sen. Ted Stevens announced in 2007 year that he would run for a seventh full term this year. At the time of the announcement, Stevens -- the longest serving Republican senator in history -- appeared to be a cinch for re-election. His efforts to deliver federal largesse to his sprawling, largely rural constituency have sparked controversy elsewhere, but they have endeared him to many Alaska voters. And he garnered 78 percent in winning another term in 2002 in this traditionally Republican state. But a July 2008 indictment arising out of an investigation of Stevens' relationship with an oil field services contractor -- coupled with a jury convicting Stevens on the charges just eight days before Election Day -- has put his political survival in doubt. In July 2007, the FBI and IRS searched Stevens' home near Anchorage, as investigators probed a 2000 remodeling project there. A year later, federal prosecutors indicted Stevens on seven counts of lying on his Senate financial disclosure form, regarding more than $250,000 worth of goods and services he received from the oil services firm, Veco. Stevens had a relatively easy time surviving a seven- way Republican primary in late August following the indictment: He was renominated with 63 percent. But, in the wake of his Oct. 27 conviction, Stevens becomes the underdog in the general election, although many observers are not entirely counting out the man known to many Alaskans as "Uncle Ted" during his four decades in office. National Democrats did attract a top-tier recruit to take on Stevens: Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who heads of the state's largest city. Ironically, the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice-presidential candidate in early September gave Stevens something of a political bounce -- notwithstanding that Palin won the governorship in 2006 by distancing herself from Stevens and the rest of the state's old-line GOP establishment. Stevens requested -- and was granted -- a speedy trial on the charges against him, gambling that a pre-election acquittal would propel him to another term. It turned out to be a bad bet. Both Arizona Sen. John McCain and Palin called on Stevens to step down.
Colorado. Honoring a pledge to serve no more than two terms, Sen. Wayne Allard announced in 2007 that he would not seek re-election - presenting the Democrats with a prime pickup opportunity. Democratic Rep. Mark Udall - son of the late Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz. - had been eyeing a Senate bid for some time, and joined the race to succeed Allard. On the Republican side, former GOP Rep. Scott McInnis, who was viewed as a strong contender, initially filed paperwork to create an exploratory committee. But he later backed out, leaving the nomination to former GOP Rep. Bob Schaffer - who made an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2004. In a state widely regarded as turning from "red" to "purple," President Bush won by a narrow 52-47 percent margin in 2004, even as the Democrats took over a Senate seat. And state Democrats went into this year with momentum from a 2006 election, in which they picked up the governorship and a House seat -- giving them a majority of the Colorado House delegation. For much of this past summer, the Udall-Schaffer faceoff was viewed as a tossup in what is one of the most competitive states in this year's presidential contest. A July poll showed the two deadlocked at 44 percent a piece, after Schaffer made some inroads by seeking to capitalize on his support of expanded oil drilling at a time of skyrocketing gasoline prices. But two independent polls released in mid-October showed Udall opening a double-digit lead, after Schaffer - along with a number of other GOP candidates - took an apparent hit from the economic woes that gripped the nation for much of September and October. While a couple of groups allied with the Republicans pounded Udall in TV ads throughout the summer, these groups pulled their money out of the state in early October - leaving Schaffer facing an uphill battle, and making Udall a good bet to join his cousin, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall - the current favorite in the New Mexico Senate race - in the Senate chamber next year. (See New Mexico item below).
Georgia. Democrats would love to exact revenge this year against GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who six years ago ousted then-Democratic Sen. Max Cleland in a campaign in which Cleland was subjected to bareknuckled TV advertising. But Georgia has become increasingly Republican over the past decade, and Chambliss was regarded as one of the GOP's safer incumbents this year - at least until recently. This fall's meltdown in the stock and credit markets and the resulting financial bailout voted by Congress has put the incumbent on the defensive, and recent polls have shown him in a tightening contest against his Democratic challenger, former state Human Resources Director Jim Martin. Chambliss in early October felt compelled to go on air with an ad defending his vote in favor of the bailout, and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York said his party was taking a second look at whether to commit resources in the Peachtree State. Three weeks prior to Election Day, the DSCC did just that - pumping $500,000 into the state for TV ads, thereby helping Martin to make up the 4-1 advantage that Chambliss held in fundraising. But, with the state considered a lock for Republican presidential candidate John McCain -- the campaign of Democratic nominee Barack Obama all but pulled out of Georgia in late summer -- Martin still faces uphill odds. For a while this year, Georgia Democrats seemed more focused on beating up on each other than in taking on Chambliss. Six contenders entered the Democratic primary, and the result was that no one gained 50 percent -- forcing a runoff between Vernon Jones, chief executive officer of the suburban Atlanta's DeKalb County, and Martin, a former state legislator. While Jones came out ahead in the July primary by a 40-34 percent margin, Martin -- who entered the race with the encouragement of the national party -- triumphed in the runoff by 60-40 percent. The weeks prior to the runoff exploded into an often bitter contest between Jones, who is black, and Martin, who is white. Jones' maverick ways appear to have been a factor in Martin jumping into the race late; Martin sought to make an issue of the fact that Jones voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004. But the state is almost 30 percent African-American, and, seeking to appeal to the black vote in the runoff, Jones accused Martin of voting "against" Obama for the Democratic presidential nod. Martin ultimately acknowledged he had voted for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in the state's February presidential contest.
Idaho. Even before scandal exploded in the summer of 2007, many wondered whether GOP Sen. Larry Craig would run for another term. Then came the revelation that Craig had been arrested in a sting operation in the men's room at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Craig said he had pled guilty to disorderly conduct charges to avoid the unwanted attention the incident would bring. At the same time, he maintained his innocence and denied that he is gay and had sought to solicit sex from and undercover police officer. When that did not quell the uproar, Craig made a second announcement that he would resign from the Senate at the end of September 2007. But he stayed on, waiting for a judge to rule on whether he could withdraw the guilty plea. That bid failed - prompting Craig to announce that he would complete his term after all, but not seek re-election. With Craig out of the campaign picture, the GOP is expected to have little trouble holding on to his seat in what is one of the most solidly Republican states in the nation. GOP Lt. Jim Risch and former Democratic Rep. Larry LaRocco easily won their respective party primaries for the Senate nod, and will face off in a rerun of the 2006 contest for lieutenant governor that Risch won. Risch entered the contest with the support of the state GOP establishment, and a measure of LaRocco's daunting task is illustrated by the 2002 contest in which Alan Blinken - a former ambassador in the Clinton administration - put $1.5 million of his own money into a race against Craig. The latter, then untainted by scandal, defeated Blinken by 2-1.
Kansas. At age 71, Sen. Pat Roberts was initially on various watch lists of lawmakers who might retire this year. But Roberts, who served 16 years in the House before winning election to the Senate in 1996, is running again. Roberts, a onetime House Agriculture Committee chairman who has championed market-based reforms in farm subsidy programs, is generally viewed as a strong incumbent. And history has not been kind to Democratic Senate candidates in Kansas: One has not been elected since 1932. But Roberts, who took 83 percent of the vote in 2002 with no Democrat in the field, is in for a rougher ride this year - although the possibility of his ouster remains a longshot. Businessman Greg Orman entered the race in January, but abruptly withdrew in February - prompting former Democratic Rep. Jim Slattery to attempt a political comeback. Slattery spent more than a decade on Capitol Hill prior to leaving for an unsuccessful run for governor in 1994; he has since worked as a lobbyist. Slattery easily captured the nomination in the August primary, besting former railroad engineer and union lobbyist Lee Jones - who also made an unsuccessful 2004 Senate bid - by 69-31 percent. One recent independent poll showed Roberts ahead of Slattery by a rather modest 50-38 percent, and the incumbent appears to be taking no chances: He has attacked Slattery over his time as a lobbyist.
Kentucky. Recent polls suggest that Sen. Mitch McConnell is fighting for his political life -- and a McConnell loss here would clearly be the major upset of the 2008 congressional campaign. While it has been just two years since he ascended to the leadership of his party in the Senate, McConnell has long been the top dog when it comes to Republican politics back in Kentucky. Since narrowly winning his seat in an upset of a Democratic incumbent in 1984, McConnell has been the primary architect of the current Republican dominance of the Bluegrass State: The GOP now controls both Senate seats and has a 4-2 majority of the Kentucky House delegation. And McConnell was handily re-elected to a fourth term six years ago, winning 65 percent of the vote. But Kentucky Democrats were emboldened by their 2007 recapture of the governorship mansion, in which scandal-tainted GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher was handily defeated by former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear. And, in the wake of this fall's economic turmoil, a recent Louisville Journal-Courier poll indicated that 85 percent of respondents felt the country was on the wrong track. They appear to be taking their frustrations out on the incumbent. The same poll showed McConnell in a dead heat against his Democratic challenger, wealthy businessman Bruce Lunsford. Lunsford decided to get into the Senate race after two leading party contenders to take on McConnell, state Auditor Crit Luallen and state Attorney General Greg Stumbo, opted out. After two failed bids for governor -- the most recent one last year -- Lunsford came out on top of an eight-way May primary to win the Democratic Senate nomination. Lunsford, who has a personal fortune that may exceed $100 million, pumped $2.5 million of his own money into the primary -- and, in late June, donated another $1 million to his general election bid. McConnell, meanwhile, has been in overdrive all year in terms of fundraising, and had nearly $5.8 million in the bank (more than four times as much as Lunsford) as of Sept. 30 -- while running an aggressive TV ad campaign. As the incumbent told a home state audience in early July, "I won't have the coronation I had six years ago." Recent developments have proved that to be quite the understatement.
Maine. Although Sen. Susan Collins has increased her popularity in a Democratic-leaning state, her re-election effort this year is certain to prove more difficult than her 2002 race, which she won 58-42 percent over then-state Sen. Chellie Pingree. Pingree went on to serve as national president of Common Cause, and this year is a favorite to win the state's 1st District congressional seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Tom Allen - who is Collins' opponent this time around. Collins will face voters during a presidential election in a state that the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of neighboring Massachusetts, easily carried in 2004. And she has the additional baggage of having rescinded a pledge made when she was first elected in 1996 to serve only two terms In announcing his candidacy, Allen cited differences on the Iraq war and tax and spending priorities with the incumbent, and Democrats have said that they would focus on drawing "a clear connection to Susan Collins and the Bush administration." Still, Collins so far appears to be holding her own: Recent independent polls show her with a lead in the range of 15-20 points. The Democrats are worried enough to have put significant effort into challenging the petitions of independent Senate candidate Herbert Hoffman - a former Democrat who, if he had appeared on the November ballot, could have drawn votes from Allen. A court decision ultimately kept Hoffman off the ballot, and he recently announced a bid as a write-in candidate.
Minnesota. Emboldened by the 2006 victory of Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar over GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy, Democrats are eager to reclaim the state's other Senate seat with a strong 2008 challenge of freshman Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor and a onetime Democrat, won his seat in 2002 under unusual circumstances when he defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale by 50-47 percent. That matchup occurred after Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the election and Democrats turned to Mondale as their candidate. If the circumstances of Coleman's election six years were unusual, so is the profile of this year's likely Democratic nominee: comedian Al Franken, formerly of "Saturday Night Live" fame and more recently a liberal radio talk show host. Franken is a New York City native who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and his background has served to make him almost as much of a target as Coleman. A Quinnipiac University poll published in mid-July showed Coleman opening up a 15-point lead over Franken -- following adverse publicity involving late payment of taxes by Franken in a number of states when he worked as a comedian, along with controversial past writings, such as satirical article entitled "Porn-O-Rama" that Franken wrote for Playboy magazine in 2000. Of late, the news has been better for Franken. He captured the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party after his main opponent, wealthy trial attorney Mike Ciresi, withdrew earlier in the year. He subsequently picked up opposition in the Sept. 9 primary from Priscilla Lord-Faris, whose father - retired federal judge Miles Lord - was long active in state Democratic politics. Lord-Faris launched a hard-hitting TV ad questioning Franken's electability, but Franken defeated her in the primary by a margin of better than 2-1. Meanwhile, recent polls show the Coleman-Franken faceoff tightening to a dead heat. The contest was further enlivened when former independent Gov. Jesse Ventura toyed with entering the contest as a third candidate before finally deciding against it. That prompted former Sen. Dean Barkley, who was appointed by Ventura in late 2002 to fill the last couple of months of Wellstone's term, to file for the seat. Barkley easily won the nomination of the Independence Party in the primary - and, while few see him as a having a chance to win, his candidacy could have a significant impact on the outcome of the race. He has garnered double digits in some independent polling.
Mississippi. The Magnolia State has trended Republican for well over four decades - first at the presidential level, later in the selection of statewide elected officials - and has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since John Stennis last stood for re-election in 1982. But Democratic prospects in the state appear to be looking up this year. First, GOP Sen. Trent Lott - barely a year after winning re-election to a fourth term - in late 2007 gave up both his Senate seat and his newly won position as minority whip to pursue a lobbying career. To take over Lott's Senate seat, GOP Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Rep. Roger Wicker -- a member of the House since 1994, but relatively unknown outside of his 1st District in the state's northeast section. It was hardly a welcome omen for the Republicans when the 1st District, which had given President Bush a 62 percent majority in 2004, elected Democrat Travis Childers to succeed Wicker in a special election this past May. Meanwhile, after Barbour set a November 2008 special election to fill the remaining four years of Lott's term, Democrats rallied around former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove -- whom Barbour had ousted in 2003 - as the party's standardbearer against Wicker. Although some Democrats felt their strongest candidate would be have been former state Attorney General Mike Moore, who declined to run, public opinion polls over the summer have shown Musgrove in hot pursuit of Wicker. Musgrove and Wicker were onetime roommates while they served in the state Senate; they actually look alike, and some suggest there is also not that much difference between them in philosophy, party affilation notwithstanding. Musgrove is a fiscal and social conservative who describes himself as "pro-gun and pro-life." He is also taking care to keep his political distance from the Democratic presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Ironically, while no one expects Obama to win Mississippi this fall, Musgrove's fate may depend on the strength of Obama's coattails in drawing black voters - who make up more than one-third of the state's electorate - to the polls. In what the Democrats regard as an effort to blunt those coattails, Barbour announced in September that the Musgrove-Wicker special election -- officially a non-partisan contest -- would be placed at the bottom of this year's ballot. State Democrats promptly sued, sending the issue into court. The state's Supreme Court ruled the contest should be near the top of the ballot and Barbour said he would comply with the ruling. Virtually overlooked amid this jockeying is Mississippi's other Senate race this year. Long-time GOP Sen. Thad Cochran is seeking his sixth full term, and is a shoo-in to win it against former state Rep. Erik Fleming -- who, as the 2006 Democratic nominee against Lott, lost by a 64-35 percent margin.
Nebraska. After months of uncertainty about his political future, Sen. Chuck Hagel, announced in September 2007 that he would not seek a third term. The maverick Republican had kept many guessing as to whether he would run for president, seek re-election or simply retire from politics: He announced he would not seek any office in 2008, but ended up being floated as a possible vice-presidential running mate - for Democrat Barack Obama - thanks to Hagel's strong criticism of the war in Iraq. Hagel's decision to retire opened the way for what many thought would be a marquee battle in Republican-dominated Nebraska between two political heavyweights -- former GOP Gov. Mike Johanns vs. former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey. But it was not to be: While Johanns quickly resigned as the Bush administration's Agriculture secretary to return to the state following Hagel's announcement, Kerrey opted to remain in his adopted hometown of New York City as president of New School University. Johanns' decision to run for Senate quickly cleared the Republican field. State Attorney General Jon Bruning, who already had announced plans to take on Hagel in the primary before the latter decided to retire, withdrew from the Senate contest late last year and backed Johanns. And former GOP Rep. Hal Daub, a former Omaha mayor who entered the Senate contest in September, ended his bid less than two weeks later. Meanwhile, in the wake of Kerrey's decision, the Democrats suffered another setback when current Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey announced last November he would not run. That left Scott Kleeb -- a photogenic Yale-educated rancher -- as the leading Democratic candidate. Kleeb attracted nationwide attention in 2006 when he ran a competitive bid for the open 3rd District seat in solidly Republican western Nebraska, losing to now-GOP Rep. Adrian Smith by 10 points. Kleeb had little trouble in the Democratic primary getting by industrialist Tony Raimondo, a Republican-turned Democrat who promoted himself as a moderate. Kleeb faces a much tougher task in November against Johanns, who is now a clear favorite to be the state's next senator.
New Hampshire. When he won election 2002, Sen. John Sununu -now 44 -- became the chamber's youngest member. This year, he has a more dubious distinction: He is regarded by some observers as the Senate GOP's most vulnerable incumbent up for re-election in November. The son and namesake of a former New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush, the younger Sununu won a House seat in 1996 - and, six years later, toppled maverick Sen. Bob Smith in the Republican primary. That November, Sununu squeaked by the state's popular Democratic governor, Jeanne Shaheen, by 51-47 percent. Amid pleas from Democratic Party leaders to run again this year, Shaheen remained silent until September 2007 - when she announced she would step down as director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics and seek a rematch against Sununu. Her decision to get into the race soon prompted the three Democratic contenders who had previously announced for the seat - Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand; Katrina Swett, the wife of former Democratic Rep. Dick Swett; and Jay Buckey, a Dartmouth Medical School professor and former astronaut - to withdraw from the contest. Polls in recent months have, for the most part, shown Shaheen leading Sununu - in some cases by as much as a dozen points. To a large extent, Sununu is battling recent political trends in a state that for many years stood out in rock-ribbed Republican contrast to increasingly Democratic Vermont to the west and "Taxachusetts" to the south. Then, in 2006, both of the state's Republican U.S. House members were ousted and both chambers of the New Hampshire Legislature went Democratic for the first time in nearly a century. These developments have led to the current Democratic optimism about adding a Senate seat this time around.
New Mexico. With the exception of Virginia, this state is the closest thing that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has to a sure bet for a pickup on Nov. 4. During 2007, five-term Republican Sen. Pete Domenici was on everybody's list of possibly retiring senators. In October, he said he would not seek re-election because of progression of an incurable brain disorder. Even before he announced his plans, Domenici had become embroiled in a controversy surrounding the removal of New Mexico's U.S. attorney, David Iglesias. Both Domenici and Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, long considered Domenici's heir apparent, acknowledged making contact with Iglesias just before the 2006 midterm election to ask about the status of indictments in a case involving a former Democratic official in New Mexico. They contend their contacts were only inquiries. but Iglesias told House and Senate committees in March he had felt pressure from Republican lawmakers to act in the case. Soon after Domenici bowed out, Wilson announced her candidacy to succeed him - as did the other Republican in the state House delegation, Rep. Steve Pearce. Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Udall, who has been frequently mentioned as a potential Democratic contender, initially took his name out of the running. He later entered the Senate race after urging from party leaders and activists. Democratic Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, who announced his candidacy soon after Domenici's announcement, withdrew from the contest. That cleared the field for Udall, while Wilson and Pearce battled for months in advance of this year's June primary. Pearce, a conservative, won the backing of the Club for Growth. Domenici, who had earlier pledge to stay neutral endorsed the more moderate Wilson on the weekend before the primary. Pearce emerged with a narrow win in a state that has been a frequent battleground in recent presidential elections, and where a more centrist Republican might have fared better this year. Recent polling has given Udall a double-digit lead, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee - just prior to Labor Day -- yanked TV ads that were slated to run in the state, leaving Pearce to fend for himself. To add insult to injury for the GOP, the Democrats are waging competitive contests for the House seats vacated by Pearce and Wilson to run for Senate - raising the possibility of a New Mexico congressional delegation without a single Republican come January.
North Carolina. This seat represents one of several upsets that the Democrats will need to pull off if they are to have any prospect of reaching the 60-seat filibuster-proof majority that some party strategists contend is in reach. After some early talk that she might opt to retire, 72-year old GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole started out as a solid favorite for a second term -- particularly after the leading Democratic prospect, retiring Gov. Mike Easley, made clear that he had no interest in going to Washington. But state Sen. Kay Hagan -- who became the Democratic nominee in May by winning 60 percent of the primary vote against four other candidates -- has emerged as a formidable challenger. One recent independent poll showed Dole in the lead, but by a margin in the single digits. It's been a bumpy few years for Dole, who succeeded long-time GOP Sen. Jesse Helms in 2002 with a 54-45 percent victory over former Clinton White House Chief Of Staff Erskine Bowles. She assumed the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2005-2006 cycle, only to see the Republicans lose six incumbents -- and the Senate majority -- under her watch. Married to former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas, Elizabeth Dole is a North Carolina native who spent many years away from the state in inside the Beltway -- first serving as a member of the Federal Trade Commission and later holding Cabinet posts heading the departments of Transportation and then Labor. While she moved to re-establish her North Carolina roots following Helms' retirement and remains a popular figure statewide, one North Carolina operative said there has been grumbling among party activists and fundraisers about her absence from the state. A recent Media General News Service report found that Dole had spent limited time in the state during her first term -- including just 20 days in 2005 and 13 days in 2006. Hagan has sought to take advantage of this issue and portray Dole as an absentee lawmaker. "I've got family members who don't live in North Carolina who've spent more time in North Carolina," Hagan gibed in late September. The race is now at the top of the GOP's list of headaches: Since Labor Day, the NRSC has launched several ads seeking to paint Hagan as an advocate of high taxation and excessive spending during her time in the state Legislature, prompting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to counterattack with its own series of ads. And, in early October, Dole sunk $3 million of her own funds in her bid to hang on in a Republican-leaning state that has nonetheless become a battleground in this year's presidential contest.
Oklahoma. Sen. James Inhofe is seeking re-election to a third full term - and is heavily favored to win it. After eight years in the House, Inhofe won an open seat in 1994 with 55 percent of the vote - defeating then-Democratic Rep. Dave McCurdy for the remainder of the term of former Democratic Sen. David Boren, who resigned to become president of the University of Oklahoma. Inhofe has since been re-elected twice, most recently by a 57-36 percent margin in 2002 over former Democratic Gov. David Walters. This is a state that has trended increasingly Republican in recent decades: Republicans have won all but three of the last 15 Senate elections in the state, the exception being the three terms won by Boren. There are prominent Democrats in the state - such as Gov. Brad Henry and Rep. Dan Boren, David Boren's son - who might have posed a competitive challenge to Inhofe. But neither opted to run, and - to the degree they harbor Senate ambitions -they may be waiting until 2010, when maverick GOP Sen. Tom Coburn is up for a second term. If he runs again, the controversial Coburn could be expected to make for a more inviting political target than Inhofe. That has left the Democrats with state Sen. Andrew Rice, a 34-year-old Harvard Divinity School graduate, as their standard-bearer against Inhofe this year. The daunting task that the relatively unknown Rice faces in the general election was illustrated by his showing in the July primary: He managed to muster barely 60 percent of the Democratic vote despite the fact that his only opposition was perennial candidate Jim Rogers. Going into the general election, Inhofe had more than three times as much cash on hand as did Rice.
Oregon. The 2006 election was so devastating for Republicans in Oregon that it all but invited Democrats to paint a big target on GOP Sen. Gordon Smith in 2008. During the 2006 cycle, Oregon Republicans nominated a centrist candidate for governor, Ron Saxton, who raised big bucks but was still clobbered by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Democrats also captured the state House and now control both legislative chambers. "Clearly, Smith is vulnerable, that much is clear," declared state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Edmunson at the outset of the 2008 cycle. "He is the only Republican senator left on the continental West Coast." Democrats initially struggled to find a high-profile candidate, as former Gov. John Kitzhaber declined to run and both Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio opted to seek re-election to safe seats rather than run for Senate. The Democrats' recruiting luck changed in late summer 2007 when state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, after meeting with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York, announced he would run. But Merkley faced a tougher than expected primary challenge from Steve Novick, an attorney/activist who gained traction among the party's base with sharp criticism of the war in Iraq and often innovative campaign advertising (including one ad that showed Novick, who has a hook in place of one of his hands due to a birth defect, utilizing it to open a beer for a potential voter). The DSCC felt compelled to come to Merkley's aid with several hundred thousand dollars of TV advertising late in the primary, and that enabled Merkley to hold off Novick by a narrow margin. However, the combative Novick quickly pledged his support for Merkley. While he started out the general election as an underdog, Merkley has been rising in the polls throughout the summer and fall in a state that has not voted for a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan's second campaign - and where Democratic registration has been rising sharply. In a state where George W. Bush is highly unpopular, Smith has aired a couple of unusual ads seeking to highlight instances where he cooperated on legislation with the past two Democratic presidential candidates: Sens. John Kerry and Barack Obama. Smith has said he believes voters appreciate his willingness to part ways with Republicans on some high-profile issues as well as his close working relationship with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who first won his Senate seat by narrowly defeating Smith in a 1995 special election. But Wyden, after remaining relatively quiet throughout the campaign, recently appeared in an ad for Merkley - whom the latest polls show in a dead heat with the two-term incumbent.
South Carolina. First-term Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is perhaps Sen. John McCain's closest friend in the Senate: In recent months, Graham and maverick Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman have frequently been seen at the side of the Arizona senator and Republican presidential nominee. "If John McCain is president, I will be one of the people representing him," Graham declared recently, while disavowing interest in a Cabinet post. "Those folks who like seeing my smiling face will be seeing me around here for awhile. I will stay in the Senate if re-elected and serve out my second term," Graham told the Associated Press in October. If McCain went into the homestretch of the campaign as an underdog, Graham has no such worries back home in the Palmetto State - where he is a shoo-in for re-election to a second term. State Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson recently described South Carolina as "the reddest of red states" where Republicans swept eight of the nine statewide offices in 2006. First elected in 2002 to the seat vacated by a political legend, GOP Sen. Strom Thurmond, the outspoken Graham's biggest challenge has come from within his own party. Former Republican National Committeeman Buddy Witherspoon announced in late 2007 that he would oppose Graham in the primary, while taking aim at the incumbent for his support of comprehensive immigration reform. Although Graham has amassed a solidly conservative voting record in the Senate and in eight prior years in the House, he - like his close friend McCain -- has gained a reputation for straying from the party line. However, Graham easily defeated Witherspoon in June. Two little known candidates, attorney Michael Cone and pilot Bob Conley competed for the Democratic nomination. Conley narrowly won the thankless task of taking on Graham in the general election.
Tennessee. Tennessee used to send such nationally known Democrats as Estes Kefauver, Albert Gore Sr. and Albert Gore Jr. to the Senate. But, as he prepares to seek re-election, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander can take heart in the latest affirmation of the GOP's post-1994 dominance of Senate elections in the state -- former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker's victory over Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in 2006's slugfest to fill the seat being vacated by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. While Democrats swept marquee Senate races elsewhere in the country in 2006, Corker prevailed against a dynamic and well-financed opponent with name recognition. In fact, a Democrat has not won a Senate seat in Tennessee since 1990 - when the younger Gore was re-elected to a second term just two years before becoming vice president. In addition, while Democrats had Ford as their standard bearer in 2006 - and then-Rep. Bob Clement as their nominee against Alexander six years ago - they have failed to attract a candidate of similar visibility this time around. Businessman Mike McWherter in late 2007 opted out of the contest, citing family considerations. McWherter, son of former Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter, would have brought both name recognition and personal wealth to the contest. Former state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Tuke entered the race in early 2008 after saying two months earlier that he would not run. Tuke, an attorney and Vietnam War veteran, won the August primary with about 32 percent of the field, trailed by a political unknown named Gary Davis who garnered more than 20 percent despite having neither raised nor spent any money. Tuke faces what can only be characterized as steeply uphill climb against Alexander, a former governor and president of the University of Tennessee who also did a stint as Education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
Texas. Sen. John Cornyn is widely seen as a safe bet to win a second term in November - notwithstanding that, early in the election cycle, some Democrats thought they smelled a few whiffs of vulnerability. They pointed to a Cornyn approval rating that had dipped below 50 percent along with the growth of the state's Hispanic population, while accusing Cornyn of flip-flopping on the border fence issue. But voters in George W. Bush's home state have not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. And if the Democrats contend that Cornyn's acerbic brand of conservatism has turned off numerous segments of Texas voters, his staunch support for conservative federal judicial nominees and opposition to gay marriage as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee have resonated with core conservative voters in what has become a solidly Republican state over the past couple of decades. The Democratic race initially attracted a candidate with deep pockets: trial attorney Mikal Watts, who formed an exploratory committee in mid-2007 while criticizing Cornyn over his allegiance to Bush and his support for the Iraq war. But, after pumping millions of his own fortune into the campaign, Watts abruptly withdrew late last year - leaving state Rep. Rick Noriega as the leading Democratic contender. While some opinion polls during this past spring and summer showed Noriega within striking distance, he has been hampered by a lack of money in a huge state with multiple media markets: Noriega had barely $900,000 in cash on hand as of July, as compared to more than $9 million for Cornyn. That, coupled with Texas' status as being solidly in the GOP presidential column this year, has Cornyn confident enough that he recently donated $250,000 of his campaign treasury to the National Republican Senatorial Committee to help more endangered colleagues elsewhere.
Virginia. If there is a state where the Democrats are all but assured of picking up a Senate seat in 2008, this is it. Veteran Sen. John Warner decided in August 2007 against seeking a sixth term, forcing the GOP to defend a seat in a once predominantly Republican state that has become increasingly hospitable territory for moderate Democrats. Several weeks after John Warner's retirement, a Democrat very much in the latter mold -- former Gov. Mark Warner - announced his candidacy (the two Warners are not related). A onetime Democratic Party operative who made a fortune as a cellphone entrepreneur, Mark Warner captured the governorship in 2001 after running a competitive race against John Warner several years earlier. When he was forced to leave as governor four years later due to term limits, Mark Warner was highly popular and widely viewed as a bipartisan problem-solver. He mulled a run for the party's presidential nomination in 2008 before deciding against it. While the Democrats quickly coalesced around Warner, Virginia Republicans initially faced a moderate vs. conservative fight between Rep. Tom Davis and former Gov. Jim Gilmore, who had mounted a short-lived bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nod. However, after the state Republican committee decided to select the nominee by state convention rather than a primary - a decision that tended to favor the party's conservative wing - Davis announced he would not run, and subsequently decided to retire from Congress altogether. In contrast to Warner, Gilmore left some broken fences when he exited the governorship: At this year's state convention, he barely beat out state Del. Robert Marshall for the Senate nod. Marshall, relatively unknown outside of his northern Virginia base, had entered the race earlier this year arguing he had a stronger anti-abortion record than Gilmore. Recent polls have shown Warner with a lead of as much as 2-1 going into the general election, and all indications are that Gilmore - who did a short stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2001 - has been written off by the national GOP. In fact, reverse coattails could be at work: Warner's popularity could help to pull Virginia, once the capital of the Old Confederacy, into the win column for Barack Obama, the first black presidential candidate of a major party.
Wyoming. Due to the death of GOP Sen. Craig Thomas in 2007 -- just months after Thomas had won a third term -- Wyoming faces the unusual situation of electing two senators this fall. But don't look for an unusual outcome: The state has not elected a Democrat to the Senate in nearly four decades, and that is not likely to change in 2008. The home state of Vice President Cheney, Wyoming is among the most conservative and Republican-leaning states in the nation -- giving President Bush nearly 70 percent of its vote in 2004. The state does have an independent streak: While voters typically send Republicans to Washington, Democrats have occupied the governor's mansion for all but eight years since 1974. And the current governor, Democrat Dave Freudenthal, overwhelmingly won re-election in 2006. But Freudenthal has shown no interest in a Senate bid, and Democrats this year appear focused on trying to pick off the open at-large House seat being vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Barbara Cubin. That has left Sen. Michael Enzi - seeking a third term -- and Sen. John Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon appointed to fill Thomas' seat, among the safest Republican incumbents in the country this year. (State law required Democrat Freudenthal to appoint someone from the same party as Thomas to fill the latter's seat). Enzi fueled speculation earlier this year that he might choose to retire: An accountant by profession, he was miffed at being passed over twice by the Senate Republican leadership for a slot on the powerful Finance Committee. But Enzi announced in April that he had decided to run again. His Democratic challenger is Chris Rothfuss, a University of Wyoming instructor who had $15,000 in his campaign treasury at the end of July -- as compared to nearly $2 milllion for Enzi. In the contest to fill the remaining four years of Thomas' term, attorney Nick Carter was the winner over former state Sen. Keith Goodenough in the August Democratic primary, and now faces an uphill race against Barrasso.
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