A year after the decimation of 2008, Republicans are newly confident about their election prospects in the Senate. Then again, they have almost nowhere to go but up: The GOP occupies only 40 seats, compared to 58 for the Democrats (plus a pair of “independent” allies, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont).
As always, many races are foregone conclusions, such as the special election in Massachusetts next month to choose a successor to the late Ted Kennedy. But at least 20 of the 2010 Senate races are worth watching. Herewith, a state-by-state summary.
ARIZONA: Could Republican senator John McCain possibly lose two elections in a row? Last month, a Rasmussen poll of likely GOP primary voters suggested that Barack Obama may not be the last guy to defeat him: McCain clings to a measly two-point lead over former congressman J. D. Hayworth, 45 percent to 43 percent. Right now, Hayworth, a talk-radio host, is not even a declared candidate. There’s a significant gender gap, with McCain winning big among women and Hayworth well ahead among men. Democrats have yet to put forward a top-tier candidate. The primary is late, on August 24. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.
ARKANSAS: Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln faces a tough election. A new Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows her trailing Republican state senator Gilbert Baker, 47 percent to 41 percent. Three other Republicans — businessman Curtis Coleman, activist Tom Cox, and state-senate majority leader Kim Hendren — also enjoy leads over Lincoln. Two-term incumbents are difficult to unseat, and Lincoln should not be underestimated — but neither should any of her challengers. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.
CALIFORNIA: Conservatives always think Democrat Barbara Boxer will be more vulnerable than she really is. Their hope for 2010 is that an exceptionally strong GOP year finally will make the difference. On June 8, Republican primary voters will decide between state senator Chuck DeVore and former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina. Last month, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters showed Boxer leading both by double digits. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.
COLORADO: Michael Bennet, the Democrat appointed to fill out the remainder of fellow Democrat Ken Salazar’s term when Salazar was appointed secretary of the interior, will seek a new term of his own. He faces a primary challenge from former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff. The Republican favorite is former lieutenant governor Jane Norton, who must survive her own primary against Weld County district attorney Ken Buck and former state senator Tom Wiens. In September, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters put Norton ahead of Bennet, 45 percent to 36 percent. TOSS-UP.
CONNECTICUT: It once seemed as if Democrat Christopher Dodd enjoyed a lifetime appointment to the Senate. Now scandals have made his reelection an iffy proposition. Last week, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters gave him an unfavorable rating of 58 percent. The same survey showed former Republican congressman Rob Simmons leading Dodd in a potential match-up by 13 points. Another declared GOP candidate, Linda McMahon — the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, the fake-wrestling company — was ahead of Dodd by 6 points. Simmons is almost certainly the better general-election contender. He may even become a slight favorite to oust the incumbent, assuming Dodd stays in the race, which is not a certainty. TOSS-UP.
DELAWARE: This is a special election to complete the last four years of the term Joe Biden won on the day he was also elected vice president. The office is currently held by Biden’s former chief of staff, Ted Kaufman — a presumptive seat-warmer for Biden’s son, state attorney general Beau Biden, who is widely expected to announce his candidacy soon. On the GOP side, Rep. Mike Castle, a former governor, will make a strong bid in this Democratic-leaning state. A few polls have put Castle in front, but not by much. A Susquehanna Polling and Research survey gave the advantage to Biden. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.
FLORIDA: Conservative Marco Rubio, a former state house speaker, continues to close the gap between himself and moderate governor Charlie Crist in what may be the country’s most-watched GOP primary. Rubio remains behind in the polls and in fundraising, but he has turned his long-shot bid into a serious challenge. His goal will be to pass Crist during the two-or-three-week sprint shortly before the August 24 primary. The presumptive Democratic nominee is Rep. Kendrick Meek, who probably can’t beat either Crist or Rubio. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.
ILLINOIS: This is President Obama’s old seat. The current occupant is Democrat Roland Burris, the appointee of former Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich, whose federal corruption trial is scheduled for next year. Burris is stepping down. Several Democrats seek to replace him, including state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson, and state inspector general David Hoffman. On the GOP side, Rep. Mark Kirk appears to have the nomination locked up. He is one of the most liberal Republicans in the House. The failure of conservatives to put forward a genuine alternative speaks to their weakness in the state. Polls suggest a close general election. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.
KANSAS: Republican Sam Brownback is retiring from the Senate and running for governor. His successor almost certainly will be a fellow Republican. The real race here will take place not in November, but in the primary on August 3. Two GOP congressmen are in the mix: Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt. Last week, a poll of adults by SurveyUSA showed a close contest, with Moran at 37 percent, Tiahrt at 34 percent, and 29 percent undecided. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.