Politics & Policy

Five Months to E-Day

Senate roundup.

For two weeks, much of the news has dwelt on the past: Celebrating the Greatest Generation and D-Day, and then the passing of one of America’s great presidents. It’s easy to forget that the next generation of senators continues to plan for E-Day, now less than five months in the future.

Much has happened since April and my previous report on this year’s Senate races: Pete Coors declared his candidacy in Colorado, Arlen Specter nipped Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania’s GOP primary, and South Carolina Republicans picked a pair of runoff candidates. Without further ado, here’s a roundup as we head toward summer.

ALASKA: Senator Lisa Murkowski now has a pro-life challenger in the GOP primary, scheduled for August 24. Yet state senator Mike Miller’s entry doesn’t seem to have hurt the incumbent’s reelection odds: The latest poll, from three weeks ago, has her leading former Democratic governor Tony Knowles, 46 percent to 41 percent. A month earlier, Murkowski and Knowles were tied. TOSS UP

CALIFORNIA: Former secretary of state Bill Jones probably was the best candidate Republicans could have nominated earlier this year to take on Democratic senator Barbara Boxer. But a recent Field Poll puts him in a deep hole, 54 percent to 31 percent. Pre-primary projections showed Jones trailing Boxer by only 10 points. He could clearly use some help over the summer from Gov-nuh Ahh-nold. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

COLORADO: This race won’t assume its true shape until after Republicans choose between businessman Pete Coors and former congressman Bob Schaffer in an August 10 primary. Polls have shown Democratic attorney general Ken Salazar leading both men, but the contest will tighten by Labor Day and the GOP has a decent shot at keeping this seat, now held by retiring Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Is Pete Coors raising his national profile by appearing in beer ads outside Colorado? TOSS UP

FLORIDA: The influential Club for Growth recently endorsed statehouse speaker Johnnie Byrd. He faces a steep hill, with former congressman Bill McCollum and former HUD secretary Mel Martinez also vying for the GOP nomination on August 31 (which happens to be the second day of the Republican National Convention in New York City). Democrats appear to be leaning toward former education commissioner Betty Castor, though the presence of well-funded Rep. Peter Deutsch may yet turn their primary contest into a mud-slinging brawl. LEANING REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER

GEORGIA: Republican congressman Johnny Isakson is taking heat from his two primary opponents, businessman Herman Cain and Rep. Mac Collins, for voting to allow abortions in overseas military hospitals. His pro-choice views have hurt him in the past–but the pile of money he’s accumulated for this race may help him survive, all the way through November. Cain and Collins are currently splitting the anti-Isakson vote and each would be well served if the other quit the race. Many GOP primary voters remain undecided about whom to support. LIKELY REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER

ILLINOIS: Democrats are thrilled with the national attention buzzing around their nominee, state senator Barack Obama. A recent poll in the Chicago Tribune had him far ahead of Republican Jack Ryan, 52 percent to 30 percent. Republicans are disappointed Ryan isn’t doing better. LEANING DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER

LOUISIANA: As three Democrats battle each other between now and the November 2 primary, Republican congressman David Vitter gets to raise money and prepare for one of the typically barnstorming runoffs unique to Louisiana. The bad news for him is that Democrats have won high-profile runoffs twice in the last two years, in races for governor and the Senate. One recent poll suggests that the Republican now campaigning for Vitter’s House seat, failed gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal, would give the GOP a better shot at victory–but Jindal says he won’t change his current plans. TOSS UP

MISSOURI: In his three races for the Senate, Republican Kit Bond never has earned more than 53 percent of the vote. Democrats figure he has nowhere to go but down. Unfortunately for them, the state’s Democratic party is fractured by a bitter primary struggle between the incumbent governor and a challenger. To beat Bond, state treasurer Nancy Farmer needs a level of unity and commitment that doesn’t appear to exist. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION

NORTH CAROLINA: A recent Mason-Dixon poll shows former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles running ahead of Republican congressman Richard Burr, 45 percent to 35 percent. Democrats are hoping worries over jobs and trade will clinch the race for Bowles, who lost a Senate election two years ago to Elizabeth Dole. One wild card is retiring senator John Edwards. If John Kerry selects him for veep, will it energize state Democrats and give Bowles the boost he needs? TOSS UP

OKLAHOMA: Although there’s a primary scheduled for July 27, Democrats already have settled on congressman Brad Carson as their candidate to replace retiring GOP senator Don Nickles. Three men are in the hunt for the Republican nomination: state corporation commissioner Bob Anthony, former congressman Tom Coburn, and former Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys. Coburn is the most conservative of the bunch and probably the most electable as well, though he handicapped himself by entering the race late (in March). The Republican establishment prefers Humphreys. TOSS UP

PENNSYLVANIA: Democratic congressman Joe Hoeffel would have made a much better candidate against Rep. Pat Toomey, had Toomey defeated Sen. Arlen Specter in April’s GOP primary. Hoeffel is so left-wing he can’t get to the right of Specter on any issue, even though Specter’s liberalism nearly cost him the job he’s held for the last quarter-century. Toomey voters simply have nowhere to go. The latest Quinnipiac University poll showed Specter leading Hoeffel, 48 percent to 37 percent. Hoeffel may close this gap but he probably can’t win. If Democrats had picked a pro-life Democrat–or at least one able to court the pro-life vote better than Hoeffel, an abortion-rights absolutist–Specter would have been in serious trouble. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION

SOUTH CAROLINA: This race will come into much sharper focus on June 22, when Republican voters choose between former governor David Beasley and congressman Jim DeMint in a runoff. Beasley is probably a slight favorite, though many conservatives prefer DeMint. Waiting in the wings is Democrat Inez Tenenbaum, who is looking stronger than many observers suspected several months ago. Despite this, she’ll have a tough time in this GOP-friendly state during a presidential election year. LEANING REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER

SOUTH DAKOTA: The last time a Senate leader of either party lost reelection was in 1952, when Barry Goldwater executed the coup de grace. Former GOP congressman John Thune hopes his bid against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle will become the next success story. Polls have had him trailing Daschle by single-digits, though the latest one, from John Zogby, shows the incumbent holding a big lead: 52 percent to 39 percent. Democrat Stephanie Herseth’s victory over Republican Larry Diedrich in the recent special election for South Dakota’s single House seat may not bode well for Thune, either–though it must be said Herseth was the favorite and she won by a very small margin. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

WASHINGTON: In the latest poll, Democratic senator Patty Murray leads Republican congressman George Nethercutt, 51 percent to 41 percent. Nethercutt may yet make this a single-digit race, though he remains an underdog against an incumbent who has looked suspiciously weak in previous elections. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

WISCONSIN: Republicans won’t pick a candidate to take on Democratic senator Russ Feingold until September 14. An April poll showed them leaning toward businessman Russ Darrow, with state senator Bob Welch also a possibility. No matter whom they choose, Feingold will be a heavy favorite. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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