Politics & Policy

Midsummer’s Senate Dreams

Approaching the GOP convention, Republicans are in a bit of a comfort zone.

Republicans have settled on Senate nominees in four states since our last roundup. Candidates in Georgia and Oklahoma avoided runoffs, a beer man in Colorado received his party’s nod, and a carpetbagger descended on Illinois. The next important GOP decision comes in Florida, where a crowded field of senatorial wannabes is winnowing down to a two-man race.

Herewith, a review of this year’s hottest Senate races:

ALASKA: Expect Republican senator Lisa Murkowski to blow by former state senator Mike Miller in the GOP primary on August 24. Then she’ll move on to face former Democratic governor Tony Knowles in the general election. The latest poll, taken in July, has the race neck-and-neck, with Knowles at 46 percent and Murkowski at 44 percent. TOSS UP

CALIFORNIA: Former GOP secretary of state Bill Jones has yet to gain traction against liberal Democratic senator Barbara Boxer. A recent Field Poll shows Boxer stomping him, 50 percent to 33 percent. She even holds a one-point lead in the Central Valley, a place where Republicans generally have to rack up healthy margins to offset large Democratic advantages in San Francisco and elsewhere. Latent good news for Jones: Only 48 percent of those surveyed say they’re “inclined” to reelect Boxer, who also has an unfavorable rating of 40 percent. She should be doing better. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

COLORADO: During the GOP primary between beer man Pete Coors and former congressman Bob Schaffer, Republican governor Bill Owens and others insisted that Coors was a better candidate for November. It turned out that he was a pretty good one for August, as Coors won 61 percent of the vote last week. Now he takes on Democratic attorney general Ken Salazar. A Denver Post survey in July put Salazar on top, 47 percent to 40 percent. The GOP has done well in Colorado’s close contests recently. Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping for more headlines like this recent one from The Economist: “Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow.” TOSS UP

FLORIDA: The GOP primary looks like it’s becoming a two-man race between former congressman Bill McCollum and former HUD secretary Mel Martinez. The latest Mason-Dixon polls puts McCollum ahead, 29 percent to 24 percent, with state house speaker Johnnie Byrd and businessman Doug Gallagher slipping into the irrelevancy of single digits. This is a winner-takes-all primary, with no run-off–and that’s perhaps an advantage for McCollum. Yet Martinez is definitely within range of winning the August 31 primary and then going on to face either education official Betty Castor or congressman Peter Deutsch in the general election. Bonus GOP scuttlebutt: Republicans have penciled in Martinez for a short speech on the final night of the GOP convention–48 hours after the primary. LEANING REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER

GEORGIA: Rep. Denise Majette captured the Democratic nomination in last week’s runoff, which means she’ll have the distinct displeasure of trying to win in this GOP-friendly state. Republican congressman Johnny Isakson showed surprising strength last month when he captured a majority of the vote and avoided an expensive runoff against either businessman Herman Cain or congressman Mac Collins. Conservatives will support Isakson, but they also hope to see more of Cain in the future. LIKELY REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER

ILLINOIS: The Republican nomination of Alan Keyes has all the marks of a placeholder candidacy: He’s not on the ballot to win, but to help turn out a conservative base that will help GOP candidates in other contests. In the meantime, Illinois voters will get to hear one of America’s great orators in action. Too bad he’s a carpetbagger. Democratic state senator Barack Obama is all but guaranteed victory in November, especially if he turns down Keyes’s inevitable demand for a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC TAKEOVER

LOUISIANA: Despite last-minute speculation, former Republican governor Buddy Roemer didn’t announce his candidacy, which means congressman David Vitter has the GOP field to himself. Among Democrats, the race is between congressman Chris John, state treasurer John Kennedy, and state representative Arthur Morrell–with either John or Kennedy likely to emerge from the November 2 primary and battle Vitter in the December 4 runoff. TOSS UP

MISSOURI: The primary defeat of Democratic governor Bob Holden is probably modest good news for the Senate bid of Democratic treasurer Nancy Farmer–at least a bitter and distracting campaign in her party is now over. That’s not to say she has much of a chance against Republican senator Kit Bond. A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed Bond leading his challenger, 51 percent to 39 percent. Bond ought to be doing better, but it looks like he’s doing good enough. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION

NORTH CAROLINA: Former Clinton official Erskine Bowles continues to lead congressman Richard Burr in the latest poll, 44 percent to 37 percent. The good news for Burr is that the race appears to be narrowing, albeit slightly. Current senator John Edwards landing on the national Democratic ticket also doesn’t appear to have had much of an impact on this race, at least not yet. TOSS UP

OKLAHOMA: Former GOP congressman Tom Coburn’s big primary win last month–he took 61 percent of the vote–was distressing news for Democrats. They were hoping for a weaker candidate or at least an expensive runoff. The race between Coburn and Democratic congressman Brad Carson may tighten, but it also looks like Coburn’s to lose. A GOP poll right after the primary showed him ahead, 44 percent to 32 percent. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION

PENNSYLVANIA: Republican Senator Arlen Specter maintains a big lead over Democratic congressman Joe Hoeffel, 51 percent to 36 percent. Still, he’s probably concerned about Constitution Party candidate Jim Clymer recently qualifying for the ballot, with help from Hoeffel activists. As Clymer told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “I’m not running this race to help [Hoeffel] get elected, but if that ends up being the result, I still think that I accomplished something.” Will disgusted supporters of defeated GOP primary candidate Pat Toomey go for this third-party spoiler? LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION

SOUTH CAROLINA: Democratic education official Inez Tenenbaum is running a protectionist campaign against Republican congressman Jim DeMint, who is a valiant free trader eager to challenge the conventional wisdom that South Carolinians want high tariffs. LEANING REPUBLICAN TAKEOVER

SOUTH DAKOTA: Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press has pegged this as one of America’s most important Senate races, scheduling an hour-long debate between Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and former GOP congressman John Thune on his September 19 program. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

WASHINGTON: Republican congressman George Nethercutt continues to wage a scrappy campaign against Democratic senator Patty Murray, but he remains a big-time underdog. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

WISCONSIN: With the GOP primary scheduled for September 14, this is the one race that won’t have a nominated Republican candidate until after Labor Day. State senator Bob Welch probably represents the best chance for knocking off Democrat senator Russ Feingold, whose polls indicate a surprising level of vulnerability for a two-term incumbent. But even with Welch, who is no shoe-in for the nomination, it won’t be easy. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

OVERALL: Republicans can breathe a little easier following Tom Coburn’s primary victory in Oklahoma–they’ll fight that contest with their best candidate. I’ve shifted my prediction there from “toss up” to “leaning Republican retention.” That leaves four toss-up races: Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, and North Carolina. It’s hard not to notice that they’re all red states–i.e., Bush carried them in 2000. For now, I’ll split them down the middle and stick with last month’s prediction. REPUBLICANS GAIN TWO SEATS

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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