Politics & Policy

Senatorial Prospects

Looking at November possibilities.

Since the previous update in March, I’ve dropped Mississippi and Wisconsin from the list of races worth watching. I’ve also added Connecticut, because of an unexpectedly interesting Democratic primary. Finally, I’ve changed the ratings in two states: Minnesota and Missouri are now in the “toss up” category and GOP chances in Florida and Nebraska are downgraded.

ARIZONA: “We’re feeling very good about Arizona,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is saying. A poll of likely voters that was released last week puts Republican senator Jon Kyl ahead of Democratic developer Jim Pederson, 43 percent to 29 percent, with 28 percent undecided. Pederson’s numbers haven’t moved much since the fall, but Kyl used to score above 50 percent — some of his supporters apparently have slipped into the undecided column. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION

CONNECTICUT: Democratic senator Joe Lieberman’s refusal to rule out an independent bid, should he lose his party’s August 8 primary to insurgent antiwar candidate Ned Lamont, has raised eyebrows. So has Al Gore’s decision not to endorse his 2000 running mate. A recent poll gives Lieberman the edge over Lamont, 55 percent to 40 percent. If he somehow manages to bungle the primary, however, he might very well be favored as an indie in November. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

FLORIDA: Democratic senator Bill Nelson will beat GOP congresswoman Katherine Harris. A poll last month put him in the lead, 56 percent to 26 percent. Yawn. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

MARYLAND: Democrats will have to wait until September 12 to choose between their two major candidates, Rep. Ben Cardin and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume; Cardin has a lot more money and will be in a position to swamp Mfume in an ad war. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will carry the banner for Republicans. He’d be less of an underdog if 2006 weren’t looking like a good year for Democrats nationally. Steele, who is black, figures that he’ll need the support of about 25 percent of Maryland’s black voters, which is roughly twice what he earned four years ago on the ticket of Gov. Bob Ehrlich. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

MICHIGAN: The Republican field has narrowed to two candidates, Oakland County sheriff Michael Bouchard and Rev. Keith Butler, following the withdrawal of conservative activist Jerry Zandstra. Bouchard is considered the favorite in the August 8 primary. The winner will take on Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow. A GOP poll from about a month ago showed Stabenow leading Bouchard (48 percent to 36 percent) as well as Butler (51 percent to 33 percent). The winner of the GOP nod eventually will hope to benefit from the coattails of Dick DeVos, a Republican who is running a surprising strong and well-funded campaign against Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

MINNESOTA: Democratic county attorney Amy Klobuchar continues to run a strong campaign, which is perhaps boosted by the presence of anti-war competitor Ford Bell; she is the heavy favorite to win a September 12 primary. The Republicans will go with congressman Mark Kennedy. A Democratic poll this spring gave Klobuchar an edge, 50 percent to 42 percent. TOSS UP

MISSOURI: Republican senator Jim Talent faces a strong challenge from Democratic state auditor Claire McCaskill. Talent’s two previous statewide contests — a losing race for governor in 2000 and a winning race for the Senate in 2002 — have been very close. This one will be as well. A new poll in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives McCaskill the lead, 49 percent to 43 percent. TOSS UP

MONTANA: Republican senator Conrad Burns has the highest disapproval rating of any incumbent (60 percent), according to SurveyUSA, and the trend from a month ago is negative. A recent piece of good news for Burns may be the victory of state Senate president Jon Tester over state auditor John Morrison in the Democratic primary — Morrison was widely viewed as the tougher general-election foe, though Tester’s come-from-behind win may also suggest that the conventional wisdom was wrong. Burns should be helped by his ability to engage a specific opponent. A Mason-Dixon poll in May showed Tester running ahead of the senator, 45 percent to 42 percent. If Burns can somehow quell concerns about his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, he may yet prevail — but Democrats clearly smell blood in the water. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION

NEBRASKA: Businessman Pete Ricketts captured the GOP nomination earlier this month, spending about $5 million of his own money to do it. He’ll need to spend a lot more than that if he’s going to defeat Democratic senator Ben Nelson. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

NEVADA: Republican senator John Ensign is a heavy favorite to defeat Democrat Jack Carter, whose father taught Americans the meaning of “malaise.” Last month, Ensign held a big lead among likely voters, 52 percent to 32 percent. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION

NEW JERSEY: Democratic senator Bob Menendez and Republican challenger Tom Kean came out swinging at debates on Sunday and Monday: Menendez accused Kean of McCarthyism and Kean accused Menendez of corruption. The campaign is unlikely to become kinder and gentler in the months ahead. Menendez is the incumbent, but he was appointed to the seat by Gov. Jon Corzine — and so he has yet to face a statewide electorate. Most polls currently give him a slight lead; one last week had the contest at 42 percent for the senator and 38 percent for Kean. TOSS UP

NEW YORK: Democratic senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is attracting a field of third-rate opponents — a legacy of Republican governor George Pataki’s complete failure to build a bench of GOP candidates for high office. On September 12, Republicans mostly like will choose between former Pentagon official Kathleen Troia McFarland and former Yonkers mayor John Spencer, who may have a small edge. Polls suggest that Clinton holds a lead of roughly 30 points over each of them. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

OHIO: In May, a University of Cincinnati poll gave Republican senator Mike DeWine a lead over Democratic congressman Sherrod Brown, 52 percent to 42 percent. That was welcome news for DeWine, given that older surveys had shown Brown running ahead of him. DeWine remains unpopular among conservatives, but they may yet turn out to vote enthusiastically for Kenneth Blackwell in the governor’s race — and ultimately decide that they prefer DeWine to his liberal opponent. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION

PENNSYLVANIA: There is some evidence to suggest that Republican senator Rick Santorum has closed gap that separates him from Democratic state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. to single digits. Last week, however, a poll of registered voters gave Casey a surprisingly large lead, 52 percent to 34 percent. If those numbers are accurate, then Santorum’s biggest problem may be with his own party: 20 percent of Republicans in that survey said they’re for Casey, who is pro-life. Earlier this month, a GOP poll suggested a tighter contest: 49 percent for Casey and 40 percent for Santorum. TOSS UP

RHODE ISLAND: GOP senator Lincoln Chafee’s decision to run as a Republican, as opposed to launching an independent candidacy, means that he now faces two tough elections: The first in a September 12 primary against Cranston mayor Steven Laffey, and the second on November 7 against Democratic former attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse. Conservatives are rallying behind Laffey, on the grounds the Chafee is too liberal — he was the only Republican senator to vote in favor of the Levin-Reed “redeployment” amendment, for instance. A recent poll gave Chafee a narrow lead over Whitehouse (43 percent to 40 percent), and Whitehouse a large lead over Laffey (58 percent to 27 percent). TOSS UP

TENNESSEE: On August 3, Republican voters will pick their nominee in a primary between former congressman Ed Bryant, Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, and Rep. Van Hilleary. So far, the contest has had its ugly moments — national Republicans would like to see the mudslinging stop, so that the eventual nominee isn’t tarnished for November. The winner of the primary will take on Democratic congressman Harold Ford Jr. in this open-seat contest. A Zogby poll from earlier this month shows Corker beating Ford (46 percent to 41 percent), Van Hilleary beating Ford (43 percent to 41 percent), and Bryant running even with Ford (42 percent apiece). LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION

VERMONT: Congressman Bernie Sanders, an “independent” who behaves like a left-wing Democrat, is the heavy favorite to win this open seat, though GOP businessman Richard Tarrant is running an energetic campaign. The Republican primary, on September 12, also will feature retired Air Force colonel Greg Parke. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

VIRGINIA: The national media is sure to cover the race between GOP senator George Allen and Republican-turned-Democrat James Webb, who is running as an anti-war candidate: Virginia is just across the river from D.C., reporters will find Webb to be an intriguing candidate, and Allen has presidential ambitions. The only Democrat who would have entered the race as something other than a heavy underdog against Allen — former governor Mark Warner — chose not to run. Last week, a Rasmussen poll had Allen at 51 percent and Webb at 41 percent. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION

WASHINGTON: National Republicans continue to point to businessman Mike McGavick as their favorite dark-horse candidate. He’s up against Democratic senator Maria Cantwell, a first-term incumbent whose refusal to support a cut-and-run strategy in Iraq is upsetting the antiwar Left. Last week, a Rasmussen poll put Cantwell ahead, but not by much: 44 percent to 40 percent. The smart money is probably on Cantwell if only because she’s the incumbent, but she may face a turnout problem in November. Meanwhile, Republicans are still irritated about what happened in the gubernatorial election in 2004; they may feel especially motivated. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

WEST VIRGINIA: Republicans have nominated businessman John Raese (pronounced “racey”) to challenge Democratic senator Robert Byrd, who is running for a ninth term. Byrd’s votes on Iraq have been all over the map — something that Raese hopes will help him they way John Kerry’s confusion helped President Bush in 2004. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC RETENTION

 – John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the author, most recently, of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America..

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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