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.
KENTUCKY: Party loyalists often worry when an incumbent retires, but many Republicans felt relieved when gaffe-prone senator Jim Bunning announced that he would not seek a third term. Potential GOP successors include Secretary of State Trey Grayson and eye doctor Rand Paul, who is the son of 1988 and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul. Like his father, Paul is an advocate of small government and a foreign-policy isolationist. Grayson will have the support of the party establishment. If Paul can rally his father’s campaign supporters — a small but passionate bunch — he could pull off a minor upset. Democrats will choose between Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway, with Mongiardo favored. The primary is on May 18. LEANING GOP RETENTION.
LOUISIANA: Republican senator John Vitter would be a shoo-in for reelection, except for that business a couple of years ago about the prostitution ring. He remains the favorite against Democratic congressman Charlie Melancon, but Melancon has material for some of the year’s most blisteringly negative ads. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION.
MISSOURI: The retirement of GOP senator Kit Bond sets up a close race between two dynastic families in a classic swing state. GOP congressman Roy Blunt (father of former governor Matt Blunt) will square off against Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (daughter of former governor Mel Carnahan and former senator Jean Carnahan). Republicans are encouraged by the fact that although 2008 was a rotten year for them, John McCain still managed to carry Missouri by a slim margin. TOSS-UP.
NEVADA: Will Harry Reid be Daschled in 2010? Tom Daschle, also a Democratic Senate majority leader, lost reelection because his constituents regarded him as too liberal. A December poll of likely voters by the Las Vegas Review-Journal points to Reid’s vulnerability. Former state senator Sue Lowden, a Miss America runner-up in 1973, leads Reid, 51 percent to 41 percent. Businessman Danny Tarkanian, the son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, also performs well against Reid, 48 percent to 42 percent. TOSS-UP.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: The retirement of Republican Judd Gregg creates a pick-up opportunity for Democrats in a state that has been trending their way. Congressman Paul Hodes will be their nominee. Republican attorney general Kelly Ayotte will be a strong candidate as well. A Granite State poll of likely voters, released in October, showed Ayotte ahead of Hodes, 40 percent to 33 percent. TOSS-UP.
NEW YORK: The Empire State will have two senatorial elections in 2010. The reelection of Democratic senator Chuck Schumer is all but assured. The other race will determine who completes the final two years of Hillary Clinton’s term. It’s potentially competitive. Clinton’s appointed successor, Kirsten Gillibrand, will carry the torch for the Democrats. A couple of Republicans would stand a chance of ousting her. Polls suggest that Rudy Giuliani would win easily and former governor George Pataki would run well. So far, neither man has declared. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.
NORTH CAROLINA: No incumbent has won reelection to Nixon nemesis Sam Ervin’s old Senate seat since Lyndon Johnson was president. Republican Richard Burr will try to succeed where Democrat Terry Sanford and Republican Lauch Faircloth failed. His likely Democratic foe is Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. In November, a Public Policy Polling survey of voters gave Burr a 4-point lead over a generic Democratic opponent and an 11-point lead — 45 percent to 34 percent — over Marshall. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION.
NORTH DAKOTA: Right now, there’s only one poll that matters — the one in the head of Republican governor John Hoeven. If he decides to challenge Democratic senator Byron Dorgan, he becomes an instant favorite. If he declines the opportunity, Dorgan almost certainly cruises to reelection. In November, a Zogby poll gave Hoeven a commanding lead, 55 percent to 36 percent. Expect Hoeven to announce his decision around the New Year. TOSS-UP.
OHIO: In this open-seat race to succeed Republican George Voinovich, the GOP establishment has rallied around Rob Portman, a former congressman from Cincinnati as well as a budget director and trade diplomat during the Bush administration. Car dealer Tom Ganley also will compete for the Republican nomination. He has promised to spend up to $7 million of his own money running to Portman’s right, and his first television commercials were launched last month. Democrats will choose between Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher. Through the summer, polls showed both Brunner and Fisher beating Portman. By September, however, Portman had passed them and held a lead within the margin of error. TOSS-UP.
PENNSYLVANIA: Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat, potentially faces two tough elections. The first is in the Democratic primary on May 18, when he faces Rep. Joe Sestak. Last week, a Rasmussen poll of likely primary voters showed Specter ahead 48 percent to 35 percent — up from just a 4-point lead in October. If Specter survives this contest, he will probably face former Republican congressman Pat Toomey in a general-election rematch of the 2004 GOP primary. Rasmussen shows Toomey leading both Specter (46 percent to 42 percent) and Sestak (44 percent to 38 percent). TOSS-UP.
TEXAS: Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is running for governor and says she plans to resign her seat — though recently she has said it won’t be until after the March 4 GOP primary, which promises to be a close election between her and incumbent Rick Perry. If she wins, she will almost certainly step down — and create a race where there isn’t one today. If she loses, all bets are off. Conservative Michael Williams recently declared his candidacy. The field is bound to grow. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.
– John J. Miller is NR’s national reporter.