U.S. Senate in ’08
I’m partly blogging on these things in order to straighten my own thoughts(–and partly because I am hesitating to continue with the Creation and Evolution series when so few have commented on my first 2 biblical posts on the matter. I’m confused, Gentle Readers–you asked me to blog on a topic that you are now ignoring??). Also, I believe that making the best of democracy is never just about electing one person–not even a U.S. president. If, please no, Giuliani or some other GOP candidate wins, a strong, progressive Congress–especially a progressive Democratic Senate–can limit the damage. If Hillary wins (only slightly better than Rudy, in my view), then a progressive Congress and a strong peace and justice grassroots movement can push her in more progressive directions than she will take by herself–so we don’t just return to the ’90s. And, if a more progressive candidate (Obama?) wins, a progressive Congress will make real change easier.
So, I have been following especially the chances for Democrats, especially progressive Dems, moving from a narrow majority in the Senate to a substantive majority that can get things done. Structurally, the GOP is facing an uphill battle: They have 22 Senate seats up for re-election whereas Democrats only have to defend 11 seats. Now, according to the Rothenberg Report, a non-partisan political analysis that uses conservative methods and cautious predictions: only 1 of those Democratic Senate seats is not “safe,”–Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is currently listed as a “toss-up” for re-election. But she has just secured more funding for post-Katrina reconstruction when Bush has done nothing–so, don’t count her out by any means.
Meanwhile, of the 22 GOP seats in the running, Rothenberg lists only 11 of them as “safe,”–and some of those have wild cards that could change things: e.g., Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is still under FBI investigation and may be indicted for campaign illegalities before long. Since his only challenger, State Sen. Vivien Figures (D-33 LA) of Mobile, is an African-American woman in a VERY Red state who has never won for a statewide or national office, Sessions may still win. But the scandal could give Figures a shot. Another wild card example in “safe” states is with Lindsay Graham (R-SC) whose support for immigration reform in a very anti-immigration state has led to rumors of GOP primary challenges, along with a possible Blue Dog Democratic challenge who–on immigration–runs to the right of Graham. (Not a tactic that I like, but still a wild card that should be noted.) In Georgia, Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who won his seat by the nastiest smear campaign ever–attacking the patriotism of Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam Vet who lost 3 limbs in service to his country!–has attracted some strong Dem. challengers, especially Rand Knight, Ph.D, an ecologist and alternative energy engineer who once was an intern with former GA Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and journalist/commentator Dale Cardwell–not as progressive as Knight, but with a strong statewide readership. In TN, support for Sen. (and former governor) Lamar Alexandar (R-TN) is lukewarm and he is also attracting strong challengers, especially a very popular Nashville mayor–and rumors that Tipper Gore (wife of former VP Al Gore) could be one of those challengers! Now, these are deep Red strongholds and all of these seats may remain “safe.” The GOP could win them all. But if strong challenges in these wild card situations (I haven’t even mentioned Sen. Larry Craig (R) and Idaho!) force the GOP to spend time and money defending these seats that they need elsewhere, it makes their uphill situation worse than now!
What of the “outside the safe zone” races? One of them, the open seat of retiring Sen. John Warner (R-VA), is expected even by the cautious Stu Rothenberg to be won by former VA Governor Mark Warner (D-VA)–no relation. That will give VA 2 Democratic U.S. Senators for the first time in decades! 3 Races: Colorado (Open–Wayne Allard (R) is retiring), New Mexico (Open–Pete Domenici (R) is retiring after being caught in the U.S. Attorneys scandal), and NH (Sununu (R) ) are considered toss-ups by Rothenberg if the election were held today–nearly a year away. In Colorado, Rep. Mark Udall (D), a hugely popular progressive, is out-polling possible Republican challengers handily. In New Mexico, Albaquerque Mayor Martin Chavez (D) is listed as in a statistical dead heat with GOP challengers–and there is a movement to draft Rep. Tom Udall (D), Mark’s brother, for this race–and he outpolls all GOP names. Both these are Western states where Latino population increases and other demographic changes are changing these former GOP strongholds from Red to “Purple” swing states–or even Blue Democratic states. New Hampshire was once rock solid for the GOP–but it was because of NH’s love of low taxes and fiscal conservatism. NH, like the rest of New England, has not liked the Religious Right’s domination of the GOP and has been moving Democratic (although slower in NH than elsewhere in the Northeast). Incumbent Sen. John Sununu (R-NH), who got his start with the Reagan admin., is a fiscal conservative and social moderate. And, he is currently outpolling both his possible Democratic challengers–but not by much. Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has the best shot at beating Sununu if she doesn’t exhaust resources and divide state Dems in a primary fight with Jay Buckey, former astronaut and Dartmouth professor. But either candidate would be a progressive improvement over Sununu and I like Buckey’s strong commitment to the environment and alternative energy. NH has good choices this year. I could see the Dems picking up all 3 of these seats–and if Sununu keeps NH it won’t be without LOTS of GOP national money–and giving is down.
Rothenberg lists 3 more races as having a “narrow advantage for the incumbent”: MN –Norm Coleman (R-MN) is polling at 50% and under and facing a plethora of Democratic challengers. Most of the attention is going to the races of commentator Al Franken (D) and Atty. Mike Ceresi, but I am most impressed with the candidacy of Dr. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Professor of Peace & Justice Studies at the University of St. Thomas, a member of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship and a longtime activist on peace and justice issues–especially related to Latin America. Also challenging Coleman is lawyer and environmental activist Jim Cohen. All of these are strong candidates who reflect the progressive values of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. If they come through the primary without too much division and the party unites around the nominee, I think Coleman can be defeated.
In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the last moderate Republicans in the Senate, is in the fight of her life against Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME). Maine is very against the Iraq War and Collins not only voted for it, she has continued to support it in the Senate (at Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s urging!). That isn’t making her popular. Bush’s SCHIP veto and other unpopular moves are also hurting her. Also, ME usually votes with the winning presidential candidate. Collins was very popular until recently–but her reelection depends on being able to distance herself from Bush’s policies and McConnell has kept her voting for them. Tom Allen will remind voters of that at every chance he gets.
Despite the Blue-trending nature of Oregan, Gordon Smith outpolls his Democratic challengers in some polls. But the latest poll shows him with only a 33% job approval rating. So, Jeff Merkley, Speaker of the Oregon House, can beat Smith if he gets his act together. Again, I can see the Dems picking up all of these seats, though the task will be harder than with the “leans Dem” or “toss-up” categories.
Finally, there are the “clear advantage for incumbent” states–but still not “safe:” NE (Open, Hagel is retiring) is a fairly Red state and, so far, the folks that Dems have hoped would run have not–making GOP retention more & more likely. NC, long a GOP stronghold, and there are several Democratic primary candidates working for the chance to take on Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC). Uniting behind the strongest candidate would help in what will be a very difficult race. Dole is not unbeatable, but I don’t yet see a strong enough candidate to take her. Alaska should be a safe state, but Ted Stevens is being investigated by the FBI for bribery! It’s still a long shot, but Mayor Rocky Calderon, of rural Unalaska,-in a very rural state, is running a top-notch campaign that focuses on ethics (i.e., He’s not being investigated for bribery!) and on turning Alaska from an oil state into a major energy state–including alternative energy sources that are plentiful in AK: wind, stream tidal energy, geothermal, and hydrogen. If Caldero is sharp, he can use this strategy to unite environmentalists with business types and those who want energy security as a vital part of national security policy. Finally, here in KY, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), GOP powerhouse, is strong but at the most vulnerable point of his career. We have yet to put forward a strong Democratic candidate, but if the move to draft State Auditor Crit Luallen (D-KY), who just won reelection by 20 percentage points, is successful, we have a good chance.
There is no way that Dems will win all of those races–but I think we can win the majority of them. We have a shot at 15-16 seats and a GOOD shot at 9-10–which would be the biggest change in the electoral map since 1994. Further, most of these changes would not be simply “Republicrats” or corporate Dems, but true progressives–and almost all would be more progressive than the current office holders. That kind of context could make even a Hillary Clinton presidency a victory for justice and peace–or, at least, not a disaster. (I still am praying for a different nominee, though!)
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