Alex's Outlook

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The number of open 2004 Senate seats has dramatically declined in recent weeks, thanks largely to Republican incompetence.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declined to challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2004. I think he would have lost anyway, though. Huckabee has raised taxes as governor of Arkansas, while Lincoln has been one of the only Democrats who has supported Bush's tax cuts at all. The only other possible heavyweight against Lincoln is Asa Hutchison, a Homeland Security official who was a Representative for an Arkansas district. He probably won't run, though. That means that Lincoln is home free for 2004.

Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons declined to challenge Democrat Sen. Harry Reid in 2004 either, although a credible challenger may yet emerge to run against him.

Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski has toed a pretty conservative line since 2002. Her favorability ratings are in the mid-fifties, which warded off a serious primary challenge. Additionally, all of the credible Democratic candidates for president are against oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which will seriously damage the Democrats in the Senate race there. Lisa Murkowski will probably keep the seat for the GOP.

The only major Republican vulnerability is Peter Fitzgerald's Illinois Senate seat. Fitzgerald decided not to run in 2004, because it would have forced him to spend a lot of money defending his seat in an increasingly Democratic state. The Democrats will probably gain this seat.

Tom Daschle, the Democrat Senate Minority Leader, will be a tough opponent for John Thune. Daschle has a favorability rating of 57 percent, compared to Bush's 63 percent. Rep. Bill Janklow will probably resign after killing a motorcyclist while going 16 mph over the speed limit, which would open up a prominent statewide office that Thune would be a shoo-in for. I think Thune will wait it out until 2008 or 2010 and go for the House seat instead; running against Daschle would simply be too risky. If Thune doesn't run against Daschle, Daschle will win easily.

That leaves the Republicans with solid pickup opportunities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Washington state's race between Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. George Nethercutt might become competitive in the future. If the California Republicans can win the governorship and pick up steam from the recall, they might be able to mount a credible challenge to Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Right now, the GOP is looking at a gain of about 3 Senate seats for 2004.

The House is still safe GOP territory. The Democrats' redistricting gambit in Texas appears to have failed miserably; the Democrats' boycott of the House appears to be falling apart. The Republicans will get their redistricting through after all, which will guarantee a gain of at least five House seats for the 2004 elections nationally.


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