Alex's Outlook

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

State of the Senate 


A few months ago I was pretty bullish about Republican prospects for enhancing their majorities in the House and Senate. The House won't change much, because Texas redistricting will net the GOP at least 4 new seats, which means the Dems will need to snag 16 seats to retake the House in 04. In the Senate, however, our prospects have dimmed somewhat.

I think the Dems will win Ben Nighthorse Campbell's seat in Colorado. Their nominee, Ken Salazar, is the most popular liberal politician in the state. The only Republican with the stature to crush him, CO Gov. Bill Owens, is biding his time for a VP or presidential slot in 2008; he is the great hope of conservative Republicans. Colorado is nominally conservative and trending further right, so it'll be close. But my money's on Salazar. D +1.

Peter Fitzgerald's seat (Illinois) was pretty much lost once he announced his retirement. The Dems' nominee, Barack Obama, is smart, extremely accomplished, photogenic, black, and liberal down to his bone marrow. The Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, is a formidable candidate too, but the fact is that Illinois is a very blue state and getting bluer. D +2.

Five Southern Democrats (Breaux, Graham, Miller, Hollings, Edwards) are retiring this year. Breaux's seat is a tossup, since Louisiana hasn't elected a Republican senator in over a century. I think the Republicans will pick up the other seats. R +2.

Tom Daschle's seat is a tossup. Because a leftist independent is also running, Daschle could have a Ralph Nader on his hands.

The Republicans failed to mount credible challengers to Harry Reid (Nev.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Byron Dorgan (ND), so they're getting a free pass. Still R +2.

I think that Republicans will hold Arlen Specter's seat (PA) whether Specter or Toomey wins the April 27 primary, but I'd be happy even if Specter loses the primary and the Democrats take his seat. Specter, not the Democrats, is the main enemy here.

Republican seats in Alaska and Oklahoma are endangered. The Democrats have a very strong challenger in Oklahoma, and Lisa Murkowski's (Alaska) poll numbers still have a hangover from her father's nepotistic appointment of her to the seat. Both states are uber-Republican, and Bush will have heavy coattails in 2004, so I think both seats will be held by fairly comfortable margins. Even if you consider them to be tossups, though, Democrat seats in South Dakota (Daschle) and Louisiana (Breaux) are tossups too, so the GOP still has a net gain of 2 seats. Furthermore, the Republicans have long-shot upset chances in Washington state and California races.

From a conservative (as opposed to Republican) standpoint, Senate prospects are distinctly better. Conservatives have good shots at winning the nomination in Oklahoma, Georgia, and South Carolina; a true-blue conservative is already the guaranteed nominee in North Carolina. The Senate will probably move right even if the Republicans gain no seats in November. If Arlen Specter gets shot down by Pat Toomey's primary challenge, the Republican caucus would move much further to the right.

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