Don’t Sweat the 60

The Democrats were trying for a 60-seat filibuster-proof “super-majority” in the Senate in the 2008 election, but they didn’t quite get there.  They did win eight seats (in addition to the six they gained in 2006, for an incredible total of 14 seats in two years!), and now have 59 seats, counting two Independents – Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut – who caucus (and usually vote) with the Democrats.  One of these seats is technically still in question, but is included in the 59 seats mentioned here; Democrat Al Franken’s 312-vote victory in Minnesota over incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman is being challenged in court by former Senator Coleman (yes, I said “former” – his term expired on January 3rd), and Minnesota state law prevents Senator-elect Franken (yes, I said “Senator-elect” – his victory has been certified by Minnesota’s State Canvassing Board and by an appeals court panel) from obtaining the official election certificate needed for him to take his place in the Senate until those challenges are resolved.  The Senate Republicans have made it clear they will filibuster any attempt to seat Senator-elect Franken – even temporarily – unless and until he has the official election certificate.  Former Senator Coleman’s court challenge (now headed for the Minnesota Supreme Court) is generally regarded as highly unlikely to overturn the state canvassing board’s decision to certify Senator-elect Franken’s victory – or the 3-judge panel’s decision to uphold that certification – meaning the former Senator is merely postponing the inevitable.

 

[UPDATE (4/28/2009):  The situation in the Senate changed dramatically with the stunning announcement from Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania that he is switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat (!), bringing the Democrats to the magic 60-vote majority – just as soon as Al Franken is seated as the junior Senator from Minnesota (perhaps mid-June?).  While Senator Specter, as he made clear in his announcement today, certainly won’t be “an automatic 60th vote”, this is still a devastating blow to the Senate Republicans.  How much of a boon this turns out to be for the Senate Democrats – and President Obama’s agenda – remains to be seen.

 

The significance of having 60 votes in the Senate lies in the fact that Senate rules place no time limitation on debate.  In order for Senate debate on a piece of legislation to come to an end and for that legislation to come up for a vote, 3/5 of the Senate must vote for “cloture”, or an end to the debate.  Since there are 100 Senators, 60 of them (3/5 of 100) must vote for cloture.  If fewer than 60 Senators vote for cloture, debate continues and the legislation cannot be brought up for a vote.  Preventing cloture is commonly referred to as a “filibuster”, and has become the Senate Republicans’ primary recourse if they want to block a piece of Democratic-supported legislation.

 

This leaves the Senate Republicans in a very tenuous position.  On most legislation, the Senate Democrats will probably be able to get the remaining vote(s) they need to achieve cloture (and therefore defeat a “filibuster”) from moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (Senators Collins, Snowe and Specter joined with the Democrats to bring cloture to the debate on President Obama’s economic stimulus package, for example).  The math is simple – if just one Republican Senator joins the 59 Democrats in voting for cloture, cloture will be achieved and the legislation will be able to come up for a vote, and it will pass.  If the Republicans want to block legislation that is backed by all 59 Democrats, they will need every singleRepublican Senator to vote against cloture.  As long as the 41 Senate Republicans are united in their opposition to the legislation, however, they will be able to successfully block legislation from passing the Senate – for now.

 

Chances are, however, that the Democrats will only have to function with less than the 60-vote “super-majority” for two years; the next election cycle is already shaping up to be another one that benefits the Democrats.

 

The Constitution mandates the division of the Senate into three groups, called Classes – Class I, Class II and Class III.  Senators serve a six-year term, and one-third of the Senate – one of the “Classes” – faces re-election every two years on a rotating basis.  The following list shows the 34 Senators who currently make up “Class III”; this group was elected in 2004, to a term that expires on January 3rd, 2011. Their seats will be up for re-election in November, 2010 (the chart is adapted from senate.gov):

 

Class III – Senators Whose Terms of Service Expire in 2011

 

Democrats Republicans
Bayh, Evan (D-IN)
Bennett, Michael (D-CO)*
Boxer, Barbara (D-CA)
Burris, Roland (D-IL)**
Dodd, Christopher J. (D-CT)
Dorgan, Byron L. (D-ND)
Feingold, Russell D. (D-WI)
Inouye, Daniel K. (D-HI)
Leahy, Patrick J. (D-VT)
Lincoln, Blanche L. (D-AR)
Mikulski, Barbara A. (D-MD)
Murray, Patty (D-WA)
Reid, Harry (D-NV)
Schumer, Charles E. (D-NY)
Wyden, Ron (D-OR)
* replaced Ken Salazar
** replaced Barack Obama
Bennett, Robert F. (R-UT)
Bond, Christopher S. (R-MO)
Brownback, Sam (R-KS)
Bunning, Jim (R-KY)
Burr, Richard (R-NC)
Coburn, Tom (R-OK)
Crapo, Mike (R-ID)
DeMint, Jim (R-SC)
Grassley, Chuck (R-IA)
Gregg, Judd (R-NH)
Isakson, Johnny (R-GA)
Martinez, Mel (R-FL)
McCain, John (R-AZ)
Murkowski, Lisa (R-AK)
Shelby, Richard C. (R-AL)
Specter, Arlen (R-PA)
Thune, John (R-SD)
Vitter, David (R-LA)
Voinovich, George V. (R-OH)

 

 

As this chart indicates, Class III currently consists of 15 Democrats and 19 Republicans.  In addition to the seats listed here, there will be special elections in Delaware (for Vice President Joe Biden’s former seat) and New York (for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s former seat).  There have already been six retirements announced among the Senators in Class III – and five of them are Republicans:  Mel Martinez of Florida, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.  The lone Democrat is Ted Kaufman of Delaware, who was appointed to the seat vacated by Joe Biden when Biden became Vice President.  There will likely be additional retirements announced over time (in both parties) from the above list as well.  These retirements create open seats, which are usually stronger pick-up opportunities for the other party than if they were challenging an incumbent.  The five Republican retirements create huge opportunities for the Democrats.  Given the fact that the Democrats need a net gain of just one seat to reach the filibuster-proof “super-majority” of 60 seats, these circumstances spell serious trouble for the Republicans

 

First, the announcement by Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida that he will not run for re-election in 2010 creates an open seat in a major battleground state – and a major pick-up opportunity for the Democrats.  The Republicans’ best hope for holding the seat, former Governor Jeb Bush (who remains very popular in Florida – he has not been affected by his brother’s dismal approval ratings), has now announced that he will not run for the seat – but so has the Democrats’ best chance of taking the seat, the Democratic Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.  The next big announcement is expected to come from Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who is reportedly considering a run.  This is likely to be among the hardest-fought battles in the 2010 election cycle.

 

Second, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has announced he will not run for re-election, but will run for Governor instead.  This seat is likely to remain solidly Republican, however, because the Democrats’ best – and perhaps only – chance of taking this seat completely vanished when Governor Kathleen Sebelius accepted President Obama’s nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

 

There are two other Republican-held Senate seats coming up for re-election in 2010 where the Democrats could have possibly had a chance to take the seat away from the Republicans – had it not been for President Obama selecting their strongest potential candidates for cabinet positions.  Senator John McCain of Arizona would probably have had to run against the popular Governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, but she is now the Secretary of Homeland Security.  In Iowa, Senator Charles Grassley would probably have had to face the popular former Governor, Tom Vilsack, but he is now the Secretary of Agriculture.  Like Kathleen Sebelius was in Kansas, Janet Napolitano and Tom Vilsack were the Democrats’ only realistic hope of taking the Senate seats in Arizona and Iowa away from the Republicans (although Senator McCain will be facing a primary challenge from Chris Simcox, the co-founder of the “Minutemen Civil Defense Corps”, which has taken it upon themselves to guard our border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing into the United States).  By accepting their cabinet positions, they effectively decided not to run for these Senate seats; they will have to begin running their respective Executive departments at the precise time they would have to be launching their Senate campaigns, and they simply can’t do both.

 

Third, the announcement by Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri that he will retire caught many people by surprise.  While there are some Republicans with the name recognition and stature to make a strong run (former House Minority Whip Roy Blunt has already entered the race, for example), the front-runner is widely regarded to be Missouri’s Democratic Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, the daughter of former Governor Mel Carnahan and former Senator Jean Carnahan.  In recent years, Missouri has become more friendly to Democrats running for state-wide office; in addition to Robin Carnahan, Democrat Claire McCaskill defeated Republican Senator Jim Talent in 2006, Democrat Jay Nixon defeated Republican Congressman Kenny Hulshof (by 19 percentage points!) in the 2008 race for Governor, and Barack Obama came within a few thousand votes of winning Missouri in the 2008 Presidential race.  Senator Bond’s retirement creates a huge pick-up opportunity for the Democrats, and I expect they will pour all necessary support into Missouri to take advantage of it.

 

Fourth, the retirement of Senator George Voinovich of Ohio comes at a time when the Ohio Republican party is in complete disarray.  A combination of corruption scandals surrounding several top Republican officials (including then-Governor Bob Taft) and key election losses (including the Senate and Gubernatorial races in 2006 and the Presidential race in 2008) make this a golden pick-up opportunity for the Democrats.  One Republican who is considering running is former Congressman Rob Portman, who also served as both the Budget Director and the Trade Representative in the Bush Administration.  Given his close ties to President Bush, the Republicans had better hope someone else steps up.  Frankly, there are very few Republicans left in Ohio with the stature and name recognition to make a serious run, but there are several Democrats in a strong position to do so; Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher, Congressman Zach Space, and state Representative Tyrone Yates have all expressed interest.

 

In New Hampshire, Senator Judd Gregg has now cleared up any ambiguity – he will not run for re-election in 2010.  New Hampshire is a state that has rejected both of its Republican Representatives in the House (in 2006) and a Republican Senator (in 2008) in the last two election cycles.  The state has also voted Democratic in 4 of the last 5 Presidential races (the exception was in 2000, when Ralph Nader took enough votes away from Al Gore to give the state to George W. Bush).  Senator Gregg’s recent bizarre flip-flop on asking for and accepting – and then rejecting for reasons known before he asked for the job – President Obama’s nomination as Secretary of Commerce may have contributed to his decision to retire; he knew he would be in for a tough fight after that embarrassing episode.  Senator Gregg’s retirement creates an open seat in New England – arguably the most solidly Democratic region in the country.  If the Democratic candidate is someone – anyone – with positive statewide name recognition (Representative Paul Hodes has already entered the race, and Representative Carol Shea-Porter has announced she will not run.  Former State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau is said to be considering a run, but would face an uphill primary fight against Representative Hodes), the Republicans don’t have a chance of holding this seat.  Their strongest possible candidates are former Senator John Sununu, Jr. (who just lost his bid for re-election to the state’s other Senate seat in 2008, and has not expressed interest), former Governors Steve Merrill (who hasn’t held elected office since 1996) and the scandal-plagued former Governor Craig Benson (who was soundly defeated by Democrat John Lynch in 2004).

 

In addition to these five retirements, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas has suggested that she may resign her Senate seat this year (perhaps as early as June) so that she can run for Governor in 2010.  Governor Rick Perry (who would be facing a tough primary fight against Hutchison should he seek re-election – there is no love lost between those two) would then appoint a temporary replacement, but that person would then have to run in an all-party special election shortly after taking office in order to retain the seat for the remainder of the term.  Under Texas state law, that special election would take place quickly – probably during 2009 (depending on exactly when Senator Hutchison resigns), rather than at the next regularly scheduled Congressional election, as it would in many other states.  If no one receives 50% of the vote in the all-party primary, the top two vote getters would face a run-off election.  Among those considered likely to run for the seat on the Republican side are Representatives Kay Granger, Jeb Hensarling and Joe Barton, as well as Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams.  On the Democratic side, the Democrats have successfully recruited their first choice, Houston Mayor Bill White, to run for the seat, should it become available.  Texas has not been kind to Democratic candidates in statewide elections over the past decade, but all bets are off when it comes to open seats in off-year special elections.  Since this election would be separate from the 2010 election cycle, I expect it to receive the full attention of the Democratic National Committee.

 

Furthermore, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has not yet announced his plans regarding 2010.  If he decides to run for a second term, he would probably win easily (this is Oklahoma, after all).  The Democrats have at least two candidates who could mount serious campaigns: Governor Brad Henry (who will be forced out of the Governor’s mansion by term limits) and Representative Dan Boren (the son of former Senator David Boren) would both be viable candidates, especially if Senator Coburn decides to retire.

 

All of this is in addition to the several other Republican Senators who were already regarded as vulnerable.  One of the most vulnerable was Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who dealt with his vulnerability by actually switching his party affiliation to the Democrats!  Other vulnerable Republicans include David Vitter of Louisiana, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

 

UPDATED:  In Pennsylvania, veteran Senator Arlen Specter had been facing a tough re-election race, but his switch in party affiliation from Republican to Democrat (announced on April 28th, 2009) may have very well changed all that.   Former Representative Pat Toomey, known as a strong fiscal conservative (he is the founder of the “Club for Growth”), had launched a primary challenge against Senator Specter (Toomey narrowly lost to Specter – by less than 1 percent – in the 2004 primary), and polls were showing Toomey with a sizable lead over Senator Specter this time around (only registered Republicans can vote in the primary, and over 200,000 moderate Republican voters switched their registration to the Democrats in 2008, making the Republican primary voters overwhelmingly conservative).  Even assuming Senator Specter had survived the primary challenge (by no means a certainty), he would have then had to face a decidedly more Democratic electorate in the general election than those he had faced before (after having had to lean towards the right wing in order to win the Republican primary).  There were several potential Democratic candidates that had been taking a serious look at the race:  the former Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia (under then-Mayor and now-Governor Ed Rendell), Joe Torsella, had already launched his campaign, and State Auditor Jack Wagner, Representatives Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak and Allyson Schwartz, and State Representative Josh Shapiro had been expected to jump in soon.  All of that changed with Senator Specter’s switch to the Democratic primary; Jack Wagner, Patrick Murphy and Allyson Schwartz have all said they will not challenge him in the Democratic primary.  Although Joe Torsella is still in the race and Joe Sestak has hinted he may still jump in, Senator Specter has to be considered an overwhelming favorite to retain the seat.  He should easily win the primary, and he will probably crush Toomey in the general election (he will win a vast majority of the independents, and Democrats certainly won’t vote for an arch-conservative like Toomey).  The Republican leadership in the Senate have made clear that they will attack Senator Specter’s move as a political calculation, but the voters won’t care.  Barring yet another unforeseen development, I don’t see any way Senator Specter loses this race now.

 

In Louisiana, Senator Vitter has faced scandal and calls for his resignation over the revelation that he was among the “D.C. Madame’s” regular customers.  Senator Vitter can expect this to be a dominant issue during his re-election campaign.  As a humorous example, a porn star named Stormy Daniels has “officially” announced she is entering the race, apparently to focus attention on the D.C. Madame issue (and, of course, to focus attention on herself).  In an attempt to drive the prostitution issue to the back burner and give the voters something else to remember him by, Senator Vitter has recently become far more prominent in the Senate debates (particularly during the debate on the economic stimulus package).  Unfortunately for Senator Vitter, these efforts were driven from voters minds when Senator Vitter threw awidely-publicized temper tantrum when he arrived late for a flight at Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport.  After setting off a security alarm by opening a door to a restricted area, Senator Vitter screamed at the gate attendant and demanded to be let onto the plane after the gate doors had been closed, waving his Senate ID Card, and shouting “Do you know who I am?” He encouraged the gate attendant to call security, commenting that perhaps security would be more respectful of his status as a Senator.  Once the attendant actually left to find a security officer, however, Senator Vitter decided to simply leave the scene.  The incident received the usual airplay (especially among late-night comedians), further embarrassing the Senator, whose spokesman did not dispute that the incident had occurred. The following day, however, Senator Vitter released a statement describing the incident very differently: “After being delayed on the Senate floor ensuring a vote on my anti-pay-raise amendment and in a rush to make my flight home for town hall meetings the next day, I accidentally went through a wrong door at the gate. I did have a conversation with an airline employee, but it was certainly not like this silly gossip column [in the Capitol Hill Newspaper Roll Call] made it out to be.”  Senator Vitter’s vulnerability will basically depend on the Democrats’ success in recruiting a strong candidate to challenge him.  So far, they have no one; their strongest potential candidate, Representative Charlie Melancon, has declined to run.

 

Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky barely won re-election in 2004 and will be a prime target – arguably THE prime target – for the Democrats in 2010.  In fact, Senator Bunning is rapidly emerging as the most vulnerable Republican Senator facing re-election in 2010.  He is so vulnerable, in fact, that several prominent Republicans, including Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (or NRSC), have publicly pressured Senator Bunning to retire by refusing to confirm that Senator Bunning would be running again in 2010 – despite Senator Bunning’s repeated assertions that he would be running.  When he was informed that Senator Cornyn had suggested he wasn’t certain Senator Bunning would run for re-election, Senator Bunning responded by saying, “I don’t believe anything John Cornyn says.  I’ve had miscommunications with John Cornyn from, I guess, the first week of this current session of the Senate. He either doesn’t understand English or he doesn’t understand direct ‘I’m going to run’, which I said to him in the cloakroom of our chamber.”   Senator Cornyn has even suggested that the NRSC hoped to recruit another Republican to challenge Senator Bunning in the primaries (Senator Cornyn recently met with state Senate President David Williams, calling it a “courtesy visit”), and in response Senator Bunning threatened to sue the NRSC for going against its bylaws (which states that the NRSC exists to support incumbent Republican Senators’ re-election bids).  It has now gotten to the point that the Republican establishment is openly “shunning” Senator Bunning – he will not have access to money, connections, campaign staffers, or lists of potential donors – apparently in the hopes that they can “starve him out” and force his retirement – all of which seems to be backfiring and causing Senator Bunning to dig in his heels even more stubbornly.  This internecine warfare can only make things easier for the Democrats. Kentucky is not as Republican a state as generally believed; Governor Steve Beshear is a Democrat, the state’s other Senator (Mitch McConnell) faced a tougher-than-expected race in 2008 against Bruce Lunsford (a possible Democratic challenger for Senator Bunning’s seat), despite – or perhaps as a result of – being the Senate Minority Leader, and both Houses of the State Legislature are controlled by the Democrats.  Senator Bunning already has two potentially strong Democrats running for the seat; then-State Senator and now Lt. Governor Daniel Mongiardo, the opponent Senator Bunning defeated by less than 2% in 2004 (a year that George Bush won the state by 20%), has announced he will be running again (and has been endorsed by Governor Beshear), and Attorney General Jack Conway has entered the race as well.  Senator Bunning’s repeated protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, his retirement remains a possibility (and would significantly improve the Republicans’ chances of retaining the seat); he will be 79 years old by the time of the 2010 election.  If he does retire, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, Trey Grayson (who considers Senator Bunning to be his “friend and mentor”), has said he would enter the race.

 

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina finds himself in an unexpectedly vulnerable position; his state voted for Barack Obama for President in 2008, and at the same time ousted his Republican colleague, Senator Elizabeth Dole – despite Senator Dole’s high name recognition.  In addition, Senator Burr (like Senator Dole during the 2008 election cycle) is currently polling well below 50% – a clear sign of trouble for any incumbent.  Worse still, he is actually trailing North Carolina’s Attorney General, Roy Cooper, 39% – 34% in a recent poll (Cooper is expected to announce his candidacy soon).  Any incumbent Senator polling at 34% and trailing a lesser-known challenger has got to be worried.  Senator Burr does only slightly better against North Carolina’s Secretary of State, Elaine Marshall (Burr leads Marshall, 43% – 35%; still below 50% and only leading by single digits).  Another potential Democratic challenger is Representative Mike McIntyre.  The wild card in this race is the popular former Governor, Mike Easley.  If Governor Easley were to enter the race, Senator Burr would be in for the political fight of his career.  For his part, Governor Easley has only said that he finds the legislative process “boring”. Another prominent Democrat, Representative Heath Shuler, has announced he will not run for the Senate seat.

 

Freshman Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia is facing re-election for the first time in a state that forced the state’s other first-term Senator, Saxby Chambliss, into a run-off against a virtual unknown (Jim Martin) in 2008.  If the Democrats can recruit a strong candidate here (something they have not accomplished as of yet), Senator Isakson could face a tough race.

 

Senator John Cornyn, who, as the Chairman of the NRSC, will be coordinating the Republicans’ 2010 Senate campaigns, recently listed (in a speech to the CPAC conference) the Democratic Senate seats he sees as potentially vulnerable to Republican take-over:  those in Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New York, and Oregon.  Looking at the seats he listed, I believe he is being overly optimistic, but I suppose that’s his job.

 

Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas is widely regarded as one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, making her a difficult target for the Republicans.  In 1998 she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Senate (she was 38).  She will be running for her third term in 2010, having won both of her previous terms by double-digit margins.  In addition, Arkansas is a far more Democratic state than its record in Presidential elections would indicate:  the Governor, both U.S. Senators, three of the state’s four Members of the House of Representatives, and all seven statewide constitutional officers are Democrats, and the Democrats hold strong majorities (larger than 70%) in both Houses of the State Legislature.  Given that the Republicans were unable to even find a candidate – any candidate – to challenge her fellow Senator from Arkansas, Mark Pryor, in 2008, it is unclear why the Republicans believe Senator Lincoln is particularly vulnerable.  One Republican, 71-year-old State Senator Kim Hendren, has entered the race.  Other potential candidates are State Senator Gilbert Baker and former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin.

 

In Colorado, Senator Ken Salazar has left the Senate to become Secretary of the Interior, and Michael Bennett – a Democrat who was serving as Denver schools chief – has been appointed by Governor Bob Ritter to replace him.  This seat was coming up for re-election in 2010 anyway, and Senator Bennett’s new-ness will give the Republicans a stronger possible pick-up opportunity than if they were running against Senator Salazar.  However, Senator Bennett is widely respected on both sides of the aisle, and his appointment, while a surprise to virtually everyone, was positively received in all quarters.  Combined with the distinctly Democratic lean in Colorado in recent elections and the failure (so far) of the Republicans to recruit a top-tier candidate to challenge him (State Attorney General John Suthers, former Representative Scott McInnis, and former State Senator Mike Hillman have all declined to enter the race).  Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck have both announced they will run, and former Congressman Bob Beauprez – who lost by 17 points to Democrat Bill Ritter in the 2006 race for Governor– is still considering running.  Senator Bennett’s popularity would make this race another tough battle for the Republicans.

 

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut ran for President in the 2008 primaries, and as a result is one of the most widely recognized members of the Senate.  His position as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee also makes him one of the most powerful and prominent Senators – especially given the current economic crisis.  He is the longest-serving Senator in the history of Connecticut (he was first elected to the seat in 1980), and is the son of former Senator Thomas Dodd.  Among his legislative achievements is his authorship of the very popular Family and Medical Leave Act.  All of these factors, combined with the fact the Connecticut is such a strongly Democratic state, make it extremely unlikely that Senator Dodd would be vulnerable to defeat – or so one would think.  Remarkably, Senator Dodd has – quite suddenly – become perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat up for re-election to the Senate in 2010.  His connections with AIG and other major financial corporations have driven his popularity to pitiful levels; a recent poll found that 33% of Connecticut’s voters approved of his performance, while 58% disapproved.  He has received more money in campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac than any other Member of Congress, the terms of his home mortgage from Countrywide (which is regulated by his Banking Committee) have been described as “a sweetheart deal” (something Senator Dodd has denied), and he is widely regarded as the Senator most closely aligned with the financial industry – all of which are hurting him badly in the current political climate.  It also doesn’t help that he actually moved his family – officially – out of Connecticut and into Iowa in the months leading up to the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, which did not sit well with Connecticut voters at all.  Two Republicans have officially announced they will run for the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Dodd:  former three-term GOP Congressman Rob Simmons, who lost his House seat in 2006 to Democrat Joe Courtney by just 83 votes, and State Senator Sam Caligiuri.  Recent polling puts Senator Dodd behind both; he trails Rob Simmons by 16 points (50%-34%) and Sam Caligiuri by 4 points (41%-37%).  Senator Dodd also trails former Ambassador Tom Foley – a Republican, not to be confused with Thomas Foley, the former Democratic Speaker of the House – by 8 points (43%-35%), despite the fact that Ambassador Foley hasn’t even entered the race (yet).  The bottom line here is that Senator Dodd polls in the mid-30’s, no matter who his Republican opponent is, an incredibly poor showing for a 5-term incumbent.  He even has a primary challenger; Roger Pearson, a former First Selectman of Greenwich, Connecticut, has announced he will run in the Democratic primary against Senator Dodd.  Just about the only good news for Senator Dodd is that former Republican Representative Christopher Shays has ruled out a run for the seat.  There has been some speculation that Senator Dodd will choose to retire rather than try to surmount these obstacles, but Senator Dodd himself has not given any indication that he is considering any such thing.  It has also been suggested that President Obama could select Senator Dodd for a position within the Obama Administration (such as Ambassador to Mexico), opening up the Senate seat.  If either of these scenarios came to pass, Connecticut’s Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, or Ned Lamont, who forced Senator Joe Lieberman to run as an Independent in 2006 by taking the Democratic nomination away from him, could jump in the race.  The way things are going for Senator Dodd, they may decide to jump in no matter what Senator Dodd decides.

 

There will be a special election in Delaware in 2010 to fill the remainder of the term to which Vice President Joe Biden was just elected in 2008 (He was re-elected to the Senate seat on the same day he was elected Vice President, and took the oath of office for his seventh Senate term on January 6th.  He didn’t officially resign the seat until January 15th, and took the oath of office as Vice President on January 20th).   Senator Ted Kaufman, who was appointed by Governor Ruth Ann Minner to the seat until the special election, has said he will not run in 2010, meaning he will be little more than a caretaker, essentially holding the seat for Beau Biden (Joe’s son), who is currently on leave from his post as Delaware’s Attorney General while he serves in Iraq as a member of the Delaware National Guard.  The younger Biden could face stiff competition from Republican Congressman Mike Castle, Delaware’s only Representative in the House and the only Republican in the state with so much as a prayer of defeating Beau Biden.  One factor that may drive Representative Castle’s decision whether to enter the Senate race is that, for the first time in his long tenure in the House, he will face a strong challenge to retain his House seat; former Lieutenant Governor John Carney has announced he will run for the House seat – regardless of whether Representative Castle is running or not.  The problem for the Republicans is that Representative Castle running for the Senate seat would open up his House seat, creating a huge pick-up opportunity for the Democrats in the House, especially now that they have such a strong candidate. Even if Representative Castle runs for the Senate, it is likely that Beau Biden’s name recognition and his own accomplishments, combined with his father’s continuing popularity and Delaware’s strong Democratic lean, will make this an extremely tough seat for the Republicans to take away from the Democrats.  Given that he would face a tough race no matter which race he is in (House or Senate), Representative Castle may decide to retire from politics altogether.

 

While the Republicans clearly want to target Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, all of Senator Reid’s major potential Republican opponents have problems of their own:  Jim Gibbons, Nevada’s Republican Governor, has been frequently plagued by scandal; and the Lieutenant Governor, Brian Krolicki, was recently indicted on charges relating to his (mis)handling of the state’s College Savings Program while he was state’s Treasurer.  Another potential Republican candidate, former three-term Congressman Jon Porter (who lost his latest re-election bid to the House seat in 2008) just accepted a position as Public Policy Director at the Washington D.C. office of Akerman Senterfitt, a law and lobbying firm, essentially ruling out a run for Harry Reid’s Senate seat.  Despite the problems with their major potential candidates, I expect the Republicans to throw everything they’ve got at this race.  Instead of a positive campaign for their candidate, they will probably run a negative campaign against Senator Reid (there is certainly no shortage of material to choose from), so this one will probably get very ugly very quickly.  In fact, the RNC began airing its first negative ad of the 2010 campaign against Senator Reid in January of 2009.  For his part, Senator Reid welcomes this; he recently said, “You know, to be honest with you, I hope I am [targeted]…that way, [the Republicans are] going to spend lots of resources on me and leave states we’re looking at. They won’t have as many resources — and we have a lot of targets.”

 

Governor David Patterson of New York has appointed Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, a moderate Democrat from upstate New York, to replace former Senator (now Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton. In general, the more liberal Democrats are not happy with the choice, and as a result Senator Gillibrand may face a strong primary challenge from within her own party in the 2010 special election to fill the remainder of the term.  Assuming she survives the primary, she would then have to survive the general election, and despite New York’s strong Democratic tendencies, this Senate seat actually represents one of the Republicans’ two best pick-up opportunities (the other is Connecticut) – this is a state where the Republicans have a strong line-up of potential candidates.  Rumored to be among those Republicans interested in challenging Senator Gillibrand for the seat in 2010 are former New York City Mayor and Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, former Governor George Pataki, and Representative Peter King. Mayor Giuliani has already run for the seat once before (against Hillary Clinton in 2000, but he had to drop out early due to health issues), and, in a much-criticized move, demonstrated less-than-competent political judgment in his Presidential run last year by deciding to sit out the first month’s primaries (and therefore keep his name out of the news cycle for a full month while his rivals stacked up victories).  By the time he did begin competing, his campaign was little more than an afterthought, and he dropped out fairly quickly.  As a result, he may be seen as a far less formidable candidate than he would otherwise have been, but he would be formidable nonetheless.  Former Governor Pataki has been heavily recruited by the NRSC, but so far has not shown an interest in the race.  If he were to run, he would be an instant frontrunner.  If Representative King runs for the Senate seat, this would open up his House seat – one of just three New York seats that are left in Republican hands (the Democrats hold every other House seat throughout New England) – creating a strong pick-up opportunity for the Democrats in the House.  Representative King will therefore probably be under a lot of pressure from the Republicans in the House to stay there.  This will be one to watch.

 

In Oregon, Senator Ron Wyden will be running for his third full term (he also served the last two years of disgraced Senator Bob Packwood’s term from 1996 to 1998).  He was last re-elected in 2004 with 64% of the vote, and remains extremely popular throughout the state.  There is simply no reason to regard Senator Wyden as particularly vulnerable – regardless of Senator Cornyn’s hopes.

 

There are two other Democratic Senators who could conceivably become vulnerable:  Barbara Boxer of California (who is only vulnerable if her opponent is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota (who is only vulnerable if his opponent is Governor John Hoeven).

 

Senator Boxer of California was first elected (easily) in 1992, and has been easily re-elected twice since then.  She would normally be expected to breeze to her fourth term were it not for the possibility that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is being forced out of the Governor’s office by term limits for the 2010 election cycle, may decide to enter the race.  This would immediately become the marquis race of the season, with a national focus that would not normally be there (the media continues to have a fascination with California’s movie-star Governor).  Governor Schwarzenegger is certainly not as popular as he once was, but would still probably give Senator Boxer a serious challenge.  If, however, the “Governator” decides not to run, Senator Boxer will be easily re-elected.

 

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, like Senator Boxer, would likely coast to re-election easily unless he has to face his state’s Republican Governor – in this case, Republican John Hoeven, and for this reason Governor Hoeven is being heavily recruited by the NRSC to run for the seat.  Recent polls, however, show Senator Dorgan polling well above 50%, with a lead of more than 20 percentage points (!) over Governor Hoeven in a hypothetical match-up, indicating that this may not be as close a race as previously thought.

 

Finally, there is the whole mess in Illinois regarding the appointment of Roland Burris to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.  This seat was coming up for re-election in 2010 anyway, but the controversy surrounding the Burris appointment (due to the scandal surrounding the disgraced – and now impeached – Governor, Rod Blagojevich, who appointed Senator Burris, and to the seemingly endless revelations of Senator Burris’ connections to Blagojevich, which have been getting worse by the day) gives the Republicans a slightly better chance for a pick-up here, if  – and only if – they are running against Senator Burris.  There are several other Democrats interested in the seat, including State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (who has already filed papers to run); Representative Jan Schakowski; Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson (who could face problems resulting from her having served as the Director of Communications for Governor Blagojevich); Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (although he could be hampered by accusations that his “representatives” offered to raise money for Governor Blagojevich in exchange for Jackson being named to the Senate seat – something Representative Jackson denies authorizing); and William Daley, the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and a former Commerce Secretary (under President Clinton) [UPDATE (4/27/09):  William Daley has now ruled out a Senate bid].  On the Republican side, the most likely candidates are Representative Mark Kirk (seen by many as the most likely candidate), Representative Peter Roskam; and State Representative Tom Cross, the Republican leader in the Illinois House of Representatives.  It is unclear at this point whether Senator Burris will run for the seat in 2010, or if he will instead step aside (according to his spokesman, Senator Burris has made “absolutely no decision” regarding the 2010 race).  If he runs and becomes the Democratic nominee, the Republicans may have a shot at taking the seat.  If he steps aside (or runs, but loses in the Democratic primary), the Republicans don’t have a chance here.

 

To wrap this up, while the Republicans believe their best hopes to pick up seats in the Senate in 2010 are in Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New York, and Oregon (with other possibilities in California, North Dakota, and possibly Illinois), the most likely scenario is that at most they would win just two of these seats (Connecticut and New York – and these victories are far from certain).  In addition to the factors already mentioned, the only states on this list that didn’t go for Barack Obama in 2008 are Arkansas and North Dakota – and both were closer than expected (North Dakota was even regarded as a “battleground” state in the weeks prior to the November 4th election).  Of the remaining states on the list, only two are even considered “battleground” states (Colorado and Nevada); the rest are safely Democratic.  The bottom line here is that the Republicans would be lucky to take so much as a single seat away from the Democrats in the Senate in 2010, much less avoid a net loss of at least one seat.

 

The Democrats, on the other hand, are in a much stronger position to gain several more seats, including the open seats in Florida, Missouri, Ohio and New Hampshire, and possibly in Texas (They also have avery slim chance in Kansas).  These are in addition to vulnerable Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and – especially – Kentucky.  Looking at this list, the odds are heavily in favor of the Democrats winning a net gain of at least one seat, giving them the 60 (or more) seats needed to achieve a filibuster-proof majority for the 112th Congress, which starts in January of 2011.

 

Of course, it is still very early in the 2010 election cycle (yes, that cycle has already begun), and there are likely to be additional retirements – on both sides of the aisle.  Any such retirement could alter the overall terrain, but 2010 is still looking to be another good year for the Democrats.

 

So, fellow Democrats, don’t sweat the 60 – we’ll get there soon!

 

Now, looking ahead to the 2012 elections, out of 33 Senate seats up for re-election, 24 seats are currently held by Democrats – which means that could be a good year for the Senate Republicans (although the Democrats could be able to hold onto these seats.  There are many factors that could have an impact on this, not the least of which is that year’s Presidential race).  Nevertheless, whatever President Obama wants to get done that will require 60 votes in the Senate should probably be pushed through before then, just in case…

 

As for the House of Representatives, the Democrats currently hold a 74-seat majority (this is historically huge).  All 435 seats will be up for re-election in 2010, and the President’s party typically loses seats in non-Presidential election years.  While it is likely that the Republicans will gain some seats in 2010, I don’t foresee them gaining enough seats to recapture the majority (they would need to take 38 seats to do this).

 

The math is actually quite simple.  Over the last two election cycles, the Democrats have taken just about every seat they could reasonably hope to take from the Republicans.  There are a few exceptions, such as Republican Representative Mike Castle’s seat in Delaware, which are held by seriously entrenched Republicans.  These seats would become pick-up opportunities for the Democrats if – and only if – these incumbents were to retire or run for higher office (Representative Castle is considering running for the Senate, for example).  Frankly, there just aren’t that many Republican seats left that are vulnerable to a Democratic takeover.  On the other hand, there are many new Democrats who have only held their seats for one or two terms and who have taken their seats from Republicans because they ran as conservatives on many issues.  If the Republicans are able to successfully argue that these Democrats are actually more liberal than they claimed – based on their voting records in the House – the Republicans may be able to take a number of these seats back.

 

One major factor will be retirements.  There are already eight GOP House members who have announced that they will not seek re-election in 2010:  Reps. Adam Putnam (FL-12), Pete Hoekstra (MI-02), Jerry Moran (KS-01), Todd Tiahrt (KS-04), Roy Blunt (MO-07), Mary Fallin (OK-05), Gresham Barrett (SC-03) and Zach Wamp (TN-03).  Only half that many Democrats have announced they will not run for re-election their House seats in 2010:  Artur Davis (AL-07), Kendrick Meek (FL-17), Neil Abercombie (HI-01), and Paul Hodes (NH-01).  All are running for statewide office.  Of this list, only Paul Hodes’ New Hampshire seat is expected to be competitive, but even that seat is likely to stay in Democratic hands.

 

This article will be updated as necessary to keep up with announcements (such as retirements) and campaign developments…

 

© 2009 by David Bleidistel.  All rights reserved.