ENPR: Week of October 10, 2007

President 2008


  1. Conservative voters hoping former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) would be a Reaganesque white knight were likely disappointed by Thompson’s performance in his first debate. He took the safe route on nearly every answer, including endorsing the Bush Administration’s current policies on Iraq and ethanol subsidies. Needing to distinguish himself, he didn’t.
  2. Two months out, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) maintains his leads in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, and one recent South Carolina poll showed Romney ahead. As other candidates begin to compete with Romney for paid media, will these leads evaporate?
  3. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) has become perhaps the best performer in the field and was excellent in Tuesday’s debate. But he still faces deep trouble on the right wing of the party.
  4. The Iowa GOP’s decision to set the caucuses for January 3 helps Romney. Sooner is better for the front-runner, and a date that close to New Year’s Day will make organization more important — playing to Romney’s strength.
  5. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) remains an odd phenomenon: He equaled Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in fundraising, he does very well in most straw polls and he draws the loudest applause at the presidential debates. His base is very motivated, and it is ideologically diverse. Still, he barely registers in polls. His limited-government message is far more consistent than that of the other candidates, who push ethanol and farm subsidies. His anti-nation-building stand could have broad appeal, but he wanders off into monetary policy and foreign policy tangents. The threat to the GOP: An independent Paul candidacy is all the more real after he refused to pledge support of the nominee.
  6. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has not quite exploited the momentum of his strong finish in August’s Iowa straw poll. He occasionally wrangles double digits in state polls, but he hasn’t posted in the top three in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Florida lately, and he’s often fifth or worst. Thompson’s entrance tends to crowd out Huckabee.


Idaho: While Sen. Larry Craig (R) flip-flops, reverses and vacillates on when or if he will leave the Senate, the race to replace him has begun to crystallize. Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) launched his campaign for the Senate seat. High-level Idaho Republicans all understood that Gov. Butch Otter (R) was set to appoint Risch to serve out Craig’s term when Craig was still planning to resign.

Risch’s opponent will be former congressman Larry LaRocco (D), who lost the lieutenant governor race to Risch in 2006. Risch has served as the majority leader of the state Senate, lieutenant governor under two different governors and served a brief stint as governor. He is well connected throughout the state even if not well liked.

Despite Craig’s erratic behavior following his arrest in an airport men’s room, Idaho Republicans are confident that Craig will not muddle the situation further by seeking a third term. Of all the open GOP seats, this one is the least worrisome. Likely Republican Retention.

New Mexico: Sen. Pete Domenici (R), suffering from a degenerative brain disease, will retire when his current term expires next year. This leaves yet another seat for the ailing GOP to defend, although a top Democrat has passed on running.

This race could be extremely competitive, or a blowout in either direction, depending on who jumps in. New Mexico has basically been a tie in the last two presidential elections, although Democrats outnumber Republicans. The state GOP is not in great shape, and conservatives there feel they have “slim pickings” when it comes to candidates.

The first candidate to enter the race is Rep. Heather Wilson (R). Wilson represents Albuquerque, and her moderate bent matches the district. Always willing to spend federal money for her constituents and strong with the military vote, Wilson is a political survivor, consistently winning narrow contests in a very tough district for a Republican — and consistently irritating her party by straying frequently to the left.

Wilson won her seat in a 1998 special election on the strength of Domenici’s anointing her. Domenici has not endorsed her this time around, and the haphazard feeling of her announcement the day after Domenici’s announcement suggested there was no coordination between Wilson and the senator on his retirement.

Given her rocky relationship with her party (for example, she is leading the fight to override President Bush’s veto on expanding the “children’s” healthcare bill), Wilson may or may not get an easy walk to the nomination. Her House colleague, Rep. Steve Pearce (R), is considering running and is getting a push from some conservatives. Considering the poor outlook for Republicans nationwide in 2008, Pearce may pass. On the other hand, his staff has been plotting a statewide run for years.

Oil executive Spiro Vassilopoulos (R) has entered the Senate race. The other Republican named as a potential candidate is State Public Lands Commissioner Pat Lyons (R), the only Republican elected statewide besides Domenici. Despite holding a statewide position, Lyons does not have a high profile.

Republicans feel they may have dodged a bullet with the announcement by Rep. Tom Udall (D) that he will not run. Udall is a very popular congressman representing the Northern reaches of the state, including Santa Fe and the laboratories. The leading Democrat could be former state Atty. Gen. Patricia Madrid (D), who barely lost to Wilson in a House race last year. A statewide rematch of a race that was basically a tie would be a good battle. Madrid might rather go for Wilson’s House seat instead, and wait for the governorship to open up.

Another top Democratic name is Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D). Denish is powerful within the state party, but she is also on the fast track for the governorship — either after Bill Richardson‘s (D) term ends in 2010 or if Richardson became Vice President or secretary of State in a Hillary Clinton Administration.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez (D) is also eyeing a run. Already in the race is Albuquerque liberal activist Don Wiviott (D), who would challenge any of these leading contenders from the left.

Finally, it’s entirely possible that Richardson himself will go back on his recent announcement and jump into the Senate race once his presidential bid fizzles in January or February. The filing deadline for the Senate race is February 12, a week after the Super Tuesday primaries that will likely settle the nomination battle.

Until we see the matchup, it’s tough to tell what to expect here. If Richardson doesn’t enter, Republicans are the slight favorite. Leaning Republican Retention.

House 2008

New Mexico-1: Holding onto this Albuquerque seat has always been hard work for Rep. Wilson, and in her absence, the scales tip to the Democrats. The district is 42 percent Hispanic, which puts it almost totally outside GOP reach: Republicans represent only five of the 41 other congressional districts that are one-third or more Hispanic.

Wilson barely won her last run, and the Democratic presidential nominee has carried this district — though not by much — in the past two elections. Wilson showed it’s certainly winnable for the GOP, but any non-incumbent Republican will have an uphill climb.

With the Senate field still shaking out, it’s way too early to guess who might run in this House race. If Richardson enters the Senate contest, Chavez or Madrid could enter this race. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Ohio-15: The GOP may have given up on the seat currently held by retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). Top-tier candidates such as former state Atty. Gen. Jim Petro (R) and state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) have passed on running. Currently, the only Republican in the race is the Rev. Aaron Wheeler (R), a black Baptist minister, former chaplain of Columbus’s police department and former chairman of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

Republican hopes would be buoyed somewhat if Ohio State football star Chris Spielman (R) were to enter. Spielman is now an ESPN analyst and does local radio shows about sports.

Democrats are very likely to nominate Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who lost a spirited battle to Pryce in 2006. Kilroy has already rallied strong support within her party, and the field is currently clear for her. This is a swing district, but she could win it easily without a top-tier opponent. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Election 2007

Massachusetts-5: Retired Air Force officer Jim Ogonowski (R) has made this special election exciting in the country’s largest single-party congressional delegation. Democratic nominee Niki Tsongas (D), widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, leads by only about 10 points in the latest survey and is beginning to act scared leading up to the October 16 special election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Rep. Marty Meehan (D).

Tsongas has raised almost $2 million to Ogonowski’s $400,000, and she has recently brought in former President Bill Clinton (D) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), showing that the party considers this a serious contest.

The district, centered in Lowell, is a typical suburban district — white, affluent and fairly liberal. Ogonowski, liberal on abortion and critical of Bush on the war and on immigration, has gained traction by focusing on Democrats’ plans to raise taxes on the upper-middle class by letting some of Bush’s tax cuts expire. Tsongas’s campaign is almost entirely about tying Ogonowski, whose brother was a pilot killed by terrorists on September 11, 2001, to Bush.

With nothing else to worry about, the state Democratic party should be able to guarantee the turnout necessary to knock off Ogonowski, but the closeness of this election is making Democrats sweat. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Virginia-1: Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R), suffering from breast cancer, died over the weekend at age 57, creating a vacancy in the 1st District, and Gov. Tim Kaine (D) has indicated he will call a special election for December.

The 1st District stretches from the exurbs of Washington, D.C., almost down to Norfolk, covering most of the state’s Chesapeake Bay shore and including much of the state’s military vote.

The district has some African-American pockets, but otherwise it is a fairly strong GOP seat. Bush won 59% and 60% in the 2000 and 2004 elections, respectively, and former Sen. George Allen (R) carried 54% of the district in his loss to Jim Webb (D) last year.

Democrats statewide, however, are enthusiastic and optimistic these days. They hope to take control of the state Senate this year and expect to hold both U.S. Senate seats after 2008, with popular former Gov. Mark Warner (D) running upticket. There are a few states where 2008 could be very big for Democrats, and if Virginia is one of them, this seat is in play. Leaning Republican Retention.