ENPR: Senate Outlook: Four-Seat Democratic Gain


  1. We cannot find anyone in Democratic ranks who honestly feels there is any chance that Sen. Hillary Clinton will become Sen. Barack Obama’s running mate. There are Democrats who feel for that reason that it would be a good idea if Obama makes a choice for Vice President as quickly as possible to get the unhappy reaction from Clinton’s female voters over as quickly as possible.
  2. The eight-point bump in the polls for Obama after clinching the nomination is just about what would be expected and is unlikely to be permanent. A much more serious problem for McCain is the extraordinary lack of enthusiasm for him in Republican ranks even though he is the party’s best bet in a down year for the GOP. It is clear now that, during the four months since McCain clinched the Republican nomination, he has failed to consolidate his base.
  3. The response from McCain insiders is that the campaign depicting Obama as a leftist, in his past and now, will bring around the Republican troops. That may well solidify conservative support for McCain, but a negative campaign by itself always has difficulty in building genuine enthusiasm.
  4. What Republicans fear most is a genuine Obama rightward sidestep toward the middle of the road. The Democratic candidate has picked up some Republican conservative support (the "Obamacons") without his making a single conciliatory ideological move. What further gains can he make if he shows a little leg on a non-economic issue, such as education and even school vouchers?
  5. The need in Republican ranks is for McCain to do something that generates a little confidence. Just exactly what, nobody is sure.


Obama: About four months after he effectively clinched the Democratic nomination with his Super Tuesday victory and his Beltway Primary sweep in February, Obama finally gets to claim the mantle of presumptive nominee.

  1. On Saturday, Clinton issued a full-throated endorsement of Obama, and a real call for party unity. She showed up 45 minutes late, however, and refused to use the word "concede."
  2. The anger among Clinton’s diehard supporters is real, especially among middle-aged to older women who feel Obama ruined a lifetime of work for women’s equality by sinking Clinton’s historic run. Almost all of these voters will vote for Obama over McCain in the end, but will Obama lose important door-knockers and phone-bankers among this key constituency within the Democratic Party?
  3. This is Obama’s "honeymoon" period, and polls are showing a decent bump for him-he leads by 8 points in the latest Rasmussen poll, compared to a tie one week ago. Gallup showed almost the same results. Most of that bump will be temporary, however. By August, as more state-by-state polls come out we will begin to see just how this country will react to a young, black presidential nominee.
  4. In general-election surveys, Obama takes about 95% of the black vote, while McCain holds a 10- to 15-point lead among white voters.
  5. Obama is not subtle in his central tactic: paint McCain as the third term of Bush. He has hit that theme early and hard since wrapping up the nomination. Given McCain’s reputation for challenging the establishment, this effort could fail.
  6. With the conservative movement and the GOP now safe from their most feared monster, Hillary, Obama will come under more regular and stronger attack. He is trying to rule off limits criticisms of his liberalness and most other personal or policy issues, but McCain does not appear ready to play by Obama’s rules.
  7. Last week, immediately following the final primaries, Clinton turned her near-concession into a grenade: suggesting Obama should choose her as his running mate. This was certainly not an effort to patch up the wounds within the party. It was, in fact, a provocation. The opposition within Obama’s campaign to a Clinton-Obama ticket is intense, and raising this topic has the effect of further poisoning the water.

Final Primaries: Clinton is in the unique position of being forced to drop out after winning primaries.

  1. Clinton dominated in Puerto Rico on June 1, winning more than 2 to 1. This boosts the concern that Obama faces trouble with the Hispanic vote in November.
  2. Winning South Dakota last Tuesday meant Clinton won five of the final eight primaries. It also demonstrated that Obama’s strength in the Great Plains was really his strength in caucuses. South Dakota was the first primary in that rural, white region, and he lost it convincingly.

  3. Obama’s win in Montana allowed him to cap the primary season with a win and amplified the notion that he was democratically nominated. It also warded off the embarrassing possibility of his losing the popular vote to Clinton (though, by some counts, he still lost).

Florida and Michigan: The Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) of the Democratic National Committee kicked Clinton while she was down May 31.

  1. If there was to be a clean resolution to the problem of Florida and Michigan voting early, it would have had to come last year. Once those states blatantly violated DNC calendar rules and the DNC voted to strip the states of their delegates, some sort of discord was guaranteed. DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s only hope was that the race would be resolved early enough so those states could have their delegates restored without its mattering.
  2. In the end, the RBC chose the tack we had been predicting for months. They took the path that had the least impact on the race while not disenfranchising these two states. In this case, that meant favoring front-runner Obama and actually taking delegates away from Clinton.
  3. The RBC did not have to reduce each Florida and Michigan delegate to a half-delegate, but doing so lessened Clinton’s gain from their reinstatement. Giving them a whole vote each would have made it much more difficult for Obama to clinch last week.
  4. Granting Obama all the Michigan delegates that had been elected as "uncommitted" was generous (many of those voters were likely Edwards voters), but giving him an extra four half-delegates was arbitrary.
  5. The Clinton protestors at the Marriott in Northwest D.C. had fair points, but there was no fair response possible. After all the candidates, including Clinton, had agreed to play by the DNC rules and boycott the states, counting the votes there amounts to changing the rules midstream.
  6. Clinton possibly made a mistake by not openly defying the DNC rules back in January. If Obama had followed suit and the two had gone head-to-head in these two states, she likely would have won both, and might have looked stronger throughout the primary season-one of multiple tactical mistakes by Clinton this year.
  7. Had she, rather than Obama, been leading in the delegate race on May 31, the RBC likely would have come up with a more Clinton-friendly result.


War supplemental: House Republicans derailed war supplemental legislation as 132 members voted "present" after Democratic leaders blocked them out of the process.

  1. The bill is an important political lever for the Democrats to push legislation that otherwise would not pass on its own. Last year the Democratic leadership tried to include troop withdrawals and timetables to highlight their opposition to the Iraq war. President Bush won that fight, and although Democrats threatened a sequel, they are treading more carefully this year, ignoring Iraq withdrawal language, and focusing on domestic issues.
  2. Instead of Iraq withdrawal, Democrats are focusing on expanding veterans’ programs, specifically on education. The new G.I. bill proposed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) drew fire from Republicans partially because of the cost-$51 billion over the next 10 years-and partially because of a proposed tax increase on incomes over $500,000 to pay for it.
  3. Democrats have stepped back from the tax hike, but increased veterans benefits remains a winning political issue for Democrats. The new bill proposes a massive increase from $40,000 to $90,000 a year in college funds for veterans.
  4. Enough congressional Republicans are uncomfortable opposing the measure that the bill should pass. McCain looked miserly calling the bill "too expensive" while Obama made a special trip back to Washington to vote for the bill, questioning whether it was possible to be "too generous" to veterans. Twenty-five Republican senators supported the bill when it passed the Senate.
  5. The biggest pill for Democrats to slip into the bill is extending unemployment insurance. Labor unions are putting enormous pressure on Democrats to pass a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance benefits as soon as possible.
  6. Unemployment insurance subsidizes the salaries of workers who have lost their jobs. Conservatives opposed extensions on the grounds that they only encourage workers to live off subsidies rather than seeking a new job.
  7. Liberals, pressed by labor unions, argue that by giving unemployed workers more money, they will directly stimulate the economy. Democrats failed to win extension benefits for the first stimulus package, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated that they may take the proposal out of the war supplemental, and send it to the floor as a stand-alone measure.
  8. Facing a vote Thursday, possibly, Democrats will decide whether to pick a fight with Bush by including the unemployment measure. They could pass unemployment insurance but a veto from President Bush would render it worthless. Because of the labor heat on unemployment benefits, leaders may further delay debate and a vote. If Congress passes a supplemental package free of the labor extensions it’s likely that President Bush will sign it.


Overview: This will be a bad year for Republicans in Senate races. Democrats are guaranteed significant gains, and the only question is how big. The best foreseeable outcome for the GOP is a loss of three seats. Democrats’ dreams of reaching a filibuster-proof 60 seats are probably unattainable.

The most striking feature of this year’s Senate contests: Republicans don’t have a single good pick-up opportunity, which means our predicted gain of four seats for the Democrats is almost the baseline. Democratic gains of up to seven seats would not be surprising.

This week, we run through all 35 Senate elections this November, and give you our preliminary tally: Democrats +4, 53-45-2. But bear in mind that gain of four could go to seven or even higher.

Alabama: Democrats had hoped to target Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), but he looks pretty safe against State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D). A conservative Republican like Sessions in the Deep South in a presidential year shouldn’t have any trouble. Likely Republican Retention.

Alaska: Sen. Ted Stevens (R) could be in trouble as corruption charges plague the entire old guard of the Alaska GOP. The FBI raided Stevens’ home last summer, and there’s a chance he could end up running for reelection while under indictment. A few Republican challengers have entered the primary contest, with former State Rep. Dave Cuddy (R) the strongest candidate.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) is the leading Democrat, but as of March 31, Stevens had outraised Begich by more than 12 to 1.

Stevens is taking the race seriously, already having spent $2.8 million, but Begich had a slim lead in a May poll. Alaska has had a few surprises recently, and Ted Stevens could end up on the wrong end of a 2008 surprise. Leaning Republican Retention.

Arkansas: The Arkansas Republican Party looks like a joke after failing to recruit a candidate to challenge a freshman Democrat in a presidential year with a liberal black atop the Democratic column. Sen. Mark Pryor (D) has no Republican challenger at all. Likely Democratic Retention.

Colorado: The retirement of Sen. Wayne Allard (R) provides Democrats with one of their top pickup opportunities. Colorado has lurched towards the Democrats for the past few cycles, and Republicans have struggled lately in statewide races: Democrats won the open seat governor race in 2006 and the open Senate seat in 2004, while Allard barely held on in his 2002 reelection.

The November matchup will likely pit Rep. Mark Udall (D) against former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R). Udall is a stronger politician, and the state’s trends favor Democrats this year. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Delaware: Sen. Joe Biden (D)-elected at age 29 and sworn in six weeks after his 30th birthday in 1972-will easily win a 7th term. Likely Democratic Retention.

Georgia: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) should be safe for a second term. Likely Republican Retention.

Idaho: Republicans are relieved that Sen. Larry Craig (R), who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was caught in a gay bathroom-sex sting (he denies being gay and regrets pleading guilty), has stepped aside. Republicans also look like they will avoid a contentious primary, as the field has been cleared for Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) as the GOP candidate. Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D) is the Democrats’ candidate right now.Although LaRocco is a decent candidate, Idaho is Republican enough that it would take a serious Risch misstep for this race to get competitive. Likely Republican Retention.

Illinois: Sen. Dick Durbin (R) should easily dispatch family doctor Steve Sauerberg (R) in Barack Obama’s home state. Likely Democratic Retention.

Iowa: Another Republican recruitment failure leaves erratic liberal Sen. Tom Harkin (D) safe in a moderate state. Six years ago, Rep. Greg Ganske (R) gave Harkin a real race, but little-known businessman Christopher Reed (R) doesn’t have much of a chance against Harkin this year. Likely Democratic Retention.

Kansas: Polls here suggest former Rep. Jim Slattery (D) could give Sen. Pat Roberts (R) a run for his money. If Roberts runs a smart race, he’ll win, but a misstep of "macaca" proportions could put this one in play. Likely Republican Retention.

Kentucky: Keeping in mind the 2004 defeat of Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Democrats are giddy about the possibility of knocking off Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). One recent poll showed McConnell trailing businessman and two-time failed gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford (D), the Democratic nominee.Kentucky just threw out its Republican governor last year, and Democrats picked up the Louisville congressional seat in 2006. With Obama atop the ticket in 2008, the Democratic surge could halt. It damages the party that its leader needs to fight hard to hold onto his seat. Leaning Republican Retention.

Louisiana: Another recruitment failure looks likely to give Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) a third term. Landrieu barely won her first election back in 1996, and in 2002, she eked out a win against a middling candidate. This year, however, she will run against a failed liberal Democrat now turned to running on the GOP line. State Treasurer John Kennedy (R) is the only Republican in the race. Kennedy may get some positive Republican attention, being the only GOP challenger with even an outside shot, but only four years ago, he ran for the Senate as a liberal Democrat. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Maine: Rep. Tom Allen (D) is challenging Sen. Susan Collins (R), who never has an easy race. Collins is experienced in tough races, and being moderate in a moderate state makes her a tough target. If Allen, with a boost from Obama, can drive up turnout in Portland, where he used to be mayor, he could steal the race from Collins. By October, this could be a barn-burner or it could be safely in Collins’s corner. Leaning Republican Retention.

Massachusetts: Sen. John Kerry (D) will get a free pass in November now that Jim Ogonowski (R), the strongest Republican challenger (but still a long-shot) failed to get enough signatures to get on the primary ballot. Likely Democratic Retention.

Michigan: Sen. Carl Levin (D) looks safe in 2008, as his top competition is State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R). Likely Democratic Retention.

Minnesota: Sen. Norm Coleman (R) is one of the two most endangered incumbents in 2008. His likely opponent, liberal comedian Al Franken (D) has stumbled recently, however, garnering negative attention for his failure to pay taxes and his "pornographic" writings.

Coleman consistently polls below 50 percent, which is troubling for an incumbent, but Franken’s negatives are just as high as Coleman’s, meaning he can’t count on the late undecided vote as much as most challengers can. In April, we saw this race leaning slightly in Franken’s favor, but today it looks like Coleman has a tiny edge. Leaning Republican Retention.

Mississippi (Regular): Sen. Thad Cochran (R) will easily win reelection in one of two Mississippi Senate races this year. Likely Republican Retention.

Mississippi (Special): A Mississippi Senate seat should be a sure thing for the GOP, but these days no territory is safe for Republicans. Appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R) could face a serious challenge from former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D).

The February withdrawal of former Rep. Ronnie Shows (D), however, helps Wicker-the special election on Nov. 4 will be a single-ballot multi-party primary, but now Wicker and Musgrove are the only two candidates in the race, which prevents a runoff. Obama will lose badly here, but he possibly could help the Democrat by driving up black-voter turnout.

Musgrove, who has held two statewide offices, has higher name recognition than Wicker.A DSCC poll showed Musgrove leading Wicker 48% to 40%, with Musgrove posting high positive numbers. As Wicker builds his name recognition over the coming months, he will pull ahead, but after the GOP loss of Wicker’s vacant House seat last month, Republicans need to worry about the Magnolia State-which means this is a very bad year. Leaning Republican Retention.

Montana: Republicans fell flat on their face in Montana last week when 85-year-old liberal former Green Party chief Bob Kelleher (R) won the Republican Senate primary, beating five other candidates including the majority leader of the state House. Sen. Max Baucus (D) is safe. Likely Democratic Retention.

Nebraska: This is a rare open Republican seat where the GOP is fairly safe. Former Gov. and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns (R) is the favorite to succeed Sen. Chuck Hagel (R), who is retiring. Democrats had tried to push former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) into the race, but he declined-leaving academic Scott Kleeb (D) as the Democrats’ long-shot candidate. Johanns is popular, and McCain should win this state handily. Likely Republican Retention.

New Hampshire: Sen. John Sununu (R) is the most endangered incumbent in the Senate, facing a tough challenge from former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). Six years ago, Sununu defeated Shaheen by 5 points in an open-seat race but, since then, things have gotten worse for Republicans.

The unpopular Iraq War and the state party’s precipitous decline helped Democrats take over both House seats in 2006, and the tone won’t be much better in 2008. Also, in 2002, Shaheen’s name was associated with tax increases, but that stain on her record has faded through the years. Sununu is a strong campaigner who has won tough races in the past, but he’s the underdog right now. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

New Jersey: Six years ago, New Jersey provided some of the best drama of the election season with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) being inserted onto the ballot after the legal deadlines to replace scandal-tarred Sen. Robert Torricelli (D). This year, Lautenberg fought off an odd challenge from Rep. Rob Andrews (D), but he should be fine in the general election, facing former Rep. Dick Zimmer (R). Likely Democratic Retention.

New Mexico: Rep. Tom Udall (D) is the favorite over Rep. Steve Pearce (R) in the seat left vacant by retiring Sen. Pete Domenici (R). Udall has stronger name recognition and will have more money. He is a popular congressman, and he consistently leads Pearce in polls by large margins.

In Pearce’s favor, he has had to win tougher races, including his primary contest, than has Udall. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

North Carolina: Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) faces a real race this year, from State Sen. Kay Hagan (D). Hagan got a boost following her primary win, and a poll then showed her ahead. Dole is still the favorite, but this is another state for Republicans to worry about. Leaning Republican Retention.

Oklahoma: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is perhaps one of the Left’s most hated lawmakers, spearheading the resistance to climate change legislation, but he should be able to fight off his 2008 challenger, freshman State Rep. Andrew Rice (D).
To his credit, Rice had raised nearly $1 million by March 31 (to Inhofe’s $4.2 million). If 2008 transforms from a bad GOP year into a Democratic tsunami, Rice could make a real run at Inhofe. Likely Republican Retention.

Oregon: State House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) could make life difficult for Sen. Gordon Smith (R), the only Republican senator on the West Coast. If an Obama tsunami is in order, you will see early signs of it in this race. Until that materializes, though, Smith is the strong favorite. Likely Republican Retention.

Rhode Island: Sen. Jack Reed (D) has no Republican opponent. Likely Democratic Retention.

South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) dispatched his immigration-restrictionist primary challenger Tuesday, and is the strong favorite in the general election. Likely Republican Retention.

South Dakota: Sen. Tim Johnson (D) looks likely to continue on as the most unlikely senator. Six years ago, Johnson won his reelection by a hair when an Indian county, the last to report its vote totals, delivered an incredible boost to Johnson, just enough to eke out the victory. In late 2006, he suffered a massive stroke, and still is severely impaired in his speech.

Republicans failed to recruit a top-tier candidate against him, instead putting up State Rep. Joel Dykstra (R). Likely Democratic Retention.

Tennessee: Seven Democrats are lining up to challenge Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) but, barring a major surprise, Alexander should be fine. Likely Republican Retention.

Texas: Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), a savvy politician who has begun to create his own identity in a state whose GOP has many power centers, needs to worry after polls show a close race against State Rep. Rick Noriega (D). He will likely pull ahead, but again, a Democratic tsunami could make this a tight race. Likely Republican Retention.

Virginia: The Democrats’ best pickup opportunity, former Gov. Mark Warner (D) is the strong favorite over former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) in the race to succeed retiring Sen. John Warner (R). The commonwealth is experiencing a Democratic surge, and Mark Warner is the pointman of that surge. Gilmore looks like a dead duck, with resistance within his party from the left-retiring Sen. John Warner (R) refuses to endorse him-and the right-he almost lost the nomination at the state convention to a conservative state legislator. Likely Democratic Takeover.

West Virginia: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) beat former State Sen. Jay Wolfe (R) 2 to 1 last time around, and he should have no more trouble with him this year. Likely Democratic Retention.

Wyoming (Regular): Sen. Mike Enzi (R) drew no serious opposition this year. Likely Republican Retention.

Wyoming (Special): Appointed Sen. John Barrasso (R) looks strong in the special election to fill out the unexpired term of the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R). Likely Republican Retention.

Recent Results

South Carolina Senator: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) easily warded off a challenge by Republican National Committeeman Buddy Witherspoon (R). Witherspoon attacked Graham for his role in pushing illegal immigration amnesty ("Grahamnesty," he called it), and garnered 33%. Graham should be safe in November. Likely Republican Retention.

Virginia-11: Fairfax Co. Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) thrashed former Rep. Leslie Byrne (D) by 25 points to earn the Democratic nomination in the Northern Virginia district of retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R). Connolly faces conservative businessman Keith Fimian (R) in the fall. Leaning Democratic Takeover.