The 2006 election will be theraputic for America, if for no other reason than it will help clear our collective mind of 2004. And really, what clears the mind like a little retribution?
Some people can sing, some can dance, and some can run giant corporations. My skills, on the other hand, are neither interesting nor profitable. I can talk about politics. It's not terribly interesting, but I might as well use what the good Lord has given me. So this is a look at the 2006 Senate races. Hopefully it will be of some use to you as you desperately search for some threads of political hope to which you can cling this year. If it's not useful, hopefully it will be entertaining. If it's not entertaining, too fucking bad. It's free.
I'm going to make a few general comments and then break the approximately three dozen races down into general categories according to their level of competitiveness and relevance.
The literate and non-fascist part of the population has been steadily building up hope that 2006 will represent an end to Republican control of Congress – and, by implication, the effective end of the Bush presidency. Optimism is neat, but don't get too wildly enthusiastic. The Democratic Party is still utterly incompetent, and the GOP margins in both chambers are significant. 15+ House seats is an awful lot to pick up in one election. Is it historically unprecedented? No. But it's hardly a given.
That it is unlikely doesn't mean it won't happen. The Democrats need 5 seats in the Senate, and there are 5 open seats (which are often the only competitive ones in a given election). More importantly, the American public is thoroughly and irreversibly through with George Bush. He's a pariah at this point, and the GOP Congressional leadership isn't far behind. The intangibles are definitely in the Democrats' favor this year. If they can't make some gains in this context, they might as well disband.
I always believe that the overall quality of challengers is a good indication of which party is on the defensive in a given election. Competent Democrats, for example, declined to run in 2002 or 2004 because of the perceived advantages held by Republicans. In 2006, on the other hand, there are numerous strong Democratic challengers. The GOP can't say the same. For example, wildly popular Governor John Hoeven (R) was expected to challenge Kent Conrad – one of the Senate's weakest incumbents – in North Dakota. On paper Hoeven would have won easily as a popular Republican in a conservative state. Instead, he took a look at the trouble the GOP is having at the national level and said "Thanks, but no thanks" to running for the Senate.
The races up for grabs break down as follows: 5 seats are open (no incumbent) and five GOP incumbents are in serious jeopardy. To take over the Senate, the Democrats would need to collectively win nearly all of those seats. The other 20+ races are uncompetitive or worse. Which brings me to the next part…
Utterly Pointless Races
These seats are technically "up for grabs" but are held by safe incumbents. The challengers are either weak, insane (think Keyes vs. Obama), or non-existent. It is a waste of our collective time and energy to even think about these "contests."
"Have whoever runs against me killed, preferably by drowning."
Indiana – Dick Lugar (R) has been in office for 30 years and is unopposed.
Hawaii – Daniel Akaka (D) has a primary challenger, but in any case this is staying Democratic.
California – Dianne Feinstein (D). Yep.
New York – Hilary Clinton. Every year the GOP puts up a fuss about some great challenger for NY's Senate seats, and it never happens.
Massachusetts – Ted Kennedy. Lifetime appointment.
Delaware – Tom Carper (D), former Governor, is a lock for re-election.
Connecticut – Joe Lieberman has a primary challenger, but no Republican opponents have stepped up.
Wyoming – Craig Thomas (R) is a lock.
Utah – Orrin Hatch (R) will grace us with six more years of pedantic condescencion.
Wisconsin – Herb Kohl (D) has more money than God and is nearly as popular.
Arizona – John Kyl (R) has a decent opponent but would have to work hard to blow it in a very conservative state.
Mississippi – Trent Lott (R) is the only person who can sink Trent Lott.
Texas – Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Try to guess which party she's in.
Safe, but not 100%
These races feature incumbents that are somewhat safe but will need to fend off strong challengers. If they take anything for granted or if the winds of change are blowing too strongly, they could go down.
"How do I keep getting re-elected? Oh yeah. I live in fuckin' West Virginia."
Washington – Maria Cantwell (D) is widely known to be a very weak incumbent, but in a Democratic-leaning year and in a liberal state she should be able to hang on. Challenger Mike McGavick is a multi-millionaire.
Nevada – John Ensign (R) is pretty safe, but the demographics of the state are changing so radically (and rapidly) that no incumbent can take things for granted. Jimmy Carter's son (!!!) Jack is the challenger.
New Mexico – The state isn't terribly liberal, but Jeff Bingaman (D) should win for the fourth time. He announced his retirement but then was begged, bribed, and browbeaten into running again, which scared off the strong GOP challenger (Heather Wilson, Congresswoman).
Nebraska – Ben Nelson (D) is about as liberal as Tucker Carlson, but Bush's utter stupidity – naming popular Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns to his cabinet – took care of Nelson's only real competition.
Michigan – The Democratic iron grip on the state is fading, but Debbie Stabenow (D) scared off potential opponents by winning a brutal race back in 2000.
N. Dakota – Kent Conrad (D) may win by default, since the GOP challenger is the same guy who Byron Dorgan smashed in 2004. This is a very conservative state, though.
West Virginia – Robert Byrd (D) is older than sand. At age 87, is he still a lock? Yes, but anyone as old as him is a candidate to keel over at any moment.
Florida – Bill Nelson (D) was shitting himself in fear until he realized that his likely opponent (thanks to a couple million she inherited from her daddy) is the hideous Katherine Harris. Bush (both George and Jeb) have openly opined that they'd prefer someone else, but Congressman Mark Foley may instead eye the open Governor's seat. Against Harris, Nelson will walk. Against a quality Republican he'd be in trouble.
Virginia – George Allen (R) is very strong, but the sliver of doubt in his re-election comes from the tremendous strength of his (two) potential opponents. Billionaire businessman Harris Miller can outspend him, and former Reagan official Jim Webb (now a Democrat) can out-moderate him.
Maine – Olympia Snowe (R) remains very popular, but the state is getting more liberal by the minute and it wouldn't be a total shock to see voters abuse her as retribution toward Bush and the national GOP.
Incumbents in Trouble
This election features an uncharacteristically high number of incumbents in serious trouble. A few are actually underdogs in their respective races, and the rest are burning through their state's supply of Tums and Early Times whiskey.
"I'm so happy…so confident…"
Montana – Conrad Burns (R) is in trouble. He's one of the most heavily involved Senators in the Jack Abramoff lobbying mess, and (to many people's surprise) his state is becoming increasingly liberal. The Governor and Burns' fellow Senator (Max Baucus) are Democrats. Popular state senate president Jon Tester is a formidable but under-funded challenger. Burns hung on by a thread in 2000 and may not be so lucky again.
Ohio – Mike DeWine (R) has pissed off everyone, including social conservatives (he's in the 'Gang of 14') and the state's largely moderate base. The 2005 Special Election for the House in Ohio proved that the state's voters are ready to vent some anti-Bush sentiment (although they have only themselves to blame at the moment). African-American Congressman Sherrod Brown is a powerful opponent who should be able to boost urban turnout. Ohio today is much like Illinois under George Ryan. Governor Bob Taft III is a crooked, unlikeable albatross on the state GOP, and DeWine isn't helping.
Pennsylvania – Rick Santorum (R) is fucked. Not only is he "in trouble" but he's actually the significant underdog. Polling indicates a consistent 12-15% advantage for his opponent, popular state political mainstay Bob Casey. Santorum's re-election would actually be an upset at this point.
Missouri – Jim Talent (R) is still favored, but he's virtually anonymous even in his own state. Furthermore, Missouri is on-balance conservative but regularly shows itself to be a swing state that reacts strongly to the blowing wind. The Democrats really needed to find someone better than Claire McCaskill to challenge Talent, but she's getting a ton of mileage out of GOP-bashing in the state's sizeable urban areas right now.
Rhode Island – Lincoln Chaffee's (R) luck may finally run out. His time and money are being drained by a conservative primary challenger bashing him as a moderate, and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse (former Attorney General) is licking his chops in a heavily liberal state. Chaffee has always survived in the past by proving that he's not like the rest of the GOP, but in this election his party affiliation might be enough to kill him. Even though he's moderate, RI voters seem to be unwilling to do anything that helps keep people like Bill Frist in leadership positions in Congress.
The following races feature no incumbent. For the most part they are middle-of-the-road states, which guarantees that almost all of the open seat races will be barn-burners.
"This represents the amount of decency I have in my blackened, corrupt little soul."
Tennessee – Bill Frist (R) is retiring to begin sucking James Dobson's penis in preparation for 2008, and surprisingly the GOP doesn't seem to have given much thought to grooming his replacement. Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker appears to be the front-runner, but he's inspiring a lot of anger from far-right conservatives (Frist's bread and butter). Harold Ford, Jr. is not only a rising star in the national Democratic party but he's also one of the state's most popular and magnetic politicians. Prediction: Ford by a nose.
Minnesota – Mark Dayton (D) has become a punchline in the state and is therefore retiring. Unfortunately, no strong Democrat is able to replace him. State's Attorney Amy Klouchbar looks like the nominee against ultra-conservative Congressman Mark Kennedy. Klouchbar is a nobody, but this is a historically liberal state that voted for Kerry (hell, they voted for Mondale) and I can't see Kennedy carrying the Twin Cities. As they go, so goes the state. Prediction: Klouchbar by default.
Vermont – Local political god Jim Jeffords (I) is retiring, but House independent and liberal Bernie Sanders (I) is a virtual lock to step up to the Senate and take his place. Both are extremely popular men and the state is as liberal as they come. Prediction: Sanders in a rout.
Maryland – Paul Sarbanes (D) rides off into the sunset, and NAACP honcho Kwesi Mfume was considered a lock to replace him. Unfortunately, Mfume can't keep it in his pants and has been tarred & feathered over a sexual indiscretion scandal. Congressman Ben Cardin will instead be the likely nominee but strong Republican Mike Steele, the popular Lt. Governor, will give either Democrat a tough fight. Steele, who is black, promises to steal some traditional Democratic votes but on balance I think Maryland is just too liberal to consider either Democrat an underdog. Prediction: Cardin gets the nomination and edges Steele.
New Jersey – Jon Corzine (D) is now Governor, emerging victorious from the most brutal, ugly, and distasteful race in American political history two years ago. His appointed Senate fill-in Bob Menendez is technically an incumbent in this race, but he has never stood for statewide election before. Democrats have long counted on NJ as a lock, but the state's exploding New York yuppie suburban population makes it more competitive than some people think. Too bad they couldn't find a better nominee than the son of former Governor Tom Kean. His name counts for a lot, though, as the elder Kean is still wildly popular in the state. Prediction: Kean in a very narrow upset (and I wouldn't bet money on this given the liberal tendencies of the state).
The overall character of a given year's Senate races is often a matter of geographical happenstance. In 2004, when numerous Democratic incumbents went down or were browbeaten into retirement, it was mostly because a large number happened to be up for election in the deep south. This year, many traditionally-liberal states happen to have open races or weak incumbents. A lot of things have to go right for the Democrats to pick up 6 seats and take a one-man advantage in the Senate, but of all the years in recent memory this is certainly the best shot they've had at doing so.