As I discussed earlier in my Senate 2008 introduction, there are very few competitive races to be found in 2008. The GOP is at a disadvantage due to the fact that it must defend 21 of the 33 seats up for grabs, but many are in the deep south and legitimate Democratic challenges are unlikely. In the last piece, I counted 7 races that look highly competitive.
Make it 8. After Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens' home (the same home that was allegedly and illegally lavished with remodeling work by contractors) was raided by the FBI, the odds of the octogenarian even running again (let alone being safe) are nil. Today I'll offer a brief introduction to the first four competitive races and offer early predictions.
1. Colorado (Wayne Allard, R, retiring) – Sen. Allard is keeping his word to limit himself for two terms. The state GOP tried badly to woo former Broncos superstar John Elway (the GOP is always against celebrities until it finds some that carry water for it) and former Governor Bill Owens. The latter would have been formidable, but he doesn't like the odds for the GOP in 2008. Smart man.
The Democrats will be represented by Congressman Mark Udall, a very high-quality challenger. If the GOP cannot put up a better candidate than the current choices (former Congressman Bob Schaeffer and a local Denver talk show host) this race, which should be close, could turn into a laugher.
Prediction: leaning D
2. Maine (Susan Collins, R) – Collins, W's bestest of buddies in the Senate, is trying very hard to play the part of the moderate with her voting record for the last few months. I take that as a clear sign that she understands that she is in trouble. Collins remains personally popular, but a GOP Senator in a fairly "blue" state can't consider herself safe by any means. The Democrats look to counter with Congressman Tom Allen; his success will hinge on getting voters to pay attention to Collins' party rather than Collins herself.
Prediction: Collins retains seat
3. Minnesota (Norm Coleman, R) – In the past 8 years, the Democrats have had a field day in the land of 10,000 lakes. Professional nobody Amy Klobuchar handily defeated GOP incumbent Mark Kennedy in the 2006 Senate race, and Coleman has never been considered safe. This is a seat the GOP knows it is lucky to have and will have to fight to retain. The wild card, of course, is whether Al Franken wins the Democratic nomination. Financially he is the 900-pound gorilla in this race. If he is nominated, the race will be entertaining if nothing else.
Prediction: Coin flip until Democratic nominee is determined
4. Alaska (Ted Stevens, R) – Series of Tubes will be 85 in 2008, and his son has already been indicted for taking a quarter-million dollars in bribes. With the recent "suprise visit" to the Stevens home from the IRS and FBI, I'd have to imagine that Teddy is going to retire. He has adamantly denied any intention of doing so, but that was before he stood ready to be indicted. It would appear to be in the GOP's interest to replace him. Unfortunately, Congressman Don "Bridge to Nowhere" Young is also on the cusp of being indicted. Whoops.
Stevens has won several times in some of the most lopsided blowouts in recent Senate history (78% in 2002). It is a very conservative state. However, absent Young and Stevens I fail to see another good GOP nominee (Sarah Pralin has been governor for about 3 minutes), whereas the Democrats are going to run popular Anchorage mayor Mark Begich. It's still a longshot, but this race feels (12 months out) like Webb-Allen felt a year in advance of the 2006 race: one's immediate reaction is to say "No way will the D's take that one" but the right challenger, the right technique, and the right amount of resources (i.e. every damn cent the party can give him) could turn the tide.
Prediction: GOP retains seat by a hair; Democrats become slight favorites if Stevens or Young are formally indicted.
That's all for now, but there's plenty more to talk about. Take any predictions with a grain of salt at this point; in many instances the nominees aren't even settled yet, and a lot can change on the national scale in 14 months.