I didn't think it was possible, but the 2008 Senate landscape is getting even worse for the Republicans. Here I thought I was being too hard on them, making predictions that would prove to be far too dire. And now it's looking like the scenario I described earlier (click the tag to see previous installments) is something of a best-case.
1. North Carolina (Incumbent R) moves from Safe to Toss-Up – This is astounding. Don't ask me how, but Elizabeth Dole has not only eliminated any aura of "safety" surrounding this seat but she is actually trailing in the most recent estimates. Neither candidate seems able to establish a lead outside of the margin of error, but the cumulative polling data shows an unmistakable trend away from Dole. This could be the race that writes the epitaph for the GOP's election year. If one of their most nationally well-known and respected Senators loses to an absolute nobody (try to name her opponent; I dare you) then the dam is really broken. There are several weeks until Election Day and this race may sort itself out further, but the idea that this is even talked about as a potential Democratic pickup is stunning.
2. Mississippi 2 (Incumbent R) moves from Safe to Toss-Up – Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove is the only Democrat in Ole Miss who could even think about winning a statewide race, and the GOP seriously miscalculated by choosing an absolute nobody (Roger Wicker?) to fill Trent Lott's vacancy. It's a classic case of hubris; "It doesn't matter who we pick, the Democrats can't win." It's true that the state is incredibly conservative, but a race between the strongest possible Democrat and weakest possible Republican is proving to be very competitive.
3. Louisiana (Incumbent D) moves from Toss-Up to Safe, But… – This was the GOP's one hope for knocking off a Democratic incumbent, and it looked fairly likely for a while. Then, thanks to her expedient decision to break with her party and support offshore drilling – a popular stance in the state – Landrieu just pulled away. Far from being a potential takeover, it's hard to argue that this one is even close anymore. Kennedy proved to be the joke of a challenger that I thought he was.
4. New Hampshire (Incumbent R) moves from Safe to Safe, But… – Sununu has shown more fight than I initially gave him credit for, although I believe his stronger-than-expected showing is largely an artifact of John McCain's appeal in New Hampshire. Shaheen still has this one (note that the "tightening" of the race is based almost entirely on one Rasmussen poll serving as an outlier – and they are slightly more reliable than Mr. Ford in Frisky Dingo) but banish any idea of this one being a blowout. Sununu has made this competitive if nothing else.
5. Minnesota (Incumbent R) moves from Normal Senate Race to Clusterfuck – Independent candidate Dean Barkley, a former fill-in Senator for Paul Wellstone under Reform Party Governor Ventura, is polling double-digits and casting this race into disarray. A liberal who has flirted with running with the DFL in the past, Barkley is probably the only thing keeping Norm Coleman in the lead at the moment. Franken has run a poor campaign and has never led. Barkley not only makes things tough for him but he also makes this race essentially impossible to predict. To wit, Coleman has led for months but the most recent Star-Tribune poll shows Franken up ten. Three-way races are just chaos.
6. Other races on notice – Decorated war veteran Rick Noriega is closing on John Cornyn in Texas. He's yet to lead, though. Susan Collins is ready to join the Senator-for-Life category in Maine. Steve Lunsford, defying all logic, is dragging Mitch McConnell close to toss-up territory. GOP incumbents Gordon Smith and Ted Stevens are both trailing narrowly in what have long been considered toss-up races in Oregon and Alaska, respectively.
Either Cornyn or McConnell being dragged into a toss-up is truly an armageddon scenario for the GOP and they may be looking at 60 Democrats in the Senate. As Obama opens up a lead on McCain – and it looks like he is finally starting to establish a legitimate one – these races we never imagined could be competitive may ride the coattails.