WOW. THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG.

Last week's Senate 2010 preview is already in need of an update. Mel Martinez is abandoning ship after just one term. You may recall that he just narrowly beat Betty Castor in 2004, a year in which the GOP had a decided upper hand. Now he's another Bush victim, and he took some headshots at the Rove Party on his way out the door.

Martinez was in big trouble anyway, and as an open seat the Democratic challenger (probably Wexler) is the clear favorite.
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And I bet Jeb runs.

NEVER TOO SOON

As proof that things will get worse before they get better on the right, let's take a too-early but not-really-too-early look at the 2010 Senate races. Yes, believe it or not, in 10 to 12 months the campaigns will become active and the races will begin to take shape.

There will be 35 races – Class III plus special elections for the Obama/Biden seats. That number could increase if a Senator from another class dies and requires a special election in 2010 to replace him or her. It could happen. Byrd is 91. Inouye, Akaka, and Lautenberg will all be 86. All four are Democrats. The GOP would have a good shot at replacing the elderly West Virginian with a Republican should Byrd give up the ghost.

Some Class III retirements have been announced or are expected. Sam Brownback (KS) is retiring. Ted Kennedy, Arlen Specter, and Jim Bunning will be 78, 80, and 80 in 2010. All are in poor health. One or all may opt to retire. Inouye will be 86. Yikes.

Of the 35 races, 19 are GOP-held compared to 16 currently occupied by Democrats. Again the numbers put the GOP in an uphill battle. Many of the 16 Democrats will be in cakewalk races – Leahy (who was in The Dark Knight. No, really.), Schumer, Lincoln, Mikulski, Reid, Bayh, Feingold – or in open races in states like IL, DE, or MA. Not a lot of vulnerable Democrats ready to be conquered.

The potential GOP pickups are few. Ken Salazar (CO) is beatable in theory, but the GOP has had a hell of a time conjuring up decent challengers (as evidenced by the recent Udall-Schaeffer beatdown) and the state took a turn for the blue in 2008. Chris Dodd (CT) was seriously affected by his Countrywide/Freddie scandal and could be vulnerable if challenged by Republican Governor Jodi Rell. I question whether she would surrender the security of the Governor's mansion to challenge a nationally-recognized incumbent Democrat in this climate. If she does, this will immediately be among the most hotly contested races. Otherwise, Dodd cruises. Barbara Boxer (CA) could face term-limited Governor Schwarzenegger. If nothing else, the race would be entertaining. Is he a legitimate threat or a sideshow?

The GOP also has some safe seats, including Shelby (AL), Bennett (UT), and Crapo (ID). But there is a whole mess of seats they are going to have trouble defending. Briefly:

  • The Kansas open seat. This is the early contender for race of the year. The GOP will probably nominate House member Todd Tiahrt. The Democrats will counter with wildly-popular but term-limited Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Yes, most competitive and entertaining race could be in…Kansas. Seriously. No Democrat but Sebelius could make this a race.
  • Murkowski (AK) is in for a fight. She is not popular, with considerable public resentment at the fact that her now-disgraced father appointed her to the seat. She won with just 49% of the vote in 2004. A strong Democratic challenger (none spring to mind – maybe Knowles again?) could topple her. Then again, so could a certain primary challenger.
  • Voinovich (OH) is in trouble. The Ohio GOP remains a mess and any one of a number of Democratic Reps could challenge him, as could Iraq War veteran and activist Paul Hackett.
  • Burr (NC) is the strongest early contender for the "Incumbent who loses by 15%" title. I bet the man has not slept in about three weeks. Elizabeth Dole just went down – by 10% – to a weak challenger. Dole is considerably better known, more powerful, and richer than Burr. Burr's challenger could be a powerhouse like Gov. Ensley or rising House star (and former NFL player) Heath Shuler. Yeah, it's early, but I'll go out on a limb and say Burr is about to get cornholed.
  • Jim "I'm Bat-Shit Insane" Bunning will be 79 and is in big trouble if he does decide to run. After a nobody got within 1% of Bunning in 2004, Congressmen Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth or Governor Steve Beshear are all in great position to topple Bunning if he defers retirement.
  • If Specter (PA) dies or retires this is almost certainly a Democratic pickup, but at the moment he claims he will run. Regardless of challenger strength, I have a hard time picturing PA voters casting an octegenarian six-term veteran with cancer out on the street.
  • Martinez (FL) won by a hair in 2004 and may not be so lucky again. Treasurer Alex Sink has already thrown his hat in the ring, but more well-known opposition could come from Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Robert Wexler. I have an unsubstantiated feeling that Wexler could pummel Martinez.
  • John Thune (SD) narrowly beat Tom Daschle in 2004 and could be in trouble against Stephanie Herseth or in a rematch with Daschle (unlikely).
  • David Vitter (LA) only won in 2004 because the Democrats ran three candidates thanks to Louisiana's unique election rules. Against a strong challenger, Senator Call Girls will be in trouble.

    Races that could be exciting under a limited set of circumstances include:

  • Gregg (NH) is in trouble if Gov. John Lynch runs, but there's little incentive for him to do so against the popular Senator. No one else can test Gregg.
  • McCain (AZ) would have been in trouble against Gov. Napolitano (hypothetical matchups had him badly behind) but she accepted a Cabinet post, making her foray into 2010 electoral politics unlikely.
  • If 77 year-old Chuck Grassley (IA) retires, former Democratic Gov. Vilsack is the clear favorite to replace him – or perhaps challenge him.
  • Coburn (OK) could be threatened by (and only by) 45 year-old Governor Brad Henry, who was re-elected with an overwhelming 68% of the vote in 2006. He has stated that he will not run. If he does, watch out. But I suspect he is waiting for 2012 to take down Inhofe, at which point Gov. Henry will still be a mere 49 years old.

    Democrats will not have Obama on the ticket to boost turnout, but implausably the party is in great shape to pick up even more seats in 2010. I have a hard time identifying a lot of vulnerable Democrats but no such trouble amassing a list of Republicans who won by a hair in 2004, which was a very favorable year for the GOP. If the first 18 months of the Obama presidency go well, the post-2010 Senate might be almost inconceivably lopsided. Republicans will need to mount something of a rally before 2010 in order to keep their numbers from dipping into the mid-30s. Ouch.

  • SENATE QUICKIES

    Joe Biden will be replaced by his longtime Chief-of-Staff Ted Kaufman. Net effect: absolutely none. Kaufman curiously noted that he's "OK with retiring in two years" which will do little to calm talk of Biden's Iraq veteran son replacing him in 2010.

    Obama's replacement will come down to Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrez, or Danny Davis, three House veterans who will blow away whatever dipshit the GOP finds to oppose them. Insert your own "a Jew, a Latino, and a black guy walk into the governor's office" joke here.
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    Coleman-Franken drags on and will drag itself right into court sooner or later. Bank on it.

    SILVER LININGS

    Let me quote myself on October 13 of this year, discussing the Senate races in the home stretch:

    If the big victory they can take away from this election is "We have enough Senators to threaten a filibuster!" then the GOP has truly suffered a beating of historic proportions.

    The battle to get to 58 will be a pretty easy one but there will be rapidly diminishing returns beyond that point. Fighting their way to 60 will require an improbable victory and a few more years of kissing Joe Lieberman’s ass, bending to his every whim.

    And here we are, the Democrats hitting 58 Senate seats with two clusterfucks yet to be resolved. The odds of hitting sixty are not great; in fact, let us go ahead and assume that the GOP wins either the Franken-Coleman recount showdown or the Martin-Chambliss runoff. At this point I would like to cue streamers, fireworks, and celebratory 80s rock anthems. Congratulations guys, you did it! That is the big victory for the year: holding on to 41 Senate seats. G-O-P! G-O-P! G-O-P!

    I think all of us who were thrilled by the outcome of this election are mindful of hubris. We know how quickly tables can turn in American politics. But looking at this election in isolation, I struggle to find the silver lining for the GOP.

    The Fox News crowd were prepared on Election Day to give McCain a big "exceeding expectations" win. That is, if McCain avoided losing in a complete rout they could note that, given all of Obama's advantages, McCain did far better than he should have. Alas, the Electoral College was lopsided. McCain lost every major swing state, including his Hail Mary state of Pennsylvania. Obama's victory was big enough that without CA and NY he still would have won. Ouch. No Kerry 2004 "Well, it should have been a Bush blowout but we made it close with a terrible candidate, so that's good!" silver lining here.

    The popular vote could be a source of solace. The Electoral College magnifies victories and makes reasonably close elections feel lopsided. The popular vote gap was 7% – nearly 9,000,000 votes. Not an overwhelming blowout, but certainly nothing to be happy about from the right.

    The Senate? Well, if losing eight or nine seats in one election (bringing the total over the last two races to at least -13 R) counts as a victory it is a victory for the forces of delusion. The practical impact of the Democrats' failure to attain sixty seats is almost nil.

    The House? We pay so little attention to the poor old House. Certainly it offered a glimmer of hope for the GOP? No, they lost another 21 seats (possibly more when the few remaining races are sorted out). Their deficit is now more than 80 seats: ~256 to 175. High-visibility and ultra-conservative incumbents like Marilyn Musgrave and Steve Chabot lost. Moderates like Christopher Shays and Jon Porter lost. Dennis Hastert's seat is now held by a Democrat. The GOP lost a House race in Idaho. Ouch.

    Perhaps the GOP succeeded by experiencing defeat today to set up tomorrow's victories. This election could be salvaged if they established a clear Obama Alternative, a dynamic leader to bring better outcomes in 2010 and 2012. Well, they established Palin…as a punchline to several years' worth of late-night jokes.

    I'm sorry, folks. I just do not see the "bright side." The only good thing about this election for Republicans is that it is over. Maybe the magnitude of their defeat will turn out to be the silver lining. With the other party solidly in control of the Federal government, the GOP's best bet may be to hope that things go poorly and start pointing fingers.

    PUTTING IT ON THE LINE, AGAINST JUDGMENT

    Making predictions is not my favorite thing. We know where people stand but not who's going to show up on Tuesday. It's simple to sit here and tell you which way the public is leaning and very difficult to predict how that will translate into electoral results. But I talk too much about these races to do any less than offer predictions which can be held against me at a later date. So, for your mocking pleasure, I give you the Senate races, on which I did not do half-badly in 2006, and the big race. The current Senate, for reference, is 50 D, 49 R, and one ass clown.

    Easily defended seats (22)

  • Idaho (Open): Jim Risch
  • Tennessee: Lamar Alexander (i)
  • Wyoming: Mike Enzi, John Barrasso (both incumbents)
  • Mississippi 1: Thad Cochran (i)
  • Alabama: Jeff Sessions (i)
  • Kansas: Pat Roberts (i)
  • Oklahoma: Jim Inhofe (i)
  • South Carolina: Lindsey "Chickenhawk" Graham (i)
  • Maine: Susan Collins (i)
  • Nebraska: Mike Johanns
  • Arkansas: Mark Pryor (i)
  • Montana: Max Baucus (i)
  • Rhode Island: Jack Reed (i)
  • West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller (i)
  • Massachusetts: John Kerry (i)
  • Illinois: Dick Durbin (i)
  • Delaware: Joe Biden (i)
  • Iowa: Tom Harkin (i)
  • Michigan: Carl Levin (i)
  • South Dakota: Tim Johnson (i)
  • New Jersey: Frank Lautenberg (i)

    I would bet a lot of money on these races (6)

  • Virginia: Mark Warner over Jim Gilmore (Pickup – D)
  • New Mexico: Tom Udall over Steven Pearce (Pickup – D)
  • Colorado: Mark Udall over Bob Schaeffer (Pickup – D)
  • Louisiana: Mary Landrieu (i) over John Kennedy (Retained – D). Remember when the GOP thought this was a pickup?
  • Alaska: Mark Begich over Ted Stevens (i) (Pickup – D). I don't see how Tubes can survive seven felony convictions in a race he was already trailing.
  • Texas: John Cornyn (i) over Rick Noriega (Retained – R). Noriega made some noise but failed to gain enough momentum.

    Confident, but not enough to bet money (4)

  • North Carolina: Kay Hagan over Elizabeth Dole (i) (Pickup – D). Dole's recent wingnut "godless" ad shows real desperation. As Jesse Helms' former strategist said, "The next sound you'll hear is the roof caving in on Liddy Dole."
  • New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen over John Sununu (i) (Pickup – D). A lot more competitive than I thought, but Sununu isn't going to hang on.
  • Oregon: Jeff Merkely over Gordon Smith (i) (Pickup – D). A very pro-Obama state will have enough carryover to give the unknown challenger a narrow win.
  • Kentucky: Mitch McConnell (i) over Steve Lunsford (Retained – R). Wishing McConnell will lose can't make it so. He hangs on by a thread.

    I am not confident, but I have a reasonable guess (1)

  • Georgia: Jim Martin over Saxby Chambliss (i) (Pickup – D). This is not a brilliant call given that Martin has never led, but he closed a large gap in a hurry and has a ton of last-minute momentum. Here is a state in which higher black turnout – which I earlier stated can only boost Democratic results by about 1% – will make a difference. It is going to be extremely close regardless, so I'll buy the "new registrants" argument here.

    I wouldn't even bet someone else's money on these races (2)

  • Mississippi 2: Roger Wicker (i) over Ronnie Musgrove (Retained – R). This is a total wild card. More than one in five eligible voters in MS is African-American. Musgrove led early, but Wicker has consistently held a small lead for several weeks. Wicker hangs on, although if GOP voters really do throw in the towel on McCain the stay-homes will really affect races like this one.
  • Minnesota: Al Franken over Norm Coleman (i) and Dean Barkley (Pickup – D). Three way races are impossible to predict. It's great that voters have a non-mainstream choice but…Barkley isn't going to win. He'll pull about 15%, which accomplishes nothing for him. How that 15% affects the Coleman/Franken balance is anyone's wild guess. Franken has not run a good campaign but the Ventura/Barkley/Reform candidates in MN take positions that are more conservative than liberal. In other words, if I have to pick I will guess that Barkley's futile campaign takes more votes from Coleman than Franken. Without Barkley, Coleman would hold his seat given Franken's flat campaign.

    Wednesday morning split: 59 D, 40 R, and that male hooker from Connecticut.

    And now the big race. It would be lazy and easy to say "Obama wins" because it is looking about 95% likely at this point. But we can put a finer point on things. Let me be clear that I am intent on missing low this year. Giving McCain every benefit of the doubt – the Mountain West, Ohio, Florida, and Missouri – he still cannot make the math work. So I will make a "Best case McCain" and "Best case Obama" map. Reality will probably fall somewhere between the two.

    The best that McCain can do, in my opinion, is Obama 306, McCain 232. In this best-case scenario I am going with Obama in an extremely tight NC race but McCain in Ohio and Florida.

    If everything goes as Obama hopes – cascading waves of excited voters swamp the polls while McCain's followers give in to despair – it's Obama 378, McCain 160. If the race is any more lopsided than this it will require Obama to win in some pretty unbelievable places.

    So for the econometricians, the 95% confidence interval is (306, 378). That is, the odds that Obama does better or worse than that are a combined 5%. I know that pessimism does and will forever reign in the Democratic Party, but if Obama does not win this race then everything we think we know about elections is utterly wrong and I will have more to worry about that this poor prediction.

  • MIND: BOGGLED

    OK, the Republicans might want to just hide under a pile of coats for the next few weeks. Democratic Army veteran Jim Martin has pulled even with Saxby Chambliss in the Georgia Senate race. Georgia. I will repeat that: the race between a Republican incumbent and a no-name challenger in Georgia is a statistical tie.

    No matter how negative a picture we paint, reality seems intent on one-upping us.
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    SIXTY, OR: LET'S TRY THE FIREWALL AGAIN

    As the armageddon scenario for the GOP – sixty Democrats in the Senate and Obama in the White House – becomes a possibility it might be a good time to get some perspective.
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    Possible? Yes. Likely? Not really. Some extraordinary things would need to happen. And the world's biggest cocksucker would once again be thrust into a position of power.

    The current Senate features 50 Democrats (counting Bernie Sanders), 49 Republicans, and Joe Lieberman.
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    This gives the Democrats a nominal 51-49 edge. To reach 60 they would need to pick up nine seats in one election. Some GOP losses seem inevitable. Others would be a stretch.

    Republican incumbents who are all but assured of going down include Sununu (NH), CO Open (Allard retirement), NM Open (Domenici retirement), and VA Open (Warner retirement). This means the Democrats can confidently assume a 55-45 split counting Lieberman as a Democrat.

    Several incumbents have a very good chance of going down but may hold on: Smith (OR), Dole (NC), Coleman (MN), and Stevens (AK) are all in big trouble. Sweeping these four – no easy task – would leave the GOP at 59-41. Ouch. But it's not 60.

    To reach 60, the Democratic candidates would have to pull off an improbable victory in MS-2 (Wicker vs. Musgrove) or Kentucky (where Mitch McConnell is fighting for his life). Neither can be considered likely. If they pull one of these races off then it is 60-40.

    Unfortunately for the Democrats, it's more like 59-40-Cocksucker because that sixty includes Holy Joe. I can only imagine how deeply the party dreads having that sanctimonious asshead in a pivotal position yet again. To "Lieberman-proof" a 60-seat majority they would need to win both the McConnell and Wicker races (or some other race which isn't even considered competitive at the moment, Cornyn-Noriega in TX being the only real possibility). That is, to say the least, unlikely.

    It is highly likely – something on the order of 99.9% – that the Democratic edge in the Senate will reach 55 seats in a few weeks. It's nearly as likely (let's say 80%) that the majority will be 58 or 59. But the odds drop precipitously at that point. The battle to get to 58 will be a pretty easy one but there will be rapidly diminishing returns beyond that point. Fighting their way to 60 will require an improbable victory and a few more years of kissing Joe Lieberman's ass, bending to his every whim.

    Now that I've downplayed the odds as much as possible it's worth noting that the scenario is costing the GOP some sleep. In what can only be described as a ringing vote of confidence, the RNC is reportedly ready to stop spending money on McCain's rudderless ship of a campaign in order to devote more resources to a "firewall" at 40 Senate seats. Think about that for a second. If the big victory they can take away from this election is "We have enough Senators to threaten a filibuster!" then the GOP has truly suffered a beating of historic proportions. Note, however, how well the "firewall" at 50 worked in 2006. Something tells me this one will work slightly better, if only because the odds of the Democrats hitting 60 (and especially doing so sans Lieberman) are small independent of any GOP strategy.

    2008 SENATE RACES UPDATE: IT'S ACTUALLY GETTING WORSE

    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.