We've done the uncompetitive seats and the open/toss-up races. All that remain are the safebuts – seats for which assertions of safety are immediately followed by "but…." This small group of races are not what we could call competitive. Nor are they uncompetitive. Think of them as the sasquatches of American politics, the missing link between man and ape. I'll let you determine which primate represents which party.

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  • NE Open (Hagel retirement): Nebraska's conservative. Scott Kleeb is a good Democratic candidate for a plains state. I like him. But Mike Johanns, the former Governor, seems like he will be too much for a rookie to handle. A weaker Republican might be in trouble, but if the queen had a dick I suppose she might be the king. In a year that favors Democrats this is potentially a little competitive, but a whole lot would have to go right for Kleeb (and a lot wrong for Johanns) to make it close. Call it for Johanns with a 1% chance of Kleeb prevailing and a 15-20% chance that he causes the GOP a few sleepless nights.

  • Mitch McConnell (KY): McConnell is another guy who should be safe by a mile, but…well, people just don't seem to like him very much. I suppose that is the harvest of being a mean, partisan bastard all of one's political life. He has under 50% approval in his state and can't crack 50% in polling against war vet Steve Lunsford (although McConnell is consistently ahead in said polls). McConnell has the upper hand but this is going to be a lot closer than anyone expects of one of the highest-profile Senators. The guy in charge of making sure other Republican Senate candidates win better watch out for his own ass.
  • Elizabeth Dole (NC): Governor Mike Easley proved that Democrats can win statewide races in NC, although he politiely declined to give up the statehouse to battle Dole. Challenger Kay Hagan is the clear #2 in this race, but there has been enough variance in polling and signs of hope from the DNC to suggest that a massive investment of resources could put this in play. Worth it? Probably not. It's important to note, though, that North Carolina is changing more rapidly than any state east of the Mississippi – especially the high-tech area and PhD factory known as "The Triangle." As the blue menace creeps down the coast and claims Virginia, North Carolina could become competitive within 10 years. But right now Dole is likely to be OK.

  • Susan Collins (ME): George W. Bush's bestest friend in the Senate might seem to be in trouble in a state Kerry won by 9%. The reality of New England's strange political schizophrenia argues otherwise. Rep. Tom Allen is as strong a statewide Democratic challenger as Maine can produce in this era, so if he fails to seriously test Collins then both she and Olympia Snowe (who beat a token challenger by 35% in 2006) can safely be considered incumbents-for-life.
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    Essentially, these are the "Oh, Shit" races for the GOP. If November rolls around and they are legitimately worried about any of these, they're in big trouble. These are races that only become competitive when everything has gone wrong for one party and everything went right for the other.

    If that sounds familiar, well, that was 2006 – an election night that saw Republicans sweating out a Senate race in Virginia, losing 3 House seats in Indiana, and seriously contemplating the possibility of losing a House race in Wyoming. The GOP is clearly in a transitional period and, unfortunately, sometimes a 1994-style thrashing is necessary before the ship can get pointed in the right direction again.


    Nothing says these have to go in order from safest to least safe, so let's cut in line and do the fun races. There won't be many. As with Rick Santorum in 2006, once again we have an incumbent who is expected to suffer a double-digit loss. Open seats, usually a source of intense competition, offer little excitement this year. Three Republican open seats have essentially been conceded, leaving only a small number of action-packed races.

    Screwed Incumbents

  • John Sununu (NH): Historically Republican New England is becoming a dangerous place to be friends with George W. Bush. After Sheldon Whitehouse downed Lincoln Chaffee in 2006 (RI) it was immediately clear that the uninspiring Sununu was in big trouble. NH is a different animal, but if Chaffee's widespread personal popularity could not save him it's hard to imagine Sununu surviving. Factor in his opponent, popular former Governor Jeanne Shaheen, and if there's anything Sununu wants to accomplish in the Senate he might want to do it soon.
  • NM Open (Domenici retirement): When Heather Wilson declined to represent the GOP (just like in 2006) this quickly became a laugher. Domenici's pending ethics censure from the US Attorney scandal sealed his fate, although let's be polite because he's also dying. Democratic Rep. Mark Udall looks unbeatable and the GOP is throwing in the towel. To quote NRSC Chair John Ensign, "You don’t waste money on races that don’t need it or you can’t win.” Congressman Steve Pearce is on his own.
  • CO Open (Allard retirement): This was a potentially epic contest until the GOP couldn't scrape up a challenger. An eminently contestable seat, I'm amazed that Bob Schaffer (last seen losing the 2002 race for this same seat in the primary) is the best they could do. Mark Udall – cousin of NM candidate Tom – looks like he will cakewalk, although the large conservative base south of Denver could make this competitive. A major failure in candidate recruitment and development for the GOP; begging friggin' John Elway to run doesn't count.
  • VA Open (Warner retirement): John Warner retired and is likely to be replaced by Mark Warner (no relation) with opposition from weak challenger Jim Gilmore. The story of the GOP's decline will have to be entitled What's the Matter with Virginia? The speed with which they went from the only game in town to an afterthought in this state is stunning.


  • Ted Stevens (AK): I was really tempted to call this one blue but AK remains a very Republican state. Needless to say, however, the septuple-indicted octogenarian is in serious trouble. The RNC is furious that he has refused to withdraw and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who would have tested Stevens even sans indictments, now must be considered the favorite. Insert "series of tubes" joke here.
  • Norm Coleman (MN): The gut says Coleman will hold on, but I'm not sure how. Minnesota is so overwhelmingly liberal that Coleman's tenure in the Senate is a minor miracle to begin with. This is a remarkably tight race, literally a coin flip. Franken has money but has not run a good campaign, including some embarrassing revelations about his personal finances. This is the race most likely to go down to the wire. Expect "celebrity" Democrats to come out in force for this one – the Clintons, Biden, Obama, Feingold, Pelosi, and others will become very familiar with the Minneapolis airport. Will the GOP make a similar committment or will its manpower be too tied up in McCain? Does the GOP even have any big guns who Minnesotans wouldn't hate?
  • Gordon Smith (OR): Here's another Senator holding on in a very liberal state. With Obama likely to win Oregon by 20 points, the anonymous and none-too-popular Smith is definitely in trouble. His opponent is middling – State House Speaker Jeff Merkley – but he is running a good campaign based on Smith's record of support for Bush. If the coast (Portland, Eugene) turns out big, Smith's gone.
  • Mary Landrieu (LA): Everyone calls this a toss-up out of guilt for not including one Democrat on the list, so I'll join them. Yes, Landrieu is going to be tested. But the myth of black voters fleeing the state (hence screwing the Democrats) is widespread even though few New Orleans residents actually fled the state permanently. New Orleans, yes. Louisiana, no. Challenger John Kennedy is hard to take seriously; the Democrat switched parties on August 27 and announced his challenge to Landrieu on November 29. Polling provides little value in close races, but most existing polls show Landrieu up 10-15. The state is very red, but right now I see the 12-year veteran hanging on. Her support for offshore drilling (a politically popular stance at home) may have shifted things in her favor.

    So once again I feel compelled to apologize for the seemingly partisan tilt to this analysis, but in this case reality has a distinct liberal bias. Eleven of the mere twelve Democrats up in 2008 are as safe as can be and half of the 20+ GOP seats to defend are in hostile territory or lack quality challengers. When the NRSC essentially gives up on four GOP seats in June (NM, CO, NH, and VA) how in the hell am I supposed to come up with a scenario in which the party does well? The toss-up races are very important for the Republicans, as they represent the dividing line between a bad year and a beatdown of historic proportions. They're basically conceding 54 Democrats, which is very risky. With that as a baseline, they'll need to catch some breaks in the rest of the races or they'll be looking at 60. After the failure of the "firewall" in 2006 they can't actually be overconfident again, can they?


    (note: the "senate" tag at the bottom of the post can take you to other parts of this discussion)

    While I discussed the odds stacked against the GOP in the first post, the good news is that many of their incumbents are safe. Unfortunately, the Democratic percentage of safe seats is far greater. Before we move on to the exciting races, let's cover the obligatory ones.

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    These races are not considered competitive in any reasonable scenario. The unreasonable does happen. But these seats are safe in the absence of a major, game-changing blunder on the part of the incumbent. I'm not talking about answering some question wrong at a press conference – I mean calling someone "Macaca" or getting indicted. These candidates, some of whom have little more than token challengers, need only play decent defense to get re-elected.
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    Safe Republicans (12)

  • Idaho – Open: Lt. Gov. Jim Risch has a cakewalk to fill Larry Craig's deeply closeted shoes.
  • Lamar Alexander (TN): Tennessee is not a total wasteland for the Democrats, but Bob Tuke is not a quality challenger and Lamar is a local institution.
  • Mike Enzi and John Barrasso (WY): Yawn.
  • Saxby Chambliss (GA): This disgusting excuse for a human being is likely to be tested by Vietnam vet Jim Martin, but he will return to Washington nonetheless.
  • Thad Cochran (MS): To call his opposition 'token' would be hyperbolic.
  • Roger Wicker (MS): I don't want to say this is competitive, but Ronnie Musgrove (Governor, 2000-2004) is the closest thing the MS Democrats have to a legit statewide threat. Keep an eye on this one. It could move.
  • John Cornyn (TX): State Rep. Rick Noriega poses little threat to an otherwise shaky Republican.
  • Jeff Sessions (AL): The former Democrat remains safe in a state whose internal politics remain Democratic.
  • Pat Roberts (KS): War veteran/Congressman Jim Slattery is a strong challenger fighting a losing battle.
  • Jim Inhofe (OK): The dumbest man in the Senate will return for six more years of humiliating himself on the world stage.
  • Lindsey Graham (SC): Among the safest of all GOP states.

    Safe Democrats (11)

  • Mark Pryor (AR): The only candidate who literally has no challenger – in a state GWB won twice.
  • Max Baucus (MT): Opposed by an 85 year-old joke candidate.
  • Jack Reed (RI): Opposed by a casino pit boss named Bob Tingle whose website was designed by a 9 year-old.
  • Jay Rockefeller (WV): The latest generation of the political royalty in the Mountaineer state.
  • John Kerry (MA): Jerome Corsi said he would challenge Kerry but, to no one's surprised, pussied out. Pussy.
  • Dick Durbin (IL): Where's Alan Keyes when you need him?
  • Joe Biden (DE): Some GOP direct mail consultant threw her name on the ballot when no one else wanted any part of this kamikaze run.
  • Tom Harkin (IA): Wealthy businessman Chris Reed could stress Harkin, but he is unlikely to prevail.
  • Carl Levin (MI): It's cute how the GOP insists Michigan is competitive and then runs a guy named Jack Hoogendyk against Levin.
  • Tim Johnson (SD): Inexplicably safe. He is getting a bump from something like a sympathy vote after his life-threatening aneurysm. Weak challenger.
  • Frank Lautenberg (NJ): I got into trouble by giving the GOP some credit in this state in 2006, but 84 year-old Lautenberg may be pressed by Dick Zimmer. Of the safe Democratic seats, this is one that could move.
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    While the safe Republicans are very safe, the sheer awfulness of some of the GOP challengers to safe Democrats is kind of awesome. Senile? Non-existent? Make $12/hr in a casino? Want your name on the ballot to impress your friends? Step right up!


    Yes, it's that time again. I tried getting this started last fall but it was just too early to get into it. But now I'm really getting into it. If the American public's baffling insistence on taking a McCain/Romney ticket seriously has you down, this should cheer you up.

    This Senate election could not be less favorable for the Republicans. It is as if Howard Dean was given permission to design the rules and pick which seats would be up. Remember when the GOP talked about their "firewall" (which failed) to protect the Senate majority in 2006?
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    I can't even imagine what the NRSC strategy for 2008 looks like. The most logical one might be to expect total failure and be pleasantly surprised when something slightly less terrible materializes.

    Am I being objective? Yes. Consider the variables:

  • 1. Of the 35* seats in play this year, 23 are Republicans.
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    It's harder to play defense than offense when one's party is on the outs (I'll take 2006 and the popularity of Our Leader as sufficient evidence that the Republican brand is troubled).

  • 2. The twelve currently-Democratic seats include eleven absolute slam dunks. It reads like a Who's Who of the safest people in the Senate – Kerry, Biden, Reed, Rockefeller, Durbin, Levin, Baucus, and more. The only Democratic seat in play is in Louisiana, which lost a significant portion of its base in New Orleans when the city was practically destroyed.
  • 3. Three of five open seats, all due to retiring Republicans, are in states trending Democratic: Colorado, Virginia, and New Mexico. It will take a minor miracle for the GOP to hold any of those.
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    CO could be favorable GOP ground, but they are so desperate for quality candidates that they tried to talk John fuckin' Elway into running before settling on Bob Schaffer, a guy who lost his own party's primary for a Senate seat in 2004. Good luck with that.

  • 4. One of the incumbent Republicans defending his seat is under a seven-count felony indictment and will avoid Federal prison only due to his advanced age. The RNC has to be beside itself over Stevens' refusal to withdraw.
  • 5. Mitch McConnell, who is supposed to be masterminding a national strategy to raise funds and put other Republicans in office, is fighting for his life against a nobody and can't crack 50% in in-state approval polls.

    No, it isn't a pretty year to be a Republican running for the Senate. Maybe this is why Ron Paul and his lunatic army want to repeal the 17th Amendment. Between the 5 GOP retirements and the unfavorable geography of the incumbent Democrats up for re-election, the absolute best-case scenario is still grim.
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    I mean if everything goes the Republicans' way – Iraq turns into a garden paradise in the next 6 weeks, the economy executes a miracle recovery, Obama beheads Michael Phelps during his convention speech – they will only lose 3 or 4 seats. A more likely scenario is a loss of 5 or 6, with a worst-case scenario of 9 to 11.

    Good luck with your nominations, President McCain.

    *35 seats are open instead of the usual 33 because of two seats which became open in the middle of a term. John Barrasso (R-WY) is running to remain in the seat vacated by the death of Craig Thomas while Roger Wicker (R-MS) was appointed upon Trent Lott's resignation.