Republicans in the Senate and House are in such deep trouble that they may not only see their numbers decrease in next year's election, they may even find the Democrats with a veto-proof majority in the Senate, a Newsmax survey finds.
One year after voters routed Republicans in the midterms, many in the GOP have all but abandoned the goal of re-claiming majority status. Privately, insiders concede, they’d be happy just to hold their ground.
“We’re completely realistic over here. We see the mountain in front of us,” said Rebecca Fisher, communications director for the Senate GOP’s campaign committee, which has struggled to raise money and recruit top candidates this year. “When you look at the big picture, it seems very daunting.”
Indeed, the Senate landscape looks particularly troublesome for Republicans, who are defending 21 seats to the Democrats’ 12. All 12 Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election, while five (and maybe six) Republicans are retiring.
The GOP needs to pick up one or two seats to reclaim the majority; strategists think they’re more likely to lose three or four.
But, Fisher said, there are a few bright spots. “State by state, our vulnerable list is getting shorter.”
She points to moderate GOP incumbents in Maine and Oregon who look safer today than they did six months ago. Nonetheless, she says, the party is concerned about open seats in places like New Mexico and Virginia, which she calls “our toughest seats overall to hold.”
In the House, the picture is just as grim for Republicans, who need to pick up 16 House seats to knock Nancy Pelosi from the Speaker’s chair. Citing a large number of retirements, House watchers say Republicans are more likely to lose a handful.
“The loss of power is really what discourages them from sticking around,” says Tim Sahd, editor of the National Journal’s House Race Hotline.
“Some of them had chairmanships or powerful committee posts. The prospect of having to raise all kinds of money for a competitive race and then come back to the minority isn’t the most glamorous thing.”
House Democrats, with a $26.7 million cash advantage over Republicans, are currently targeting 44 Republican-held seats.
As they did in 2006, Republicans are struggling to defend a lopsided number of open seats. Here is Newsmax’s review of the most closely watched races in the Senate and the House — seats where the prospects for GOP power hang in the balance:
Colorado (Wayne Allard is retiring): Democrats are on a roll in Colorado, once a reliably red state in the heart of the Rockies. They picked up a Senate seat in 2004 and the governor's office two years later. In the 2008 Senate race, they're throwing their support behind five-term Rep. Mark Udall, the son of the late Interior Secretary Mo Udall and a liberal congressman from the People's Republic of Boulder. Early polls show Udall with a slight edge over his likely GOP rival, ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer, a conservative. Udall also enjoys a decisive cash edge. But he faces an extra challenge winning swing voters in a presidential election year — especially if Hillary Clinton leads the Democratic ticket.
New Mexico (Pete Domenici is retiring): Speaking of Udalls, Mark's cousin Tom, a congressman from Santa Fe, recently joined the race to succeed Domenici, and recent polls show he's the early favorite to beat either of the two announced Republicans, Reps. Heather Wilson, a moderate from Albuquerque, or Steve Pearce, a conservative who represents the state's rural southern reaches. Udall faces a bitter primary against Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez. Only Gov. Bill Richardson could have cleared the Democratic field, but he remains focused on his presidential campaign.
Virginia (John Warner is retiring): Virginia represents the cycle's biggest recruiting coup for Democrats, who snared ex-Gov. Mark Warner shortly after Sen. John Warner (no relation) decided to retire. The popular Democrat's decision spooked Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate Republican from the fast-growing Northern Virginia suburbs, who embodied his party's best chances to hold the seat. While he had been quietly plotting a Senate bid for years, Davis ultimately opted to forgo this race, acknowledging polls that showed him 30 points behind Warner. Mark Warner is now likely to face a fellow ex-governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, who is by no means as popular, or well-funded, as the Democrat.
A handful of Senate GOP incumbents also appear vulnerable. They include:
Minnesota (Norm Coleman): Liberal comedian-turned-radio host/author Al Franken is well known, but not as a political leader. Nonetheless Franken has been campaigning aggressively against Coleman. He has raised more money than the Republican and is increasingly viewed as a real threat in this Democratic-leaning state, especially in a presidential election year. Franken's only real problem: He must survive a primary against trial attorney Mike Ciresi, who polls show voters consider a better bet against Coleman.
New Hampshire (John Sununu): Ex-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who narrowly lost a bitter race to Sununu in 2002, is back for a rematch in a New England state where antiwar sentiment has spurred a dramatic shift toward her party over the past six years. Still, Fisher said, she thinks Sununu can pull it out. “It’s going to be our toughest incumbent race. But Sununu has seen this race before, and we know how to beat her.”
Oregon (Gordon Smith): Democrats have united behind state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, although he was hardly their first choice. Smith, an increasingly vocal critic of the Iraq war, has effectively neutralized Democratic attacks on the issue. Still, a recent Democratic poll showed that only 30 percent of likely voters in Oregon wanted to send Mr. Smith back to Washington. His approval rating has dropped 13 points since February, into the 35-percent range – a danger zone for incumbents.
On the Democratic side, Republicans are targeting Sens. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Max Baucus in Montana, and Tim Johnson in South Dakota.
GOP open seats by district:
Arizona 1st (Rick Renzi is retiring): Republicans admit they’re better off without Renzi on the ballot in 2008. Charges of ethical misconduct continue to dog the three-term incumbent even after he unveiled his plans to retire. Democrats are uniting behind ex-state Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick. Republicans are talking up state Rep. Bill Konopnicki, although he hasn’t formally joined the race. Republican Sydney Hay, president of the Arizona Mining Association, is also seeking the GOP nod and was recently endorsed by Rep. Duncan Hunter.
Illinois 11th (Jerry Weller is retiring): Like their Arizona counterparts, many Republicans in this district southwest of Chicago were relieved when the ethically challenged incumbent decided to retire. Democrats are rallying behind state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, who decided to run after meeting with Pelosi. Republicans face a choice between Republicans Jimmy Lee, a former White House aide, and Tim Baldermann, the mayor of New Lenox, both of whom are already aiming their fire at Halvorson.
Minnesota 3rd (Jim Ramstad is retiring): Republicans have held the district for 50 years, but Democrats are gaining ground in the Twin Cities suburbs. Democratic State Sen. Terri Bonoff, a businesswoman, will face a primary against conservative Democrat Aswin Madia, an attorney and Iraq war veteran. On the GOP side, state Rep. Erik Paulsen is the likely nominee.
New Jersey 3rd (Jim Saxton is retiring): Saxton, a popular incumbent who always won re-election comfortably, leaves behind a swing district in a region that has grown increasingly unfriendly to Republicans, especially in a presidential election year. Republicans are urging state Sen. Diane Allen, a moderate, to run. But Allen might face a primary battle from the party’s conservative wing. State Sen. John Adler, who had already announced his challenge to Saxton, is the Democrats’ party’s unofficial choice.
New Mexico 1st (Heather Wilson is running for the Senate): Republicans are rallying around Darren White, the sheriff of Albuquerque-based Bernalillo County. But much like Wilson did for a decade, White will face a tough race against whomever Democrats nominate in this classic swing district. So far, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, a former state health secretary, has said she’ll run. State Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who finished just 861 votes behind Wilson in 2006, could follow.
Ohio 15th (Deborah Pryce is retiring): Pryce’s decision to retire was particularly good news for Mary Jo Kilroy, who narrowly lost to Pryce in 2006 and immediately launched another campaign. She is now favored to win in a district George Bush won by just 2,400 votes in 2004. After a heavy lobbying effort by House Minority Leader John Boehner, state Sen. Steve Stivers agreed to seek the GOP nomination. He’s a strong contender. But the fact remains, Ohio is a tough place for Republicans these days.
Vulnerable House GOP incumbents:
Don Young (Alaska At-large): Democrats stand a good chance of winning their first seat in the Alaska delegation since 1980 against Young, whose legal and ethical woes linger. Ethan Berkowitz, the former state House Minority Leader, state Democratic Party Chairman Jake Metcalfe and 2006 nominee Diane Benson are running for the Democratic nomination, though national Democrats seem to prefer Berkowitz so far. Young, for his part, faces a primary against state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux.
John Doolittle (California 4th): This Sacramento-area district is solid Republican territory, so the party’s likely to hold the seat by getting rid of Doolittle in the GOP primary. So far, likely challengers include Iraq War veteran Eric Egland and former Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes, a moderate. State Assemblyman Ted Gaines has formed an exploratory committee, and former Repbulican state Sen. Rico Oller is also mentioned.
Chris Shays (Connecticut 4th): Shays, the only Republican House member left in New England, narrowly escaped defeat the past two cycles against Democratic challenger Diane Farrell. But Farrell isn’t running again, leaving that chore to Greenwich Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jim Himes, a wealthy investment banker. Shays’ formula for victory relies heavily on highlighting his independent streak while raising (and spending) loads of money. Can he single-handedly keep the GOP alive in New England for another two years? Stay tuned.
Jim Walsh (New York 25th): Walsh had his toughest race ever in 2006 against Dan Maffei, a former aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Maffei is seeking a rematch in ‘08, and the race is shaping up to be just as close this time around. With the prospect of New Yorkers Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani leading their parties’ national tickets, all bets are off.
David Reichert (Washington 8th): Two years after her narrow loss, Democrat Darcy Burner is back for a second round against Reichert, a former King County sheriff who raised about $185,000 in August at a fundraiser with President Bush. Staging a protest “town hall” meeting during Bush’s visit, Burner raised about $115,000.
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