When it comes to political news, not all days are created equal! Today alone, the Senate is debating the stimulus bill; Obama’s pick for HHS Secretary Tom Dashle was forced to withdraw because of his failure to pay taxes; the President appointed Republican Judd Gregg to the Cabinet; Rep. Paul Hodes quickly positioned himself to run for Gregg’s Senate seat; Governor Lynch appointed Republican Bonnie Newman to the Senate and said that she would not run for Senate in 2010 (that latter statement is an important addition, of course, but one we will wait to hear from Newman herself before officially calling New Hampshire an open seat).
And finally, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced her candidacy for the Senate seat left vacant by Republican Senator Kit Bond through this video message:
I will stay true to this site’s primary mission of covering electoral news by privileging Carnahan’s entry over Dashle’s withdrawal. The latter story is obviously a major one, however, so more might come about Dashle later.
Carnahan’s decision, while not unexpected, is great news for Democrats’ 2010 prospects. Carnahan is the daughter of former Governor Mel Carnahan and former Senator Jean Carnahan; in other words, she belongs to one of Missouri’s biggest political dynasties - so big, in fact, that her father managed to win the 2000 Senate race a few weeks after dying in a plane crash. (Ironically, Carnahan might face a member of another major Missouri dynasty in the general election if Roy Blunt becomes the Republican nominee - a prospect I discuss below)
Carnahan has also won two statewide elections for Secretary of State, in 2004 and in 2008. In 2004, she won a convincing victory in an open seat against the state House Speaker; and she did so on the day George W. Bush decisively carried Missouri and Republican Matt Blunt won the open gubernatorial seat.
Even more impressively, Carnahan received the most votes any candidate has ever received in Missouri history (1.7 million) in her 2008 re-election race. That alone does not make a successful Senate campaign make, but it is certainly a very clear sign that Carnahan will be a formidable general election candidate come 2010.
As importantly, Carnahan has enough stature that her entry clears their primary field. Carnahan’s entry in the race means that Democrats already know who their nominee will be for this race; that will allow her to coalesce the support of the Democratic establishment, receive the DSCC’s help, and start stocking up campaign cash. This is not a position Democrats enjoy in any of the other open Senate seats - nor a unity Missouri Republicans are close to achieving.
In fact, the Republican primary looks like it will be a divisive affair that could leave the eventual nominee very bruised. Rep. Roy Blunt is preparing himself for a run, and he is reportedly reaching out to former Senator Jim Talent to ensure that the latter does not run against him. But that still leaves former Treasurer Sarah Steelman, a conservative Republican. Steelman has yet to officially jump in the race, but she has met with NRSC officials and she has already blasted Blunt as an “insider.”
In 2008, Steelman faced Rep. Hulshof in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary; the two split along ideological lines, with Steelman running as a movement conservative looking to take on the directionless establishment. Hulshof scored a narrow victory, but he was too weak to mount a competitive general election campaign against Democrat Jay Nixon, who had had two years to prepare himself.
A Blunt-Steelman showdown could lead to similar consequences. If Blunt survives, he will likely emerge bruised from months of tough-hitting ads portraying him as a DC insider; if Steelman becomes the nominee, she will have done so after facing a barrage of establishment-funded attacks and Republican officials will be worried about her electability (though it is important not to overstate that concern, since Steelman has won statewide office before). For Talent to jump in the race would complicate things further, of course.
Overall, coming just a few hours after Paul Hodes signaled he would run in New Hampshire, Carnahan’s decision means that the DSCC managed to recruit its favorite Democrats in two different states in one single day! Quite a day of work for Bob Menendez, the DSCC Chairman - and yet another sign that Democrats are positioning themselves for yet another very good Senate cycle in 2010.