Archive for the 'Ratings' Category

House landscape: An ever-expanding and uncertain field

The (very) bad news for Democrats: Just when we thought the map couldn’t possibly expand any more, still more of their incumbents find themselves on the GOP’s ever-expanding target list. Solomon Ortiz, Carolyn McCarthy, Peter DeFazio - these Democrats were considered vulnerable as the month began, but confident Republicans are now setting their sights on scoring upsets against such longtime incumbents.

The most emblematic district of the GOP’s success at expanding the map is undoubtedly AZ-7, however, where  the DCCC has now been forced to rush to Rep. Raul Grijalva. And while DeFazio, Ortiz or even Barney Frank remain elusive targets for Republicans, other districts that weren’t anywhere in the top-tier of GOP targets are looking increasingly vulnerable - districts like OH-6 and TN-4, for instance.

Let’s be clear on what this means: Even the most optimistic Republicans don’t expect to unseat all these powerful Democrats. But in a volatile election like this one in which many districts have never been the subject of a public poll and are barely covered by the press, there are bound to be a number of major surprises on Election Night. I now have 34 Dem-held districts in the “likely Democratic” column. While I have restrained that category enough that a GOP win in any of these districts would be considered a huge upset, I firmly expect at least a couple of these to fall in Republican hands on November 2nd.

And that doesn’t get us to the massively large pool of 83 Democratic seats that are truly in play (listed no better than “lean Dem”)!

Now, the better news for Democrats: With 2 weeks to go, 24 of their seats are leaning towards Republicans - a large number, but one that is not quite as catastrophic as you might think. Furthermore, this is no longer simply a fact of us lacking sufficient information about toss-up districts to know what to do with them. In fact, at-times extensive polling information and party spending patterns suggests that Democrats have a solid chance of winning many of the districts that I have listed as “toss-up.” NH-2, in particular, was long considered lost for Democrats but progressive blogosphere favorite Ann Kuster is mounting a strong campaign.

The same goes for districts listed as “lean Dem.” All of them are clearly in play, but polling in many of them shows that the bottom has not fallen out for Democratic incumbents - I’m for instance thinking of recent polls in CA-18, IA-3, NY-1.

The other piece of good news for Democrats is that a few opportunities are popping up for them to pick-up Republican seats: I long thought capturing 5 seats would be a good accomplishment, but new developments open the door to a larger number. For one, IL-10 finally looks like it is leaning towards Democrats. Second, to the pool of 5 races we have been looking for months (DE-AL, LA-2, IL-10, HI-1 and FL-25) should now be added 3 districts.

The first is CA-3, where the GOP is growing worried enough that Karl Rove’s American Crossroads is spending about $700,000 to help Rep. Lungren. I have moved the other two based on polling information: WA-8, where 2 public polls find a competitive race, and AZ-3, where a PPP survey just found the Democrat leading Ben Quayle by 2%. And we cannot entirely rule out a surprise upset in one of the 8 GOP districts I have listed as “likely GOP,” and from which we generally have very little information.

Likely Dem
(34D, 2R)

Lean Dem
(34D, 2R)

Toss-up
(25D, 1R)
Lean GOP
(15D, 3R)
Likely GOP
(8D, 10R)
Dem
seats

AR-4
AZ-8
IL-8
GA-12
IA-1
IL-12
KY-3
KY-6
MA-4
MA-5
MA-7
ME-2
MI-15
MN-7
MN-8
NC-2
NM-3
NY-2
NY-4
NY-13
NY-22
NY-25
PA-4
PA-17
OH-13
OR-4
RI-1
TX-23
TX-27
VA-9
VA-11
UT-2
WA-9
WV-3

AZ-7
AZ-8
CA-18
CA-20

CA-47
CO-7
CT-4
CT-5

FL-22
GA-2
IN-2
IA-2
IA-3
ID-1
IL-17
MA-10
MI-9
MO-4
MN-1
MS-4
NC-7
NC-8
NC-11
NJ-3
NM-1
NY-1
NY-20
NY-24
OH-6
OR-5
PA-12
SD-AL
TN-4
WA-2
AL-2
AZ-5
CA-11
CO-3
FL-2
FL-8
GA-8
IL-14
IN-9
MI-7
MS-1
NV-3
NH-1
NH-2
NY-19
NY-23
NM-2
OH-16
OH-18
PA-7
PA-8
PA-10
SC-5
WV-1
WI-8
AR-1
AZ-1
CO-4
IN-8
KS-3
MI-1
MD-1
ND-AL
OH-15
PA-3
PA-11
VA-2
VA-5
WA-3
WI-7
AR-2
FL-24

IL-11
LA-3
NY-29
OH-1
TN-6
TN-8
TX-17

GOP seats DE-AL
LA-2
HI-1
IL-10
FL-25 AZ-3
CA-3
WA-8


CA-45
FL-12
KS-4
MN-6
NE-2
PA-6
PA-15
PA-16

I have changed the ratings of 19 districts:

AR-1, toss-up to lean Republican: While this race is still in play, defending an open seat in a district that gave John McCain 59% was always a tough proposition for Democrats. Chad Causey has mounted a stronger than expected campaign and Democrats have released a number of internal polls showing a dead heat. However, two independent polls recently showed Rick Crawford up by 8% and 12% - what you would expect given the district’s conservative lean and Arkansas’s shift towards the GOP this year.

AZ-1, toss-up to lean Republican: Democrats long insisted that Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick would be saved by what is certain to be high-turnout among Native-Americans (Navajo Nation is also hosting elections on the same day), but add up Democrats’ pronounced Arizona pains, public polls finding Paul Gosar ahead, and the DCCC’s September decision to downscale their investment in the race - and Kirkpatrick has become an underdog. The race remains competitive, however.

AZ-3, likely Republican to lean Republican: The district might be clearly Republican, but voters don’t seem eager to embrace GOP nominee Ben Quayle, son of the former vice-president who won the primary with just 23% of the vote. Due to his lack of public record, much of the attention has been devoted to Quayle’s denials of having participated in the creation of the website TheDirty.com under the pseudonym Brock Landers. Still, the year seemed too tough for Arizona Democrats for John Hulburd to have a chance - until a PPP poll found Hulburd leading 46% to 44% and showed Quayle’s favorability rating at a rough 34/52.

AZ-7, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Few developments capture the GOP’s success at expanding the map as well as the precipitous collapse in Rep. Raul Grijalva’s fortunes. While it was still possible to doubt the race’s competitiveness after the GOP released two polls indicating a dead heat, the DCCC chose to get involved this week - which probably means they went in the field and confirmed that this had become a headache. The main reason I am not moving this to the toss-up column is that Democrats might have identified the problem just in time to boost Grijalva and focus on turning out district voters; but national Republican stars have rallied around Ruth McClung.

CA-18 and CA-20, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: While Democrats remain favored to keep both districts, Rep. Costa and Rep. Cardoza are both sweating more than their party would like. The DCCC has had to get involved to boost Costa in CA-20, while Cardoza is getting substantial help from the National Association of Realtors in CA-18. A recent SUSA poll found Cardoza up 50% to 44%, to which the incumbent replied with an internal showing him up double-digits.

FL-24, lean Republican to likely Republican: Rep. Suzanne Kosmas was always near the top of the GOP’s target list, but there was a point over the summer at which it looked like the Republicans vying to challenge her were so weak she could still pull it out. But that looks to be a thing of the past: Kosmas was among the first 3 incumbents to be abandoned by the DCCC earlier this month - and while we haven’t seen many polls that seems a clear indication that internal Democratic numbers have Adams in a strong position.

IL-10, toss-up to lean Democratic: After twice failing to win this blue-leaning district in very favorable years, can Dan Seals pull it off in a cycle far more hostile to his party? The race is still very much in play, but he appears to have opened up lead against an opponent who is more conservative than was advisable for the GOP to nominate.

ID-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: I am not sure why I had Rep. Walt Minnick quite as strong as “likely Democratic,” so this move should not be interpreted as a sign of momentum for GOP state Rep. Labrador, who has proven one of the cycle’s weakest Republican candidates. But it would be foolish to rule out the possibility he might ride a GOP wave in a district that voted for Bush by 39%.

MA-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Not only is this a district that voted for Barack Obama by 29%, but Barney Frank is one of the most powerful House Democrats. But the GOP is now feeling emboldened enough to dream of ousting Frank, who was reduced to releasing an internal poll showing him up double-digits.

MN-1, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Just like in CA-20, the bad news for Democrats is that recent polling vindicates the GOP’s hope that the wave is endangering Rep. Tim Walz. The better news is that it finds Walz is still ahead; still, we can’t forget that Walz himself in an upset after a late surge in 2006.

NY-4 and NY-22, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Andrew Cuomo might be heading towards a landslide victory, but that should not be enough to insulate down-ballot Democrats. Given the GOP’s unexpected victories in local elections in 2009, it would not be surprising if a Democratic incumbent somewhere in the state was safer than thought - and Reps. Hinchey and McCarthy are obvious candidates. The GOP released a poll showing McCarthy leading by only 1%, and there is reason to believe Long Island could be rough for her party.

OH-06, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: This is one of those districts that was not expected to be competitive until this fall. But as Ohio became a disaster zone for Democrats, Bill Johnson’s odds of scoring an upset increased. GOP internal polls show a tight race, and the NRCC got involved in early October.

OR-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Peter DeFazio caught a break in 2009 when highly-touted NRCC recruit Sid Leiken’s campaign imploded, but his race against the little-known Art Robinson has suddenly gotten very heated. After the GOP released an internal poll with DeFazio leading by 6%, the incumbent replied with a 14% lead in his own internal - a healthy margin, but not one large enough to rule out that Robinson’s late entry in the news will not lead to a stunning upset.

TN-4, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Democrats were long hoping that Lincoln Davis would survive easily, but that was probably too much to ask for in a district that gave John McCain 64% of the vote. Republicans have released polling finding Davis in a tied race.

TN-8, lean Republican to likely Republican: While holding either of Tennessee’s open seats was always a tough proposition for Democrats, they at least managed to recruit a strong candidate in TN-8 - which is much more than can be said of TN-6. But there is so much that Roy Herron could do in a district that has been shifting Republican in federal races - Al Gore by 3% in 2000, George Bush by 6% in 2004 and John McCain by 13% in 2008. TN-8 became one of the first races the DCCC abandoned in early October.

TX-27, safe Democratic to likely RepublicanDemocratic: One of the most unexpected races to end up on the chart is TX-27, where Rep. Solomon Ortiz is suddenly attracting attention after a GOP internal showed him trailing little-known Blake Farenthold. The DCCC quickly went on the offensive - but the closely divided TX-27 could very one of those districts in which an unconcerned incumbent falls in a stunning upset.

WA-8, likely Republican to lean Republican: After surviving the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008, GOP Rep. Dave Reichert looked like he should be fine in 2010. But recent bad press, concerns about his brain surgery and the Seattle Times’s surprising decision to turn against a politician they had praised for years have combined to make the race unexpectedly competitive: PPP and SUSA both recently found Suzan DelBene in striking distance.

I’ll end this post with a note on the Senate: Joe Miller’s bodyguard’ handcuffing a journalist at a public event is one of the most chilling events of the year.

Senate landscape: Four battlegrounds going into the final stretch

For much of the cycle, an unusually large number of competitive Senate races has made it difficult to discern  the lay of the land or to identify those contests that were most important in deciding the composition of the next Senate.

We are now mid-October - and there finally is a fairly uncontroversial sense of the key Senate battlegrounds: If you must focus your attention on just 4 states, look at Colorado, Illinois, Nevada and West Virginia.

The first three states have been stable since early in the summer. In CO, Ken Buck’s slight advantage has remained within the margin of error; in IL, whatever tiny edge Mark Kirk might have opened at some point has disappeared; and in NV, I doubt there has been more than a couple independent polls since the June primary with either candidate outside the margin of error - making it arguably the most stable Senate race in the county.

Moving WV to the toss-up column, however, has been a big accomplishment for Republicans. (Of course, they were helped by Joe Manchin’s decision to move the election to 2010.) The state’s hostility to national Democrats has proven just as strong as Manchin’s popularity (remember voters would keep Manchin as Governor Mansion if they elect Joe Raese to the Senate), though Manchin appears to have stopped the bleeding, partly because of the controversy over the NRSC hiring actors to play “hickeys.” But this is the Senate race Democrats should care the least about since Manchin has been sending clear signals that he would model himself on the Ben Nelsons of the Senate by airing a campaign ad showing him shooting a literal gun at cap-and-trade reform and denouncing “Obamacare.”

Elsewhere: Washington and Wisconsin now clearly lean towards Democrats and Republicans, respectively. There could definitely be movement in either race - especially in WA, though Patty Murray’s advantage over Dino Rossi is more decisive than in other contests because voters are going to start voting within days in the state’s all-mail system. In WI, it is stunning to think that Russ Feingold was hardly considered vulnerable at the start of 2010; even over the summer, people thought he was no worse than Boxer and Murray. But Johnson’s spending spree combined with the Midwest’s economic hardships has dramatically altered the race; Feingold is now consistently trailing by a daunting high single-digits margin.

While I’d be less surprised if Pennsylvania and California grow more competitive, there is no question that Pat Toomey and Barbara Boxer now enjoy an unquestionable advantage. But Pennsylvania has grow increasingly heated, with the NRSC now on air; and Boxer’s edge in California remains small, though the large number of polls showing her around the 50% mark make it hard to see how Carly Fiorina could reach that threshold.

With less than three weeks to go, the suspense is mostly gone in the other Democratic-held seats: While Connecticut and Delaware were long considered either competitive (CT) or sure Republican pick-ups (DE), Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons are now in a solid position - as is Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.

The landscape among GOP-held seats is even clear: I would be surprised if Democrats picked-up any. That of course is a huge collapse of fortunes since mid-2009, when the party had a lot of promising opportunities. In fact, Democrats’ best shot at a pick-up is now arguably a candidate few people had heard of before August: Scott McAdams. While it would still be a huge surprise if he won in Alaska, there is mounting evidence that the unexpected 3-way race with Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski gives him an opening to eek out a narrow victory: three polls over the past 24 hours have found the three candidates within 6% to 9% of each other.

Add to that the imprecision of measuring a write-in vote, and I’d be less surprised at a McAdams victory than I would be at a Robin Carnahan (MO), Paul Hodes (NH) or Jack Conway (KY) comeback - though all three still deserve to be watched, especially Kentucky. I have also moved Florida to the likely Republican column, as Marco Rubio has looked like the prohibitive favorite for so many months it’s hard to believe this once looked like it would be the cycle’s highest-profile race.

To recap: CO, IL, NV and WV are the four key Senate battlegrounds heading in the final stretch, while California, Washington and Pennsylvania could still grow tighter. It is also worth keeping an eye on Alaska and Kentucky.

To take control of the Senate, the GOP needs to win in all the states in which it now has a clear lead (including PA and WI), sweep the four battlegrounds (CO, IL, NV and WV) and score an upset in one of the Pacific Coast states (WA, CA). Given that most Senate toss-ups tend to go to the same party, this is not an implausible scenario; but Boxer and Murray’s ability to defend their leads has given Democrats some breathing room.

Note that I am changing the ratings of six races today. 2 favor Democrats: Alaska (likely Republican to lean Republican), Connecticut (lean Democratic to likely Democratic). And 4 favor Republicans: Florida (lean Republican to likely Republican), Indiana (lean Republican to likely Republican), New Hampshire (toss-up to lean Republican), Wisconsin (toss-up to lean Republican). Thus:

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held ND AR
IN
PA
WI
CO
IL
NV
WV
CA
WA
CT
DE
NY-B
HI
MD

NY-A
OR
VT
GOP-held AL
AZ
GA
IA
KS
ID
OK
SC
SD
UT
FL
LA
NC
OH
AK
KY
MO
NH

This gets us to the following breakdown:

  • Safe Democratic: 45
  • Safe/Likely Democratic: 48 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 49 50
  • Toss-ups: 4 (-2)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 46 (+2)
  • Safe/Likely Republican: 40 (+1)
  • Safe Republican: 34

House ratings: It helps to be a Republican

I don’t need to tell you that the bottom has fallen out for House Democrats since my last attempt to offer ratings, back in February. My 6-month absence surely didn’t prevent you from figuring out just how many Democratic districts were trending towards Republicans - and how dramatically.

Suffice it to say, the expectations have shifted considerably over the past year: At this point, anything less than a House takeover would disappoint Republicans.

In fact, the more relevant question at this point is whether the GOP can triumph in a big enough landslide to go way beyond the 39 seats it needs to pick-up to win the House. Can it reach, say, the 50-60 range? (Some Republicans like Dick Morris who clearly have no idea of what it means to manage expectations have been hinting at even higher numbers, but that seems far-fetched.) A grand total of 107 Democratic-held seats are now on the chart - 49 on which are rated no better than “toss-ups” and an incredible 74 of which are considered seriously in play (that means they are no better than “lean Democratic”).

Making matters worse for Democrats is that many of these ratings are more likely to move towards the GOP than towards Democrats, and this for very simple reasons. House races are dramatically underpolled and it is difficult to come by other types of reliable district-by-district information. As such, it’s often tough to get a sense of just where a House contest stands. Since these are individual ratings, it makes it difficult to determine which districts the GOP wave will submerge and which Democratic incumbents are managing to hold on better than others.

In short: There are only 22 Democratic districts rated as “lean GOP” or “likely GOP” in this chart, but that does not make it plausible for Republicans to not win more than that. The national generic ballot as well as tales of epic struggles from countless Democratic incumbents nationwide leave no doubt Republicans will succeed in many more districts.

That is not to say that Democrats are sure to lose the majority, far from it: Republicans have yet to put away many districts which they thought would have been the first to fall. Polls have shown that districts like NV-3, PA-7, NH-2, NM-2, OH-16 and MD-1 (rated as toss-ups) all remain within the margin of error, while the GOP advantage in districts like ND-AL and CO-4 (here rated as lean GOP) is still manageable. Meanwhile, and despite the understandable panic over the ridiculously high number of Democratic seats that are now considered in play, many of the endangered incumbents are for now still narrowly ahead - fragile leads, to be sure, but nothing to guarantee humongous Republican gains.

A slight improvement in Democratic voters’ interest in going to the polls would go a long way towards closing the gap in a number of these districts; it would not save the party from historic losses, but saving incumbents like Patrick Murphy, Dina Titus, Gabrielle Giffords and Phil Hare would at least allow Democrats to hang around the 217 mark.

Furthermore, some Democrats have been successful in their attempts to throw the spotlight on their challengers and using oppo research to discredit them; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL) and Betty Sutton (OH-13) are two incumbents who look to be in a better position today than they were over the summer. Finally, Democrats do have enough pick-up hopes of their own to raise the bar of GOP pick-ups: DE-AL and LA-02 look like sure gains; HI-01, FL-25 and IL-10 are promising; and CA-03 is still on the table. This could require the GOP to pick-up at least 42-43 seats just to secure the narrowest of House majorities.

But there is no question that all the momentum is on the Republican side. For one, and this is the most obvious thing to expect in a wave election, open seats in swing districts are just too difficult for a party to defend when Republicans have such a clear generic advantage. The two Arkansas districts, the two Tennessee districts, MI-1, KS-3, WI-7 - Democrats would have been able to win a lot of these in a balanced year, but in 2010 Democratic incumbents’ late retirements in these districts have given the GOP golden opening they probably won’t miss.

The DCCC’s much-touted financial advantage has faded and that conservative outside groups with anonymous donors have been spending millions of dollars in dozens of districts, helping the NRCC make the most of new opportunities in a way Democrats could not enjoy back in 2006. Indeed, a large number of districts are now on the chart that were not even conceivably competitive six months ago: Phil Hare’s IL-17, Gene Taylor’s MS-4, Dave Loebsack’s IA-2 and, perhaps most shockingly, John Dingell’s MI-15.

In fact, every day brings a new poll showing a Democratic incumbent I had in a relatively good position trailing by double-digits. Last week, it was a WI-8 survey with Rep. Steve Kagen down by almost 20% (it might have been a GOP poll, but Democrats have yet to release a response); yesterday, it was NY-23, where Doug Hoffman’s surprise decision to halt his campaign heightened Bill Owens’ vulnerability. Republicans really have nothing to complain about.

Likely Dem
(33D, 2R)

Lean Dem
(25D, 1R)

Toss-up
(27D, 2R)
Lean GOP
(16D, 1R)
Likely GOP
(7D, 11R)
Dem
seats

AR-4
AZ-7
CA-18
CA-20
IL-8
GA-12
IA-1
ID-1
IL-12
KY-3
KY-6
MA-5
MA-7
ME-2
MI-15
MN-1
MN-7
MN-8
NC-2
NM-3
NY-2
NY-13
NY-25
PA-4
PA-17
OH-6
OH-13
RI-1
TN-4
TX-23
VA-9
VA-11
UT-2
WA-9
WV-3


AZ-8
CA-47
CO-7
CT-4
CT-5
FL-22
GA-2
IN-2
IA-2
IA-3
IL-17
MA-10
MI-9
MO-4
MS-4
NC-7
NC-8
NC-11
NJ-3
NM-1
NY-1
NY-20
NY-24
OR-5
PA-12
SD-AL
WA-2
AL-2
A4-1
AZ-1
AZ-5
CA-11
CO-3
FL-2
FL-8
GA-8
IL-14
IN-9
MI-7
MS-1
NV-3
NH-1
NH-2
NY-19
NY-23
NM-2
OH-16
OH-18
PA-7
PA-8
PA-10
SC-5
WV-1
WI-8
CO-4
FL-24
IN-8
KS-3
MI-1
MD-1
ND-AL
OH-15
PA-3
PA-11
TN-8
VA-2
VA-5
WA-3
WI-7
AR-2
IL-11
LA-3
NY-29
OH-1
TN-6
TX-17

GOP seats DE-AL
LA-2
HI-1 FL-25
IL-10
CA-3
AZ-3
CA-45
FL-12
KS-4
MN-6
NE-2
PA-6
PA-15
PA-16
WA-8

Once upon a time, I would have offered district-by-district explanations of my ratings, but I am unable to do so now for obvious time reasons; but I will have the opportunity to take closer looks at districts once I start changing ratings - just as I have been doing for Senate and Governor’s races.

One last note: It is difficult to project House results. But considering the cycle’s dynamics, a good measure would be to project that, were the election held today, the GOP would win any district that is rated “lean Republican” or “likely Republican,” at least half of the districts that are listed as toss-ups and even a substantial share of districts listed as “lean Democratic.” Using that metric, I’d project a Republican gain of at least 41 seats - but I would love to hear what you make of the House landscape.

New House ratings show brutally unbalanced map

House Projected Composition February 2010

When I first put together this cycle’s House ratings last spring, I found the landscape to be remarkably balanced: 62 GOP-held seats and 68 Dem-held seats were on the map, with both parties defending a relatively comparable number of seats in the most competitive categories - 18 for Republicans, 28 for Democrats. The eight months that have passed since then have been rough for the DCCC, and it will surprise nobody that my new House ratings look radically different.

The number of Republicans seats that are worth keeping an eye on has plummeted to 34, while many more Democratic seats are on the map today than there were in the spring: 89.

This disparity is as stark when we only consider the most vulnerable categories (lean retention and above): At the moment, the GOP has to worry about just 13 of its seats compared to 43 for Democrats - just above the magic number of 41 seats Republicans need to pick-up to regain a majority, though the DCCC has somewhat of a lifeline with the three GOP-held seats it has a great shot at picking-up (DE-AL, IL-10 and LA-02).

Some of Democrats’ troubles have come from the retirements that have befell the party since November: Had they not been open, AR-01, KS-03, NH-02, TN-06 or WA-03 would either not have been on the map at all or they would have hovered in the potentially competitive column. Instead, they have become some of the DCCC’s biggest headaches. That said, it does appear that Democrats did manage to keep the floodgates closed. But while the GOP does not have as many retirements to exploit as it would like, they have pulled many remarkable recruitment coups in districts that had been uncontested for years, sometimes for decades. As the cycle started, who could have expected that AR-02, MO-04, ND-AL, PA-08, PA-17, SC-05 or WV-01 would find themselves on our radar screen?

Republicans should not expect to sweep all vulnerable seats. For one, a red wave wil not make itself felt equally in all the states, e.g. NY Democrats could be in better form since they’ll probably be helped by Cuomo’s coattails. Second, a number of incumbents who have prepared themselves for a tough run since the cycle started should survive - just as Reps. Gerlach, Kirk, Reichert or Shays managed to win one or both of their 06/08 contests. This is why I have for now maintained all Democratic incumbents in the toss-up category; I fully expect the party to lose many, perhaps most, of its vulnerable districts (AL-02, CO-04, FL-24, ID-01, MD-01, NM-02, NV-03, OH-01, VA-02, VA-05), but for now we have little evidence but the national environment, which makes it all but impossible to differentiate between them.

Conversely, a number of Democrats who at the moment appear to be keeping their head above the water could easily find themselves submerged if the environment is as toxic as the GOP is hoping; this includes incumbents like Reps. Altmire (PA-04), Dahlkemper (PA-03), Pomeroy (ND-AL), Salazar (CO-03), Matheson (UT-02), Boucher (VA-09), Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Davis (TN-04) and others. While many of these districts are likely to rise to the more competitive categories by the time all is said and done, it goes without saying that efforts to expand the map often fail (see Democrats’ utter failures in IN-03 and ME-Sen in the past cycle), and it is simply too early to differentiate between the Democrats’ marginally vulnerable seats.

Besides the prospect of getting at least get something to campaign if they manage to pass some major legislation or the hope that the economic recovery will make itself felt by the fall, Democrats are banking on two additional wild cards. The first is the possibility that Republican primaries complicate the party’s chances in some districts. Doug Hoffman is for instance threatening to mount yet another third-party bid in NY-23 if he loses the GOP nomination; other primaries could produce a weaker candidate because of crowded fields in which anything is possible, which is arguably what happened to the GOP in last week’s IL-Gov and IL-10 primaries. (Look no further than what happened in 2008 to Democrats in LA-06 and NY-26 or what happened to Republicans in MD-01 to see how perfect opportunities can be ruined by brutal primaries.)

The second major wild card is the GOP’s financial limitation: The NRCC does not have a lot of money, especially when compared to the millions the DCCC relied on to bankroll the blue waves in 2006 and in 2008. That means a number of promising challengers could find themselves swamped come the fall, when well-financed incumbents and the DCCC go all-out to attack them while national Republicans has to prioritize some districts over others in a way that was less problematic for Democrats in the past two cycles. Might they still be rescued by independent groups, which will no longer have to abide by spending restrictions?

Without further delay, here are my rating charts. There is unfortunately no district-by-district explanation (while I have done that in the past, I would have no more time to do any other blogging work if I attempted to pull it off again), but you will find a handy graphic showing the projected balance of power.

House Ratings February 2010

House Detailed Projected Composition February 2010

New ratings find large number of competitive Governor’s races

In 2010, 37 states will hold Governor’s races, and at the moment the incumbent party can be said to be safe in only five of them! That is not due to any attempt on my part to pile on races in the “likely retention” category: A full 22 states are here classified in the most competitive categories: 13 are “leans” and 9 are “toss-ups.” And the stakes are high for each and every contest: Governors who are elected next year will play a decisive role  in the next round of redistricting, and they will oversee major policy fights - starting with the potential debate over whether states should opt-out of a public option.

Most of the country’s biggest states are holding all-out battles, if not in the general election than at least in the primary. One year before Election Day, it’s tough to predict with any certainty who will lead California, New York, Texas, Florida and Ohio come 2011; and let’s not even talk about states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Minnesota that are holding wildly unpredictable contests that could end up in the victory of any of a half-dozen contenders.

There is no mystery as to why the gubernatorial landscape is so competitive. First, 21 states will host open seat contests - a large number that isn’t just due to term-limits since 5 of the retiring executives could have run for another term. Most of these vacancies create golden pick-up opportunities for the opposing party. It will be tough for Democrats to hold on to Oklahoma, Wyoming and Tennessee; Republicans face an uphill climb in defending California, Vermont, Rhode Island and even Minnesota.

Second, the economic crisis and states’ fiscal troubles have plunged most governors in depths of unpopularity: This applies not only to David Paterson and Jim Gibbons, but also to incumbents like Ted Strickland and Chet Culver who at the start of the year looked to enjoy a strong standing. As such, the traditional incumbency advantage is melting away, making most races competitive. Even in states in which the opposing party is unsure to field a top candidate, some governors are facing credible primary threats - Texas, Illinois and New York, for instance.

Interestingly, while Democrats might be facing an increasingly treacherous landscape in the Senate and House battles, the two parties have maintained balance in what they can expect at the gubernatorial level. (At the moment, 5 Dem-held and 4 GOP-held states are rated as lean takeover; 5 GOP-held and 4 Dem-held states are rated as toss-ups.) Whatever happens in congressional elections, it looks likely that Democrats will have a number of major prizes to celebrate at the state level and perhaps even regain their footing in the South, where they have a number of opportunities; as for Republicans, they are in a good position to make major inroads in the Midwest, which would position them well for 2012.

governornovember2009

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held Kansas Iowa
Oklahoma
Tennessee

Wyoming
Colorado
Michigan

Pennsylvania
Wisconsin
Maine
Mass.
Ohio
Illinois
Maryland
NM
NY
Oregon
Arkansas
NH
GOP-held Idaho
Nebraska
Utah
Alaska
SC
SD
Texas
Alabama
Georgia
Arizona
Connecticut
Florida
Minnesota

Nevada
California
Hawaii
RI
Vermont

The full rankings are available here.

Likely Take-over (0 D, 1 R)

1. Kansas (Open)

The 2010 cycle is shaping up to be a disaster for Kansas Democrats, who have been busier sabotaging themselves than searching for viable contenders: Kathleen Sebelius’s departure to Washington left Mark Parkinson in charge of the Governor’s Mansion, giving him an opportunity to run as an incumbent or at least appoint as Lieutenant Governor a politician who could use that position as a springboard for 2010. Not only did Parkinson rule out a run of his own, but he tapped as LG a man who immediately declared he would seek no office. That’s of course not surprising, considering Parkinson used to be the state’s Republican chairman until Sebelius chose him as her running-mate in 2006. This bizarre series of events leaves as the Democrats’ sole candidate retired businessman Tom Wiggans, who should be no match for Sam Brownback. The retiring Senator has also gotten rid of the threat of a primary challenge from SoS Ron Thornburgh, which makes him the overwhelming favorite.

Lean Take-over (4 D, 4 R)

2. Rhode Island (Open)

Republicans are all but certain to lose the governorship of one of the bluest states in the country - but that doesn’t mean Democrats are certain to pick-it up: Everyone expects former Senator Lincoln Chaffee to run as an independent, and he should be a formidable candidate thanks to his personal popularity, to his appeal among centrists and to the likelihood that he’ll emerge as the de facto GOP nominee, since Republicans are failing to field any credible contender. That said, Chaffee lost his re-election race in 2006, raising obvious questions as to his electability. Treasurer Frank Caprio and Attorney General Patrick Lynch are both likely to run in what will be a less crowded primary than we expected (Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Providence Mayor David Cicilline surprisingly ruled out the race in the spring). One potential obstacle for Democrats: The primary will be held very late (September 14), which could make it difficult for the winner to prepare for the general election.

3. Wyoming (Open)

The situation in the country’s smallest state is rather confusing. Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal is term-limited out of office, but he might file a lawsuit challenging the state’s term-limit law. Why might that succeed? In 2004, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling overturning term limits for state legislators, and it presumably would be willing to apply it to gubernatorial terms. If Freudenthal pursues this course of action and succeeds, he would be able to run for re-election, and he is popular enough that the seat should stay in Democratic hands.

Yet, if Freudenthal announces that he’ll retire peacefully - or if courts refuse to overturn the law - Republicans would be in an ideal position to reclaim the seat. The state is so conservative that a Democratic victory in an open seat can only come as a stunning upset (just as Freudenthal’s 2002 victory was), and Republicans have enough prominent candidates (Secretary of State Max Maxfield, state Speaker Colin Simpson and many others) that whoever wins the primary would be heavily favored. Furthermore, Freudenthal’s indecision could hurt his party’s ability to rally around another contender - especially given that it should take many months for the state Supreme Court to issue a decision.

4. Hawaii (Open)

To hold on to the governorship of one of the country’s bluest states, the GOP will need the type of perfect storm that rarely repeats itself. Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona might be a credible candidate (and he’ll be able to count on term-limited Governor Linda Lingle’s popularity) but Democrats are fielding two well-known and well-liked politicians, neither of whom risks upsetting the state’s partisan balance: A summer poll conducted by Research 2000 confirmed that Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann would start with an edge. That said, a bruising Democratic contest could help Aiona given how late Hawaii holds its primaries (September). There is reason to think Abercombie and Hannemann won’t go easy on each other: The two go way back, having faced each other twice in the 1980s!

5. Tennessee (Open)

An open seat in a Southern state, a tough year for Democrats anywhere in the country - let alone in a state that’s been drifting further to the right every cycle and strong Republican candidates: That’s a clear recipe for a Republican takeover. Whoever wins the primary between Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, Rep. Zach Wamp and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam will be favored heading into the general election. That said, it wasn’t that long ago that Tennessee was still loyal to its Democratic roots - and that can matter in a state race more than in a federal one. State Senator Roy Herron, businessman Mike McWherter (the son of the former governor), state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle and former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan are all running, so Democrats will be in a position of staying competitive.

6. Vermont (Open)

Governor Jim Douglas’s unexpected August retirement gave Democrats a golden opportunity to reclaim a position that has escaped them ever since Howard Dean left the Governor’s Mansion in 2002. Not only is Vermont one of the most liberal states in the country, but Democrats also have a strong bench to choose from from: Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, former LG Doug Racine, former state Sen. Matt Dunne, state Sen. Susan Bartless (all of whom are already running) would all start the general election favored. Yet, Republicans should be competitive thanks to the candidacy of Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, who has been elected every two years since 2002. Complicating matters is the fact that the Progressive Party is a major force in the state (in 2008, its gubernatorial nominee came in front of the Democratic candidate) and Democrats have to take Progressive demands seriously if they want to recapture the governorship.

7. Oklahoma (Open)

It’s a testament to Oklahoma voters’ willingness to buck their federal voting patterns in local races that Democrats hold every single of the state’s statewide offices! Heading into the 2010 open seat race, they have two top-tier candidates already running: LG Jari Askins and AG Drew Edmonson. Yet, Oklahoma is as staunchly conservative state as any - and that’s enough to give the GOP an edge in any open seat race. Republicans were not weighed down by their lack of statewide bench: A former Lieutenant Governor, Rep. Mary Fallin managed to impose herself as the GOP’s heir apparent - especially after former Rep. J.C. Watts announced he would not run. Whether she faces Askins or Edmonson, don’t expect Fallin to win the race in a walk but the state’s partisan leanings gives her the early edge.

8. California (Open)

The Golden State was supposed to host a blockbuster of a Democratic primary. Instead, Loretta Sanchez, John Garamendi, Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom dropped out one by one, leaving Attorney General Jerry Brown as the last man standing. Senator Diane Feinstein is still making noise about jumping in, but at this point it is safe to call Brown the presumptive nominee. He will get to stockpile millions he can use to pummel his Republican opponent as soon as one emerges, bloodied and in financial difficulty. Indeed, Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell are locked in an unpredictable 3-way GOP race that has already gotten very heated.

It was never going to be easy for Republicans to defend the governorship of one of the country’s most emblematic blue states, and this asymmetrical situation should only aggravate matters. At first considered the frontrunner, Whitman stumbled due to reports about her nonexistent voting record; the GOP’s best shot might be to nominate the relatively moderate Campbell, but whether he could financially compete in an expensive state like California is an open question. In any case, early polls are showing Brown heavily favored to win against any of them; the reputable Field Poll’s October 2009 survey had him leading by margins ranging from 20% and 25%. Yet, Brown should be careful not to wait for the general election to start offering detailed proposals as to how he’ll fix the state and not to let the GOP dominate the airwaves in the meantime.

9. Iowa (Chet Culver)

Culver has suddenly become one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the 2010 cycle - a startling evolution for someone who won his first term such surprising ease. The recession, which is bound to have more political consequences in the Midwest than elsewhere in the country, damaged his approval rating - and the GOP moved in for the kill by recruiting the most formidable challenger possible: Terry Branstad, who served as Iowa Governor from 1982 to 1998. While Branstad has some vulnerabilities for Culver to exploit (will voters want to reach back more than a decade to satisfy a desire for new leadership? will conservatives reconcile with a man they almost defeated in 1994?), two recent polls showed Culver trailing by the sort of margins incumbents rarely recover from: Rasmussen has Branstad leading 54% to 34%, Selzer 57% to 33%.

You can continue reading the rankings here.

Second Senate rankings: The GOP’s situation improves

Six long months have passed since my previous rankings of the 2010 Senate races, and the situation remains favorable to Democrats. The GOP, which has more tough seats to defend, is set to once again lose seats - a situation made all the more likely in recent months by a wave of Republican retirements in Missouri, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida and Kansas. This deluge of open seats explains why the four most vulnerable races of these rankings - and five of the top six - are held by Republicans.

And yet, the GOP’s situation has improved in recent months - a trend made evident by these Senate rankings. At the end of December, only 2 of the top 11 races were held by Democrats; now, the DSCC has to defend 5 of the top 11 - nearly an even balance. (Of course, Arlen Specter’s party switch, which gives Democrats an additional seat to defend, artificially accentuates that trend.)

For one, Republicans look stronger in a number of states they need to defend. Kansas, which looked like one of the party’s most endangered open seats at the beginning of the year, has completely disappeared off our radar screen. Republican Senators in Louisiana, Arizona and Iowa were all considered endangered, but Democratic chances in these states have been fading. As for Florida, Charlie Crist’s candidacy is a spectacular victory for the NRSC as it goes a long way towards saving the seat; it’s easy to forget how unlikely such a scenario looked earlier this year.

Second, Republicans are playing more offense than expected, which is mostly due to the Democrats’ self-inflicted wounds. In a stunning political collapse, the once-safe Chris Dodd has become one of the cycle’s most vulnerable incumbents. In at least three other states, Republicans have an unexpected shot because of the actions of Democratic Governors. In Illinois, Blagojevich could weigh on Democrats; in Delaware, the appointment of a Beau Biden placeholder opens the door wide for Mike Castle; and in Colorado, Michael Bennet enters his first election more unprepared, untested and vulnerable than other appointments would have.

(As has been the case in recent cycles, however, Republicans are failing to take advantage of some of their opportunities because of recruitment woes. This is most striking in Nevada, Colorado and Arkansas - but also in states defend like New Hampshire.)

All in all then, Democrats are still more likely than not to expand their majority. Yet, the door to yet another round of significant gains is closing - especially when we factor in the fact that these contests will play out in the midterm election of a Democratic president. Perhaps most significantly, and this is not something I was prepared to say earlier this year, Republicans have managed to position themselves in a competitive position in enough races that it is possible to envision them forcing a draw - perhaps even netting a seat! - if the national environment favors them.

senatejune09

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held CT CO
DE (open)
PA
AR
CA
IL
HI
NY-B
NV
WI
IN
MD
ND
NY-A
OR
VT
WA
GOP-held AL
AK
KS (open)
IA
ID
OK
SC
SD
UT
AZ
FL (open)
GA
LA
NC KY
MO (open)
NH (open)
OH (open)

This gets us to the following breakdown:

  • Safe Democratic: 49
  • Safe/Likely Democratic: 56
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 59
  • Toss-ups: 5
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 36
  • Safe/Likely Republican: 35
  • Safe Republican: 31

Outlook: A 1-4 seat gain for Democrats.

Toss-ups (4 R, 1 D)

1. New Hampshire (Open) Last ranking: 6

The comical sequence of events that led to Judd Gregg’s retirement notwithstanding, the situation in the Granite State is fairly straightforward. Republicans have to defend an open race in a state that has been drifting leftward and in which their bench has been decimated, giving the DSCC its best shot at picking-up a Senate seat. To make matters worse for the GOP, Democrats have already rallied around Rep. Paul Hodes while Republicans have no candidate whatsoever. Former Senator John Sununu is mentioned but he has shown no indication that he is considering the race; other options are former Rep. Charlie Bass and former Governor Steve Merrill.

At the present moment, the most likely scenario is that the NRSC fails to land a credible recruit and is forced to turn to a second-tier candidate, allowing Hodes to coast to an easy victory. If one of those higher-profile politicians were to jump in, the GOP would have a fighting chance but even then Hodes would start with the upper-hand. While he is not well-known enough to crush the opposition, Hodes should prove a solid campaigner - not to mention that early polls show him with a lead. As for Sununu, he just suffered a crushing electoral defeat as an incumbent, so why does the GOP think he can do better in 2010?

2. Missouri (Open) Last ranking: 4

To comfort themselves over Kit Bond’s retirement, Republicans should tell themselves that his Senate seat would have been vulnerable even if he had ran for re-election. Yet, Democratic prospects certainly shot up when the race opened. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a well-known politician with a powerful last name, is as formidable a candidate as Democrats could have fielded; early polls show her with the lead.

Republicans, by contrasty, are set to go through a nasty primary between Rep. Roy Blunt and former Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who has already blasted her rival as another “white guy in a suit.” Their expected showdown will fit in the ready-made narrative of the GOP’s civil war (movement conservatives take on the Republican establishment) and that should only heighten the battle’s ferocity. Given that Missouri holds its primaries relatively late, the eventual nominee will only have a few months to mend the fences. (This doomed Republicans in the state’s 2008 gubernatorial race.)

On paper, then, Carnahan has a clear edge - but I do not believe this race should be rated as anything but a toss-up for now. Not only is Missouri a difficult state for Democrats, but we are talking about a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House. If the political environment favors Republicans by next year, independents should shift rightward and Carnahan will automatically face a complicated race, whatever her personal appeal, whatever Blunt’s insider status, whatever the perception of Steelman as extremist.

3. Ohio (Open) Last ranking: 10

George Voinovich’s retirement ensured that Ohio will be one of the most important battlegrounds for the fourth cycle in a row: An open seat in such a closely divided state is sure to be competitive, but Democrats start the race with a narrow advantage. First, Ohio has trended blue over the past few years and the GOP will have to reconquer voters that decisively turned against them; early polls showing the Democratic candidates posting a healthy lead suggests the electorate has not warmed towards Republicans.

Second, I remain skeptical that former Rep. Rob Portman will be as formidable a candidate as the GOP is claiming. The former president will not be as powerful repellent in 2010 as he was in 2008, but Portman’s ties to Bush are too extensive for time to simply wash them away: As trade representative and head of the OMB under the Bush administration, he helped craft the economic policies of Bush’s second term. Third, Democrats have two top contenders in the race: Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Ohio’s primary will be held early enough (May 2010) that this should not hurt them in the general election; if anything, it could keep Democrats in the news at a time Portman will struggle for attention.

4. Kentucky (Jim Bunning) Last ranking: 1

The closest thing we have to an even-odds toss-up, Kentucky’s Senate race is as unpredictable as Jim Bunning. For months, Bunning has been repeating that he will run for re-election but no one is taking him at his word. By continually undercutting him, McConnell and Cornyn have been trying to harass him into retirement and depress his fundraising. This has prompted stunningly enraged reactions from the irascible Senator but the strategy looks to be fruitful: Bunning, who looks increasingly cornered, recently opened the door to quitting if he does not meet his fundraising goals over the next few months. Needless to say, that will only increase the NRSC’s determination to block funding sources.

If Bunning somehow manages to hold off the pressure, his party’s refusal to believe in him combined with senior moments should do him in - not to mention the fact that Democrats have landed two strong recruits: Attorney General Jack Conway and Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo are locked in an establishment-splitting battle that will be resolved early (May) enough not to leave lasting wounds. If Bunning retires, Republican prospects will improve. While the race would remain highly competitive, Kentucky’s red bent could kick in to carry a non-Bunning nominee across the finish line; Secretary of State Trey Grayson looks like the GOP’s best bet.

5. Connecticut (Chris Dodd) Last ranking: 32

At the beginning of the year, Dodd looked like he would coast to re-election. Now, he looks to be one of the two most endangered incumbents of the cycle! What happened? As the chairman of the Banking Committee, Dodd was left particularly vulnerable by the financial sector’s implosion. Some of the criticism he received, for instance on the AIG bonuses, was unfair; but that controversy damaged him only because others came before it: His shady mortgage deal, his coziness with banking executives and contributions he received from companies that are part of the current mess. All of these issues are sure to be revisited in the 2010 campaign.

Republicans are sure to capitalize on this stunning collapse as they have already recruited credible candidates: former Rep. Rob Simmons, former Ambassador Tom Foley and state Senator Sam Caligiuri already in the race. Dodd’s obvious big advantage is that Connecticut is a blue state and the voters he needs to reconquer typically vote Democratic. Thus, they should prove willing to listen to Obama when he vouches for Dodd, as he did recently by crediting his work on the credit card bill. Obama’s praise were featured in Dodd’s first ad, which speaks to his basic argument: Not only he has not been too cozy with the banking industry, but he has taken a leading role in fighting abuses of the system.

Lean Retention (1 R, 4 D)

6. North Carolina (Richard Burr) Last ranking: 7

This Senate seat has switched parties in the past five elections and Richard Burr’s weak poll numbers are giving Democrats hope of prolonging the streak. Not only is Burr struggling in head-to-head match-ups against prominent Democrats, but his name recognition is surprisingly low for someone who has served in Congress since 1995. Yet, Democrats were dealt a significant blow when Attorney General Roy Cooper somewhat unexpectedly ruled out a run and they are still not sure of making this a competitive race.

Democrats still have a deep bench: Potential candidates include Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Reps. Mike McIntyre and Bob Etheridge, former state Speaker Dan Blue and former state Senator Cal Cunningham. Many of them would make viable contenders, though none would start in as strong a position as Cooper - far from it. This might not have mattered in 2008, when low-profile Kay Hagan proved a strong campaigner, but the circumstances will be very different next year. Burr might be more vulnerable than Elizabeth Dole on paper but he will benefit from a less toxic environment. His vulnerability primarily stems from his lack of stature - but North Carolina remains a swing state whose voters should prove open to voting to a generic Republican in a midterm election.

7. Colorado (Michael Bennet) Last ranking: 5

Newly-appointed Michael Bennet has only had a few months to introduce himself to his constituents. While that means he will have the opportunity to solidify his standing in the coming months, we just don’t know whether Bennet, who has never ran for office before, has the campaigns skills to make his introduction a successful one - not to mention that Republicans will have a chance to define him before he has had a chance to make a lasting impression. Factor in that CO remains a swing state whose independent voters could easily turn against Democrats and that Bennet is doing more to upset labor groups than to court them. The result: Bennet is one of the cycle’s most endangered incumbents.

His saving grace could be the GOP’s recruitment woes: We already know that it is highly unlikely the NRSC will manage to field a top-tier candidate as 3 names are left: Councilman Ryan Frazier, former Rep. Bob Beauprez and DA Ken Buck. All three come with liabilities: Beauprez’s electability is under question because of his big defeat in the 2006 gubernatorial race while Frazier and Buck are untested in anything resembling a large-scale political campaign. But remember that the same is true for Bennet. Ritter chose an unknown Democrat to send to the Senate and that means that the GOP will have a shot even with a low-profile recruit. A recent poll found Bennet trailing Beauprez and narrowly leading Frazier and Buck, a sign that he will be vulnerable as long as he draws a credible opponent.

8. Pennsylvania (Arlen Specter) Last ranking: 2

The clear underdog in the Republican primary against Pat Toomey, Senator Arlen Specter switched parties to preserve his career. That boosted Democratic ranks by one - but they were already favored to pick-up the seat, so much so that Specter’s switch might actually improve Republican prospects by making it possible for the GOP nominee not to be Toomey but a more electable Republican. Tom Ridge’s decision to rule out a run was a truly major blow for the NRSC, as he led Specter in a number of polls, but the party has other options.

Also, any Republican nominee - including Toomey - would have a uniquely good opportunity if he were to face Specter in the general election: Since there is no presidential election to draw voters to the polls, how could Democrats ensure there is high enough turnout in Philadelphia, in minority precincts, among liberal voters? As such, dumping Specter could be a wise electoral move for Democrats - not to mention that the incumbent’s center-right ideology is in no way compatible with that of the party’s mainstream (reports to the contrary fly in the face of the available evidence). While the White House and Ed Rendell’s pressure got Joe Torsella and other prominent Democrats not to run, Rep. Joe Sestak looks undaunted and should provide a tough challenge.

9. Delaware (Open) Last ranking: 14

Governor Ruth Minner’s decision to appoint Biden aide Paul Kaufman to the Senate - a transparently nepotistic effort to save the seat for Attorney General Beau Biden - could come back to haunt Democrats. Republican Rep. Mike Castle is now considering jumping in the race; some sources say he is leaning towards doing so. His entrance would make this seat one of the most vulnerable of the cycle as Castle, a popular politician who served two terms as Governor and has represented the entire state in the House since 1992, would be a formidable contender. (Two recent polls show Castle handily beating Biden.)

If Castle does not run, however, the GOP would have no other candidate to turn to: the race would drop down the rankings and Biden would be the overwhelming favorite to win his father’s old seat. It does not even look like he would have to worry about a competitive primary: Former Lieutenant Governor John Carney, who had senatorial ambitions, decided to run in the House seat instead.

Likely retention (8 D, 4 R)

10. Florida (Open) Last ranking: 3

The NRSC scored one its biggest recruitment coups in years in convincing Governor Charlie Crist that he would be better off in Congress. A lot has been written about why Crist might not be invincible, but make no mistake about it: He starts as the overwhelming favorite. The most recent poll shows him demolishing Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek by 35% and 31%, respectively.

Crist’s first test will come in the Republican primary. Hoping to capitalize on the base’s anger at Crist’s moderate positions, Marco Rubio is mounting a strong challenge from the right and he has already secured valuable endorsements like that of Mike Huckabee. Crist’s vulnerability should not be overstated: Polls show he remains popular within Republicans and much of the party’s establishment is rallying around him. Yet, Crist has more to fear than defeat: Florida’s primaries are held in late August, which will leave him little time to recover if he spends the summer of 2010 courting conservatives and focusing on Rubio.

By contrast, Democrats look to have settled on their nominee: Rep. Kendrick Meek is the only prominent Democrat currently in the race and almost all the other politicians who were mulling a run have backed out. This is obviously a testament to Democrats running away from a face-off with Crist, but it is also a reflection of Meek’s unexpectedly strong first few months on the trail. To score an upset, Meek will need to capitalize on Republican divisions and hope that the economic crisis makes Floridians sour on their Governors. That should prove a difficult task - but not an insurmountable one.

11. Arkansas (Blanche Lincoln) Last ranking: 22

Blanche Lincoln’s poll numbers are mediocre and she represents an increasingly conservative state. Yet, Democrats remain dominant at the state level (they hold all statewide offices and supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature) and the NRSC has few potential candidates to court. The party’s best bet - former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin - somewhat unexpectedly announced that he would not run and 71-old state Senator Kim Hendren is no longer sure of pursuing the race after he drew fire for calling Senator Schumer “that Jew.” State Senator Gilbert Baker and and Safe Foods CEO Curtis Coleman are also mentioned, but none of these Republicans are strong enough to guarantee a competitive race.

One potential wild card is that the left’s anger at Lincoln (more than any other Senator, she is responsible for endangering EFCA) could fuel a primary challenge - perhaps against Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, mentioned as a potential candidate. It is also possible for the Green Party to get a strong enough result to complicate Lincoln’s general election calculations.

12. Louisiana (David Vitter) Last ranking: 9

Just a few years ago, David Vitter’s political career looked to have been fatally wounded but the stars are aligning for his re-election campaign. His poll numbers bear little trace of the D.C. Madam’s scandal; Louisiana has continued drifting to the right since Vitter became the state’s Republican Senator since Reconstruction in 2004; and the Senator’s efforts to court conservatives have paid off as it now looks like he will escape a nomination fight: Secretary of State Dardenne is the only Republican that has yet to rule out a run, and he is not expected to jump in the race.

The lack of a competitive Republican primary is a problem for the DSCC: If no conservative voice emerges to attack the Senator’s past actions, Vitter will enter the general election unscathed and the D.C. Madam will remain a distant memory for Louisiana voters. That would not put Democrats in a good position - provided they even recruit a credible contender. None appears willing to declare a race for now, though Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard and state Sen. Eric LaFleur have potential; the Democrats’ strongest bet is likely Rep. Charlie Melancon, who is said to be reconsidering the race. If one of them jumps in, Louisiana could still rise in these ratings.

13. Nevada (Harry Reid) Last ranking: 8

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s numbers look as dismal as ever: A credible challenger could put the Senator in a very precarious position. Yet, the GOP’s recruitment woes have boosted Reid’s re-election prospects and given him hope that he might only face token opposition: former state Senator Joe Heck is running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki is indicted and former Rep. Jon Porter joined a lobbying firm in DC. While some Republicans are hoping that Rep. Dean Heller jumps in, he is believed to be eying the gubernatorial race.

Remain New York banker John Chachas, former state Rep. Sharron Angle and state Senator Mark Amodei - the latter of which looks like the GOP’s most promising prospect. Reid is too powerful and too well-funded a politician to fall to low-profile opponents and he thus looks less vulnerable than he did at the start of the cycle. Yet, he should not get too comfortable: All it would take for him to get as endangered as ever is for the NRSC to convince Porter to leave his cushy new job, to persuade Heller that a Senate race is an appealing option or for Amodei to reveal himself a formidable campaigner (the Hagan of the 2010 cycle).

14. Illinois (Roland Burris) Last ranking: 12

The competition over this Senate seat has been chaotic ever since Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested in early December; today, it remains very difficult to predict who might occupy Obama’s seat come January 2011 since too many of the state’s key players have yet to clarify their plan. The most important decision belongs to Attorney General Lisa Madigan: Her entry would make her the overwhelming favorite but she looks far more interested in the gubernatorial race.

After Madigan, the most important politician to follow is Rep. Mark Kirk, as his decision will tell us whether Republicans have a shot at contesting the race. A recent poll shows that Kirk would be very competitive but the GOP lacks another viable candidate. As for a Democratic primary sans Madigan, it should prove highly suspenseful. The establishment should split between Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Chris Kennedy, whose main qualification is his last name; Schalowsky’s decision not to run leaves an opening for another left-leaning, labor-friendly Democrat to benefit from those divisions and clinch the nomination.

One politician whose decision should have little influence on the race is Burris. He has been able to outlive the media’s attention span but that does not make him a viable candidate - nor does it get him rid of the Blago scandal. If he runs, his only chance at the nomination would be to score a small plurality in a very crowded primary - but that would be such an unmitigated disaster for Democrats that the DSCC will surely work to ensure it does not happen.

15. New York (Kristen Gillibrand) Last ranking: 16

The competitiveness of New York’s Senate race remains impossible to predict: Kirsten Gillibrand could face a highly difficult race just as she could face no credible opposition. Her first test, of course, will come in the Democratic primary. A few months ago, state Democrats looked so frustrated at Gillibrand’s appointment that many looked likely to either back a challenger or at least stay neutral. But the situation has changed dramatically over the past few weeks as Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer dialed up the pressure on Gillibrand’s rivals to withdraw.

With Steve Israel, Scott Stringer and Carolyn McCarthy’s unexpected exits, Gillibrand has one obstacle left, but it is a major one: Rep. Carolyn Maloney. (I remain skeptical that Jose Serrano is as serious about running.) Either Maloney does not run and it is hard to see who or what could prevent Gillibrand from winning a full Senate term, or she does jump in the race and sets up a battle royale as she would have the funds, seniority and endorsements to capitalize on liberal angst and put together a winning coalition of downstate and Hispanic voters. But will she be able to wage battle against the Democratic establishment?

Gillibrand’s name recognition and poll numbers remain low enough that she might also have to worry about the general election: Rep. Peter King and Governor George Pataki are both eying a run. Surveys show Gillibrand leading the former but tied or trailing against the latter. She should gain ground as her name recognition improves but she could still be in some danger depending on how the next year plays out - especially if David Paterson tops the Democratic ticket.

16. Arizona (John McCain) Last ranking: 21

Ever since Janet Napolitano joined Obama’s Cabinet, no viable Democrat has been rumored to be considering challenging John McCain. And yet, the former presidential candidate could face a tough race: Chris Simcox, the head of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, has announced that he will run in the Republican primary. As I explained in this post, Simcox should not be underestimated: As the 2008 campaign revealed, enough Arizona Republicans distrust McCain that a prominent conservative like Simcox could pull an upset by rallying voters around his far-right proposals and reminding them why they distrust their Senator.

This primary is certainly not guaranteed to be competitive but it undoubtedly has the potential to get explosive - and it could give the DSCC an opening. If it looks like Simcox has a chance to win the nomination, a credible Democrat is sure to plunge in the race and a suspenseful Republican showdown and a win-win situation. If Simcox somehow scores the upset, he would have a tough time winning the general election; if McCain survives, he might do so diminished, wounded and having alienated conservative voters. In short, it would be political malpractice for Democrats not to field a credible candidate - but whom?

17. Hawaii (Daniel Inouye) Last ranking: 15

84-year old Daniel Inouye insists that he will run for a ninth term in 2010. Given that Inouye has been in Congress as long as Hawaii has been a state, it’s hard to see imagine him facing a competitive re-election race. On the other hand, we should not rule out things getting heated if term-limited GOP Governor Linda Lingle jumps in the race since Inouye’s age opens the door to major gaffes and senior moments.

If Inouye decides to retire after all, Democrats will start with the upper-hand because of the state’s allegiance to their party (Obama received 70%) but Lingle would also be far more likely to jump in and make Hawaii’s Senate race a top takeover opportunity for the GOP. Fortunately for Democrats, there is currently little buzz surrounding an Inouye retirement or a Lingle challenge.

18. Georgia (Johnny Isakson) Last ranking: 23

As a Republican Senator from a red state, Johnny Isakson does not look to have much to worry but some Democrats have been monitoring the race. They point to Isakson’s mediocre approval rating, to Saxby Chambliss’s struggles in the 2008 cycle and to two recent polls that show the incumbent barely leading a number of Democrats. Yet, it is hard to see such third-tier races come into play since the environment will not be as toxic for Republicans as it was in 2008 - not to mention that no prominent Democrat (starting with those tested by the surveys mentioned above) are considering challenging Isakson.

Instead, most of the state’s viable Democrats are looking at the open Governor’s race. Now that former Governor Roy Barnes has announced he wants to claim his old job back, might one of the other potential contenders (Attorney General Baker, former Secretary of State David Poythress, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond) notice that Isakson’s polls numbers are mediocre and jump in the Senate race instead?

19. California (Barbara Boxer) Last ranking: 13

Barbara Boxer might not be the most popular of politicians - her re-elect numbers in the Field poll were mediocre - but she is a Democratic Senator in one of the bluest states in the country. Unless the environment gets so toxic for Democrats as it did for the GOP in 2006 and 2008, she should sail into a fourth term. And before even dreaming of big upsets, the NRSC needs to land a top candidate.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger all but ruled out a run earlier this year. Now, Republicans are now hoping to recruit Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who could pour some of her own money in the race. (Assemblyman Chuck DeVore is already running, but he does not have enough stature to endanger Boxer.) Even if Schwarzenegger or Fiorina enter the race, Democrats would not have much to worry about. Schwarzenegger, in particular, has become so unpopular that it is hard to see him as a viable contender. Two March polls found Boxer crushing both Schwarzenegger and Fiorina; in particular, the reliable Field Poll found her ahead by 24% and 30%, respectively.

20. Wisconsin (Russ Feingold) Last ranking: 20

Russ Feingold looks likely to coast to re-election. Wisconsin Republicans don’t have a deep bench to start with, so the fact that most of the party’s viable politicians are eying the gubernatorial race is not helping the NRSC put this Senate seat in play. The party’s best bet, 38-year old Rep. Paul Ryan, has ruled out challenging Feingold - though he has expressed more interest in going after Senator Kohl in 2012; state Attorney General John Van Hollen is sometimes mentioned, but he has not attracted much buzz in recent months. And it’s not like Feingold would suddenly find himself on the brink of defeat if the NRSC did recruit a top candidate: A three-term incumbent, he is a popular Democrat who represents a state Obama won by 13%.

Safe

21. Iowa (Chuck Grassley) Last ranking: 17

The cycle began with a wave of Republican retirements, and Democrats were hoping that Chuck Grassley would follow Kit Bond, George Voinovich and Judd Gregg’s lead. But Grassley has made it clear that he is planning to run for re-election - he struck a deal with Jeff Sessions in order to become the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee at the start of the next Congress - and deny Democrats a golden opportunity to pick-up an open seat. The DSCC does not look capable of mounting a strong challenge to Grassley; party activist Bob Krause is the only declared candidate and no prominent names are being brandished as potential contenders.

22. North Dakota (Byron Dorgan) Last ranking: 18

Small states rely on the seniority of their incumbents, and that is enough to make Byron Dorgan - the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and of the Committee on Indian Affairs - as safe as a Democrat can be in North Dakota. The only Republican who can threaten him is popular Governor John Hoeven.

In 2006, the NRSC already tried and failed to recruit Hoeven to run for Senate - that time against Kent Conrad. Since then, the state has moved significantly leftward: George W. Bush won the race by 27%, John McCain by only 8%. Even if Hoeven does run, Dorgan would start with the upper-hand: A poll conducted in February showed the Senator crushing the Governor 57% to 35%. Unless Hoeven’s internal polls are telling him something dramatically different, he is unlikely to launch in the race.

23. Washington (Patty Murray) Last ranking: 19

In 2004, Republicans made a lot of noise about challenging Patty Murray but the Senator easily won re-election in what was a generally good year for Republicans. Since then, Washington has grown even more reliably Democratic and how could a three-term Democratic incumbent lose re-election in a state that gave Barack Obama a 17% victory? Not only does the GOP have a thin bench in the state, but a recent poll showed that Murray wouldn’t have to worry even if the NRSC managed to recruit its top prospects - Rep. Dave Reichert and Attorney General Rob McKenna, neither of whom are expected to run.

24. South Carolina (Jim DeMint) Last ranking: 24

South Carolina Democrats never looked likely to mount a competitive run given the state’s sharp Republican turn, but the fact DeMint was a freshman gave them some hope of putting his first re-election race on the radar screen. Yet, the first few months of the cycle have seen little buzz surround potential challengers. Former Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum recently took herself out of the running, and other Democrats (like former state party chair Joe Erwin) are understandably more interested in the open gubernatorial race.

25. Kansas (Open) Last ranking: 11

For now, this race is the Democrats’ biggest disappointments of the cycle. Governor Kathleen Sebelius would have made a formidable contender for this seat left open by Sam Brownback, with one poll showing her beating Rep. Jim Moran and Rep. Todd Tiahrt by double-digits, but Obama appointed her HHS Secretary. That move virtually rules out the possibility that Democrats win their first Senate seat in Kansas since the 1930s. Simply put, Democrats have no one else to run; and if they miraculously find a viable statewide candidate, they are likely to push him or her in the gubernatorial race.

This does not mean that the Senate race will not be competitive, only that the action will only happen in the Republican primary. While there is little policy disagreements between Moran and Thiart, their showdown could become the latest chapter in the Kansas GOP’s ideological war. Ever since his time as the state Senate’s Majority Leader, Moran has managed to bridge the conservative and moderate factions; Tiahrt, meanwhile, has the profile of a movement conservative with ties to pro-life groups. At least, the NRSC won’t have to worry about a nasty primary’s consequences on the general election.

26. Maryland (Mikulski) Last ranking: 26

Barbara Mikulski has long been rumored to be considering retirement though she has said she will run for re-election and the speculation is now dying down. If she does bow out of the race, Democrats will be favored to keep the seat though the race will rise in the rankings; if she runs for re-election, Mikulski will be one of the cycle’s safest incumbents.

27. Oklahoma (Tom Coburn) Last ranking: 31

On June 1st, Senator Tom Coburn announced that he will seek re-election. Given his profile as the Senate’s most conservative member, Democrats would have celebrated his departure even if his replacement had been sure to be a Republican (none of his potential replacements would have been as far to the right); add to that the fact that an open race would have been winnable for Democrats and Coburn’s decision becomes all the more disappointing for the DSCC.

Coburn is very heavily favored to win a second term. Not only is he popular in his home state, it also looks highly improbable that the DSCC can land one of the few Democrats who could potentially have a shot: Governor Brad Henry has made it clear that he does not want to move to Washington while Rep. Boren has no reason to give up his House seat for such a quixotic run.

28. Oregon (Ron Wyden) Last ranking: 27

Heading into the 2010 cycle, it looked unlikely that two-term Senator Ron Wyden would attract top opposition. Six months later, there is still little talk of Oregon’s Senate race. Not only do no potential challenger looks interested, but the one Republican who could potentially make things interesting - former Senator Gordon Smith - arguably took him out of midterm play by taking a job at a lobbying firm. Add to this the fact that Oregon reconnected with its Democratic roots last year, and it is difficult to envision how the GOP can endanger Wyden.

29. Alaska (Lisa Murkowski) Last ranking: 25

The biggest threat to Lisa Murkowski’s re-election was that Sarah Palin might challenge her in the Republican primary, but the Alaska Governor has made it as clear as possible that she will not do so. Compared to the fireworks that primary showdown would have produced, the general election looks like a formality for Murkowski.

In 2008, Alaska proved that it was one of the most reliably Republican states of the country and that it takes nothing short of a conviction on felony charges for voters to barely agree to kick out a GOP incumbent. And it’s not like not like Democrats have many candidates left to run against Murkowski: Knowles’ repeated losses probably disqualifies him and Ethan Berkowitz’s stunning 2008 failure does not inspire confidence. Might state Senator Hollis French, a potential candidate, be able to mount a decent campaign?

30. South Dakota (John Thune) Last ranking: 29

The DSCC’s one hope of forcing a competitive race in South Dakota is to recruit Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Contrary to expectations, she is indeed considering seeking a promotion - but she understandably looks more interested in running in the open gubernatorial race than in challenging the popular Thune. Even if Herseth Sandlin jumps in, Democrats should not expect a miracle: A recent poll showed Thune with a comfortable lead against the state’s lone House member.

31. Utah (Bob Bennett) Last ranking: 36

Believe it or not, Bob Bennett might actually face a tough re-election battle. Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Republican former Juab County Attorney David Leavitt are preparing to challenge the three-term Senator, and Bennett could run into trouble at the state’s Republican convention, where conservative delegates might hand him an embarrassing defeat that would set up an all-out war in the primary. Unfortunately for Democrats, they are in no position to take advantage of the GOP’s divisions.

Bennett’s saving grace could very well be Governor Jon Huntsman’s nomination as Ambassador to China: That triggered a special gubernatorial election that might look like a more attractive option to ambitious Republicans like Shurtleff. The same goes for Democrats: Even if Rep. Jim Matheson or Salt Like City Mayor Bob Baker decide they want to take a huge risk and jump in a statewide contest, they would be more likely to run in the special gubernatorial election triggered by Jon Huntsman’s nomination as Ambassador to China.

32. Alabama (Richard Shelby) Last ranking: 28

First elected as a Democrat in 1986, Richard Shelby switched parties in 1994. Since then, the state has become increasingly Republican; while Democrats were surprisingly successful in 2008, they have had trouble staying competitive. In 2010, no credible Democrat is even mentioned as a potential challenger to Shelby: Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and Rep. Arthur Davis are running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom is running for re-election, and Reps. Bright and Parker are too junior to be strong candidates.

33. Indiana (Evan Bayh) Last ranking: 30

Evan Bayh served two terms as Governor before winning two senatorial elections - in 1998 and in 2004. Heading into the 2010 cycle, he remains popular, has a huge war chest and he can take comfort in the fact that he no longer represents a ruby red state: Despite Bush’s 21% victory in 2004, Barack Obama pulled out a narrow victory - in the process registering thousands of voters that will help state Democrats in the years ahead. That is enough to keep potential Republican candidates at bay.

34. Vermont (Pat Leahy) Last ranking: 33

At the beginning of the cycle, I wrote that this seat would only pop on our radar screen if Leahy retires or if Governor Jim Douglas jumps in the race. Since then, neither man has shown any sign of considering such steps - and a January poll suggested that Leahy would have no trouble crushing Douglas if the Governor did choose to launch in this quixotic challenge.

35. New York (Chuck Schumer) Last ranking: 34

Even if New York Republicans manage to get their act together and find strong contenders willing to run statewide, they will target Kirsten Gillibrand and David Paterson - not Chuck Schumer, a popular incumbent and a formidable fundraiser who is sure to coast to re-election.

36. Idaho (Mike Crapo) Last ranking: 35

In 2004, Senator Mike Crapo ran unopposed and won more than 99% of the vote. Finding a candidate to run would already represent progress for Democrats; state Senator Nicole LeFevour was briefly mentioned but she ruled out a run.

2010 House ratings, part 2: Dem-held seats

The 2010 cycle is heating up, top-tier congressional candidates are jumping in the race and the national parties are thinking about the seats they should target in the midterm elections. In short, the time has come for new House ratings! Two weeks ago, I took a race-by-race look at 62 GOP-held seats that we could be hearing about next year. Now, it’s time to move on to the vulnerable seats that Democrats will need to defend: I have identified a list of 68 seats that could host competitive races.

The overall numbers suggest the two parties must defend a comparable number of seats, but the detailed breakdown favors Republicans: 28 Dem-held seats are rated “toss-up” or “lean retention,” categories that indicate that these races are already competitive. By contrast, I have given these most-vulnerable ratings to only 18 GOP-held seats.

This differential is not surprising. Over the past two cycles, Democrats picked up a net 54 seats. Many of these were blue-leaning districts like IA-02 and NM-01 that Republicans wil be hard-pressed to recovered, but the vast majority were either swing districts or red-leaning districts that the GOP has an obvious shot at contesting. Add to that the fact that incumbents are typically most vulnerable in their first re-election race and it becomes clear that the NRCC has a wealth of Democrats it can target.

Yet, Republicans should be careful not to let themselves be distracted by marginally vulnerable seats. Unless Barack Obama’s approval rating declines so much that his party face a toxic environment, not all of these recently elected Democrats will be vulnerable enough to be defeated. Thus, the NRCC needs to carefully consider which districts should be targeted in priority.

The obvious answer is the Dem-held districts that gave John McCain clear majorities - and there are a lot. Districts like AL-02, AL-05, ID-01 and MD-01, MS-01 are heavily conservative districts represented by freshmen Democrats; they will be at the top of the GOP’s list. To this list, the NRCC would love to add heavily conservative seats held by Democratic veterans (AR-01, AR-02 and TX-17).

A second group of targets include districts that were close in 2008 but that gave George W. Bush a large victory - a sign that they are in conservative territory that Obama did not manage to swing enough to turn decisively blue: Districts like CO-04, NC-08, NY-29, OH-01, VA-02 and VA-05 are all likely to be contested next year.

Beyond those obvious targets, where should the GOP turn? The answer will largely depend on the quality of Republican recruitment. Districts like AZ-01, CT-05, IL-14, NJ-03, NV-03, OH-16 and WI-08 all have the potential to be competitive, but only if the GOP can field the type of top-tier challengers it often failed to recruit in 2006 and in 2008. And that gets us to the most important question mark of the upcoming cycle: How much of the Democrats’ recent gains were due to the very favorable political environment? Which of the dozens of districts the party conquered experienced a short-term fluke and which experienced a long-term political transformation?

Republicans insist that many districts such as FL-08, OH-01 and PA-03 would not have switched over had their nominees not been weighed down by Bush. While that might be true, it does not negate the Democrats’ response that in each of these districts they had landed top recruits that will make for strong incumbents with no obvious vulnerability. But will they survive their first re-election race, when independent voters who were behaving like Democrats in 2006 and in 2008 might no longer be as sour towards the GOP?

house10-dems

I have tried to build as exhaustive a list as possible and include any district that could potentially be competitive next year. In particular, I have included many first-term lawmakers, even those who sit in relatively safe districts, as freshmen often make the most vulnerable incumbents. Many of these races could drop out of the ratings in the months ahead, but for now it is worth keeping an open eye and monitoring recruitment activities in as many districts as possible.

The rather detailed race-by-race analysis is available here.

2010 House ratings, part 1: GOP-held seats

The 2010 cycle is heating up, top-tier congressional candidates are jumping in the race and the national parties are thinking about the seats they should target in the midterm elections. In short, the time has come for new House ratings! I have put together a detailed, race-by-race look at 62 GOP-held seats that we could be hearing about next year. (A look at vulnerable Democratic seats will come later.)

Over the past two cycles, Democrats picked up a net 54 seats, which means that most of the obviously vulnerable GOP-held districts have already fallen in Democratic hands. Only 6 districts currently held by Republicans voted for John Kerry in 2004: LA-02 (Rep. Cao), DE-AL (Rep. Castle), IL-10 (Rep. Kirk), PA-06 (Rep. Gerlach), WA-08 (Rep. Reichert) and PA-15 (Rep. Dent). Unsurprisingly, 5 of these 6 districts are currently rated as toss-up - a distinction shared by only one other GOP-held district: AK-AL, which will remain on the list as long as Don Young remains the Republican candidate.

With few low-hanging fruits left for Democrats to go after, what other districts should the party focus on? The answer is obvious: Now that the Kerry districts have nearly all been won over, the DCCC can concentrate on the 34 GOP-held districts that voted for Barack Obama. Of particular interest to Democrats are the 8 traditionally Republican California districts that took wild swings in 2008. Similar districts exist in VA, NE, IL and MI - which means that many Republicans who probably did not expect to ever face much danger now find themselves with a target on their back.

Yet, this could prove somewhat tricky to navigate as Democrats are unlikely to benefit from as expanded a field as they did last year. Which of these 34 districts, then, will remain open to voting for a Democrat in a less friendly environment? Which experienced a short-term fluke and which experienced a long-term political transformation?

The final list of competitive districts will depend on the quality of Democratic recruitment. Many of these districts are so historically Republican that Democrats have a thin bench and no obvious challenger, which could mean that certain of these races disappear from the ratings in the months ahead. Other once-safe Republicans have already drawn credible challengers, like in CA-45 and in CA-48. All in all, the Democrats’ ideal scenario is a wave of retirements by frightened incumbents, creating such an open seat headache for the NRCC that the GOP will be unable to focus on attacking Democratic incumbents.

house10-1

I have tried to build as exhaustive a list as possible and include any district that could potentially be competitive next year; in particular, I have included many first-term lawmakers, even those who sit in relatively safe districts, as freshmen often make the most vulnerable incumbents. Many of these races could drop out of the ratings in the months ahead, but for now it is worth keeping an open eye and monitoring recruitment activities in as many districts as possible.

The rather detailed race-by-race analysis is available here.

2010 Governor rankings: For once, Democrats are on the defensive

What a change! In the last cycle, we had 11 gubernatorial races to follow, only three of which were even remotely competitive by the fall of 2008. Now, we have to keep track of a total of 38 races, a stunning 22 of which are currently rated as competitive (i.e. in the categories “lean take-over,” “toss-up” or “lean retention”). And for once, it is Democrats who are on the defensive! 14 Dem-held seats are currently rated as competitive, versus only 8 Republican governorships.

The main source of trouble for both parties are the open seats. Due to most states’ two-term limit laws, 17 Governors are barred from seeking re-election and are leaving their seat open for the taking - a stunningly huge number that should give every political junkie shivers of excitement.

Given that both parties had captured some unlikely governorships in the 2002 cycle, the first major question of the cycle is whether they will even be able to mount any sort of credible defense in states where the other party is typically the strongest: Can Democrats stay competitive in Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming - all staunchly red states? And can Republicans hope to keep Hawaii, Rhode Island and (most importantly) California?

Not all open races are like the aforementioned states, however. Some will be held in swing states, and should thus be the most closely contested contests of the cycle. Unfortunately for Democrats, they will have to defend the three most important of these competitive open seats: Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania - the holy triptych of 2010 gubernatorial races. All three are states that have been trending Democratic, but that will only make the GOP more desperate to stop the bleeding and show it can still win statewide. It would constitute progress for Republicans to win even one of these seats, and they already have the slightest of edges in Virginia. (The two others are pure toss-ups.)

And this is not all! Both parties have a number of open seats to defend that might be competitive depending on the opposing party’s recruitment and the national environment. Republicans are favored to hold on to Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina or South Dakota, but they should be careful not to be complacent; the same is true for Democrats in Maine, New Mexico and Oregon.

As if this avalanche of open seats was not enough, we will have to keep an eye on a large number of vulnerable incumbents, starting with four who are sure to face a competitive race: Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Jim Gibbons of Nevada, Janice Brewer of Arizona and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Those who could face a competitive race depending on recruitment and environmental factors include Colorado’s Bill Ritter, Ohio’s Ted Strickland, New York’s David Paterson, Illinois’s Pat Quinn and Connecticut’s Jodi Rell.

Quite a cycle indeed! And the action kicks off in just a few months, since New Jersey and Virginia’s election is scheduled for November 2009. Here is a table recapping the different ratings. Open seats are italicized, and clicking on a state’s name will take you to its description:

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held KS
TN
WY
MI
PA
OK
VA
CO
IL

NE
NM
OH
OR
WI
IA
MD
ME
NY
AR
MA
NH
GOP-held AK
FL
ID
NE
UT
CT
GA
SC
VT
AL
AZ
MN
SD
CA
NV
HI
RI

governor1

Lean Take-over (3 D, 2 R)

1. Wyoming (Open)

Dave Freudenthal scored a major upset in 2002, beating a Republican opponent that was expected to prevail. Now, he is term-limited out of office, and Democrats will be hard pressed to hold on to this job in a staunchly red state where Republicans control most levels of power, including huge margins in both chambers of the state legislature.

It is hard to feel passionate about Wyoming’s governorship, and it will still take a while for the field of contenders to shake up. Most names that are circulating for now are Republican, including party chairman Fred Parady, former party chairman Tom Sansonetti or Secretary of State Max Maxfield.

2. Rhode Island (Open)

Rhode Island is just as staunchly blue as Wyoming is ruby red, and Democrats are poised to claim the gubernatorial mansion now that Donald Carcieri is term-limited. The Democrat who attracts the most buzz is David Cicilline, Providence’s openly gay Mayor. Will Cicilline become the first politician to be elected Governor as an already-out gay man? As is expected in such a liberal state, Democrats have a long list of potential candidates, starting with Attorney General Patrick Lynch and Treasurer Frank Caprio.

Meanwhile, it is a testament to the weakness of the GOP bench that one of the only Republican names mentioned is former Mayor Stephen Laffey, a conservative Republican who mounted an impressive primary challenge against then-Senator Lincoln Chaffee in 2006. (Chaffee survived by only 6%.) Other potential GOP candidates are Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and state Rep. Joe Trillo.

The wild card in this race is the possibility that Chaffee jumps in as an independent. (He quit the GOP shortly after his 2006 defeat to then-Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse.) A three-way race could prove very entertaining, but the Democrat would still start the race with the upper-hand: Rhode Island is blue enough that any Democratic nominee starts with a strong level of base support, and Chaffee would bleed votes from the right if the GOP fields a credible nominee like Laffey.

3. Hawaii (Open)

Republicans have never enjoyed much success in Hawaii, and Linda Lingle’s 2002 victory was a major upset that gave the GOP hope it could advance its cause in the state. But very little has happened since then to endanger the Democrats’ hold on Hawaii, and whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will be favored to win this open seat. (Lingle is term-limited.)

There are a number of Democratic candidates who have expressed interest in a run, including Rep. Neil Abercombie, former Rep. Ed Case, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. On the Republican side, the most obvious contender is Lieutenant Governor James Aiona; Lingle is popular enough a Governor that Aiona could have a chance if he ties himself to the term-limited incumbent.

4. Kansas (Open)

Popular Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius cannot run for re-election due to term limits, and the GOP is confident it can reclaim the governorship of one of the country’s most conservative states. And Republicans have an interesting stat on their side: Since 1965, a Kansas Governor has never been replaced by a Governor of the same party. Boosting Republican optimism is the possibility that Senator Sam Brownback (who has already announced he will not run for re-election in 2010) jumps in the gubernatorial race. Brownback would obviously be a formidable candidate, and his entry would surely be enough to clear the Republican field in a state in which the GOP’s internal divisions have been the main obstacle to their rule.

Democrats have their own candidate waiting in the wings: Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson, who was a Republican until Sebelius recruited him to be on her ticket in 2006 in an effort to exploit the state GOP’s severe ideological rift. If Brownback is running, there might not be much Parkinson can do to stop him, but he would nonetheless be a viable Democratic nominee.

5. Tennessee (Open)

Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen is barred from running for a third term, and the state has swung to the Republican column so much in the past decade that the GOP starts with the upper-hand, making the GOP nomination that much more attractive. Former Senator Bill Frist’s decision to stay out of the race cleared the way for other Republicans to jump in, and Rep. Zach Wamp wasted no time before doing so; Wamp is expected to face a competitive primary, with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam as his most probable competitor.

This is not to say that Democrats have given up hope of keeping the seat, and they have a number of viable potential candidates - starting with former Rep. Harold Ford and state Senator Andy Berke. Rep. Lincoln Davis was expected to jump in the race, but he recently decided against it after joining the House Appropriations Committee; as for Ford, he ran an excellent Senate campaign in 2006 only to come up short; it should be easier for him to win a state race than a federal one.

Toss-up (4 D, 2 R)

6. Oklahoma (Open)

As the rest of the country colored itself blue in November, Oklahoma anchored itself in the Republican column and became the only state in which John McCain won every single county. With Democratic Governor Brad Henry barred from seeking a third term due to the state’s term limit laws, the GOP is understandably looking forward to contesting an open seat race.

Yet, Democrats have been successful at the state level in recent years, and they currently hold every single statewide office! (They were particularly successful in the 2006 cycle.) Not only does this mean that they have a good bench to choose from, it also suggests that state voters have no problem sending Democrats to Oklahoma City. In particular, Democrats will be looking to convince Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmonson, both of which would be very credible candidates. Republicans have no obvious candidate since they have been shut out of statewide offices; former Lieutenant Governor and current Rep. Mary Falin is most often mentioned.

7. California (Open)

The race is ranked a toss-up because both parties have muddied fields and it will take a long time to determine the shape of this contest. That said, Democrats have the clear upper-hand. The special circumstances of the 2003 recall race helped the GOP score an upset: It allowed Republicans to field a moderate candidate without his having to first face conservatives in the primary, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was then able to capitalize on the discontent felt against Davis. Now, Davis is gone, Schwarzenegger cannot run for a third term due to state term limit laws, and the GOP candidate will be selected by the state’s conservative primary voters.

These problematic circumstances leave Republicans with little comfort as they confront this simple fact: California is one of the most reliably Democratic states in the country (Obama received 61% of the vote), and reclaiming its Governor’s mansion is one of the Democrats’ top priorities in 2010.

There is understandably a very long list of Democrats looking to jump in the gubernatorial primary: Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi has already declared his candidacy, while former Governor Jerry Brown and San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom are all but certain to do so in the weeks ahead. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also harbors gubernatorial ambitions, but he must concentrate on his re-election race this spring before starting to preparing a statewide run. The biggest wild card is Senator Diane Feinstein, who would probably scare away many Democrats (and Republicans) if she were to run; on the other hand, Feinstein is conservative enough that she would be sure to face at least one strong challenger who would run to her left.

Deprived of Schwarzenegger, who can Republicans run whose credentials are moderate enough to win the general election and conservative enough to survive the primary? State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former EBay CEO Meg Whitman are both seen as probable candidates, and the GOP is putting most of its hopes in the latter. But there are a number of question marks surrounding Whitman. For one, will conservatives view her as acceptable - and would Whitman be able to avoid going so far to the right as to endanger her general election chances? Given that she has never faced voters before, how would she stack up to state Democrat’s formidable machine?

8. Nevada (Jim Gibbons)

Jim Gibbons is arguably the most unpopular Governor in the country; polls often show more than 70% of respondents disapproving of his performance. This is certainly not surprising given the number of controversies that have embroiled the former congressman: a very messy divorce that has captivated the state, allegations of sexual misconduct, a federal bribery investigation, shady land deals, undeclared donations, and the list goes on. Needless to say, Gibbons might not even run for re-election - and Republicans are certainly hope he bows out. If Gibbons does run, it is conceivable that he could face a competitive primary if Rep. Dean Heller (who replaced Gibbons in the House in 2006) challenges him for the GOP nomination.

On the Democratic side, there are a number of credible contenders who are considering bids, starting with state House Speaker Barbara Buckley, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, state Treasurer Kate Marshall, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. But the highest-profile name is that of Rory Reid, son of Senator Harry Reid and the Chairman of the Clark County Commission. Any of these Democrats would guarantee a competitive race, though the party could face a problem if Rory Reid wins the nomination: Harry is also up for re-election in 2010, and it might not be the best combination for two Reids to lead the Democrats’ ticket in the state. After all, Harry does not enjoy the highest of approval ratings.

9. Virginia (open, 2009 contest)

For two decades, the party that is shut out of the White House has won Virginia’s gubernatorial election. Republicans hope that the trend will continue in 2009 so that they can recapture the governorship that has been out of their hand since Mark Warner’s victory in 2001. Yet, the continued growth of blue Northern Virginia has changed the state. The state GOP is on the run after Democrats captured both Senate positions and scored a presidential victory. Thus, the stakes are high in next fall’s gubernatorial race: Yet another Democratic statewide victory after Kaine’s, Webb’s, Obama’s and Warner’s would confirm Virginia’s remarkable transition - and Republicans will do everything to show that they can still win in the Old Dominion.

The good news for the GOP is that Attorney General Robert McDonnell is running uncontested in the primary after Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling’s surprising decision not to seek the governorship. Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing to go through a tough three-way primary that will be resolved in June. Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe is facing two state legislators, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds. Whoever moves on to the general election will have his hands full (a recent poll shows McDonnell leading all three Democrats), and this race is likely to remain a toss-up until well in the fall.

10. Michigan (Open)

The Wolverine State has been spiraling downward for much of the decade, and Democrats have gotten their share of the blame since they have held power in Lansing. This transformed Michigan into the most vulnerable blue state for much of 2008, at least until the fall’s economic crisis dramatically undercut McCain’s support among blue-collar voters and transformed Michigan into a cemetery for Republicans.

Despite the 2008 results, Michigan remains an evenly divided state. Both parties control a number of statewide offices, one chamber of the state legislature and about half of the House representatives. On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor John Cherry is the favorite, though Flint Mayor Don Williamson has already announced his candidacy; state House Speaker Andy Dillon, state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero are already rumored as candidates. On the Republican side, there are more high-profile names circulating, including Attorney General Mike Cox, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Rep. Mike Rogers, Rep. Candice Miller, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon.

Given the caliber of the actors involved, the stakes for the 2010 open gubernatorial race are high. Democrats will do their best to put the state out of the swing state column by scoring yet another decisive victory, and Republicans will try to prove that they are still competitive as Michigan is the type of populist state the GOP needs to reconquer power; failing to contest Michigan would prove to be the end of the Reagan Coalition. Much will depend on the economic situation and which party voters have come to blame if conditions have not improved.

11. Pennsylvania (Open)

Pennsylvania’s governorship is one of the biggest prizes of the 2010 cycle, and it is a particularly symbolic one for both parties. The Keystone State has been drifting to the Democratic column over the past decade, but it has still not moved out of the swing state column. Letting this large state become reliably blue is something they simply cannot afford, so (just as in Michigan and in Virginia) Republicans will want to show they can still be competitive in Pennsylvania.

A large number of contenders from both parties are considering jumping in the race. On the Republican side, moderate Rep. Jim Gerlach and conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey could wage an ideological warfare that could boost Attorney General Tom Corbett or former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan. On the Democratic side, a number of statewide officials (Auditor General Jack Wagner, Treasurer Robin Weisserman) could fight against lesser-known Democrats like Tom Knox, a wealthy businessman who is looking to self-fund his campaign.

Needless to say, there are too many candidates on both sides to have any idea of what the race will look like a year from now. When races are this open and with no power of incumbency stabilizing the situation, things are unlikely to settle down before the primaries roll around and much will depend on the national environment and economic conjecture at the time the nominees are selected and introduce themselves to voters. Until, both parties have reason to be hopeful: Democrats will be boosted by 2008’s hundreds of thousands of newly registered voters, Republicans by the fascinating trivia that parties have traded the governorship every eight years since WWII!

Lean Retention (7 D, 4 R)

12. Minnesota (Tim Pawlenty)

Governor Pawlenty barely survived his 2006 re-election race, and Democrats are determined to make up for that loss this year. Pawlenty’s status as a rising Republican star who featured prominently in McCain’s veepstakes and is mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate should make Democrats even more determined to take him down while he is still Governor. Minnesota is blue enough that any Republican incumbent will find it challenging to win re-election; but it is also the type of state in which voters might be particularly open to punishing Democrats if they are not content with the Obama Administration in 2010. In other words, Pawlenty is likely cruise to re-election if the midterm environment is challenging Democrats; but he would be one of the country’s most endangered incumbents if Obama remains popular.

Given the very long list of potential challengers, there is no doubt that Minnesota Democrats believe Pawlenty can be overthrown. House Speaker Margaret Anderson, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak would all make strong contenders - as would other Democrats who are actively considering a run. But the most intriguing name is that of former Senator Mark Dayton, who has launched a statewide tour in preparation for a run. Dayton left his office in 2006 after just one term and without making much of a mark; does time heal wounds?

13. New Jersey (Jon Corzine, 2009 contest)

Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine is unpopular and his early poll numbers are disastrous. Yet, he is only ranked 14th in these rankings. What gives? All you need to know is that Republicans have not won a statewide race since 1997: New Jersey voters always complain about Democratic rule in Trenton and a number of races have initially looked competitive over the past few cycles. Yet, voters always end up lining up behind the Democratic nominee in the final weeks of a general election. Republicans have to find a way to convince voters that it is worth giving them a chance, and they firmly believe that 2009 could be the year. For one, it is far more likely that voters will throw out Democrats at the state level than in federal elections.

Second, the GOP believes it has found a strong candidate: former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie represents the type of anti-Trenton figure Republicans need to run, and he also looks more ready for the job than Tom Kean Jr. did three years (Kean lost the 2006 senatorial race to Bob Menendez). Early polls show dismal numbers for Corzine; a Rasmussen poll even has Christie leading the incumbent! Christie faces a competitive primary, but he should be boosted by establishment support and by the possibility that conservatives split their vote between Franklin Mayor Brian Levine and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.

14. Arizona (Jan Brewer)

Janet Napolitano’s appointment to Obama’s Cabinet changed Arizona’s political situation by elevating to the Governor’s Mansion a conservative Republican, Secretary of State Jan Brewer. Napolitano was barred from seeking a third term in 2010, so the race was going to be an open seat; now, Brewer (who was expected to run in 2010 even before she became Governor) will be able to run as the incumbent. This is a shame for Democrats, who were making steady progress over the past few cycles and who believed they had a strong enough bench to have the upper-hand in an open gubernatorial race.

The GOP’s task has undoubtedly been greatly facilitated by Napolitano’s departure. Yet, a number of top-tier Democrats (Attorney General Terry Goddard, former state party chair Jim Pederson, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon) are considering the race and the party is sure to mount a strong run. Democrats could be further boosted if Brewer is challenged in the Republican primary; Rep. Jeffrey Flake is mentioned as a potential contender.

15. Oregon (Open)

Governor Ted Kulongoski is term-limited, but Democrats retain the upper-hand in a state that has been trending increasingly blue over the past few cycles. Considered one of the tightest swing states at the start of the decade, Oregon delivered a 16% victory to Obama this past November while throwing out its Republican Senator; the road to a statewide victory looks tough for the GOP. In fact, they might be better off with an open seat than having to run Kulongoski, who is not the most popular of Governors.

Democrats already have a candidate in the race, former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. He could be joined by Rep. Peter DeFazio, one of the most progressive members of the House, and state Senate President Peter Courtney. The Republican bench, on the other hand, is thin and the GOP’s best hope might be to recruit just-defeated Senator Gordon Smith; Oregon voters did just reject him, but he could fare better in a less Democratic year and in a state-level election. Rep. Greg Walden is also mentioned as a possible Republican contender.

16. New Mexico (Open)

Richardson cannot run for re-election in 2010 because of the state’s term limit law, so the Governor’s mansion is open for the taking. But for a while at the end of 2008, we thought that 2010 would see Diane Denish run for re-election: When Obama announced that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson would become his Secretary of Commerce, Lieutenant Governor Denish Denish looked destined to take Richardson’s place. Yet, Richardson had to drop out from Obama’s Cabinet in early January, forcing Denish to cancel her transition preparations. Instead of running as the incumbent, Denish will have to run for an open seat - a far more difficult proposition. For one, she could face a competitive primary as state Majority Leader Michael Sanchez is also mulling a run.

That said, Democrats are favored to retain the governorship. New Mexico took a dramatic swing to the left in 2008, delivering a massive victory to Obama and giving all its House and Senate seats to Democrats. This leaves a thin bench for Republicans to find a candidate; two possible contenders are former Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson, who waged a fierce battle for their party’s senatorial nomination in 2008 (Pearce went on to be crushed by Tom Udall in the general election). Pearce or Wilson might have more luck in this gubernatorial race, since (1) it is not a federal contest and (2) 2010 is not expected to be as favorable to Democrats as 2008.

17. Alabama (Open)

Alabama remains enough of a blue state at the state level (Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature and they were successful in the 2008 House races) that Democrats have a shot are reclaiming the Governor’s mansion now that Governor Riley is term-limited out of office. In a testament to Democrats’ confidence that they have three viable contenders lining up. Rep. Artur Davis has already announced that he will leave his safe House seat for a bid to become Alabama’s first Africa-American Governor; in the primary, he could face Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks.

On the other hand, the South has changed enough for the GOP to start off an open seat race with the upper hand, and that will make the Republican nomination very attractive - and likely very competitive. The GOP has many potentially strong contenders as well, starting with the state’s Attorney General, Treasurer and Secretary of State.

18. Wisconsin (William Doyle)

Unlike most other states, Wisconsin does not bar its Governors from seeking a third term - but that does not guarantee that William Doyle will do so. Doyle has discussed his indecision, and he is expected to announce whether he plans on running for re-election in the coming months. Politicians from both parties are likely to wait for Doyle’s decision before making any definite plans themselves, which is not to say that he should expect Republicans to fold if he runs for re-election.

The GOP believes that Democratic seats in economically hit Midwestern states are vulnerable to challenges, and a number of Republican candidates could jump in whether or not Doyle runs (those include Rep. Paul Ryan, Attorney General Van Hollen and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker). Democrats, meanwhile, have a solid bench as well in case Doyle calls it quits. They could for instance turn to Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, who has already acknowledged that she is thinking about the race.

19. Ohio (Ted Strickland)

Ted Strickland does not seem like an easy target for Republicans. In 2006, he triumphed to win the open seat, beating then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell 60% to 39%. Should that not be enough to scare the GOP from targeting Strickland? Unfortunately for Democrats, the dire economic conditions make any Midwestern incumbent somewhat vulnerable, and Strickland is no exception. While the incumbent starts the race with the clear upper-hand, much will depend on the economic conjecture and on Obama’s popularity. If the national environment is tough for Democrats in 2010, Strickland could be one of those finding himself in an uncomfortably tight race.

At the very least, Republicans look certain to field a credible challenger: former Rep. John Kasich is preparing a run, and a recent poll showed him trailing Strickland by only 6%. Another potential candidate is former Senator Mike DeWine, who is said to be also thinking about a Senate run. (He is probably less likely to jump in the latter now that Rob Portman is seeking the Republican nomination.) State Senator Kevin Coughlin is already in the race.

20. Illinois (Pat Quinn)

Even before his December arrest and subsequent impeachment, Rod Blagojevich had a huge target on his back. That Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn has taken his place is thus a good development for Democrats in the perspective of the midterm elections. Yet, we will have to wait for the Illinois political scene to settle down to get a better sense of what to expect in 2010. The first question mark concerns the Democratic field: Will Quinn run for re-election? If he does, will other Democrats who were planning to challenge Blagojevich jump in against Quinn? All eyes are on Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (who is also mentioned as a potential Senate candidate) and former Clinton Secretary William Daley.

The second question mark concerns the Republican field: The Illinois GOP has a thin field, and no obvious candidate to run against these big Democratic names. Their strongest candidate would be Rep. Mark Kirk; but even if the GOP can convince him to run for statewide office, he is more likely to opt for the Senate race. Rep. Peter Roskam or former Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka could also make credible candidates. The third question mark concerns the political environment in 2010: How much will Rod Blagojevich still be talked about? Will the scandal continue making waves, with a trial perhaps scheduled sometime in the months leading up to Election Day? This would certainly be the worst case scenario for Democrats as it would give the GOP an opening to build up the contrast on ethics - provided they can field a credible contender.

21. Colorado (Bill Ritter)

In 2006, Bill Ritter won the open gubernatorial race with surprising ease, crushing rising GOP star then-Rep. Bob Beauprez by 16%. That type of margin should dissuade Republicans from attempting to do too much against the incumbent next year, especially when newly-appointed Senator Michael Bennet looks like a far more vulnerable target. Yet, most Republicans who are rumored to be considering a statewide run are said to be leaning towards challenging Ritter rather than Bennet! Former Rep. Scott McInnis has already ruled out a senatorial run, adding that he is still considering running for Governor; former Rep. Tom Tancredo and Ritter’s 2006 opponent Beauprez are also said to be mulling a gubernatorial run.

At the very least, Ritter dodged a bullet when Attorney General John Suthers announced he would not challenge him; Suthers is the only current office-holder who was mentioned as a possible contender - a fact that underscores the weakness of the GOP’s bench in Colorado after major losses in successive cycles. This race could rise in the rankings if the GOP fields a credible candidate, but Ritter starts the cycle with the upper-hand.

22. South Dakota (Open)

South Dakota Democrats have been strong in congressional elections, but they have been less competitive at the gubernatorial level: The GOP has controlled the Governor’s mansion since 1979. Whether Democrats have a shot at stopping that streak will depend on the decision of Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the state’s sole U.S. representative. Herseth Slandin, who is said to be motivated by the fact that her grandfather occupied the Governor’s Mansion (from 1959 to 1961), is reportedly be planning a run; she would be a strong candidate - perhaps the only Democrat who could make the race competitive (if she does not run, this contest would immediately move down the rankings).

After all, been elected statewide four times already already, suggesting that state voters have no qualms about voting for her. That said, South Dakota remains a staunchly red state, and Herseth Slandin should not expect an easy ride - quite the contrary. The GOP has a number of candidates who are already in the race, starting with Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard, state Senator Dave Knudson and Brookings Mayor Scott Munsterman.

Likely retention (4 D, 4 R)

23. New York (David Paterson)

The Empire State’s budgetary problems and the chaotic process by which David Paterson selected Hillary Clinton’s replacement have hurt the Governor’s standing in the state - and there is reason to believe things could get worse over the next few months as the economic crisis worsens. This logically complicates Paterson’s re-election chances; a recent poll shows the incumbent trailing against Mike Bloomberg and against Rudy Giuliani.Yet, New York’s New York Republicans have lost their footing so badly that it is difficult to see how they can take advantage of the Governor’s trouble. Rudy Giuliani’s name is often mentioned, but his favorability numbers are so low that it is hard to see him winning a statewide race; as for Bloomberg, he is unlikely to run against Paterson a year after running for re-election. All in all, former Rep. Rick Lazio might be the GOP’s best bet to make this race competitive; after all, Lazio is untarnished by the Bush years, since he left office in 2000.

Paterson could also face a competitive Democratic primary if Attorney General Andrew Cuomo jumps in. A recent poll found the Governor leading Cuomo by only 2%. Yet, a Cuomo run remains unlikely: he is probably too ambitious to risk his career on such a difficult primary (not to mention that this would be Cuomo’s second gubernatorial run against an African-American who was favored by the establishment).

24. Connecticut (Jodi Rell)

Jodi Rell remains a highly popular Governor - surprisingly so given the ignominious circumstances in which she rose to her current position. In 2006, she demolished her very credible Democratic opponent (New Haven Mayor Destefano) 63% to 35%, a huge margin obtained in a great year for national Democrats. That certainly suggests Rell is favored to win another term.

Yet, Connecticut is blue enough a state that we should keep our eye on this race. As in every gubernatorial election, all eyes were turned to five-term Attorney General Richard Blumenthal; as usual, Blumenthal announced he would not seek the Governor’s mansion but run for a sixth term as Attorney General. Other Democrats are lining up: former House Speaker James Amann, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy have all filed paperwork to set up explanatory committees or candidate committees.

25. Georgia (Open)

After successive cycles of sharp decline, Georgia Democrats had somewhat of a renaissance in 2008: Barack Obama got within 5% of John McCain while state Senator Jim Martin forced Senator Saxby Chambliss into a runoff. While this uptick did not result in any high profile wins, perhaps Democrats would have been more successful had they nominated a stronger candidate than the little-known Martin. Much of the 2008 results can be explained by the dramatic increase in black turnout; however, African-Americans did not go to the polls in high numbers in December’s Senate runoff.

Whether Democrats can maintain impressive levels of black turnout in 2010 will surely decide whether they have a chance at recapturing Georgia’s Governor mansion. At the very least, they have some decent contenders to nominate: former SoS and former Labor Commissioner David Poythress is already running, while Thurbert Baker (the state’s Attorney General since 1997) is mulling jumping in.

The GOP’s bench, meanwhile, is much deeper than the Democrats’, and the most likely scenario remains an easy Republican hold. (A parallel could be the open Senate race in 2004; Johnny Isakson faced minor opposition from a freshman Democratic congresswoman and won an overwhelming victory.) Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine are already running; they could be joined by state legislators, Secretary of State Karen Handel or even U.S. representatives (Jack Kingston and Lynn Westmoreland are reportedly considering running.)

26. Maine (Open)

Along with the rest of the Northeast, Maine has been coloring itself increasingly blue and Democrats have the upper-hand in the race to replace term-limited Governor John Baldacci. Yet, a first surprise occurred when former Rep. Tom Allen declined to run. Allen was crushed in the 2008 senatorial run, and his reluctance to go on the attack against Senator Susan Collins was taken as a sign that he intended to run for Governor in 2010. Democrats have enough of a bench that they are sure to field a strong contender. Former Attorney General Steven Rowe is already in the race, and others (like Rep. Mike Michaud) are mulling runs.

On the other hand, the GOP does not have much of a bench left in the state. The Republican attracting the most buzz is perhaps Rick Bennett, who served as the last GOP President of the Maine Senate in… the early 1990s. Democrats might have more to fear from an independent candidate, as Maine has a history of electing third-party candidates: Two of the five most recent Governors have been independents. Lynne Williams is already seeking the Independent Green Party’s nomination.

27. South Carolina (Open)

Governor Mark Stanford is leaving office with national ambitions, so we might hear from him again in the future. First is the race to succeed him, and the GOP undeniably starts with the upper-hand given how much South Carolina has swung to the red column over the past decade. The ease with which Republicans won the open Senate seat long held by Democrats in 2004 testifies to the state’s transformation, and a similar scenario could unfold next year.

In fact, one of the potential Democratic candidates is Inez Tenenbaum, the former Superintendent of Schools who was the Democrats’ unsuccessful candidate in that Senate race. Other contenders include a collection of state legislators and a former state party chairman, Joe Erwin. In other words, Democrats have some names that could make this a competitive race, but no obvious candidate that would offset challenge the GOP’s advantage. That will make the Republican primary that much more sought after, with Attorney General Henry McMaster, Lieutenant Governor André Bauer and Rep. Greshman Barrett leading the charge.

28. Maryland (Martin O’Malley)

Polls have shown that Democratic Governor O’Malley has a low enough approval rating to be vulnerable, but Maryland is a blue enough state that it will not be easy for Republicans to take advantage of that. For one, the GOP has a thin bench in the state, and the only credible candidate who is attracting buzz is former Governor Bob Ehrlich, who was defeated by O’Malley in the 2006 race. Ehrilch has expressed his interest in the race, but he has not given little hint as to what he will ultimately decide. Even if he runs, O’Malley will retain the upper-hand, since it will take massive mistakes on the incumbent’s part for a Republican to win in Maryland; at the very least, this contest would rise in the rankings. If he does not run, Republicans will be hard pressed to find a credible challenger

29. Iowa (Chet Culver)

Iowa might be trending increasingly blue, as demonstrated by Chet Culver’s comfortable victory in 2006 and by Barack Obama’s large victory against John McCain, but Republicans have a long list of potential gubernatorial candidates, starting with Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, State Auditor David Vaudt, U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, or state House Minority Leader Christopher Rants; even Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham mentioned. The first question is, of course, whether any of these Republicans will want to jump in a difficult race against a relatively popular incumbent whose most recent opponent was demolished with unexpected ease.

30. Vermont (Jim Douglas)

Vermont Governors serve two year terms, so Jim Douglas was also on the ballot in 2008, when he received 53% of the vote in a 3-way race. As the Republican Governor in one of the most Democratic states in the country, Douglas will never be fully safe - but he is popular enough to start his re-election race with the upper-hand. Former Lieutenant Governor Doug Racine (who Douglas beat back in 2002) has already announced he will run, and he could make a credible candidate. Other potential candidates include Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, who has acknowledged his interest in the race.

Complicating the picture for Democrats is the possible repeat candidacy of independent candidate Anthony Pollina. In 2008, Pollina got more votes than the Democratic nominee; his entry could once again split the left-leaning vote in 2010. Another possibility is that Douglas retires. The race would immediately rise at the top of these rankings, as Republicans would face a tough time defending the seat and as Democrats have a deep bench of strong candidates.

Safe (5 R, 3 D)

31. Texas (Rick Perry)

Texas has no term limit laws, and Rick Perry will become the longest serving Governor of state history by the time his term ends. Yet, he could finally lose his job in 2010. The danger does not come from Democrats, who have lost all power over the past decade and have not won a gubernatorial or senatorial race in Texas since 1990 and 1988, respectively. Rather, Perry could fall in the Republican primary if Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison jumps in the gubernatorial race.She has long eyed the Governor’s mansion and she was close to challenging Perry in 2006. She is now said to be laying the groundwork for a 2010 run, though the most recent reports suggested she might be reconsidering her plans after Senate Republicans pleaded for her not to leave her seat open.

A primary between Perry and Hutchison would be a bruising battle of the titans, and either would be favored in the general election. Democrats are hoping that Hutchison does jump in the gubernatorial race so they can have a shot at her Senate seat, so do not expect many credible Democrats to run for Governor. That said, the situation might change if Hutchison does not challenge Perry: (1) Democrats might think that the incumbent Governor is more vulnerable than Hutchison might have been and, (2) those who were planning on running for the open Senate seat will have their plans’ thwarted. It is then possible that Houston Mayor Bill White or former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson decide to run for Governor.

32. Florida (Charlie Crist)

Charlie Crist is one of the most popular Governors of the country, a surprising fact given that Governors of large divided states rarely enjoy astronomical approval ratings. A recent poll found 65% of Floridians have a favorable impression of Crist, versus only 23% who have an unfavorable one. With such numbers, Crist is expected to coast to re-election and perhaps position himself for a presidential run in 2012 or 2016. In fact, Crist looks so invincible that no Democrat is planning to challenge him. State CFO Alex Sink has transparent gubernatorial ambitions, but she will wait until 2014, when Crist will be barred from seeking another term due to term limit laws.

The only development that could make this race competitive would be for Crist to jump in Florida’s open Senate race. While it remains very unlikely Crist would consider doing so given how safe and popular he is in Tallahassee, the NRSC has been trying to recruit him ever since Jeb Bush announced he would not run. If Crist were to run for Senate, it would suddenly make the senatorial race into the uninteresting contest and transform the gubernatorial one into a chaotic free-for-all. (Alex Sink would then be likely to seek the Democratic nomination.)

33. New Hampshire (John Lynch)

New Hampshire Governors only serve two year terms, which means that Lynch will be facing his fourth gubernatorial election in as many cycles. He triumphed with more than 70% in 2008, which tells us all we need to know about his popularity and how serious an effort Republicans will be making against Lynch. The race could be far more complicated if Lynch does not run for re-election. He has already announced that he will not run for Senate, but he added “I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 2010.” A Lynch retirement would be an opportunity for Republicans to make a comeback in the Granite State, and it would certainly warrant raising the state in these rankings; but Lynch is still expected to seek re-election.

34. Massachusetts (Deval Patrick)

Democrats have had trouble winning the gubernatorial mansion over the past two decades, as voters tried to avoid giving one party all of the state’s powers. But that weariness is hardly enough for the GOP to have a chance against an incumbent Democrat in one of the country’s bluest states - even if that incumbent has taken a fair number of hits over the past few years. Patrick should sail to a second term. There is some speculation that former Governor Mitt Romney could jump in the race, but it is difficult to see why he would endanger his national career with such a difficult race - not to mention that he has moved too far to the right to have much of a chance of winning in Massachusetts. The GOP’s 2006 nominee, Romney’s Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, could seek a rematch; but she would also be a significant underdog considering how badly she was crushed in 2006.

35. Idaho (Butch Otter)

Butch Otter is in little danger as a Republican incumbent in one of the country’s reddest states. Yet, his first election in 2006 was unexpectedly competitive, and that could be enough to give a (bare) glimmer of hope to Democrats. Boise Mayor David Bieter might be the party’s only hope to mount a remotely competitive race since other state Democrats (including Otter’s 2006 opponent Brady) have already turned out a race.

36. Arkansas (Mike Beebe)

Arkansas might vote Republican in presidential elections, but it remains one of the most overwhelmingly Democratic states of the country at all levels: Democrats hold the governorship, both Senate seats, three out of four House seats, all statewide offices and supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature! Needless to say, the GOP has no bench from which to find a credible candidate - and ambitious Republicans are likely to start by contesting lower-profile offices.

37. Alaska (Sarah Palin)

Sarah Palin failed to seduce the country during the presidential campaign, but Alaska remained faithful to its Governor as Republicans performed unexpectedly strongly up-and-down the ballot. To put it simply, if Alaska voters are not willing to vote against Rep. Don Young (who scored an unlikely upset to survive in 2008), there is no way they are voting against Sarah Palin. On the other hand, Democrats can hope to give Palin enough of a challenge to force her to spend some time in Alaska and prevent her from traveling across the country to help fellow Republicans and to build a national network in preparation for a presidential run.

Former Commissioner of Administration Bob Poe has already jumped in the race. Other potential candidates include 2008 House candidate Ethan Berkowitz. One possibility is that Sarah Palin gives up on the gubernatorial race and challenges Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Senate seat’s primary. That would leave an open race, but Republicans would certainly have the upper-hand: They have a deep bench while Democrats don’t have many credible candidates left after Tony Knowles’s consecutive defeats and Begich’s departure to Washington.

38. Nebraska (Dave Heineman)

When he was elevated to the Governor’s mansion when Gov. Johanns left the position in 2004, Dave Heineman was meant to be a short-term Governor. But he unexpectedly prevailed in a difficult primary in 2006 to win a renomination, demonstrating his appeal to Nebraska’s conservative voters. Heineman is unlikely to face serious opposition, though a couple of Democratic state Senators (Steve Lathrop, Tom White) are reportedly considering a run.



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