The Senate landscape bears no resemblance with what it was in June. Retirement surprises, some stunning recruitment coups on the NRSC’s part, the shift in independent voters’ attitude and a growing motivation gap between the two parties’ bases have caused Democratic fortunes to suffer an epic collapse: Does anyone even remember that in the early summer of 2009, Democrats were still confident they would grow their Senate majority, so confident in fact that they talked about leaving legislation like EFCA to the next Congress, when they would assuredly be well above the 60-seat majority? Eight months have passed, Republicans pulled off a jaw-dropping upset in Massachusetts and we are now discussing the possibility that the GOP might have a shot at picking-up the Senate, which is to say pick-up a net ten seats.
That scenario remains highly improbable: it would require Republicans to put more seats in play and pull off a sweep of the likes we did not witness in 1994, 2006 and 2008. But it goes without saying that the mere fact that this possibility is not laughed off as silly speaks to how likely it has become the GOP scores big gains come November.
|Safe GOP||Likely GOP||Lean GOP||Toss-up||Lean Dem||Likely Dem||Safe Dem|
This gets us to the following breakdown:
- Safe Democratic: 46
- Safe/Likely Democratic: 51
- Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 52
- Toss-ups: 6
- Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 42
- Safe/Likely Republican: 37
- Safe Republican: 34
Likely takeover (2 R, 0 D)
1. North Dakota (open) Last ranking: 18, 22
In arguably the worst news Democrats got this cycle, Senator Byron Dorgan announced he would not seek re-election in 2010. An open seat in a red state in a GOP-friendly cycle is as close to game over as we’ll get, especially since uber-popular Governor John Hoeven wasted no time before jumping in the race. With the best Democrats can hope for is to force him to actually campaign, state Senator Tracy Potter has entered the race and former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp could join him; it is important for a Democrat to put up a decent campaign operation, as a Hoeven landslide could endanger Rep. Earl Pomeroy’s standing.
2. Delaware (Open) Last rankings: 14, 9
Attorney General Beau Biden’s decision not to seek the Senate seat that had been kept warm for him - a nepotistic move that backfired - is the biggest blow Democrats received this cycle since it makes longtime Rep. Mike Castle the overwhelming favorite to pick-up the seat. Democrats landed a solid back-up option in Chris Coons, but Coons will have his work cut out for him against the state’s former Governor who has been winning double-digit statewide victories since the 1980s and is more likely than not to do so again in 2010; he led Coons 56% to 27% in the most recent poll. Coons, who represents two-thirds of state voters, hopes his freshness will contrast favorably with the veteran Castle; it also has to be seen whether the aging congressman has what it takes to campaign full time for months or whether he will let himself be outworked.
Lean retention (2 R, 0 D)
3. Arkansas (Blanche Lincoln) Last rankings: 22, 11
While Arkansas Democrats have only lost a single Senate race since Reconstruction, numerous polls have shown Blanche Lincoln trailing low-profile Republicans, the type of showing from which an incumbent rarely recovers. This dire assessment was already true before Rep. John Boozman unexpectedly decided to abandon his safe House seat to run for Senate, a move that all but seals Lincoln’s fate. At this point, Democrats have two paths to salvation, neither of which seems likely. The first is that Lincoln chooses to retire, which might give the party a better chance to hold the seat with a less tarnished candidate (Wesley Clark and Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter did not perform substantially better in a recent poll, but they might have more room to grow); the second is that the Republican primary grows divisive and produces a weak nominee, though the odds of such a scenario considerably diminished with Boozman’s candidacy.
4. Nevada (Harry Reid) Last rankings: 8, 13
When a longtime senator trails a real estate developer and a low-profile party dignitary by double-digits, the time has come to cue in the political obituaries. Harry Reid’s poll numbers are disastrous and he can’t hope to benefit from another Democrat’s coattails since his party’s probable gubernatorial nominee is his own son. A Dodd-like switcheroo is unlikely to function since Democrats have no obvious savior: Numerous pollsters tested potential replacements to find they would do no better. Reid’s main hope for survival is the huge bank account he has amassed. Whoever wins the GOP’s underwhelming primary will probably find himself bruised and penniless, giving Reid an opportunity to attack him/her early.
Toss-ups (3 R, 3 D)
5. Colorado (Michael Bennet) Last ranking: 5, 7
While Democrats were hoping newly-appointed Michael Bennet would have the time to introduce himself, his poll numbers remain weak, raising obvious questions as to what might have been had Governor Ritter appointed a more experienced and popular Democrat, e.g. John Hickenlooper or Diane DeGette. Bennet hoped he would benefit from underwhelming GOP recruitment, but the NRSC convinced former Lieut. Gov. Jane Norton to run; while she is in no way a dream candidate (she was only elected by sharing her ticket with Bill Owens and her position as the head of Department of Public Health and Environment cannot have given her that much name recognition), she is a credible challenger voters unhappy with Democrats should have no problem pulling the lever for. Only two pollsters have tested the race since the summer, with Rasmussen repeatedly finding Norton crushing Bennet by double-digits while Research 2000 found the Democrat up within the MoE in early january.
One reason not to consider Bennet’s inability to break out of the 40% range fatal to his chances is that he should have more room to grow than the typical incumbent. Also, Norton and Bennet are both facing competitive primaries. Norton is battling DA Ken Buck and former state Sen. Tom Wiens, though I doubt Bennet could survive against either unless he improves his own standing. Bennet is facing former Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who has not gained much traction for now but still has seven months. While the Democratic establishment claims Romanoff’s bid endangers the party, I would argue Democrats might be better off nominating him as he wouldn’t be weighed down by voters’ hostility towards incumbents (the latest poll has him trailing by 7% instead of Bennet’s 14%, a situation comparable to Hickenlooper’s polling far stronger than Ritter was in the Governor’s race); at the very least, the confrontation with Romanoff could help Bennet get used to campaigning and increase his notoriety.
6. Pennsylvania (Arlen Specter) Last rankings: 2, 10
Within days of Arlen Specter’s party switch, it had become clear Democratic leaders had endangered their prospects of holding Pennsylvania’s Senate seat come 2011. In an environment in which the electorate has been hostile to incumbents, Democrats took on the duty of defending an aging senator whose standing is eroding. In a cycle in which Democrats have been worried about low turnout among their base, they are willing to entrust the head of their ticket to a man who was a powerful Republican Senator for decades. And they opened the door to staunchly conservative Pat Toomey spending months positioning himself as a moderate instead of heading into the general election having spent a year campaigning to Specter’s right. Add all of these factors together, and Democrats have little reason to expect Specter can easily overcome the deficit he is facing against Toomey in polls taken in recent months.
While Rep. Joe Sestak typically trails Toomey by as much, he should have more room to grow and he could have an easier time getting Democratic voters to turn out, which makes the May primary between the two men all the more important. For now, Sestak has been unable to gain as much traction as he would have liked, partly because the Democratic establishment is solidly aligned behind the incumbent, but he is within striking distance; much could depend on whether unions follow Democratic leaders and choose to actively help Specter. Even if Sestak defeats Specter, Democrats should obviously expect a tough race. Remember that political junkies like us might know Toomey as the president of Club for Growth, but his name recognition is too low for most voters to have formed a clearly defined image. We are also getting many indications at the gubernatorial and House levels that Pennsylvania is a minefield for Democrats.
7. Missouri (Open) Last rankings: 4, 2
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is as formidable a candidate as Democrats could dream of while Rep. Roy Blunt comes with one of the worst resume lines: member of the House Republican leadership, which polls show is still the government’s most unpopular group. Yet, Missouri is a red state; in such a tough environment, that more than blunts the advantage Carnahan should enjoy on paper. Democrats already start with a disadvantage so they need to be very competitive among independent voters, which could be tough for Carnahan to pull off. A parallel might be drawn to New Jersey’s 2006 Senate race: Republicans fielded a member of the state’s preeminent political dynasty against a congressman with plenty of baggage but the cycle was too toxic for the former to overcome.
8. New Hampshire (Open) Last rankings: 6, 1
With the NRSC now talking about contesting states like Wisconsin, it’s hard to believe there was a point at which we were wondering whether a credible candidate would emerge to defend NH’s seat. Kelly Ayotte’s decision to run took care of that question and crushed Paul Hodes’s hopes of an easy pick-up. While the deteriorating landscape is sure to have a big impact on all open races, Ayotte is one of the likeliest beneficiaries of a red wave because of the importance of non-affiliated voters in New Hampshire and because Hodes can hardly position himself as an outsider. One potential wild card is the Republican primary: Ovide Lamontagne has been receiving some help from some conservative figures while Bill Binnie has loaned himself more than $1 million. If either prevails or if they gain enough traction to bruise Ayotte, Hodes should head into the general on stronger footing.
9. Ohio (Open) Last rankings: 10, 3
An open race in the country’s most emblematic swing state: This might be the recipe for an explosively divided contest in normal circumstances, but when the electorate has decisively swung towards one party how can the other party buck the national trend? Democrats have no natural edge in Ohio they can hope will resist to the red wave and neither Democratic candidate is formidable enough to overperform her party’s generic performance. Yet, unlike in countless Senate races Republicans will not be able to make this a clear a referendum on Democratic rule since there is no incumbent, which could help Lee Fisher or Jennifer Brunner convince the party’s base to turn out and persuade independents not to desert the party. While both have fallen behind Rob Portman in the polls after leading for most of 2009, surveys show the margin remains very close, which is far more than we can say of some Democratic incumbents’ numbers. It is especially revealing that Fisher and Brunner are performing stronger than Governor Ted Strickland, who was once expected to boost them but is now shaping out to be a weight on the party’s ticket.
10. Illinois (Open) Last rankings: 12, 14
Illinois might be a staunchly blue state at the presidential level, but Republicans are confident a perfect storm of circumstances will allow them to pick-up Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. First, state Democrats are weighed down by the Rod Blagojevich scandal, which involved the former Governor’s attempts to sell this very Senate seat; that Blagojevich’s trial could take place this fall will make it tough for the party to turn the page. Second, Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias faces ethical questions of his own, with his ties to his embattled family bank sure to come up in the general election. Third, Republicans have as solid a candidate as they could have hoped for: Rep. Mark Kirk’s moderate reputation allowed him to survive in his blue-leaning district in the Chicago suburbs, and the GOP hopes his history of winning over left-leaning voters will translate statewide.
Combine these factors with the national environment, with an enthusiastic liberal base and GOP-trending independents, and Democrats have a major Illinois problem. Yet, this is one state in which national Democrats will pull out all the stops to ensure a win; unlike what happened in Massachusetts, neither Giannoulias nor the DSCC will not be taken by surprise, and Illinois remains structurally Democratic enough that the party might still have a slight advantage - unless yet another scandal breaks, of course.
Lean Retention (3 R, 1 D)
11. Kentucky (Open) Last rankings: 1, 4
Jim Bunning’s retirement was a blow to Democratic prospects. Instead of a referendum on an unpopular senator prone to damaging gaffes, the race became a test of voters’ partisan preferences, which in Kentucky is bound to favor the GOP. Kentucky has enough of a Democratic past that it would not be shocking to see the party pick-up Jim Bunning’s Senate seat, especially as they have strong candidates in Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway, but the state has grown comfortable voting GOP at the federal level. The huge wild card is the unexpectedly formidable candidacy of eye surgeon Rand Paul, who appears to have grabbed the primary lead against establishment-favorite, Secretary of State Trey Grayson. While general election surveys show Paul perform as well if not better than Grayson, his nomination could provide Democrats more of an opening to make the race about their opponent rather than a straightforward partisan test.
12. North Carolina (Richard Burr) Last rankings: 7, 6
Given the two parties’ motivational gap and independents’ right-lean this cycle, it will be tough for Democrats to unseat any incumbent but Senator Richard Burr remains their best bet. The only GOP senator who is constantly failing to cross the 50% vulnerability threshold, Burr is also weighed down by surprisingly low name recognition - a lack of stature that could help his opponents define him as insufficiently caring for North Carolina. The DSCC might also want to ensure the GOP has to play some defense, thus making them more eager to contest the state than they might otherwise be.
What is more puzzling is that the DSCC is reportedly considering spending millions to help former state Senator Cal Cunningham defeat more progressive Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in the primary, despite the lack of evidence that would suggest Cunningham is more electable. The run-up to the May primary could help Marshall, Cunningham and Kenneth Lewis increase their notoriety, and there already is evidence that the campaign is helping the candidates since the most recent PPP survey found Marshall for the first time overperforming a generic Democrat.
13. Florida (Open) Last rankings: 3, 10
How much has this race changed since May 2009, when it looked all but certain that Charlie Crist would waltz into the Senate. While Marco Rubio’s refusal to step aside looked like it would give the governor some heartburn, the first few months were rough for the former Speaker, who had to face plenty of rumors that he was preparing to jump in another race. But Crist’s fortunes suffered a stunning collapse under the pressure of two forces. First, conservatives rallied against him, with national figures ranging from Mike Huckabee to Jim DeMint endorsing Rubio; as Crist’s numbers declined, so did the GOP establishment’s reluctance to defy the governor, which explains why Jeb Bush’s camp is suddenly more willing to get involved. Second, centrist voters have also turned against Crist, as they have against most incumbents who have failed to deal with their state’s fiscal woes. In other words, Crist’s problems with his right flank are to some degree irrelevant to the vulnerability he is now projecting.
The result of Crist’s double-bind: Rubio has overcome a deficit of more than 30% to take the lead against the better-known governor, a turnaround that is all the more shocking that it comes 9 months from Election Day. Crist’s approval rating among Republicans remains paradoxically solid so we shouldn’t expect him to collapse entirely, which means that the late August primary will likely be a brutal affair that will leave the state party deeply divided; both candidates are very well-financed, which should make for a very nasty summer. Can Democrats take advantage? Rep. Kendrick Meek is a credible candidate who could also motivate the Democratic base if he points out that the prospect of a diverse Senate rest entirely on his shoulder. While he trails both Republicans decisively at the moment, all bets are off as to what his standing might be if Crist and Rubio spend millions over the next 8 months demolishing each other. I would also counter-intuitively argue that Meek would be better off if he faced Crist, as his status as the “consummate insider” is bound to hurt him in an electorate that is determined to punish its incumbents.
14. Indiana (Evan Bayh) Last ranking: 30, 33
Forget the shift in the landscape relatively to early 2009: Who could have predicted in early 2010 that we would soon discuss Evan Bayh as a vulnerable senator? But January led the NRSC to think big - and they scored big when former Senator Dan Coats came out of nowhere to announce he was planning a comeback. But things soon got rockier as it became obvious that Coats came with a lot of baggage, having spent a decade paying little attention to how his actions and words might play in an electoral context. He moved to VA as soon as he left office, declared that he was looking to retire in NC, became a registered lobbyist and took on many clients that will make the material of brutal attack ads.
How bad did it get for Coats? Even the state party chairman gave up on spinning the efficiency of the Democrats’ oppo bomb, as he declared simply that it was “too early to tell” whether Coats had suffered lasting damage. The Republican should also first suffer the same attacks in the GOP primary, as state Senator Marlin Stutzman and former Rep. John Hostettler have shown no intentions of stepping aside - quite the contrary. Yet, a Rasmussen poll leaves no doubt that Bayh is more vulnerable than he has been in his 30-year statewide career. The Democrat has a lot of corporate ties himself and 2010 might very well be the type of environment in which voters pay no attention to a challenger’s baggage. Bayh is one of the best-funded senators - he has a daunting $13 million of cash-on-hand - and he will need every penny to defend his seat.
Likely retention (6 D, 2 R)
15. California (Barbara Boxer) Last ranking: 13, 19
Barbara Boxer’s numbers have hardly been formidable; most pollsters have found her under 50%, some like PPIC and Rasmussen have shown her hardly surpassing the margin of error. Meanwhile, Republicans have a clearly field of candidates in the race: Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore have been campaigning for months, while former Rep. Tom Campbell recently entered the race and looks like he could be the GOP’s best bet, not only because his profile is not that of a staunch conservative but also because Fiorina’s campaign has at times been amateurish at best (demon sheep!).
The good news for Democrats is that Boxer is fully aware she needs to take the race seriously. She has stockpiled millions of dollars ($8 million by the end of 2008) which is more important here than in most states, especially as GOP candidates wil have to concentrate on each other for many more months; and she has been talking up the possibility she faces a tough race for months, thus preparing a campaign infrastructure. Boxer is one Democrat who will not be taken by surprise.
16. New York (Kristen Gillibrand) Last rankings: 16, 15
No one doubts appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is vulnerable. She has not been able to introduce herself as successfully as she was hoping too and her poll numbers remain underwhelming to say the least. Yet, the NRSC has met numerous recruitment failures here and the candidate they look like they might end up with does not look strong enough to mount that threatening a race. Yet, Democrats are not out of the woods. Not only could Bruce Blakeman catch fire if the wave is truly huge but Pataki, who has held a lead in many polls, could still enter the race. Most importantly, if Harold Ford Jr. were to run as an independent, the GOP nominee could win a 3-way race with a plurality of the vote. (If Ford beats Gillibrand in the primary, does that count as a Dem hold or a pick-up for Lieberman’s caucus-of-one?)
17. Wisconsin (Russ Feingold) Last ranking: 20, 20
The GOP had not been paying much attention to Russ Feingold, but since early 2010 they have been trying to recruit a candidate who could make the race competitive. Their first choice is former Governor and former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson; at least two recent surveys found him with a slight lead over the senator, though a PPP survey did show Thompson’s image might be more damaged than Republicans care for. In early February, Thompson signed up as an adviser to a venture capital fund, which suggests he is not seriously considering running for Senate this year, but the former Governor no longer appears to be the end of the road: Republicans are hoping former Rep. Mark Neumann, currently the underdog in the gubernatorial primary, might switch over to the Senate race.
18. Washington (Patty Murray) Last ranking: 19, 23
In 2004, the GOP 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 the NRSC was not giving this race much thought. Yet, they have been reconsidering their options in recent weeks, wondering whether they can entice Attorney General Rob McKenna, Rep. Dave Reichert or Dino Rossi in the race. If any of them jumps in (that looks unlikely at the moment, but stranger things have happened), Republicans will have a shot at an upset - but if only if the national environment stays as bad through November; even then, the “mom in tennis shoes” has proved popular enough that she might have what it takes to beat the red wave.
19. Louisiana (David Vitter) Last rankings: 9, 12
When Rep. Charlie Melancon announced he would challenge David Vitter in August, Democrats at least expected to have a strong shot at picking-up the seat. Yet, Vitter has considerably solidified his position in the intervening 5 months. In the current environment, it is difficult to envision an incumbent Republican losing re-election in a strongly conservative state. While Vitter is no ordinary incumbent due to his involvement in the D.C. Madam scandal, his poll numbers bear little trace of those 2007 events; Democrats were hoping Vitter would face a competitive primary in which the scandal would be revisited, but Secretary of State Jay Dardenne’s decision not to run all but ensures the senator coasts to the GOP nomination and makes it much harder for Democrats to dream of a Louisiana upset.
20. Connecticut (open) Last ranking: 32, 5
Democrats dodged a huge bullet when Chris Dodd announced his retirement in early January: It had become apparent that the longtime senator had grown irremediably unpopular and was heading towards an all but certain defeat, while his exit allowed the party to replace him with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is as formidable as Dodd was embattled. One of the state’s most towering political figures, Blumenthal has been waiting for a Senate seat to open up for more than a decade and surveys show he starts with huge leads against Republicans Rob Simmons and Linda McMahon. Massachusetts showed anything is possible and McMahon could bankroll millions of dollars worth of attack ads thanks to her vast personal fortune; yet, Blumenthal is unlikely to commit Martha Coakley’s mistakes and McMahon will first have to worry about winning the general election.
21. Arizona (John McCain) Last rankings: 21, 16
Conservatives are now better placed than Democrats to take advantage of John McCain’s tenuous hold on his home state, as it was revealed in the 2008 presidential election. Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth has announced he will run in the GOP primary, which makes August 24th a major day in Republican politics since it’s also the day of Florida’s primaries. Hayworth, who has long made immigration his defining issue, is well placed to attack McCain on what arguably irks Republicans most about him. While there are many reasons to consider McCain the clear favorite - most importantly, he should receive a lot of help from the conservative establishment, starting with Palin - the primary has the potential to become a high-profile and bruising affair.
Can Democrats take advantage? It would be political malpractice if they fail to put themselves in a position from which they could take advantage in case the GOP primary gets truly bloody or Hayworth pulls an upset; Democrats would be kicking themselves if Hayworth manages to beat McCain and they have no one to take him on, thus allowing so controversial a politician waltz his way through the general election. It appears the best Democrats can do at the moment is convince Tucson City councilman Rodney Glassman to enter the race; the DSCC will like the fact that Glassman could self-fund but he probably lacks the stature to take on such a prominent senator in a red-leaning state.
22. Iowa (Chuck Grassley) Last ranking: 17, 21
Had the environment not been so toxic for Democrats, five-term Senator Chuck Grassley could have faced a competitive re-election race; but in the current cycle, he should have little trouble dispatching attorney Roxanne Conlin, former state Senator Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause. Two recent polls had him leading by margins ranging from 27% to 36%. This is all the more of a shame for the DSCC that Conlin had the profile to at least be more competitive than Grassley’s past challengers: While she hasn’t ran for office since her failed gubernatorial bid 1982, she remained in the public eye, a fall poll found she was surprisingly well-known.
23. Hawaii (Daniel Inouye) Last ranking: 15, 17
Senator Dan Inouye announced in December 2008 he would seek another term in 2010. But since he will be 86 years old by Election Day, we cannot but ask whether he might still retire. Sure, a retirement would be improbable but not impossible: Hawaii’s filing deadline is July 20th, so it certainly is not too late for him to decide he wants to call it quits. If the seat were open, the GOP would have a good shot at convincing Governor Linda Lingle to jump in, which would make the race competitive no matter Hawaii’s blue bent. Otherwise, it’s tough to see how Democrats have anything to worry about.
24. Georgia (Johnny Isakson) Last ranking: 23, 18
Had Isakson been up for re-election in 2006 or 2008, Democrats might have tried to go after him (he is, after all, a freshman) and a number of springtime polls suggested he would indeed be vulnerable. Yet, the environment turned sour and none of the Democrats who could have made the race worth watching opted to jump in. Democrats would be well-advised to at least field a credible candidate to help down-ballot turnout, but at the moment things are looking bleak.
25. South Carolina (Jim DeMint) Last ranking: 24, 24
South Carolina gave little hint of being affected by the 2006 and 2008 Democratic waves, which makes DeMint all the more formidable given the national environment - let alone the Southern one. Most Democrats with some ambitions opted to run in the open Governor’s race instead. While the party tried to recruit a lower-tier candidate to ensure some competition, attorney Chad McGowan ended his 5-month campaign in early February.
26. Utah (Bob Bennett) Last ranking: 36, 31
In most states, Bennett’s voting record would place him far to the right of the political spectrum but the issues on which he has bucked the hard right have been enough to turn some of the state’s GOP base against him. Because of Utah’s unique nomination system, Bennett is at the mercy of a party convention dominated by very conservative activists. At best, he will have to fight to save his career in a primary in which the Club for Growth has already announced it will oppose the incumbent. Remains to be seen which conservative will emerge as Bennett’s chief challenger, with businessmen Fred Lampropoulos and Mike Lee both running. Democrats are unlikely to benefit from these divisions; while they have a candidate in Liquor Control Commission Chairman Sam Granato is running, their strongest potential contender (Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Coroon) is running for Governor and Utah is too red a state for Democrats to have much of a chance to pull off a statewide victory.
27. Oregon (Ron Wyden) Last ranking: 27, 28
Even as the NRSC has been eying safe-seeming incumbents like Patty Murray and Russ Feingold, Oregon has been left out of the Senate discussion; that is somewhat surprising since it isn’t the bluest of states and the GOP bench is not that anemic. The result is that Ron Wyden still looks to be coasting towards re-election, and Republicans have yet to field anyone against him. The filing deadline is in March, so time is certainly running short.
28. New York (Chuck Schumer) Last ranking: 34, 35
Even if New York Republicans manage to get their act together and find strong contenders willing to run statewide, they will go after Kirsten Gillibrand and David Paterson before thinking of Chuck Schumer. While the senator’s approval rating has weakened in recent months, he can also look forward to sharing the ticket with Andrew Cuomo, who looks to have escaped the party’s declining numbers.
29. Kansas (Open) Last ranking: 11, 25
Kansas Democrats are desperate to find a candidate - any candidate! - willing to seek statewide office this year; but it speaks to just how implausible it looks that the party could win its first Senate seat since the 1930s that all politicians who are mentioned have been mulling a gubernatorial run. At this point, Democrats are more likely than not to entirely give up on the Senate race, a move that could negatively affect their down-ballot prospects. This means most of the action in this contest will happen in the Republican primary, where Reps. Moran and Thiart are engaged in a heated battle to convince their party’s base they’ll be the best champion for conservative causes.
30. Maryland (Barbara Mikulski) Last ranking: 26, 26
Many Democratic incumbents’ numbers might have been falling, but Mikulski’s approval rating regularly tops 60%. Add to that the fact that the GOP has little bench in this state, and Mikulski is a rare Democratic senator who does not have to worry about her re-election race.
31. Alaska (Lisa Murkowski) Last ranking: 25, 29
The biggest threat to Lisa Murkowski’s re-election was that Sarah Palin might challenge her in the Republican primary, but that possibility evaporated with the former Governor’s decision to leave Alaskan politics behind. The general election should be a formality for Murkowski: Not only do Democrats have no challenger to field, but 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 kick out a GOP incumbent.
32. South Dakota (John Thune) Last ranking: 29, 30
Democrats would love to crush Thune’s presidential hopes by ousting him from the Senate, but 2010 gives them no opportunity to go after scandal-less Republican incumbents representing staunchly red states. In any case, Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin was probably the only Democrat who could have made the race competitive, and she has announced she is seeking re-election.
33. Oklahoma (Tom Coburn) Last ranking: 31, 27
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.
34. Alabama (Richard Shelby) Last ranking: 28, 32
First elected as a Democrat in 1986, Richard Shelby switched parties in 1994 and he has benefited from the state’s increasingly Republican politics ever since. In 2010, no credible Democrat has emerged to challenge him: Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and Rep. Arthur Davis are running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom is running for re-election and Rep. Bright is too junior to be strong candidates. Attorney William Barnes could be the Democratic nominee.
35. Vermont (Pat Leahy) Last ranking: 33, 34
At the beginning of the cycle, I wrote that this seat would only pop on our radar screen if Leahy retired or if Governor Jim Douglas jumped in the race. Leahy has since made it clear he will run for re-election - and it is Douglas who has announced he is leaving the political world. All the action will thus be centered in the open Governor’s race and Leahy will coast to a seventh term.
36. Idaho (Mike Crapo) Last ranking: 35, 36
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.