Friday, February 19, 2010

Where Republicans will be playing defense

Looking further into the question I discussed here, whether the Republicans can regain a majority in the U.S. Senate in this year's midterm elections, let's examine individual state contests. Much attention has been paid recently to retirements of Senate Democrats, such as Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Evan Bayh of Indiana, but keep in mind that several senators (and House members, for that matter) from both parties are declining to seek reelection in 2010.

This recent New York Times article identifies four states where Republican Senate incumbents are not running, which represent possible Democratic gains: Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio. I think it's important to look at those states first, because I believe that the Democrats' chances of retaining their majority will increase exponentially with each victory they might win in these states.


Two-term Republican incumbent Jim Bunning is retiring. His fellow Republicans had come to see him as less dependable as a politician, than he was as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and other major league baseball teams.

Two state officeholders are the main contenders in the Democratic primary on May 18: Attorney General Jack Conway and Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo.

A familiar surname shows up on the Republican side. Opthamologist Rand Paul is a son of Congressman Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, who was the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 1988, and advocated libertarian ideas in Republican presidential primaries in 2008. The younger Paul has not previously run for public office. Paul's main opponent is another state official, Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

Adam Nagourney, in the Times article noted above, mentions the argument that Paul might be perceived as extremist, which may harm his chances in November, if he wins the primary. But Rasmussen, in recent polls, shows either Republican contender ahead of both of the Democrats, generally by wide margins. That, combined with the fact that Kentucky has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992, does not bode well for the Democrats.


Christopher "Kit" Bond, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, is not seeking a fifth term.

Primaries, scheduled for August 3, appear certain to set up a general election contest between Republican Congressman Roy Blunt and Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Both are part of family dynasties in the state. Blunt's son Matt was governor for one term, from 2005 to 2009. Carnahan's father Mel was governor from 1993 until his death in a plane crash in 2000. Her mother Jean was appointed to Missouri's other U.S. Senate seat in 2001. Mel had been campaigning for the Senate when he died, and when the voters elected him posthumously, the seat was declared vacant, leading the way to his widow's appointment. In 2002, Jean Carnahan lost a special election for the remainder of the Senate term.

Blunt has a slight lead in recent polls reported by Real Clear Politics. So a Democratic gain is possible.


Republican Judd Gregg, senator since 1993, after what I consider a rather bizarre flirtation with the Obama Administration, withdrew from the campaign.

The current front-runners to replace Gregg are Republican Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general, and Democratic Representative Paul Hodes.

Ayotte leads in polls reported by Real Clear Politics. Her lead is not overwhelming, so, again, a Democratic gain is possible. New England, formerly a Republican stronghold, now strongly favors the Democratic Party. New Hampshire had been a holdout against that trend, but Democrats have made recent gains there, too. The question is whether that Democratic trend will continue in what's shaping up to be a Republican year.


Republican incumbent George Voinovich is not running for a third term. His party seems certain to nominate Rob Portman as their candidate to replace Voinovich.

Portman represented a district in the Cincinnati area in the U.S. House from 1993 to 2005. He subsequently served as trade representative and budget director in George W. Bush's administration.

In the Democratic primary, to be held on May 4, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher will oppose Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Fisher is considered the front-runner, but it could be a close race.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Portman with a small lead over both of the Democratic contenders. Ohio is another state that has been trending Democratic in recent years. After giving Bush its electoral votes by a razor-thin margin in 2004, and thereby clinching his reelection victory over John Kerry, subsequent disenchantment with Bush, and scandals in state government, have eroded Republican support. Of these four states, Ohio is probably the place where the Democrats have their best chance to gain a Senate seat.

If Republicans hold all four of these seats, they still need to gain 10 seats elsewhere, in order to win a Senate majority. That will be difficult. But to gain 11, 12, 13 or 14 seats in the other states will be very difficult.

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