Sunday, September 28, 2008

Republican Senators Under Seige

After the 2004 elections, the Democratic Party was faced with a major deficit in the United States Senate. Minority Leader Tom Daschle even last his seat. Holding only 44 seats, and having just taken a beating at the hands of the GOP, things looked grim.

But oh, how the times have changed. Democrats now hold a 50-seat majority + 1 Independent (thanks for that one, Joe), and look to be in prime position to win several more seats this time around. Of course, the magic number is 60 seats - the amount needed to prevent Republican obstructionism and get votes to the Senate floor. On paper, a +10 victory would seem almost impossible, but the realities of this year's races give us a chance.

Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Colorado seem to be all but locked in for the Democratic challengers in those states. So congratulations Mark Warner, Tom Udall, Jeanne Shaheen, and Mark Udall on your impending elections as United States Senators. Beyond those races, there are a number of extremely tight contests across the country:

--> Alaska's embattled, crotchety Senator Ted Stevens (R) is currently on trial for corruption. The outcome will decide whether or not he has any chance to beat challenger Mark Begich (D). Let's see how long Sarah Palin's coattails really are.

--> In Oregon, Democratic State Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley is locked in a dead-heat with incumbent Gordon Smith (R), who has attempted to save his seat by running ads touting his close relationship with the next President of the United States - Barack Obama. Just goes to show how out-of-fashion the Republican brand is this year.

--> In Minnesota, comedian-turned-politician Al Franken is also roughly tied with incumbent Norm Coleman, who won his seat in 2002 after his opponent passed away in a plane crash two weeks before the election. Some may question Franken's qualifications to be a Senator, but remember that this is the state that elected Jesse Ventura. Also, as Franken likes to point out, he's "the only New York Jew in this race who actually grew up in Minnesota."

--> In Mississippi, former Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) is locked in a surprisingly close battle with incumbent appointee Roger Wicker (R).

--> North Carolina also features one of the most exciting races of this cycle. Elizabeth Dole was expected to win reelection handily, but thanks to her desire to never actually be in the state of North Carolina, she currently trails State Senator Kay Hagan. This is a race that DSCC head Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will pour money into, because of how excited he is about Hagan's strong showing.

--> Finally, a new poll in Kentucky shows Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford tied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). This would be an enormous upset for the Democrats, even larger than the defeat of their minority leader 4 years ago.

A win in all 10 of these races would give Democrats the 60 seats, regardless of Senator Lieberman's mood. A win in 9 means we have to play nice with Joe for another 2 years. So just remember, the presidential election is far from the only interesting race to watch on November 4th. Keep an eye on these seats, so that we can see how effectively President Obama will be able to work with the Senate to get his agenda passed.

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