Labor Day has passed us, meaning the 2008 campaign season has really kicked off. So, here’s my first look at the upcoming Senate races. There are 34 seats up for election because of a scenario in Wyoming where both seats are up, due to the passing of Sen. Craig Thomas (R). Now obviously, quite a few of the races are considered “safe” for the incumbent. So I’ll rank these in terms of tiers. The top tier will be the races where there is a serious challenger to the incumbent (or at least the incumbent’s party, in cases of retirement), where the party holding the seat has a real shot of switching. The second tier are races that could become top tier races, but are not at this point. Today's post will take a look at the Tier III races and those that just aren’t considered races at all. Later posts will reveal what I think are Tier II and Tier I races.
Alabama: The Democrats’ top hope in Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks announced he was not running, leaving little-known state senator Vivian Figures (D) the only challenger to incumbent Jeff Sessions (R).
Arkansas: Mark Pryor (D) is running for re-election. He was the only Democratic Senate candidate to defeat an incumbent Republican (Tim Hutchinson) in 2002, a very strong year for the GOP. Conventional wisdom had been that former Governor Mike Huckabee would have been the strongest challenger to Pryor, but after his strong showing in the Iowa Straw Poll, it doesn’t look like he’s dropping out of the presidential race anytime soon.
Idaho: Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard the bathroom jokes by now. But even if Larry Craig resigns, it still is Idaho, and the seat isn’t really in play yet. Rep. Mike Simpson (R) has actually said he does not want the job. It looks likely to go to Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R), who already beat current Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco for that job last November by a sizable 58%-39% margin.
Mississippi: Thad Cochran (R) was considered to be a possible retirement by Karl Rove in that infamous PowerPoint presentation Scott Jennings was illegally giving to government agencies. But at the age of 70, Cochran said he’s seeking re-election. No Democrat has announced, but the top candidate for the Democrats would definitely be former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who won the famous lawsuit against the tobacco companies in the 1990s.
Montana: One would think Max Baucus (D) would be endangered in a red state like Montana, but given that they now have a Democratic Governor and two Democratic Senators, even Montana’s landscape is changing. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) was thought to be the GOP’s top choice, but he announced back in July that he would stay in the House. Michael Lange (R) is the only announced Republican candidate so far, but given that he was just ousted as House Majority Leader by his own party after an embarrassing video of him launching a profanity-laced tirade against the governor was put on YouTube, it seems right now Democrats want him to be the GOP candidate more than the GOP does.
New Mexico: At the age of 75, Pete Domenici (R) is running for re-election. But his recent role in the firing of U.S. attorney David Iglesias has hampered his chances, though only slightly. Though he is considered an icon in New Mexico politics, his role in that firing dramatically lowered his approval ratings. Only real estate developer Don Wiviott (D) has officially declared so far.
Oklahoma: James Inhofe (R) looks pretty safe, though interestingly enough, Inhofe has never gotten to 50% approval in the history of SurveyUSA’s polling. State senator Andrew Rice (D), who lost his brother in the 9/11 attacks, has declared for this race.
Tennessee: There are rumors swirling that Lamar Alexander (R) will retire, and become the chancellor of Vanderbilt University. Businessman Mike McWherter (D), son of former Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter (D), looks like he’s going to run for this seat, whether or not Alexander retires. If Alexander retires, this race moves up. If not, it stays here barring solid information that McWherter can make it a real race.
Democratic safe seats
Illinois (Dick Durbin)
Iowa (Tom Harkin)
Massachusetts (John Kerry)
Michigan (Carl Levin)
Rhode Island (Jack Reed)
West Virginia (Jay Rockefeller)
Republican safe seats
Georgia (Saxby Chambliss)
Kansas (Pat Roberts)
Wyoming (Michael Enzi)
Wyoming (John Barrasso)