Neck And NeckWritten By: Virginia Scattergood
Article Date: 10-02-2006
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Despite tight races, control of Congress is likely to remain unchanged.
In a year where catch phrases like "too close to call," "dead heat" and "statistical tie" dominate political election news, Republicans are concerned that come January, they will be part of the minority in both houses of Congress.
While it's true "all politics are local," stigmas of the national party stick with candidates, making them an important factor in every election. And the Democratic Party has its fair share of problems. The lack of a solid, unified message, the view that Democrats are weak on national security issues and the growing concern over events in the Middle East may push voters toward the GOP.
This year one of the biggest problems haunting the GOP is the Jack Abramoff scandal. Those linked in any way to Abramoff, regardless of their successes in Congress, will find themselves in extremely tight races. Gaffes such as immigration, the Dubai ports debacle and the President's poor poll numbers have helped rally Democrat candidates.
However, while many voters may be ready for a change in power, equally as many are content with the status quo. Coupled with the fact that terrorism is a huge concern for voters, and the GOP is generally seen as the stronger party on security issues, Republicans have a good shot at remaining in control.
Who are you?
Incumbents are re-elected with such high frequency for several reasons. One reason is voters recognize their names. Incumbents have local offices and issue official press releases about their work in Congress. Anything they do, by nature of their office, draws attention from the press.
This year, the battle for name recognition is on. Many members are retiring, leaving no incumbency advantage. Candidates without primaries have a distinct advantage since they can begin their campaigning while their opponents battle for the nomination.
Some believe a blue tide will wash over these elections, resulting in significant pick-ups for the Democrats in both the House and Senate. Democrats need a total of six pick-ups for the Senate, and 15 to take the House. Even if Democrats are successful, they will likely have a small majority that will require a lot of coalition building with the more moderate members of the GOP in order to advance legislation.
Democrats may be better off staying on the sidelines a bit longer. A small Democrat majority would likely mean gridlock, which may result in voter backlash for the upcoming 2008 presidential election. However, picking up seats while the GOP remains in control gives next term's candidates ammunition to campaign against a "do nothing" Congress. This puts Democrats in a strong political position next term, if Congress continues to stalemate.
The outcome remains to be seen, but expect some late results and potential recounts on election night. The AED Washington office predicts once the final results are in, Democrats will claim victory in some key races, but will still be the minority party on November 8.
Although there are many interesting and close races this cycle, we have narrowed our focus to the 10 House and 10 Senate races we think will help determine control of the 109th Congress.
Maryland: Open - Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) is retiring
Retiring five-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) has left Maryland with a Senate race it will not soon forget.
Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele (R), a rising GOP star with strong support in the black community, has locked up the Republican nod while two equally qualified Democrats fight it out for a place on the ballot. Among the frontrunners going into September's primary are Rep. Ben Cardin (D), and Ex-Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) who is also a past president of the NAACP. Either candidate would be a formidable foe: Cardin has national party backing and strong fundraising; Mfume, although weak on fundraising, cuts into Steele's support in the black community.
Making the race more interesting is Steele's inability to sit back and let the Democrats fight it out. At a July 24th "on background" press luncheon to discuss difficulties Republicans face going into November, Steele managed to fit almost his entire foot in his mouth. Making "anonymous statements," Steele referred to the "R" in "Republican Party" as a scarlet letter, lamenting the president's growing unpopularity among Maryland voters. When it was discovered the "anonymous statements" were made by the GOP candidate, he reneged; calling the scarlet letter statement "a joke" and claiming President Bush is his "home boy."
It remains to be seen whether the voters of Maryland will feel the love for Steele on Election Day, or if the Democratic nominee would make a better "homie."
Minnesota: Open - Sen. Mark Dayton (D) is retiring
Sen. Mark Dayton's (D) retirement opened up a GOP opportunity. Amy Klobuchar (D), the current Hennepin County District Attorney, takes on sitting Rep. Mark Kennedy (R).
Polling results vary; one showed Klobuchar with a 20 point lead during mid-July, others maintain she has only a 10 point lead going into the final two months of the campaign. The presence of former public access TV executive Robert Fitzgerald, an independent candidate with name recognition, may be the X-factor both parties fear. A GOP win would strike a major blow to the Democratic Party, turning Minnesota into a completely "red" state.
Missouri: Incumbent Sen. Jim Talent (R) running for reelection.
Sen. Jim Talent's (R) fundraising power makes him a favorite, but Democrats hope a national trend against GOP incumbents may push the race in their favor. Talent faces a tough first re-election battle against state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D).
In 2002, Talent won the election by just 1 percent over appointed Sen. Jean Carnahan (D). The only thing in Talent's way is McCaskill, who has had her share of close battles, losing the 2004 gubernatorial race by just 3 percent. Missouri has always been a bellwether for national political trends; despite rumors of an upcoming Democratic trend, analysts claim the "Show me State" is showing more of a "red" color these days.
Talent has far outpaced McCaskill in fundraising, but his stance in opposition to stem cell research may work against him. A similar, well-supported stem cell research initiative is on the state ballot in November along with a state initiative on the minimum wage. Voter turnout in support of these initiatives is expected to be high; whether the increased electorate helps Talent or McCaskill is yet to be determined.
Montana: Sen. Conrad Burns (R) running for reelection.
Innuendo of ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has put third term Sen. Conrad Burns (R) in a tough battle against the Democrat's nominee, state Senate President Jon Tester (D).
Washington's latest soap opera, the "Jack Abramoff show" has cast a cloud over Sen. Burns' re-election. Although not directly implicated, problems with former Burns' staff are taking their toll on this rough-and-tumble senator.
Tester, a Montana farmer, exudes the same "local boy" charm Burns is known for, although Tester lacks the funding to keep pace with the incumbent. With a series of recent political gaffes by Burns, including a public admonition of state and local firefighters, Tester has plenty of ammunition going into November. Help from the national party gives Tester a real chance to knock off Burns, a blow that would resonate throughout the entire GOP.
New Jersey: Appointed incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez (D) running for a full term.
Will the Kean's family ties be enough for a Republican to win the New Jersey Senate seat from appointed incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez (D)? Tom Kean Jr.(R), son of New Jersey's former governor and 9-11 Commission co-chairman, is statistically tied with his opponent by all recent polls.
Menendez, a former member of the House, was appointed by recently elected Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to finish Corzine's Senate term. With a Democrat-controlled state legislature and governor's office, Menendez seemingly has an edge. Although Menendez is winning the fundraising battle, neither candidate has much name recognition statewide. Kean may be able to capitalize on public disdain over a recent government shutdown caused by inter-party gridlock over the state's budget.
Ohio: Sen. Mike DeWine (R) running for reelection.
Incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine (R) faces potential problems thanks to the troubles of fellow GOP members.
Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) caught a break when his opponent for the Democratic nomination dropped out of the race in February.
Since then, Brown has been running an aggressive campaign, carrying the Democrats' message of change.
DeWine faces eroding support from his conservative base for participating in a Senate compromise to avoid a showdown over judicial nominees. Other stalwart republican groups have been angered by DeWine's voting record, with the National Rifle Association giving him an "F" rating. A late July poll shows Brown up eight points.
Potentially hurting DeWine are two upcoming corruption trials involving the GOP run state government. These in combination with Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH-18) recent withdrawal from his battle for reelection, may be late campaign reminders of the GOP's problems, ultimately effecting DeWine's support. At this point, the weatherman may be better able to predict which way the winds of change are blowing come November; pushing DeWine out, or carrying him back to Washington.
Pennsylvania: Incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum (R) running for reelection.
This race is shaping up to be a battle royal. For the past year, polls have shown Sen. Rick Santorum (R) trailing state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) by double digits, though insiders say Santorum is a strong closer. Casey has Pennsylvania politics in his bloodline. His dad, Bob Casey Sr., (D) was a popular governor of the state.
Although a Democrat, Casey is anti-abortion and pro-gun, a platform resonating with rural areas. Meanwhile Santorum's time in the spotlight has drawn criticism from both parties, from his visit to Terry Schiavo to pray with her family, to his widely publicized derogatory comments on gay marriage.
With fundraising numbers about even, outside forces may well determine the outcome. Santorum can count on the support of Pennsylvania's senior senator, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R). Casey will have a motivated base as sitting Governor Ed Rendell (D) faces re-election on the November ballot. Democratic leanings in this state are strong. Pennsylvania went for Gore/Lieberman in 2000 and Kerry/Edwards in 2004; and with more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans, a hold by the GOP may put Pennsylvania into play for the 2008 presidential election.
Rhode Island: Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) running for reelection.
While the GOP has been distracted with the primary, former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (D) has been building his war chest. Polling indicates Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) has the best chance to defeat Whitehouse come November, but the outcome would be far from certain. National polling indicates support for President Bush and the GOP is weakest in the Northeast, which might hurt Chafee.
Tennessee: Open - Sen. Bill Frist (R) retiring
Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) sailed through the Democratic nomination when his opponent dropped out in April, and now faces wealthy former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) in the November election.
Corker, the most moderate of the candidates, won the primary handily, due in large part to his financial advantage. While the Ford family name is prominent in Tennessee politics, Harold Ford Jr.‘s progressive views have made him a promising candidate. However, the ethics problems of members of the Ford family may cast a long shadow and current polls show Coker with a clear advantage over Ford. A win by Ford would make him the first black senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.
Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) running for reelection.
Six years ago, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) squeaked out a narrow victory against then-Sen. Slade Gordon (R). Early indications suggest history may repeat itself - this time in favor of Republicans.
As former chief of staff to Gordon, insurance executive McGavick is no newcomer to politics. Although he touts the GOP platform, McGavick bills himself as a moderate Republican willing to go against the national party when it comes to issues important in Washington, such as the environment.
Cantwell meanwhile is drawing fire for her continued support of the Iraq war; statewide polling shows a majority of citizens support full withdrawal from Iraq. Polls show McGavick gaining ground on Cantwell; McCavick was 15 points down in January and within five points as of July.
The atmosphere is ripe for a moderate Republican to win. Just two years ago, moderate Dino Rossi (R) came within inches of winning the governor's seat, until a third recount declared Democrat Christine Gregoire the winner. McGavick hopes to capitalize on the feeling among Washington voters that Democrats stole the election; making this the perfect opportunity to "right the wrong."
Colorado 7th: Open - Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) running for Governor
Bob Beauprez, having served two terms in Congress, has thrown his hat into the open Governor's race in Colorado. That leaves Colorado with an open seat, which Democrats see as a potential win since statewide polling shows eroding support for Republicans.
Former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D), for whom the seventh district was drawn after the 2000 Census, beat former state Rep. Peggy Lamm (D) for the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, according to the latest reports, former Higher Education Commissioner Rick O'Donnell (R) has raised more money than any other congressional candidate in Colorado state history. Immigration is the talk of the town in this suburban Denver district, with about a 20 percent Hispanic population. Look for this issue to figure prominently in both candidates' campaigns.
Connecticut 2nd: Rep. Rob Simmons (R) running for reelection.
Time may be up for this embattled congressman. A constant bull's-eye for Democrats, Rep. Rob Simmons (R) received an election year gift when the Base Realignment and Closure Committee spared the New London submarine base in Simmons' district.
Despite Simmons' incumbent status, his opponent, former state legislator Joe Courtney (D), has been keeping pace in his fundraising efforts. Courtney is no stranger to politics, having lost this seat to Simmons by eight points in 2002 with a campaign that was later lambasted by national party strategists.
Although Simmons won easily in 2004, his district favored presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D) by 10 points over President Bush in 2004, leading many to believe Simmons' clock is ticking. But don't count him out just yet. Simmons has racked up a moderate voting record that's a good fit for his district.
Georgia 12th: Incumbent Rep. John Barrow (D) running for reelection.
You've heard "history repeats itself" and this race is a perfect example. Former Rep. Max Burns (R) lost his seat in the last election to now Rep. John Barrow (D). Two years later polling has these same candidates in a dead heat. The interesting twist is that it's not just another rematch - the district has been re-drawn and doesn't include the Democratic base that helped elect Barrow. Although the new district still favors Democrats, given Burns' local name recognition and fundraising ability, this promises to be an exciting race.
Illinois 6th: Open - Rep. Henry Hyde (R) retiring
Henry Hyde's (R) retirement has put this long standing Republican seat in play. State Sen. Peter Roskam (R), a former Hyde staffer, is in a tight battle with Tammy Duckworth (D), an Iraq war veteran who lost her legs in the war.
Because the Iraq war is front and center in the campaign, this race is receiving national attention. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, originally convinced Duckworth to run and has made this race his number one priority. Duckworth's fundraising is outpacing Roskam, though Roskam carries more money on hand and has done a much better job raising money from inside the district. A Democratic takeover in this seat would be a blow to the GOP.
Indiana 2nd: Incumbent Rep. Chris Chocola (R) running for reelection.
With a new team of consultants and backing of the national party, businessman Joe Donnelly (D) has entered a rematch against Rep. Chris Chocola (R).
Chocola has made the most of the past two years; obtaining a seat on the coveted House Ways and Means committee, improving his profile at home, and building up his war chest to more than $1 million.
Meanwhile Donnelly, with only a third of Chocola's funding, has managed to pull himself into a statistical tie with Chocola in recent polling. Although Chocola may be favored, a national Democratic tide could push Donnelly to a win.
Iowa 1st: Open - Rep. Jim Nussle (R) running for governor
Rep. Jim Nussle (R) has entered the race for governor, leaving this seat open for two political newcomers to duke it out. Bruce Braley (D), the former head of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association and Mike Whalen (R), a wealthy restaurateur, are set to do battle in November.
Both candidates won close primaries, Braley thanks to labor support and Whalen due to his conservative stand on immigration. Differences between these two candidates are clear, and this looks to be a battle of party philosophies.
Having Nussle on the November ballot may help Whalen, by increasing Republican voter turnout. With no incumbent, expect national party involvement on both sides.
Minnesota 6th: Open - Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) running for Senate
Rep. Mark Kennedy's (R) Senate candidacy has left a vacancy Democrats are vying for. Patty Wetterling (D), a nationally known child safety advocate, had thrown her hat into the Senate race, but in January was convinced to take on this House battle. Having taken 46 percent of the vote against Kennedy in 2004, Democrats are hopeful of Wetterling's chances. However, conservative state Sen. Michele Bachmann (R) promises a strong campaign, having crushed her competition in the state nominating convention. The district shows Republican leanings, but it remains to be seen if Wetterling can capitalize on previous success, or if Bachmann's conservative stance wins over more than just the party faithful.
New Mexico 1st: Rep. Heather Wilson (R) running for reelection.
In 2004's election article we reported Rep. Heather Wilson (R) had a tough race ahead of her, two years later not much has changed. Wilson's challenger, Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D), has two prior statewide victories and the support of national women's groups behind her.
Money will likely determine the outcome. Wilson spent $3.4 million on her re-election in 2004 and had banked $1,637,000 as of May 17, compared to Madrid's $858,000. Wilson is already on the air, with an introductory spot and an ad attacking Madrid's record as Attorney General. Expect the winner to come out battered in November.
Ohio 18th: Open - Rep. Bob Ney (R) withdraws reelection bid.
A link to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has spelled the end of Rep. Bob Ney's (R) tenure in Congress. Although Ney denies any involvement, a federal investigation against him is pending, and Abramoff has admitted to bribing a House member, with all signs pointing to Ney.
A withdrawal this late puts the spotlight back on the GOP's ties to Abramoff. Since Ney dropped out prior to August 19, a special primary will be held to decide who the replacement should be. Already declaring her candidacy, state Sen. Joy Padgett (R) will likely replace Ney on the November ballot. Meanwhile, Dover Law Director Zack Space (D) upset party-favored candidate and Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer (D) in the May primary. Although Space led Ney in recent polls, given the changing nature of this race, Space may need to recalibrate his campaign against his new opponent.
Pennsylvania 8th: Incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) running for reelection.
In what could be a referendum on President Bush's foreign policy, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) faces off against Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy (D).
Fitzpatrick won this suburban Philadelphia seat easily in 2004, and is trying to hang on by keeping to local, not national, issues. Murphy meanwhile has gained in recent polls and brought in prominent Democrats to campaign for him. Among them, former Sen. Max Cleland (D) of Georgia, a Vietnam War veteran, joined Murphy in his criticism of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war.
With embattled incumbent Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) in the nearby sixth district facing a stiff challenge from attorney Lois Murphy (D), expect both national parties to cough up the money for airtime. After all, they're getting two for the price of one, hopefully.
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