Over the past two weeks, every bit of news associated with the 2010 senatorial elections has been terrifying for the Dems.
The big bad news for Dems came when Senator Evan Bayh from Indiana announced his retirement. His exit puts a seat that was largely thought safe directly into play, with most oddsmakers giving the seat to Republicans if the election were held today. Bayh’s decision to drop out came only a day before the filing deadline for the primaries in Indiana. On the upside for Democrats, this gives party leadership the opportunity to field the best candidate they can without a costly primary. On the downside, whoever the candidate is will only be able to raise money for the general election, forgoing the cash that could have been raised for a primary. Look for a knock-down, drag-out race in Indiana.
The next punch to the gut for Democrats was a horrible set of polling numbers for Senator Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas. Lincoln is trailing her most likely opponent, Republican John Boozman, by 23 points in a poll by Public Policy Polling. This could be a disastrous loss for Democrats in November.
Senate news out of New York is dangerous for Democrats both directly and indirectly. Two potentially strong candidates are rumored to be considering running on the Republican ticket. The direct threat is that Mort Zuckerman, a real-estate and media mogul, is considering a run against senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Mr. Zuckerman is extremely wealthy and could fund a considerable campaign, possibly unseating Ms. Gillibrand, whom many pundits have tagged as a weak candidate. Here’s the indirect threat: the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, is also up for reelection. Rumor has it that CNBC host Larry Kudlow may take a whack at running against Senator Schumer. I think this would be an incredibly difficult race for Mr. Kudlow, and probably a loss (barring any major gaffe from Senator Schumer). However, forcing Senator Schumer to use his vast funds to defend himself in a race could hurt Democrats nationwide. Schumer is a massive donor to Democrats around the country. If he’s forced to use his money on his own campaign, those other Democrats will be left vulnerable.
Some embarrassing news for the Obama administration came out of the Pennsylvania Senate race this week, where congressman Joe Sestak is running against senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic senatorial primary. Sestak claims that the president’s team offered him a cushy job at the White House to drop out of the primary against Specter. Since Specter switched parties to become the cherry on top of the Democrats’ 60-seat Senate sundae, the White House has tried to shield him from any challenge from the left. Apparently Sestak didn’t get the message, and he has waged a war against Specter, weakening him for any potential general election bid. Here’s something to meditate on: how is the administration offering Sestak a job in exchange for letting Specter take the primary any different from impeached governor Rod Blagojevich asking for a job in return for giving the president his pick of Senate appointees? In each situation, the president gets his senator by giving away a publicly funded job. Sweet home Chicago….
The Ohio filing deadline has passed with three Democrats running in the primary and only one Republican in the field. Republican Rob Portman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and a former congressman, will not face any primary challenge after his only opposition, car dealer Tom Ganley, decided to run for a House seat instead. Democrats face a three-way battle between lieutenant governor Lee Fisher, Ohio secretary of state Jennifer Brunner, and Cuyahoga County commissioner Peter Lawson Jones.
Republican senatorial candidate Marco Rubio rocked the house at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference). Rubio’s primary opposition, Charlie Crist, continues to fall in the polls. Rubio has established himself as a hero of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Crist’s embracing of President Obama (literally) and the stimulus package (figuratively) has earned him the unsavory title of RINO (Republican in name only) among conservatives. Crist has always been a “moderate” to some degree, but the overt celebration of the stimulus package was simply too much for Florida Republicans to handle. It may be tempting for Crist to think about quitting his bid for the Senate to return to familiar ground and run for reelection as governor. At this point, though, I’m afraid Crist might be too deep in the quicksand to win even that.
Senator John McCain is facing some serious competition from the right in the form of former congressman and radio talk show host J.D. Hayworth. McCain is definitely vulnerable from the right. He has always been the “maverick” in the Senate, frequently crossing party lines to push through horrible pieces of legislation. Hayworth can hammer McCain on his votes for No Child Left Behind, immigration reform that included an amnesty proposal, and TARP.
Soon the primary picture in North Carolina will be solidified. The filing date is only days away. This looks like an easy reelection bid for Senator Richard Burr, a Republican.