Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 08, 2002
POLITICS: Handicapping the 2004 Senate Race: The GOP Seats

Let's pick up where we left off yesterday, with the early prognosis for the 2004 Senate races. Once again, you can check the 1998 results for these seats here. This will probably about conclude this week's bout of election-related blogorrhea.


1. RETIREMENTS: Just one, a prominent one in a state that could go either way (I haven't checked lately, but last I heard the governors' race was still unsettled): John McCain in Arizona. You have to count that as a possible Democratic pickup.

2. THE NEWCOMER: Frank Murkowski in Alaska is supposed to be up for re-election, but he was just elected governor, and his appointed replacement will stand for re-election in 2004. That's a guarantee that there will at least be a contested election, but Alaska has been GOP territory for some time, and the ANWR controversy has exacerbated that. The main risk may well be that if Murkowski is a disaster as the governor, voters might take it out on his hand-picked replacement.

3. SAFE SEATS IN SAFE STATES: Republicans have a bunch of these, guys who are well set in their seats and won handily last time - Don Nickles in Oklahoma, Richard Shelby in Alabama, Judd Gregg in New Hampshire, Mike Crapo in Idaho, Sam Brownback in Kansas, Robert Bennett in Utah. I may also put Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado along with fellow former Democrat Shelby in this category.

4. SWING STATES: Republicans Charles Grassley in Iowa, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and George Voinovich in Ohio seem safe - Specter faced a still challenge after the Clarence Thomas hearings, but he's tacked far enough to the left that it's tough for Democrats to outflank him now - but all three are in states that will be heated battlegrounds for the presidential race, and any one of them could find himself facing a formidable opponent. Iowa, for example, has a popular Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack, who won re-election handily Tuesday and, with Tom Harkin in the other Senate seat, has nowhere else to go but challenge Grassley or run for the White House (although Vilsack is also sometimes mentioned as vice presidential material, the Democrats' trend in the last few elections has been to look for veep candidates who will generate some national buzz). Put Campbell in this category - Colorado has been a swing state in recent presidential years, although it went GOP in a big way on Tuesday - if not in the one above.

5. ENDANGERED SPECIES: Three GOP incumbents won with less than 53% in 1998. One, Kit Bond of Missouri, is in a swing state, but I suspect he will do fine even if he's facing Dick Gephardt. Righty Jim Bunning of Kentucky will probably be helped hugely by the presidential race - Bunning barely won re-election with 49.75% of the vote last time, but Kentucky's a pretty conservative state these days nationally.

That leaves us the most endangered Republican of all, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, who slid into office on the trail of slime left by outgoing Senator Carol Mosely Braun. With Illinois' Democratic governor and Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel both newly elected, I can't immediately think who will be the favorite to take on Fitzgerald (the way things are going these days, I'd have to guess Paul Simon). But the Democrats will push very hard for this seat and have to be favored to reclaim it.

THE PROGNOSIS: I'd rate the Democrats as having two good shots at pickups here - Illinois and Arizona - with maybe about three other races winding up contested. With the Democrats themselves defending about three or four hot races, they will need a great string of luck to pick up two seats and go to 51 - and that's assuming they hang on to Louisiana and South Dakota this month. In other words, if the GOP can squeeze out one more seat in the Louisiana race or from South Dakota in the event of a recount, the odds will get prohibitively high against Democrats recapturing the Senate before 2006.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 07:07 AM | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)
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