The most exciting Senate races this November I

Dateline: 27 September 2006

Democrat targets

The President’s approval ratings remain low and generic polls (“which party would you be most likely to vote for?”) give an edge to the Democrats, though perhaps by less than in the summer. So the seats most likely to change hands are ones the Democrats are targeting.

Montana ought to be safe for the Republicans, and with another candidate, it would be. But Conrad Burns has been linked to uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now convicted of corrupting public officials. Burns has been trailing for some time, and Montana now pips Pennsylvania as the Democrats best hope of a pick up. Leaning Democrat.

Pennsylvania has been top of the Democrat list for ages. When Bob Casey had 20 point leads over the GOP’s Rick Santorum it looked like an easy pick up, but Casey has a history of blowing big leads and Santorum one of coming from behind. This year does not look to be an exception, with Casey’s lead having slipped to single figures. Things still look bad for Santorum though. Last minute deciders often go for the challenger, so an incumbent needs to be ahead at this point, and no polls have put Santorum in the lead. Leaning Democrat.

Rhode Island sees the most liberal Republican in the Senate, Lincoln Chafee, fresh from a victory over a conservative challenger, face Sheldon Whitehouse, a former Attorney General. Perhaps the most liberal bastion in the liberal North East, it is surprising that this state has a Republican in the Senator at all – let alone a GOP governor as well. Leaning Democrat.

Ohio has a Republican Party in a terrible mess, and Mike DeWine may pay the price for it. He will try to paint himself as a centrist and challenger Sherrod Brown as a far left liberal. It may just work. Polls put the race within the margin of error. Tossup.

Missouri sees freshman Senator Jim Talent defend his seat against Claire McCaskill. The lead swaps backwards and forwards and is never higher than the margin of error. But, as ever, the incumbent needs to be in the lead before November. Tossup.

The same five states have dominated speculation of Democrat gains since the beginning of the year, but the party needs six gains to take control of the Senate, and that has always looked tough. Nonetheless, there are two more states on the party’s list.

Virginia, where George Allen recently made a racially charged gaffe is their best hope for number six. Challenger Jim Webb is rather gaffe-prone himself, and Republicans have enjoyed mining his books for reasons why women are unfit to command men in the military, but the pressure is definitely on the incumbent. As yet, we don’t know if Allen’s tumble in the polls is a short-term blip or a trend. For the moment, this leans Republican, but let’s see.

Tennessee is an open race in a state where Republicans have come to dominate at the federal level, but the state’s hugely popular Democrat governor is cruising to re-election, so the Senate race between GOP mayor Bob Corker and Democrat Rep. Harold Ford could be a squeaker. Leaning Republican.

Next week we look at states where the Democrats are on the defensive, in one case against other Democrats.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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