- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

Today the Senate comprises 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and a Democratic-caucusing independent, former Republican Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who is retiring at the end of the year. Thus, with Vice President Dick Cheney available to break tie votes, Democrats need to gain six seats (above and beyond “retaining” the Vermont seat) in November in order to achieve Senate control.

Among the 33 Senate seats being contested this year, 18 (including Mr. Jeffords’) are held by Democrats and 15 are occupied by Republicans. With four incumbent senators retiring, three Democratic seats (Minnesota, Maryland and Vermont) and one Republican seat (Tennessee) will be open contests in November. Let’s take a look at the Senate field by combining the latest Federal Election Commission fund-raising data and the “vulnerability” rankings calculated by the nonpartisan, authoritative Cook Political Report.

In its May 6 analysis published by the National Journal, the Cook Political Report ranked six Republican seats as “highly vulnerable.” With the incumbent senator’s most recent two-party victory margin and the 2004 Bush-Kerry vote, respectively, in parentheses, these seats are held by Missouri’s Jim Talent (50-49, 53-46); Montana’s Conrad Burns (51-47, 59-39); Ohio’s Mike DeWine (60-36, 51-49); Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum (52-46, 48-51); Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee (57-41, 39-59); and Tennessee’s retiring Bill Frist (65-32, 57-43).

According to the latest data (through March) compiled by the FEC, Mr. Talent has raised $8.3 million since he was first elected in a 2002 special election. He had $5.7 million in the bank at the end of March. His challenger, state Auditor Claire McCaskill, has raised $2.9 million. She had $2 million in the bank on March 31. Mr. Burns, first elected in 1988, has raised $5.9 million and has $3.4 million cash on hand. Populist farmer and Montana Senate President Jon Tester, who just won a convincing Democratic primary victory against a much better-financed opponent, will face Mr. Burns in November. Mr. Tester probably has less money in the bank after Tuesday’s primary win than he had at the end of March ($260,000). That sum was less than 8 percent of Mr. Burns’ cash on hand.

Mr. DeWine, first elected in 1994, has raised $9 million with $5.2 million in the bank. His opponent, Rep. Sherrod Brown, had $2.8 million in cash on hand on March 31. Mr. Santorum, first elected in 1994, has raised more than $17.5 million since 2000. He had $9 million in the bank. His November challenger, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., has raised $8.1 million with $4.5 million in the bank. Mr. Chafee, who faces a very tough September primary, has raised $2.8 million and has $1.9 million in cash on hand. His primary opponent, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, had $1.1 million in the bank on March 31. Rhode Island’s likely Democratic candidate in the fall, former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, has raised $2.7 million and has $1.8 million in the bank.

Sporting a March 31 war chest of $2.3 million, Tennessee Democratic Rep. Harold Ford will almost certainly be the Democrat seeking to replace retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. On the GOP side, former Rep. Van Hilleary and Rep. Ed Bryant, each of whom had about $1.1 million in the bank at the end of March, will probably split the conservative vote in Tennessee’s August primary, perhaps opening the way for Bob Corker, the extremely well-financed ($4.2 million in the bank on March 31) former mayor of Chattanooga, a moderate.

The Cook Political Report ranks only one Democratic seat as “highly vulnerable”: the Minnesota seat being vacated by the retiring Mark Dayton. Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy has raised more than $5 million and has nearly $3.5 million in ready cash. He will likely face county attorney Amy Klobuchar, who has $2.5 million in the bank.

In early 2005, numerous Democratic senators who had either narrowly won in 2000 or represented bright-red states that had just overwhelmingly voted to re-elect President Bush (or both) were considered potentially very vulnerable in November 2006. At the time, President Bush’s stock of political capital was huge and big-foot GOP candidates, including some governors, loomed as prospective senatorial challengers. Many of the recruiting campaigns failed to deliver first-tier candidates; and, of course, the president’s stock of political capital has been vastly depleted. Several of those same Democratic seats are significantly safer today than they were expected to be in November 2004.

With the incumbent’s 2000 victory margin and the 2004 Bush-Kerry vote totals in parentheses, those Democratic seats are held by Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow (49-48, 48-51), Nebraska’s Ben Nelson (51-49, 66-33), Florida’s Bill Nelson (51-46, 52-47), West Virginia’s Robert Byrd (78-20, 56-43), Washington’s Maria Cantwell (48.7-48.6, 46-53)and North Dakota’s Kent Conrad (62-38, 63-35). Mr. Nelson of Florida and Mr. Byrd of West Virginia are now rated as “probably safe,” while Mr. Conrad’s seat is considered “safe.”

The Cook Political Report classifies the Michigan, Nebraska and Washington seats as “vulnerable.” Two of the three Democratic incumbents hold significant fund-raising advantages. Mrs. Stabenow, for example, had $6.3 million in the bank at the end of March, $5.2 million more than the best-financed Republican seeking her seat. Miss Cantwell is on a fund-raising tear, having collected nearly $9 million since the beginning of 2005 alone and holding $5.6 million in cash as of the end of March. Her GOP opponent will be Mike McGavick, the former CEO of insurance-provider Safeco Corp. who had raised $2.7 million, had less than $1 million in the bank at the end of March. In Nebraska, former Ameritrade executive Pete Ricketts, who spent nearly $5 million of his own money to win the Republican primary last month, has the capacity to spend what it takes to challenge Mr. Nelson.

Another “vulnerable” Democratic seat is held by New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, who succeeded Jon Corzine in the Senate after Mr. Corzine won the governorship last November. Mr. Menendez had $6.4 million in the bank at the end of March, more than three times the bank account ($2 million) of Republican Thomas Kean Jr.

The Democratic open seats in Maryland and Vermont are also rated as “vulnerable.” Both states hold their primaries on Sept. 12. In Vermont, where Mr. Jeffords is retiring, millionaire Republican businessman Richard Tarrant had poured $2.1 million (96 percent of total receipts) into his campaign through March 31, when he had less than $400,000 in cash on hand (and a substantial personal fortune). Self-described Socialist Bernie Sanders, a Democrat-caucusing independent who has been Vermont’s sole representative in the House since he was elected in 1990, will be the Democrat-approved candidate in November. Through March, Mr. Sanders had raised $3.5 million, spent $1.5 million and had $2 million in the bank.

In the race for the Democratic nomination in Maryland, former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who had raised about $625,000 through March 31 and had less than $200,000 in the bank on that date, is challenging Rep. Benjamin Cardin, who had raised $3.9 million with $2.6 million in the bank at the end of March. The Republican candidate will be Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who has raised $2.7 million and had $1.8 million in the bank.

In addition to their all-purpose national committees (the Republican National Committee had $44.7 million in the bank at the end of April, nearly five times the $9.4 million in cash held by the Democratic National Committee), each party operates fund-raising committees that specifically focus on House and Senate races. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raised $59.5 million during the 16 months through April, had $32.5 million in cash on April 30.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which raised $53.6 million through April, had only $17.1 million in the bank at the end of last month. Five months from now, if Senate control comes down to two or three highly competitive races, party money could become the deciding factor. For example, in a massive expenditure that probably made the difference, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent at least $4.5 million in a successful effort on Tuesday to retain California’s 50th Congressional District in the GOP fold.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide