- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In 2006, Democrats retained all 18 Senate seats occupied by members of their caucus, while capturing six of the 15 Republican-held seats by defeating a half dozen GOP incumbents. Including two independents, Democrats now hold a narrow majority (51-49).

In 2008, Republicans must defend 23 seats, including five being vacated by retiring incumbents. With President Bush’s 2004 victory margin in parentheses, those five states with open seats are Idaho (68-30), where Larry Craig is retiring after 18 years; Nebraska (66-33), where Chuck Hagel is retiring after 12 years; Virginia (54-45), where John Warner is retiring after 30 years; Colorado (52-47), where Wayne Allard is retiring after 12 years; and New Mexico (50-49), where Pete Domenici is retiring after 36 years. Four Republican incumbents are defending their seats in states won by John Kerry in 2004: Maine (54-45), where Susan Collins is seeking her third term after winning re-election in 2002 by 58-42; Oregon (51-47), where Gordon Smith is seeking his third term after winning re-election in 2002 by 56-40; Minnesota (51-48), where Sen. Norm Coleman is seeking a second term after defeating former Vice President Walter Mondale (50-47) in 2002 following the death of Democratic incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone; and New Hampshire (50-49), where John Sununu is seeking a second term after defeating Republican Sen. Bob Smith in a 2002 primary and winning in November.

Democrats are defending Senate seats from 12 states this year, and all the party’s candidates will be incumbents. President Bush won six of the 12 states in 2004: South Dakota (60-38), where freshman Tim Johnson is seeking a second term after his narrow victory (524 votes) in 2002; Montana (59-39), where Max Baucus is seeking his sixth term after winning re-election in 2002 by 63-32; Louisiana (57-42), where Mary Landrieu is seeking her third term after winning re-election in 2002 by 52-48; West Virginia (56-43), where Jay Rockefeller is seeking his fifth term after winning re-election in 2002 by 63-37; Arkansas (54-45), where Mark Pryor is seeking his second term after defeating Republican incumbent Sen. Tim Hutchinson (54-46) in 2002; and Iowa (50-49), where Tom Harkin is seeking his fifth term after winning re-election in 2002 by 54-44.

Despite the fact that half the 12 Democratic seats are being contested in states won by Mr. Bush in 2004, none of them appears to be in jeopardy, according to the latest rankings by political prognosticator Charlie Cook, who rates 10 of the seats as “solid[ly] Democratic.” Mr. Johnson’s South Dakota seat is “likely Democratic”; and Mrs. Landrieu’s Louisiana seat is rated as “lean[ing] Democratic.”

In contrast, the Republican-held, open Virginia seat is rated a “likely Democratic” victory. Five other Republican-held seats are rated as “toss-ups,” including the Alaska seat held since 1968 by Ted Stevens, who won re-election in 2002 by 78-11; the open seats in Colorado and New Mexico; and the Minnesota and New Hampshire seats narrowly won in 2002 by freshmen Norm Coleman and John Sununu, respectively. Mr. Cook rates the Maine seat held by Mrs. Collins and the Oregon seat held by Mr. Smith as “lean[ing] Republican.” Mr. Cook rates as “likely Republican” both the Nebraska open seat being vacated by Mr. Hagel and the Mississippi seat, to which Sen. Roger Wicker was appointed after Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott resigned last year.

It looks to be a potentially big year for Democrats, but the likelihood that Democrats will achieve a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats remains slim at this stage.


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