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All the Handicapping That’s Fit to Print on the ’08 Senate Races

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://rothenbergpoliticalreport.blogspot.com/2008/03/all-handicapping-thats-fit-to-print-on.html Monday, March 17, 2008 All the Handicapping That’s Fit to
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      http://rothenbergpoliticalreport.blogspot.com/2008/03/all-handicapping-thats-fit-to-print-on.html

      Monday, March 17, 2008
      All the Handicapping That’s Fit to Print on the ’08
      Senate Races

      By Stuart Rothenberg

      Thirteen months ago in this space (“For Democrats,
      Time to Pad Senate Majority and Think 60 Seats,” Feb.
      12, 2007), I suggested that Democrats had the
      opportunity to make significant Senate gains this
      cycle that would position them for a shot at 60 seats
      in 2010, when once again more Republican than
      Democratic seats will be up for election.

      Following that column, though certainly not
      necessarily because of it, others also cited the
      chance that Democrats could reach 60 seats.
      Surprisingly to me, they often treated the magic
      number as if it were attainable in the November 2008
      elections, not in 2010 as I argued.

      Earlier this year, washingtonpost.com political writer
      Chris Cillizza wisely tamped down the suggestion that
      60 seats was in reach this cycle, while reiterating
      his view (and, I might add, mine as well) that
      Democrats could make significant gains in the Senate
      in November.

      This history is necessary because last week the
      influential New York Times published an article on the
      2008 fight for the Senate that was so wrong on so many
      counts that it cannot be allowed to stand as any kind
      of marker about this cycle’s Senate races. The March 7
      article was nothing short of an embarrassment.

      The Times article started off with the premise that
      Democrats could well gain as many as nine Senate seats
      this year, which would put them right at the 60-seat
      mark. Further, the author of that piece wrote that
      Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is “still a heavy
      favorite,” and he repeatedly treated Oklahoma as if it
      were in play.

      The reality is very different. Landrieu is not only
      vulnerable, she is very vulnerable. The Rothenberg
      Political Report rates her race as a tossup, and
      everyone who knows anything about Senate races
      understands that at the very least, her seat is in
      play. I certainly wouldn’t quibble with someone who
      calls her a narrow favorite, since she is an
      incumbent. But calling her “a heavy favorite” is
      absurd and says a great deal about the reporting that
      went into the piece.

      The Times article also treated Oklahoma state Sen.
      Andrew Rice (D) as a serious threat to Sen. James
      Inhofe (R), and quoted Rice as saying, “[Oklahoma
      voters] don’t care whether I am a Democrat or a
      Republican.” Oh, brother. And the moon is made of
      green cheese.

      Inhofe certainly isn’t beloved, but Rice offers an
      unappealing left-of-center contrast for Inhofe in a
      very conservative state that strongly prefers
      Republicans in federal races, particularly in
      presidential years.

      In citing observers about the Democrats’ chances of
      netting nine seats, the Times reporter quotes Paul
      Starr, whom the article describes as “a public affairs
      professor at Princeton University and a liberal
      commentator.” Starr is a serious and thoughtful
      observer who can speak authoritatively about a number
      of matters, including health care and liberalism, but
      asking his opinion about Senate races is a bit like
      asking Roger Clemens about the philosophy of early
      20th-century Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev.

      After mentioning the Democrats’ strong turnout in
      primaries as a possible factor in Democratic Senate
      gains this cycle — surely a reasonable point — the
      Times article offers the following pearl of wisdom:
      “The need of Senator John McCain ... to run as a
      centrist may undermine his ability to help
      Congressional candidates.”

      The article doesn’t explain this (though many readers
      could figure out that the reporter was alluding to
      widespread questions about base Republican turnout),
      and it ignores the possibility that McCain’s
      relatively centrist approach might actually help the
      GOP’s overall image and be an asset for moderate
      Republican Senators such as Maine’s Susan Collins and
      Oregon’s Gordon Smith, who can align themselves with
      McCain’s message and overall persona.

      Finally, in the chart accompanying the article, the
      reporter asserts that “if voters start to take
      comedian Al Franken seriously,” incumbent Sen. Norm
      Coleman (R-Minn.) could be in trouble. If? Polling
      shows the race tight, with some surveys having Franken
      ahead.

      So where does the fight for the Senate really stand?

      Republicans are certain to lose the Virginia open seat
      and could well lose opens in New Mexico and Colorado.
      New Hampshire Republican John Sununu is the most
      endangered Senate incumbent in his party, as is
      Landrieu in hers. Both are in serious trouble.

      Coleman obviously has a fight on his hands, as does
      Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who is damaged by a
      scandal that has touched him and already enveloped a
      number of current and former state Republican
      officials.

      Two Republicans who are potentially vulnerable appear
      better off at the moment, though that could change.

      Maine’s Collins still has strong poll numbers and is
      clearly well-liked in her state. Her challenger, Rep.
      Tom Allen (D), still has time to redefine her, and her
      GOP label isn’t an asset, but at this point she looks
      formidable.

      And in Oregon, Democratic state Speaker Jeff Merkley
      ought to spend more time trying to defeat activist
      Steve Novick for his party’s nomination than running a
      general election campaign against Smith.

      The most likely outcome right now — far too far out
      from Election Day to take very seriously — is a
      Democratic gain of three to six seats. More is
      possible, of course. But be careful where you get your
      information. Not everything that is written is fit to
      print.

      This column first appeared in Roll Call on March 13,
      2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights
      reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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