Sunday, October 24, 2004

House and Senate Races

Daily Reality Check
House and Senate Races
By Mike Lux
American Family Voices

As part of our ongoing effort to keep you fully informed of current political events and their consequences, The Daily Reality Check is featuring a weekly political analysis column by political strategist Mike Lux that will appear each Friday.

Most of my columns have focused on the presidential race so I wanted to take some time to focus on the House and Senate races in this week's column, because it influences everything else so dramatically, and because - after all - the fate of the world is in balance.

Senate Races

South Dakota

There is only one Democratic incumbent remaining in a tough race, but that incumbent is Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. Because of the symbolic power of beating him, the Republicans are devoting incredible amounts of money to this race. Daschle, however, remains in a narrow lead, and his field operation will be phenomenal. Daschle will likely win, but it won't be by much.

The Southern Five

There are five Southern Democrats who retired this cycle, leaving Democrats a massive challenge. One of those seats, Georgia, is almost certain to go to the Republicans. The other four are closely contested:

Louisiana is probably the Democrats' toughest state. They have an open primary format set for November 2nd, with Democrats and Republicans all on the same ballot. If the front runner, Republican David Vitter, does not get 50 percent (he's currently hovering at 47 percent), it goes into a runoff, with either Chris John or John Kennedy as his Democratic opponent. No matter what, this will be tough for Democrats to win.

North Carolina: Erskine Bowles has been running ahead for the entire race, but things have tightened to an almost dead even race. With Edwards as a VP candidate, the presidential ticket won't be the drag on Bowles it will be in most Southern states, but this is still a lean Republican state. It's a 50-50 race.

South Carolina is an overwhelmingly Republican state, but Republican DeMint is about as extreme as you can get and Inez Tenenbaum is as good a candidate as the Democrats could have, so this is also a 50-50 race.

Florida: Castor and Martinez are both strong candidates, but Castor came out of the primary better positioned to win, and Democratic field operations are going extremely well. Expect Castor to pull out a narrow win.

The Republican seats in trouble. There are five Republican seats that Democrats have at least a solid shot of taking. One of these, Illinois, is a blowout for Barack Obama over Alan Keyes. Here are the four close ones:

Colorado: Democrat Salazar clings to a narrow lead. If his campaign does a good job turning out Hispanic voters, he will probably win.

Oklahoma: Like South Carolina, this is another rock solid Republican state with a far right wing wacko running against a strong Democratic candidate, Brad Carson. It's also a 50-50 race.

Alaska: Like Salazar, former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles has clung to a tiny lead in every poll done in this race so far. It's another strong Republican state, but the Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski has a lot of baggage. If the Inuits and other Alaskan Indian populations turn out to vote in strong numbers, Knowles wins.

Kentucky: This one just made the list in the last ten days. Republican incumbent Jim Bunning's erratic behavior has turned this from a blowout to a dead even race.

The odds are still against the Democrats taking the Senate, but a last minute Democratic surge or a few hundred extra few American Indian or Hispanic voters in South Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Colorado, and the Democrats could be back in charge of the Senate.

House Races
Here are the best chances for Democrats to take Republican seats.
Colorado 3. The Democratic candidate is John Salazar, brother of the Senate candidate. He is currently leading 48-43, and is ahead in the money race. Open seat.
Minnesota 6. The Democratic candidate is Patty Wetterling, an extremely well known and liked child safety activist. She is going against a marginally popular 2nd term incumbent.
Pennsylvania 13. The Democratic candidate is Allyson Schwartz, who is up 13 points in the latest poll, and has more cash on hand in a Democratic district. Open seat.
Washington 5. Open seat. The Democratic candidate, Don Barbieri, is a well known businessman who is way ahead on the money race.
Washington 8. Open seat. The Democratic candidate, Dave Ross, is a popular radio talk show host. The district leans Democratic.
Connecticut 2. The Democratic candidate is Jim Sullivan, running against a marginally well liked 2nd term Republican in a 58 percent Democratic performance district.
Illinois 8. The Democratic candidate, Melissa Bean, is running against a damaged and very controversial long time Republican, Phil Crane. Polling shows a dead heat.
New York 27. Open seat. The Democritic candidate, Brian Higgins, is ahead 48-43, in the latest poll. The district is a 55 percent plus Democratic performance district in presidential years.
Arizona 1. The challenging Democrat, Paul Babbitt, is running a strong, well funded race in a 52 percent Democratic performance district against a first term incumbent.
Kentucky 4. Popular local TV personality (and father of George) Nick Clooney is running a strong well funded campaign in an open seat.
Those are the top tier chances for taking Republican seats. There are another 13 races which I would rate as second tier possibilities for Democrats taking over a Republican seat. I think they are likely to stay Republican, but a Democratic tide at the end, last minute mistake by the GOP candidate, or some currently unknown local factor might put Democrats over the top. They are:

PA 6: Lois Murphy (D), Jim Gerlach (R)

PA 8: Ginny Schrader (D), Michael Fitzpatrick (R)

PA 15: Joe Driscoll (D), Charlie Dent (R)

NV 3: Tom Gallagher (D), Jon Porter (R)

NM 1: Richard Romero (D), Heather Wilson (R)

NC 11: Patsy Keever (D), Charles Taylor (R)

NE 1: Matt Connealy(D), Jeff Fortenberry (R)

LA 3: Open primary for both parties – 5 candidates

KY 3: Tony Miller (D), Anne Northup (R)

CT 4: Diane Farrell (D), Chris Shays (R)

GA 12: John Barrow (D), Max Burns (R)

CO 7: Dave Thomas (D), Bob Beauprez (R)

MN 2: Teresa Daly (D), John Kline (R)

There are also 10 Democratic incumbents in tough races. Five are in Texas because of DeLay's redistricting coup:

TX 1: Max Sandlin

TX 2: Nick Lampson

TX 17: Chet Edwards

TX 19: Charlie Stenholm

TX 32: Martin Frost

None are dead yet, but all have tough districts. The five others:

OR 5: Darlene Hooley (D), Jim Zupanic (R)

NY 1: Tim Bishop (D), Bill Manger (R)

SD: Stephanie Herseth (D), Larry Diedrich (R)

TN 4: Lincoln Davis (D), Janice Bowling (R)

UT 2: Jim Matheson (D), John Swallow (R)

There's one other race to watch, LA 7, which is an open seat held by a retired Democrat in a 48 percent Democratic performance district. Like all the Louisiana races, they have an open, multi-candidate, multi-party system.

So these are the districts to keep an eye on. I think it's safe to say that with this small a group of competitive seats, it would take a strong last minute Democratic tide to squeak by to a majority in 2004. However, I think there is a good chance for Democrats to make some gains, perhaps cutting the GOP 12 seat margin in half.