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Incumbents On Edge Over Volatile Electorate

Look no further than Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter for evidence of a volatile electorate in this midterm election cycle. Both frontrunners enjoyed leads higher than 20 points against lesser known primary rivals before polls turned quickly in their opponent's favor.

In Florida, the change in the polls happened fast: Crist led by 22 points in October, 10 points in November, was tied with Rubio in December, and Rubio led by 12 points by January. Specter's standing in the polls dropped even more rapidly, leading by 20 points in early April, 8 points in late April, and trailed by as much as 9 points in the days leading up to the May 18 primary.

The result: Crist, the governor of Florida, left the Republican Party last month to run for Senate as an independent; and Specter, a 30-year incumbent senator running for re-election as a Democrat for the first time, lost by 8 points Tuesday to a second-term congressman.

The 2010 political landscape -- and with it, the potential for poll numbers to move quickly in any direction -- has incumbents justifiably feeling uneasy about their position.

"I don't know that it's more volatile than usual," said Brad Coker, managing director of the Mason-Dixon polling firm. "I just think it's a little more accentuated this year because we're seeing it in races with incumbents."

Continue reading "Incumbents On Edge Over Volatile Electorate" »

After Bennett, Who's Next In Club For Growth Crosshairs?

** Update: The Club has revised its assessment of Sen. LeMieux, who "voted perfectly" since joining the Senate, but does not have enough votes to qualify for a full ranking. His score has been changed to "NA," and the story below has be revised to reflect that change.

The Club for Growth claimed a major victory this month when Sen. Bob Bennett failed to qualify for the GOP primary ballot at the state party convention. So today, as the Club unveils their annual Congressional scorecard, it's worth noting that seven Republicans scored worse than the Utah Republican in the rankings.

With a score of 79 percent, Bennett just barely makes the top third of the Senate as a whole. Three of the Republicans behind him are retiring or have already left the Senate: George Voinovich (74 percent), Judd Gregg (73 percent) and Mel Martinez (73 percent). The remaining four don't face voters for at least another two years: Richard Lugar (76 percent), Lamar Alexander (64 percent), Susan Collins (60 percent) and Olympia Snowe (53 percent). Given those scores, however, should they be girding for a challenge from their right? The Club for Growth says it's too early to speculate.

"If Utah shows anything, it's that all 99 of the other ones should be worried," spokesman Mike Connolly says. "They're all in trouble if they think they're going to be able to keep things going exactly as they are."

Continue reading "After Bennett, Who's Next In Club For Growth Crosshairs?" »

In GOP Races, It's NRSC Against DeMint

Jim DeMint is running for a second term this year representing South Carolina in the United States Senate. But his focus seems to be elsewhere, as the conservative senator campaigns not for himself, but for a handful of Republican candidates running in many cases against the hand-picked choice of his national party.

On Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee got its man in Indiana, as former Sen. Dan Coats won the Republican primary. Finishing a strong second was Marlin Stutzman, a state senator endorsed by DeMint.

"This was his first statewide race and he was opposed by the Washington establishment. Yet he exceeded all expectations with an unwavering commitment to conservative principles," DeMint said in a statement after the votes were counted.

Undeterred by the loss, DeMint made an even bigger play Wednesday. His Senate Conservatives Fund weighed in to an even more high profile race, picking ophthalmologist Rand Paul in the Kentucky Senate race rather than Secretary of State Trey Grayson, endorsed just the day before by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Continue reading "In GOP Races, It's NRSC Against DeMint" »

First Quarter Senate Fundraising Numbers

After the jump, we've compiled the latest available information on candidates' filings, either from campaigns or based on published reports. They're grouped by the RCP rankings for the race, and include total raised this quarter and cash on hand totals, where available.

Continue reading "First Quarter Senate Fundraising Numbers" »

A Quick Turnaround For Senate Replacements

Because their terms last only two years, House Members in competitive districts must run permanent campaigns while carefully weighing every House vote for potential political pitfalls. Life in the Senate is usually more relaxed. However, as a consequence of recent turnover, some senators now face the prospect of having to defend their seats in 2010 and then gear up to defend them again two years later.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced this week a January 19 special election to finish the term of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. It's a race that will likely be hotly contested, particularly on the Democratic side. And whoever wins the snap vote will not be able to rest for long since Mr. Kennedy's term expires in 2012. The turnaround will be even quicker for New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate. Like most states where a governor appoints a replacement, she doesn't face a special election but must run in the next regularly scheduled federal election, i.e. November 2010. But since Clinton's term expires in 2012, Gillibrand must raise money and prepare for tough fights each of the next two cycles.

Given the strong Democratic profile of both states, Gillibrand and whoever wins the Massachusetts special election may have a harder time fighting off primary challengers than a general election opponent. That's why Democrats from President Obama on down have worked to discourage intra-party challengers to Gillibrand and perhaps will do the same for the Massachusetts winner. In one respect, Mike Bennett, the newly appointed senator from Colorado, has an easier road. He may be neither a primary nor general election shoo-in, but he only has to run once. Ken Salazar, whom he replaced when Mr. Salazar joined the Obama administration as interior secretary, was due to face voters next year anyway.

New Focus On Senate Succession Practices

The death of Sen. Kennedy has brought a renewed push to amend Massachusetts' law governing Senate vacancies, for the second time in five years. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) indicated yesterday that he now would support legislation allowing him to appoint an interim replacement while still calling a special election within five months.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) reportedly may appoint a replacement for Mel Martinez this week. That appointment has been complicated by politics as well, given his own candidacy for the seat in 2010. Add to these cases the controversy over the appointment of Roland Burris by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and you understand why there's an effort being led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) to amend the Constitution to strip governors of their appointment power altogether and require special elections across the nation.

Governors historically have had this power based on the initial method of electing senators in the first place -- in the state legislatures. According to the Congressional Research Service:

This practice originated with the constitutional provision that applied prior to the popular election of senators, under which governors were directed to make temporary appointments when state legislatures were in recess. It was intended to ensure continuity in a state's Senate representation during the lengthy intervals between state legislative sessions.

Several states already require special elections, and others have moved in recent years to restrict the governor's power by requiring him or her to appoint someone from a particular party. After the jump, see the latest breakdown of state rules for filling vacancies, based on a March report from the Congressional Research Service.

Continue reading "New Focus On Senate Succession Practices" »

Finally, The Fraternity Is Full

As Al Franken stepped into the Senate chamber shortly after noon, his newest colleagues from both sides of the aisle gravitated in his direction offering hugs and congratulations. Franken then walked down the center aisle, accompanied by fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) and former vice president and Minnesota senator Walter Mondale, and stepped up to be ceremoniously sworn in by Vice President Biden.

The Senate gallery was packed to the gills, with Capitol police forced to turn away visitors at the doors. Normally asked to be quiet, the gallery erupted in cheers and a standing ovation when Franken said, "I do," and Biden concluded, "Congratulations, Senator."

The ovation lasted a few minutes as Franken received more handshakes and hugs from Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), to name just a few.

The SEN fraternity is now complete.

Energy, The GOP's Last Hope

GOP strategists believe energy issues favor them enough to help Senate candidates across the country, National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Ensign said today. With the party setting expectations as low as a five to ten seat loss, Republicans are attempting to take hold of the one issue they've found recently that could move votes their way come November.

"Energy is the issue of the day in the country," Ensign told a morning conference call today, pointing to Republicans' so-called "all of the above" approach. "We are for alternative, clean, green conservation, but we're also for drilling...and most Republicans are for exploring up in Alaska as well."

Colorado, Louisiana and New Hampshire were three states where Ensign noted Republicans were closing in the polls, something he attributed to voters believing the GOP could best solve rising gas prices. Colorado has an open Republican seat; New Hampshire has one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans hoping to retain his seat; and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu is perhaps her party's only vulnerable incumbent this year. Democrats, for now, are favored in all three.

In Colorado, a Quinnipiac poll released last week showed former Rep. Bob Schaffer pulling even with Democratic Rep. Mark Udall after trailing him in most polls this year, though other surveys show Udall still has a lead.

Recent polls in Louisiana have shown Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy within just a few points of Landrieu, whom Ensign has previously mentioned as the GOP's top target.

And last week, a University of New Hampshire poll showed Senator John Sununu pulling within his closest margin of Democratic former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen this year, after surveys have shown him trailing by double digits.

"We are having a dramatic drawdown on our economy, and because of that it is critical that we solve the energy problem," Ensign said. "Republicans are on the right side of this issue and Democrats are on the wrong side," when it comes to opening up domestic energy supplies.

Also on the call, Ensign said he didn't see Republican Senate candidates skipping their party's national convention in St. Paul as an indication that they are in trouble. "The convention is a fun thing to do," Ensign said. "But when you're in a hot race, you should be back in your state campaigning. It has nothing to do with distancing themselves from the party."

Ensign made the comments the same day the Raleigh News & Observer reported that North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole would take a pass on John McCain's coronation celebration to stay home and campaign for a second term. Dole, Maine Senator Susan Collins and Alaska Senator Ted Stevens have all said they will miss the convention, as has Colorado's Schaffer.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Dodd, Conrad Face Ethics Probe

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad are being investigated by the Senate ethics committee for their involvement in a special mortgage program from Countrywide Financial. As the Washington Post reports today, Dodd told reporters at a news conference yesterday that he was unaware that certain fees were waved for him that most customers must pay to receive lower rates when refinancing a home.

"I don't know that we did anything wrong," Dodd said at the press conference, per the Post. "I negotiated a mortgage at a prevailing rate, a competitive rate. ... I did what I was supposed to do."

Dodd was a senior member of the Banking committee at the time the mortgage was negotiated, according to the Post. He now chairs the committee, which oversees the mortgage industry. Conrad chairs the Budget committee and is the third-ranking Democrat on the Finance committee.

Portfolio Magazine first uncovered the two senators' special-treatment mortgage loans in a June 12 article. The story detailed the senators' placement in Countrywide's "V.I.P." program while refinancing multiple homes in 2003 and 2004.

Dodd said yesterday that he knew he was part of the V.I.P. program for homes he owned in Washington, D.C. and East Haddam, Connecticut, but continued to deny that he was aware of any wrongdoing. According to Politico, "Conrad, for his part, seemed more geared toward making a mea culpa for any appearance of preferential treatment," announcing he was donating the $10,700 he reportedly saved on refinancing his beach house on the Delaware coast to Habitat for Humanity and that he had paid off the mortgage on an apartment complex in his home state.

Republicans are having fun with what they call a scandal. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey penned an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal arguing against a proposal Dodd and House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank have made to provide $300 billion in new taxpayer loan guarantees, and Freedom's Watch, a conservative independent organization dedicated to promoting the GOP agenda, has sent out several releases blasting the pair.

A complaint was filed Friday with the Senate ethics committee by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Senator Barbara Boxer, the ethics committee chair, said, "A complaint has been filed and we are, as we always do, looking at that," according to the Post.

-- Kyle Trygstad

GOP, Dems Pull In Big Dough

President Bush may have an approval rating that dips perilously below 30%, but at least Washington Republicans can still find some use for him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are holding a major fundraiser this evening that is expected to bring in $19 million to the two beleaguered campaign arms.

Chaired by Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the dinner is expected to exceed its fundraising goals of $7 million for the NRCC and $12 million for the Senate, sources on both sides of the Hill said. Still, that doesn't mean all the money will come in tonight; a similar event featuring President Bush in March was said to have raised $8.6 million, though that money was spread between multiple FEC reports. Records show the party raised $7.1 million through March.

Democrats, who have outpaced their Republican rivals in fundraising success in both chambers, are also planning a new fundraising push for individual downballot candidates, Politico reports this morning, though the effort is not being run through either committee. Instead, a group of Hollywood women are planning a major fundraiser for September 27 that would directly benefit half a dozen key Senate candidates to the tune of at least $100,000 each.

Leaders of the group of organizers have signed agreements with Reps. Tom Allen, Tom Udall and Mark Udall, running for Senate seats in Maine, New Mexico and Colorado, respectively; Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, challenging Alaska Senator Ted Stevens; ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, running again in New Hampshire; and comedian Al Franken, in Minnesota.

Sen FEC numbers

Along with Tax Day, April 15 is that magical day when political junkies get to pour over new Federal Election Commission reports showcasing which candidates actually have a shot. Today, we take a quick look at key Senate races around the country, which we ranked a few weeks ago in order of vulnerability. Unfortunately, thanks to rules that allow Senate candidates to file paper reports with the Secretary of the Senate instead of electronic reports with the Federal Election Commission, not all data is completely available.

Alaska (Fairbanks News Miner, twice)
Senator Ted Stevens (R) -- $540,000 raised, $1.3 million cash on hand
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) -- About $260,000 raised

Begich, who launched his exploratory committee in late February, actually outpaced Stevens in donations given the number of days he had to raise the money. But the Democrat has a long way to go to catch up in order to avoid being buried by an avalanche (it is snowy Alaska, after all) of television advertising. Both national committees have set up websites hitting their opponent, suggesting that each party will make the Last Frontier a priority come November.

Colorado (Denver Post)
Rep. Mark Udall (D) -- $1.45 million raised, $4.2 million cash on hand
Ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) -- $1.02 million raised, $2.2 million cash on hand

Schaffer had his best fundraising period to date thanks to a fundraising visit from President Bush, but he still trails the better-funded Udall by a wide margin. Though several polls had shown the race within the margin of error, many rated Udall as the favorite, and the most recent survey to come out of the Rocky Mountains showed the Democrat with a wide twelve-point lead.

Kentucky (Louisville Courier-Journal)
Senator Mitch McConnell (R) -- $1.2 million raised, $7.7 million on hand
Businessman Bruce Lunsford (D) -- $800,000 raised, $666,000 cash on hand
Businessman Greg Fisher (D) -- $1.05 million raised, $854,000 in the bank

Fisher has donated $500,000 to his own cause while Lunsford has given himself $530,000. If either one trips the so-called Millionaire's Amendment in the general election, McConnell will be able to tap back into his incredibly deep well of contributors and double or even triple his current haul. McConnell, whose base is in the Democratic stronghold of Louisville, knows how to win elections, and he saw what happened to then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004. The current minority leader has no intentions of being caught by surprise this year.

Louisiana (Politico's Kraushaar)
Senator Mary Landrieu (D) -- $1.1 million raised, $4.5 million in the bank
Treasurer John Kennedy (R) -- $1.4 million raised, $2 million cash on hand

Landrieu, the nation's most vulnerable Democrat, will face a well-funded challenger in Kennedy, who may be the best outlet for frustrated Republican donors looking for candidates to back. Though recent polls have shown him trailing the incumbent, Kennedy will have a good chance at winning the seat back thanks to recent and dramatic demographic changes in Louisiana. Landrieu is the one Louisiana politician who has won praise for her response to Hurricane Katrina, though, and her work in Congress has earned her several prominent endorsements from Republicans. She will need a significant crossover vote to keep her seat, but that's a goal Landrieu is used to achieving.

Maine (Bangor Daily News)
Senator Susan Collins (R) -- $963,000 raised, $4.5 million cash on hand
Rep. Tom Allen (D) -- $700,000 raised, $2.7 million in reserve

Despite the target on her back, Collins remains the favorite in Maine, where polls have shown her leading by as many as twenty points. If Democrats in Washington are serious about trying to target Collins, they will have to start taking votes away from her instead of just building up Allen. Maine is used to contentious elections, but it's been a while since either Collins or senior Senator Olympia Snowe has been a target.

Minnesota (Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio)
Senator Norm Coleman (R) -- $2 million raised, $7 million in the bank
Satirist Al Franken (D) -- $2.2 million raised, $3.5 million saved up

Franken has outraised Coleman in several straight quarters, but his burn rate -- the rate at which he is spending that money -- is much faster than Coleman's, meaning much of that cash will not be available for the general election. Polls have consistently shown the race close, the most recent showing Coleman up by six points but under the 50% mark.

Mississippi (Jackson Clarion Ledger)
Senator Roger Wicker (R) -- $2.5 million raised, $2.8 million in the bank
Ex-Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) -- $447,000 raised, $337,000 cash on hand

Wicker, appointed to the Senate on the last day of December, had an outstanding first quarter of fundraising as he seeks election to the final four years of former Senator Trent Lott's term. Along with the amount of money he raised, Wicker also transfered more than $500,000 from his House account into the Senate fund. Musgrove's quarter wasn't bad either, but compared with Wicker's haul, most candidates' performances would look paltry.

Nebraska (Associated Press)
Ex-Governor/former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns (R) -- $641,000 raised, $1.33 million in the bank
Professor/2006 congressional candidate Scott Kleeb (D) -- $274,000 raised, $281,000 on hand
Businessman Tony Raimondo (D) -- $172,000 raised, $140,000 in store for later

Johanns retains a healthy fundraising advantage in the race to replace outgoing Senator Chuck Hagel, though Kleeb, who announced his own candidacy five weeks ago, has raised an impressive amount of money in such a short period of time. Raimondo's fundraising totals included a $100,000 loan from his own campaign. Raimondo and Kleeb will meet in the Democratic primary on May 13.

New Mexico (Associated Press)
Rep. Tom Udall (D) -- $1.3 million raised, $2.6 million cash on hand
Rep. Heather Wilson (R) -- $515,000 pulled in, $1.2 million left over
Rep. Steve Pearce (R) -- $467,000 raised, $854,000 in the bank

Wilson and Pearce continue to spend heavily ahead of the June 3 primary, each casting themselves as the only candidate who can beat Udall in November. Either Republican, running to replace outgoing Senator Pete Domenici, will likely be well-funded by national donors eager to hold onto the seat, but Udall will probably benefit from a big lead and the increasingly nasty primary battle. polls taken this Fall showed Udall leading by wide margins against both his potential opponents, giving Democrats reason to remain very optimistic.

Oregon (Oregonian, twice)
Senator Gordon Smith (R) -- $700,000 raised, $5.1 million cash on hand
House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) -- $455,000 raised, $474,000 cash on hand
Attorney and activist Steve Novick (D) -- $346,000 pulled in, $197,000 left over

Money isn't everything in politics, but it sure means a lot when an entrenched incumbent retains more than ten times his wealthiest challenger before a contentious primary. Novick and Merkley have forced each other to the left, focusing heavily on more liberal voters in Portland and the most heavily-populated northwest corner of the state, but that's going to make it difficult for the survivor to make it back to the center against the moderate Smith. The primary and funding problems could cost Democrats a seat they once highly prized.

South Dakota (Associated Press)
Senator Tim Johnson (D) -- $530,000 raised, $2.5 million cash on hand
State Rep. Joel Dykstra (R) -- $65,000 raised, $20,000 in the bank

Republicans missed about ten opportunities to field a well-financed challenger against Johnson, but to be fair, they faced a seriously uphill battle no matter which candidate they recruited. South Dakotans like their politicians, and the last two Senate contests pitted popular Senators Johnson and Tom Daschle against John Thune. Johnson beat Thune by just 500 votes in 2002, then Thune beat Daschle by a narrow margin two years later. Only Governor Mike Rounds had the stature to compete with Johnson, and he ruled out a run long ago. Johnson's health problems could also provide him a sympathy vote, even though he looks like he will outspend opponent Dykstra on the order of twenty-to-one.

Virginia (Washington Post and the Daily Press)
Ex-Governor Mark Warner (D) -- $2.5 million raised, $4.4 million in the bank
Ex-Governor Jim Gilmore (R) -- $396,000 pulled in, $208,000 left over
Delegate Bob Marshall (R) -- $51,000 raised, $19,000 in the bank

Like in Oregon, money doesn't always matter, but when the gap is so dramatic it certainly does a lot of good. Warner continues to look like the best bet to steal a Republican seat in the entire country, and his Republican opponents aren't helped by the fact that they're still battling for the GOP nod in nominating conventions around the state. Gilmore is the favorite to face Warner in November, but he will enter the race as a serious underdog. National Republicans have all but written off the race as lost.

Wyoming (Associated Press)
Senator John Barrasso (R) -- $436,000 raised, $1.1 million left over

Barrasso, appointed to fill the late Senator Craig Thomas' seat in July, has raised about as much since his appointment as fellow Senator Mike Enzi had since he was re-elected in 2002. Both Republicans will be on the ballot this year. Challenging Barrasso, Casper City Councilman Keith Goodenough has yet to file while attorney Nick Carter began his campaign on April 4, after the filing deadline.

Byrd Fights For Seat

The longest-serving United States Senator in history won re-election in 2006, at the age of 89, by carrying 54 of his state's 55 counties. Now 90 years old, Robert Byrd is a living legend on the Senate floor, though recent health troubles have led some of his colleagues to question whether he is up to the grueling task of managing another season as chair of one of the most powerful committees in Congress.

Several Senate Democrats, Roll Call reported, spent the week trying to gently nudge Byrd aside as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, concerned about his health and ability to guide complex spending bills through the Senate. Byrd, who returned to the Senate after a recent hospital stay to be greeted warmly by colleagues from both sides of the aisle, spent part of last week making phone calls to fellow Democratic senators hoping to shore up his position as chairman.

Byrd has not managed a bill on the Senate floor in a year, and he hasn't even chaired an Appropriations Committee hearing since September. Last week, Roll Call reported, he canceled a subcommittee hearing on mine safety, an important issue to his home state of West Virginia, a move that caused concern among Democrats.

Over the last week, at least three Senators have been mentioned as potential replacements: Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy privately expressed interest in the position, trying to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a few times last week, sources told The Hill. Washington Senator Patty Murray, who has taken to managing more appropriations bills for Byrd in recent years, has been mentioned as a possible successor, as well, as has ranking committee member Daniel Inouye, of Hawaii. Each has vehemently denied the notion that they are interested in the spot as long as Byrd is in Congress.

Some senators have already expressed their public support for Byrd remaining on the high-profile panel. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, both panel members, have told the press that they support staying on. And while no member will come out and say publicly that they think Byrd should step down, a meeting of Senate Democratic leaders last week did bring up whether he can continue, multiple press outlets reported.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Senator Byron Dorgan, said to have brought up the issue at the leadership meeting, both strongly denied involvement to The Politico last week.

Should Byrd leave, even temporarily, tradition would dictate that Inouye would take over the top slot as the second-ranking Democrat on the panel (Inouye told The Post's Paul Kane that he did not expect opposition if Byrd stepped down on his own). Leahy is third in line, and he would have to give up his seat on the Judiciary Committee in order to take over Appropriations. Murray is seventh in seniority on the committee, but her increasing work moving bills through the chamber and her position as the fourth-ranking Democrat in Senate leadership could give her an argument for taking over.

But in the Senate, tradition is a compelling argument, and no one can argue that Byrd is less a part of the institution than any other member. Byrd keeps a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket, and, when facing a crowded hallway on a recent trip to the Senate floor, told aides, press and fellow senators to "make way for liberty." He has written more extensively on the chamber's history than virtually anyone else, be they senators, academics or historians.

To dislodge such a figure will be difficult for Democrats, and those behind any move will have to tread lightly to achieve success. For his part, Byrd, who knows Senate rules and procedure better than most parliamentarians the body hires, has made it known that he intends to stay, and that, in the world of the Senate, could be the final word.

Dems Have $28M Advantage

The campaign wing of the House Republican caucus narrowly outraised its Democratic counterpart in January, though the NRCC remains well behind the DCCC in total cash in the bank. FEC reports released yesterday show a minor victory for NRCC chair Tom Cole, but DCCC chief Chris Van Hollen retains bragging rights.

In January, the NRCC raised almost $3.8 million and has a bank account of $6.4 million. They retain a debt of slightly over $2.3 million. The DCCC raised just over $3.7 million and spent much more than Republicans. Democrats have $35.5 million in the bank and $1.7 million in debts and obligations.

Senate Republicans are in relatively better position with regard to their Democratic opponents. The NRSC raised $3.5 million in January, banking $1.2 million of that for a total bank account of $13.2 million. But the DSCC raised $3.9 million last month, a faster clip than the NRSC, and ended with $30.5 million cash on hand.

While Senate Republicans enjoy a smaller disadvantage than their House counterparts, their fundraising pace has been slower than each of the other three committees in recent months. They banked more than Democrats last month by spending $600,000 less than the DSCC.

While both Democratic campaign wings are easily outpacing their GOP counterparts in money in the bank, Howard Dean's Democratic National Committee fell farther behind Mike Duncan's Republican National Committee last month. The DNC raised $5.76 million in January and banked just $60,000, ending the month with $3 million in the bank and a $250,000 debt. The RNC, meanwhile, pulled in $11.8 million and kept more than $21.7 million in the bank.

In total, Democrats have a big fundraising advantage. Together, the three committees have $69 million in the bank, while Republican committees have $41.3 million lying around.

Senate Reports Show Tight Races

Federal Election Commission reports were due at midnight last night, though despite the deadline most reports aren't available yet. But a look at numbers available through other media outlets shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Democrats are in good position to pick up seats next year.

The states that might have vulnerable incumbents and tight races next year:

Alaska (Fairbanks Daily News Miner)
Ted Stevens -- $207,000 raised, $1 million cash on hand

While Stevens' detailed report is not yet available, the troubled incumbent, who is under investigation for his relationship with an Alaska company, has blown through at least $700,000 so far. Once the report is out, it will reveal how much Stevens is spending on lawyers.

Colorado (From the Boulder Daily Camera)
Mark Udall -- $1.1 million raised, $3.6 million in the bank
Bob Schaffer -- $646,000 raised, $2.1 million on hand

Udall's lead has closed in the last twenty-four hours, though. President Bush traveled to Colorado last night for a fundraiser benefiting Schaffer's campaign. Schaffer started the race at a financial disadvantage, but his fundraising clip has been impressive, and while Udall will likely enjoy a big cash advantage, the Republican will at least be competitive.

Louisiana (Per the Hotline's indispensable Quinn McCord)
Mary Landrieu $1.2 million raised, approximately $4.1 million in the bank
John Kennedy $501,000 raised, approximately $472,000 in the bank

Landrieu hasn't given up yet, and she's got a big lead over the one candidate the NRSC actually thinks can pick up a seat for them. Still, many of Landrieu's voters have left the state in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and she faces a seriously uphill battle to stay in Congress.

Maine (According to PolitickerME)
Susan Collins -- $963,000 pulled in, $3.9 million saved up
Tom Allen -- $813,000 picked up, $2.5 million left over

Collins led polls in the Fall, and she's in much better position than the average Republican incumbent. Still, Allen is no wallflower, and once they start spending, the race will close.

Minnesota (Thanks, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
Norm Coleman -- $1.7 million raised, $6 million cash on hand
Al Franken -- $1.9 million raised, $3.1 million cash on hand
Mike Ciresi -- $807,000 pulled in, $984,000 in the bank

Ciresi's fundraising was greatly aided by his own checkbook. The second-time Senate candidate, who's won some institutional backing over comedian Franken, gave himself more than $500,000 last quarter. Franken and Coleman, meanwhile, are still raising big bucks, but many have commented on Franken's burn rate, which is pretty high.

Nebraska (According to the AP)
Mike Johanns -- $1.5 million raised, $1 million left

Former Congressional candidate Scott Kleeb has yet to make a decision on a race, though even if he jumps in Johanns remains a heavy favorite.

New Mexico (Courtesy DailyKos and the AP)
Tom Udall -- $1 million raised, $1.7 million on hand
Heather Wilson -- $516,000 pulled in, $1.1 million in the bank
Steve Pearce -- $425,000 made, $820,000 cash on hand

As Udall raises more than the two Republicans combined, the GOP has to be worried about a competitive primary that winds up depleting every penny Wilson and Pearce have, leaving them at an even greater disadvantage in November.

Oregon (Per the Eugene Register-Guard)
Gordon Smith -- $900,000 raised, $4.4 million on hand
Jeff Merkley -- $619,000 raised, $528,000 on hand
Steve Novick -- $219,000 raised, $292,000 left over

Novick has spent money on television ads, but Merkley is still much better-known. Both trail Smith in money and polls, but Oregon is a state the DSCC can play in relatively inexpensively. If Merkley has to spend his way past Novick, though, he will start a general election race in an even bigger hole.

South Dakota (Writes the Sioux Falls Argus Leader)
Tim Johnson -- $726,000 raised, $2.7 million cash on hand
Joel Dykstra -- $56,000 raised, $137,000 in the bank

NRSC chairman John Ensign hinted to RCP that a higher-profile candidate might be headed toward a showdown with Johnson. Until that happens, if it does, Johnson will skate to re-election after winning his last battle, against now-Senator John Thune, by a mere 500 votes.

Virginia (Via the Washington Post and RCP sources)
Mark Warner -- $2.7 million raised, $2.9 million left over
Jim Gilmore -- $343,000 raised, $183,000 cash on hand

Warner's stunning fundraising pace continues, and it's all Gilmore can do to keep up. Without a faster pace, this race will be over before it begins.

Sitting Down With John Ensign

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Republicans face a dangerous terrain next year, no one is feeling the pressure more than NRSC chairman John Ensign. Few know the national landscape like Nevada's junior senator, who has been given the sometimes unenviable task of protecting his colleagues while booting as many Democrats as possible.

Ensign sat down with Real Clear Politics on Wednesday evening to survey the playing field and offer his analysis heading into 2008. As usual, RCP's questions have been cleaned up, but Ensign's responses are verbatim:

RCP: Heading into next year, what kind of mood are Senate Republicans facing on the trail?

NRSC Chairman John Ensign: First of all, a year out is really an eternity in politics. A year before the 2006 elections, if you would have asked Republicans and Democrats how they were feeling, which they did, you go back and read, you know, Republicans were feeling very, very good. Democrats were, you know, shaky at best. And if you go back in 2003, a year before 2004, if you go back, I mean a year before the last several election cycles, the party that felt pretty darn good about their chances, election day didn't turn out so well.

There are a lot of factors. You know, the mood in the country, you know, the hypothetical is if the election were held today, it might not go so well for us. But the election's not being held today.

Click below for the complete transcript.

Continue reading "Sitting Down With John Ensign" »

DCCC, DSCC Best Rivals

House and Senate Democratic committees once again outraised their GOP rivals in November, further boosting their fundraising edge in advance of the 2008 election. New filings with the FEC show Democrats expanded their already-historic lead just eleven months after the party took over Congress.

In the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $4.1 million last month, ending the month with $30.7 million on had. That's more than ten times above the National Republican Congressional Committee's $2.3 million on hand. The NRCC maintained about $3.3 million in debt, though Republicans reported recently that transfers from candidate committees had provided the party enough cash to wipe out that debt. The DCCC retained about $1.66 million in debt through November.

Those funds do not include the hundreds of thousands of dollars each party spent on special elections earlier this month in Ohio and Virginia. Combined, Republicans dropped more than $500,000 on the two races, while Democrats spent close to $250,000, mostly in Ohio. Republicans handily won both specials to replace their incumbents, who had passed away.

On the Senate side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $4.15 million last month, leaving them with $25.4 million in the bank and just $2 million in debt. Senate Republicans pulled in just shy of $2.4 million in the month, leaving them $10.4 million to spend. The NRSC is debt-free.

Updating The Exchange

We're updating our Senate race rankings today, which we have failed to do since late September. If you take one lesson from the list, it's that Democrats are in even better position than they were a few months ago: More seats are open, more pickups are possible and the party is still outraising its Republican counterparts.

Still, watch the middle tier races: Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) are in trouble, but they seem with each passing day to be getting safer. All three are bucking Republican leadership at times, and while Democrats have good candidates against each, the difference between a bad year for the GOP and a terrible year will be the difference between these three surviving or failing.

Races we considered for the number 10 spot: Kentucky, where Democrats are hungry for the potential to knock off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has a lot of money, though, and in a presidential year, as Kentucky goes for the GOP nominee, it's hard to imagine any but the best candidate (Rep. Ben Chandler?) having so much as a snowball's chance of beating McConnell. Polls show Chandler and State Auditor Crit Luallen performing well against the incumbent, but both have said they won't run. South Dakota, where Sen. Tim Johnson is still recovering from a stroke, should be a good opportunity for Republicans. So far, though, they have only managed to recruit a State Representative who reported just $37,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter, nowhere close to Johnson's $2 million account. Because of his health troubles, Johnson had been a retirement threat. But he announced his re-election bid in mid-October, and with an underfunded challenger, he will likely sail to another six year term in 2008.

(Correction: We wrote that State Representative Joel Dykstra had raised $37,000 in the third quarter. In fact, he raised $82,000 in the third quarter and retained $37,000 cash on hand. We regret the error and any resulting confusion.

Races we dropped from the Exchange: South Dakota, Nebraska.

Races we added to the Exchange: New Mexico, Mississippi

As always, agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts. And don't forget to head over to RCP's Fantasy '08 to trade contracts based on your own rankings.

10. Mississippi (R-Open): Resigning Sen. Trent Lott is leaving big shoes to fill, and Republicans might actually have some trouble filling them. As Gov. Haley Barbour looks around for a Republican to hold the seat, Rep. Roger Wicker is seen as the front-runner. Wicker has plenty of cash on hand, giving him a lead over any potential Democratic opponent. Democrats are working on former Attorney General Mike Moore and former Gov. Ronny Musgrove, both of whom would be top picks to steal the seat. But any Democrat will find it difficult, if not impossible, to win in this most ruby red of states. If someone like Hillary Clinton is at the top of the ticket, subtract five more points from the eventual Democratic nominee. (Last: Not ranked)

9. Alaska (R-Stevens): If your home is raided by the FBI, guilty or not, it's probably time to call it a career. Indeed, if Ted Stevens is actually the GOP nominee, this race will move higher up on Democrats' priority list. The DSCC is doing all it can to recruit Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Other Republicans are said to be interested in a run for the seat, whether or not Stevens makes a bid. If Stevens is no longer in office, the state will have lost both its long-time Senators since 2002, while Rep. Don Young is tied up in the same scandal involving VECO Corp. Without Young, the state's position in Congress will be significantly impacted. In fact, should Stevens and Young run for re-election, that's likely to be a central tenant of their campaign. But will voters want seniority or new elected officials, like Gov. Sarah Palin, who aren't viewed as corrupt? (Last: 10)

8. Maine (R-Collins): Susan Collins was supposed to be this year's Lincoln Chafee: Popular and moderate, but a Republican in a very blue state. Democrats got their best possible candidate in Rep. Tom Allen, but polls in October have showed Collins holding consistently huge leads of twenty points or so. The race is going to tighten, and Allen is going to have the money to compete. But to the NRSC's relief, Collins is in great position a little less than a year out. Watch her rely heavily on her friend and colleague, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, if the race narrows. (Last: 6)

7. Minnesota (R-Coleman): Comedian Al Franken and wealthy attorney Mike Ciresi both say they will abide by the results of a convention among Minnesota Democrats. But several times over the last few years, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has faced nasty fights in post-convention primaries as candidates fail to live up to their promises. If Franken and Ciresi duke it out in a primary, Franken is likely to win but come away severely wounded. In a general, many will say that Franken is simply too goofy to be a Senator. But he's acting serious, and Minnesota is the same state that elected Jesse Ventura as governor. Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, to his credit, is apparently taking the threat seriously. One thing to watch: The Democratic convention in Denver will likely help Mark Udall (see number 5, below). With a badly damaged GOP brand, will the Republican convention being held in Minneapolis be a good thing or a bad thing for Coleman? The answer might determine whether he gets re-elected. (Last: 8)

6. Oregon (R-Smith): Democrats are coalescing around House Speaker Jeff Merkley, though he still faces attorney Steve Novick in a primary. Merkley, who has his sights set on incumbent Gordon Smith, faces an uphill battle: Smith is doing all he can to inoculate himself from charges that he might, in fact, be a Republican. Smith has turned against the war in Iraq, recently voted for cloture on the farm bill, something 45 Republicans voted against, and makes his opposition to the Bush Administration known at every turn. But he is a Republican in a blue state during a presidential year. Merkley will need some national help if he is to compete with Smith on a financial level, but this year, that is not impossible. (Last: 5)

5. Colorado (R-Open): Rep. Mark Udall is hoping to build on a Democratic foundation that has overtaken this increasingly purple state in recent years. Democrats now control the state legislature, the majority of the Congressional delegation and the governor's mansion, and Udall hopes to take back a second Senate seat from retiring Sen. Wayne Allard. Republicans recruited previous Senate candidate and former Rep. Bob Schaffer, and while he's not the party's perfect candidate, he spent the summer raising good money and, to the surprise of many, was within one point of Udall in a mid-September poll. Still, with the Colorado landscape favoring Democrats so much, Udall remains the favorite. This is a district where the DSCC's huge money advantage over the NRSC could come into serious play. (Last: 3)

4. Louisiana (D-Landrieu): Down on the Bayou, incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu is undeniably in trouble. A Zogby poll taken for the two-term senator's challenger, Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy, a former Democrat, shows Kennedy up by seven points. That's not a huge margin for an internal poll, but any survey that shows an incumbent trailing a challenger is significant news. Landrieu had more than $3.4 million cash on hand after the third quarter, while Kennedy hadn't begun raising money. Still, the Democrat who lost several hundred thousand members of her base remains the Republicans' best target for a pickup. (Last: 4)

3. New Hampshire (R-Sununu): A poll in early October showed the rematch between Republican Sen. John Sununu and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen overwhelmingly favoring Shaheen, the Democrat. Shaheen faces no primary and will benefit from her organization, which has stayed largely intact since her departure from the governor's mansion. Gov. John Lynch, a close ally, has kept that organization in good practice, winning with a higher percentage of votes than any governor in the state's history in 2006. Lynch is unlikely to get a strong challenger in 2008, and after the Democratic wave that swept the state last year, Shaheen remains a favorite to take the seat back for Democrats. (Last: 1)

2. New Mexico (R-Open): If Republicans can get bad news about New Mexico, bet that they will. When Sen. Pete Domenici announced his retirement, moderate Albuquerque Rep. Heather Wilson looked like a great candidate to retain the seat for the GOP. Then, dominoes started falling: Conservative Rep. Steve Pearce joined Wilson in the GOP primary. Rep. Tom Udall, a popular Democrat who will be well-funded, reconsidered his earlier decision not to run and jumped into the race, giving the party their strongest candidate to take the seat. But Udall's path wasn't entirely clear: He faced Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in the primary. Until, that is, Chavez dropped his bid, giving Udall a clear shot. News can't get any worse for Republicans in New Mexico. But if it can, it probably will. (Last: Not ranked)

1. Virginia (R-Open): Mark Warner seems headed straight for the Senate, even if he faces another former governor in the general election. Polls repeatedly show Warner beating Jim Gilmore by twenty points or more, and there's a simple reason: Gilmore was elected when Virginia was a Republican state. Warner helped nudge the state to purple status, where it currently resides. After Gilmore forced Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate, out of the race, Virginia Republicans will struggle to appeal even to GOP-leaning independents. The party can all but kiss the Senate seat goodbye. (Last: 2)

Lamar! Wins

Leadership elections made necessary by the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott, the Senate Minority Whip, produced a second chance for one senator today. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who lost the Whip race to Lott last year, narrowly edged out North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr to win the chairmanship of the Republican Conference.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the previous Republican Conference chair, was elected unanimously to Lott's vacant Whip position.

Alexander's election over Burr is another victory for established old lions of the Republican caucus over younger, more conservative members like Burr, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. Still, the narrow margin by which Alexander won suggests the young pups will find success sooner rather than later.

Senators Work To Replace Lott

Senator Trent Lott's decision to resign before the end of the year, an announcement he is said to be planning for noon today, has touched of a flurry of behind-the-scenes positioning in the Senate. Lott, the Senate Republican Whip, vacates the number two leadership slot just a year after taking over the post.

Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, is seen as the front-runner to replace Lott and has begun reaching out to colleagues. Kyl, who serves as Senate Republican Conference Chair, is technically third in the leadership pecking order and is actively seeking the whip position, a spokesman confirmed to Politics Nation. Senator John Ensign, head of the Senate Republican's campaign committee, has already begun campaigning on Kyl's behalf, hoping to head off any potential challenge.

Kyl's move has set off a scramble to replace him as Conference Chair. Senate GOP aides say Alexander, of Tennessee, and North Carolina Senator Richard Burr would likely make bids for the post. An Alexander spokesman said the senator is spending today holding conversations with aides, considering runs for both whip and conference chair. A Burr spokesman declined to comment yet. (UPDATE: A source close to Burr tells Politics Nation that Burr will run for conference chairman if the position becomes available. Burr made the decision, the source said, after being approached by several colleagues.)

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is already making calls, a Republican source tells Politico. Hutchison serves as chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the number four post on the leadership chain, but her recent declaration that she will run for governor in her native state in 2010 puts a damper on her chances, some say.

Because Lott chose to retire before the New Year, the announcement will likely set up a special election within three months, according to those familiar with Mississippi election law. Lott's replacement, to be appointed by Republican Governor Haley Barbour, would start off a race as a de facto incumbent, and conventional wisdom is coalescing around Rep. Chip Pickering as Barbour's choice. Pickering's office refused to comment ahead of Lott's announcement.

Democrats have several potential top-tier candidates for the seat, but any Republican would find themselves the front-runner in a general election. Former Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore has long been mentioned as a potential candidate, while Democrats point to former Governor Ronny Musgrove and Rep. Gene Taylor, who represents a heavily Republican district. The DSCC would not say who it had contacted in the state.

Field Report: Two Approaches

Three incumbent Republicans seeking re-election are taking an approach markedly different from a Republican challenger who hopes to join them in the upper chamber. For Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith and Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, the farm bill this week offered them the latest chance to vote against their party and join Democrats in trying to pass what will doubtless be a popular bill in their home states. Meanwhile, Smith and Maine Sen. Susan Collins are moving to inoculate themselves against criticism on the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

Smith and Coleman both voted with Democrats to invoke cloture on the measure on Friday, joining every Democrat and two other Republicans. The measure attracted 55 votes, short of the 60 votes required.

Smith and Collins, who also faces a tough battle in 2008, voted against their party to support a war funding bill that would have required troops begin leaving in 30 days. That bill, too, failed to gain enough votes for cloture. But while Smith, Collins and Coleman have grown closer to Democrats this year, Rep. Heather Wilson, the New Mexico Republican hoping to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, is taking the opposite tack. "Sen. [Charles] Schumer only wants to fund pay, body armor and chow for the troops if he can put conditions on the money so that they cannot do the mission they have been ordered to do," she told the AP.

Wilson, a veteran herself, will have to take some strong anti-Democratic positions if she can make her way through a competitive primary against Rep. Steve Pearce. While turnout in GOP primaries has been low of late, some in New Mexico are expecting a much higher showing after a barn-burner of a race, writes the Albuquerque Tribune.

Finally, in Maine, where Collins will most likely face Democratic Rep. Tom Allen, the Kennebec Journal has a message for both candidates: They "want to engage us for an entire year. It's a big race and one that already has national eyes on it because it could help tip the balance of the Senate toward a more favorable Democratic margin ... but six to nine months of that would be just fine, thank you. Call us back in April."

Weird Finish To Defense Authorization Bill

The hotly-contested Defense Authorization bill, which Senate Democrats tried to use as a vehicle for policy change in Iraq, passed with just three no votes yesterday as no significant compromise could be found. The 92-3 vote did not include five senators who didn't bother to cast their ballots.

Those five senators: Joe Biden (D-DE), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Barack Obama (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Notice anything the five have in common? Funny, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) carved time out of his busy schedule to cast a vote in favor.

Warner Scoops Webb

As the Iraq war debate, surrounding the Defense authorization bill, heats up in the Senate, Republicans may have found a way around a particularly thorny issue today.

Senator Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy and one of Senate Democrats' leading voices on the military, was set to reintroduce his measure to specify the amount of time troops must be rotated home between combat deployments. The measure, co-sponsored by Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, earned 36 cosponsors in July and got 56 votes for cloture -- including seven Republicans and just four short of the 60 needed to move to final passage.

As Webb and Hagel worked the phones today, reportedly within three votes of the magic 60 mark, both were said to be targeting a number of Republican moderates, including Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), George Voinovich (R-OH), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Arlen Specter (R-PA).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this weekend that, if the amendment got through, he would ask the President to veto it. The White House is working hard on stopping the language in the Senate, as while the President would likely veto it if it passes, it would be politically unpopular to do so.

Still, Webb hoped to work with Gates, and spoke with him last week, according to Webb spokeswoman Kimberly Hunter, and modified the bill to include a 120-day period before implementation. "I had a personal discussion with Secretary Gates on Wednesday and modified the amendment to address his major concerns. It is an appropriate area for Congress to act, and we stand by the amendment," Webb said.

Faced with an increasingly popular amendment and with just three votes separating the measure from passage, the White House turned to Webb's senior colleague, retiring Virginia Republican John Warner, who this morning introduced the measure not as an amendment to the bill, but as a sense of the Senate resolution, essentially stripping the move of any teeth.

Spokespeople for Warner and Secretary Gates did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Warner was one of the seven Republicans who voted for the Webb Amendment in July. Now, he's scooped his junior colleague and saved the White House some face, as more Republicans will be able to vote for a toothless resolution and the Administration avoids a public, and likely very unpopular, veto.