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LA Senate Poll: Vitter Leads Melancon

UPDATE: Rasmussen's site had posted some incorrect data. Post has been updated with correct info.

Even with their top recruit and an incumbent who seemed vulnerable, Democrats look to be facing a tough race in Louisiana in 2010. Rasmussen's latest poll of the Senate race shows Sen. David Vitter (R) well ahead at this point.

General Election Matchup
Vitter 46
Melancon 36
Not Sure 13

Melancon also trails Secretary of State Jay Dardenne (R), but by a much wider margin: 46-33. Dardenne is said to be considering running against Vitter, who was identified as a client of the "D.C. Madam." The DSCC, which recruited Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), had released a poll showing Vitter leading the Democrat 47-37.

Considering the perceived vulnerability of Vitter -- DSCC chair Bob Menendez identified him and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr as the top targets -- he has a relatively high favorable rating in the Bayou -- 56 percent. Only 34 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the first-term senator. Some of the gap for Melancon has a fav/unfav split of 43/39.

President Obama has a 41 percent job approval rating in the state; 59 percent disapprove. Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) approval is strong -- 65 percent, with a disapproval rating of 34 percent. In the state, 36 percent of voters favor health care reform, while 61 percent oppose.

The survey of 500 likely voters was conducted October 5 and had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Melancon Enters La. Senate Race

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) announced today that he's throwing his hat into the Louisiana Senate ring. The third-term Blue Dog Democrat is expected to give Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) a run for his money.

"Today, I'm announcing my candidacy for the U.S. Senate to replace David Vitter because Louisiana deserves better," Melancon says in an online video. "Louisiana needs a different approach: more bipartisan, more disciplined, more honest, and with a whole lot more common sense."

Vitter has been expecting the announcement. As the AP reported earlier this week, Vitter mentions Melancon in recent ads critical of Democrats' health care reform plans. Vitter has also been criticizng Melancon at taxpayer-funded town halls -- so much so that the state Democratic Party chairman has filed ethics charges against him with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

The first term senator has been considered vulnerable since July 2007, when his phone number turned up on call records of the "D.C. Madam." Vitter never clarified what he used the escort service for, though the recent transgressions of Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) brought the Louisiana senator's situation back into the news.

In his announcement, Melancon emphasizes the importance of family. "I'm a proud family man. The father of two threat children. And Peachy and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary just last week."

In a statement, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, promotes Melancon's strong family values as well.

"Charlie may have stepped into the national spotlight when he helped lead efforts to assist Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but Louisianans know him best as a proud family man and experienced small business owner with a common sense approach to bringing people together, solving problems and getting results," Menendez said. "I have every confidence that Charlie Melancon will run a strong campaign and by next November, voters will want him serving as an independent voice for Louisiana in the United State Senate."

Melancon also emphasizes his southern, moderate roots. According to National Journal's congressional vote ratings, Melancon has been one of the more moderate members of the House since his election in 2004, while Vitter has regularly been one of the most conservative senators.

"I'm a pro-life, pro-gun Southern Democrat. I've got an A rating with the NRA. And I've been an avid hunter and fisherman my entire life. I'm a proud centrist, a Blue Dog, a straight-up-the-middle fighter for the little guy who is struggling to make ends meet."

Through the end of June, Vitter reported having $3.2 million in cash on hand, while Melancon reported $1.23 million in his campaign account.

LA Sen Poll: Could Be Worse for Vitter

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) doesn't enjoy great numbers in the latest PPP poll, but they could be worse.

Thirty-eight percent think the first-term senator deserves to be re-elected, while 47% say it's time to give someone else a chance. Piling on, 44% approve of the job he's doing and 44% have a favorable opinion.

That looks less than encouraging, until you see his numbers against the competition: Vitter leads a generic Democrat 44%-38%, and potential opponent Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) 44%-32%.

"David Vitter's polling in the mid-40s is a very similar position to where Mary Landrieu was a couple years ago at this time," said PPP president Dean Debnam. "Republicans were never able to translate that into a serious challenge, so it will be interesting to see if Democrats are better able to capitalize on Vitter's vulnerability."

LA: Landrieu +1?

Democrats aren't sweating Senator Mary Landrieu's chances of winning re-election, but a new internal poll for State Treasurer John Kennedy should give Republicans extra incentive to keep pouring resources into Louisiana.

The OnMessage Inc. poll, conducted 10/27-29 for Kennedy's campaign, surveyed 900 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3.3%. Landrieu and Kennedy were tested.

General Election Matchup

The numbers are a big improvement for Kennedy over recent polls that show Landrieu with a much bigger lead, including a Southeastern Louisiana University poll earlier this week that showed the Democrat leading by 19 points.

Kennedy's campaign credits a new NRSC advertisement that paints Landrieu as a rubber stamp for Barack Obama (The two senators vote together 81% of the time, according to the ad), as well as popular Governor Bobby Jindal's involvement in the race on Kennedy's behalf. Here's the NRSC's new ad, which says she's "not only corrupt, Landrieu is liberal" (We're left wondering which we're supposed to feel is worse):

LA: Landrieu Rolling

Democrat Mary Landrieu will do something she's never done before: Avoid a runoff. A new Southeastern Louisiana University poll surveyed 503 registered voters 10/20-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%. Landrieu and state Treasurer John Kennedy were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Landrieu...53 / 81 / 22 / 55
Kennedy....34 / 11 / 65 / 26

Landrieu is leading Kennedy in every region of the state, including by four points in the heavily Republican Cajun Triangle, where John McCain leads Barack Obama 55%-33%. Landrieu also trails Kennedy by just six points among white voters, a much smaller margin than that which a successful GOP candidate needs to win the state.

Okay, you caught us: Even if Kennedy makes a dramatic comeback, Landrieu will still avoid the runoff. Louisiana changed its rules and no longer holds runoffs if no candidate reaches 50%. For years, campaign staffers just off the trail in November could count on a free trip to Cajun country for December runoffs. Tragically, no more.

LA: Landrieu +20

Is the Louisiana Senate race already over, or still a tight contest? Internal polls for both parties suggest two very different answers. The latest Democratic poll, conducted for Senator Mary Landrieu by the Mellman Group, surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Landrieu, State Treasurer John Kennedy and Libertarian Richard Fontanesi were tested.

General Election Matchup
Fontanesi....... 3

The Landrieu survey comes five days after Kennedy released his own poll showing him down just five points. We're awaiting a credible independent poll.

LA Race Tightens

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana faces a stronger challenge this year than any Democrat seeking re-election. Republicans got one of their top recruiting choices, and that candidate, State Treasurer John Kennedy, has already shown fundraising prowess to rival Landrieu's. Now, a new survey shows, the race is getting close.

The poll, conducted by Southern Media & Opinion Research, a Louisiana-based independent firm, surveyed 600 likely voters from 6/26-28 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Landrieu and Kennedy were tested among a sample made up of 56% Democratic voters, 30% Republican voters and 14% independents and others (Actual registration is 53% Democratic, 25% Republican and 23% independent and other -- numbers were rounded).

General Election Matchup
Landrieu.........46 (-4 from last, 4/9)
Kennedy.........40 (+2)


While the state was once home to a huge African American population -- 32.3% of the population at large, according to the 2000 Census -- that number has dropped dramatically. Just 25% of survey respondents were African American, according to the survey, a reflection that Hurricane Katrina dramatically reduced the number of black voters in the state.

Those black voters have been a key to Landrieu's two narrow wins. In 2002, Landrieu took 52% of the vote in the December runoff against a Republican she outspent nearly three-to-one. In 1996, Landrieu beat Republican Woody Jenkins (Remember that name?) by just 5,000 votes. This year, Landrieu, whose father was the last white mayor of New Orleans and remains a widely-respected member of the city's political establishment, needs a big African American turnout to keep her seat.

While Barack Obama might boost turnout among some black voters, he is not going to pull Landrieu along on lofty coattails. The poll showed just 43% of voters had a favorable opinion of Obama, while a whopping 53% saw him in an unfavorable light. Kennedy could benefit from a strong showing by McCain; the Arizona Senator's ratings are a healthy 57% favorable to 38% unfavorable, much better than President Bush's 46% favorable to 51% unfavorable.

Landrieu, in the end, will have to win back her seat on her own, though she's still in strong position to do so. 61% of Louisiana voters view her favorably, while just 34% see her unfavorably. The incumbent will need to drive up Kennedy's negatives, though; the same 61% view Kennedy favorably, but only 11% see him unfavorably.

Two other politicians of note, included in the survey, also show strong popularity ratings. That shouldn't be a surprise when it comes to Governor Bobby Jindal, who, seven months into his first term, still hasn't lost the honeymoon feeling with state voters (Though this poll was conducted before a flap over pay raises for the state legislature broke out earlier this week). 59% of voters see Jindal favorably, while 36% see him unfavorably; 57% of voters say he is doing an excellent or good job, while just 38% say he's not so good or poor.

A high favorable rating might be a surprise, though, when it comes to Landrieu's Senate colleague, Republican David Vitter. Vitter admitted his name was on a list of clients who paid for services from the so-called D.C. Madam, Debra Jean Palfrey, who ran an escort service in Washington. Too, Vitter had been hit with allegations of involvement with a prostitute in New Orleans, allegations that he has denied but that the woman has never backed away from.

Given Vitter's recent troubles, one might expect a low favorable rating. Instead, the junior senator is seen positively by 55% of voters in Louisiana, compared with just 38% who view him unfavorably. Expect Democrats to offer a strong challenge to the freshman Senator when his seat comes up in 2010, but with numbers like this, the race is going to have to be very negative for the party to have so much as a shot at the race.

Landrieu Poll: GOP Screwed

In the party's best chance to take out a sitting Democratic Senator, Republicans can't be happy with a new survey taken for that endangered incumbent that shows her with backing from nearly half of Louisiana's voters. The poll, a month old, comes after other surveys taken on the Bayou show Senator Mary Landrieu in the fight of her political life.

The survey, taken 5/17-20 by the Mellman Group on Landrieu's behalf, polled 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Landrieu and State Treasurer John Kennedy, the likely Republican nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Landrieu........49 (+1 from last, 12/07)
Kennedy........33 (-2)

The race is the first true test of Louisiana's post-Katrina political makeup. Though the state elected Governor Bobby Jindal, that can largely be seen as a reaction against Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco's poor handling of the hurricane's aftermath. Landrieu, who won praise for her work in Washington prodding the federal government to get things done, faces a more Republican state than she did in 2002 (when she barely won re-election), and she may win re-election only by the grace of a good Democratic year.

But the foundation for that win has been laid. The federal and state government got poor marks for their Katrina response, but Landrieu is hugely popular after the storm. 60% of Louisiana voters view her favorably, while just 28% see her unfavorably. Kennedy is known by far fewer Louisianans, but he, too, makes a largely favorable impression, by a 42%-12% margin.

Republicans, who face losses so severe that National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Ensign is setting the bar at 41 seats to avoid a filibuster-proof Democratic majority, could push back with their own poll showing a much tighter race. Kennedy has raised a significant amount of money, and given the lack of top pickup opportunities on which to focus their attentions, national Republicans are likely to make an all-out push on Kennedy's behalf.

Landrieu Leads LA

Though Republicans are thrilled at the prospect of the chance to knock off two-term Democrat Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, polls have consistently shown a close race that is far from decided in the GOP's favor. A new poll out yesterday, in fact, shows Landrieu with her largest lead of the year, meaning that even though State Treasurer John Kennedy outraised Landrieu in the first three months of the year, the Republican still has a long way to go.

The survey, taken by Southern Media & Opinion Research, polled 600 likely voters between 3/26-4/9, an unusually long period of time for a single poll to be taken. Landrieu and Kennedy were tested, and the margin of error for a sample that size is +/- 4%.

General Election Matchup
Landrieu 50
Kennedy 38

Many believed that Landrieu would be in trouble this year given the dramatic demographic shifts Louisiana underwent after Hurricane Katrina. The daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, the last white mayor elected in the predominantly African American city, Landrieu has relied on large African American turnout in her two previous elections. But after Katrina, many of those voters fled to Arkansas or Texas, leading some to believe that Landrieu would have a tough fight for re-election.

The survey leaves plenty of questions open, though, especially given some suspect numbers deeper within it. President Bush has a 49% favorable rating versus 48% who say they have an unfavorable opinion of him, while Landrieu is hugely popular with a 70%-25% favorable to unfavorable rating. Junior Senator David Vitter, though, has an oddly favorable 52%-32% rating, despite his acknowledged involvement with the so-called D.C. Madam call-girl ring.

Landrieu is by no means safe for re-election, but this poll and her continued financial advantage over Kennedy has to make Democrats breathe at least a little more optimistic that they might go a second cycle without losing a Senate seat.

Challengers Get Big Bucks

Incumbency has its advantages, but sometimes being a challenger isn't so bad, either. Two challengers running against entrenched incumbents had pretty good quarters over the past three months and raked in some impressive hauls. One remains a long-shot, but the other, Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy, could be benefiting from the widely-held belief that his bid against incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is the best chance Republicans have at picking up a seat.

Kennedy raised $1.4 million in the past three months, actually out-pacing Landrieu, who hauled in about $1 million in the same period. Kennedy will end the period with nearly $2 million in the bank, the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Bill Walsh reports. Landrieu still has a wide cash advantage, with about $4.5 million on hand, but Kennedy's pace suggests he's on his way to catching up.

While Landrieu raised almost three times what she raised in the same period in 2002, the last time she faced a re-election bid, Kennedy shows no signs of slowing down. He will join President Bush at a Baton Rouge fundraiser on April 22, an event that will further help close the gap with Landrieu. In 2002, Landrieu outspend Republican Suzanne Terrell by a wide $9.4 million to $3.4 million margin and captured a 52%-48% win.

In a year when national Republicans have found it next to impossible to recruit top-tier candidates against any of a number of Democrats running for re-election, Kennedy is one of the lone stand-outs. His prominence as the one challenger to really put a Democrat on defense could serve him well as he pitches donors around the country.

In North Carolina, State Senator Kay Hagan remains a long shot to oust incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole, but that doesn't mean her fundraising is suffering. Hagan raised about $820,000 between January and March 31, ending the quarter with more than $1 million cash on hand. Hagan raised eyebrows in January by reporting more than $560,000 raised.

Figures for Dole's campaign were not immediately available, as a spokesman told Politics Nation they would not release numbers before the pre-primary filing deadline on April 24. Dole has already raised more than $4.8 million this cycle, but thanks to her stint as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2006, she's also spent $2.4 million of that money. She ended 2007 with $2.6 million cash on hand.

Hagan faces wealthy investment banker Jim Neal in the Democratic primary, though afterwards national Democrats could be well-served by ensuring she has the money to stick around for the long haul. Dole is popular on the stump and can rake in big money for other candidates around the country. If Hagan is able to stay competitive through the later months of the campaign, she could effectively tie Dole down in her home state.

On the other hand, if Dole does travel the country on behalf of other candidates, Hagan might be able to emulate a Democrat from a state to her north. As Virginia Senator George Allen was busy setting up a presidential campaign as he ran for re-election in 2006, he neglected to pay attention to Democrat Jim Webb until he had to make a hectic campaign swing that culminated in him calling a Webb staffer "macaca," a major gaffe that cost him the race. Keeping Hagan competitive will allow Democrats to mute Dole's positive effect on other Republican races and make sure one of their candidates could be in position to benefit from a slip-up.

Landrieu Up, Barely

A new survey out of Louisiana shows Republicans have a real chance to take back at least one Senate seat, though there is still work to do. The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, shows Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's Republican opponent nipping at her heals, and with room to grow.

The results are good news for the incumbent coming after a poll conducted for that Republican, State Treasurer John Kennedy, showed him leading Landrieu. Conducted 12/6-10, the poll surveyed 643 registered voters by automated dial, for a margin of error of +/- 3.9%.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Landrieu 46 / 73 / 17 / 35 / 39 / 52
Kennedy 42 / 19 / 76 / 46 / 51 / 33

More Louisiana voters know Landrieu, though that's both good news and bad news. 40% say they have a favorable impression of her, while 32% are unfavorably disposed. Just 35% view Kennedy favorably, while 10% see him unfavorably.

The good news for Landrieu: She has a smaller group to target to win over in order to reach the 50% threshold, and she can use some of her big war chest to define Kennedy early. The good news for Kennedy: Because so few have an opinion about him, he has more room to grow.

President Bush is viewed very unfavorably by Bayou voters, with just 32% approving and 53% disapproving. If Landrieu tries to tie Kennedy to the president -- not a bad move, considering that Karl Rove helped get Kennedy in the race -- the Republican might fire back by tying Landrieu to Congress, which enjoys just a 21% approval rating, while 59% disapprove. Louisiana voters most care about health care (17%), the economy (16%) and Iraq (13%), all three good issues for Landrieu. Still, immigration (13%) and terrorism (9%) could be big factors in the race as well, both of which would seem to benefit Kennedy.

The standard warning about SurveyUSA polls applies: Because they are conducted by recorded message, they are both cheaper and less reliable than polls conducted with live callers. SurveyUSA has a good record of getting the results close if they conduct polls just a few days before an election, but polls this far out can swing wildly from one sample to the next. Always take them with a grain of salt, but they do provide something of a snapshot of the race.

Afternoon Quick Hits

Sen. Mary Landrieu could be in trouble next year, a recent poll conducted for her opponent suggested. But if Democrat-turned-Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy makes it through the primary and beats the two-term incumbent, at least Landrieu could have a soft landing, as CQPolitics suggests today.

Landrieu, whose home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, might be out of a job just as a vacancy at the Department of Homeland Security opens up. Landrieu has worked with government agencies to get disaster relief for her state, and her experience as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee would give her a nice platform from which to jump to the DHS job.

Other candidates CQ floats for the spot (never too early to play the guessing game): James Lee Witt, Bill Clinton's FEMA director, Govs. Janet Napolitano, thanks to her border security experience, and Kathleen Sebelius, who won kudos for her response to a deadly tornado. Former New York City Police Commissioners Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly, retired General Wes Clark and Reps. Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Jane Harman, who has long served on the House Intelligence Committee, are also mentioned.

In other Senate news, the Oregon AFL-CIO is meeting today and may make an endorsement in that state's Senate race. State House Speaker Jeff Merkley looks like the favorite for the nod -- he's already won backing from AFSCME -- and though he faces a primary against Portland Democratic activist Steve Novick, Merkley presided over a legislative session that delivered for labor, the Oregonian reported.

The nod, though, is a blow to the candidate Merkley and Novick are aiming to knock off. In 2002, the state's AFL-CIO stayed neutral in the contest between Smith and then-Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. It's not all bad news for Smith, though: The International Association of Fire Fighters is sticking with the incumbent. Merkley needs two-thirds of the union's political council to support him in order to get an endorsement.

A recent poll taken for the Portland Oregonian and KGW, out over the weekend, shows that while Merkley or Novick might start out behind Smith in name recognition, they don't have far to go. Just 60% of Oregonians knew enough about Smith to rate him -- he scored well, with 40% viewing him favorably and 20% unfavorably. Smith's seat-mate, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, is slightly more popular, at 45% to 19%.

Merkley's state legislature is viewed favorably by just 33% of respondents, while 30% see the body in an unfavorable light.

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)

Two Big Recruits For GOP

It's a rare day when Republicans get good news. Today, though, they scored big, as campaign committees on both sides of the Hill recruited strong candidates for next year.

In Louisiana, state Treasurer John Kennedy announced he will challenge incumbent Mary Landrieu for her Senate seat next year and released an initial benchmark poll showing him well ahead. Kennedy, a former Democrat, had been heavily wooed by NRSC chief John Ensign and former White House political guru Karl Rove, and with the results of the poll, it's no wonder he got in.

Conducted early last month, from 10/10-14, the survey contacted 1001 Louisianans for a margin of error of +/- 3.2 points. Zogby International made the calls on behalf of Kennedy's campaign.

General Election Matchup
Kennedy 45
Landrieu 38

Landrieu was forced into a run-off during her initial re-election bid five years ago, and many believe that Hurricane Katrina, which chased hundreds of thousands of residents from the state, dramatically reduced New Orleans' African American population. Landrieu's father was the popular mayor of New Orleans, and she has relied on the city as a base from which to launch her successful statewide campaigns. The loss of thousands of black voters hurts Landrieu's re-election chances.

Whether she can overcome a well-financed challenger depends heavily on Landrieu's ability to expand her base beyond traditional Democratic strongholds in the cities. Louisianans vote Democratic for state legislative seats in more rural areas, but those areas have not favored federal Democrats in the same proportion.

Senate Republicans did not win a single Democratic seat in 2006, and 2008 doesn't look much better. Louisiana presents them with a very rare opportunity, and it is likely that the party will do everything in its power to help Kennedy go after Landrieu. The NRSC lags sorely behind its Democratic counterpart in fundraising, but one has to expect a significant investment in Louisiana.

In other good recruiting news for the GOP, when House Republicans unexpectedly lost Rep. Mike Ferguson to retirement this month, the party scrambled to find a suitable replacement, and quickly. Ferguson's 2006 opponent, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, is raising money quickly, and after her closer-than-expected finish last year, Republicans needed to act quickly to find a replacement who could take her on.

The obvious choice: State Senator Tom Kean Jr., who last year lost a bid for Senate but maintained the financial ties and good will among the GOP base to mount a strong bid. In fact, his candidacy would likely have been greeted with front-runner status. Kean, though, was just elected Senate Republican Whip, and as quickly as his name was floated, he announced he wouldn't run. The candidate Kean said he would back also pulled out, leaving the GOP temporarily in the lurch.

Now, the party has recruited State Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, whose Senate district covers part of the 7th Congressional. But Lance's path to the nomination isn't clear, and in a state with two prominent Republican dynasties, the other candidate hopes to trade on her family's good name to create a third. Kean's father served as governor before his son got into politics.

The next GOP governor, Christine Todd Whitman, apparently also passed on the political gene. Her daughter, businesswoman Kate Whitman, announced today that she will run against Lance for the right to face Stender in November. The younger Whitman gets a big boost with former RNC finance chief Lew Eisenberg on her finance committee, and though both Lance and Whitman would make good candidates, the GOP is clearly more excited about Whitman.

Senate Fundraising Numbers

Senate numbers trickle in slower than House numbers, as Senate candidates file with their chamber's Sergent at Arms, which then forwards the numbers to the FEC, rather than electronically, as House candidates do. Still, top candidates in important races brag of their success. Here are the numbers we've compiled for our top-ten Senate races to watch, with New Mexico added on for good measure. Results in alphabetical order:

Alaska (Anchorage Daily News)
Ted Stevens (R): $463k raised, ~$1.2m cash on hand

Colorado (Courtesy Rocky Mountain News)
Mark Udall (D) $1.05m raised, $3.1m cash on hand
Bob Schaffer (R): $786k raised, $1.16m cash on hand

Louisiana (Politics Nation reporting)
Mary Landrieu (D): $857k raised, $3.4m cash on hand
(State Treasurer John Kennedy has not yet entered the race)

Maine (Bangor Daily News gets credit)
Susan Collins (R): $1m raised, $3.1m cash on hand
Tom Allen (D): $666k raised, $2.1m cash on hand

Minnesota (Hat tip, Star-Tribune)
Al Franken (D): $1.89m raised, $2.45m cash on hand
Norm Coleman (R): $1.7m raised, $5m cash on hand
Mike Ciresi (D): $307k raised, $607k cash on hand

Nebraska (The Hill article and Politics Nation reporting)
Jon Bruning (R): $225k raised, $1m cash on hand
Bob Kerrey (D): $342k cash on hand
(Note: Kerrey's numbers are left over from his last Senate bid. He has not formally closed his campaign committee, nor has he declared an intent to run in 2008. Former Gov. Mike Johanns launched his campaign last week, after the filing period had closed)

New Hampshire (Thanks, Union Leader)
John Sununu (R): $701k raised, $2.7m cash on hand
Jeanne Shaheen (D): $188k raised, $178k cash on hand
(Note that Shaheen began raising money two weeks before the filing period ended)

New Mexico (Nice work, Las Cruces Sun-News/AP)
Heather Wilson (R): $240k raised, $755k cash on hand
Steve Pearce (R): $251k raised, $582k cash on hand
Don Wiviott (D): $130k raised, $371k cash on hand
(Note: Wilson announced for the seat after the filing deadline had closed. Pearce has not yet announced his plans. Fundraising results are for both of their House committees, all of which they could transfer into a Senate race)

Oregon (Again, The Hill)
Gordon Smith (R): $825k raised, $4m cash on hand
Jeff Merkley (D): ~$300k raised, $200k cash on hand
Steve Novick (D): ~$300k raised, $200k cash on hand

Virginia (Per The Hill and Politics Nation reporting)
Mark Warner (D): $1.1m raised, $1m cash on hand
Tom Davis (R): $220k raised, $1m cash on hand
(Note that Warner began raising money in mid-September, while Davis has not officially entered the race; Davis' fundraising numbers reflect money in his House account that he can transfer to a Senate bid. Former Gov. Jim Gilmore has yet to officially enter the race and has not opened a federal campaign account.)

South Dakota (AP and Sioux City Journal)
Tim Johnson (D): $450k raised, $2m cash on hand
Joel Dykstra (R): $82k raised

Landrieu's Impressive Pace

Endangered Senator Mary Landrieu, perhaps Republicans' best pick-up opportunity in 2008, knows the position in which she sits. Releasing campaign finance reports today, Landrieu reported raising an impressive $857,000 for the quarter, bringing her cash-on-hand total to $3.4 million.

The senator's pace is faster than it was last time out, Landrieu's campaign notes. At this point in the 2002 cycle, Landrieu had $1.5 million cash on hand, less than half what she has this year.

Landrieu, who needed a run-off to win re-election in 2002, lost many of her base Democratic voters after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Republicans recruited Democrat-turned-Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy to take her on. Kennedy, running for re-election this year, will spend much of his warchest on boosting his name identification in preparation for taking on the two-term Democrat next year. Kennedy lost his first bid for Senate, in 2004, when he and Rep. Chris John could not force then-Rep. David Vitter into a runoff.