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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> Senate -- Oregon

KY, MS, OR: KosBomb!

DailyKos has sure kept our year interesting with myriad polls. Here's the final look at three top races, all conducted by Research 2000 for the leading liberal blog:

Kentucky Senate

Conducted 10/27-29, surveyed 600 likely voters, margin of error +/- 4%. Senator Mitch McConnell and businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
McConnell....47 / 14 / 87 / 46 (+1 from last, 10/16)
Lunsford.....44 / 77 / 6 / 41 (+2)

McConnell seems to have turned a corner after the economic stimulus package brought him into a virtual tie with Lunsford, and he looks far less endangered than he did only a week ago. Still, his 45% favorable to 49% unfavorable rating gives Democrats reason to hope.

Mississippi Senate

Conducted 10/27-29 among 600 likely voters. Margin of error +/- 4%. Senator Roger Wicker and Democratic ex-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Wicker......51 / 8 / 90 / 49 (+4 from last, 10/15)
Musgrove....44 / 87 / 5 / 47 (-2)

Unlike McConnell, most of Wicker's constituents -- 54% -- see him favorably, with 43% seeing him unfavorably. The early race everyone thought would be a sleeper looks like it's trending toward Wicker.

Oregon Senate

Conducted 10/27-29 among 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator Gordon Smith and state House Speaker Jeff Merkley were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Merkley.....48 / 83 / 6 / 46
Smith.......42 / 6 / 86 / 42

Smith hasn't led a live-call poll since the middle of September, putting him dangerously close to losing his seat. Merkley spent his final Sunday on the trail campaigning with Howard Dean and the state's senior senator, Ron Wyden.

OR: Merkley +6

Republican Gordon Smith is falling farther behind, according to the latest DailyKos/Research 2000 poll. Conducted 10/14-15, the poll surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Smith and Democrat Jeff Merkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Merkley...47 / 81 / 6 / 45 / 44 / 50 (+2 from last, 9/24)
Smith.....41 / 6 / 83 / 41 / 44 / 38 (+1)

Obama.....53 / 85 / 15 / 53 / 51 / 55
McCain....38 / 7 / 78 / 35 / 42 / 34

Smith has a net-unfavorable rating, 40% favorable to 47% unfavorable, and it's looking increasingly like the incumbent senator will face an uphill climb to keep his seat.

OR: Smith (R) +3

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has won two statewide elections as a Republican in a Democratic state. But this year, re-election could be more difficult, given how much the tide has turned against Republicans since 2002, especially in a state that has trended as blue as Oregon.

A new poll, conducted by Portland-based Davis Hibbitts & Midghall Inc., shows Smith and his Democratic opponent in a dead heat. The poll surveyed 500 registered voters between 9/11-14 for the Portland Tribune and KPTV, the city's Fox affiliate, for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Smith, State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Constitution Party nominee Dave Brownlow were tested.

General Election Matchup
Smith........42
Merkley......39
Brownlow......4

Those results are in line with a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poll released last week that showed Smith leading by two points and similarly mired in the low 40s. Republicans have yet to release a poll showing Smith with a better lead.

Merkley faced a difficult primary, sapping his coffers, but the DSCC has poured resources into the state in an effort to make up for Smith's sizeable financial advantage. The party spent $3.7 million on independent expenditures in Oregon through the end of August, though that figure does not include coordinated expenditures made with Merkley's campaign or any ads that have run in September.

OR: Merkley (D) +2

Further evidence that money isn't everything in politics: Despite a big fundraising lead and a moderate record by Oregon standards, two-term Republican Senator Gordon Smith faces the fight of his life. A new poll conducted for his Democratic rival's campaign shows he might even be trailing.

The poll, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, surveyed 702 likely voters between 9/7-9 for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. Smith and Merkley were tested, along with Dave Brownlow, the Constitution Party nominee.

General Election Matchup
Merkley......43 (+5 from last, 8/08)
Smith........41 (-6)
Brownlow......6 (+2)

Smith led by nine points in the last Benenson poll for Merkley's campaign. But with national Democrats hammering his ties to the Bush administration and other unpopular positions he's taken, just 32% of Oregonians now say the senator is doing an excellent or good job. A whopping 61% say he's doing fair or poor.

Smith has been running his own ads touting his bipartisan work with Democrats like Barack Obama and John Kerry, focusing so much on the Democratic presidential nominee that Obama had to issue a statement reiterating his support for Merkley.

But the early Democratic money could prove decisive in Oregon. Smith won his 2002 re-election race by defining his opponent, then-Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, early and burying him with Smith's financial advantage. This year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is stepping in to help Merkley after a bruising primary that cost him much of his campaign account.

GOP Sen Cites Obama Ties

A candidate facing a tough re-election fight is making clear his ties to Barack Obama on a bill the two worked on together to promote better gas mileage and a healthier environment. In and of itself, that's not news. But it certainly becomes news when that candidate is Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican facing a tough re-election bid against State House Speaker Jeff Merkley.

Smith, who has a big financial advantage over his Democratic opponent, is tying himself not to his party's presidential nominee but to Obama, who won the state's Democratic presidential primary by a wide margin. Smith is seen as a top target for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and he has made his own breaks from Republicans a major theme of his re-election bid. "I approve working together across party lines and this ad," says Smith at the end of the thirty-second ad.

To run such an advertisement in a state John McCain has mentioned should be fiercely competitive is both telling and disheartening for Republicans. The party is struggling all along the West Coast -- Smith is the only GOP senator outside Alaska whose state touches the Pacific Ocean -- and though McCain had hoped to make Washington and Oregon swing states, the fact that a Republican would associate himself with McCain's rival has to call that decision into question.

It isn't the first time Smith has so publicly broken with his party, either. After the 2006 midterm elections, Smith reversed his position on the war in Iraq, saying the elections were a clear signal that his constituents opposed the war. Smith's television advertisements this year have all played up his bipartisan credentials, one featuring a group called "Democrats for Smith" headed by ex-Rep. Elizabeth Furse and former State Senator Avel Gordly.

Merkley, the DSCC and Obama all pounced on Smith, criticizing him for the new advertisement. "Barack Obama has a long record of bipartisan accomplishment and we appreciate that it is respected by his Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate," Obama spokesman Bill Burton stated in an email to reporters. "But in this race, Oregonians should know that Barack Obama supports Jeff Merkley for Senate. Merkley will help Obama bring about the fundamental change we need in Washington."

A mid-May poll conducted by the DSCC showed Smith leading by a narrow three-point margin and five points under the magic 50% marker. Taken with a grain of salt, though, Smith remains the favorite, especially after a bruising Democratic primary in which Merkley only barely won.

Still, if Democrats are in such good shape that even Republican incumbents are touting their work with Barack Obama, the GOP could face a seriously uphill climb to retain even the most marginal of seats this year. At the very least, the ad seemingly confirms that Oregon's transition from purple state to blue state is nearly complete.

Smith, Merkley Tight

Two polls showing Democratic challengers running close to or ahead of their Republican rivals in Mississippi and North Carolina, which were once thought to be third-tier hopes at best, could be a coincidence. Then again, a third could be a trend. And here it is: A new poll conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shows the new Democratic nominee running barely behind two-term GOP Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon.

The survey, taken by the Feldman Group for the DSCC between 5/12-16 -- that is, before the state's May 20 primary in which State House Speaker Jeff Merkley narrowly defeated Portland attorney Steve Novick -- tested 800 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Questions pitting Smith and Merkley were released to the public.

General Election Matchup
Smith.......45
Merkley...42

If President Bush is going to have any impact on an election this year, it could well be in Smith's state, where a highly motivated electorate that came out in huge numbers this week very much dislikes the nation's chief executive. Only 22% of Oregonians see Bush doing an excellent or good job, while 78% call his performance fair or poor. Just 17% of the state sees the country headed in the right direction, while 71% say things are going in the wrong direction.

One number that should make observers wonder, though, is Smith's rating. Just 29% of poll respondents say he's doing an excellent or good job, while 55% say his performance is only fair or poor. That job approval rating is much lower than any numbers published on Smith yet, suggesting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's advertisements slamming the incumbent may be working well, or that this particular sample just happens to really dislike him.

Then again, this is the first live-call poll made public that we've seen. Don't be surprised if Smith fires back with his own poll showing a much wider margin between the two candidates in coming days. Often the biggest impact a poll like this has is to force the other side to release their own internal numbers.

For more on the contest between Smith and Merkley, check out our backgrounder from last summer.

Merkley Survives Sen Primary

Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkley narrowly squeaked by a Portland attorney and activist in the race to face Republican incumbent Senator Gordon Smith last night. In a primary that left both candidates lurching to the left, Merkley, the favorite of most of the party establishment, won by wide margins in most of the state's counties to overcome attorney Steve Novick's big lead in Portland-based Multnomah County.

With 85% of the vote counted, Merkley had 45% to Novick's 41%, and realtor Candy Neville took 7%. The Associated Press and others have called the race for Merkley, who won all but four out of the state's thirty two counties and every metropolitan area save the state's largest city and Corvallis, where Oregon State University is based.

Merkley will now face Smith in November, a tough and well-funded opponent who knows that 2008 is going to be a difficult year for his Republican Party. Therefore, Smith is taking no chances, and don't be surprised if ads begin hitting the airwaves defining Merkley as the product of a liberal legislature. Given his heavy ad spending in the last several weeks of the primary, Merkley finds his warchest depleted, a disparity national Democrats have tried to mitigate by running ads slamming Smith.

In the state's other hot race, businessman and 2006 nominee Mike Erickson beat out two-time gubernatorial nominee Kevin Mannix in the race for the Republican nomination in the state's open Fifth District. Erickson took 50% to Mannix's 44%. The Republican contest turned nasty in the final week as Mannix dropped a mail piece accusing Erickson of paying for an abortion, a charge that some suggested would likely backfire on its source.

On the Democratic side, State Senator Kurt Schrader easily outpaced his nearest rival, Steve Marks, who served as the top aide to a popular former governor, by a 54%-18% margin and will carry the mantle in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley. The district, which takes in some southern Portland suburbs and stretches from the Cascades to the coast, scooping up state capitol Salem on the way, is marginal, and Hooley won by small enough amounts to guarantee her a spot on the GOP target list.

National Democrats had favored Schrader, but this contest, in a district President Bush won narrowly twice, is likely going to be one on which national Democrats have to spend money. Erickson has already poured more than $2.1 million into his two bids, while Schrader raised just over $100,000 between filing on March 7 and the end of the reporting period in Oregon, April 30.

In other Oregon election news, Portland selected its first openly gay mayor, as Sam Adams took 58% of the vote, beating a dozen other candidates, the closest being businessman Sho Dozono, who took 34%. Adams is a city councilmember and had served as the top aide to the highly popular former mayor, Vera Katz, the Oregonian reports this morning. Katz stepped down after three terms when she was diagnosed with cancer, though four years later she remains a volunteer at a Portland-area literacy program.

OR Primaries Tight

Oregon voters are mailing in their ballots today not only to allocate the state's 52 convention delegates but also to pick candidates to take on incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith and to replace outgoing Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley. In both races, candidates are dealing with a hugely expanded universe of voters -- Oregon election officials expect 70% of registered Democrats to cast ballots -- that may change the outcomes.

In the race to beat Smith, State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, initially seen as the odds on favorite to win the primary, has faced a surprisingly strong challenge from Portland attorney and activist Steve Novick. Running to the left, Novick has characterized Merkley as politics as usual, while asserting he can draw the best contrasts with Smith. Polls have showed the two running neck and neck, though with more than 40% of the electorate undecided.

Should Novick win, it will be the first time a candidate handpicked by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer failed to make it out of a primary. Schumer recruited Merkley, albeit after several other better-known state Democrats refused to enter the race, and while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hasn't explicitly endorsed or advocated on his behalf, aides have made known that they believe Merkley would have the best chance to beat Smith in November.

In the state's Fifth District, Rep. Darlene Hooley dropped her bid for a new term citing health reasons, and her life couldn't have been made easier by the fact that her seat is a perpetual Republican target. The district, south of Portland stretching from the Cascade Mountains to the coast, voted twice for President Bush, though Hooley has usually won by ten points or more.

Running to replace her, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited State Senator Kurt Schrader, though Steve Marks, a former chief of staff to ex-Governor John Kitzhaber, is also running. Schrader has a political base and more money, though Marks has backing from Kitzhaber and former Governor Barbara Roberts. Both candidates jumped in the race late, given Hooley's late exit, in early February. Three other Democrats are also running, though none look like serious threats to Schrader and Marks.

The Republican side of the primary, in which turnout will be significantly lighter, has turned into one of the ugliest contests so far this cycle as late mail drops accused one candidate of paying for an abortion for a former friend. Mike Erickson, a businessman who ran in 2006, denied the story, as asserted in a letter sent to voters who hadn't cast ballots yet paid for by Kevin Mannix, a former state Republican Party chairman and candidate for other offices.

Erickson has name recognition from running in the district two years ago in one of the few seats Republicans thought they might pick up. Mannix, who has run for governor twice and served in the 1990s as a State Senator, has high name recognition as well. And while Erickson has vastly outspent Mannix, who got a late start in the race, the last-minute allegations -- true or not -- could have an impact.

After two competitive primaries in advance of the November elections, the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees are going to receive a lot of attention from their national parties. In such a swing district, in a presidential year, the seat could prove to be one of the tightest in the country.

Indecisive Oregonians

Despite candidates who have been stumping across the state for months, Oregon Democrats just can't seem to make up their mind, a poll for the Portland Tribune and KPTV shows. Voters are casting their ballots already, in advance of next week's primary, and while national Democrats have made clear which candidate they want to take on Republican incumbent Gordon Smith in November, the front-runner at the moment is anyone's guess.

The survey, taken by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, tested 400 likely primary voters between 5/8-10 for a margin of error of +/- 5%. State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Portland attorney and activist Steve Novick were tested, alongside realtor Candy Neville.

Primary Election Matchup
Novick 29
Merkley 23
Neville 3

With a huge turnout expected, boosted by the long and contentious Democratic presidential primary which will be decided the same day, the 43% of the electorate that remains undecided could break either way. Add to that the fact that Oregon elections are conducted entirely by mail and turnout could approach off-year general election levels.

A separate robo-call poll conducted for a different television station shows Merkley ahead by a 31%-27% margin, though again undecided voters dominate the sample.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has already run ads in the state slamming Smith for his ties to the Bush Administration, has made clear their preference for Merkley, who has outraised Novick and has what they believe is a larger political base. Through the end of April, Merkley had raised $1.86 million and spent all but $151,000, while Novick had managed to raise just over $1 million and had $65,000 left to spend.

Novick has proven a solid campaigner, and he seems determined not to be shaken loose so easily. More liberal than Merkley, Novick, once overlooked, now finds himself with a significant shot at the nomination. Whichever candidate wins the all-mail primary next Tuesday will have a chance at defeating Smith, thanks to what is likely to be a big DSCC investment in the state. But Smith is used to being targeted. He's already raised nearly $5 million and still has $4.88 million in the bank in preparation for what could be another tough fight.

Dems Spend In OR Primary

One knock on National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole is that the Oklahoma Republican has not gotten involved in key GOP primaries this year to ensure the party has the candidate of their choice when a general election roles around. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer is not following that rule, getting directly involved in the race to oust Republican Senator Gordon Smith, of Oregon.

The DSCC has dropped thousands of dollars on an advertisement of unknown content, the Oregonian's Harry Esteve reported yesterday. Schumer's committee has been pushing State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, without officially endorsing his candidacy, though no one has seen the content of the advertisement. The size of the buy is unknown, but the committee plunked down $44,000 on one station in Portland, leading some to believe it will be a sizable purchase statewide.

Merkley is engaged in a tougher-than-expected primary battle with attorney and activist Steve Novick, who has forced Merkley to the left during primary debates and has criticized the establishment choice for votes he took to support the troops (a vote Novick says backed the war in Iraq) and for being, well, the establishment choice. Both candidates are appealing to heavily liberal Democratic primary voters in advance of the May 20 deadline for voters to mail in their ballots.

Neither candidate was the party's top choice, as several potential gorillas, including former Governor Ted Kulongoski and Rep. Peter DeFazio said no to the race. And despite Merkley's position as head of the State House, Novick has won some key endorsements, from both big unions in the state as well as the Portland Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper. He also got attention when top grunge artists from REM, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, the Decemberists and others endorsed his campaign, a big positive in a hipster city like Portland, from which much of the Democratic vote will come.

If either candidate were to knock off Smith, it would probably qualify as the upset of the year. Merkley and Novick have both raised only a fraction of what Smith had on hand, with $1.37 million and $889,000 pulled in, respectively. Through the end of March, Merkley had $473,000 left in the bank while Novick had $197,000 on hand. Smith, who has spent the past year distancing himself as much as possible from the Bush Administration and has a reputation as a moderate Republican, has $5.16 million on hand to start defining his Democratic opponent immediately after the nomination is decided.

But Schumer, to his credit, is not afraid to get involved in a primary, and this isn't the first time he's waded into a contested primary. Schumer effectively shoved several candidates out of the way to make a hole for ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and helped push Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez out of the race in New Mexico. Now, in Oregon, national Democrats apparently believe they will be better served with Merkley heading their ticket than with Novick doing so. Perhaps Tom Cole is watching.

Updated: We wrote earlier that the ad specifically backs Merkley. That is not known yet, given that the spot has yet to hit television stations in Oregon. We regret any confusion.

Still Running Against DC

Two Democrats, up with their first advertisements of the year, are showing that challengers can still run against Washington, D.C., even when their party controls Congress. The candidates, Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley and North Carolina State Senator Kay Hagan, launched both ads this week in advance of their respective primaries on May 20 and May 6.

"Tired of his party's inaction, Jeff Merkley led Democrats back to power," Merkley's 30-second ad begins. In the state Senate, Hagan's ad claims, she "brought change," "but now, Washington is broken and needs the kind of change Kay represents." The lines in each ad show what comes of a Congressional approval rating in the low twenties, according to the latest RCP Congressional Average.

Both Democrats are the national party's favored choice to take on Republican incumbents Gordon Smith, in Oregon, and Elizabeth Dole, in North Carolina. And while some Republicans suggest Congress' poor approval rating could hurt Democrats in November, the new congressional majority still enjoys a big generic ballot lead in recent polls. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out earlier this month shows voters prefer a Democratic-led Congress by a 49% to 35% margin over a GOP-controlled legislature, and Democrats lead by 10.4% in the latest RCP Generic Ballot Average.

"The common refrain we hear from people all across the state is that they feel as though Washington has forgotten about them," Hagan communications director Colleen Flanagan told Politics Nation. "Kay has a proven record that shows she's been working for North Carolinians for years." Republicans in challenger races around the country have also made attacking Washington a priority, and it looks like neither party is going to give the nation's capitol a break.

WH Race Messes With Primaries

As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to battle over delegates, candidates running for down-ballot offices are facing the prospects of competing for voter attention with two mega-stars. In what are expected to be close primaries in Indiana and Oregon, candidates looking to advertise on television are going up against what could be million-dollar budgets for limited, and crucial, points.

In Indiana, former Rep. Jill Long Thompson and architect Jim Schellinger will share the ballot with Clinton and Obama in their race for the gubernatorial nomination on May 6. A recent poll have shown a close race between the two Democrats, but while both candidates are on television now, they could find themselves drowned out in a state where the two presidential candidates are each focusing major resources.

In Oregon, attorney and activist Steve Novick has been on television with humorous, quirky ads for several months (including one in which he opens a beer bottle with a hook), while House Speaker Jeff Merkley, the favorite of establishment Democrats, is just starting to go on television, as Swing State Project reports. Merkley and Novick will face off for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith in Oregon's all-mail election, along with the presidential candidates, that ends May 20.

Not only do the presidential primaries increase the costs for down-ballot candidates running in other primaries, a contest with so much excitement introduces an additional element of uncertainty. Turnout around the country has been huge, and the four candidates, whose campaign teams are likely experienced in targeting normally small primary electorates, now have much bigger universes to target.

Of course, added turnout is great for state Democratic parties, which can use the new registrants and newly active voters to raise money, recruit volunteers and build organizations that will eventually benefit the winners of those primaries. "I actually think the primary coming to Indiana is helpful to my campaign for a lot of reasons because people are paying attention now more to the presidential and therefore to gubernatorial," Long Thompson told the NWI Times.

For Merkley and Long Thompson, who started advertising after their respective competitors, the added universe that is paying the most attention to the presidential contest could be hard to reach. But that's the case for Novick and Schellinger as well, neither of whom is particularly well-known in their states.

Ad Of The Year

In the race for the Democratic Senate nomination in Oregon, Portland attorney Steve Novick is running as the decided underdog. He trails House Speaker Jeff Merkley in money raised, institutional support and endorsements from prominent Oregon Democratic organizations.

Still, let no one say that Novick is out of the race. He's certainly got creativity wrapped up, as his latest television ad demonstrates:

Challengers low in the polls and off the mainstream radar screen are frequently overlooked and forced to do something off the wall to raise their profiles. Most of the time, the gambits don't work. Occasionally, though, they launch a candidate's unlikely success: Think Paul Wellstone's fantastic ads during his inaugural Senate race in Minnesota. Can Gordon Smith open a beer with his hook? We don't think so.

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)

AFSCME In On Dem Primaries

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees this week announced they would wade into somewhat competitive Senate primaries in Minnesota and Oregon, providing early backing for Democratic candidates in two seats the party and the union hope to take back next year.

AFSCME Council 75 gave its backing to Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, who is running an uphill bid against incumbent Republican Gordon Smith. And Council 5 gave its nod to comedian Al Franken, who hopes to face incumbent Republican Norm Coleman.

Both candidates face primaries before they're able to run against the incumbents; Merkley faces Portland lawyer Steve Novick, and Franken has to get by attorney Mike Ciresi. Still, the union's early involvement suggests their interest in the races, and thanks to new FEC rules, their involvement will make a difference come the general. Whether that difference is enough to put Democrats over the top, in what have to be considered seats that favor the incumbents, remains to be seen.

We'll be covering the Minnesota Senate race in the future, but for now, check out the backgrounder on Oregon.

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."