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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> Senate -- South Dakota

GOP Loses SD Recruit

Former South Dakota Lieutenant Governor Steve Kirby will not run for the Republican nomination against Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, he told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader today. Kirby's exit, after weeks of considering the race, leaves State Rep. Joel Dykstra and former Ambassador Bert Tollefson as the only Republicans who have announced they will challenge Johnson.

Kirby had been heavily recruited by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, whose chair, Nevada Senator John Ensign, hinted at his candidacy in an interview with Politics Nation in January. Kirby would have been stronger than either of the remaining candidates, a fact that led national Democrats to launch shots at him even as he explored a race.

The loss of the last-ditch GOP hopeful leaves Johnson in strong position to win a third term after winning his last election by just over 500 votes, over now-colleague John Thune. Though South Dakota votes overwhelmingly Republican in presidential contests, Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin are hugely popular with voters, as is Thune.

Barring the ability to seriously compete in South Dakota, national Republicans are left with Louisiana as their lone strong takeover target. Though the party remains cautiously optimistic about New Jersey, the loss last week of their top recruit in that state due to medical issues virtually assured Senator Frank Lautenberg of a weaker, more conservative opponent in a generally safe Democratic state.

Johnson Up Huge In SD

Republicans looking for a few wins in Senate races around the country could be disappointed this year, as a new poll shows one of their potential pick-up opportunities could be dramatically out of reach. While Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu remains a top target, South Dakota's Tim Johnson is farther from vulnerable, especially given that Republicans have yet to even recruit their top target.

The poll, conducted by the Feldman Group for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, surveyed 500 likely voters between 2/25-27 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Johnson and former Lieutenant Governor Steve Kirby were surveyed.

General Election Matchup
Johnson 70
Kirby 19

Despite spending most of last year recuperating from a life-threatening brain clot in late 2006, Johnson gets high marks on favorability and job performance. 79% of state voters say they view him favorably, while 72% say Johnson is doing an excellent or good job as a Senator.

Republicans have yet to actually seal the deal with Kirby, though Democrats are having fun with the fact that so many other potential candidates passed on a race against Johnson before the GOP found him. Republicans, though, say a website the DSCC has set up -- 10thChoice.com -- shows Johnson still has reason to worry. Still, with a 51-point lead, Johnson should be resting easily today.

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)

Johnson To Run For Re-Election

Sen. Tim Johnson today released a written statement confirming what many had suspected: He will run for re-election in 2008, according to the Rapid City Journal. Johnson has faced a long road to recovery following a cerebral arteriovenous malformation, a form of bleeding in the brain, though his staff has long said they expect him to run for re-election.

Republicans have been reluctant to challenge Johnson so far, and the strongest potential candidate, Gov. Mike Rounds, has said he would not run if Johnson ran. Johnson's strongest opponent so far is State Rep. Joel Dykstra, who reported just $37,000 cash on hand at the end of the 3rd Quarter.

Johnson, helped along by Senate colleagues, has already amassed more than $2 million for his re-election bid.

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