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Blog Home Page --> Senate -- Virginia

WV: Capito Out, Raese Expected In Today

By Kyle Trygstad

Three Democrats have now filed for the special election for West Virginia's vacant Senate seat, including Gov. Joe Manchin, who signed his candidacy papers at a press conference Tuesday in the state Capitol. No Republican has joined the race yet, though John Raese is expected to announce his candidacy today.

Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced yesterday she would not enter the race, taking the GOP's top contender out of the running. The focus now falls on Raese, a businessman and former Senate candidate who lost to Robert Byrd in 2006.

"We were pinning our hopes on Shelley, and while we respect her decision, we are very disappointed," state Republican Party Chairman Doug McKinney told the Charleston Gazette.

Byrd's death and the state legislature's decision to hold a special election this year -- rather than have an appointed senator through 2012 -- opened another potential pick-up seat for Republicans in what's expected to be a strong year for the party. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn has promised a tough challenge, even with Capito out.

Raese has run for the Senate twice already and is wealthy enough to self-fund his candidacy, McKinney said, and he's expected to file today. There are no other prominent Republicans known at this time to be considering a bid.

Filing yesterday were Ken Hechler and Sheirl Fletcher, who are considered longshots for the Democratic nomination against the popular Manchin.

Hechler is a 95-year-old former member of Congress, four-time secretary of state and speech writer to Harry Truman. Hechler was first elected to the House in 1958 -- the same year Byrd, who passed away in late June, entered the Senate.

Fletcher is a former state representative who challenged Sen. Jay Rockefeller in the 2008 Democratic primary. Rockefeller easily won, 77 percent to 14 percent for Fletcher, and went on to win a fifth term in the Senate.

The primary is set for Aug. 28, with the special election being held on Nov. 2.

Schumer Wins Again

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Chuck Schumer is not a man to bet against. The New Yorker has no qualms about getting involved in primaries in order to ensure his own candidate is the party's November nominee, and, to hear him pontificate, the party has reason to be optimistic in virtually every state in which a Senate seat is up this year.

As his involvement in several contested primaries show, he's not afraid to fight with his own party. This year, the DSCC helped Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez out of the New Mexico Senate race in favor of Rep. Tom Udall. They did the same thing in New Hampshire; after former Governor Jeanne Shaheen jumped into the Senate race, several other prominent candidates dropped out. The committee talked up Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkley over Portland activist Steve Novick; Novick stayed in the race, and Merkley eked out a victory.

Now, with Barack Obama's presidential campaign sniffing around for a vice presidential nominee, ex-Governor Mark Warner looked like an appealing choice. Warner is hugely popular in his home state, has good business background and would add to Obama's image as a new style of Democrat. The only trouble: Warner is also the front-runner for a Senate seat being vacated by Republican incumbent John Warner. Public polls have shown the Democrat running twenty or more points ahead of his GOP opponent, former Governor Jim Gilmore.

Schumer wins again, though, as Warner removed himself from the vice presidential sweepstakes at this weekend's Virginia Democratic Convention in Hampton. He will not seek, nor will he accept, any other opportunity, Warner told the 2,000 assembled delegates, per the Washington Post.

Warner becomes the third prominent politician whose name would have ended up on a short list, alongside Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and 2004 veep nominee John Edwards, to rule himself out. But with Warner out, that doesn't mean a Virginian won't find a place on the ticket. Freshman Senator Jim Webb and Governor Tim Kaine could each compliment the Illinois Senator in a state on which he's placed a high premium for the Fall.

VA GOP Set To Pick Gilmore

Virginia Republicans will hold a state convention in Richmond this weekend to choose a nominee to fight for retiring Senator John Warner's Senate seat. Delegates will choose between former Governor Jim Gilmore, who briefly ran for president this year before dropping out to pursue the Senate contest, and State Delegate Bob Marshall, with Gilmore the heavy favorite.

The winning candidate will go on to face another former governor, Mark Warner, in November. The Democrat, who left office widely popular and is credited by some with almost single-handedly reviving his party in the Commonwealth, considered a presidential bid and has even been mentioned as a vice presidential prospect, even as he seems poised to take a Senate seat back for Democrats. Warner has led Gilmore in every public poll by wide margins.

Gilmore will also face a big financial hurdle. Through the pre-convention filing deadline, on May 11, he had raised $983,000 and spent $779,000 to keep just $204,000 in the bank. Warner, on the other hand, had pulled in an astounding $6.36 million through March 31 and retained nearly $4.4 million on hand.

The state party's decision to hold a convention instead of a primary has proven beneficial to Gilmore. Without a convention, in which the universe of voters is a relatively tiny 5,000 or so, Gilmore would have faced more moderate Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who had already banked $1 million by last October. But Davis, who has arguably the best political skills of any Republican in Congress, knew he couldn't win a convention and dropped his bid.

Even if Gilmore pulls out a big win and consolidates the GOP electorate early, Warner will still be the heavy favorite. Since Warner won the governorship in 2001, just one of the state's top three elected offices has been carried by a Republican, when John Warner won his fifth term in 2002. Since then, Democrat Tim Kaine was elected to succeed Mark Warner in the governor's office in 2005 and Democrat Jim Webb upset Republican Senator George Allen in 2006.

Warner Declares For Sen

Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner launched a bid for U.S. Senate yesterday, with the first day of a four-day tour around the Commonwealth, including a stop in Alexandria, just outside Washington and seemingly designed to lure the media, tonight, the Washington Post reports. After bypassing a potential White House bid, Warner gives Democrats perhaps their best shot at capturing a Republican-held Senate seat this year.

Warner will face either former Governor Jim Gilmore or Delegate Bob Marshall in the November general election. Gilmore appears to be the heavy favorite heading into the state Republican convention, though every public poll so far has showed the Democrat easily outpacing Gilmore among likely general election voters.

Along the trail in his first week of official campaigning, Warner will be joined by current Governor Tim Kaine, who served as Warner's Lieutenant Governor, and freshman Senator Jim Webb, who beat George Allen in 2006. Both incumbents owe their seats, at least in some part, to Warner, who was first elected governor in 2001 after serving as state party chairman and virtually rebuilding what was once a beleaguered Democratic Party.

Though it has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson, Virginia is no longer the bastion of southern conservatism it once was. An influx of new voters into the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, plus Democrats' recent forays into the southwestern corner of the state, have caused Republicans serious heartburn in recent years, as the party has not won one of the top three posts since retiring Senator John Warner's big win in 2002 and Allen's election in 2000. Mark Warner did not run for re-election to the governor's mansion because of the state's one-term limit for the chief executive spot.

Should he win the Senate seat this year, a scenario that appears highly likely, Warner could find himself in prime position to make a future run for national office. If John McCain wins the White House this year, look for freshman Senator Warner's name to be floated as a potential presidential candidate four years down the line.

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)

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

Gregoire Leads By A Little, Warner By A Lot

Tom Bevan posts a new poll this morning, showing Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire narrowly edging out former State Sen. Dino Rossi, 47%-45%, in a re-election rematch. Gregoire won the 2004 matchup between the two by just more than 100 votes, after several recounts and ballots that were disputed on both sides. It was the closest contest in Washington State history.

The poll, from Republican firm Strategic Vision, is actually good news for Gregoire. The company has been polling the matchup off and on for several years, and until this poll, Rossi has always come out ahead. Two October 2006 Strategic Vision polls had Rossi leading 50%-45% and 51%-43%. Other recent surveys have also shown Gregoire inching ahead.

Rossi has yet to formally enter the race, though he did quit his job recently to begin making preparations for a bid.

In other new poll news, Tom posts a Washington Post poll showing former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner stomping on the Republican competition in the race to replace Sen. John Warner. Mark leads former Gov. Jim Gilmore 61%-31%, and Rep. Tom Davis 63%-28%. In the GOP primary, Gilmore leads Davis 48%-29%.

The DCCC had better hope Davis still thinks he can get through a primary and win the nomination. If he stays in the race, Democrats will have a better-than-average shot at picking up his Northern Virginia-based 11th Congressional District. A moderate, Davis is frequently jokingly referred to as the Republican from the Orange Line, which runs from his district directly to Capitol South Metro Station, on Capitol Hill.