Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday with the Senators: A Primer

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

BACKGROUND: There are 100 voting members of the US Senate, 2 from each state in the Union. (And if you think “Oh, EVERYBODY knows that”, very sadly, no, they do not.) The Senate is broken into three classes: I, II, and III, based on which year they are up for election. Theoretically, that means that there are either 33 or 34 seats up each even year. However, this year, there are 35 Senate seats up for election, due to people having been appointed to fill the seat of others (due to death or retirement).

In the political world, people talk in terms of “Safe” “Favoured” “Lean” and “Toss-Up” seats. The seats normally refer to the party holding the seat. So a safe Democratic seat means “we can run a Styrofoam cup for that seat and we’ll hold it against the Republicans.” The other designations refer to a combination of poll results, history of who and/or which party has held the seat, and a sense of how sure “they” are about who will win the seat.

At least, that’s how it always went. This year is very, very different, because it is a transformational year. And we’ll come back to that later in this post when we analyze the results.

The Senate is the upper house of Congress, and it congenial in that the terms are 6 years, it is relatively small, and members tend to work together on issues in ways you might not suspect. Still, it is a political body.

So let’s look at who’s up this year. In the list below, blue signifies the Democrats, red signifies Republicans, and "GONE" indicates someone who is retiring at the end of this term and not running for re-election. We have 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

Alexander, Lamar (R-TN)
Allard, Wayne (R-CO) GONE
Barrasso, John (R-WY)

Baucus, Max (D-MT)
Biden, Joe (D-DE)
Chambliss, Saxby (R-GA)
Cochran, Thad (R-MS)
Coleman, Norm (R-MN)
Collins, Susan (R-Maine)
Cornyn, John (R-TX)
Craig, Larry (R-ID)
Dole, Elizabeth (R-NC)
Domenici, Pete (R-NM)
Durbin, Dick (D-IL)
Enzi, Michael (R-WY)
Graham, Lindsay (R-SC)
Hagel, Chuck (R-NE)
Harkin, Tom (D-IA)
Inhofe, James (R-OK)
Johnson, Tim (D-SD)
Kerry, John (D-MA)
Landrieu, Mary (D-LA)
Lautenberg, Frank (D-NJ)
Levin, Carl (D-MI)
McConnell, Mitch (R-KY)
Pryor, Mark (D-AR)
Reed, Jack (D-RI)
Roberts, Pat (R-KS)
Rockefeller, John (D-WV)
Sessions, Jeff (R-AL)
Smith, Gordon (R-OR)
Stevens, Ted (R-AK)
Sununu, John (R-NH)
Warner, John (R-VA)
Wicker, Roger (R-MS)

THE RACES: If we parse the list, and take out the safe seats (or as reasonably sure as we can be 5 months out, you never know where those indictments will come from), we’re left with 18 Republicans, and 1 Democrat. Please note that I removed Frank Lautenberg from the list, even though some consider him to be “favoured” and not “safe” - but I can’t buy it. An asterisk indicates that this race is especially contested, and likely to be a Democratic pickup.

Alexander, Lamar (R-TN)
* Allard, Wayne (R-CO)
Chambliss, Saxby (R-GA)
* Coleman, Norm (R-MN)
* Collins, Susan (R-Maine)
Cornyn, John (R-TX)
Dole, Elizabeth (R-NC)
* Domenici, Pete (R-NM)
Hagel, Chuck (R-NE)
Inhofe, James (R-OK)
Landrieu, Mary (D-LA)
McConnell, Mitch (R-KY)
Roberts, Pat (R-KS)
Sessions, Jeff (R-AL)
* Smith, Gordon (R-OR)
Stevens, Ted (R-AK)
* Sununu, John (R-NH)
* Warner, John (R-VA)
* Wicker, Roger (R-MS)

While Mary Landrieu’s seat is considered the sole Republican pick-up opportunity (and she is polling in the range of 50/50), she has always run tight races, and given the recent House pick-up in Louisiana by Don Cazayoux in the LA-06, in the end, she’ll pull through. In addition, while I can’t find a poll that puts Mitch McConnell in serious trouble, I have high hopes that in a few months, I will. And finally, a word about Ted Stevens -- while he will probably win, there’s an equal chance he’ll get indicted; the question is which comes first, the election or the indictment. Once the FBI raids your house, you should know you're in trouble.

Every week, I’ll give you everything you ever wanted to know about one of the Senate races. If not, all you know is “X%” for this candidate and “Y%” for that candidate, and you can get that off the evening news. Once the frameworks are set, I’ll restrain myself to updated polls and breaking news on the campaigns. But before we get to the Race of the Week, I’d like to turn to why this year is so different.

TRANSFORMATIONAL POLITICS: Normally in an election year, we all look at what will likely happen months in the future. We pull together raw data. For example, if you want to know about any of the current Senators, their voting records, on which committees each serves, you would go to the Senate site. If you want to see the background information on how previous races turned out, and the current demographics of the State or District, you go to CQPolitics. Here for Senate races, and here for House races. You can also pick your pollster.

But all that data assumes that things will happen this year as they did in the past. In fact, whenever you hear or read the pundits, they frame things in terms of the Presidential outcome map of the previous election, and whether the Congressional incumbent elected in the intervening year beat/lost compared to how that party did in the last National election.

The most important change this year may not be the candidates, but the fact that the internet, especially the left-wing blogosphere is as strong and vibrant as it is. The internet has allowed for the development of groups which, in the past, would never have had the financial means to reach out as far as the internet allows. Campaigns take money. Lots and lots of money. If you’ve ever worked on fund raising for a campaign, what you always did was send out letters, and then start making calls. Luckily, most people didn’t have caller ID then. The candidate called, the staff called, the volunteers called.

Now, it’s possible to raise money on the internet. And there are groups that are targeting small donors for multiple elections. Act Blue, for example, helps donors find their candidates. Or just to help out campaigns for progressive Democrats that need an influx of dollars. Another organization, MoveOn, leads the way in many progressive causes. When Emily’s List (“Early Money Is Like Yeast…it makes the dough rise”) there were 25 women with phone lists calling to raise money for progressive, pro-choice women candidates. It’s a different story now.

And as for how the Republicans are using the internet this year, well, John McCain sent me a telegram.

In addition, the internet allows information that might not make it out of the local area become national news, as is the case with our race of the week. If all you want to know are the poll numbers, the most recent ones, they’re there. But I hope you will look at what is involved in the election. Some of Colorado’s issues are unique to that part of the country. The histories of the candidates may well play into how things fall out by November.

But mostly, the more you know, the more likely you are to get involved. The more likely you are to make calls, donate money, and tell others, the higher the probability that in 2008, blue rules. According to today’s Philadelphia Inquirer (sorry, no link, it’s an actual print source: Section C, page 1, right column) excluding Hawaii and Nebraska on the R side, Michigan on the D side, and all caucus and undecided voters on both sides, for all of the primaries this year, the Republicans turned out only 20,416,921 voters, while we turned out 35,869,327, or CLOSE TO DOUBLE!!! This is a change in a lot of places from prior years. If we keep turnout high, we stand a much better chance of winning. By being knowledgeable and contributory, we keep turnout high. And thus, transformational.

RACE OF THE WEEK: COLORADO The Candidates for the seat of retiring Wayne Allard (R): Democrat Mark Udall
Republican Bob Schaffer

The Numbers: Most recent polling data from March Udall 44/Schaffer 32

First, let’s look at Mark Udall. He’s the son of Mo Udall, who served in Congress from 1961 to 1991, and was a very funny man, dedicated to environmental causes. Mo’s brother, Stewart, served as Interior Secretary under both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Stewart’s son Tom (Mark’s cousin) is running for Senate in New Mexico this go-round, and while I haven’t seen one, I’ve heard that there are bumper stickers saying “Vote for the Udall Nearest You”.

Mark is a current Congressman, and co-chair of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus. He voted against the Iraq resolution in 2002. Energy and the environment are big issues in Colorado. There’s shale oil under the Rockies, and water issues throughout the southwest.

Now, let’s turn to Bob Schaffer. About all I have to say is that for his first TV commercial, Bob had himself talking in front of the Rockies. Noting where he had proposed to his wife. Those “Rockies” however, were actually Mount McKinley, which, last I checked, was in Alaska. Thanks to the DSCC for providing Bob with some geography information.

But it’s even worse than a 12 point lead would indicate. The League of Conservation Voters commissioned a private poll NOT on the candidate’s, but on their positions. Not surprisingly, Udall’s positions were approved by 61% of the poll respondents, but Schaffer’s positions were mistrusted by 55%. (It’s all in who you poll, and how you poll.)

In addition, Bob is tied to Jack Abramoff. Plus, there’s some issue with some Tom Delay PAC money. And if you want, vote for the best nickname for Bob.

Point is -- we have a poll, we have numbers, but the framework points out that the numbers aren’t as good as they probably are in real life. That does NOT mean we should rest on our laurels, it just means there’s more to it than a set of polling numbers.


Unknown said...

You were looking for a poll that showed Mitch McConnell in some kind of heat.... Here you go:

DocJess said...

Thanks Joshua, I knew it was out there! And THAT is going to be a rich, fun, win.


Travis said...

Stevens is anytyhing but a sure win even if hes not indicted.



LindaS said...

Having lived in Alaska (and being acquainted with Mark Begich--our democrat running against him) I'd second travis's statement.

CathyNYC said...

This is a great post! Keep it coming, if you can--it is fabulously informative!

The Numantine said...

I would love to believe that Oregon Senator Gordon Smith is vulnerable, but is highly unlikely he will lose re-election.

1) His name is "Smith."
2) In 2002 he won re-election against Sec. of State Bradbury by more than 200,000 votes (56%-40%).
3) Merkley, his current opponent, lacks the statewide name recognition Bradbury had.

Okay-Dem Voter registration is up 200,000 statewide and Obama should increase turnout of progressive independents, but still Merkley?

Anonymous said...

I would love to see an upset for the Alexander seat. Somehow a majority of Tennesseans like him. We have a good candidate, he just has to win our primary in August first lol

It'll be a tough fight, but I wouldn't say it's impossible.

KELL said...

So let’s look at who’s up this year. In the list below, blue signifies the Democrats, red signifies Republicans, and "GONE" indicates someone who is retiring at the end of this term and not running for re-election. We have 22 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

CORRECTION: There are 23 Republicans and 12 Democrats that are up for election in 2008. You correctly list the 12 Democrats and 23 GOP'ers in your list.

DocJess said...

Kell -- thanks for catching my typo -- fixed!