Sunday, June 05, 2005

Centrist Democrat a Test of GOP Hold

WaPo reported Republican hopes of expanding the party's Senate majority begin in Nebraska, where first-term Democrat Ben Nelson is bidding for reelection in a state President Bush won by a landslide. But Nelson, a leader in putting together last month's bipartisan pact on judicial nominees, is proving that red-state Democrats can still win fans by sticking to the political center and acting as can-do problem solvers who put pragmatism above party.

A skill that is totally wasted in a Democratic party that only wants to try to block GWB, and that has no ideas of its own. Maybe Nelson should think about becoming a Republican, or at least an Independent caucusing with the Republicans.
Already known for breaking with his party's leaders by backing Bush's tax cuts and considering the administration's Social Security proposals, Nelson thrust himself into the center of the effort to avert a Senate meltdown over judges. Last week, he proudly told Nebraskans that he wants Congress to stay focused on highway construction, retirement security and other issues they care about. One detail Nelson routinely omitted did not surprise those who watch him closely... Republicans hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, and a few gains in next year's elections would make it extremely difficult for Democratic leaders to sustain filibusters, an action that requires 41 votes. As in recent elections, Democrats anxiously ponder the Senate's political math, which does not favor them. The more Senate races tend to reflect presidential outcomes, the stronger it makes the GOP in the Senate. For example, Bush won 31 states last year. If Republicans hold all the Senate seats from those states, they will command the chamber 62 to 38, even if they lose their eight members from states that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry won last November. Last fall, Republicans won all five southern seats from which Democrats retired,
And hopefully they will repeat that in 2006.
and Democrats are desperate to reelect their incumbents in tough states next year. Topping the GOP's target list are Nelson and Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, where Bush took 63 percent of the vote last fall, only slightly lower than his 66 percent majority in Nebraska. However, in both states the GOP faces recruiting problems. The only prominent Nebraska Republican to announce thus far is former attorney general Don Stenberg, a less-than-stellar campaigner who narrowly lost to Nelson in 2000.
If he only lost narrowly in 2000, with Republican support he might well be able to beat him this time.
To the bitter disappointment of Senate recruiters, Rep. Tom Osborne (R) -- the former Nebraska Cornhuskers football coach still revered here -- is running for governor, even though the incumbent, Dave Heineman, who was sworn in as chief executive in January, is a fellow Republican.

In North Dakota, Republicans have only one potential candidate who might oust Conrad, a 19-year Senate veteran who has won reelection easily, according to analysts there and in Washington. Gov. John Hoeven (R) has the skills and popularity to press Conrad hard, they say, but it is unclear whether he will run for the Senate in the middle of his second term. Republicans also have recruitment concerns in Florida, which Bush carried 52 to 47 percent over Kerry. Many Republicans feel their best candidates are running for the open governor's seat rather than challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Among those weighing a Senate bid is Rep. Katherine Harris, who gained national attention while overseeing the chaotic state ballot recount that helped Bush win over Al Gore in 2000. Harris is so popular among grateful GOP die-hards that she might win the Senate GOP primary, analysts say. But her general election prospects are less certain. "She's still really polarizing," said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
So was Jeb Bush, who won reelection easily.
Democrats, who are defending 18 seats to the GOP's 15, see their best hopes for Senate gains in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Bush lost those states in 2000 and last year. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), an outspoken conservative, expects a strong challenge from state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. (D). In Rhode Island, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R) is more liberal than several Democratic senators, but that is not good enough, Democratic strategists say. Democrats jockeying to challenge Chafee include Secretary of State Matthew A. Brown and former state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse.
WaPo sees no problem with Dems trying to defeat a RINO, but they are shocked at Republicans targeting "moderate" Dems.
Among the four open races in next year's Senate elections, Republicans say they are confident of keeping the Tennessee seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist. Maryland, where Paul S. Sarbanes (D) is retiring, leans strongly Democratic, but the GOP hopes Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele will make a strong run. Democrats are favored in Vermont, where independent Sen. James M. Jeffords is stepping down. Republicans will make a strong push to replace Sen. Mark Dayton (D) in Minnesota. Rep. Mark Kennedy has the GOP field largely to himself, while several Democrats are weighing campaigns. In Washington state, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) has shaky approval ratings, but the strongest potential GOP challenger -- Dino Rossi -- is fixated on claiming the disputed 2004 governor's race, insiders say. Republicans say they have outside chances of ousting Democratic Sens. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.)
More than an outside chance, I would say. See this/
and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) if they recruit the right challengers. Likewise, Democrats say they see vulnerability in Republican Sens. Mike DeWine (Ohio), Conrad Burns (Mont.) and James M. Talent (Mo.)

Hugh Hewitt blogged Here's the MSM "conventional wisdom" update on the senate races of 2006, also from the Washington Post. The report overstates the Dems' grounds for optimism and greatly understates the Dems' vulnerabilities in places like West Virginia, Washington State and of course Florida, Nebraska and North Dakota. MSM was surprised by the off-year results in 2002, and it looks like the POst, at least, has kept its blinders firmly in place 18 months out from the 2006 contests.

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