Monday, April 7, 2008

Senate forecast

What with all the hullabaloo over the scintillating presidential race, it would be easy to overlook congressional elections. But the makeup of lawmakers on Capitol Hill will have as much to do with the success of the next president as he or she will -- or more.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the Senate, where the next president's agenda will go to thrive or die. Health care policy? Economic packages? Immigration reform? The War in Iraq? Federal judgeships? All will have to pass through the sieve of the Senate, where it's said that a prerequisite for membership is humming "Hail to the Chief" to yourself in the shower every morning.

OK, not really. But it seems like it.

And that brings us to the RealClearPolitics rundown of the hottest Senate races, separated into three tiers. Here's a quick look:

10. North Carolina: Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole vs. either State Sen. Kay Hagan or investment banker Jim Neal. (Last: Not ranked)

9. Oregon: Republican incumbent Gordon Smith vs. either State House Speaker Jeff Merkley or attorney Steve Novick. (Last: 6)

8. Maine: Republican incumbent Susan Collins vs. Rep. Tom Allen. (Last: 8)

7. Minnesota: Republican incumbent Norm Coleman versus Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken. (Last: 7)

6. Louisiana: Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu vs. State Treasurer John Kennedy. (Last: 4)

5. Colorado: This race to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Wayne Allard features Democratic Rep. Mark Udall vs. Republican former Rep. Bob Schaffer. (Last: 5)

4. Alaska: For now, Republican incumbent Ted Stevens vs. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. (Last: 9)

3. New Mexico: This race to fill another open seat will feature either Republican Rep. Heather Wilson or Rep. Steve Pearce vs. Democratic Rep. Tom Udall. (Last: 2)

2. New Hampshire: Republican incumbent John Sununu vs. former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. (Last: 3)

1. Virginia: The hottest Senate race this year continues to be the open seat in Virginia. The race will presumably feature former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who was once rumored to be considering a presidential run, against Republican former Gov. Jim Gilmore. (Last: 1)
See the rest of the article, including background details on each of these races and the honorable mentions, here.

Notice a trend? Republicans are in trouble. This is one of the underlying issues for Democrats who want to avoid a nasty, divisive floor fight between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the party's convention in August: They know that if they can only keep from wandering in the desert of internecine party dissent, chances are good that they will reach the 60 members that will comprise a supermajority -- the Senate's promised land.