Senate diary: GOP trouble extends to the upper chamber

Senate Republicans are not quite in the panic mode felt by their House colleagues, but they are facing as dangerous an environment. Last week, I pondered whether the Senate map was expanding with races in Texas and North Carolina getting surprisingly more competitive. Today, the news is coming from races that are expected to be tight, but the extent to which the Republicans' situation is deteriorating is remarkable.

First, polls from two key Senate races brings troubling news to the GOP:

  • In New Mexico, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall is destroying the two Republicans congressmen that are also vying for this open seat. He crushes Steve Pearce 60% to 36% and Heather Wilson 61% to 35%. Udall is leading more than 3:1 among Hispanics, who make up a third of voters. With a margin like that it becomes very difficult for Republicans to beat him.
  • Pearce and Wilson are locked in a tight (and nasty) primary battle, with Pearce edging her out 49% to 46%.
  • Meanwhile, a new Research 2000 poll from Alaska shows Senator Ted Stevens trailing his challenger Mark Begich 48% to 43%. The margin is 20% among independents.
Both seats are looking increasingly vulnerable. New Mexico has long been leaning Democratic, but it is rapidly moving towards the beyond contestable. The GOP has to hope that the primary doesn't get more nasty and that their nominee gets a nice bounce from his or her nomination. In a way that could be good for the GOP who can free up its resources elsewhere rather than waste them on such a difficult race. As for Alaska, any incumbent as entrenched as Stevens who is trailing a challenger with 7 months to go is in big trouble. The poll shows Stevens with a 38% versus 58% favorability rating -- a clear consequence of the corruption investigation he is involved in.

Meanwhile, the DSCC is going on the attack in Oregon. The Democratic primary is next Tuesday, and it opposes Steve Novick to Jeff Merkley. Novick has been running an unconventional anti-establishment campaign, one which the DSCC disapproves of as they are helping the candidate they recruited, House Speaker Jeff Merkley. Chuck Schumer has been giving Merkley advice and the DSCC is now phone banking in Merkley's behalf. Note that most public polling of the general election shows both Democrats looking as electable.

But what is also remarkable about this race is that the DSCC is already airing ads against the Republican Senator Gordon Smith. Sure, they are doing it through ads whose primary purpose is to elevate Merkley, but May is very early for a congressional committee to be going on the attack against an incumbent senator. This confirms how seriously national Democrats are taking the Oregon race, a state they were excited about at the beginning of the cycle but where they failed to recruit their preferred candidates and are now confronting the fact that Smith looks stronger than expected (among the initial list of competitive seats, only ME is more of a disappointment for Dems). The DSCC realizes that they need to soften up Smith as early as possible to make him truly vulnerable for the general election campaign.

Finally, Colorado is also making news because of a silly gaffe by Republican candidate Bob Schaffer. Already hit by an ethics story over his ties with Jack Abramoff (with one independent group already airing an ad in the state about it), Schaffer is now struggling from the surprisingly intense fallout from an ad he started airing this week to tout his Colorado roots. In the ad, he professes having proposed to his wife on Pikes Peak, the famous Colorado mountain, but the mountain that is used in the footage is one of Mount McKinley in Alaska... The newspapers are having a field day (the Denver Post posted a clip of Marvin Gaye's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough") and the DSCC has already gone on the offensive with a brutal ad hitting Schaffer for the mountain mix-up and throwing in the Abramoff connection for good measure:

Political gaffes are never so hurtful as when they reinforce a prior impression. Macaca was so damaging to Senator Allen in 2006 because there was a story to be told about his racism. Given that the reason Schaffer was running this ad in the first place was questions about his attachment to Colorado, it reinforces doubts people might be having about him and makes him look to be pandering in the process. This is certainly not as damaging as the DSCC is touting it to be, but it's been a rough few weeks for Schaffer and it's also an opportunity for Democrats to re-air the Abramoff images.

Also, expect new Senate rankings within the next week.

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  • This is a GREAT ad. Modern, to the point ("Keep it simple, stupid"), and, as the germans say: gnadenlos (merciless).

    Love it.

    By Blogger Mark, At 16 May, 2008 10:29  

  • Damn, Udall is in "safe" territory with numbers like that. I do think that the margin will significanlly lessen once the GOP choose thier nominee: just like the Dems in the prez primary, Pearce and Wilson has split the GOP in half and this has allowed Udall to come in at a very favorably. However, while McCain only ties or barely beats the Democrats, Udall is crushing the Republicans, meaning that he will likely be favorite even after the GOP unites and independents stop seeing negative attack ads between the GOP candidates.

    Alaska is good news for Begich: and even better news is that the Alaskan GOP is in no mood to primary him, which means that Dems will likely be facing this week incumbent. However if Stevens is indited, I bet there will be calls for him step down and it will greatly help the GOP if he does, especially if they are associtated with Gov. Palin. Begich needs Stevens to the GOP nominee to have a good chance at winning.

    On oregan, I hope the DSCC doesn't abandon the race if Novick upsets Merkley in the primary, but since they are so convinced Merkly is stronger this may happen unfortantly.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 16 May, 2008 12:13  

  • It really does look like the Dems will run the board come November. They had at the start two weak seats and this has been reduced to just LA.

    They have expanded the field to include TX, NC, OR, MI, AK, CO, VA which certainly puts them in a strong position next year (along with an increased House majority).

    By Anonymous Tom, At 16 May, 2008 13:01  

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