Senate: Ensign raises possibility of fillibuster-proof Senate, though polls find some unexepected good news for GOP

In one of the most stunning Senate developments of the year, Senator Ensign is now spinning a loss of eight senatorial seats as a relief for his party! As Ensign displaces his objective to making sure there are 41 GOP Senators remaining in January 2009, does that mean he is ready to give up on a number of contested seat to build up a firewall of seats that can still be saved, only focusing to protect incumbents like Cornyn of Texas, Dole of North Carolina, Wicker of Mississippi and McConnell of Kentucky? Sure, Ensign probably only intended to make an argument for Sen. Chambliss's reelection in that interview, but the NRSC's chairman should be more careful about the expectations he sets; such gloomy forecasts risk heightening the panic of congressional Republicans and make it even harder for the NRSC to fundraise.

It is ironic that Senate Republicans received some race good news on the day news Ensign's of comments spread. Of the three surveys released yesterday, only one brought worrisome news to the NRSC:

  • In Alaska, a Hellenthal and Associates poll conducted in early May found Mark Begich leading Senator Ted Stevens 51% to 44%.
  • In Texas, Rasmussen finds Sen. Cornyn leading Rick Noriega 52% to 35%. The previous poll, released last month, found Cornyn ahead 47% to 43%. That margin had been confirmed by a Research 2000 poll released the following week.
  • Finally, a shocking Rasmussen poll from New Jersey suggests that Republicans might have a second competitive seat as Frank Lautenberg is in a toss-up when matched up to Republican Dick Zimmer, 45% to 44%.
Alaska is one of the Democrats' top pick-up opportunities, despite the fact that Stevens is a giant enough in Alaska politics that he should never be ruled out. Texas's status as a first-tier race was never convincing so it is not a surprise to see Cornyn up by such a large margin in this poll, though it is true that two back-to-back polls showed Noriega's potential to make this a competitive race. Five months out, he has a lot of work to do to soften Cornyn before truly testing his vulnerabilities.

As for New Jersey, races here are always fascinating to follow as Republicans often seem on the verge of scoring a big upset and toppling the incumbent and spend a lot of money, only to see the race slip out of their grip. This is what happened in the 2004 presidential race and the 2006 senatorial race and you can bet some Democrats are not that unhappy about this poll, hoping it might push the GOP to invest heavily in Zimmer. Just as Kean in 2006, Republicans would have a much better chance of finally winning a statewide race if the national environment was not so disastrous for them. They will have a compelling case to make that Lautenberg is no longer fit for office (he is, after all, 86 years old).

Finally, in Minnesota, Al Franken launched his general election campaign by attacking Norm Coleman and trying to link him to President Bush. Franken's strategy is simple, especially after the recent controversies that have surrounded him about his comedian years: Make this race a referendum about the incumbent and his ties to the Republican Party. At his rally yesterday, Franken denounced the "Bush-Coleman recession." Coleman's counter-strategy is already crystal-clear as well: Make this a referendum about Franken instead, and the DFL-endorsed candidate is polarizing enough that Coleman does have an opening to focus the conversation on his opponent.

Another important factor to look for in Minnesota will be how unified the party becomes around Franken. Senator Klochubar, who had denounced Franken's allegedly pornographic essay two weeks ago, spoke at his rally yesterday. But Rep. McCollum, Franken's most insist critic in the state delegation, was not.

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  • I look forward to Republicans wasting a lot of money in New Jersey.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10 June, 2008 11:49  

  • As do I. Jersey's a trap. It's a money pit for the Republican's and they know it. I'm not sure if either McCain or the NRSC will be able to keep from tossing some of their somewhat limited resources into it, on the off-chance that their opponents are weaker than they look in the state.

    In the end, NJ will break the GOP's heart yet again.

    Those Texas numbers are interesting. Which is the outlier?

    By Anonymous dannity, At 10 June, 2008 13:03  

  • Yup. NJ is like the girl who will dance with you and let you buy her drinks, but she will go home with the other dude.

    And AK is a prime pick up not only for the Senate or for At Large, but I think Obama can flip this state. Wait and see.

    By Blogger Mark, At 10 June, 2008 14:59  

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