No matter who is elected President in November, the battle for control of the Senate will be pivotal. If Democrats do not substantially increase their majority from 51 to at least 56, then most significant legislation will die in the Senate because of the quorum rule requiring 60 votes to pass anything. As Dems consider candidates Clinton and Obama, they would do well to ask: Who will be best for the Party overall? Who will have the strongest coattails?
Ten Democratic incumbents have safe seats. Two bear close scrutiny: Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu remains ahead in most polls but many political observers feel she may fall victim to the changing demographics of her state and the ultimate winner might be either Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy or Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. Landrieu's problem is that after Hurricane Katrina large numbers of black voters left the Louisiana. Judging by the February 9th primary, where he won by 21 percentage points, Senator Obama will bring the most votes to Senator Landrieu.
Even though South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson suffered a debilitating stroke, in 2006, he has made a remarkable recovery and is favored to win over the Republican challenger determined in a June 3rd primary. The same primary will determine how the states 15 delegates are allocated. If the results are similar to those of neighboring states, Senator Obama will prevail.
There are three open Senate seats currently held by Republicans: In Colorado Wayne Allard is retiring and Boulder-based Democratic Congressman Mark Udall is favored in a race against arch-conservative Republican Bob Schaffer. Representative Udall has the lead in money and public sentiment; however, Schaffer recently hired dirty tricks master Dick Wadhams, the architect of South Dakota Republican John Thunes' upset win over Tom Daschle in 2004. Senator Obama overwhelmingly won the February 5th caucuses taking 67 percent of the vote and proved to be a huge attraction throughout the state.
New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici is also retiring. The early favorite is Democratic Congressman Tom Udall Mark Udall's cousin. The Republican candidate will either be Representative Steve Pearce or Representative Heather Wilson. The polls favor Udall. In the February 5th primary, Clinton bested Obama by 1 percent 1709 votes.
Virginia Republican John Warner is the third retiree. The leading candidate is former Democratic governor Mark Warner no relation. The Republican challenger will either be Jim Gilmore or Bob Marshall. Mark Warner is a prohibitive favorite. In the February 12th primary, Obama defeated Clinton by 29 percent.
Five Republican incumbents are also in tight races. The most surprising contest is in Alaska where the ranking Republican senator, 85-year-old Ted Stevens, is in jeopardy because of an ongoing lobbying scandal. The leading Democratic candidate is Mark Begich, the popular Mayor of Anchorage, who has a solid chance to unseat Stevens. In the February 5th caucus, Obama received 75 percent of the vote.
Maine Republican Susan Collins has an uphill fight for her third term in the Senate. Her Democratic opponent will likely to be Congressman Tom Allen. Early polls give Collins a double-digit lead over Allen, but political observers expect the gap to narrow. In the February 10th caucuses, Obama received 59 percent of the vote.
In 2002, Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman won the Senate seat occupied by Paul Wellstone after Wellstone's tragic death. Political observers expect the Democratic candidate to be commentator / comedian Al Franken. The latest polls indicate Coleman and Franken in a virtual dead heat. In the February 5th caucuses, Obama garnered 66 percent of the vote.
In 2002, New Hampshire Republican John Sununu won a close Senate contest after GOP operators fouled Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts with an illegal phone-jamming operation. Since then many New Hampshirites have found Sununu to be too closely aligned with the Bush Administration. The Democratic candidate will be former Governor Jean Shaheen. The latest polls give Shaheen a double-digit lead over Sununu. In the January 8th primary, Clinton received 39 percent of the vote and Obama 37 percent.
Finally, Democratic leaders feel Oregon Republican Gordon Smith is vulnerable. However, the wily Smith has disassociated himself from the Bush Administration and taken a strong position against the war in Iraq. In May Democrats will choose their candidate, probably Jeff Merkley, speaker of the Oregon House. Polls show Smith well ahead and Obama leading Clinton.
While past results are no guarantee of future performance, it is interesting to note that in six senate races, Senator Obama appears to help the ticket much more than does Senator Clinton. In New Hampshire and New Mexico they appear to have an equal impact. In Oregon and South Dakota, where the primaries have yet to be held, Obama leads Clinton in the polls. Viewed from here, Senator Obama appears to help Democratic Senatorial candidates far more than does Senator Clinton.