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2006 Senate Races - First Look

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Unless Democrats win control of either the House or the Senate, nothing is going to change in Washington. There will be no meaningful shift in Iraq, ethics, or economic policy until there is real debate on Capitol Hill. According to veteran DC prognosticator, Charlie Cook, there are 7 Senate seats in play. In order to prevail, the Democrats will have to win at least six.

Rather than treat all Democratic Senatorial candidates equally, I've focused on the closest races; usually those that Cook rates as a "toss up." Within the tightest races, I've clustered the candidates into three groups: solidly anti-war, sorta anti-war, and incomprehensible. To have the BB "solidly anti-war" rating you have to say something like, "I was always against the war and now I support John Murtha's position." To have the BB "sorta anti-war" rating you say something like, "We need a timetable for withdrawal." To be rated incomprehensible, your web site either doesn't mention Iraq or says something vacuous, like "I support our troops."

Solidly Anti-War
In Ohio, Democratic Representative Sherrod Brown is running against embattled incumbent Mike DeWine. Brown was against the invasion and argues that the occupation has hurt the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the overall war on terror. He wants an exit strategy and troop withdrawals that begin in October of 2006. This race is a toss up.

Minnesota has a vacant Senate seat because Democrat Mark Dayton is retiring. The primary will be held in September; the leading Democratic candidate is district attorney Amy Klobuchar. She opposed the invasion of Iraq and says, "We must change our course in Iraq. We must draw down our forces in a responsible way." The race is a toss up.

In Vermont, Independent Jim Jeffords is retiring and will, no doubt, be replaced by Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders. He's been against the war from the beginning. The primary is September 12. Sanders is favored to take this seat.

The Rhode Island primary won't happen until September, but the battle is shaping up to be between embattled Republican incumbent, Lincoln Chafee, and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse (real name). Whitehouse supports "a rapid and responsible withdrawal" of troops and believes that most can be out by the end of this year. The race is a toss up.

Sorta Anti-War
The most highly publicized Senate race is in Pennsylvania, where Conservative Christian poster-child, Rick Santorum, is in trouble. Polls show him tied with, or running behind, the Democratic challenger Bob Casey, Jr. Iraq is not the centerpiece of Casey's campaign; it's public morality--the ties between Santorum and K-street lobbyists. Casey believes that more should be done to train Iraqi security forces so our troops can come home, sooner. Casey is controversial, among Democrats, because he is pro-life. This race is a toss up.

An interesting race is shaping up in Missouri where State Auditor Claire McCaskill is running strong against Republican Incumbent Jim Talent. She has yet to take a clear position on Iraq.

Another interesting race is in Montana, which used to be solid red state but elected a Democratic governor in 2004 and now seems poised to dump Neanderthal Republican Senator Conrad Burns. The primary is in June.

There will be an open Senate seat in Tennessee because Bill Frist is retiring to run for President. The primary will be held in August and the Democratic challenger is likely to be Harold Ford, Jr. Ford is a handsome, articulate, African-American Congressman. He has yet to take a clear position on Iraq.

Other Senate Races
In Maryland, Democrat Paul Sarbanes is retiring. The primary is in September and whichever Democrat wins, will probably win the November election.

All the other races involve incumbents: there's a possibility that Arizona Senator John Kyl's seat might be challenged, by Democrat Jim Pedersen. Democrats face stiff challenges in several states: In Florida the incumbent, Bill Nelson, will probably face the loathsome Katherine Harris. In Michigan, Debbie Stabenow will have a tough race, as will Nebraska's Ben Nelson, New Jersey's Bob Menendez, Washington's Maria Cantwell, and West Virginia's Robert Byrd.

If the Iraq war is your big issue, then you might want to check out the four anti-war candidates that I've highlighted. If all you care about is that the Dems take back the Senate, then all the candidates in close races merit your attention.

The bottom line is that Democrats have a reasonable chance of talking back the Senate, but it is far from a slam dunk. Please let me know if you feel that I've overlooked or misplaced a Senatorial candidate.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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