Republicans’ Uphill Fight to Regain the Senate in 2008

In my morning-after election analysis, I noted that it would be very difficult for the Republicans to take the House back in 2008 but that the Senate was well within grasp if the GOP got their act together. I wrote that without actually breaking down the races, though. Chris Cillizza has and it does not bode well:

A cursory evaluation of the 2008 Senate playing field shows Democrats seemingly well-positioned to build on their 51-seat majority. Of the 33 seats up for reelection, just 12 are held by Democrats. And of those 12, only two Democratic incumbents received less than 54 percent of the vote in 2002 — Sens. Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). Johnson took 50 percent in his victory over John Thune (who went on to beat Tom Daschle two years later), while Landrieu won a December runoff against Republican Suzie Haik Terrell with 52 percent of the vote.

Republicans must defend 22 seats and have more obvious vulnerabilities. At first glance, just three GOP senators — Norm Coleman (Minn.), John Sununu (N.H.) and Wayne Allard (Colo.) — look vulnerable, as each won in 2002 with less than 54 percent of the vote. But the complicating factor for Republicans is that there are a number of rumored retirements that may come before 2008, creating more open-seat opportunities for Democrats. GOP incumbents on the retirement watch list include Allard, as well as Thad Cochran (Miss.), Pete Domenici (N.M.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and John Warner (Va.).

The five close races from ’06 could go either way in ’08 depending on the candidates and the top of the ticket. That Landrieu has won two razor close elections and barely beat Terrell, one of the worst Senate nominees imaginable, is especially promising. Nor am I particularly worried about losing statewide in Mississippi, Nebraska, or Oklahoma.

Warner’s seat will be incredibly vulnerable, though. Virginia is getting bluer by the day as the DC exurbs of Northern Virginia continue to experience huge population growth. And popular former Governor Mark Warner would be an odds-on favorite if he choses to run.

The GOP had just about everything imaginable working against them this past election and just barely lost their majority. They might need just about everything imaginable going their way next time to win it back.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Louisiana is very ripe to switch. 5 of the 7 congressional districts went republican in 2006 by convincing margins (88%, 58%, 68%, 83%, 71% for GOP vs 55%, 85% for dems), so a state wide run should be very doable. Doable enough that I think you have to consider the democrats coming into the race ‘down one’.

    I agree that Mississippi should be safe, but am less sure about Nebraska or Oklahoma. Nebraska elected all GOP for the house and governor, but returned a democrat to the senate in 2006. Oklahoma had 4 out of 5 in the house go GOP (with the 5th having a last name to conjure with in that state), but sent a democrat to the governors chair. If the GOP puts Osborne up in Nebraska and Watts up in Oklahoma, they are likely to flip.

    New Mexico will be a tough state to hold. As will Minn., NH and Colorado. I suspect Coleman will be able to pull it off, NH is also likely to remain. I would be most worried about Allard in Colorado.

    Virginia will be tough, but my gut says unless Mark Warner decides to run it will go for the GOP.

    South Dakota has a decent chance of going to the GOP if the right candidate can be recruited.

    I would also worry about Ford running in Tennessee.

    If Levin retires, Michigan might be a pick up opportunity (especially if their economy doesn’t pick up in the next couple of years).

    Collins in Maine and Smith of Oregon should also be watched as GOP in blue states. Likewise, Baucus in Montana and Pryor in Arkansas are possibilities for the opposite reasons.

    In 2006, the democrats had just about a perfect recruiting season for the senate (Mark Warner in Virginia is the only ‘better candidate’ I can think of). Conversely, in 2006 the GOP had one of its worse recruiting seasons (Steele in Maryland was the only bright spot I can think of). It will be interesting to see what the 2008 recruiting season will be like. There is less advantage to one party (as opposed to 2006 where the GOP not losing seats would have been bucking the trend), so both parties should see a good chance at recruiting their respective top prospects.

    When you add it all up, its not hard to see either party gaining, losing or no change. Retirements and who tops the ticket will have a big impact. All else being equal, I would predict a 50-50 senate for 2008 which would mean either another “Jumpin Jeff” to flip the senate or the VP casting the decided vote.

  2. Anderson says:

    FWIW, Mississippi might see either Mike Moore, former AG of tobacco-suit fame, or Ronnie Musgrove, former gov, run for Senate in 2008.

    Neither Dem can be dismissed out of hand; that Senate seat surely leans Repub, but shouldn’t be treated as a lock, not this far out.

  3. Triumph says:

    The GOP had just about everything imaginable working against them this past election and just barely lost their majority. They might need just about everything imaginable going their way next time to win it back.

    Luckily, as Bush said the other day, the situation in Iraq will be totally peachy by then–I would be surprised to see any Democrats win, since Bush’s brave leadership will insure that Republicans get tons of votes.