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13 Senate Races To Watch

2008 Election


12 November 2008
Get the rundown on 13 key Senate races in the 2008 election. There are 35 US Senate seats up for grabs; 33 are regular, every-six-year events. The other two are special elections. Because 23 of the contested seats are Republican -- including all seven open seats -- the GOP is under more pressure than the Democrats. Currently the Senate is composed of 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with Democrats. The 2008 election could seal a Democratic majority.

1. Alaska

Incumbent: Ted Stevens, R; seven terms

There's a shadow over Alaska, and its name is the FBI. Sen. Stevens is under investigation (indictment) for corruption, and there was damning testimony from a former oil man, Bill Allen, when he pled guilty to bribing state legislators. If this was in the lower 48, politicos would be writing Stevens' Senatorial obituary. But it's Alaska, possibly the most "red" state in the nation. Since 1974, there has been one statewide race where a Democrat took the majority: Tony Knowles, re-election as governor (51%). And Alaska has voted Republican for the last nine presidential elections.

Update: Stevens Convicted; learn about his opponent, Mark Begich.

Current Vote: 47%-47%

2. Colorado

Incumbent: Wayne Allard, R; two terms; not seeking re-election

Former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) faces off against Rep. Mark Udall (D) for Sen. Wayne Allard's open seat. Rep. Udall is leading in the money race (July 2008) and is the summer favorite. In 2002, Allard won re-election with only 51% of the vote. In 2004, Bush eeked out a win (52%) while voters also sent a Democrat to the Senate. Colorado has voted Republican in eight of the last nine presidential elections. Will the economy (or Obama's coattails) be enough to inspire Colorado voters to send a Democrat to the Senate?

Learn More About The Colorado Senate Race

Update: Polls show Udall leading. Will 2008 be like 1980?

Winner: Udall

3. Idaho

Incumbent: Larry Craig, R; three terms; not seeking re-election

Running for the seat vacated by Sen. Craig: Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) and former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D). The two last faced off in 2006, when Risch won the race for Lieutenant Governor. In 2007, Sen. Craig was embroiled in controversy after his arrest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on suspicion of lewd conduct became public knowledge. Sen. Craig was elected in 1990 when Republican James McClure stepped down after three terms. Will the Democrats vaunted 50-state strategy turn this red state magenta?

Update: Polls show Risch leading.

Winner: Risch

4. Louisiana

Incumbent: Mary Landrieu, D; two terms

Moderate Democrat Landrieu is facing a turncoat in this election: State Treasurer John Kennedy pulled a Joe Lieberman (sorta) and switched parties to challenge her seat. Kennedy ran for the Senate unsuccessfully in 2004, when Bush took the state with 57% of the vote. Louisiana has voted Republican in six of the last nine presidential contests. But that was before Obama. Will black turnout help Landrieu retain her seat? Or will she suffer Katrina blacklash?

Update: Landrieu leading in polls.

Winner: Landrieu

5. Maine

Incumbent: Susan Collins, R; two terms

Unlike Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, Sen. Collins has reneged on her campaign promise to limit herself to two terms (12 years). This "flip flop" set the stage for her Democratic challenger, Rep. Tom Allen. In fundraising, the two are neck-and-neck. Although Maine voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections, the broken campaign promise does not seem to be hurting Collins. My money remains on the incumbent.

Update: Collins has double-digit lead.

Winner: Collins

6. Minnesota

Incumbent: Norm Coleman, R; one term (freshman)

Minnesota seems an unlikely spot for a celebrity challenge, but nevertheless, this is where Democrat and comedian Al Franken is challenging freshman Republican Sen. Coleman. A July Rasmussen poll puts Franken (44%) ahead of Coleman (42%). However, the two have swapped the lead several times. Will celebrity trump incumbency? Minnesota has voted Democratic in eight of the past nine presidential elections.

Update: Race remains too close to call.

Recount. Coleman, 41.99%; Franken, 41.98%

7. Mississippi

Incumbent: Roger Wicker, R; appointed 2007

In December 2007, Gov. Haley Barbour appointed six-term Rep. Roger Wicker to fill the seat vacated by Republican Sen. Trent Lott. Lott was first elected to the Senate in 1988. (He succeeded Democrat John Stennis, who held the seat for 44 years.) His career was marked by controversy in 2003 after remarks made at the 100th birthday party of Strom Thurmond in December 2002; the resulting outcry led him to resign as majority leader.

In a rare electoral event, Sen. Thad Cochran is also up for re-election. Cochran was elected to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican to win a statewide election in Mississippi since Reconstruction.

Update: Both Republicans leading.

Winner: Wicker and Cochran

8. Nebraska

Incumbent: Chuck Hagel, R; two terms; not seeking re-election

Former Bush Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns returned home to run for the open seat. His challenger: rancher and professor Scott Kleeb, who lost a 2006 bid for the House. Johanns has raised more than five times as much money as Kleeb and has an overwhelming lead in early polling. Add to that: Nebraska consistently votes Republican in presidential elections. My money is on the well-connected Ag Secretary.

Update: Johanns has commanding lead.

Winner: Johanns

9. New Hampshire

Incumbent: John Sununu, R; one term

In 2002, then Rep. Sununu defeated Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in a squeaker: 51% of the vote. As he seeks re-election, he's again running against Shaheen, who is leading in summer polling. In 1996, she was the first woman elected Governor. In 2004, NH voted for Kerry (50%) although it went for Bush in 2000. In 2006, both Republican Congressmen lost to Democratic challengers. Will the power of the incumbency protect Sununu, or has NH completed its turn to the left?

Update: Shaheen edging Sununu in late polling.

Winner: Shaheen

10. New Mexico

Incumbent: Pete Domenici, R; six terms; not seeking re-election

Democratic Governor Bill Richardson (second term) put the state in the national spotlight when he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. Although a lot of pols thought he might run for Domenici's seat, he sat out this race. Instead, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall (unopposed primary) is running against Republican Rep. Steve Pearce (51% primary vote). Udall is leading in the money race, but some Ds think he's too conservative. NM voted Democratic in three of the past nine presidential election cycles. In 2004, the state voted for Bush (50%).

Update: Udall leading in polls.

Winner: Udall

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