Column: The Public Eye: Campaign 2006: Top 10 Senate Races

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday June 27, 2006

Voters will determine 33 Senate seats in 2006. According to veteran D.C. prognosticator Charlie Cook, 16 incumbent senators are all but guaranteed reelection. In order to regain control of the Senate, Democrats will have to win at least six of the eight Republican seats that are in play and retain all nine of the contested Democratic seats. Here are the ten most interesting senatorial races:  

In Arizona Republican incumbent John Kyl anticipated an easy victory. Now, polls show that his margin over a Democratic challenger has dwindled from 31 to 7 percent. The Sept. 12 primary will pit Jim Pedersen against John Verkamp. Pedersen is the favorite. 

Minnesota has a vacant Senate seat because Democrat Mark Dayton is retiring. The primary will be held Sept. 12; the leading Democratic candidate is Hennepin County District Attorney Amy Klobuchar. The latest polls show her leading Mark Kennedy, her likely Republican opponent. 

An interesting race is shaping up in Missouri where Republican incumbent Jim Talent has weakened in the polls. The Missouri primary is Aug. 8, and the favored Democrat is State Auditor Claire McCaskill. The race appears to be a toss- up.  

Another intriguing contest 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 Sen. Conrad Burns. The June 6 primary resulted in the nomination of populist farmer Jon Tester. The latest polls show him ahead. 

You may remember that New Jersey Democratic Senator Jon Corzine resigned his position once he took office as governor in January. His replacement was Democratic Representative Bob Menendez. So far, Menendez has run a lackluster race against his Republican opponent, Tom Kean, Jr. This is probably the GOP’s best shot at picking up a Democratic seat. 

In Ohio, Democratic Representative Sherrod Brown is running against embattled Republican incumbent Mike DeWine, who has been implicated in the Abramoff scandal. This race is a toss-up. 

The most highly publicized Senate race is in Pennsylvania, where conservative Christian poster-boy Rick Santorum is in trouble. Polls show him running behind the Democratic challenger Bob Casey, Jr. Santorum has a lot of money on hand and can be expected to wage a vicious race to keep his seat.  

The Rhode Island primary happens Sept. 12. The Republican incumbent, Lincoln Chafee, is facing a stiff primary challenge from conservative Steve Laffey. If Chafee gets past the primary, his likely opponent is former State Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. The race is a toss-up. 

There will be an open Senate seat in Tennessee because Bill Frist is retiring to run for president. The Aug. 3 primary will determine the Republican candidate. The Democratic challenger is likely to be Harold Ford, Jr., a handsome, articulate, African-American congressman. Early polls indicate that the race is a toss-up. 

In Virginia incumbent Republican George Allen was said to have an easy reelection. So easy that he was thinking about running for president.  

Democrats recruited former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb to run against Allen and suddenly there’s a race. Allen remains the favorite. 

Those of you who believe that our best strategy in Iraq is to bring the troops home should note that Brown (OH), Klobuchar (MN), McCaskill (MO), Tester (MT), Webb (VA), and Whitehouse (RI) share this position. 

Besides the BB top 10, there are several other races that should be watched. In Maryland, Democrat Paul Sarbanes is retiring. 

The primary is in September, and whichever Democrat wins, will probably win the November election. In Vermont, Independent Jim Jeffords is retiring. The Sept. 12 primary will decide the Democratic and Republican candidates. However, the prohibitive favorite is Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders.  

Democrat incumbents face stiff challenges in Michigan (Debbie Stabenow), Washington (Maria Cantwell), and West Virginia (Robert Byrd). Finally, in Connecticut, incumbent Joe Lieberman is facing unexpected competition from anti-war Dem Ned Lamont. Whichever candidate wins the Aug. 8 primary will probably prevail in November. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at