Column: Campaign 2006: Top Ten Senate Races

By Bob Burnett
Friday October 06, 2006

Voters will determine 33 Senate seats in 2006. According to veteran DC prognosticator Charlie Cook, 17 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 eight of the contested Democratic sets. 

Here’s the latest on the 10 most interesting Senatorial races: 

In Connecticut, the Aug. 8 primary victory of Ned Lamont means that there will be a three-way race in November: lightly regarded Republican Alan Schlesinger, incumbent senator Joe Lieberman running as an independent, and Lamont. This is a solidly Democratic seat, so the competition will be between Lamont and Lieberman—both for the seat and the soul of the Dems. The latest polls show Lamont and Lieberman in a virtual dead heat. 

Minnesota has a vacant Senate seat because Democrat Mark Dayton is retiring. The primary was held Sept. 12. The Democratic candidate will be District Attorney Amy Klobuchar. The latest polls show her with a double-digit lead over Mark Kennedy, her Republican opponent. 

An interesting race is shaping up in Missouri where Republican incumbent Jim Talent has weakened in the polls. The Democratic challenger is State Auditor Claire McCaskill. The latest polls show this race as even. There’s a stem-cell initiative on the Missouri ballot and that may work to McCaskill’s favor, by bringing out the liberal vote. 

Montana used to be solid red state but elected a Democratic governor in 2004. Now it seems poised to dump Neanderthal Republican Senator Conrad Burns. The June 6 primary resulted in the nomination of populist farmer Jon Tester. The latest polls indicated the race is even. Burns has more money, however. 

In Ohio, Democratic Representative Sherrod Brown is running against embattled Republican incumbent Mike DeWine, who has been implicated in the Abramoff scandal. Brown has a slight lead in the polls, but DeWine has more money. 

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

The Rhode Island primary happened Sept. 12. The Republican incumbent, Lincoln Chafee, will face former State Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse is slightly ahead in the polls and has more money. 

There will be an open Senate seat in Tennessee because Bill Frist is retiring to run for President. In the Aug. 3 primary, Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker won the Republican nomination. He’ll face Harold Ford, Jr., a handsome, articulate, African-American Congressman. Polls show Ford gaining on Corker. 

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 didn’t help himself by uttering a racial slur during an August campaign event. Where Allen once had a twenty percentage point lead over Webb, now it’s only 5 percent. 

In the state of Washington, incumbent Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell is facing tough competition in Republican challenger Mike McGavick. Polls show Cantwell slightly ahead. 

Besides the BB top ten, 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 prohibitive favorite is Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders. 

Democrat Incumbents face stiff challenges in Michigan (Debbie Stabenow) and New Jersey (Bob Menendez). 

Democrats will likely pick up a few Senate seats. But, it seems unlikely that they will win enough to regain the Senate majority.