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Pressure High on Sen. Coleman to Help Minimize Democratic Caucus Margin

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When Democrats narrowly won a majority in the U.S. Senate in 2006, it was expected 2008 would shape up to be a fierce battle for control of that chamber. The political reality at this moment in time, however, is that Democrats nearly have as good of a chance to win a filibuster-proof majority (60) as the Republicans have to get back to 50. Everything would have to go right for the Democrats to achieve 60 seats, but few pundits thought everything would go right for the Democrats to win control in 2006. And, after a long night of ballot counting in Virginia and Montana on Election Night, that's exactly what happened.

As such, Norm Coleman may not simply be fighting for his political life next November, but also his Party having any voice at all in the Senate: if Coleman falls, so too could Republicans fall short of 41 seats.

The reasons Senate Republicans are in trouble in 2008 are multifold. First, Republicans need to defend 22 of the 34 seats on the ballot. Of the 12 seats Democrats need to defend, only two are conceivably in play—Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Tim Johnson in South Dakota. Johnson, however, remains extremely popular in his home state and he is now back at work in D.C. having recovered from a serious illness that struck him last December. Other Democratic Senate seats up for re-election in the right-leaning states of Montana, Arkansas, and West Virginia are considered quite safe due to the popularity of the incumbents.

Several of the 22 seats the Republicans need to defend are in serious jeopardy. First, there are an open Republican seats in two Democratic-trending states (Colorado and Virginia). The other open GOP seat (Nebraska) will likely pit a very popular ex-Democratic Senator (Bob Kerrey) with the primary victor between former popular Governor Mike Johanns and Attorney General Jon Bruning.

Of the two seats potentially plagued by 'scandal' (Idaho's Larry Craig and Alaska's Ted Stevens) only Stevens' seat is likely to be in play for the Democrats. In July federal authorities raided Stevens' home as part of a corruption probe. Though Alaska is a right-leaning state, it has a strong independent streak and has voted Democrats into office in statewide races in the recent past.

Then there are the GOP moderates in Democratic-leaning states—Susan Collins in Maine, John Sununu in New Hampshire, and Gordon Smith in Oregon. The question is how many of these seats will turn over to the Democrats a la Lincoln Chaffee in Rhode Island in 2006. Smith began distancing himself from President Bush and his Iraq war policy a year ago. Collins and Sununu have been more moderate in their criticisms against the president.

Add Norm Coleman's seat into the mix and you have 3 vulnerable open seats, 4 vulnerable moderate Republican seats in Democratic-leaning states and 1 vulnerable 'scandal seat.' That would leave the Democratic caucus at 59—one seat shy of a filibuster-proof majority, provided they hold Louisiana and South Dakota.

To reach the magic number of 60, Democrats are therefore also keeping an eye on Mitch McConnell's seat in Kentucky (though he is an extremely powerful Senator, his approval ratings are at just 50 percent) as well as Pete Dominici's seat in New Mexico (a true battleground state which already has one Democratic Senator).

At this time Smart Politics is certainly not predicting Democrats will end up with a 60-seat caucus. But the fact an argument can be made that there is a sliver of a chance for Democrats to pick up so many seats spells big trouble the GOP may be in next November.

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Remains of the Data

Plurality-Winning Governors Elected At Century-Long High Water Mark

The rate of gubernatorial candidates elected without the support of a majority of voters is at its highest level since the 1910s.

Political Crumbs

Seeing Red

Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


Home Field Advantage?

When the 114th Congress convenes in a few days, Maine will be represented by one home-grown U.S. Representative: Waterville-born Republican Bruce Poliquin. With the departure of Millinocket-born Mike Michaud, who launched a failed gubernatorial bid, the Pine Tree State was poised to send a House delegation to D.C. without any Maine-born members for the first time since 1821. Three-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (born in Minnesota) coasted to reelection as expected, however Poliquin edged Kentucky-born Emily Cain by 5.3 points to keep the streak alive. Since 1876, a total of 208 of the 222 candidates elected to the nation's lower legislative chamber from the state have been born in Maine, or 94 percent.


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