This has been an anxious summer for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Two scandals, two investigations, and one key retirement means that the GOP climb back to the top has become much steeper. Presently, Democrats are nursing a slim one-seat Senate majority; and in 2008, the electoral landscape looks a bit better for Democrats than Republicans. (The GOP needs to defend 22 seats, while Democrats need to protect 12.)
Before the summer, the only announced retirement was that of Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO). However, last week, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) announced his retirement. Both open Senate seats are highly competitive, meaning that there is a reasonable possibility that the seats could be captured by Democrats. In Colorado, the favorite is Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) and he may be challenged by former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO). In Virginia, a highly contested GOP primary is anticipated, pitting moderate Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) against conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA). The likely Democratic nominee would be former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA). Former Gov. Warner would be the favorite in the general election.
Sen. Warner’s retirement puts a spotlight on the electoral plans of two of his contemporaries, Sens. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Pete Domenici (R-NM). Both are highly respected veteran legislators who are under investigation. There is considerable speculation that they may retire. Depending on candidate selection, open seats in Alaska and New Mexico can be competitive.
Also during the summer, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) admitted that he procured “escort services” during his tenure in the House of Representatives. More recently, Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) pled guilty to a charge relating to his activities in the men’s room at Minneapolis International Airport, forcing his resignation from the Senate. While Vitter is not up for election in 2008 and Idaho is a safe GOP state, the bad publicity is a distraction and undercuts the GOP’s national campaign messaging. In addition, it can depress electoral turnout among voters who believe that “moral issues” are pivotal in elections.
Related Link: Craig Tells Senate Leader of Plans to Fight Charge, Finish Term
Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) told a Republican leader today that he would finish out his term if he is able to overturn his guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge in the next three weeks. (Washington Post)