Watch out, folks! As of Tuesday, party nomination contests are “primarily” over (save for three states), and what a primary season it has been. But the same emotion that has characterized the summer primary season–the most powerful emotion in politics–shows scant signs of ebbing as we enter the fall.
There’s a lot of anger on the campaign trail in 2006. And it’s anger that is manifesting itself in several different forms:
DEMOCRAT vs. REPUBLICAN
The normal kind of anger in an election year, but more intense than usual because of polarized feelings about President Bush and the Iraq War among Democrats, and the MoveOn.org/liberal blogger efforts among Democrats. We are seeing this category of rage play out in most of the highly competitive battles featured in our (NEW!) HotRace Readings tables below. Whether the heated rhetoric has escalated over Iraq (as in Connecticut’s 4th District clash), the economy (as in Michigan’s gubernatorial melee), or corruption (as in New Jersey’s Senate bloodbath), an unusually high number of general election contests have already been nasty for many months.
DEMOCRAT vs. DEMOCRAT
The rarest public form of anger this year, yes, but it has produced the greatest cataclysm of 2006 so far, in the seemingly never-ending Lieberman versus Lamont epic. (See the Crystal Ball’s August article [link] on the Connecticut Senate primary for more details.) Just under the surface, there have been pitched wars between the national Democratic Party committees on the one hand, and liberal anti-war, anti-establishment activists and bloggers on the other. As primary season progressed, we saw more and more intra-party contests transform from snoozers to bruisers. On Tuesday, Reps. Al Wynn (D-MD) and Ed Towns (D-NY) both came within single digits of losing re-nomination following eleventh hour surges by hard-driving challengers from the left, and one prominent long-serving Maryland state senator (Democrat Ida Ruben) even lost her reelection bid handily.
The most consequential Democratic fault lines, however, run right through Washington, DC. Strategically, Howard Dean’s DNC and the leaders of the party’s congressional campaign committees seem to be operating on different planets, with the former entity reluctant to sacrifice any territory for the sake of targeting the most competitive races—the latter entity’s raison d’etre. All of a sudden, Election Day is less than two months away, and many Democrats genuinely worry that this tabloid-worthy organizational feuding will severely hinder the party’s chances of fully capitalizing on the angry storm of anti-GOP resentment. Sure, a modest deal was recently struck between these groups to coordinate on getting out the vote, but if the unified and reliable Republican turnout machine succeeds at cutting party losses, the Democrats’ unenthusiastic attempts at collaboration may best be remembered for coming a few days late and a few bucks short.
REPUBLICAN vs. REPUBLICAN
This version of ’06 fury appears to be breaking out all over. From Arizona to Rhode Island, very heated struggles between moderates, conservatives, and ultra-conservatives were Tuesday’s chief exhibit, a continuation of a trend we had seen developing in Texas, Michigan, and elsewhere over the past few months. And make no mistake–even right-leaning grassroots GOP ranks are irascible in 2006. Tuesday’s 47 percent showing by charismatic conservative mayor Steve Laffey against Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and the plurality victory of Minuteman enthusiast Randy Graf in a southern Arizona House primary are more than just borderline evidence of the GOP base’s flammability.
Conservatives are deeply upset with the Bush administration and the GOP Congress about the lack of fiscal discipline, corruption in the ranks, immigration, and a host of other subjects. A dangerous thesis has taken hold among many in the GOP: that it might be better to lose the ’06 election and re-group. In American history, when a faction in the majority party decides the party is tired and could benefit from some time in the wilderness, the voters usually oblige. Most recently, the latest issue of Washington Monthly includes a cover story [link] featuring seven such articles from prominent Republican strategists, insiders and commentators .
Voters Gone Wild
Some analyses have improperly categorized 2006’s rage as solely “anti-incumbent;” and though the electorate is more anti-incumbent than it has been since 1994, the anger we witness is multi-dimensional. Certainly, incumbents of all stripes have a lot to lose this year, and Democrats can be targeted as well as Republicans: just ask the endangered Democratic Governors in Michigan, Wisconsin, and other states. But frontrunner challengers in primaries can feel the wrath, too: voters ultimately deep-sixed the bids of candidates whom retiring representatives Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Joel Hefley (R-CO), Marty Sabo (D-MN), and Major Owens (D-NY) had endorsed (and in some cases hand-picked) to succeed them. When voters go wild, when they want to lash out, they can strike any available target. Since the Republicans control all federal branches, they will suffer most from the electorate’s surly mood, but no one is guaranteed an exemption.
So study our (NEW!) HotRace Readings tables carefully. Even in cyberspace, they are warm to the touch, containing as they do the pent-up anger of tens of millions of voters who are aching to express themselves in a mere 50 days!
2006 Senate Crystal Ball HotRace Readings
Republican Held Seats up for Election in 2006: 15 (out of 55 held)
|Solid R (7)
|Likely R (1)
|Leans R (1)
|Leans D (2)
|Likely D (0)
|Solid D (0)
|Solid R (0)
|Likely R (0)
|Leans R (0)
|Leans D (5)
|Likely D (1)
|Solid D (11)
Democratic Held Seats up for Election: 18 (out of 45 held)
The Brutal B, September 2006: +3 to +6 D
Click here for individual Senate race analysis.
2006 House Crystal Ball HotRace Readings
Republican Held Seats in Play: 56 (176 Safe/Solid R)
|Likely R (24)
|Leans R (10)
|Leans D (5)
|Likely D (0)
|Likely R (0)
|Leans R (0)
|Leans D (7)
|Likely D (6)
Democratic Held Seats in Play: 14 (189 Safe/Solid D)
The Brutal B, September 2006: +12 to +15 D
Click here for individual House race analysis.
2006 Governor Crystal Ball HotRace Readings
Republican Held Seats up for Election in 2006: 22 (out of 28 held)
|Solid R (5)
|Likely R (5)
|Leans R (6)
|Leans D (3)
|Likely D (1)
|Solid D (1)
|Solid R (0)
|Likely R (0)
|Leans R (0)
|Leans D (5)
|Likely D (2)
|Solid D (5)
Democratic Held Seats up for Election: 14 (out of 22 held)
The Brutal B, September 2006: +4 to +6 D
Click here for individual Governor race analysis.
New Ratings Changes for September 15, 2006
- Alabama – Leans Republican to Likely Republican – Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley continues to run a spirited race, but GOP Gov. Bob Riley has reversed his fortunes and unexpectedly finds himself in excellent position to win reelection.
- Alaska – Toss-up to Leans Republican – Alaska’s Democrats can’t seem to catch a break! The incumbent Republican administration couldn’t be less popular after committing an entire glacier of gaffes, but even though Democrats nominated the most popular candidate they could possibly run in former Gov. Tony Knowles, Knowles has become a considerable underdog to reclaim his own job. Our sources in Alaska tell us that GOP Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin’s personable charm stands in such stark contrast to Gov. Frank Murkowski’s icy demeanor that she seems to be clicking with the general election electorate right away.
- Arizona – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – Far-right Republican Len Munsil won the GOP gubernatorial nod in a surprise upset over the well-pedigreed Don Goldwater, but it won’t matter: Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano has earned high marks in her first term and is a safe bet to win reelection.
- New Hampshire – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – New Hampshire voters seem so pleased with their Democratic governor, former education official John Lynch, that it’s likely they wish they wouldn’t have to go through the motions of another gubernatorial election two years into his term. Just like fellow New Englander Gov. Jodi Rell of Connecticut, Lynch is benefiting from having replaced a hugely unpopular predecessor.
- New York – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – It’s hard to believe, but Democratic Attorney General Eliot Spitzer posted a staggering 81 percent victory in Tuesday’s primary over a NON-minor opponent, Nassau County Exec. Tom Suozzi. He faces GOP state legislator John Faso in the general election, but the only question in this race is whether Spitzer’s percentage margin of victory will be in the 20s, 30s, or 40s.
- Connecticut – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – Connecticut’s Senate election will be written into political history almanacs with an asterisk for a variety of reasons, but it may actually set a record for the lowest general election percentage ever recorded for a major party nominee on the ballot. Petitioning “Independent Democrat” Sen. Joe Lieberman holds a minor lead over Democratic nominee Ned Lamont, and Republican Alan Schlesinger is commanding low single digits in most polls! Whether or not Lieberman survives this spectacle, the winner will be caucusing with the Democrats, so don’t look to Connecticut when mapping out each party’s route to a majority of seats.
- Michigan – Solid Democratic to Leans Democratic – Jumping two columns across our 2006 Senate Crystal Ball HotRace Readings table, the race between GOP Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow has become much more competitive as a consequence of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s relative unpopularity, which could hurt the Democratic ticket across the board in a state that has been consistently devastated by job losses this decade. We don’t think Stabenow will ultimately become a one-term wonder, but we approach the Great Lakes state with caution thanks to its great volatility.
- New Jersey – Leans Democratic to Toss-up – If there’s one official on the public payroll New Jerseyans actually revere, it’s U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, whose crime-busting reputation of putting corrupt local politicians in jail would have won him Drumthwacket (the Governor’s Mansion) in a cakewalk had he chosen to run in 2005. News that his office has opened an investigation into appointed first-term Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s Hudson County rental properties is an unwelcome development for Menendez’s backers, who are now in the odd position of attacking the well-liked Christie as a politically motivated snoop. Even if oddly timed, the probe serves to reinforce Kean’s somewhat over-the-top attacks on Menendez as a crooked career city politician. The polls in New Jersey were see-sawing until now-GOP State. Sen. Tom Kean has crept ahead in the last few public surveys, even if within the margin of error. The Crystal Ball keeps in mind that Democrats’ organizational strength in the state tends to add about five points to their Election Day totals that don’t show up in polls, but at this point, the race has entered Toss-up territory.
- North Dakota – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is the only person in U.S. history to have held one Senate seat while successfully running for the state’s other Senate seat. In 2006, he’ll have no trouble holding onto the one he currently occupies, seeing as Republican farmer Dwight Grotberg isn’t making much noise. What a disappointment for the national GOP that Grotberg was the best candidate North Dakota’s fundamental majority party could find! Instead, North Dakota’s effective congressional majority–the 3-0 Democratic delegation–will continue to have the state covered like a Devils Lake flood.
- West Virginia – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – When people turn to the Crystal Ball to ask which issues races are hinging on, age is usually not among our top responses. But it’s the only reason a lot of people would ever have second thoughts about returning soon-to-be nonagenarian Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd to his favorite governmental institution for another six years. Republican John Raese is campaigning hard, but Byrd is himself a towering institution in the Mountain State, and is not taking anything for granted. He’s a solid bet for reelection this year.
- AZ-8 (OPEN) – Toss-up to Leans Democratic TAKEOVER – Democrats couldn’t have asked for a better primary election scenario on Tuesday. Exceptional Democratic candidate state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords overwhelmed opponent Patty Weiss, but far more important, Republicans nominated hard-right Minuteman enthusiast Randy Graf over the choice of the NRCC, State Rep. Steve Huffman. Not only is Graf ideologically farther away from outgoing GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe than Giffords, Democrats now have a veritable library of anti-Graf quotes from Republicans they can turn now use against him in the general election. Whether Kolbe ultimately endorses Graf (who ran against him two years ago) or not, district Republicans just made national Democrats’ path to fifteen seats that much easier.
- CO-4 (Musgrave) – Likely Republican to Leans Republican – GOP Rep. Marilyn Musgrave is a polarizer on hot-button social issues in a district with a growing Hispanic population, a recipe for a heated campaign. Democratic State Rep. Angie Paccione continues to be competitive in this GOP-leaning northern Colorado district and is boosted by the fact that Republican fortunes seem to be souring in Colorado faster than in any other mountain state.
- CO-7 (OPEN) – Toss-up to Leans Democratic TAKEOVER – See the last sentence above. Democrats could open up a library to house all of the opposition research they have culled concerning the statements of think tanker GOP nominee Rick O’Donnell, and are hitting him hard on social security and a proposal he once offered to mandate national border security and forest-thinning service for all male youths. Democratic State Sen. Ed Perlmutter is now the favorite to pick up this district, whose current GOP occupant may well lose it in his gubernatorial bid.
- FL-13 (OPEN) – Leans Republican to Likely Republican – Republicans in this Sarasota-area district may actually be helped by the fact that Katherine Harris will not be running to represent it this year. Instead, she is running for Senate, and GOP nominee Vern Buchanan can finance his own race against his old friend, Democratic banker Chris Jennings. Given high GOP and low Democratic participation in the state’s primary, Florida is one state looking less and less likely to be swept out to sea (or gulf) by a Democratic wave.
- HI-2 (Case) – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – Although Republicans have a credible nominee in Quentin Kawananakoa, the Democratic primary here has simply not taken on the nastiness of some other primaries that have threatened to fritter away the favored party’s natural advantage in the general election. Either former Lieutenant Governor Mazie Hirono or State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, or another candidate in the sea of hopefuls, will be heavily favored to head to Washington after November.
- IN-2 (Chocola) – Leans Republican to Toss-up – At the outset of the 2006 cycle, GOP Rep. Chris Chocola seemed nowhere near as vulnerable as his fellow Republicans and colleagues to the south, Reps. John Hostettler and Mike Sodrel. But now, as if state Republicans could be any less popular in Indiana than they previously were, the controversy over leasing northern Indiana’s Toll Road to a foreign consortium has further irritated voters. Even though Chocola, as the region’s voice in Washington and not Indianapolis, has really nothing to do with the dustup, it’s clear that the issue has, well, taken a hefty toll on his reelection prospects (please excuse us!). Chocola is a good closer, but is now no better than even against emboldened Democratic businessman Joe Donnelly.
- IA-1 (OPEN) – Toss-up to Leans Democratic TAKEOVER – The Crystal Ball wonders if incumbent Rep. Jim Nussle will win his own district in his race for governor, and our Iowa sources tell us he is actually not doing as well as he should be in northeastern reaches of the state. If he doesn’t, you can be fairlysure that the identity of the next representative from this district will be lawyer Bruce Braley, who is now in the driver’s seat even as restaurateur Mike Whalen continues to be superiorly pampered by fundraising visits from 2008 GOP presidential aspirants-the real “Field of Dreams” for any lower-level candidate running in the Hawkeye
- KS-3 (Moore) – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore represents a considerably Republican-leaning district, but it’s hard to imagine this is the year he could finally be in any political trouble. He’s on pace to defeat GOP nominee Chuck Ahner handily.
- LA-3 (Melancon) – Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic – Despite solid fundraising and endorsements from several local Democratic politicians, GOP State Sen. Craig Romero just can’t seem to get any traction against folksy Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon, who has sounded the right notes with his outspokenness on the federal government’s failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina. It’s unlikely voters in this Bayou area race have been riveted to this match up, which can only help the known quantity, Melancon.
- NH-1 (Bradley) – Likely Republican to Solid Republican – Moderate GOP Rep. Jeb Bradley’s chances of holding onto his district improved somewhat on Tuesday, though the Crystal Ball was never really convinced he was threatened to begin with. The primary in this eastern Granite State district saw the expected Democratic nominee, Manchester State Rep. Jim Craig, lose to an under-funded favorite of local anti-war activists, Rochester Democratic leader Carol Shea-Porter. Shea-Porter’s backers are noisy but probably not plentiful enough to give Bradley much of a run for his money.
- NC-11 (Taylor) – Leans Republican to Toss-up – The joke going around North Carolina’s mountain district starts out along the lines of “Remember what happened last time they sent Heath Shuler to Washington?” Still, Democrats claim that Shuler will be a much more competent member of Congress than he was an NFL quarterback. GOP Rep. Charles Taylor has already injected plenty of his own money into the race in an attempt to avoid getting beaten by the end-around, but whenever an angry national mood manifests itself in North Carolina, it always seems to hit this politically volatile slice of the Tar Heel state first. It can cut both ways, but this year, it seems to be working in Shuler’s direction.
- NY-26 (Reynolds) – Solid Republican to Likely Republican – Observers watching NRCC Chair Rep. Tom Reynolds’s best attempts at minimizing the losses of his party in November often forget that he won reelection with only 55 percent of the vote in 2004–a rather underwhelming watermark for someone of his stature in party ranks. Democratic businessman Jack Davis is at it again this year, and even though he’s not the most impressive candidate Democrats are running this year in upstate New York, every Empire State Republican must be on guard in an election that is likely to see both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Gov. hopeful Eliot Spitzer break the 60% mark.
- OH-18 (OPEN) – Leans Republican to Toss-up – This just in: Ohio State Sen. Joy Padgett won the right to replace more-than-embattled outgoing GOP Rep. Bob Ney on the ballot in a hastily arranged Republican nomination contest with an underwhelming margin over four minor candidates. There’s still a bad taste in voters’ mouths in this normally Republican east-central Ohio district, and Democrats claim that associating Padgett with Ney and popular-as-the-plague outgoing GOP Gov. Bob Taft will pay dividends for unremarkable Democratic nominee Zack Space in November. Padgett represents over a quarter of the district’s residents in her perch in the state legislature, but her weak performance in the replacement contest gives us some pause.
- PA-4 (Hart) – Likely Republican to Solid Republican – Democratic nominee Jason Altmire is running an energetic campaign against fairly popular GOP Rep. Melissa Hart in a traditionally Democratic district, but Democratic efforts to win House seats in Pennsylvania look to be focused eastward. Hart’s usual margin could be eroded somewhat by a poor showing by Sen. Rick Santorum higher on the ballot, but it won’t be enough to give Altmire a chance.
- PA-7 (Weldon) – Leans Republican to Toss-up – Longtime GOP Rep. Curt Weldon continues to run full steam ahead in this close-in Delaware County-anchored district, but he is contending not only with Democratic navy admiral Joe Sestak, but also with the Philadelphia Inqirer, which has harped on some of Weldon’s unusual statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and other topics. Weldon’s own organization is solid, but he is no longer commanding the full labor backing he enjoyed in previous elections and Sestak has good funding and the advantage of running in a Democratic district in a Democratic year, with Philly favorite Gov. Ed Rendell on the ballot.
- PA-10 (Sherwood) – Leans Republican to Toss-up – GOP Rep. Don Sherwood has only himself to blame for his unexpected extreme vulnerability in 2006. Yes, everyone who has read the story has been scarred by the infamous shot of the pink-ribboned mistress whom he allegedly choked, and…well, we could probably end this piece of analysis right here are you could get the picture. For his part, Democratic veteran Chris Carney seems to be in the right place at the right time even in this conservative-minded district, and is poised to give Sherwood the closest race he’s had since he was first elected in 1998 by the narrowest margin of anyone that year over Democrat Pat Casey. And guess who’s heading Carney’s Democratic ticket in 2006? Senate candidate Bob Casey, northeastern Pennsylvania’s favorite son.
- UT-2 (Matheson) – Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic – Like Dennis Moore in Kansas, Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson represents an overwhelmingly Republican district-parts of this district’s outer reaches even cast some of the highest margins Bush won anywhere in the country in 2004. Still, it’s unlikely that 2006 is the year Matheson could face real trouble, and he should score a big win over Republican State Rep. LaVar Christensen.
- WA-8 (Reichert) – Leans Republican to Toss-up – Incumbent GOP Rep. Dave Reichert has earned a good reputation as the lawman who tracked down the Green River Killer, and he likely saved himself a few percentage points for November by switching his position to favor expanded embryonic stem cell research. But Democratic nominee and former Microsoft manager Darcy Burner is a fundraising dynamo and has taken advantage of the tough atmosphere Republicans face this year on the “left Coast” to pull even with Reichert by most accounts. Furthermore, in an area of the country where exceptionally few incumbent Republican legislators seem endangered, this may be the one race where Democrats are focusing their energies to chip away at the Republican majority.
- WV-2 (Capito) – Likely Republican to Solid Republican – The Crystal Ball sees few signs that the sole Republican federal officeholder representing our neighbor to the West is in any sort of danger this year. Attorney Mike Callaghan is the Democratic nominee, but he hasn’t received much crucial support from Democratic committees downriver in Washington, DC, and West Virginia Democrats are busy ensuring that earmark-enriched Rep. Alan Mollohan can face down his unexpectedly lively challenge in the district to the north.
- WY-AL (Cubin) – Likely Republican to Leans Republican – Could Vice President Dick Cheney’s old House district actually elect a Democrat in 2006? It’s now a distinct possibility, not so much because incumbent GOP Rep. Barbara Cubin has cast any congressional votes Wyomingites dislike, but rather because plenty of Wyomingites simply dislike her-for a long stretch of MISSING votes due to family illness among other reasons. That was certainly the storyline reinforced by Cubin’s very weak showing in the state’s primary election last month, in which she actually lost the state’s largest county to a largely unknown challenger. Democratic schools official Gary Trauner will rather easily be portrayed by Republicans as a Jackson Hole liberal, and Democrats could have done better, but he has notably raised more money than Cubin so far this year, and Wyoming is a cheap state for national Democrats to target if they so choose. Still, on such reliably Republican turf, it will be difficult for the very conservative Cubin’s prospects to ultimately sail wide right on Election Night, much like University of Wyoming kicker Aric Goodman’s game-ending extra point attempt against the University of Virginia on September 9th (Sorry, Cowboys fans, we couldn’t resist!).