U.S. Senators Prep for Tough Election Fight
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If he runs again, Tim Johnson may face a tough fight, since South Dakota Democrats often do. But by and large it is Republicans who seem vulnerable next year. We're waiting to find out if that list will include the Republican who's trying to explain his arrest and guilty plea.
Senator LARRY CRAIG (Republican, Idaho): Let me be clear. I am not gay. I never have been gay.
INSKEEP: Idaho Senator Larry Craig made that statement following news that he was arrested in a Minneapolis airport restroom. An undercover cop who was investigating complains about lewd sexual conduct.
Sen. CRAIG: I should not have kept this arrest to myself and I should have told my family and my friends about it. I wasn't eager to share this failure but I should have anyway because I am not gay. I love my wife, my family. I care about friends and staff in Idaho. I love serving this great state.
INSKEEP: NPR political editor Ken Rudin is following this story. Ken, we have a Senate where a change of a single seat could affect who controls it. What is the outlook for Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho, keeping his job?
KEN RUDIN: Well, it's not promising. There's some question whether he'll run again. He said at yesterday's press conference that he'll announce his plans in September. He's been saying that all along. But it's the last thing the Republican Party needed, given the fact that they have unpopular war, an unpopular president, and less than wild enthusiasm for the Republican presidential candidates. So Larry Craig, this hits the Republican Party at a probably awful time going into 2008 elections.
INSKEEP: Although if he wants to stay, I mean, this is the guy who got 65 percent of the vote last time. Would Republicans say look, we need this to be a safe seat. We don't want to spend time and energy fighting it out in Idaho. Is that the reason they would maybe encourage him to...?
RUDIN: There's probably a lot of pressure on him not to run again. There are -there's no shortage of ambitious Republicans who would love to take that seat. No Democrat has won a Senate seat in Idaho since 1974, so the outlook is obviously very good for the Republican Party. But whether it's good for Larry Craig himself, that question is up for debate. And most people feel that he would be in a tough race, a tough fight, if he chose to run again.
INSKEEP: Is there a Democrat ready to challenge him?
RUDIN: There's a former congressman, Larry LaRocco, who was defeated in the Republican landslide of 1994. He's fairly popular but he's not been raising much money. He says - the Democrats say that they have an opportunity here to win the seat. Frank Church was the last Democrat to do so. But again, I think my gut feeling tells me that any Republican other than Larry Craig, any leading Republican, would help the seat.
INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR political editor Ken Rudin about the prospects for 2008. And let's move elsewhere in the country. How do Republican prospects look at this time?
RUDIN: Well, there are 34 Senate seats up for reelection in 2008, 22 of them are held by Republicans. So, on the numbers alone, the Republicans have much more at stake.
They also have possible retirements that they've worried about. John Warner of Virginia is 80 years old. He is likely to not seek a sixth term next year. He's likely to retire. Mark Warner, the former governor - no relation - a moderate Democrat is looking at good at that seat. Wayne Allard, the Republican incumbent in Colorado, is retiring. Democrats have a good shot at that as well.
And there are about four or five other Republicans who are very nervous. The war is very unpopular in their states - Susan Collins in Maine, Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Gordon Smith in Oregon, John Sununu in New Hampshire - all have problems with President Bush's increasing unpopularity and the unpopularity of the war.
INSKEEP: Ken, should we mention, though, it was about this time in 2005 when, if you started looking around at the various Senate races, it was hard to imagine where Democrats would even pick up more than a seat or two. And in the end, more than a year later, they took control of the U.S. Senate in 2006. Is there a possibility for the entire landscape to change in this more than a year before the next election?
RUDIN: Well, I mean, people a day before the Virginia Senate race last year, 2006, predicted that George Allen would win. So, obviously, predicting something 12, 18 months in advance is very full hearty. But having said that the political landscape, if you look at the enthusiasm for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, if you compare the amount of money the Democrats and Republicans are raising, right now at this early stage looking at 2008, it seems to be a Democratic-looking year and Republicans are really very nervous about their prospects.
INSKEEP: When you talk to Republicans, do they offer any scenario for improvement?
RUDIN: Well, they do know that President Bush cannot run for a third term. They like that. But they also know that, you know, that the Republicans have been swiping at each other on issues of stem cell research, immigration and abortion. And if the party can't unite around those issues, it will be tough uniting against the one thing they fear the most: the Hillary Clinton presidency.
INSKEEP: Ken, good talking with you.
RUDIN: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Ken Rudin. His Political Junkie column can be found at npr.org/politicaljunkie.
You're hearing him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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