Democrats To Pick Up 4 Senate Seats — At Least At least 11 Senate seats are in play this fall, says Political Editor Ken Rudin. He handicaps the races and offers his preliminary predictions.
NPR logo Democrats To Pick Up 4 Senate Seats — At Least

Democrats To Pick Up 4 Senate Seats — At Least

New Hampshire's John Sununu (R) is the most vulnerable Senate incumbent in 2008. hide caption

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Maryland's Peter James ran for Congress this month. His father, Peter James, ran for governor back in 1970. hide caption

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Chris Cannon of Utah becomes the third member of the House to lose his primary this year. hide caption

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Thirty-five years ago today, Abe Beame wins the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York City in a first-ever runoff. hide caption

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Q: Although the 2006 elections featured a number of closely contested Senate seats, 2008 appears to have as many as 14 races that could go either way. When was the last election where so many seats were in play? — Patrick Bihn, Rock Island, Ill.

I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far — 14 seems a bit steep. At this point, I'm saying 11 Senate seats are in play: 10 on the Republican side, and just one Democrat, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu. We'll handicap this year's races in a moment.

Often a campaign cycle will begin with many Senate seats considered to be "in play," only to find in the end that not much had changed. For example, there were, by some accounts, 11 Senate seats thought to be in play in 1998. But many of them -– Barbara Boxer vs. Matt Fong in California, or Ben Nighthorse Campbell vs. Dottie Lamm in Colorado, to name just two -– weren't close at all. Only three incumbents went down to defeat that year: Al D'Amato (R-NY), Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) and Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL). When all was said and done, neither party netted a gain in the Senate.

Contrast that with 1980, for example, when everything went the Republicans' way. The year started with about the same number of "in play" Senate seats, but the results were quite different. The GOP gained 12 seats -– and, with a little luck, could have gotten more, as Democrats Gary Hart (CO), Tom Eagleton (MO) and Pat Leahy (VT) were narrowly re-elected.

With just four-plus months to go, 2008 looks every bit as politically dangerous for the GOP as was 2006 — a year in which the party lost six Senate seats (and its majority). In June of '06, the terrain didn't look that poor for Republicans. Virginia's George Allen (R) was still a shoo-in, and Republicans still were no worse than 50-50 in states like Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island -– yet they lost every single one.

Though the Obama/McCain matchup could very well affect this year's Senate seat dynamic, here is how it looks right now, with 19 weeks to go:

SENATE SEATS AT STAKE: 35 seats (23 Republicans, 12 Democrats)

RETIRING: 5 (all Republicans –- Wayne Allard in Colorado, Larry Craig in Idaho, Chuck Hagel in Nebraska, Pete Domenici in New Mexico, and John Warner in Virginia)

SAFEST OF THE SAFE: 21 (10 Republicans, 11 Democrats)

Republicans: Jeff Sessions in Alabama, Pat Roberts in Kansas, Thad Cochran in Mississippi, Mike Johanns in Nebraska, Jim Inhofe in Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, John Cornyn in Texas, and Wyoming's Mike Enzi and John Barrasso. All are incumbents, except for Johanns, who is running for the open seat vacated by Hagel.

Democrats: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Biden of Delaware, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Carl Levin of Michigan, Max Baucus of Montana, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. All are incumbents.


Here are the ones to watch, with preliminary calls. (For more details, go to our interactive Senate map.

ALASKA: Ted Stevens (R) vs. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D). Leans Republican.

COLORADO (open R -– Wayne Allard retiring): Ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) vs. Rep. Mark Udall (D). Leans Democratic pickup.

GEORGIA: Saxby Chambliss (R) vs. July 15 Dem primary winner. Likely Republican.

IDAHO (open R –- Larry Craig retiring): Lt. Gov. Jim Risch (R) vs. ex-Rep. Larry LaRocco (D). Likely Republican.

KENTUCKY: Mitch McConnell (R) vs. businessman Bruce Lunsford (D). Likely Republican.

LOUISIANA: Mary Landrieu (D) vs. state Treasurer John Kennedy (R). Likely Democratic.

MAINE: Susan Collins (R) vs. Rep. Tom Allen. Leans Republican.

MINNESOTA: Norm Coleman (R) vs. Al Franken (D). Leans Republican.

MISSISSIPPI special: Roger Wicker (R) vs. ex-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D). Tossup.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: John Sununu (R) vs. ex-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). Leans Democratic pickup.

NEW MEXICO (open R –- Pete Domenici retiring): Rep. Steve Pearce (R) vs. Rep. Tom Udall (D). Leans Democratic pickup.

NORTH CAROLINA: Elizabeth Dole (R) vs. state Sen. Kay Hagan (D). Leans Republican.

OREGON: Gordon Smith (R) vs. state House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D). Leans Republican.

VIRGINIA (open R -– John Warner retiring): ex-Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) vs. ex-Gov. Mark Warner (D). Likely Democratic pickup.

Q: How many freshman House Democrats were defeated when they ran for re-election after the big Watergate tidal wave of 1974? What about Republicans after the Gingrich wave of '94? — Dick Callahan, Washington, D.C.

A: The anti-Republican tide of 1974 helped elect 75 new Democrats to the House that year; only two were defeated when they ran for re-election in '76: Tim Lee Hall of Illinois and Allan Howe of Utah.

Republicans had a similar big year in 1994, when 73 new House Republicans came to Washington. But the mood soon soured on the GOP, and 12 of their freshman incumbents in the House — along with presidential nominee Bob Dole — went down to defeat in '96. They were: Jim Bunn of Oregon, Dick Chrysler of Michigan, Frank Cremeans of Ohio, Michael Patrick Flanagan of Illinois, Dan Frisa of New York, David Funderburk and Fred Heineman of North Carolina, Jim Longley of Maine, Bill Martini of New Jersey, Andrea Seastrand of California, Steve Stockman of Texas, and Randy Tate of Washington.

Q: Was the Peter James who ran for Congress in last week's special election in Maryland the same Peter James who ran against Spiro Agnew for governor back in 1966? — Jane Payton, Baltimore

A: Nope, it's his son. The current Peter James, who lost to Donna Edwards (D) on June 17 to fill the seat vacated by Albert Wynn (D), is 52 years old. The senior Peter James ran not against Agnew in '66 but in the GOP primary in 1970, after Agnew had gone off to become vice president. That James lost the primary to Agnew's administrative assistant, Stanley Blair, who in turn got crushed by Democrat Marvin Mandel in November.

THIS WEEK'S TRIVIA QUESTION: When was the last time a presidential candidate won more states than his opponent but did not win the election? (Answer below)

CLINTON DID IT: The June 11 column included a query on whether a NYC mayor has ever been elected governor, and I said no. My mistake was that I was looking only at the mayors since the creation of Greater New York in 1898. Daniel Soyer of Brooklyn points out that DeWitt Clinton, who served as mayor from 1803-1807, 1808-1810 and 1811-1815, was elected governor for the first of four times in 1817. Similarly, John Hoffman, mayor from 1866-1868, won the governorship in 1868.

For the record, DeWitt Clinton was ex-mayor when he was elected governor. One interesting note is that he was re-elected governor in 1820 (and later in '24) on the "Clinton Republican" ticket; it's not the kind of party one could envision in modern times. Others readers, including Mark Bernkopf of Arlington, Va.; Jeff Roberts of Ankeny, Iowa; and two Manhattanites, Philip Lentz and Paul Manias, also knew about the Clinton mayor/gov connection. Paul adds that DeWitt Clinton "reshaped Manhattan (literally flattening it and putting down the street grid) and pushed for the Erie Canal, which is what truly shaped New York and NYC more than anyone else into what it is today." And Philip reminds us that Clinton also ran for president, losing in 1812 to James Madison — "continuing another tradition of New York mayors failing to move into the White House."

CANNON THROWS IN THE TOWEL: Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah's 3rd Congressional District lost his bid for renomination in Tuesday's GOP primary. A solid conservative who was first elected in 1996, Cannon has long been under siege by anti-immigration activists, who claimed his support of President Bush's guest-worker program amounted to amnesty. Cannon had to struggle to get his party's nomination two years ago; this year he failed. He lost to Jason Chaffetz, the former chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman and a placekicker for the BYU football team back in the '80s, who claimed Cannon wasn't conservative enough. The margin was 20 points (60-40 percent).

Cannon is the third House member to be defeated in the primaries this year. Maryland lost two on Feb. 12: Democrat Albert Wynn and Republican Wayne Gilchrest.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT: Gwen Ifill should be the next host of NBC's Meet the Press.


June 27 — Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton "unity" event in Unity, N.H.

July 10-13 — Green Party national convention, Chicago.

July 15 — Georgia primary. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is seeking re-election. Also: Alabama primary runoffs.

TRIVIA ANSWER: The last presidential candidate to have won more states than his opponent but nonetheless lost the election was incumbent Gerald Ford, who won 27 states but lost to Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter (23 states + D.C.) in 1976.

POLITICAL JUNKIE EVERY WEDNESDAY AT THE NEWSEUM: For years now (I know, it seems longer), Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, has featured a "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Now TOTN (and its Junkie sidekick) take their act each Wednesday before a live audience at the Newseum, Washington's new interactive museum dedicated to journalism. It is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., off Sixth Street. This week's special guests were Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, and GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio.

Want to be part of the live audience? The tickets are free. And you get to see what Ken Rudin looks like in person, a worrisome proposition in any case. Send an e-mail request to

The program on June 11 included a delightful conversation with New York Times columnist/blogger Steve Heller about campaign paraphernalia, which elicited quite a few comments. My favorite was from Debby Wagner of Charlotte, N.C., who, regarding my statement that former North Carolina congressman Nick Galifianakis needed two buttons to spell his name, had this tale: "I was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill at the time, and I realized I still knew the words to his campaign jingle: 'N is for Nick, Nick Galifianakis, I is for his Integrity, C is for Congress, K is for Keep him there, We need Nick in Washington, D.C.' " Debby adds, "I don't know whether to be embarrassed or not!"

And my missing the June 4 program because my son, Michael, was graduating from high school brought this incredulous note from John Lease of Madison, Wis., a button-swapping acquaintance back in 1990 but now the deputy state treasurer of Wisconsin: "I recall (and it doesn't seem like that long ago) a photo of you holding a newborn, wrapped, quite literally, in the American flag in the House studio at the Capitol. Is that the same kid? If so, I'm going to start feeling really old."

You and me both, John. Eighteen years ago, when I was with ABC News covering the House of Representatives, I brought my 7-week-old son into the Capitol for a brief visit. It was during a time when the House was debating a constitutional amendment to protect the flag, and I guess I got carried away or something, because pretty soon I had my son wrapped in the flag (quite appropriately, as I recall).

Ken Rudin holding his then-baby son, Michael Rudin

Remember, if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can hear the program on the Web or on HD Radio. And if you are a subscriber to Sirius radio, you can find the show there as well (siriusly).

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly podcast. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. Want to subscribe? It's easy, and it's free! Simply go to the iTunes Web site, type in "It's All Politics," and you're there.

Two pretty impressive things to report. First, our old friend Jay Kernis, the New York-based managing editor for CNN U.S., sent us this note: "So here I am flipping through the July 2008 GQ ('Look Sharp + Live Smart'), and on Page 122 begins 'The Informed Man's Guide to Following the Election.' Flip a page and there's a column called 'What to Listen to.' The #1 choice is your 'It's All Politics' podcast. Congrats!"

And second, there was this review of the podcast, on the iTunes Web site, by DSM-IV-TR: "This is best political podcast out there, I just hope they can keep it up because the world would be lost without mad geniuses like Ken Rudin ... and that other guy, whatever his name is."

That says it all.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: In New York City's first-ever mayoral primary runoff, Comptroller Abe Beame easily defeats Bronx Congressman Herman Badillo, 61-39 percent, for the Democratic nomination (June 26, 1973). Beame ran for mayor once before, losing to then-Republican John Lindsay in 1965. This year Lindsay decides to retire, and Beame wins in November.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: