Mapping the Senate after Warner's Departure After the retirement of Sen. John Warner, and with Sen. Larry Craig's seat in jeopardy, where do Republicans and Democrats in the Senate stand ahead of the 2008 elections?
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Mapping the Senate after Warner's Departure

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Mapping the Senate after Warner's Departure

Mapping the Senate after Warner's Departure

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

As we've heard, John Warner's decision to stay out of the race answer the questions about how Republicans will fair in next year's congressional elections.

NPR political editor Ken Rudin is here now to talk about Warner's seat and some of the other Senate seats in plain. Ken, it sounds like the Republican Party is really going to miss having John Warner as the senator from Virginia?

KEN RUDIN: Well, they will, considering the fact that he certainly would have won had he run. But there's an irony there given the fact that conservatives have never been happy with John Warner. And that dates back to 1987, when he voted against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court; in 1994, when Oliver North was the Republican nominee for the Senate, John Warner campaigned against him; and when - the Bill Clinton conviction vote in the Senate of the Monica Lewinsky matter came up in 1999, John Warner voted against that as well. So, conservatives have never been happy with him.

And now, you have an inspector of two - a big political blood bath in Virginia between a moderate Tom Davis and a conservative, former Governor Jim Gilmore, and that could destroy the party, split the party enough to allow Mark Warner to win.

BLOCK: Blood bath in the Republican primary, is what you're talking about?

RUDIN: Right.

BLOCK: The announcement from Senator Warner, of course, comes in a week when there had been a lot of questions raised about another Republican senator, that's Larry Craig of Idaho, and whether he'll be able to keep his seat after the disclosure of his arrest in a men's room.

Two questions: one, do you think Larry Craig will resign from the Senate? Two, if he doesn't, will he run for reelection?

RUDIN: Well, if he runs for reelection, you can say that the Democrats could certainly have a shot at winning that seat. Democrats have not won an Idaho Senate seat since 1974. With Craig on the ballot, it obviously gives the Democrats a good shot. But this tremendous pressure on Larry Craig to resign not only - eventually, but even before the Senate comes back into session on Tuesday after their month-long August recess. So there's tremendous pressure. Mitch McConnell was quoted today in the Kentucky newspaper, the Republican leader Mitch McConnell, saying that it's just, you know, unforgivable - Larry Craig's conduct.

We've already heard that John McCain has called for his resignation. And the Republican Party - Butch Otter, the Republican governor of Idaho apparently is already preparing to name his lieutenant governor, Jim Risch, to succeed him if Larry Craig were to resign. So there's tremendous pressure on him to step down.

BLOCK: So John Warner, Larry Craig, that would be two seats that the Republican Party was not expected to have to worry about. How many Senate seats are actually up for grabs next year?

RUDIN: It's 34 altogether, 22 of them are held by the Republican Party. So, as you say, these are two they did not have to worry about, but there are other seats that they do have to worry about.

BLOCK: And let's talk about some of those. Who are some of the most vulnerable Republicans, would you say, in the elections next year?

RUDIN: Well, a combination of the unpopular war in Iraq and the unpopularity of President Bush has hurt at least four Republicans running and seeking reelection. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, the war and President Bush - very unpopular there. John Sununu in New Hampshire, Democrats have made tremendous gains in New Hampshire the least couple of years. Plus, Susan Collins in Maine has a very tough fight with Congressman Tom Allen. And Gordon Smith in Oregon also have a very tough fight against, in a Democrat-leaning state. Plus, in fact, you also have some ethics investigations into Ted Stevens.

In Alaska, Pete Domenici has been hurt by the U.S. attorney scandal. So you have other Republicans at risk as well. And you also have an open seat in Colorado, where Wayne Allard is retiring, and Democrats could pick up that seat as well.

BLOCK: Okay. And, and you mentioned Democrats there. How, how were they looking? What are their prospects looking like next year?

RUDIN: Well, the only two Democrats that had seem to be in any kind of risk, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana - not because of Katrina. Unlike Kathleen Blanco, the governor, Mary Landrieu has acquitted herself well with Katrina, but, although the Democrats have moved out of Louisiana and her base may be hurting. And also you have the Specter in South Dakota. Tim Johnson, who suffered a brain hemorrhage back in December, he made his return to South Dakota this week, but he has gotten very, you know, halting speech. He says he wants - he intends to run for reelection. The question is whether he's up for the job.

BLOCK: So if you look at the balance of power in the Senate, for Republicans to retake control, what would have to happen? How likely is that?

RUDIN: Well, it's not likely, of course, you know? The day before the 2000 election, a lot of us predicted the George Allen, who would, by the way, at the time, measuring the drapes for the White House would win reelection against Jim Webb. And, of course, he didn't so. But 12 to 14 months out, given the fact that the war remains unpopular, given the fact that Republicans are still uneasy about their presidential - group of presidential candidates, it seems like Democratic year with Democratic gains likely to be made in the Senate.

BLOCK: Okay. Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. His political junkie column can be found at NPR.org/politicaljunkie.

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