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Democrats Could Gain Southern Senators in 2010

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

November 17, 2008 Democrats gained two US Senate seats in the South this year, three if Jim Martin (D) defeats US Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in the December 2 runoff. In two years, however, the GOP will have little opportunity to reverse the Democratic trend in Dixie’s senate delegation. Of the nine Southern members of the US Senate up for re-election in 2010, eight are Republicans, only one, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, is a Democrat. So numbers alone indicate that the Democrats have a major advantage going into the next election two years from now.

The political battlefield may have a set of issues heavily favoring one party or the other in 2010. Much will depend on the record of incoming President Barack Obama, particularly the state of the economy in 2010 and how he will have handled any national security problems that may arise before then. Nevertheless, some factors on the political landscape already give early indications of what might happen in two years.

Here is a thumbnail rundown of the prospects for the US Senate races in 2010.

Alabama: Fourth-term US Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) was re-elected with 68% six years ago. He has already announced that he’s running again and looks strong.

Arkansas:  Razorback Republicans declined to contest the major races this year, but given McCain’s strong victory here (59%), the GOP is likely to come up with a respectable opponent for second-term US Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), a heavily favored moderate who won with 56% in 2004. Three names getting mentioned: Patrick Calhoun, a Little Rock investment banker; Tom Cotton, a Harvard Law graduate and a US Army officer who served in Iraq and is now in Afghanistan; and former US Treasury Official French Hill.

Florida: Freshman Mel Martinez (R), who barely won with a 49%-to-48% margin six years ago, will face a state Democratic Party revitalized by its 51%-to-48% victory in the presidential election. An October Hamilton Campaigns (D) poll showed Martinez with an okay positive rating of 51% to 31% negative. A list of potential Democratic foes is headed by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, followed by a slew of US Reps, including Allen Boyd, Kathy Castor Kendrick Meek, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Some state lawmakers are also getting mentioned. Look for a major battle here.

Georgia: US Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) was reelected with 58% last time and should be a good bet for re-election in 2010. Nevertheless, watch the December 6 runoff between US Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) and ex-state Rep. Jim Martin (D) for clues to the Peach State’s partisan mood. (Chambliss is favored.)

Kentucky: Lots of GOPers had hoped two-term US Sen. Jim Bunning (R), 77, who squeaked by with a 49.7%-to-49.2% victory in 2004, might decide to retire. But Bunning’s moving full-steam ahead with plans to amass a $10 million war chest. A number of Democrats are potential contenders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who suffered the narrow loss to Bunning six years ago; state Attorney General Jack Conway; and state Auditor Crit Luallen. Darlene Fitzgerald Price, a former customs official, has already announced.

Louisiana: Freshman US Sen. David Vitter (R) won with 51% in a three-way primary in 2004. This go-round, due to revelations about his alleged patronage of prostitutes, he’s likely to have a tougher time, though he fares reasonably well in opinion polls. Potential opponents include, on the Democratic side, US Rep. Charlie Melancon, ex-US Rep. Chris John, District Attorney Paul Connick and prominent businessman Jim Bernhard. One Republican, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, is also getting mentioned, but probably won’t run unless Vitter looks weak.

North Carolina: Freshman Richard Burr (R) won with 52% in 2004 in a tough race against influential Democrat Erskine Bowles. Burr has made a good record in the Senate, but given the Tar Heel State’s move toward the Democrats this year, Burr could face a strong challenge in 2010. State Attorney General Roy Cooper and state Treasurer Richard Moore, who lost a hard-fought gubernatorial primary to Beverly Perdue (D) this year, are getting mentioned as possible foes for Burr.

Oklahoma: US Sen. Tom Coburn (R), an idiosyncratic conservative with some strong supporters, says he hasn’t decided whether he will run again next time. If he does run, he’s the early favorite. If he doesn’t, Gov. Brad Henry (D) leads the list of potential Democratic successors, and a long line of Republicans is likely to form.

South Carolina: Jim DeMint (R) won his US Senate seat in 2004 with 54% in a hard-fought battle with state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D). He’s established himself as a leader in the upper chamber’s conservative bloc. If he succeeds in persuading Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to abandon the seniority system and put him on the Finance Committee, he’ll be that much stronger. Either way, DeMint will be favored year after next, but Palmetto State Democrats are feeling feisty after their stronger-than-usual showing this year and may make mount a significant challenge.

   
   

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