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West

Alaska

Filing deadline: June 2
Primary: Aug. 26

Senate

Incumbent: Ted Stevens (R)
7th term (78 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Democrats scored a major recruitment victory by putting their most popular party member in the state in the race against Stevens. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) is Stevens’ first serious challenger in recent history.

To be fair, there aren’t that many high-profile Democrats in this state anyway, which is likely why Stevens has not had a real fight on his hands for decades. And with the current ethics investigation into his ties to a giant oil company, he’s vulnerable for the first time in his career.

Starting with his announcement speech last month, it’s been obvious that Begich is trying to present himself as an independent Democrat who won’t hew to the national party agenda. But Alaska voters reward pols who bring home their government-funded projects. In other words, earmarks are not necessarily a dirty word in Alaska — and that’s a good thing for Stevens.

Another unknown is whether Stevens will get a tough Republican primary challenge. Popular Gov. Sarah Palin is leading a new generation of reform-minded Republicans, and if she decides to work against Stevens — or maybe even run against him herself — he could be in trouble. Businessman Dave Cuddy has entered the GOP race, and while he’s credible, he doesn’t seem likely to topple Stevens.

Begich will surely have lots of national Democratic support and no lack of funds available to him, but so far it’s uncertain whether even he could take down the Alaska institution known as Ted Stevens.

House

At-large
Incumbent: Don Young (R)
18th term (57 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

This surprise came in March, not October. When Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) announced he was going to challenge Young at the state Republican convention in March, it seems the Congressman might have been the last to know.

Young already had one primary opponent, state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, but Parnell is certainly the more serious challenger. And much to Parnell’s benefit, the wildly popular outsider Republican Gov. Sarah Palin went with Parnell to the secretary of state’s office when he filed for the race, signifying that she’s not just endorsing him, she’ll likely play a major role in his campaign.

But even if the embattled incumbent gets through the primary, he could face an equally tough general election.

For the Democrats, 2006 nominee Diane Benson is running, along with former state party chairman Jake Metcalfe. However, national Democrats seem to prefer former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, who also ran statewide for lieutenant governor in 2006.

Berkowitz has eclipsed the other two both in fundraising and creating a campaign operation. He’s certainly a competitive general election candidate, but first Young has bigger problems on his hands with Parnell.

California

Filing deadline: Passed
Primary: June 3

House

4th district
Incumbent: John Doolittle (R) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Republican

Retired police administrator Charlie Brown, the 2006 Democratic nominee who came within 3 points of ousting Doolittle in 2006, has to be credited for running a vigorous and credible campaign. He closed the first quarter with a solid $591,000 on hand and has been working the district hard for two straight cycles.

But with the scandal-plagued Doolittle opting for retirement, the overwhelmingly conservative nature of the district should assure victory for the Republicans — particularly because Brown isn’t a moderate Democrat with conservative positions on key issues such as taxes and abortion.

The real action in this race is likely to come to a head on June 3, when former Rep. Doug Ose or state Sen. Tom McClintock will emerge as the Republican nominee.

McClintock, who represents a Southern California legislative district, shook up the contest when he jumped in earlier this year. His entry chased former state Sen. Rico Oller (R) out of the race.

McClintock is a beloved figure among conservatives throughout the Golden State, and early internal polling conducted by his supporters showed him running away with the primary. In a contest with no top-of-the-ticket draw — California’s presidential primary was held Feb. 5 — this race could be decided by GOP activists, and McClintock’s high, favorable personal name identification among such grass-roots voters could be enough to carry him to victory.

But Ose, who formerly represented the neighboring 3rd district before honoring his self-imposed three-term-limit pledge and retiring in 2004, is playing to win.

As with McClintock, the 4th district is not native territory for Ose. But the wealthy former Congressman is playing up his business ties to the district and has spent nearly $1 million of his own money since entering the race. He’s also secured several local endorsements, including from high-value business and law enforcement interests.

McClintock has been endorsed by the Club for Growth, and with the aid of some of the district’s ultra-conservative GOP activists, is attempting to paint Ose as a liberal Republican. Ose is moving to cast McClintock as an opportunist who claims conservatism as his mantle while spending a career on the public dole, choosing the 4th district after shopping for a seat to run for that would produce an easy victory.

Brown, meanwhile, is casting both Republicans as carpetbaggers who are more interested in climbing the political ladder than serving the constituents of the 4th district. That might be true, but it is unlikely to matter on Election Day.

11th district
Incumbent: Jerry McNerney (D)
1st term (53 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

McNerney is raising the money he’ll need to hold off presumptive GOP nominee Dean Andal, a former state assemblyman, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is likely to kick in whatever else he’ll need to hang on to his seat.

But money isn’t McNerney’s only concern, and because of that he might not win a second term.

The 11th district leans Republican. Voters there tired of former Rep. Richard Pombo (R) in 2006, but the factors that led to his ouster will probably be absent from the political playing field in November.

Pombo’s service as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee succeeded in rubbing many of his constituents the wrong way, to the point where many Republicans refused to vote for him in 2006. But those same voters also declined to vote for a liberal like McNerney.

In Andal, the Republicans have a nominee who can attract the votes of Republicans who sat on their hands in 2006, as well as the votes of Republicans who don’t vote in midterm years but do vote in presidential years. Andal, whose base is in Stockton, has also been working the more moderate, western fringes of this Central Valley district hard, while Pombo always ignored that region and relied on votes from the conservative portion of the district to carry him to victory.

However, Andal’s fundraising thus far has been a little disappointing to Republicans. He raised $90,000 in the first quarter of this year, to close the period with $532,000 on hand. McNerney, meanwhile, raised $329,000, to finish the period with $1.2 million in the bank. If the handful of environmental activist groups that spent millions backing McNerney’s candidacy in 2006 come to his aid again this cycle, Andal could turn into the biggest Republican disappointment of 2008.

12th district
Incumbent: Jackie Speier (D)
1st term (77 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Speier recently replaced the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D), who succumbed to cancer earlier this year.

Long a political heavyweight in the San Francisco-area 12th district as a county supervisor and then a state Senator, Speier cruised to election in an April 8 open primary, winning far more than the 50 percent of the vote she needed to avoid a runoff.

Count her as a shoo-in until retirement.

37th district
Incumbent: Laura Richardson (D)
1st term (67 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Richardson finished first in a crowded open primary last June to succeed the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D) in this overwhelmingly Democratic Southern California district. She then cruised to victory over nominal Republican opposition in an August special election.

The political makeup of the district is such that Richardson should hold it for as long as she wants it. Her performance since taking office has been solid and has not given Democrats in her district any reason to go after her in the upcoming primary.

52nd district
Open seat: Duncan Hunter (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

This San Diego-area district is solidly conservative, meaning all of the action is in the Republican primary, where four candidates are vying to replace Hunter as the GOP standard-bearer.

The contest as it stands looks to boil down to a duel between Marine Reservist Duncan D. Hunter, Congressman Hunter’s son, and wealthy businessman and San Diego Board of Education President Bob Watkins. Santee Councilman Brian Jones and retired Army officer Rick Powell are also running.

Hunter, who was the early favorite thanks to his father’s immense popularity over 14 terms, has lived up to his billing. He is the primary’s No. 1 fundraiser, has secured several key local endorsements and has shown intellectual depth on the campaign trail since returning from combat duty in Afghanistan in January.

Watkins is the former president of the Lincoln Club of San Diego, an organization that raises money for Republican candidates. He is well-connected in the San Diego business community and has a record of public service. He is campaigning as an experienced, conservative pragmatist, and he believes that is what voters want at a time when so many problems need addressing at the federal level.

The first-quarter fundraising results were as follows:
• Hunter: $279,000 raised and $263,000 on hand.
• Watkins: $79,000 raised and $44,000 on hand.
• Jones: $28,000 raised and $78,000 on hand.

Teacher Vickie Butcher and retired Navy officer Mike Lumpkin are running for the Democrats.

Hawaii

Filing deadline: July 22
Primary: Sept. 20

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Mazie Hirono
1st term (61 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

In the more left-leaning of the Aloha State’s Congressional districts, Hirono should have no problem getting re-elected. The freshman Congresswoman is currently running unopposed.

Nevada

Filing deadline: May 16
Primary: Aug. 12

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Dean Heller (R)
1st term (50 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

In the previous cycle Heller struggled to win in a Republican-leaning district, but he should be in better shape now that he’s an incumbent.

And while he appears likely to avoid a primary this cycle, he’s not entirely out of the woods. 2006 Democratic nominee Jill Derby, the former state party chairwoman, is seeking a rematch, citing high voter turnout in the Democratic presidential nominating caucus earlier this year as the impetus for her candidacy.

Derby reported raising $144,000 in the first quarter of the year and banked $134,000. Heller raised $187,000 and finished the first quarter with $808,000 in cash on hand but also reported $370,000 in debt.

3rd district
Incumbent: Jon Porter (R)
3rd term (48 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Early in the election cycle the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to recruit a candidate with high initial name ID into this race. It tried local party leaders like Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid — son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) — and state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, who had just come off a failed gubernatorial campaign.

When both passed on the race, Democratic leaders lined up behind former Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas. But Daskas abruptly quit the race in late April, and at press time party leaders were trying to convince Titus, the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, to get in.

Democrats have voter enrollment totals on their side. In early 2008, Democrats in Nevada made much of their surge in voter registration numbers, which turned a few-thousand-voter-registration deficit two years ago into a lead of nearly 41,000 enrolled voters statewide. As of March, about half of the Democratic voter registration gains were in the 3rd district.

That statistic has Democrats especially excited this spring because Porter eked out a 4,000-vote victory in 2006 despite outspending his little-known opponent 2-1.

But Titus may not have a free pass through the primary if she runs. Businessman Andrew Martin, who said he was spurned by Democratic leaders, like the DCCC, when he first approached them about running in the 3rd district, is in the race and has the means to self-fund. But he may also defer to Titus if she gets in.

Oregon

Filing deadline: Passed
Primary: May 20

Senate

Incumbent: Gordon Smith (R)
2nd term (56 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

As the Democratic primary becomes increasingly competitive, Smith has kept his head down, staying out of trouble while amassing a formidable $5.1 million war chest that continues to grow.

While early on his Democratic opponent was almost certain to be state Speaker Jeff Merkley, attorney Steve Novick has raised enough money to be a force in this race and has even led Merkley in some recent public polling that found the vast majority of Democratic primary voters to be undecided. Little-known Eugene Realtor Candy Neville (D) has even gotten some attention in this contest.

Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, and ballots were in the process of arriving in voters mailboxes as this analysis went to press.

The outcome of the Democratic primary could hinge on whether Novick’s feisty liberal outsider image plays better with the electorate than Merkley’s image as a more measured, institutional politician who has worked within the system to get things done. The primary could also turn on money, and whether Merkley’s superior fundraising will allow him to drown out Novick’s message by blanketing the television and radio airwaves down the stretch of the campaign.

Smith’s opponent will go a long way toward determining the incumbent’s chances in November. Clearly, Oregon’s Democratic trend over the past few election cycles and the fact that Democrats are particularly energized for the upcoming White House race could spell trouble, as could the money the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee could spend that the National Republican Senatorial Committee will have trouble matching.

But Smith has taken pains to separate himself from President Bush since the GOP lost control of Congress in 2006, while his Senate voting record is moderate enough on some key issues that he remains a slight favorite to win re-election.

House

5th district
Incumbent: Darlene Hooley (D) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

Hooley’s decision to retire has spawned contested primaries on both sides of the aisle in this competitively drawn Willamette Valley district.

Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., each have their favorites, but others are hoping to upset those plans. The favored candidate among Democrats is state Sen. Kurt Schrader, although former gubernatorial aide Steve Marks (D) is also running. Republicans are hoping that wealthy businessman and 2006 nominee Mike Erickson wins the GOP primary, but former state GOP Chairman Kevin Mannix is also running.

While the political makeup of the district leaves the Republicans enthusiastic about their chances of flipping the seat — especially because it is open — having Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), who is popular in Oregon, at the top of the Democratic ticket at a time when the GOP brand is down should ultimately help the Democrats retain control of the 5th district.

If that’s not enough, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee money — and the National Republican Congressional Committee’s inability to spend much on a seat like this — should seal the deal. Still, in a volatile political atmosphere where the seat is open, it’s too early to predict how this race will turn out. Particularly if Erickson is the GOP nominee and he spends freely, Republicans might have a chance at upsetting the Democrats’ plans.

Washington

Filing deadline: June 6
Primary: Aug. 19

House

8th district
Incumbent: Dave Reichert (R)
2nd term (51 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

2006 Democratic nominee

Darcy Burner, who came within 2 points of Reichert in the previous cycle, is back for another shot. Burner has no doubt improved as a candidate this time around — in fact, one might say this former technology executive is in version 2.0 of her Congressional candidacy.

Burner has also outraised Reichert the past two financial reporting quarters, and the suburban Seattle district is undoubtedly trending Democratic.

But no matter how much Burner has improved, Reichert is a more experienced campaigner who still has a reservoir of goodwill to call upon from his time as King County sheriff.

And other than Burner putting together a better campaign this cycle, what has changed in this district to make up for the 7,000 votes between her and Reichert? A presidential turnout year might put over the edge, but Democrats will have to figure out who’s on the top of the ticket first before Burner counts on that.

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