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Plains

Iowa

Filing deadline: Passed
Primary: June 3

Senate

Incumbent: Tom Harkin (D)
4th term (54 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Mail this one in. The Republicans were unable to lure a top-tier challenger into the race and the March 14 filing deadline has long since passed. Meanwhile, Harkin continues to grow his war chest, having amassed $3.9 million in cash on hand as of March 31.

Neither of the potential Republican nominees, businessman Steve Rathje and Navy veteran Christopher Reed, has shown any indication of gaining political traction or raising anything amounting to serious money.

And with the Republican brand not necessarily doing the GOP any favors in the Hawkeye State these days, it doesn’t appear that Harkin has anything to worry about.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Dave Loebsack (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Loebsack, a former long-shot challenger himself, might not want to count his chickens before they hatch. But in a solidly Democratic district in an election year that still doesn’t look to be kind to the Republicans, Loebsack is in good shape for re-election.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the district in the 2004 presidential race, back in the days when the GOP was still king and the seat was held by longtime Republican Rep. Jim Leach. Loebsack closed the first quarter of this year with $426,000 in the bank, while his leading potential challenger, Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), finished the same period with just $69,000 on hand.

The Republicans are high on the potential of Miller-Meeks, an ophthamologist and former president of the Iowa Medical Society, to turn into a top-tier candidate. But she has yet to show signs of doing so. And even if she does pick up the pace and begin to look like a threat to Loebsack, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is in a much better financial position to come to his rescue than the National Republican Congressional Committee is to bolster Miller-Meeks’ challenge.

Conservative activist Lee Harder and businessman Peter Teahen also are seeking the GOP nomination.

3rd district
Incumbent: Leonard Boswell (D)
6th term (52 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Boswell, long a Republican target in this competitively drawn, central Iowa district, finally got a reprieve this year, when former state Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti (R) declined to try for a second straight cycle to unseat the incumbent, and no one else of stature emerged in his stead.

But go figure, Boswell is now staring down a primary challenge from former state Rep. Ed Fallon (D).

Based on the fact that Boswell has substantially outraised Fallon and had an $841,000-to-$20,000 advantage over him in cash on hand at the end of March, it would appear that he is well-positioned to win his primary and glide to re-election in November over his Republican competition, former Congressional aide Kim Schmett. But some Iowa Democratic insiders are keeping a close eye on this race, believing that, though unlikely, there’s a chance that Boswell’s luck could finally run out.

Kansas

Filing deadline: June 10
Primary: Aug. 5

Senate

Incumbent: Pat Roberts (R)
2nd term (83 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

After several attempts, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) finally found a challenger to take on Roberts: former Rep. Jim Slattery (D).

Slattery is a viable candidate and can’t be dismissed out of hand. But Roberts remains a popular figure in the Jayhawk State, and there’s no evidence that Slattery has any of second-term Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ moderate-Democrat magic.

Roberts closed the first quarter with almost $3 million on hand. Slattery, who entered the race just last month, has not been running long enough to pass judgment on his fundraising credentials. If Slattery turns into a surprise threat down the line, look for Kansas’ relatively cheap media markets to attract some of Schumer’s sizable DSCC fortune to aid his candidacy.

However, Roberts is raising money at a healthy clip and should be prepared for battle if the DSCC gets involved.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Nancy Boyda (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Short of governing like the conservative Democrat she isn’t, Boyda is doing everything right. She works her district hard, attends to her constituents’ needs with vigor and is honest with 2nd district voters about her relatively liberal politics.

In a solidly conservative district in a presidential year, that might not be enough for Boyda to hold her seat.

Republicans believe that the bigger universe of voters who vote in presidential elections — in eastern Kansas, most of them tend to vote Republican — but don’t show up for midterm contests could be all it takes for the GOP to regain this seat in November. Also expect the GOP to try to tie Boyda to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), as Republicans believe doing both will be a political asset in the general election to come.

Before the Republicans can think about ousting Boyda, however, they have to sort out their own primary.

Former Rep. Jim Ryun, whom Boyda beat in 2006, and state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins are battling for the GOP nod. Both have been effective thus far on the fundraising circuit, closing the first quarter of this year with $459,000 and $486,000 in cash on hand, respectively.

There’s a disagreement among Kansas Republicans following this race over who would be the better general election candidate to run against Boyda. Some believe a fresh face like Jenkins, particularly because she is a woman, would be the better challenger. But others are in the Ryun camp, contending that the re-energized former Congressman is a better ideological fit for the district than Jenkins and is more likely to pull Republican votes in a district that President Bush won in 2004 with 59 percent of the vote. Ryun, after all, beat Boyda by 15 points that year.

3rd district
Incumbent: Dennis Moore (D)
5th term (65 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Having weathered a few tough challenges early in his Congressional career and firmly ensconcing himself in this suburban Kansas City seat, Moore gets the benefit of the doubt at this point despite the fact that the Republicans are poised to nominate possibly their strongest candidate since Moore won in 1998, state Sen. Nick Jordan.

Moore initially won the GOP-leaning seat thanks partly to an intraparty feud that saw conservative and moderate Republicans grow so disenchanted with one another that they refused to support the general election nominee if he emanated from the other faction. Jordan is the first candidate to come along in the Moore era who is both viable and has the seal of approval of both the philosophically conservative Republicans and practical, pro- business Republicans.

Jordan also has done a reasonable job of raising money, having banked $308,000 to close the first quarter. But Moore is still ahead on that front — and by far — with $890,000 on hand as of March 31.

Moore, a former county prosecutor who has developed a solid bond with his constituents over the years, has yet to commit a fireable offense. Republicans argue that Moore’s ability to sell himself as an independent thinker who acts in the best interests of his district was lost the day the leader of his political party, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), was elected Speaker.

However, it’s unclear how well-known Pelosi is. And in any event, that fact alone isn’t likely to derail Moore — at least not yet.

Missouri

Filing deadline: Passed
Primary: Aug. 5

House

6th district
Incumbent: Sam Graves (R)
4th term (62 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

A surprising turnout for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in Graves’ district in the previous cycle led Democrats to believe he could be a prime target. And soon after the 2006 election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited outgoing Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes to lead the challenge.

Still six months out from the election, both incumbent and challenger already are dug in for what is fast becoming an epic political showdown. Graves and Barnes avoided serious primary competition and enlisted some top Show Me State political hands — and all the fundraising power they could muster.

Assisted by strong early fundraising from political action committees and a recent event headlined by President Bush, Graves was sitting on $1.13 million on April 1, nearly as much as he spent all last cycle. But with the National Republican Congressional Committee wanting for cash, Graves likely will lean more heavily on state GOPers, who already have their hands full with a competitive gubernatorial race.

Barnes, an early EMILY’s List candidate, finished this year’s first fundraising quarter with $954,000 in the bank. In March, she was added to the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” fundraising program. She’s also stressing her roots in the rural portions of the district, which Graves has dominated during his four terms.

The district, which a Democrat represented before Graves, posted strong GOP performance numbers during the past two presidential elections. Graves’ campaign undoubtedly is hoping for a Democratic ticket led by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) to put the wind at his back, while Barnes can only hope that Bush’s low poll numbers — and Graves’ support of White House policies — give her a boost.

9th district
Open seat: Kenny Hulshof (R) is running for governor
Outlook: Likely Republican

Hulshof was passed over last year for the top job at the University of Missouri and stepped aside in the gubernatorial primary half a decade ago for now Gov. Matt Blunt (R).

But earlier this year, Hulshof finally got the exit opportunity he’d long coveted when Blunt, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R) son, decided not to run for a second term. The lawmaker quickly filed for the Show Me State’s gubernatorial primary, creating a vacuum that has drawn nearly a dozen candidates and competitive Republican and Democratic primaries for his seat.

Hulshof carried the district easily for six terms, only once receiving less than 60 percent of the vote as an incumbent. President Bush twice received 55 percent or more, so the Republicans should have the advantage. But Democrats have solid candidates and are conceding nothing.

State Rep. Judy Baker was the lone top-tier Democrat in the race before Hulshof’s departure, but no more. A possible EMILY’s List candidate, she has posted solid fundraising and had $188,000 in cash on April 1.

Since then, former state Speaker Steve Gaw (D) has joined the race and put away $102,000. He also has strong support in the northeastern portions of the district, far away from Baker’s consolidated mid-Missouri base near the state capital and Columbia, home of the University of Missouri.

Former state Rep. Ken Jacob (D), who had about $74,000 in cash at the end of March, is not expected to contend, but he may siphon off some of Baker’s support in the western portion of the district. Lyndon Bode (D), a Marion County commissioner, also filed for the race and had about $11,000 on hand.

Self-funding state Rep. Bob Onder is the early fundraising leader in the Republican primary and sat on nearly $369,000 as of April 1. Former state tourism director Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) had $71,000 on hand, followed by Brock Olivo (R), a former professional football player, who had about $23,000.

State Rep. Danielle Moore (R) had about $18,000 in the bank on April 1.

Nebraska

Filing deadline: Passed
Primary: May 13

Senate

Open seat: Chuck Hagel (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

If presumptive Republican nominee, former Gov. and ex-Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns loses in November to either wealthy businessman Tony Raimondo (D) or 2006 3rd district nominee Scott Kleeb (D), it probably means that the 2008 elections were particularly painful for the GOP nationwide.

Johanns is well-liked at home, has raised bushels of money since entering the race last fall — he closed the first quarter with more than $1.3 million on hand — and the Cornhusker State remains solid Republican territory. Additionally, Johanns has Hagel on his side, which is not always a given, and perhaps more importantly is strongly backed by popular Gov. Dave Heineman (R).

Still, the news is not all bad for Democrats in Nebraska this year. They actually have a choice in the Senate race, with Republican turned Democrat Raimondo and grass-roots hero Kleeb running in the primary. The outcome of this contest is hard to gauge at this point, with Kleeb likely to have the support of Democratic activists and Raimondo possibly securing the more rank-and-file but still dependable Democratic primary voters.

Democrats believe having Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) at the top of the ticket as their presidential nominee could alter the playing field. Republicans are similarly buoyed, believing that a presidential election will create heavy turnout in a state where most voters tend to pull the lever for GOP candidates.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Lee Terry (R)
5th term (55 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

On the heels of some public polling that showed likely Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) ahead in this Omaha-area district in the race for the White House, some Democrats believe this seat could be a sleeper in this year’s Congressional elections.

Two candidates, college instructor and Air Force veteran Richard Carter and 2006 nominee Jim Esch, are vying for the Democratic nomination here. Esch, a local business leader who is just in his 30s, ran a respectable race in the previous cycle despite being outspent more than 2-1.

This district is worth monitoring.

Still, Terry is a known quantity, has served his district well, and additionally, should be aided by the conservative nature of his home state: Democrats who are successful there, including Sen. Ben Nelson, position themselves as independent moderates as opposed capital-D Democrats. It’s not clear if either of Terry’s potential opponents have the right political recipe to dispatch Terry.

Another plus for the Congressman is that he appears to be treating his re-election seriously, rather than taking it for granted.

It can’t be said enough: As tough as things are for Republicans this cycle, they’re not any worse than they were in 2006. Terry survived that race, and at this point he looks likely to come out on top in this one.

North Dakota

Filing deadline: Passed
Primary: June 10

House

At-large
Incumbent: Earl Pomeroy (D)
8th term (66 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Republican Duane Sand is hoping the third time is the charm, having lost his challenge of Pomeroy in 2004 and his bid for Senate in 2000. It probably won’t be.

Sand has been traveling the state (and South Dakota, for that matter) and appearing repeatedly on statewide media for the past two years in his position as state director of Americans for Prosperity for North and South Dakota. A retired Navy officer, Sand is a credible candidate and looks and sounds like he could be the next Congressman from North Dakota.

However, Sand closed the first quarter of 2008 with a paltry $40,000 on hand, compared with a whopping $1.3 million for Pomeroy. But more importantly, Pomeroy is well-liked at home and doesn’t appear to have messed with what’s made him politically successful during his first eight terms as North Dakota’s lone House Member.

Despite the fact that this is a Republican-performing state in presidential cycles, Pomeroy looks good for a ninth term, at least at this point.

South Dakota

Filing deadline: Passed
Primary: June 3
Runoff: June 17

Senate

Incumbent: Tim Johnson (D)
2nd term (50 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

The day the music died for the Republicans in this race was the day wealthy former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby (R) opted not to challenge Johnson, who is back at work but continues to recover from a brain aneurysm, which he suffered in December 2006.

Gov. Mike Rounds, perhaps the only other Republican in the state who could have caused Johnson trouble this cycle, also opted not to run. Thus, Republicans are left with a couple of B-list candidates: state Rep. Joel Dykstra and businessman Sam Kephart.

Dykstra is potentially viable, but he is an unknown quantity statewide and has not raised the kind of money it would take to beat the well-funded Johnson in the general election. Kephart is a GOP outsider without political experience.

Johnson’s courageous recovery from his illness, meanwhile, has engendered a lot of goodwill among South Dakota voters, while simultaneously scaring Republicans from attacking him for fear of looking unseemly and creating a backlash against the party in a small state where everyone knows everyone else.

Should Johnson ultimately be prevented from running for re- election because of his illness, the terrain in this race could change. Both Democrats and Republicans speculate that Johnson’s exit could spur Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) to run for Senate, and that an open Senate seat could motivate a high-profile Republican to jump into the race if the GOP is allowed to find another candidate at this late stage.

But barring that scenario, it’s time to put this race into the Democratic “win” column.

House

At-large
Incumbent: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D)
3rd term (69 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Herseth Sandlin, always an attractive target on paper in this Republican-leaning state, has come a long way since narrowly winning a special election to replace a disgraced Republican back in 2003. Even in this presidential cycle, she’s viewed as formidable bordering on near-impossible to dislodge.

Still, the Republicans managed to lure a wealthy businessman into the race — one with a good family name and potentially a large personal fortune to draw on in the upcoming general election. Chris Lien (R) has never sought political office before. But his family has been active in state politics for generations, and Lien himself has served on numerous public boards and chambers of commerce.

Although lightning is unlikely to strike in this race and Herseth Sandlin is an experienced politician not prone to disastrous mistakes, Lien is the type of candidate who could have what it takes to capitalize on any unexpected fortune that might yet come the GOP’s way in the contest this fall.

Herseth closed the first quarter of the year with $775,000 on hand; Lien finished the period with $105,000.

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