The most senior Republican in the Senate, both in age and in length of service, Stevens has earned his stripes in his home state by bringing home enormous amounts of federal largess through the decades. But for the first time since he was appointed to office in 1968, Stevens might be in serious trouble with his electorate.
Stevens currently is under investigation by multiple federal agencies while a public corruption trial continues back home involving an oil company, the Senator’s son and several more of his political allies. All of this, plus some of his well-publicized antics on the Senate floor (who can forget his contention that the Internet is a “series of tubes”?), have brought unwanted media attention to Stevens, who is now the subject of retirement rumors.
That’s why Democrats have their first good shot at Stevens’ seat in almost four decades. If Democrats have their way, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich will challenge Stevens in 2008. If Democrats aren’t so lucky, Stevens will retire and they’ll have to run against another Alaska Republican who likely will have a better chance keeping the seat in GOP hands.
There already is some quiet talk that a younger generation of Republicans is eager to sweep out Stevens and Rep. Don Young (R), and recent polls have shown 43-year-old Gov. Sarah Palin demolishing Stevens in a hypothetical GOP primary matchup. Palin has given no indication, however, that she is preparing to run for Senate.
Incumbent: Don Young (R)
18th term (57 percent)
Could Alaska Republicans kill their own Young? The embattled Congressman’s legal woes aren’t improving, leaving Democrats a good chance at taking their first seat in the Alaska delegation since 1980.
Democrats are jumping into the race against Young, led by Ethan Berkowitz, the former state House Minority Leader. Former state Democratic Party Chairman Jake Metcalfe and 2006 nominee Diane Benson also are running for the Democratic nomination, though national Democrats seem to prefer Berkowitz so far.
And even before he gets to the general, Young will have a primary against state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R). Though LeDoux probably isn’t well-known enough statewide to pose a serious threat to Young, it shows just how vulnerable the formerly mighty Congressman is when a member of his own party is willing to take him on.
Incumbent: John Doolittle (R)
9th term (49 percent)
Don’t be fooled by Doolittle’s close 2006 victory over Democrat Charlie Brown. The Sacramento-area district is solid Republican territory and overwhelmingly conservative.
But an investigation into Doolittle’s ties to jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff — and the Congressman’s decision to pad his family’s bank account by employing his wife as his fundraising consultant — has squandered years of political goodwill that he built up serving the area, first in the state Legislature and then on Capitol Hill.
Those two factors combined to help Brown fall just 3 points short of defeating Doolittle last year in a district in which the incumbent had won every election with at least 60 percent of the vote going back to 1994.
Brown is running against Doolittle again this cycle, and some early polls show that the Democrat would win if the Congressman is the Republican nominee in 2008. Brown’s edge shows in fundraising as well: He closed September with $383,000 on hand, compared with $38,000 for Doolittle.
Consequently, as long as Doolittle has a chance of becoming the 2008 Republican nominee, this race must be considered a tossup despite the district’s strong GOP bent.
Republicans in Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill, aware that they could lose the 4th district, are trying to push Doolittle out. House Republicans have begun speaking out publicly, urging Doolittle to retire. GOP activists in Doolittle’s district also have begun deserting him, although some longtime allies continue to staunchly back the incumbent.
Thus far, Doolittle has two primary challengers: Iraq War veteran Eric Egland, a former Doolittle supporter who banked $78,000 to close the third quarter, and former Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes, a moderate Republican who challenged Doolittle in the 2006 primary.
Meanwhile, state Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R), who could be a heavyweight in the race, has formed an exploratory committee and is considering a bid. Former state Sen. Rico Oller (R), who ran in the adjacent 3rd district in 2004, also is mentioned as a possible candidate.
Incumbent: Jerry McNerney (D)
1st term (53 percent)
McNerney upset House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R) in the previous cycle with the help of several Democratic-leaning environmental groups that made the incumbent their No. 1 target of the 2006 cycle.
This cycle, McNerney is likely to face former state Assemblyman Dean Andal, a Republican with deep roots in the Central California district, and, notably, without Pombo’s baggage.
Although Andal closed the third quarter with $351,000 on hand, compared with $758,000 for McNerney, he should be adequately funded once the general election is in full swing. And McNerney probably will have to do without the level of support he received in the previous cycle from the environmentalists.
All things being equal, McNerney must overcome the fact that he is a poor political fit for his Republican-drawn district. An analysis of the 2006 results showed that several thousand Republicans in the 11th voted for every major office on the midterm ballot except for Congress, indicating they were disgusted with Pombo but could not bring themselves to support McNerney.
However, McNerney is now the incumbent. That alone will give him a boost, as will the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s coffers — the committee is prepared to spend its reservoir of cash to support their nominee. McNerney’s stoic, pragmatic image also could be a boost in a year that is shaping up to be anti-Washington, although some of his more liberal floor votes could give Andal the ammunition he needs to win on Election Day.
Incumbent: Elton Gallegly (R)
11th term (62 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Last year, Gallegly caused an uproar when he announced just before the filing deadline that he planned to retire, only to be talked out of the decision by Republicans going as high up the food chain as Karl Rove.
At the time of his short-lived retirement, Gallegly cited a health issue that he declined to disclose. Republicans in his district were furious because the Congressman’s last-minute decision, revealed the day of the filing deadline, left his potential successors without time to file to run to replace him.
Perhaps fittingly, Gallegly decided to retire too late to get his name off the ballot anyway, as he had filed to run for re-election before his last-minute change of plans.
Currently, there is no mystery surrounding Gallegly’s future plans. He announced not long after winning an 11th term in 2006 that he planned to stand for re-election in 2008. After what happened in 2006, however, the old saying “never say never” might aptly apply.
Incumbent: Laura Richardson (D)
1st term (67 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Richardson won a crowded open primary in 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 this district is such that Richardson should hold it for as long as she wants it.
Incumbent: Jerry Lewis (R)
15th term (67 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Lewis is the subject of a federal investigation, and some California GOP activists are peeved at him for his support of pork-barrel projects, first as the chairman and now the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee.
But Lewis remains popular in his district and is a safe bet for re-election in 2008 absent a negative development in the ongoing federal probe into his Congressional activities. The 41st district is solid Republican territory.
Incumbent: Gary Miller (R)
5th term (Unopposed)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Miller is yet another California Republican whose actions have been scrutinized by federal investigators. But like Lewis, Miller remains popular at home and apparently immune from political fallout, absent some major negative development such as an indictment.
As drawn, the 42nd district is overwhelmingly Republican.
Incumbent: Ken Calvert (R)
8th term (60 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Calvert is under federal investigation for a land deal and whether he profited on the sale of land as the result of earmarks he pushed for in Congress.
But like Lewis and Miller, two Members whose districts are adjacent to his, Calvert faces no political fallout in his solidly GOP district located in the suburbs about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Open seat: Duncan Hunter (R) is retiring to run for president
Outlook: Safe Republican
Hunter’s exit in this majority Republican and solidly conservative district has spawned a crowded primary, with the winner likely to advance to the 111th Congress when it convenes in 2009.
The Republicans running are Marine Reservist Duncan D. Hunter, Hunter’s son and an early favorite; Santee City Councilman Brian Jones; wealthy businessman Ken King; and businessman and Republican activist Bob Watkins.
Thus far, the race has been noteworthy for the absence of the younger Hunter from the campaign trail. The candidate is on combat duty in Afghanistan, and his wife, Margaret, has been filling in for him on the stump in the interim.
Despite his lineage and status as a combat veteran, however, he faces serious competition. Jones had $72,000 on hand as of Sept. 30; King had $111,000 on hand; and Watkins had $153,000 on hand.
Hunter had $114,000 on hand, putting him right in the thick of things but certainly not out in front.
Expect this contest to heat up the closer it gets to the June 3 primary.
One factor yet to play out could be the strength of Congressman Hunter and the weight his endorsement holds.
Once his upstart presidential bid has faltered, probably no later than Feb. 5, he presumably would be available to campaign on behalf of his son. That could be the trump card in a race in which most candidates are likely to agree on the major issues of the day.
Incumbent: Mazie Hirono (D)
1st term (61 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
The former lieutenant governor of the Aloha State finally got her spot back in the the political limelight last year when her predecessor, former Rep. Ed Case (D), left his House seat to run against the delegation’s junior Senator, Daniel Akaka (D).
In one of the most liberal states in the country outside of the Northeast, the Congresswoman should have no problem coasting to re-election and her second term.
Incumbent: Jon Porter (R)
3rd term (49 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican
Voter enrollment and presidential votes are almost evenly divided in this battleground district in the suburbs of Las Vegas, and Porter’s margin of victory has fallen in each election since he won the seat in 2002. Democrats now believe the Congressman is more vulnerable than ever after Tessa Hafen (D), a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), came within 4,000 votes of knocking him off in 2006.
After several prominent Democrats
— including Hafen — declined party enticements to take on Porter this year, Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas has emerged as the favorite of Democratic insiders in the race. Since he entered the race in late summer, Daskas has raised more than $146,000 for his bid. He’ll need a lot more: Porter spent about $3 million on his narrow victory over Hafen.
National Republican campaign officials have argued that if Porter were able to pull out a victory in an evenly split district in 2006, a cycle that they readily admit had the worst environment for their candidates in years, then the Congressman can only improve his winning percentage this time around.
Incumbent: Gordon Smith (R)
2nd term (56 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican
Smith is facing a tough fight for re-election. Oregon has trended Democratic for the past decade, and the Republican Party’s brand is not held in as high esteem as it was when Smith ran in 1996 and 2002.
Smith is likely to face state Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) in the general election. Although Democrats failed to recruit the top-tier challenger they were hoping for, Merkley is a credible, experienced politician.
And even if Merkley’s fundraising continues to fall short as it did during third quarter of the year — he raised just $294,000 after jumping into the race with six weeks left to go in the reporting period — the well-financed Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should be there to pick up the pieces.
However, Smith still looks positioned to pull this race out. He had more than $4 million on hand at the close of September, and he cuts the image of a practical, independent lawmaker who tends to win statewide races in Oregon.
Smith’s independence means he has opposed the Bush administration on several issues that are likely to endear him to enough Democratic and independent voters to win re-election next year.
Democrats argue that his change of heart on the Iraq War came too late. But so far, there is no evidence that Smith is in serious trouble.
Incumbent: Darlene Hooley (D)
6th term (54 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
Republicans have long coveted this evenly divided district that President Bush won by 1 point in both 2004 and 2000. However, Oregon’s continued move leftward over the past decade and the GOP’s current problems nationally create an uphill climb for Republicans here in 2008.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is pinning its hopes on 2006 nominee Mike Erickson, a wealthy businessman who spent around $1 million of his own money last year after jumping into the race late. They contend a sustained campaign this cycle could take down Hooley.
Hooley is likely to weather the storm, until and unless evidence to the contrary emerges.
Incumbent: Dave Reichert (R)
2nd term (51 percent)
2006 nominee Darcy Burner (D) is back for a second round against Reichert, a former King County sheriff. This time Democrats say she’s a much better candidate — more polished and a better campaigner.
Reichert brought President Bush to town to fundraise for him and the state party late in the summer, which according to media reports raised about $800,000 shared between the two campaign organizations. To counter Bush’s visit in media play and dollars, Burner raised about $123,000 online during the time Bush was in town — and ended up outraising Reichert in the third quarter.
But as the previous cycle proved for this duo, money won’t predict the race. In a district that barely went for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, Reichert builds up his name identification every time he runs for re-election. Despite his willingness to appear with Bush, Reichert may find his association with the president will hurt him this time at the polls. And Democrats are hoping Burner is more seasoned and ready to exploit whatever advantages the national atmospherics may present her.
Furthermore, there is going to be more action at the top of the ticket in 2008 than in the previous cycle. Despite going blue the past few presidential cycles, Washington continues to be a battleground state at the presidential level. Plus, the heavily anticipated rematch between Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) and Republican Dino Rossi will likely shift turnout, putting the district — and Reichert’s political future — even more in play.