Democrats probably donít have to worry about losing their Senate majority in 2008, but that doesnít mean next yearís elections arenít crucial for them.
A strong í08 could put the party in sight of a 60-seat majority in 2010, and that filibuster-proof majority would change the rules of the game on Capitol Hill.
Last year, Democrats won a stunning 24 of 33 races, which means over the next two Senate cycles they will need to win another 36 seats, out of the 67 that will be up, to give them the magic number of 60. Given the small Democratic classes next year (12) and in 2010 (15), and the fact that Republicans will be defending a total of 40 seats over the two cycles, itís certainly possible that Democrats can net nine seats to get to 60.
Sixty-seat majorities are possible only when a party has a mega-year that produces a huge class. The Republicans did that in 2002 and put themselves in reach of 60 seats with a good 2004. But last year was a disaster, and now it is the Democrats who have a mathematical chance to hit the all-important 60-seat mark. But first, they must build on their numbers next year.
Five or six of the GOPís 21 Senate seats up next year already look to be at some risk, and that number could grow if there are key retirements and if President Bushís problems continue to drag down Republican Party numbers.
Colorado topped the list of vulnerable í08 Senate seats even before Sen. Wayne Allard (R) announced that he would not seek re-election. Democratic Rep. Mark Udall already had signaled he would run for the Senate, and it is far from clear whether Republican chances of holding the Colorado seat have been hurt or improved by Allardís decision.
Udallís appeal, combined with Coloradoís recent Democratic drift and the GOPís current national dilemma, certainly improves Democratsí chances of picking up the Senate seat.
Another Democratic Representative, Maineís Tom Allen, also is heading for a Senate race, and his challenge of incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins immediately makes the race a top-tier contest. Collins is always underestimated, and she begins her reelection bid well-liked, but the stateís Democratic bent, Allenís assets and the Republican Partyís current standing mean that Collins will have a tough race.
At least three GOP Senators in competitive or Democratic-leaning states also could have tough races, depending on Democratic recruitment efforts.
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman seems certain to draw a serious challenger, while Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith canít take his re-election for granted. Both Republicans have started to criticize Bushís Iraq policy, but they represent states that went for Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race and that could well go Democratic again in 2008.