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For Democrats, Time to Pad Senate Majority and Think 60 Seats

New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) also could have a very tough fight for a second term. He won narrowly in 2002, and his party took an absolute bath in the state in 2006, losing two House seats and getting swept out of both chambers of the state Legislature.

Other Republicans look to be in relatively good shape for re-election — if they seek it. And that could be the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s problem.

At least a few Republican Senators up next year will remain on everyone’s retirement watch list, and while all of them eventually may seek (and win) re-election, for now NRSC Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) has to be worrying at least a bit about their decisions.

The names on this list include Sens. John Warner (Va.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Pete Domenici (N.M.), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.).

Savvy Republican observers agree that this cycle is a “very challenging” one for the GOP, given the numbers of Republican and Democratic seats up and the current national political environment, which would slow GOP candidate recruitment and hurt committee fundraising.

But they also know that election cycles have a way of changing dramatically over two years, and it’s possible that the picture could be brighter for the GOP 18 months from now when it comes to the 2008 elections.

Right now, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is the most vulnerable Democratic Senator up next year, but other Democratic Senate seats could become competitive depending on retirements and Republican recruiting.

Still, given the recent electoral performance of states with Democratic-held seats up in 2008 — including Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan and Rhode Island — it is hard to see Republicans seriously contesting more than a few of those seats. So the most likely Republican scenario for winning back the Senate is to retain all of the GOP seats, knock off Landrieu and win the White House again, giving them a tie in the Senate and control with the vice president breaking the tie.

Talking about a Democratic super-majority in the Senate in 2010 may seem odd and premature, and it is. The 2008 presidential results and unknowable events over the next few years could change the political equation completely, denying Democrats an opportunity to keep their majority, let alone grow it to 60. But given the makeup of the three Senate classes, party strategists would be foolish not to be thinking about the arithmetic even now.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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