June 2008 Issue
by James H. Ewert Jr.
It seems like every month, I find myself writing this article at the last minute while watching the results come in from some state’s Democratic Party presidential primary — and I have to admit, it’s getting kind of old. It’s always the same old story. It’s been blatantly evident over the past several weeks that Barack Obama is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president (after his May 20 loss in Kentucky and win in Oregon he was less than 100 delegates shy of the 2,026 needed to lock up the nomination), yet the race drags begrudgingly on. Every time Obama nears the finish line in this marathon of a primary, it’s as if he raises his arms, closes his eyes and lifts his head to the sky only to stumble as the ribbon is about to break — freezing just steps shy of the finish line as Hillary Clinton gleefully watches on.
Yet as most political observers know, having your party in the presidential big seat isn’t everything. And as students of the democratic system know, much of the real power in government traditionally lies with the Congress, which is another reason why this year’s November election is so important. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few facts and figures coming out of the upcoming 2008 congressional races. As of now, the U.S. Senate is split evenly with 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two Independents. The not-so-even U.S. House of Representatives is controlled by 236 Democrats compared to 199 Republicans and zero Independents.
This year, all 435 U.S. House of Representative seats are again up for election along with 33 U.S. Senate seats. The implications from the November election will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the country for years to come because, as we have seen, there are challenges and setbacks to both a president without the support of Congress — as well as a Congress without the support of the president. If Democrats succeed in taking back the presidency and are able to attain control of both the House and Senate, the world could be on the verge of seeing a brand new America, one in which it’s socialist and commie-malcontent roots can grow and flourish. And as of right now, the Democrats’ odds are looking good.
In one of the biggest trend reversals this year, the Democratic Party’s Congressional Campaign Committee and Senatorial Campaign Committee have out fund-raised their Republican counterparts by a wide margin, according to Opensecrets.org. This marks the first time in more than two decades that the Democrats have been able to pull off such a feat. Republicans also must defend 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for re-election and 18 of the 24 open House seats (seats where there is no incumbent running). Of these seats more than a few look to be toss-ups and judging by recent Democratic wins in Illinois and Mississippi special elections, there might be even more seats in play than anyone thought.
Take for example Illinois’ very own 14th congressional district, where Bill Foster, a little-known Democratic physicist knocked off Republican businessman and career-loser Jim Oberweis to take over the seat that had been held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert for the previous 20 years. Foster didn’t win the special election held in March by much, but having that all-important “D” next to his name come November will surely help his cause as he is poised to defeat Oberweis again in the west-suburban district that hasn’t seen a Democratic representative since I’ve been alive. At more than $8 million raised so far, Illinois’ 14th congressional district is the most expensive race for the House this year.
Another seat that will be indicative of the Democrats’ progress will be up in Minnesota where comedian, author and political pundit Al Franken looks to upset Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in the Senate. Though recent polls show Coleman is leading Franken and other challengers by a sizeable single-digit margin, Minnesota is no stranger to prolific politicians and odd upsets, having elected former wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura to run the state as governor just a handful of years back. This race is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in the nation with candidates raising more than $27 million already, far more than any other race.
Other Senate seats in play include Alaska, where current Senator Ted Stevens (currently the longest-serving Republican senator) is being probed by the FBI in a major corporate scandal involving pay-offs and bribes. Former Anchorage mayor Mark Begich has officially joined the race and could upset Stevens if the scandal gets the better of him. Colorado is also going be the scene of a hotly contested race in which two current congressmen, Democrat Mark Udall and Republican Bob Schaffer, are vying for retiring Republican Senator Wayne Allard’s open seat. Udall, a popular congressman in the Rocky Mountain state, is looking to capitalize on recent Democratic gains in the state, including a Democrat being elected governor in 2006.
Two of the other most expensive races in 2008 will be the contests in Maine and New Hampshire, where incumbent Republican senators will battle well-known Democratic rivals. In New Hampshire, incumbent Republican John Sununu will face Jeanne Shaheen, the state’s first female governor, and several polls conducted in the state put her in excellent position to upend Sununu. New Hampshire has also undergone quite a change from 2000, when the state supported Bush. Since then, the state was the only one to have swung Democratic in 2004 and in the 2006 mid-term elections, it booted out the state’s only two Republican representatives. And up in Maine, two 12-year veterans of Congress will square off in what will surely be the state’s costliest election in history. Incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins has her hands full with long-time Democratic Representative Tom Allen. Though Collins leads in early polls, this is also one to keep an eye on.
Down in Louisiana, Republicans are hoping to oust incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who barely held on to her seat in 2002 and who has been damaged by a weak government response to Hurricane Katrina. Also large numbers of voters, most of them Democrats, have left the state, putting Republican challenger John Kennedy — who switched from the Democratic to Republican Party to run against her — in the driver’s seat. Over in perennial swing state New Mexico, Democrat Tom Udall (cousin of Colorado’s Mark Udall) is looking to pick up the open seat being vacated by 6-time Republican Senator Pete Domenici, who is retiring.
All in all, expect Democrats to consolidate their edge in Congress — gaining two or three Senate seats and maybe a handful of House seats. Keep in mind also that whoever the Democrats choose to be their nominee, be it Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton, that will be yet another open Senate seat to defend — along with the Republican Senator and presidential nominee John McCain’s soon-to-be open seat. While they are not garnering nearly as much attention at the moment, the outcome of those and other key congressional races could be just as important to the future of this country as what happens at the top of the ticket this November.
CI Political File #008