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Minnesota is a genuine swing state that has gradually trended Republican in recent elections. Bob Dole received 36% in Minnesota in 1996. George W. Bush received 46% in 2000 and 48% in 2004. In the last two election cycles, the people of Minnesota have elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate and to the governorship and the congressional delegation is now split evenly between Republicans and Democrat-Farm-Labor (4 seats each). Both parties are likely to nominate tier one candidates.
Maryland and Tennessee are not swing states. Maryland is as blue as almost any state in the nation (Kerry 56% - Bush 43%) and Tennessee about as red (Bush 57% - Kerry 43%). But in both of these cases, the respective minority parties are likely to nominate tier one candidates. In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has all but announced he will run. In Tennessee, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. has announced he will seek the open seat. Both Steele and Ford are unconventional African-American politicians (Steele is, obviously, a Republican while Ford is a right-of-center Democrat) who will generate considerable national attention and support. Nonetheless, the majority parties in both states are sure to put forward tier one nominees.
Effective communication in these states will be of varying costs. The Washington, D.C. market, which dominates Maryland, is by far the most expensive market in these open seat races, possibly twice the cost of advertising in Tennessee. Minnesota will likely cost a little less than Tennessee. (Estimates are imperfect because market forces can change advertising rates swiftly and dramatically.) The upshot is the Democrats will have more money tied up playing defense and the Republicans will spend theirs playing offense.
This makes a huge difference in terms of the portability of resources. For example, if the Republicans discovered at some point that the Maryland seat is simply un-winnable, they could pull the cash out of the expensive Washington, D.C. media market and redirect it to, say, some closer-than-expected challenger elsewhere. The Democrats don’t have that luxury because they need to hold the Minnesota and Maryland seats.
Worse for Democrats, they could win all three of these open seats (plus Vermont) and still gain only one seat in the Senate, whereas the GOP has two opportunities to move a state into the Republican column.p> Competitive Challengers br> When seasoned political observers assess the “winnability” of a particular challenger campaign, issues generally rank among the least important factors. Instead we look at data from previous elections, voting trends, and fundraising reports. I have reduced these indicators to three straightforward questions: (1) Is the incumbent a member of the losing party in the 2004 election? (2) Has there been a noticeable trend in voting behavior in recent years that alters historical electoral inertia (for example, my home state of New Hampshire is unquestionably trending Democrat, while West Virginia has undeniably become more Republican) and is this shift dramatic enough to jeopardize the incumbent’s electability? (3) Has the challenging party nominated a top flight candidate, i.e., can he or she raise the necessary resources to mount a serious challenge? /p>
Needless to say, these are incredibly high thresholds for most challenger campaigns, which is why incumbents generally win reelection easily. Based on the above criteria, and please understand we are still a long way from 2006, I believe Republicans stand a chance to upend five Democrat incumbents and Democrats stand a chance against three Republican incumbents.
The potentially vulnerable Democrat seats are in Washington state (Sen. Maria Cantwell), North Dakota (Sen. Kent Conrad), Nebraska (Sen. Ben Nelson), West Virginia (Sen. Robert Byrd), and Florida (Sen. Bill Nelson). The potentially vulnerable Republican seats are in Missouri (Sen. Jim Talent), Pennsylvania (Sen. Rick Santorum), and Rhode Island (Sen. Lincoln Chafee.)
(Note: Even though Maine went for Kerry in 2004, I have intentionally left Sen. Olympia Snowe off the “potentially vulnerable” list because, well, because she’s going to win re-election handily, so there.)
Without boring the reader, I will explain in a nutshell why I singled out these seats:p>
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