G.O.P. ‘Owns’ Iraq—For Good or Ill

MINNESOTA

Norm Coleman is a first-term Republican incumbent and Minnesota, like so many other states, shifted its allegiances dramatically toward the Democrats in 2006. Polls already have Mr. Coleman’s two would-be Democratic foes, Al Franken and attorney Mike Ciresi, running nearly even with him—Mr. Franken trails by five points and Mr. Ciresi by four, with Mr. Coleman registering under 50 percent against both of them. Polls give both Mr. Franken and Mr. Ciresi unusually high unfavorable ratings, although Mr. Franken has improved his standing in recent months and opinion toward the relatively unknown Mr. Ciresi probably hasn’t hardened. Minnesota has the ingredients for a Democratic pick-up, provided the party’s candidate succeeds in making the election a referendum on Mr. Coleman and the national G.O.P.

OREGON

Oregon is one of four states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 where a Republican Senator is running for re-election next year, and it will probably be the toughest nut for Democrats to crack. This is partly because the Republican incumbent, Gordon Smith, backed away from the Iraq war last December—and has backed up his rhetoric with headline-grabbing votes that have put him at odds with his national party, thus burnishing his image with his home state’s independent voters. It also helps Mr. Smith that Democrats failed to attract a big name challenger and have settled on Jeff Merkley, the state House Speaker, and that a third party candidate—John Frohnmayer, who was fired as the head of the National Endowment for the Arts by the first President Bush in 1992—is running on a pro-impeachment platform that may peel off Democratic votes. Still, Oregon is a blue state that is angry with the war and disillusioned with the national Republican Party. That’s the same recipe that did in another vocally anti-war Republican, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, last year.

MAINE

There has been frustratingly little independent polling here. The most recent numbers may be from back in the spring, when Republican Senator Susan Collins enjoyed a 25-point lead over U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, who was just then announcing his bid. But polls around the same time pegged President Bush’s approval rating in Maine at just 20 percent, a figure that surely hasn’t changed much since then. It’s important to note, as well, that Ms. Collins does not cast the same imposing shadow in Maine that her fellow Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe, does. Ms. Collins previously finished a dismal third in a run for Governor, narrowly won her seat in 1996, and won a solid (but not smashing) victory in 2002, fueled in part by favorable national trends for the G.O.P. There’s every reason to expect the Collins-Allen numbers will close dramatically as the campaign heats up.

NEBRASKA

This is not a competitive race simply because of Iraq—but Iraq could put the Democrats over the top. Former Senator Bob Kerrey, one of the most electable Democrats in Nebraska history, seems poised to run, and he’d be a credible candidate in any year. Republicans are primed for a gruesome primary between state Attorney General Jon Bruning and Mike Johanns, the former Governor who stepped down as President Bush’s Agriculture Secretary this week. Mr. Johanns is probably the stronger fall candidate, but it’s not certain he’ll make it that far. Nebraska’s Republican leanings could make the race close, particularly if the G.O.P. succeeds in painting Mr. Kerrey, who’s spent the last six years in New York, as a carpet-bagger. But Nebraskans have a history of electing Democrats to the Senate—in addition to Mr. Kerrey, they’ve voted for both Ben Nelson and James Exon in the last two decades. If Mr. Kerrey finds himself in a close race, Iraq fatigue could give him the decisive edge.

ALASKA

Like Nebraska, Iraq and President Bush are not why this is a potential Democratic target. But it must be mentioned because Senator Ted Stevens’ home was raided by the F.B.I. and I.R.S. earlier this year, and a massive corruption scandal is threatening to swallow up numerous Alaska Republicans—including the Senator’s politician-son, Ben. Besides former Governor Tony Knowles, the Democrats don’t have any big guns in Alaska, but as Republicans in New Jersey proved in 2002, it doesn’t take a big name to take down a scandal-scarred U.S. Senator. If the scandal metastasizes, the question here may be whether Mr. Stevens, like New Jersey’s Robert Torricelli, will fall on his sword before the election and save a seat for his party.

OTHER STATES

These are just the most obvious Democratic targets for next year. Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s popularity has dipped below 50 percent and where 55 percent of voters disapprove of the war, is worth keeping an eye on (albeit a skeptical one). It may also be too soon to declare North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole and New Mexico’s Pete Domenici completely safe.

Given the turf they have to defend, 2008 was never supposed to be a good year for Senate Republicans. But this week they took one giant step towards a complete meltdown.