The University of Virginia's Larry Sabato, one of the nation's premier election analysts, says that next year's U.S. Senate race is Likely Democratic. That's no surprise in a state where Republicans haven't won a U.S. Senate race since 1972. But worth noting is Sabato's analysis of the GOP candidates: he thinks Joseph Pennacchio is a stronger candidate than millionaire Anne Evans Estabrook.
From Sabato's Crystal Ball:
While New Jersey voters have their eye on next year's election, many wonder how much that focus should be on current Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg's approaching 84th birthday. If Lautenberg were just 20 years younger, most would hail him as a shoe-in incumbent; his strong and consistent criticism of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, his Congressional experience, and his being a Democrat in this dark blue state would all greatly work in his favor. However, his old age has many pulling for retirement rather than re-election. In Lautenberg's favor is New Jersey's ranking as the second most expensive state to campaign in. With $2.9 million on hand and $1 million raised in the first quarter alone, Lautenberg certainly has the funds needed.
As it is still early in the race, thus far only two exploratory committees have been formed, with no Republicans officially entering the race as of yet. Strongly conservative Assemblyman Michael Doherty has formed one of these committees, but seems an unlikely candidate in this very blue state. The successful real estate developer Anne Evans Eastbrook is the only other potential Republican challenger to have formed an exploratory committee. Though Ms. Eastbrook may have the funds to contend with the big boys of New Jersey, she is a widely unknown figure among voters. Finally, it is the undecided state Assemblyman, Joe Pennacchio that seems to be Lautenberg's biggest worry. Often deemed Reagan-esque, many Republicans feel that Pennacchio's bipartisan appeal would make him very electable.
In a state that has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, the GOP will have their work cut out for them. Though Lautenberg's age certainly poses a real threat to Democrats, many speculate that presidential election fever will bring Democrats out to the polls in full force next November. Nonetheless, if Giuliani makes it onto the Republican ticket, such a theory could be turned on its head.