TOPICS > Politics

Senate, Governor Races Battle to the End

November 6, 2006 at 10:05 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And now, onto the Senate and governors’ races, and once again to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: In the Senate, Democrats need to pick up six seats to win control from the Republicans. Chris Cillizza from joins us now for the latest look at the battle for the Senate.

So, Chris, again, less than 24 hours before the polls open, how does the Senate landscape look?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, The Washington Post: Well, you know, I think that the Senate is going to be a little bit of a tougher road to hoe for Democrats to take control than the House. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it just means it’s more difficult.

They’re going to need to win six seats. There’s eight to 10 seats competitive here, but only eight of those are held by Republicans. So they’re really going to need to come close to running the table in order to take it back.

MARGARET WARNER: Is it fair to say that the number of sure bets that they thought they had has shrunk in recent days?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: I think it has. I think it shrunk from four to two. I think the two that we would still say are sure bets are in Pennsylvania, where Senator Rick Santorum is in a lot of trouble. Polling has never shown him above about 41 percent or 42 percent of the vote. He’s having a very hard time.

In Ohio, similarly, Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican, has really seen that race go downhill against Congressman Sherrod Brown, the Democrat. He is behind by 9 or 10 points. So those two are still very solidly looking like takeovers.

Two others, in Rhode Island and Montana — Rhode Island is where Senator Lincoln Chafee is running for re-election; Montana is where Senator Conrad Burns in running for re-election — have tightened, actually. Burns and Chafee were both given up for politically dead a few weeks ago, and now both appear to be coming back. Now, we’re not saying they’re going to win, but they look like they now have a chance. And we wouldn’t have said that just a few weeks ago.

President Bush

MARGARET WARNER: And what happened? Was it President Bush going out to Montana? He didn't go to Rhode Island.

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Yes, I think different things happened in each state. In Montana -- remember, this a very conservative, very Republican state -- I think a lot of Republicans out there had doubts about Conrad Burns. The president going out there I do think helped to firm them up a little bit. Just remember, remind them why they were Republicans, why they wanted to support the president and his party, if not necessarily Senator Burns. So that one makes more sense to me.

In Rhode Island, it's really a very fascinating political dynamic. This is a state where the president's approval rating is around 22 percent. So the president would not be helping Senator Chafee if he decided to go in there.

I think what we see in that one is that the Chafee name -- remember, Senator Chafee's father, John Chafee, was also a senator, a very well-known name in the state -- that last name, I think, is really helping Lincoln Chafee close this out among independents. There's a lot of undecided still people who have not chosen between Lincoln Chafee and the Democrat, former state attorney general named Sheldon Whitehouse.

I think that last name is really helping him break away from the president. And people say, "You know what? I don't like President Bush; I don't like this war in Iraq, but I like Lincoln Chafee and I liked his father. And he's not that kind of Republican." So I think two different things going on, but the same end result: closer races.

Virginia and Missouri

MARGARET WARNER: Let's go into the pure toss-ups. I think they're two.

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Yes, I think we've got two. We've got Virginia, where Senator George Allen is being challenged, the Republican is being challenged by Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary in the Reagan administration. This is one we never thought was going to be competitive.

Jim Webb's campaign started as sort of an Internet rumor, a draft campaign. He's really come on, fueled by Senator Allen's verbal mistakes, the most prominent of them being when he referred to a Webb campaign staffer as a "macaca." So that one is very competitive.

The other one -- and the one that I think is absolutely the bellwether race to watch -- is in Missouri, Republican incumbent Senator Jim Talent against Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill. This is a race that, from the day State Auditor McCaskill got into this race, has been tied in public and private polling, still very close. And I think it's a race that's going to tell us a lot about the state of the country, where the wind is blowing.

In a neutral year, I think Senator Talent wins. Remember, Missouri tilts just a little bit towards Republicans. But if that wind is strong enough and Senator Talent falls to defeat, I think we're going to see a lot more Democratic pick-ups. I think that's the one that's going to show us sort of where the weather vane on top of the nation is blowing.

MARGARET WARNER: And before we close, just maybe a sentence on Tennessee. Has Harold Ford -- is it slipping away from him, the Democrat?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: I'll give you a long sentence: I think it is slipping away slightly, although his internal polling continues to show that it is competitive, and his campaign says that the early vote -- remember a lot of people vote early in Tennessee -- is heavily African-American, stronger than they thought it would be, and they believe that bodes well for Mr. Ford's chances.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Chris Cillizza of, thanks so much.

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Thank you, Margaret.

Governor races

MARGARET WARNER: And now for the governors' races. The races for governor, Republicans currently hold the governorships in 28 of the 50 states. Thirty-six states are holding gubernatorial elections, with Republicans defending 22 governorships -- those states are marked in red on the map -- and Democrats defending 14, marked in blue.

For a primer on what to look for in those races tomorrow, we're joined by John Mercurio, senior editor of Hotline.

Now, John, we haven't spent in the national press a lot of attention on the governors' races, but party professionals consider them incredibly important. Why?

JOHN MERCURIO, Senior Editor, The Hotline: Well, I mean, you just have to look back to the past 30 years in presidential politics. Four out of the past five presidents were former governors. They came to Washington from statehouses. So I think that both parties, Republicans and Democrats, look to the governors as potential future leaders of the party.

And, you know, I mean, we talk a lot about sort of the national party platforms of the Democrats, the national party platforms of the Republicans. But really a lot of what's being developed in terms of policy, in terms of the political machines, is happening at the state level.

As many as a dozen Democrats could win tomorrow in red states, in states that the president, President Bush, won in 2004. And as many as eight or nine Republican could win in Kerry states, states that John Kerry won. So I think that says that they can be very independent from the national party and that, I think, helps both parties expand their bases going into the 2008 presidential campaign and beyond, I would say.

MARGARET WARNER: So where do the Democrats think they have sure bets for picking up governorships currently held by Republicans?

JOHN MERCURIO: There's three that I think at this point are pretty much done. And I'll just -- they're two separate categories. New York and Massachusetts are races where I think it's almost a guaranteed lock for the Democrats.

MARGARET WARNER: That's Eliot Spitzer in New York.

JOHN MERCURIO: That's Eliot Spitzer, the state attorney general, who I think will win by 30 or 35 points over his Republican opponent. And in Massachusetts, the former Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, Deval Patrick, an African-American, is expected to defeat Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Both of those are sort of traditionally Democratic states, and I think most people just look at it as though the parties are returning to the fold.

The third state, though, that Democrats I think are going to pick up tomorrow most assuredly is Ohio. And that's an entirely different situation. It's just the case where the Republican Party in Ohio is having such a terrible year that I can't imagine that they could win that.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, where else do the Democrats think they have strong shots?

JOHN MERCURIO: Well, there's two other races that we're watching closely where they are expected. Arkansas, which is a traditionally Democratic state that's trended Republican recently, Mike Huckabee, the longtime governor of the state eyeing himself a 2008 presidential campaign, retiring Mike Beebe, the state attorney general, likely to win that -- he's the Democrat -- over former Congressman Asa Hutchinson. And Colorado is almost a guaranteed lock, as well, Bill Ritter, a relatively conservative Democrat, over Congressman Bob Beauprez.

Republican strongholds

MARGARET WARNER: It's interesting that these Republican congressmen are not having a very easy time of it running for governor.

JOHN MERCURIO: Well, it's not a good year to be a congressman running for re-election or to be running for anything else. To have the word "congressman" in front of your name, I think, tends to be detrimental to your overall campaign. Generally, historically, though, it's difficult, I think, for a lot of congressmen to move to the governor's office.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, where might Republicans pick up a governorship currently held by Democrats?

JOHN MERCURIO: The only one that I think is even remotely likely at this point is in Wisconsin. It's still sort of a toss-up race. The Democratic governor is running for re-election, Jim Doyle. He's actually running against a congressman, so I'm going to contradict myself, because he actually does have a relatively good chance, Republican Congressman Mark Green, benefiting, I think, from the fact that the economy in Wisconsin is not great.

We also saw a Democratic governor from Michigan facing a relatively tight race, although she looks like she's opened something of a lead over her Republican opponent. But I think the best prospect for Republicans around the country is in that one state in Wisconsin.

MARGARET WARNER: And where might there be a surprise...


MARGARET WARNER: ... if there is a surprise?

JOHN MERCURIO: If there is a surprise, I think we're still looking at Nevada as a possible Democratic pick-up. That race has sort of exploded recently, because...

MARGARET WARNER: The reddest of red states.

JOHN MERCURIO: It is one of the -- well, it's the reddest of red states, but it has an expanding Hispanic population in the Las Vegas suburbs. Congressman Jim Gibbons -- again, another Republican congressman -- expected to win, but facing a tougher race because of a little bit of a mini-scandal that occurred a couple of weeks ago that he was involved in.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, John Mercurio of Hotline, thank you.

JOHN MERCURIO: Thank you very much.