A Political Panorama Watch List for the 2010 elections.

This year’s midterms have the potential to shape the legislative agenda of the Obama administration for some time to come.  If the Republicans win out this year, it will have a chilling effect on the White House’s political capital.  If the Democrats manage to keep the House and Senate in their hands, but with a reduced majority, this could also force the White House to play a little nicer with Republicans, a la Bill Clinton post-1994.

The following is a list of races that the writers at The Political Panorama are watching closely this year.

Douglas

Iowa Governor

Gov. Chet Culver finds himself in a world of hurt.  The Iowa Democrat who cruised to election in a Democratic wave year in 2006 now finds himself staring down the barrel of an electoral gun.  Former Gov. Terry Branstad has come out of political retirement to seek election to what would be his fifth term in office.  That’s right, five terms.  To be sure, there have been other five-term governors in American history; you have almost certainly heard of them.  One was the leader of the Democratic Party at the time of Culver’s election and the other was President of the United States.  But those were in states (Vermont and Arkansas) that had two-year terms for governors.  Iowa has four-year terms, meaning that if Branstad is elected in November, he would become the longest-serving governor in American history by the end of his term.  That prospect seems a likely possibility given that Culver has trailed Branstad in every single poll that has been recorded for this election by as much as 24 points.  However, Iowa has a tradition of not kicking people out after one term: the last Iowa Governor to be defeated for re-election was Republican Governor Norman Erbe, who lost to future U.S. Senator Harold Hughes in the 1962 elections.  Also, a indy challenge from the right by defeated Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats, who lost in the primary to Branstad by 10 points, may provide some silver lining for Culver.

California Governor

This election is going to be a barnburner.  In one corner, you have former Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) returning to attempt a third run at Sacramento.  He was governor from 1975-1983, and attempted to run for President in 1992, where he lost to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.  He was known as a strong environmentalist, if not slightly kooky (hence the nickname Governor Moonbeam).  In the other corner, you have former EBay CEO Meg Whitman, who has spent a gargantuan amount of money on the Governor’s race, and is expected to spend upwards of $160 million by the time it is all said and done.  She will need it, because this will be no cake walk for her.  Her run comes on the heels of the once-promising gubernatorial career of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), whose governorship has disintegrated into a sea of red ink and state employee layoffs.  To be fair, there are other things (like a two-thirds majority requirement for the General Assembly to pass a budget) that have contributed to this as well, but these things could combine to soften the impact of what is surely to be a Republican year nationally.

Kentucky U.S. Senate

Where is Rand Paul?  You may find Waldo before you find the ophthalmologist from Bowling Green who immediately caused controversy by simply winning the Republican U.S. Senate primary by a wide margin.  His views on race relations became a particular focal point after he suggested that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against customers on the basis of race.  Since then, he has been pretty difficult to find anywhere, and he has severely curtailed his media appearances.  On the other side, we have Attorney General Jack Conway, who defeated 2004 U.S. Senate candidate and current Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo in the Democratic primary by a slight margin.  The reason why I am iffy about Conway’s election prospects are twofold.  First, the electorate in Kentucky is conservative in federal elections.  The last Democrat to represent the Commonwealth in the U.S. Senate was Wendell Ford, who left office in 1999.  The last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kentucky was Bill Clinton in 1996.  Second, having done my undergraduate studies in a state where Attorney Generals do not fare well in other statewide elections (Mike Hatch, anyone?), I am leery of their ability to outwork the other candidate.  This suspicion was confirmed in January when Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley decided to simply hand the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy to the Republican Party by not campaigning at all.  I have not seen Conway being aggressive against a pretty weak opponent in Rand Paul, and this lackadaisical attitude could come back to bite the Democratic Party if they manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the Bluegrass State this November.

Troy

Minnesota Governor

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota has had a two decade drought when it comes to holding the governorship. We haven’t held the governorship since 1991 when Rudy Perpich left office. Many political analysts and commentators show their ignorance of Minnesota politics when they use this fact to portray Minnesota as trending Republican. What they fail to acknowledge, though, is that typically there are 2-3 candidates from the left…and a Republican. Tim Pawlenty, for example, never won with a majority. The only Republican to have won the governorship with a majority of the vote was Arne Carlson, a former (and arguably a current) Democrat. Go figure. Minnesota is one of the bluest of blue states. Yes, we have independent and even libertarian streaks, but let’s not forget this is one of the few states won by Carter in 1980 (not even California can claim that), the only state Mondale won in 1984, and one of the few states won by Michael Dukakis in 1988 (again, not even California…).

Minnesota tends to be populist, progressive, and pragmatic. The candidate that can appeal to those ideals will win. This year, unlike past years, the Independence Party candidate will be a former Republican who early on appealed to Tea Party voters and has since portrayed himself as a moderate. The GOP nominee is a Tea Party candidate to the right of Michele Bachmann – enough said. The mood of voters is anti-incumbent-party and the incumbent party in the governor’s office is the GOP. If I were a betting man, I would bet for a very narrow win for Margaret Anderson Kelliher who will use her metro ties and rural roots to appeal to her voters.

Florida U.S. Senate

The Florida U.S. Senate race is not unlike many other races around the country. Libertarians are booting more mainstream GOP candidates leaving the vast middle up for grabs in what would otherwise be safe Republican territory. In Florida, the current Governor Charlie Crist has decided to run as an Independent and win likely win. This will be in interesting race as there is much skepticism about whether independent voters will turn out this year. I tend to think, to a limited extent, election 2010 will become a referendum on the extremes. Will Florida begin a resurgence of American centrists and pragmatism heading into 2012? It hopefully will, but only time will tell.

Minnesota 6th Congressional District

The 6th Congressional District in Minnesota is held by Michele Bachmann. Often seen with her foot in her mouth, Bachmann could be vulnerable particularly if disgruntled independents show up to the polls in large numbers.

Tarryl Clark, the DFL-endorsed candidate, is a politically savvy and pragmatic progressive. She is an aggressive campaigner who is quick to pounce and can stir a crowd. The DCCC has recently classified this race as “red-to-blue.” One wrong move and Michele will be packing her bags. As in the Florida U.S. Senate race, the outcome of the Minnesota 6th Congressional District race could signal a rejection of extremism.

Eric

US Senate race in Florida

Charlie Crist, current governor and onetime shoe-in, is running as an independent against tea party favorite Marco Rubio and, presumably, Kendrick Meek on the Democratic side.

Recent polls show Crist leading a hypothetical three-way race, but it is a slim margin. It’s been known for quite some time that Crist would have much more support from the general electorate than the GOP primary voters. The big questions now seem to be whether Rubio can maintain his momentum and whether Crist can raise enough money without the Republican Party. I think Crist ultimately wins this race. As I posted earlier in the week, things seem to be coming together for him down the stretch here where he’s gotten plenty of exposure, and also as a lot of other news-worthy events happen and take Floridians’ attention off the race. There seems to be much less attention paid to Rubio and that will hurt him because he is still relatively unknown.

The wild card in the race is Jeff Greene who may be posing more of a challenge to Kendrick Meek in the Democratic primary than anyone expected. Perhaps largely due to his personal finances allowing plenty of TV ads, he is challenging for the nomination with the NY Times calling it a “tight race.” This guy (Greene) is a grade-A loser and while he would be the worst possible thing to happen to politics in Florida if he somehow won the seat, if he wins his party’s nomination that should mean a lot more Democratic support for Crist. (One final note: fuck you, Jeff Greene)

Governor’s Race in Florida

As you can see from above, the incumbent Governor is vacating that office to run for the US Senate. Florida has been one of the harder hit states by the economic recession. Housing markets in the state took a terrible hit and unemployment is in double-digits. I see this race as a bit of a test on Obama’s support and perhaps a preview of the 2012 Presidential race. Obama won the state in 2008, but with conditions not improving as quickly as perhaps many expected, will that support start to dwindle?

Florida is generally a very Republican state. Republicans control the state legislature comfortably and the last two governors have been Republicans. The Governor’s office, however, has seen quite a few Democrats over the years. Alex Sink, the CFO of Florida, is the presumptive Democratic nominee and Bill McCollum, Attorney General, was the presumed GOP nominee. Rick Scott, who would be the world’s biggest douche bag if it were not for Jeff Greene (see above), is challenging McCollum for the GOP nod. When this race first started way back when Alex Sink was the favorite and maybe she still is. McCollum was a worthy challenger though and I believe he even was ahead in some polls. McCollum has had some campaign management issues recently and Rick Scott seems to be making it a race.

My feeling is that if it is McCollum and Sink, McCollum would eek it out. But if it’s Scott and Sink, Sink wins in a landslide. If Scott were to somehow win, that may be one of the biggest tea party victories yet and a clear indication of Floridians leaning going into 2012. I think Florida is frustrated but not quite to that point. A Sink victory, on the other hand, may be viewed as something of a vote in confidence towards Obama and Democratic policies. Then again, I haven’t been back home very much since I left so I could be way off the mark on either of these races.

Craig

Being a lifelong Missourian, I have my eyes on two main Missouri races. While I’m particularly interested in the state senate and state house races, Missouri’s 8th Congressional District and the U.S. Senate race of Robin Carnahan vs. Roy Blunt is growing on me as well.

Beginning with Missouri’s 8th Congressional race, I have written a blog post dedicated to why I believe the incumbent Republican Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) will defeat Tommy Sowers. This race has garnered national attention. This week, a former mayor of Rolla, MO and real estate business owner Floyd Ferrell filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission on a fundraiser by Tommy Sowers that revolves around giveaway products by Twitter’s founder being in attendance. It will be interesting to see what happens in this case. Being from Rolla, I am naturally drawn to this race.

I’m also paying attention to the race between Robin Carnahan and Roy Blunt. While I am a Republican and don’t force myself to read what Robin has been doing, I am not convinced she’s campaigning to win. By discussing the race with friends, it appears as if she really hasn’t started a full out campaign yet. While Roy has traveled in a highly publicized trip through every county in Missouri, his campaign has been in high gear. I will predict that this Missouri Political Dynasty face-off will go to Roy Blunt, who is leading polling by approximately 5 percentage points.

I also am highly interested in a few incumbent races such as for Missouri’s 18th Senate and Missouri’s 16th Senate races. These are Republicans challenging incumbent rural Democrats. I’m interested in the state senate races to replace incumbents as well. Because of term limits, it is forcing hotly contested primaries for an open seat in the state senate. It’s going to be an exciting election season, and I look forward to seeing it play out.

Laura

Oregon’s U.S. Senate Race

Democratic incumbent Ron Wyden will face off against Republican Jim Huffman in November for Oregon’s Senate seat. Wyden has served in the U.S. Senate since 1996, yet his political career dates back to the 1980’s.  The race in Oregon has sparked my interest due to the high number of human trafficking cases in the state. Wyden has made a point of raising awareness on the necessity to protect the rights of human trafficking victims, and in December 2009 hosted a briefing on child sex trafficking. Additionally, Wyden is a staunch advocate of legislation protecting the environment from misuse and abuse. He has made it a point to support energy legislation focused on eliminating U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, and imposing stricter CAFÉ standards for automobiles.

The level of governmental openness exhibited by the Wyden campaign particularly intrigues me. Wyden promised to “throw open the doors of government” during his first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1996. Since then, he has held over 525 town hall meetings continuing the promise of one town hall meeting each year in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. The focus on addressing the concerns of constituents in a town hall forum should not be overlooked in the age of political discontent.

Republican Jim Huffman is a relative newcomer to the political scene in Oregon. However, his background as a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School will prove a valuable tool along the campaign trail.  The economy and creating jobs in Oregon has taken centrality with the Huffman campaign. Similarly, like Wyden, Huffman is keen on protecting the bountiful natural resources present in the state with strict environmental policies. His stance on energy places clean coal technology at the center with an eventual shift to nuclear power. According to Huffman, alternative forms of energy such as solar power and wind are not viable options at the moment. The emphasis on nuclear power could prove problematic for Huffman. Another hot issue is the war on terror which Huffman points out is not a bumper sticker slogan. Huffman does not support prosecuting captured terrorists through the criminal justice system as this is a waste of valuable economic and social resources. . In regards to immigration, he supports making it difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain jobs in the US as the best immigration policy.

Jim Huffman is more socially moderate than his fellow Republicans as demonstrated by his pro choice and pro civil union stance. It is interesting to note the lack of financial support Huffman has received from the Republican party, perhaps a direct result of his socially moderate position.

Oregon is a Democratic-leaning state, which provides optimism for the Wyden camp. A Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows Wyden with a 10-point lead over Huffman as of June 22, 2010, with a margin of sampling error of +/- 4.5 and a 95% confidence interval. While the sampling method is problematic in certain respects, the political culture in Oregon combined with the campaign funding disparity between the two camps of a few million dollars presents Huffman with an uphill battle.

I will be following the Oregon race closely as I continue to research the stain of human trafficking on the state. If nothing else, it is highly entertaining to witness two candidates each rocking the blue jeans and claiming to be the people’s Senator. Only one will claim that title come November. Stay tuned.

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