The chances of the Republicans winning control of the Senate this year got a big boost this week with the announcement that Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) changed his mind and will take on Sen. Mark Udall (D). Gardner, the most popular Republican in the state who has been seen as an up-and-comer since he knocked off Rep. Betsy Markey (D) in 2010, had been rebuffing GOP entreaties for months that he get in the race. But the situation in the state has been looking less and less favorable for the Democrats; witness the recall of pro-gun control Democratic state senators and the flat numbers for Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Udall, who is seeking a second term, was generally favored to win again. His presumptive Republican opponent, Weld Co. District Attorney Ken Buck, was the losing GOP Senate candidate against Michael Bennet (D) in 2010, a race many thought was the Republicans’ for the taking. But Buck, a Tea Party favorite, fumbled his opportunity, comparing gays to alcoholics in an appearance on “Meet the Press,” and making a comment about primary opponent Jane Norton that many took to be sexist. In a big GOP year, Buck didn’t deliver.
Still, he lost to Bennet by only two percentage points, and so he was back for more. Udall’s polling leads over the Republican field — Buck, state Sens. Randy Baumgardner & Owen Hill, and state Rep. Amy Stephens led the pack — were small, too small for Udall to take any comfort. Gardner’s entry may make the Democrats fret even more.
The domino effect of his candidacy was immediate. Buck said he would drop out and seek Gardner’s House seat, and Stephens left the race soon after. Both have endorsed Gardner. (Hill says he will stay in, and the Tea Party Express pledged its support, blasting Gardner as the choice of the establishment.)
House members running for other office:
SENATE: Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Colleen Hanabusa (D-Haw.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas).
GOVERNOR: Michael Michaud (D-Maine), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.).
LT. GOVERNOR: Tim Griffin (R-Ark.).
SUPERVISOR, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Calif.).
What Gardner’s decision does is it expands the field of potential Republican pickups to beyond the seats of vulnerable Democrats in states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. While it may be too soon to call the race a “tossup,” it clearly puts Udall in a potentially precarious position, even more so than he was before. Here are our latest Senate ratings:
DEMOCRATIC SEATS (21):
SAFE DEMOCRATIC (8): Delaware (Chris Coons), Hawaii (Brian Schatz), Illinois (Dick Durbin), Massachusetts (Ed Markey), New Jersey (Cory Booker), New Mexico (Tom Udall), Oregon (Jeff Merkley), Rhode Island (Jack Reed).
LIKELY/LEANING DEMOCRATIC (6): Colorado (Mark Udall), Iowa (open: Tom Harkin retiring), Michigan (open: Carl Levin retiring), Minnesota (Al Franken), New Hampshire (Jeanne Shaheen), Virginia (Mark Warner)
TOSSUP (4): Alaska (Mark Begich), Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), North Carolina (Kay Hagan)
LIKELY/LEANING LOSSES (3): Montana (John Walsh), South Dakota (open: Tim Johnson retiring), West Virginia (open: Jay Rockefeller retiring).
REPUBLICAN SEATS (15):
SAFE REPUBLICAN (13): Alabama (Jeff Sessions), Idaho (Jim Risch), Kansas (Pat Roberts), Maine (Susan Collins), Mississippi (Thad Cochran), Nebraska (open: Mike Johanns retiring), Oklahoma (Jim Inhofe), Oklahoma special (open: Tom Coburn resigning), South Carolina (Lindsey Graham), South Carolina special (Tim Scott), Tennessee (Lamar Alexander), Texas (John Cornyn), Wyoming (Mike Enzi).
LIKELY/LEANING REPUBLICAN (2): Georgia (open: Saxby Chambliss retiring), Kentucky (Mitch McConnell).
LIKELY/LEANING LOSSES (0):
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ON THE CALENDAR:
March 4 — Texas primary.
March 6-8 — Annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), National Harbor, Md.
March 11 — Special election in Florida’s 13th CD to fill the seat left vacant by the October death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R).
March 18 — Illinois primary.
April 1 — D.C. mayor primary.
April 22 — Special primary in Florida’s 19th CD to fill the seat of Rep. Trey Radel (R), who resigned on Jan. 27.
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This Day In Political History: Senate Judiciary Committee chair Harley Kilgore of West Virginia dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. The three-term Democrat was 63 years old (Feb. 28, 1956). His death leads to a special election in November, which is won by former Sen. Chapman Revercomb (R) over Gov. William Marland (D). It will be the last time a Republican won a Senate race in West Virginia. Revercomb would lose his re-election bid in 1958 to Rep. Robert Byrd, who would go on to serve until his death in 2010.
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