Posted October 6, 2008 at 10:47am



Incumbent: Tom Harkin (D)
4th term (54 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

If Harkin’s seat was any safer, he’d be preparing to be installed as “Senator for Life.”

The Republican nominee, businessman and Navy veteran Chris Reed, is swimming upstream. His fundraising has been, to be charitable, anemic; he has failed to attract any sort of buzz — even as an underdog insurgent type of candidate; and he’s running in a state where Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has maintained a solid lead in the presidential contest over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

This is a welcome change for Harkin, who has never won more than 55 percent of the vote in any of his Senate races.


4th district
Incumbent: Tom Latham (R)
7th term (57 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Latham is running against Dallas County Democratic Party Chairwoman Becky Greenwald.

In this competitively drawn north-central Iowa district, Latham should be safe. However, there remains a possibility that Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) White House candidacy will create a Democratic tide that lifts all boats in the Hawkeye State, even that of a minimally funded Democratic House candidate who only recently began to appear as though she was running a viable campaign.

Greenwald reported $70,000 on hand as of July 31, compared with Latham’s $832,000.

Greenwald was recently endorsed by EMILY’s List and is currently up on television with solid ads, so she could be positioned to take advantage of an Obama surge.

But Latham has never taken this race for granted, and he could benefit from helping his constituents recover from the summer floods. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in September named a group of long-shot candidates to its vaunted “Red to Blue” list — but not Greenwald.

Advantage Latham — and an undeniable missed opportunity for the DCCC.



Incumbent: Pat Roberts (R)
2nd term (83 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

In former Rep. Jim Slattery, the Democrats found a viable candidate capable of capitalizing on any bump his party might have received from Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) White House bid.

After all, Obama’s mother and maternal grandparents were native Kansans, and Democrats have fared well in the Jayhawk State at the gubernatorial and Congressional levels over the past few cycles.

Plus, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has millions of dollars at its disposal that it could spend in Kansas’ relatively cheap media markets.

However, Roberts has remained one of the Republicans from his state that voters haven’t soured on. And Roberts’ poll numbers, fundraising and aggressive campaign have shown no signs of a letdown that would allow Slattery to break through or encourage the DSCC to spend some of its vast fortune there.

Additionally, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) looks poised for an easy victory in Kansas, eliminating any chance that Slattery might have some coattails to latch onto. Roberts should win comfortably.


2nd district
Incumbent: Nancy Boyda (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

The heavily rural, eastern Kansas district is conservative territory, and Boyda, who won the seat in an upset two years ago, has a fight on her hands from state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins (R).

Democrats say Boyda has voted sufficiently independent of her party on the House floor to secure the Republican and independent conservative voters she’ll need to win in a district that is expected to elect Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) president and re-elect Sen. Pat Roberts (R).

Republicans contend that Boyda is a liberal with a voting record to match, and they believe Jenkins has the right profile to win. But Jenkins’ record as a moderate on some key issues could turn off enough GOP voters to leave the door open for Boyda to win a second term.

However, the larger universe of voters who participate in presidential elections but not in midterms could ultimately be what sinks Boyda.

In beating then-Rep. Jim Ryun (R) in 2006, Boyda garnered more than 114,000 votes, 7,000 fewer than she did in 2004 when she lost to the Congressman by 15 points. Ryun saw a drop-off of nearly 60,000 votes from 2004 to 2006, as the GOP suffered through its worst Congressional losses in decades.

Because President Bush garnered nearly 177,000 votes in the 2nd district in 2004, Boyda must secure a large number of crossover votes in this contest, and that won’t be easy.

All of this could spell trouble for the incumbent.

3rd district
Incumbent: Dennis Moore (D)
5th term (65 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

In state Sen. Nick Jordan, the GOP finally found a candidate who could unite the conservative and moderate wings of the Republicans who live in this suburban Kansas City, conservative-leaning district.

However, there is no evidence that Jordan — who is legitimately a good candidate — is breaking through against Moore, who in 2004 fell just 2,000 votes short of matching President Bush in votes earned in the district.

Jordan is running a credible campaign, and the GOP is hoping that Moore — who for the first time is running as a Member of the House majority — will be weighed down at home by the actions of his party’s leadership.

But Moore has long had a solid relationship with constituents going back to his days as a county prosecutor. Jordan may yet give Moore a scare, but thus far the incumbent remains in good shape.



6th district
Incumbent: Sam Graves (R)
4th term (62 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee claimed a recruiting victory more than one year ago when Kay Barnes, a popular former two-term mayor of Kansas City, filed to challenge Graves. Democrats are now warning that Graves’ northwestern Show-Me State district may host one of the ugliest House races of the cycle.

Already more than a year into her candidacy, Barnes has kept up with Graves in fundraising. Perhaps sensing a credible challenge, Graves hit the airwaves earlier this summer with arguably the most colorful televised attack ad of the cycle. In one well-publicized ad buy, Graves hit the airwaves with an ad bashing Barnes for attending a fundraiser at the home of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a testament to her “San Francisco values.”

Democrats and Republicans alike say to expect more of the same in the contest’s final weeks. Both candidates are armed with sizable war chests for the district’s relatively inexpensive media markets. As of mid-July, the incumbent had $936,000 in cash, compared with Barnes, an EMILY’s List candidate, who had $962,000.

And adding to the likelihood of an all-out brawl before Election Day, the race is expected to be decided in the district’s conservative northern rural counties, typically Graves’ strongholds where Barnes is now playing up her family’s rural ties — in the hopes of siphoning off as many votes there as possible.

9th district
Open seat: Kenny Hulshof (R) is running for governor
Outlook: Leans Republican

Hulshof’s decision to run for governor this year has Democrats eyeing a rare open-seat pickup opportunity in a place that’s been a Republican stronghold for more than a decade.

Freshman state Rep. Judy Baker (D), an EMILY’s List candidate, emerged from a bruising primary that included former state Speaker Steve Gaw (D), the early primary frontrunner whose campaign had difficulty raising money. Baker now faces former state tourism director Blaine Luetkemeyer, who defeated Club for Growth-backed candidate Bob Onder in a tough GOP primary.

Fresh off of hard-fought primaries, both Luetkemeyer and Baker have kept a low profile since August, but the tenor is expected to change in the contest’s closing weeks. The district is the school-year home for tens of thousands of University of Missouri-Columbia and Truman State University students, and presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D) is targeting Dixiecrat towns along the Mississippi River.

Still, Luetkemeyer’s deep pockets could more than make up the difference in this conservative-leaning district, which includes the crimson red western St. Louis suburbs and heavily German Catholic communities along the Missouri River.



Open seat: Chuck Hagel (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

Former Agriculture Secretary and ex-Gov. Mike Johanns (R) is running a textbook campaign in an overwhelmingly Republican state in a presidential year — and against a conventional Democratic candidate.

Johanns’ background and record while serving as both governor and Agriculture secretary did nothing to diminish himself in the eyes of Cornhusker State voters.

He wins in a walk.

Possibly if Democrat Scott Kleeb had a little bit more of Sen. Ben Nelson (D) or former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) in him, Johanns would have had a real challenge. But Kleeb, a rancher and college professor who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2006, remains underfunded and out of touch with the political sensibilities of most Nebraskans.


2nd district
Incumbent: Lee Terry (R)
5th term (55 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Businessman Jim Esch (D), who lost to Terry in 2006, is back for another round. His chance was that Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential bid would pick up in red states such as Nebraska and lift down-ticket Democrats to victory in districts where they otherwise face a decided partisan disadvantage.

Although Esch is an appealing candidate and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee considers this a sleeper race, he will probably fall short; Terry, partly thanks to Mike Johanns’ Senate candidacy and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential bid, wins Round 2.

North Dakota


Incumbent: Earl Pomeroy (D)
8th term (66 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Pomeroy has won most of his races with little difficulty. Duane Sand (R), who lost to Pomeroy by 20 points in 2004, isn’t likely to change things in November.

Sand’s fundraising isn’t where it needs to be, and he hasn’t given the voters a reason to throw out Pomeroy.

Even as Republicans continue to rack up huge wins in White House races in North Dakota, Democrats continue to dominate the Congressional delegation, controlling both the at-large House seat and both Senate seats.

With Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) recently pulling his presidential campaign out of the Peace Garden State, that trend is set to continue.

South Dakota


Incumbent: Tim Johnson (D)
2nd term (50 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Johnson is headed toward an easy general election victory on Nov. 4.

Johnson’s fundraising is strong, his Republican opponent is second- tier at best, and he has benefited from the fact that the GOP hasn’t bothered to attack him out of respect for his continuing recovery from a December 2006 brain aneurysm.

Johnson has been back in the Senate for more than a year, and during that time he hasn’t missed a vote. He is campaigning, albeit a bit less vigorously than he did during his 2002 nail-biter win over then-Rep. John Thune (R).

State Rep. Joel Dykstra (R) could be setting himself up for a future successful run for statewide office. But there is simply no compelling case that has been made to oust Johnson, and Dykstra doesn’t have Thune’s rock-star appeal (Thune went on to defeat then-Sen. Tom Daschle in 2004).

Dykstra has hinted that Johnson’s illness could pose a problem before the Senator’s next six-year term were to lapse. But in a state like South Dakota, where everybody knows everybody, everybody is pretty nice, and many of those people tend to like the incumbent, that sort of harsh political attack would probably fail if it was if launched in an overt, pointed way.


Incumbent: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D)
3rd term (69 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

There’s a reason you’re not hearing much about this race, and that’s because it isn’t much of a race.

Businessman Chris Lien (R) has a good profile and could use this year’s contest as a practice run for a future bid for statewide office. But for now, Herseth Sandlin appears to have solidified her standing with South Dakota voters — potentially vulnerable against an A-list challenger but not likely to be ousted otherwise — barring a serious self-inflicted wound. And assuming she wins big, there will certainly be talk about Herseth Sandlin, whose grandfather served as governor from 1958 to 1960, running for the state’s top job herself in 2010.