Races to watch in the battle for the US Senate

by Beacon Staff • November 1, 2006

According to The Washington Post, every single one of our 10 congressmen (all of them Democrats) up for re-election are considered "safe" meaning their seats are not in jeopardy.,The balance of power in our federal government may well change this Tuesday when the midterm elections take place, but it is understandably hard for those of us living in Boston to get excited.

According to The Washington Post, every single one of our 10 congressmen (all of them Democrats) up for re-election are considered "safe" meaning their seats are not in jeopardy.

So does that mean Election Day has no effect on us?

Hardly.

There are competitive races taking place all over the country that could greatly alter our political landscape. Many analysts have speculated that the Democrats will gain 15 seats and win back the House of Representatives.

The democrats could also win back the Senate-recently an unthinkable scenario-if they steal six seats from Republicans.

These changes would be substantial.

Consider this: if the republicans maintain the Senate, the chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works would be Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, who once said, "catastrophic global warming is a hoax."

What follows is a look at four close Senate races that may well determine the legislative agenda and frame the national debate for the next two years. The poll numbers provided are courtesy of Slate.com.

After 12 years of a Republican-controlled Congress, Tuesday could be the day the pendulum swings back in the other direction. If nothing else, we will learn a lot about where the country is headed in the years to come.

Tennessee Senate Race: Republican Bob Corker (47.4 percent) vs. Democrat Harold Ford (46.8 percent)

Of all the vulnerable seats currently held by Republicans, this one, currently occupied by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, might be the one they can least afford to lose. Tennessee is a staunchly conservative state and Republicans have held both of its Senate seats since 1994.

Ford would be the first black senator to serve in the south since Reconstruction.

Ford has run a very conservative campaign, sometimes standing to the right of Corker.

While a liberal candidate would not have much of a chance in Tennessee, some Democrats are alienated by his positions, such as his support for the Military Commission Act of 2006.

While Ford's success thus far has the GOP worried, they remain more optimistic about their chances here than in other states. A senior White House official told Time Magazine "we are going to lose Pennsylvania, Ohio and Rhode Island . Tennessee, I think we hold."

Virginia Senate Race: Republican incumbent George Allen (46.4 percent) vs. Democrat James Webb (47.6 percent).

If the GOP holds onto this seat, it will be in spite of Allen, not because of him. Way ahead in the polls just a few months ago, Allen has had several epic blunders which have not only put his seat in jeopardy, but have all but killed his aspirations for the presidency in 2008.

At a rally in August, Allen called S.R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old Webb campaign volunteer of Indian decent, "macaca," a word that literally means monkey and is considered a racial slur.

Other publications have also linked Allen to controversy, including his history with the confederate flag. Ryan Lizza of The New Republic wrote that Allen has "expressed his enthusiastic approval of the emblem from approximately 1967 to 2000." And The Nation published a picture of Allen posing with leaders of the Council of Conservative Citizens, one of the largest segregationist groups in the country.

Webb, a former Republican who was Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, has capitalized on the controversy, climbing more than 14 percent in the polls since the macaca comment. Despite all of this, Allen is at least even money to retain his seat.

New Jersey Senate Race: Democrat incumbent Robert Menendez (48 percent) vs. Republican Thomas Kean Jr. (43.2 percent)

Republicans on Capitol Hill don't have much to be optimistic about going into this election. Most analysts predict that the Democrats will take at least one chamber of Congress, as seats that were thought to be safely red months ago are now up for grabs.

However, the Senate race in New Jersey between incumbent Robert Menendez and challenger Thomas Kean Jr. is providing a glimmer of hope for the GOP. With a clean-cut reputation and a wildly popular father, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, polls show the Republican has a strong chance of taking the seat.

Menendez's slight lead in most polls, despite questions over his ethical decisions in some past business deals, led The New Republic to wonder in an Oct. 20 article exactly how blue New Jersey had really become.

Rhode Island Senate Race: Republican incumbent Lincoln Chafee (39.8 percent) vs. Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse (48.8 percent)

With all the coverage of Joe Leiberman's defeat in the Connecticut Democratic primary, Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee's troubles in Rhode Island have been somewhat overshadowed. The only GOP senator to vote against giving the Bush administration authority to use force in Iraq, Chafee's independence streak has gained him respect on both sides of the aisle.

But in blue Rhode Island, where anti-Republican sentiment is running high, Chafee is being dragged down with his party. Despite emphasizing his criticism of his fellow republicans in the campaign, the incumbent can't run from the fact that there remains an "R" next to his name.