The 2008 elections will once again feature a battle for power in Congress. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of 100 Senate seats will be up for election.
Republicans face tough prospects in both chambers. The Iraq War and various scandals have hurt the Republican Party. Far more Republicans than democrats are retiring, meaning the democrats have more opportunities to pick up seats. On the plus side, conservatives are winning more open Republican seats, moving the party more to the right.
In the Senate, democrats currently hold a 51-49 advantage. Overcoming a filibuster takes 60 votes, meaning that Republicans have the ability to block much bad legislation. This ability will be significantly diminished if democrats pick up more seats.
Of the 35 seats up for election, 23 are held by Republicans and just 12 are held by democrats. Republicans have few opportunities to pick up seats. Their best shot is in Louisiana (Landrieu), and they have longer odds in South Dakota (Johnson) and New Jersey (Lautenberg).
Meanwhile, there are many vulnerable Republican seats. Five Republican senators are retiring. They are in Virginia (Warner), New Mexico (Domenici), Colorado (Allard), Nebraska (Hagel), and Idaho (Craig). Two Republican senators are recent appointees facing their first statewide elections in Mississippi (Wicker, replacing Lott) and Wyoming (Barrasso, replacing Thomas). Several Republican incumbents are vulnerable. Democrats will target seats in New Hampshire (Sununu), Minnesota (Coleman), and Oregon (Smith), and have longer shots in Maine (Collins), Alaska (Stevens), and Kentucky (McConnell). The Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado seats are highly vulnerable, and the two appointees are less vulnerable.
In the House of Representatives, democrats currently hold a roughly 30 seat advantage over Republicans. The democrats' ability to pass legislation has been hampered by their limited margin and by the fact that many of their new members come from conservative-leaning districts and are (or ran as) moderates. Winning a larger majority would significantly help the democrats to pass their legislation.
Currently, 29 Republicans are either retiring or have already resigned from office. Only six democrats are retiring and two other democrat seats are open due to death. Of the open Republican seats, roughly a dozen are vulnerable to democrat takeover. Only one of the open democrat seats in vulnerable to Republican takeover. Democrats will also target many of the seats that they narrowly missed winning in 2006, and a few incumbents who have not recently seen competitive races. Republicans will target many of the seats that they lost in 2006, and a few other potentially vulnerable democrat incumbents.
At the present, it appears likely that democrats will make gains in both houses of Congress. The size of those gains will determine their ability to pass legislation after the election.
This blog will not actively cover most of the national races, but readers can follow them using our Campaign News links.