8 for ’08: Battleground States to Watch

by Stuart Rothenberg July 3, 2007 · 12:05 AM EDT

Only six months into the election cycle, the universe of 2008 battleground states is already beginning to take shape. But an accurate list of the battlegrounds includes more than just the presidential race and takes into account states where hot House, Senate and even gubernatorial races also will be taking place.

For parties, political action committees, 527s, or even political junkies looking to maximize their time and effort, these eight states should host a significant percentage of the political action this cycle, listed in descending order from most active. Some states such as Iowa, Nevada and Wisconsin could host fierce presidential campaigning, but the action downballot is much more limited.

Ohio: Twenty electoral votes, at least five competitive House races
Many Democrats still think “what if” when they hear the word “Ohio,” after President Bush carried it narrowly 51 percent to 49 percent on his way to defeating Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Four years earlier, Bush only carried the state 50 percent to 46 percent and the Buckeye State is a lock to be a presidential battleground once again.

The 2006 election results provided a mixed bag for Democrats. While taking over the governorship and knocking off Sen. Mike DeWine (R), they netted only one House seat. Currently, up to five House seats could be in play. Democrats are excited about two recruits: state Rep. Steve Driehaus, against Rep. Steve Chabot in the 1st district, and state Sen. John Boccieri against Rep. Ralph Regula in the 16th district.

In the 15th district, Franklin County Commissioners Paula Brooks and 2006 nominee Mary Jo Kilroy will battle for the Democratic nomination to face Rep. Deborah Pryce (R). And Democrats will target Rep. Jean Schmidt in the 2nd district, but she may not even make it out of the primary.

Ohio’s 18th district, the seat of former Rep. Bob Ney (R) and now held by Rep. Zack Space (D), is a priority target for Republicans.

Pennsylvania: Twenty-one electoral votes, four House races
Although it received more attention in 2000, the Keystone State is likely to play another critical role in the presidential race. Kerry carried Pennsylvania narrowly 51 percent to 48 percent in 2004 while Al Gore carried it 51 percent to 46 percent in 2000.

Four House seats also could be in play. Republicans are particularly interested in the 10th district, formerly held by ex-Rep. Don Sherwood (R), who got into a public debate about how he treated his mistress. Republicans have a host of candidates there looking to take on freshman Rep. Chris Carney (D).

Rep. Jason Altmire (D) also is a target in the 4th district with both former Rep. Melissa Hart (R) and former Pittsburgh Steelers star and 2006 gubernatorial nominee Lynn Swann (R) taking a look at running. And Rep. Joe Sestak (D) is not likely to get a pass either in the 7th district. Democrats will go after Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) again in the 6th district after he was the last man standing amid a heap of Republican rubble.

Colorado: Nine electoral votes, Senate race, one House race
Democrats haven’t carried the state at the presidential level since Bill Clinton in 1992, but the state has been trending Democratic. Bush won the state by 9 points in 2000 but by only 5 points four years later. Democrats took over one of the state’s Senate seats in 2004 and have their sights set on the second seat, being vacated by GOP Sen. Wayne Allard, in 2008. Rep. Mark Udall is the likely Democratic nominee, while Republicans have former Rep. Bob Schaffer.

In 2006, Democrats also took over the governorship and the 7th district House seat, now held by Rep. Ed Perlmutter. They also control both the state House and Senate. By the numbers, the 7th district should be a swing district, but Republicans aren’t likely to make a real push in the current environment. Democrats will take another swing at Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) in the 4th district, even without star recruit Brandon Schaffer, who took a pass on the race.

Minnesota: Ten electoral votes, Senate race, two House races
Richard Nixon was the last Republican to carry the state for president in 1972, but the White House races are consistently close. Kerry carried the state 51 percent to 48 percent in 2004 and in 2000, Gore won it by a narrower 48 percent to 46 percent.

Norm Coleman (R) is one of the most vulnerable Senators in the country, and has already drawn a crowd of challengers including comedian Al Franken and attorney Mike Ciresi. Democrats may not be through recruiting yet.

Republicans are targeting freshman Rep. Tim Walz (D) in the 1st district after he knocked off then-Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R) and two GOP state legislators already are running. Freshman Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) begins the first, of likely many, re-election races in the 6th district, in which she is targeted for her unabashed conservative views.

Virginia: Thirteen electoral votes, potential Senate race, two House races
This is a state that wouldn’t have been anywhere near this list four years ago, on the eve of Bush’s 9-point victory over Kerry. Democrats haven’t carried Virginia at the presidential level since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and make up only three of the state’s 11-Member Congressional delegation.

But Tim Kaine (D) won the governorship in 2005, and Jim Webb (D) defeated Sen. George Allen (R) last year in one of the closest Senate races in the country. Now, politicos on both sides of the aisle are watching to see whether Sen. John Warner (R) retires (as many insiders expect), setting up an extremely competitive open-seat race. Former Gov. Mark Warner (D) would be heavily recruited and difficult to defeat.

Rep. Tom Davis (R) would run for an open Senate seat as well, but his 10th district House seat in Northern Virginia would be difficult for Republicans to defend. Democrats also will challenge Rep. Thelma Drake (R) in the 2nd district, after her 2-point victory in 2006.

New Hampshire: Four electoral votes, Senate race, House race
Kerry carried the state by 2 points in 2004, and Bush carried it by 1 point in 2000. Sen. John Sununu (R) already has three challengers, but it’s his 2002 foe, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who would give him the toughest test — if she runs. Last year’s GOP massacre in which Republicans lost both the state House and state Senate and both seats in Congress, makes Sununu extremely vulnerable. Former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) is challenging freshman Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) for his old 1st district seat.

Florida: Twenty-seven electoral votes, two House races
Even though Bush won the Sunshine State by 5 points in 2004, Florida must still be considered a battleground state with its 27 electoral votes. Rep. Tim Mahoney (D) is a top Republican target in the 16th district after his 49 percent to 48 percent victory with ex-Rep. Mark Foley’s name still on the ballot. Democrats are making an effort in the 8th district against Rep. Ric Keller (R).

Oregon: Seven electoral votes, Senate race
Ronald Reagan was the last Republican presidential contender to carry Oregon, but the state has been surprisingly closer the past two cycles. In 2000, Gore won it narrowly while Kerry won it by 4 points in 2004.

Democrats are still looking for a top-tier candidate against Sen. Gordon Smith (R), after a series of rejections from the Congressional delegation and a former governor, but the Republican incumbent is far from a safe bet for re-election. If Democrats nominate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for president, Rep. Darlene Hooley (D) could be vulnerable, but she has proved to be a very tough campaigner.