There will be 33 Senate elections in 2006, for seats currently held by 17 Democrats, 15 Republicans, and one independent. Top Republican targets probably will include Florida, Minnesota, and Nebraska; Democrats will take aim at Missouri and Pennsylvania and possibly Virginia.
Herewith, an early look at the playing field:
ARIZONA: Republican senator Jon Kyl, a favorite of conservatives, will keep this seat. The one Democratic who could pose a problem is Gov. Janet Napolitano
, but she's going to seek a second term in 2006.
CALIFORNIA: Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein ? 73 years old in 2006 ? says she's running again. Republicans will face an uphill battle in the Golden State, even if she changes her mind. A nominee from the GOP House delegation, such as Chris Cox or David Dreier, might stand a chance.
CONNECTICUT: Democratic senator Joe Lieberman is safe. If he retires, the GOP will have a tough time taking over, especially in the aftermath of former Republican governor John Rowland's scandalous meltdown.
DELAWARE: Because GOP congressman Mike Castle probably isn't interested in a run, Democratic senator Tom Carper can relax.
FLORIDA: When Mel Martinez formally succeeds Bob Graham next year, Sen. Bill Nelson will be Florida's last remaining Democrat elected statewide. Martinez emerged from a crowded GOP primary field this year and the group of Republican candidates interested in taking on Nelson may be even larger, especially because Gov. Jeb Bush says he's not running. The contenders could include attorney general Charlie Crist, Rep. Mark Foley, businessman Tom Gallagher, Rep. Katherine Harris, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, former statehouse speaker Daniel Webster, and Rep. Dave Weldon.
HAWAII: Political reporters may try to convince their editors that this race will be close ? they desperately want Hawaii to become a swing state worthy of journalistic junkets ? but Democratic senator Daniel Akaka can't be beat.
INDIANA: Republican senator Richard Lugar will run for another term. He'll be 74 in 2006.
MAINE: Democrats will take a shot at Republican senator Olympia Snowe, though she'll be favored against just about anybody in this purplish-blue state.
MARYLAND: Democratic senator Paul Sarbanes, 73 years old in 2006, is a potential retiree. Republicans will have a tough time winning an open seat, but Gov. Bob Ehrlich recently showed that Maryland is not a one-party state. If Sarbanes steps down, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele ? a GOP rising star ? may think about a race.
MASSACHUSETTS: Democratic senator Ted Kennedy will be 74 in 2006. He has to quit sometime ? but his energetic stumping for John Kerry this year suggests that it won't be in 2006.
MICHIGAN: As a first-term incumbent in a swing state, Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow is a likely GOP pickup target. But Republicans may have trouble recruiting a top-tier candidate if potential contenders decide to take a pass and wait for Democratic senator Carl Levin to step down in 2008. Keep an eye on state GOP chair Betsy DeVos, Rep. Candice Miller, and Rep. Joe Rogers.
MINNESOTA: First-term Democratic senator Mark Dayton will sit near the top the GOP's hit-list, especially if Sen. Coleman heads the NRSC. Dayton's decision to close his Capitol Hill office shortly before Election Day encountered almost universal criticism and highlighted his extreme vulnerability. The GOP's best potential candidate may be Rep. Mark Kennedy. Wouldn't it be neat to have a Republican named Senator Kennedy?
MISSOURI: Republican senator Jim Talent will face a tough reelection. Potential Democratic challengers include attorney general Jay Nixon. Robin Carnahan, the daughter of the woman Talent defeated in 2002, was just elected secretary of state and could become a sentimental favorite among Democrats.
MISSISSIPPI: GOP senator Trent Lott has signaled his intention to seek a fourth term.
MONTANA: Following their victory in this year's gubernatorial race, Democrats may think they have a chance to oust Republican senator Conrad Burns.
NEBRASKA: Republican governor Mike Johanns will face enormous pressure from the national party to challenge Democratic senator Ben Nelson, who has raised more than $1 million to defend his seat. The Omaha World Herald already has polled likely voters on this matchup: Nelson holds a small lead, 41 percent to 38 percent. Potential monkey-wrench: What if Nelson decides to switch parties? It would probably have to involve a deal to stop Johanns from taking him on in the GOP primary.
NEVADA: Republican senator John Ensign is in the first term of what could be a very long run.
NEW JERSEY: No Republican has won a Senate election here since 1972, but all bets are off if Democratic senator Jon Corzine runs for governor next year and wins (thereby vacating his Senate seat). Gov. Corzine would get to pick his successor; Rep. Robert Menendez would be a strong possibility, but perhaps no stronger than any other Democrat from the state's House delegation. The GOP would have many possible nominees, including former Jersey City mayor (and 2001 gubernatorial candidate) Bret Schundler and former NYPD police commissioner Bernard Kerik.
NEW MEXICO: Democratic senator Jeff Bingaman is safe.
NEW YORK: Democratic senator Hillary Clinton is surprisingly popular. There is probably only one Republican who can beat her: Rudy Giuliani. Odds are he won't try. Gov. George Pataki has demonstrated the ability to win statewide, but he appears to have his eye on the White House. Republican congressman Pete King would guarantee a feisty race and there's even a chance he'd surprise.
NORTH DAKOTA: If Republicans can come up with a good candidate, they may give Democratic senator Kent Conrad a scare. Former governor Ed Schafer is a possibility, but his refusal to make a run this year against Byron Dorgan ? during a presidential-election year, when Republicans do very well in North Dakota ? doesn't bode well for GOP recruiters.
OHIO: After Kerry's near-miss in Ohio this year, Democrats may think they have a chance to unseat Republican senator Mike DeWine. It's an exceedingly slim chance. Brace yourself for a new round of Jerry Springer rumors.
PENNSYLVANIA: Democrats will want to pick a better candidate than left-wing congressman Joe Hoeffel, last seen being steamrolled by Sen. Arlen Specter
, to take on Republican senator Rick Santorum. One interesting pick would be Bob Casey Jr., a pro-life Democrat who has just been elected state treasurer, but he appears to be removing himself from consideration. Other possibilities include Treasurer Barbara Hafer (a former Republican), Teresa Heinz-Kerry (fun but not likely), MSNBC talker Chris Matthews (even less likely), and Philadelphia mayor John Street.
RHODE ISLAND: Lincoln Chafee, the sort-of Republican, isn't well liked by many of his GOP colleagues because they worry he'll bolt the party if it means he can stay in the majority. He may face a primary, but he'll probably win. Democrats will have a hard time coming up with a candidate who can beat him. Congressman Patrick Kennedy would be an interesting choice, but he appears content in the House.
TENNESSEE: Although Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is safe, there is some speculation he will retire in order to pursue the presidency. An open seat here would interest Democrats ? there would be a flurry of discussion about Al Gore's unlikely return to electoral politics, plus the possibility of Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., making a run. GOP aspirants would include Rep. Marsha Blackburn, former congressman Ed Bryant, Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, and former congressman Van Hilleary. Important fact: Republicans now have carried open seats in the South nine times in a row.
TEXAS: Will Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison run for re-election or seek the governorship? The Senate seat is hers for the keeping. If she abandons it, the GOP nomination will be up for grabs. Democrats thought they had a chance here in 2002, when Phil Gramm retired, but Sen. John Cornyn won comfortably.
UTAH: Republican senator Orrin Hatch is safe. He says he'll seek a sixth term, at the age of 72.
VERMONT: Sen. Jim Jeffords ? an "independent" who caucuses with the Democrats ? thought he was helping his constituents when he quit the GOP in 2001. Turns out he made a big mistake, though it probably won't cost him in 2006, as he seeks reelection at the age of 72.
VIRGINIA: Democratic governor Mark Warner isn't allowed to run for reelection next year, and he probably represents his party's best hope against first-term Republican senator George Allen. But will he go for it? The ambitious Warner may be thinking about his party's veep slot, or even the White House, which means he won't want to risk a loss against Allen. And would Warner really present much of a challenge? His chief legacy as governor is a tax hike; Allen would stand a good chance of eating him alive. Bonus twist: Listen carefully as reporters quiz Allen on serving out a second term ? he's widely believed to harbor presidential ambitions.
WASHINGTON: Democratic senator Maria Cantwell won her first election, four years ago, by a little more than 2,000 votes. Republicans would love to recruit former Rep. Jennifer Dunn, but her retirement from politics may be permanent. Another possible contender is Dino Rossi, this year's Republican nominee for governor. His election is so close that they're still counting ballots; as of this morning, he holds a 19-vote lead over his Democratic opponent, Christine Gregoire, with about 6,100 ballots left to go. There are probably a few GOP senators who privately hope Rossi loses ? so that he can take on Cantwell and win.
WEST VIRGINIA: Democratic senator Robert Byrd will keep this seat as long as he wants it ? and he's going to want it for at least one more term, sources say. He'll be just shy of his 89th birthday on Election Day in 2006.
WISCONSIN: Democratic senator Herb Kohl will be 71 in 2006, but he isn't retiring. If Republicans recruit an outstanding candidate, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, then Kohl may face a tough reelection.
WYOMING: Republican senator Craig Thomas is safe.