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'Coattail Effect' May Swing Senate

Democrats concerned about shoring up their U.S. Senate margin should read "Senate Races '08: Down to the Wire Again?" at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball. Sabato crunches the numbers and covers the big picture, along with some specific Senate races, and concludes:

At least to judge by the early line-up, it will be a surprise if the Senate doesn't remain highly competitive after November 2008, with neither party having anywhere near the sixty reliable votes needed to run this balky, idiosyncratic institution--the saucer that cools the hot brew in the House teacup.

Sabato opines that at this admittedly early stage, it appears that Dems are slightly more likely to hold the Senate, than lose control. But he warns:

The biggest imponderable is the presidential campaign. Senators like to think they are immune from the coattail effect. They are not. Certainly, coattail has a greater impact on open seat races, such as the '04 Southern contests mentioned earlier, where the Bush reelection margin pushed Republicans over the finish line in states such as Florida and Louisiana. Yet a large margin for one party's White House contender can add a few Senate seats all by itself. And then there are all the usual macro forces that are unpredictable but often determinative, including scandals that may arise, or the shape of each state's economy (if it's good, the incumbent claims credit, and if it's bad, the challenger makes the incumbent take some blame). Fear of the unknown keeps both parties on their toes.

This early in the game, we hesitate even to categorize Senate races for 2008. Which senators will retire? Which senators will attract trouble or commit devastating gaffes before the campaign is finished? What will the quality of the challenger turn out to be in each race? How about the comparative financial war chests of the candidates and the national party senatorial committees? (With money, as in so many other aspects of life, size matters.)

A reasonable assessment, and one that underscores the importance of financial contributions to '08 Senate and presidential candidates, as soon as possible for the latter, given the heavily front-loaded presidential primaries.