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Who Runs for Senate if Voinovich Retires?

By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, January 11, 2009 11:20 PM

Is Sen. George Voinovich planning to retire?

Rumors that the second-term Republican from Ohio would step aside ran rampant over the weekend, and GOP operatives acknowledged privately that they expected Voinovich to leave the Senate in 2010, although they cautioned that it is not a done deal.

"There will be an announcement Monday," said Voinovich spokesman Chris Paulitz.

Voinovich would be the fourth Republican senator to step aside in this election cycle, joining Sam Brownback (Kan.), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and Christopher S. Bond (Mo.) on the sidelines. The Republicans must defend 20 Senate seats in 2010, compared with 17 for the Democrats.

The chatter about an open seat in Ohio forced Republican and Democratic strategists to begin putting their candidate wish lists together quickly.

The most likely Republican candidate is former representative Rob Portman, who left Congress in early 2005 to become the U.S. trade representative for President Bush; Portman went on to serve as the head of the Office of Management and Budget. Portman has made no secret of his interest in running for statewide office and would be likely to enjoy considerable support from the party establishment in Washington, where he is regarded as a rising star.

Others mentioned on the GOP side include former congressman John Kasich and former senator Mike DeWine.

The Democratic field is far less defined, with possible candidates including Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, and Reps. Zack Space and Tim Ryan. Democratic strategists think a contentious primary can be avoided, but it remains to be seen whether ambitious pols will heed the wishes of the party in Washington.

Democrats have made significant strides in the Buckeye State over the past few elections -- winning the governorship in a romp in 2006 and carrying the state by four points for Barack Obama in November's presidential election.

Specter's Potential Challengers

Now that "Hardball" host Chris Matthews isn't running for the Senate from Pennsylvania in 2010, some casual observers are likely to lose interest in the race. They shouldn't. GOP Sen. Arlen Specter's reelection bid is almost certain to be one of the most expensive, high-profile contests in the country.

Specter has shown an amazing electoral resilience over a career that has spanned three decades; he has repeatedly beaten back serious primary and general-election foes -- a tenacity that even Democrats have to admire.

There are two critical factors in calculating whether Specter can pull off a win in 2010: Pat Toomey and the Democratic field.

Toomey, a conservative who held the 15th District seat in eastern Pennsylvania for three terms, came within 7,000 votes of defeating Specter in a 2004 Republican primary and is weighing the possibility of taking on the incumbent again. He is expected to make a decision by the end of March.

If Toomey takes a pass, the Democrats' task gets more difficult, as Specter can continue to stockpile cash -- $5.4 million in the bank as of Sept. 30 -- and wait as Democrats sort themselves out.

And, somewhat surprisingly given the Democratic nature of the state, the names after Matthews on the Democratic side have a ways to go to compete with Specter. "It's a strong field in terms of talent and ability, but it's fairly weak in terms of statewide name identification," said Mark Nevins, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic operative.

Who makes up that field? Here's The Fix's quick handicapping -- based on conversations with smart Democratic operatives in Pennsylvania and D.C.:

Joe Torsella: Torsella's name might be familiar to political junkies, as he ran a well-funded but ultimately unsuccessful primary against Rep. Allyson Schwartz in 2004 for the open 13th Congressional District seat. Torsella went on to raise the money for and then run the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. An X factor in Torsella's favor? He is very close to Gov. Ed Rendell, having served as a deputy mayor when Rendell ruled Philadelphia.

Allyson Y. Schwartz: The congresswoman has run for the Senate -- she lost a primary to then-Rep. Ron Klink in 2000 -- and has made no secret of her interest in another statewide bid. Schwartz would almost certainly have the financial and organizational support of Emily's List, a powerful chit in her favor, particularly in a Democratic primary. Schwartz's hurdle is whether she can sell herself as a candidate outside the Philadelphia media market.

Jack Wagner: The state's auditor general is the lone candidate seriously considering the race who comes from the western part of the state, a huge advantage in a state where geography looms large. Wagner is mulling a run for governor, and there is some sense among political sharps that he will ultimately take that route.

Reps. Joe Sestak and Patrick J. Murphy: Sestak isn't interested; Murphy has been more coy but ultimately will stay out, our sources say.

Josh Shapiro: Shapiro, a former congressional aide who is a member of the state House, is seen as one of the party's rising stars. But he would almost certainly defer to any of the names above, and, if Schwartz runs, Shapiro would probably be a candidate for her House seat.

Players

Landing a client such as California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner -- with considerable personal wealth and an eye on being governor of the Golden State -- can make an election cycle for a media consulting firm. That's why Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer -- the principals of the Stevens and Schriefer Group -- are smiling a lot these days. Poizner announced that Stevens and Schriefer, who worked for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and then former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney during the Republican presidential primaries, would handle his ad strategy in what is shaping up to be a terrific -- and terrifically expensive -- GOP primary against former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman in 2010.

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