Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is now the third Republican senator planning to exit at the end of this term, leaving an open seat in a year in which Republicans are already forced to defend almost double the number of seats as Democrats by sheer chance. The other retirees are Wayne Allard (R-CO) and John Warner (R-VA). A fourth, Larry Craig (R-ID) has announced his intention to resign at the end of this month. In the case of the three retirees, they are occurring in states where the Democrats stand a good chance of wrestling the seat over to their side of the aisle. In Colorado, Ken Salazar (D-CO) did just that during the 2006 election. In the other two cases, Democrats have very strong potential candidates considering a run, Virginia Governor Mark Warner (D-VA) and Nebraska Governor and Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE). Craig, if he does resign, will be replaced by another Republican by the state’s sitting Republican governor and the seat is not expected to be in danger of going over to the Democrats in any case.
RBR/TVBR observation: It is a lot easier to defend a seat with an incumbent in it. Even if Republican fortunes improve between now and the fall of 2008, the party will be forced to spend more than they would have otherwise had the incumbents decided to hang around and try for another term. On the flip side, Democratic committees may also be interested in funneling additional money into races they must see as excellent opportunities to build a numerical edge in the Senate. It almost guarantees that Colorado, Virginia and Nebraska will be granted the cash-magnet status of a battleground state.