The Republican base has long been wary of Sen. McCain. Now he must beware of a potential primary insurgent in the GOP ranks.
This week's near-simultaneous retirement announcements by Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, along with Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry's abrupt withdrawal from the 2010 governor's race, delivered a sharp reminder that the landscape for this year's elections is far from fully settled.
Democrats were suddenly left with recruiting challenges that could quickly reshape the 2010 cycle. In Connecticut, Colorado and Michigan, it’s possible that the party could end up with even stronger nominees. In North Dakota, however, it’s possible that Dorgan’s retirement will result in the GOP snatching the seat away.
But for all the reset expectations and altered narratives that resulted from the dizzying events of the past 48 hours, these are only the first set of curve balls both parties may have to contend with this year. Here are a dozen of the top still-unresolved questions about the 2010 field:
Will Kirsten Gillibrand get off easy?
Sen. Gillibrand still hasn't closed the deal with skeptical New Yorkers, a year after taking office. Strong candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, have passed on challenging her, but polling has shown Gillibrand vulnerable even to lesser opponents like former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who weighed a primary challenge.
Possible rivals still on the radar are Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), whose interest level seems to change daily, and the less-likely former Gov. George Pataki.
Is Oscar Goodman feeling lucky?
Nevada's gubernatorial race is already shaping up as a high-speed collision, with former state Attorney General Brian Sandoval emerging as the leading Republican contender to take on Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, whose dad is the Senate majority leader.
If incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons – a Republican with disastrously low public approval – decides to forego a bloody primary battle with Sandoval, the GOP would have a strong chance of retaining the seat.
Circling the race – as polling shows him a viable third-party contender – is colorful Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. Nevada pundit Jon Ralston predicted Wednesday Goodman won't pull the trigger, but the mayor hasn't made up his mind yet. Goodman and Gibbons's next roll of the dice could largely determine the course of this contest.
Will KBH touch off a special?
When Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) announced she would resign her seat to challenge Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the 2010 GOP primary, a crew of ambitious pols started scrambling for advantage in an anticipation of a special election to replace her.
Then, Hutchison announced in November she wouldn't resign after all, at least not until after the March gubernatorial primary. While Hutchison insists she'll resign regardless of the primary's outcome, other Republicans are skeptical – and impatient.
Does David Vitter get primaried?
The Louisiana Republican has been a prime target for an intra-party challenge since his 2007 prostitution scandal, but nearly all of his state's biggest players have ruled out a primary. The exception: Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, who said he was considering a bid last month.
The statewide official could be a daunting opponent for Vitter – and might make Rep. Charlie Melancon's (D-La.) general election campaign a longer shot by taking personal scandal out of the picture.
Does Dianne Feinstein go home?
The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee been toying for years with the idea of heading home to run for governor, and she hasn't nixed the idea of a 2010 race yet.
It would be a surprise if the 76-year-old Feinstein gave up her seniority to run against state Attorney General Jerry Brown in a gubernatorial primary. But she's one of the most popular politicians in the beleaguered state, with steamroller potential as a candidate.
Will the right gun for John McCain?
The Republican base has long been wary of Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.), particularly on the issue of immigration. Now, the former presidential nominee is facing a potential primary challenge from ex-Rep. J. D. Hayworth, a radio host and immigration hawk.
One December poll showed McCain ahead by 20 points in a matchup with Hayworth. But the former congressman, who lost reelection in 2006, said on-air late last month he was "testing the waters," adding: "Stay tuned."
Will Dave Freudenthal go to court?
Term limits prevent Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal from seeking a third term in 2010. Yet the race to succeed him has not taken shape. Why? Freudenthal has signaled that he might sue to overturn the law—and many believe the state’s law is ripe for challenge.
Freudenthal is probably the best Democratic hope of retaining the governorship in this conservative state. He remains coy about his intentions, but the AP reported in late December that he had paid a polling firm to survey voters’ opinions of him.
Can Democrats snag Beau Biden?
In Delaware, control of the Senate seat formerly held by Vice President Joe Biden likely comes down to his son Beau’s decision to run or not.
If Beau Biden, currently the state’s attorney general and an Iraq war veteran, doesn’t enter the contest, nearly all the smart money will be on GOP Rep. Mike Castle, a former governor.
Will Halter challenge Lincoln?
While Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has said he is focused on re-election, everyone else is focused on whether he’s making plans to take on Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the state’s May Democratic primary.
He’s already met with leading labor officials and progressive opinion leaders and won’t rule out a challenge to the only Southern Senate Democrat who is up for reelection this year.
If he does run, Lincoln would become the third Democratic incumbent facing a bruising intra-party fight this year.
Will Norm Coleman mount a comeback?
Former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman’s gradual return to the spotlight has sparked considerable speculation that the former Minnesota lawmaker might be prepping for a run for governor.
While there’s also widespread skepticism that he’ll actually do it after a punishing re-election campaign and eventual loss to Al Franken in 2008, there’s enough buzz in St. Paul to cause some donors and activists to await word from Coleman on his plans.
A decision is expected soon. If he does run and become the nominee, expect the governor’s race to be unusually nationalized—with media attention affixed to him and outgoing GOP Gov. and 2012 presidential contender Tim Pawlenty in the wake of Coleman’s epic 2008 contest.
An Ehrlich-O’Malley rematch?
A second go-around between former Maryland GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Gov. Martin O’Malley, the Democrat who defeated him in 2006, is as eagerly awaited as a rematch of a heavyweight title fight.
In Democratic Maryland, the GOP has little chance of knocking off O’Malley without Ehrlich heading its ticket. O’Malley knows it, which is why he recently sent out a fundraising email raising the specter of an Ehrlich candidacy.
Does Paterson really run again in N.Y.?
It’s hard to find many New York Democratic pols who’d like to see Gov. David Paterson at the top of ticket in November. The White House would also prefer that the unpopular governor not seek a full term.
Nevertheless, Paterson has shown no sign to date that he’s willing to step aside—and that’s caused no small amount of heartburn in Albany and Washington. It’s also raised the jarring prospect of primary clash between the governor and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, an unpleasant scenario that Democrats want to avoid because of racial connotations Paterson's allies have repeatedly raised.