Another oddity: This is one of the rare times in which the world of Senate races intersects with a presidential contest's orbit. In as many as four states, candidates may have to choose between running for the Senate and angling for a spot on their party's national ticket.
In Arkansas, is it possible that former GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee will challenge freshman Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor instead of continuing his pursuit of the presidency? Huckabee is the only Republican who could give Pryor a real race. But having spent almost a decade as one of the nation's lowest paid governors, Huckabee might instead opt to make serious money for a few years. Still, he would be a formidable rival, and this possibility is worth remembering.
In New Mexico, the question is whether GOP Sen. Pete Domenici, who has been damaged by fallout from the Iraq war and allegations that he improperly pressured a U.S. attorney, will retire. More to the point, will Gov. Bill Richardson, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, double back and run against the six-term senator or for the open seat if Domenici retires? For the first time in his career, the 75-year-old Domenici is very vulnerable. And the state is becoming more Democratic.
It could be a tough call for Richardson. In the Pollster.com moving poll averages for the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, Richardson is running fourth with 13 percent, just 2.2 points behind Sen. Barack Obama. (At 25.7 percent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is in a statistical tie for first with former Sen. John Edwards, who has 25.4 percent.)
Richardson is also fourth in New Hampshire, but is running third among the active Democratic candidates: Clinton is at 33.3 percent, Obama at 25 percent, Richardson at 10.2 percent, and Edwards at 9.2 percent. (Al Gore, who isn't running, is at 10.8 percent.)
In 60 days, Richardson will know whether any of the big dogs have stumbled and will have a better idea of his White House chances. New Mexico's Senate filing deadline isn't until mid-February, and he is the strongest Democrat in the state.
Another ambitious Democrat to watch is former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. Will he run for the Senate next year, effectively taking himself out of consideration for vice president, or will he hold back in hopes of getting tapped? If he isn't elected to the Senate or the vice presidency, he would be available to run for governor again in 2009; Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine cannot seek a second consecutive term. Republican Sen. John Warner, who is 80, has not indicated whether he will run for a sixth term, but he is widely expected to retire. If John Warner does run, my hunch is that Mark Warner would not challenge him; he tried that in 1996.
The word on the street is that Mark Warner expects John Warner to retire and plans to run for the vacant seat. My own view is that the two Democrats with the best chance of getting the No. 2 spot on their party's 2008 ticket are Mark Warner and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. And either would have a fair chance of bringing his state into the Democratic column. If Mark Warner really wants to be president someday, his most promising routes are by becoming his party's vice presidential nominee or by being elected to another term as governor.
One presidential hopeful with time to consider his options is Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, whose seat is up next year. State law allows Biden to simultaneously run for both offices. The state's summer filing deadline for the Senate contest and its September primary mean that all his options are open.
Although he's scoring well in some debates, Biden is not making a great deal of progress in terms of national, Iowa, or New Hampshire polling, and he isn't raising the money needed to run with the big dogs. But despite being a long shot for the presidential nomination, Biden may find his way onto the short list of vice presidential possibilities or become an early favorite for a Cabinet post.