Obama's class of 2008 in Senate faces reelection fight

When Barack Obama won a historic victory in 2008, eight Democratic candidates captured Senate seats that had been in Republican hands.

Those same Democrats are now facing their first reelection campaigns in a less friendly political climate, and defending themselves from attacks based on their support for President Obama's healthcare law and other policies of the administration.

This class of Obama represents perennial swing states like New Hampshire, bluer states like Minnesota, or reliably red states like Alaska. If they can hang on in 2014, the party will probably extend its eight-year majority in the Senate. But any cracks in the Democratic firewall would probably give Republicans control of Congress for the final years of Obama’s presidency.

Here’s a snapshot of the candidates and what they face in 2014:

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Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska):
Begich narrowly unseated an Alaska legend, longtime Sen. Ted Stevens, even though Obama lost the state to John McCain (and his running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin). Polls suggest he may not be able to pull it off a second time in the Republican-leaning state. But he has focused on state-specific issues in hopes of securing a second term.
2008 results:
Begich 47.8%, Stevens 46.5%; Obama 37.9%, McCain 59.4%
Obama approval rating*: 33.5%
Potential opponents:
2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, former Atty. Gen. Dan Sullivan

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Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.):

Obama accepted his party's nomination for president in 2008 before more than 80,000 supporters at a football stadium in Denver. Udall, then a congressman, eagerly campaigned with him that year and joined him again in the closing days of his 2012 reelection campaign. Now, Udall is feeling the heat from voters over the problematic rollout of Obamacare, and in November proposed allowing individuals to keep canceled plans for two more years.

2008 results: Udall 52.8%, Schaffer 42.5%; Obama 53.5%, McCain 44.9%
Obama approval rating*: 42.3%
Potential opponents: 2010 Senate nominee Ken Buck, state Rep. Amy Stephens

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Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.):
Franken, the former "Saturday Night Live" player and comedian, won the narrowest of elections in 2008. He actually wasn't sworn in until July 2009, after a recount and subsequent challenge by incumbent Norm Coleman was settled. 
2008 results:
Franken 41.9%, Coleman 41.9%; Obama 54.2%, McCain 44%
Obama approval rating*: 48.2%
Potential opponents: businessman Mike McFadden, state Rep. Jim Abeler, state Sen. Julianne Ortman

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Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H):

Jeanne Shaheen's 2008 victory against Republican Sen. John Sununu was part of a clean sweep for Democrats in New Hampshire that year. It also made Shaheen the first woman in U.S. history to serve as both a senator and governor, which she did over three terms from 1997 to 2003. Her race will test whether her deep ties to the state win out over the problems of Obamacare in New Hampshire. Republican hopes may depend on whether former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown decides to run.

2008 results: Shaheen 51.6%, Sununu 45.3%; Obama 54.4%, McCain 44.7%
Obama approval rating*: 44.6%
Potential opponents: former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, former Sen. Bob Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.):

When Republican Pete Domenici announced his retirement ahead of the 2008 election, all three of New Mexico's congressmen - Udall and Republicans Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce - ran for his seat. Udall ultimately defeated Pearce to join his cousin, Mark, in moving from the House to the Senate. Udall appears safe in his reelection bid in a state that has turned from purple to a light shade of blue in the last decade. But Obama's relative unpopularity and a strong campaign by the state's Republican governor, Susana Martinez, will keep Udall on his toes.

2008 results: Udall 61.3%, Pearce 38.7%; Obama 56.7%, McCain 42.0%
Obama approval rating*: 45.0%
Potential opponents: 2010 gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh

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Bill Clark / Getty Images

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.):

Merkley's victory over incumbent Republican Gordon Smith help put Democrats on the cusp of a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. Now, Democrats need to keep the seat to avoid losing their narrow hold on the upper chamber. As a senator, Merkley has made his mark by successfully leading the charge to end the use of the filibuster to block presidential nominations.

2008 results: Merkley 48.9%, Smith 45.6%; Obama 57.1%, McCain 40.0%
Obama approval rating*: 45.4%
Potential opponents: physician Monica Wehby, state Rep. Jason Conger

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J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.):

The 2008 Virginia Senate race pitted two of the commonwealth's former governors against each other: Warner and Republican Jim Gilmore. But the race was never close. Warner, who had left office in 2006 with strong popularity, easily defeated Gilmore, as Obama made history by becoming the first Democrat in generations to carry Virginia. Warner was seen as one of the safest Democrats ahead of the 2014 election. But former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie decided to enter the race in January, sensing an opportunity to take advantage of a national anti-Obama wave.

2008 results: Warner 65.0%, Gilmore 33.7%; Obama 52.7%, McCain 46.3%
Obama approval rating*: 46.4%
Potential opponents: former RNC chair Ed Gillespie

*Obama approval rating based on Gallup data, released Jan. 27.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

Twitter: @mikememoli