Senate Race Analysis 2017-2018

2017-2018 Senate (Yes, I'm serious):

General Overview:

The common wisdom going into the 2012 races (when these seats were last up) was that the Democrats, thanks largely to a really good year in 2006, were horribly exposed and set up for something possibly short of a massacre (I exaggerate - sort of).  Long story short, through a combination of coattail effects, money, 'legitimate rape', 'rape is God's will', the Libertarian Party, really good candidate selection, really bad Republican candidate selection, a fortunate retirement and just plain good luck, they not only survived but thrived, picking up a net of two seats.  In doing so, they quite possibly made the map even worse for them.  The point is, though 2012 taught us that you can't take anything for granted in politics, Democrats start out defending a lot of seats that would make nice Republican targets.

Safe DLikely DLeans DTossupLeans RLikely RSafe R
New York
Rhode Island
New Mexico
West Virginia
New Jersey
North Dakota

Arizona Tossup Incumbent Jeff Flake (R)

The dynamics on the Democratic side at this distance are similar to those for the 2016 race.  On the Republican side, it's doubtful Flake will retire, though he ran a surprisingly close race in 2012.

(4/17/13) We may see Giffords v Flake shaping up here; apparently they're close friends but have had a falling-out over Flake's opposition to the Toomey-Manchin bill.  Giffords' husband Mark Kelly has already said he'll work against Flake's reelection.  Heck, he could run himself.

(4/17/13) Giffords' op-ed in the New York Times probably supports my theory: "But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.".

(4/29/13) Flake's approval is now an incredible -19, probably largely driven by the Toomey-Manchin bill vote.  I'm keeping this as a tossup for now because, as we learned from Obamacare, these swings, when driven by a single issue, tend to fade over time.

(6/1/13) Laura Ingraham has threatened to move to Arizona and primary Flake from the right.  Guy just can't catch a break.

(8/26/13) The Senate Conservatives Fund is targeting Flake on Defund Obamacare.  I doubt Flake will get much of a primary challenge over this, as he's long been known as a budget hawk and solid fiscal conservative.

California Safe D Incumbent Dianne Feinstein (D)

Feinstsein's much more popular than her colleague Boxer, but is definitely on the retirement watch list.  If she did step down she would set off a spectacular and probably massive field of candidates under the new blanket primary system.  In that event, potential candidates include AG Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and any number of congresspeople.

Connecticut Safe D Incumbent Chris Murphy (D)

Should be in little trouble thanks to the deep-blue nature of his state.

Delaware Safe D Incumbent Tom Carper (D)

Very popular, and in little danger due to the nature of his state, he may be the safest Senator up.

Florida Tossup Incumbent Bill Nelson (D)

Not particularly popular, he won in good part in 2012 because the Florida GOP didn't really get its act together.  Also on the retirement watch list.  Most of the candidates listed in Florida 2016 apply here as well.

(4/16/13) As discussed in Florida 2016, Rubio may have to retire if he wants to run for President in 2016.  If he does have to retire (and fails to be elected), he'd be a prime candidate for this seat.

(3/18/15) Governor Scott is also interested.

Hawaii Safe D Incumbent Mazie Hirono (D)

Republicans thought they had a chance here with former Gov. Lingle.  They thought wrong, no doubt in part due to Obama's 40+ point top-of-the-ticket rout, and Hirono passed 60 % of the vote.  She'll be in no danger.

Indiana Tossup Incumbent Joe Donnelly (D)

Donnelly was running for his political life when he became the second-luckiest candidate of the year (the luckiest, of course, was Claire McCaskill) as opponent Richard Mourdock kind of imploded after a rape-related gaffe (Donnelly's district was made more Republican after his recount win against now-Rep. Jackie Walorski in 2010, and he was widely expected to lose a rematch).  He's fairly moderate and shouldn't be counted out despite the state's Republican lean.  Potential Republican candidates include virtually every member of the state's congressional delegation, Gov. Pence, former Gov. Daniels, and probably a bunch of statewide elected officers as well.

(7/12/13) Two others to watch, according to Roll Call, are House Speaker Brian Bosma and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.

Maine Likely I/D/R Incumbent Angus King (I)

I realize my rating here seems fairly ridiculous if you think about it for a minute, but there's good reason; King is Independent who caucuses with the Democrats but might caucus with Republicans if they win a majority.  Let's just say that whoever occupies this seat in 6 years will probably be named Angus King.

(6/17/13) Perhaps I should just call it 'Likely K'.

Maryland Likely D Incumbent Ben Cardin (D)

I rate this as likely D because Cardin's actually gotten fairly low vote percentages in his two elections (54% and 55%), even though I seriously doubt he'd actually lose.  He's also a retirement possibility, in which case there are a number of Dem congressmen to take his place; soon-to-be-former Gov. Martin O'Malley is another possibility if his expected bid for president fails.

Massachusetts Safe D Incumbent Elizabeth Warren (D)

Right now it looks like Warren's seat for as long as she wants it.  She might run for President, though I have my doubts she'd win.

Michigan Likely D Incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D)

Republicans' best chance at this seat might have been 2012, but Pete Hoekstra imploded quietly in the background and Stabenow won a smashing reelection and rehabilitated her image at the same time.  She'll have to start as a solid favorite unless conditions change significantly.  Potential candidates include Gov. Snyder, AG Bill Schuette, or one of the number of Republican Reps. in the state's delegation.

(5/10/13) Michiganders tend to like their Secretaries of State, so you can probably add Ruth Johnson to the list of Republicans.

(5//26/13) Also Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

Minnesota Safe D Incumbent Amy Klobuchar (D)

Klobuchar's very popular back home, and shouldn't have any trouble, though this seat would become more competitive if she was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Mississippi Safe R Incumbent Roger Wicker (R)

Mississippi is deep red.  Enough said.

Missouri Leans R Incumbent Claire McCaskill (D)

McCaskill was generally considered to be headed for defeat when she was handed a really late birthday gift in the form of Republican primary winner Todd Akin, whose subsequent self-destruction we need not recount here (just Google "todd akin legitimate rape" if you somehow missed it).  She currently posts the second-lowest approval rating of any Senator (according to PPP), at -8, and any non-suicidal Republican should start out ahead.  Potential Republicans include Rep. Ann Wagner, presumably-soon-to-be Rep. Jason Smith, and state Auditor Tom Schweich.

(10/3/13) Roll Call suggests former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway is another possible candidate; meanwhile, Smith might not survive the 2014 elections.

Montana Tossup Incumbent Jon Tester (R)

Another Dem expected to lose (Nate Silver and Larry Sabato, among others, projected a Republican win), he was saved in whole or in part by the spoiler effect of the Libertarian Party.  Though he shouldn't be discounted, he's barely scraped by twice.  Potential Republicans include Rep. Steve Daines, or his successor if he decides to go after Max Baucus.

(1/2/14) Tester's 2012 opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, is looking at running for his old seat.  If he wins it back, he'd be a top candidate in this race if for no other reason than Montana Republicans have a really thin bench.

Nebraska Safe R Incumbent Deb Fischer (R)

The circumstances here are pretty similar to those in Hawaii (switch the parties, and substitute a smaller coattail effect and slightly smaller margin of victory).

Nevada Tossup Incumbent Dean Heller (R)

Surviving 2012 in a swing state is no mean feat, particularly since the Republicans lost every other close race (save Arizona, which shouldn't have been close in the first place), and Obama won the state by 7.  That said, he won by about a point against an opponent under an ethics investigation, and Nevada will probably only get bluer.  He does have a decent approval rating, so a tossup on balance.

(4/29/13) Heller's approval has taken a bit of a hit recently over Toomey-Manchin, down from +5 to +3 (scroll down at the link).

New Jersey Leans D Incumbent Bob Menendez (D)

There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding this seat, mainly because its occupant is embroiled in a complex scandal involving, among other things, Medicare fraud, underage Dominican prostitutes, a Florida eye doctor, and unreported luxury plane rides worth a significant chunk of the Senator's life savings.  This could, obviously, result in resignation, particularly as he could be facing up to thirty years in jail if the prostitution allegations are true.  Assuming he does manage to cling to the seat all the way to 2018, he could retire a la Bob Torricelli, or be primaried (half the state's Democratic congressmen, Reps. Rush Holt, Frank Pallone, and Rob Andrews, have run for, or expressed interest in running for, the Senate).  In the probably unlikely scenario he is the Democratic nominee, he'll be a top target for Republicans, with potential candidates being 2012 nominee Joe Kyrillos, Rep. Chris Smith or Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

(1/24/14) Menendez is at least out of the water on the prostitution stuff, but is now being investigated in connection with a pair of fugitive Ecuadorian bankers.

(3/6/15) Looks like Menendez is facing criminal charges after all.

New Mexico Likely D Incumbent Martin Heinrich (D)

Heather Wilson ran what I thought was a solid race against Heinrich (Obama won by 10, Heinrich 6), but he's reasonably popular in a blue state, so he shouldn't have too much trouble unless the Republicans can nominate a very good candidate like Gov. Martinez (another one who seems more likely to run for President), though a more likely candidate would be Lt. Gov. John Sanchez or Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.

(7/26/13) Berry looks set to win a commanding reelection as mayor, getting 59% in a SurveyUSA poll, with his Democratic rival getting 17% (who appears to be a fairly strong candidate) and a fellow Republican taking 9%.  If he can hold up that kind of popularity in one of the more Democratic areas of the state, he might be a formidable candidate.

New York Safe D Incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand (D)

Anyone who wins by over 70 points has nothing to fear.  Might run for President but probably only if Cuomo doesn't.

North Dakota Leans R Incumbent Heidi Heitkamp (R)

Heitkamp's victory here was the great upset of the year, as even Nate Silver, who got the presidential race damn near perfect, had odds of a Republican victory at 92.5%.  Heitkamp will be seriously vulnerable to a stronger Republican.  Possibilities include Rep. Kevin Cramer, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.

(6/1/13) Perhaps I should explain my reasoning a bit more.  Heitkamp is unquestionably a good candidate.  Most polls during the campaign put her net favorability well into positive territory.  The other aspect of the 2012 race, however, was that her opponent, Rick Berg was, relatively speaking, a bad candidate.  He started the campaign with a total approval rating of 33%.  By the end his net favorability was hovering near zero.  For a Republican in North Dakota, that's bad.  By comparison, Dalrymple has a net approval rating north of +40 (Incidentally, he's run for Senate twice before).  Heitkamp beat Berg by less than a point.

Ohio Tossup Incumbent Sherrod Brown (D)

Brown is decently popular with Ohioans, though he only won by 5.5 points against a guy with a -14 favorability rating who ran, in Larry Sabato's words, a "disaster" of a campaign (the closest Senate race there in 36 years).  He'll be vulnerable to any decent Republican.  There are a number of possible candidates, including a variety of congressmen (the GOP holds 75% of the 16-member delegation) and statewide elected officials, including, possibly, Mandel himself, if he reapplies himself to his job and rehabilitates his image (he remains quite popular with the base).

(8/20/13) The strongest Republican to take on Brown might be the man he unseated in 2006 - now-state Attorney General Mike DeWine, who boasts a very solid +21 net job approval.  Meanwhile, Mandel may not survive 2014; his opponent Connie Pillich leads him by 5.

Pennsylvania Leans D Incumbent Bob Casey Jr. (D)

Casey got caught with his political pants down late in the race, but early enough to recover for a decent reelection.  He should be the early favorite.  The GOP have a number of Reps. who could be candidates (here, as in Ohio, they hold an outsize majority in the delegation).

Rhode Island Safe D Incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

See Connecticut and/or Delaware.

Tennessee Safe R Incumbent Bob Corker (R)

The Democrats will presumably have a real candidate this time, but it won't matter.

Texas Likely R Incumbent Ted Cruz (R)

Cruz is just controversial enough to earn the Likely R, though it's worth noting his approval rating is a fair bit higher than that of his colleague, John Cornyn.  By this point, one of the Castro brothers might be ready to take him on.

Utah Safe R Incumbent Orrin Hatch (R) (Retiring)

Hatch has already said he'll retire.  Replacements will probably come from the state's congressional delegation.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz is probably the frontrunner, though Rep. Chris Stewart is another possibility.  Two to watch would be Hatch primary challenger and State Senator Dan Liljenquist, and 2012 congressional candidate Mia Love, who would become the frontrunner if she beat Jim Matheson in a 2014 rematch (she is a serious rising star on the right, even more so than Chaffetz).

(4/17/13) Love will take on Matheson again.

(12/17/13) Matheson won't run for reelection.  Love is basically Representative-elect.

(6/6/14) So maybe, possibly, Hatch might not decide to retire after all.

Vermont Safe I/D Incumbent Bernie Sanders (I)

Sanders might retire.  If he doesn't, a third term's his.  If he does, some Democrat will replace him, maybe one of the two mentioned in Vermont 2016.

Virginia Leans D Incumbent Tim Kaine (D)

Kaine isn't nearly as popular as his fellow Senator and predecessor as Governor Warner, though he beat George Allen well enough that I'm calling this Leans D for now (it's usually a good idea to err on the side of the incumbent party).  Most speculation will probably be on whether Governor McDonnell, another guy who probably has higher ambitions, will decide to break the 16-year tradition of Virginia Governors running for Senator.  Another race to keep an eye on is the 2013 gubernatorial, as winning would be a nice stepping-stone for Cuccinelli to give this race a go.  If both pass, the GOP has plenty of Congressmen to choose from.

(5/12/13) While we'll have to see if the FBI investigation into McDonnell goes anywhere, in the current state he would be a formidable opponent for Cuccinelli - 64% of Virginians now have a favorable impression of him, including 52% of Democrats.  He might have trouble winning a Republican primary, though, thanks to his transportation initiatives.

(7/9/13) Two months later, the investigations into McDonnell have most definitely gone somewhere.  There's a lot to summarize, so I'll just say that a blogger a few days ago claimed McDonnell would be taking a plea deal in which he resigns as Governor.  It turned out to be false, but that that claim was treated as credible tells you all you need to know.

Washington Safe D Incumbent Maria Cantwell (D)

See Rhode Island.

West Virginia Likely D Incumbent Joe Manchin (D)

Manchin should be safe if he runs for reelection; even though the foundation under the state party seems to be cracking, he's very popular (and has achieved the popularity trifecta of excellent approval ratings among Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike).  If he retires (I haven't seen any indication he will do so), this would be at most a tossup, and more likely leaning R.  Potential candidates are similar to those mentioned in West Virginia 2014, with Rep. David McKinley added to the mix for Republicans.

(6/17/13) Manchin is looking like he might be planning to run for reelection.

(9/25/13) Manchin's approval has taken a huge hit recently.  PPP's new poll has it at +2 net; the next most recent poll I could find had it at +38 net.

(5/5/14) Manchin is thinking about running for Governor again in 2016.  If he runs and wins, a Democrat will appoint his successor (either him or Tomblin).  My early guess is Natalie Tennant.  With an incumbent other than Manchin, I'd probably rate this Tossup.  Even if he doesn't run, he sounds like a guy sick of Washington (this phenomenon is fairly common among Governors-turned-Senators), and retirement is a real possibility.

Wisconsin Tossup Incumbent Tammy Baldwin (D)

Baldwin basically won by riding Obama's coattails against an opponent damaged by a bloody primary who was outspent by $6,000,000 and admitted himself to being not up to a close race.  She ended the campaign with a -6 favorability, but is now enjoying +6 (whether this is permanent or a honeymoon remains to be seen).  Rs have a number of possible candidates, including Reps. Sean Duffy, Reid Ribble, and Paul Ryan (may have higher ambitions), as well as Governor Walker, Lt. Gov. Kleefisch, and AG JB Van Hollen.

Wyoming Safe R Incumbent John Barrasso (R)

See New York (but strike that bit about running for President).

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