An Early Look At The ’18 Senate Races

The dust has yet to completely settle on the 2016 election but it is already time for political junkies to start looking ahead to 2018. My biggest interest has always been the Senate and I’d like to give the 2018 Senate races a preview today.

The basic numbers look good for the Republicans. 2018 is a mid-term election and Democrats have a history of poor turnouts in mid-terms. Even before we begin to look at specific races the other huge advantage the GOP has is that it is defending 8 seats while the Democrats (when you include the two independents that caucus with them) have to defend 25.

Looking at the Republican side I think they should be favored to successfully defend all eight. The only two possible Democratic pickups (and that is being extremely optimistic) are Jeff Flake’s seat in purplish Arizona and Dean Heller’s seat in Democratic leaning Nevada. Of the two I’d have to say Nevada where the Democratic organization is rather strong, demographics are ahead of Arizona in turning Democratic, the union movement is formidable and the Republican Party machine is almost non-existent is the better of the two.

All is not boring on the Republican side; in fact I think the most interesting contest of all could be in Texas where Ted Cruz is up for reelection. Cruz is far from popular with the Republican establishment. He has open presidential aspirations and taking him down would be good for the GOP establishment. The challenge to Cruz would come in a primary. Texas will elect a Republican to the Senate in November of 2018 the only question is whether or not their name will be Ted Cruz. I expect this to be 2018’s most expensive Senatorial primary. Cruz can raise a lot of money from the extreme right fringes of the GOP. The establishment could certainly match him dollar for dollar if they wish. Texas is so red that finding a viable primary challenger should not be a problem. While it won’t affect the seat count in the Senate this is the early race I’ll be watching the most intently. If Cruz does not attract a well-funded primary challenger it will tell us a lot about the state of the national GOP.

Looking at Senate races this early a wild card is projecting whether people will retire or not. On the Republican side the most likely retiree is Utah’s Orrin Hatch. I can’t see where that will matter much since I don’t see a Democrat winning in Utah regardless of their Republican opponent.

On the Democratic side the most likely retirees are Dianne Feinstein of California, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida; each one is a very different case. What Feinstein does really doesn’t matter much. As Utah is solid red, California is solid blue. Menendez has been controversial and has some clouds hanging over his head. New Jersey is solid blue but a controversial Menendez could get upset while a generic Democrat should be victorious. Democrats would welcome a Menendez retirement announcement. Florida is about as purple as you can get. It is also one of the most expensive states to run in. Bill Nelson should be able to raise sufficient money and get reelected (though the latter is far from a guarantee). In an open seat contest I would expect a competitive race and a GOP pickup would not be shocking.

Speaking of retirements, the holiday break is often the time Senators do some soul searching, talk to family and decide whether to run one more time or not. You can expect some retirement announcements in early 2017 and the picture will get a bit clearer.

There are six other vulnerable Democrats. That vulnerability breaks down into two categories. The first are four that are running in purple or red states. They are Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana. The other two are running in what have traditionally been blue states but Donald Trump won in 2016. They are Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Debbie Stabenow in Michigan. Scott Walker has built a strong machine in Wisconsin and the union vote is no longer as reliable as it once was in Michigan. Both ladies should win but it won’t be cheap or easy.

An interesting case is Joe Manchin in West Virginia. West Virginia is very red but Manchin is the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and has a powerful personal following in West Virginia. If he chooses to run again (and he is rumored not to like life in DC much) he will win. Should he decide not to run I have a difficult time envisioning the Democrats retaining his seat.

Just for the sake of information here are the remaining Senators up for reelection in 2018 whose seats I consider safe at this point: Republicans John Barrasso of Wyoming, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Deb Fisher of Nebraska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi; along with Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tom Carper of Delaware, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kirstin Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. For the record the two independents are Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

One factor I did not mention is a Senator not up for reelection who vacates their seat like Jeff Sessions of Alabama if he is confirmed for Attorney General. Barring death or a serious disabling injury I do not expect a Senator to give a seat that could not be successfully defended by their Party.

Well there is my early look and nobody can accuse me of being Pollyannaish or a cheerleader for the Democrats.

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One thought on “An Early Look At The ’18 Senate Races”

  1. And now I’m hearing that Rick Scott may be considering running for Nelson’s seat here in Florida. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre.

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