June 26, 2015 — Former Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who unseated then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) in 2008 only to lose six years later to Sen. Thom Tillis (R), 47-49 percent, Wednesday announced that she would not challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R). Polling consistently made her the strongest Democrat to challenge the two-term incumbent Republican, but even she was nowhere near upset position.
Democrats do not yet have a viable candidate in the state that has defeated the most senators since the 1960s.
Red and Blue Recruitment
As we approach the midway point of the off-year, it is a good time to check how the two parties are faring in regard to candidate recruitment. A quick, cursory glance tells us that each side has a success ratio of about .500.
Thirty-four Senate races are on tap for next year and, at this point in the election cycle, it appears that half, or 17, are competitive or have the potential of becoming so.
For the Democrats, who are protecting only 10 of the 34 in-cycle Senate seats, the recruitment grades are mixed:
Arizona: Convincing Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) to challenge five-term Sen. John McCain (R) is a major coup. Kirkpatrick is a top Democratic recruitment success and makes this race competitive in the fall.
Alaska: The party has no viable candidate against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) at this time.
Arkansas: Polling shows that only former Gov. Mike Beebe (D) would be a viable challenger to Sen. John Boozman (R), but the ex-state chief executive shows no interest in returning to the political arena. Beyond Beebe, the Democratic recruitment picture is bleak.
California: Democrats hope they can qualify two party members for the general election. In any event, Attorney General Kamala Harris’ strong early performance puts the party in excellent position to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).
Florida: If they get Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter) through the primary, then the Democrats will have succeeded in fielding a very competitive open-seat candidate. Should Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) win the nomination, the opposite will occur.
Illinois: The party’s plan to recruit Chicago suburban Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) has been implemented. Challenging Sen. Mark Kirk (R) may give the Democrats their best chance of unseating a GOP incumbent.
Indiana: Having former Rep. Baron Hill (D-Bloomington) as their lone candidate cannot be considered a Democratic recruitment success. Hill has twice lost his congressional seat as an incumbent, and previously failed to secure a US Senate seat. He will run a credible campaign, but his track record suggests the Democrats cannot be considered anything more than a decided underdog in what is normally a Republican state. Former senator and governor Evan Bayh was the party leaders’ first choice, but he will not run.
Kentucky: Despite Sen. Rand Paul (R) attempting to run for both president and Senate, the Democrats still have no viable candidate. Their first choice is outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear, but he has shown no inclination toward running.
Maryland: If they can avoid a messy primary between representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-Montgomery County) and Donna Edwards (D-Prince Georges County), and maybe others, the Democrats should have little trouble holding retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D) seat.
Missouri: Recruited candidate Jason Kander (D), Missouri’s Secretary of State, was the party leaders’ first choice to oppose Sen. Roy Blunt (R). Mr. Kander will make the race somewhat competitive, but his chances of unseating Blunt in a presidential year with the state trending heavily Republican are tentative at best.
New Hampshire: The Dems want Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) to challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). She will decide in July whether to seek re-election or run for Senate. A difficult legislative session has weakened Hassan. Prognostications now suggest she will seek re-election. If so, look to Rep. Annie Kuster (D-Concord) or former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-Rochester).
Nevada: The first choice to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) is Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, and she is in the race. This will be a highly competitive open seat campaign, likely against Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson).
North Carolina: As mentioned above, not having former Sen. Kay Hagan (D) means the Democrats are looking at a second tier candidate. This makes them severe underdogs against two-term Sen. Richard Burr (R).
Ohio: The party wanted former Governor Ted Strickland (D) as their candidate, and he is running. But, after losing both the Governor’s chair and his congressional post as an incumbent suggests he does have weaknesses as a candidate. Incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) is one of the stronger politicians on the Republican side. It would likely take a Democratic presidential wave to sweep Strickland in, but that scenario is not outside the realm of possibility.
Pennsylvania: Things could not be going worse here for the Democratic leadership. They have made it clear that they don’t want former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Delaware County) back as their Senate nominee, but he appears to be leading the Democratic primary. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is catching a major break in the early going, but PA is always a tough state for Republicans.
Wisconsin: Continuing the Democrats’ tradition of attempting to recruit incumbents who have lost their seats, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) returns to attempt to unseat the man who defeated him six years ago. Polling looks good for Feingold today, but will it when people are reminded why they defeated him?
Republicans have fewer offensive opportunities:
California: Republicans have no chance here and little opportunity in the way of recruiting a viable general election candidate. Democrats will retain this open seat.
Colorado: The GOP has so far failed to recruit any major candidate to challenge Sen. Michael Bennet (D). All of their top choices, including Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora), have decided not to run statewide.
Florida: It appears the GOP will be strong regardless of who wins their nomination. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Daytona) and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera are the main contenders, and both will run well in November. Former Attorney General and Congressman Bill McCollum (R-Orlando), who has lost three statewide races, continues to consider the race but appears unlikely to enter. This might become the best race in the country.
Indiana: With Sen. Dan Coats retiring, the Republicans appear in strong shape with either Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ft. Wayne) or former state party chairman Eric Holcomb as their nominee. Stutzman will move closer to the center for the general election, should he be nominated. Rep. Todd Young (R-Bloomington) is still a potential Senate candidate, and would be viable.
Maryland: Unless Rep. Andy Harris (R-Eastern Shore) joins the Senate campaign, the Democrats will easily hold the open seat. Should Harris run the race becomes more viable, but the Republicans will still be major underdogs.
Nevada: All signs indicate that we are days away from Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) joining the Senate contest. A Heck-Masto general election campaign will become one of the best in the country.