By Jim Ellis
Jan. 9, 2017 — Continuing our five-part political journey around America, we now look at the next nine states — North Carolina through South Dakota — examining whether certain members from the various federal delegations are looking to retire and/or seek a different office.
North Carolina: After a heavy 2016 political cycle, Tar Heel State voters will get a political respite for the election two years hence. With no governor or US Senate race on the ballot, the 13 congressional races will lead the North Carolina ballot. After a mid-decade redistricting battle, the 10R-3D delegation split did not change.
Though Democrats won their lawsuit, they are now suing again because they still did not like the final results. Unless the districts again change, 12 of the 13 incumbents should be in strong re-election position. The lone exception will be Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-Charlotte), whose new district is 60 percent different than his former one and is politically marginal. He can be assured of tougher opposition in 2018, and a strong campaign being waged against him. Just barely winning his 2016 nomination battle in the new 9th district, he can potentially expect another Republican primary challenge, too.
North Dakota: With it now clear that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) will not be joining the Trump Administration, the North Dakota Senate race becomes a top national Republican target. At-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) is now acknowledging that he is at least considering a run for the Senate. He would likely be the national Republicans’ top choice as Heitkamp’s opponent. Should Cramer enter the Senate contest, the race would be rated a toss-up. His open House district would lead to a major convention nomination battle for Republicans, with the eventual GOP nominee being the favorite to hold the seat in the general election. Should Cramer not challenge Heitkamp he would be safe for re-election, yet the Senate race will still be highly competitive.
Ohio: The open governor’s race is already bringing a number of Buckeye State politicos to the forefront, including Attorney General and former US Senator Mike DeWine, but sans a Republican House member. For the Democrats speculation surrounds Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Warren/Youngstown), the lone sitting House member who is a potential gubernatorial candidate.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) stands for a third term and will likely again face state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R). The two battled for the seat in 2012, with Sen. Brown prevailing, 51-45 percent. The lower mid-term turnout rate (the 2014 participation rate was 45 percent lower than 2012, for example) could help Mandel since Democrats have not fared well in non-presidential election years. Mandel has already announced his intention to again run for the Senate. The 16-member House delegation appears secure.
Oklahoma: There is no Sooner State Senate race in the coming cycle and Gov. Mary Fallin (R) cannot seek a third term. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) self-term-limited during the 2012 campaign, so he is unlikely to seek re-election in 2018. He is mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate. With only one statewide official in position to seek re-election, it becomes more likely that those having a statewide constituency are more apt to enter the open governor’s race. This means most of the congressional delegation will stay put. All are Republican and each has a safe seat.
Oregon: The Beaver State is another locale that has no Senate race in 2018, though Gov. Kate Brown (D) will be on the ballot to secure a four-year term. Gov. Brown, then Secretary of State, ascended to the state’s top position when Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) resigned under a scandal cloud. She ran in a special 2016 election, defeating former Oregon Medical Association president Bud Pierce, 51-43 percent. But, that election was to fill the balance of Kitzhaber’s last term, so now she will have the opportunity to win a four-year term in the current election cycle. The five-member congressional delegation is secure, and all appear poised to seek another term.
Pennsylvania: Because the Republican presidential nominee carried the Keystone State for the first time since 1988, in addition to Sen. Pat Toomey (R) simultaneously getting re-elected, Republicans are optimistic about the upcoming statewide elections. Both Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) are expected to face competitive re-election battles.
The only potential candidate name coming from the congressional delegation so far, however, appears to be Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford) who has proven he possesses the fundraising network capable of financing a strong Senate campaign in a big, media-heavy state. At this point, Rep. Meehan is uncommitted about running statewide, but has certainly not ruled out such a challenge. In a tough 2016 campaign year, the Republican congressional map held intact meaning the party kept its 13-5 advantage in the 18-member delegation. Prospects for all incumbents who seek re-election retaining their seats in the next election are high, but the Meehan vacancy, should it occur, would yield a competitive general election in the portions of five counties that comprise the Philadelphia suburbs.
Rhode Island: The big Ocean State campaign appears to be the governor’s race, as incumbent Gina Raimondo (D), who was originally elected in a three-way contest with just 41 percent of the vote, is potentially vulnerable in both the primary and general election. Already, 2014 Democratic primary opponent Clay Pell, the grandson of the late former six-term Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI), is making noises about challenging the governor for re-nomination. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the 2014 Republican nominee who scored 36 percent, is also taking steps to build another campaign.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) will be on the ballot for a third term and is not expected to face particularly credible opposition. Both Reps. David Cicilline (D-Providence) and Jim Langevin (D-Warwick) are in solid shape to win again in 2018, after scoring 64 and 58 percent respective re-election victories this past November.
South Carolina: What was shaping up to be a major open gubernatorial campaign since Gov. Nikki Haley (R) cannot seek a third term may now become more ordinary. The governor’s nomination as US Ambassador to the United Nations means that Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) will ascend to the state’s top position upon the former’s confirmation to the national post. Since McMaster will be able to seek at least one election in his own right, chances are strong that he will earn a virtual free ride for the 2018 party nomination. With that, he will be a strong favorite to prevail in the general. There is no in-cycle US Senate seat during the next campaign year, and the major House activity will be a mid-2017 special election to replace Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill), President-Elect Trump’s choice to head the Office of Management & Budget.
South Dakota: The Mount Rushmore State is another that will feature no US Senate competition in 2018, meaning the focus will be on the open governor’s race and the at-large open House seat. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-Castlewood) has already announced that she will run for governor, since incumbent Dennis Daugaard (R) is term-limited. Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) and possibly several others will likely challenge her. Democrats will field a credible nominee, meaning the general election may attract some notice. Featuring now an at-large open House seat means we can expect a large number of candidates filing, particularly on the Republican side. The eventual GOP nominee will be an early prohibitive favorite to hold the district in the party column.