By Jim Ellis
March 21, 2017 — Today, we continue to examine the latest happenings for the coming 2018 Senate campaigns.
• New Mexico: The open governor’s race is attracting most of the early political attention in the Land of Enchantment. Once the field to replace term-limited Gov. Susana Martinez (R) solidifies itself, it’s possible we could see more interest develop for opposing first-term Sen. Martin Heinrich (D). Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, US Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs), and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry are all potential Republican gubernatorial candidates. So far, only State Labor Commissioner Mick Rich (R) is an announced US Senate candidate.
• New York: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is preparing for re-election to a second six-year term in 2018. Presidential overtones will affect this race, as the senator is being mentioned as a possible national Democratic candidate. Little in the way of Republican Senate opposition is forming against her right now.
• North Dakota: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) attracted a great deal of media attention when President Trump first interviewed her for Agriculture Secretary during the post-election transition period. A 50-49 percent winner in 2012, Heitkamp defeated one-term at-large US Rep. Rick Berg (R), and now she prepares for a second term possibly against another at-large congressman. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) says he will decide whether to run for the Senate “in the next few months.” Obviously, a Heitkamp-Cramer race would be a hard fought contest, but it is far from certain that the congressman will make the challenge. This is clearly a race to watch, and a top Republican conversion target, especially if Rep. Cramer decides to run.
• Ohio: State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) returns for a re-match of the 2012 contest that saw Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) win a second term with a 51-45 percent margin. As usual, Ohio will be one of the most politically competitive states in the nation, as the critical open governor’s race is already drawing a myriad of candidates. So far, the Senate contest has been quiet but we can expect the Brown-Mandel II race to cost considerably more than the combined $40 million that the pair spent five years ago.
• Pennsylvania: While Republicans had their best election year of this century in 2016 when carrying the state for President Trump, re-electing Sen. Pat Toomey (R) and every GOP US House incumbent, as well as expanding party control in the state legislature, the positive showing has yet to generate keen interest in challenging two-term Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D). At this point, only state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth) and Berwick Borough Councilman Andrew Shecktor have declared their candidacies. While Sen. Casey could be considered at least marginally vulnerable, Republican candidate recruitment needs to improve if the party is to have any chance of converting this seat next November.
• Rhode Island: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) scored a 65-35 percent re-election victory in 2012, and his quest for a third term next year should end similarly. Only state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo (R-Coventry) has announced for the Senate. Whitehouse is a prohibitive favorite for re-election is this most Democratic of states.
• Tennessee: Sen. Bob Corker (R) comes in-cycle for a third term, but some rumors still surface about him entering the open race for governor. Sen. Corker is in strong position for re-election, and would obviously be a top gubernatorial candidate if he chooses to move toward such a race. The Senate contest hinges on Corker’s ultimate decision. It is probable that he will seek re-election and easily win a third term.
• Texas: 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R) stands for re-election, and is drawing challenge interest from two Democratic US House members. Both representatives Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) and Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) are openly considering running for the Senate. O’Rourke seems more committed to the race, while Rep. Castro said he will decide four or five weeks from now. It is probable that Rep. O’Rourke will enter the race and highly implausible that the two congressmen will oppose each other in the Democratic primary. That is especially true when considering that unseating Sen. Cruz is a long shot, at best.
For a time, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin) reportedly had considered challenging Sen. Cruz for the Republican nomination, but such talk has died down in recent weeks. The Texas race will draw institutional Democratic national party support and backing from liberal political action organizations, but Sen. Cruz begins his re-election effort as a clear favorite in this consistently Republican state.