2016 Match-Ups … Already!

Now that the 2014 election is finally ending, speculation begins to build around the next in-cycle group of seats.

With Gov. Sean Parnell (R) conceding defeat to Independent Bill Walker in Alaska and the two outstanding California congressional races likely soon ending in razor-thin wins for representatives Ami Bera (D-CA-7) and Jim Costa (D-CA-16), the 2014 cycle will conclude on Dec. 6 when the Louisiana run-offs are decided. Then, we can look forward to almost non-stop coverage of the impending presidential race in addition to frequent US Senate analyses.

Since Republicans will have a majority of either 53 or 54 seats depending upon whether Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) or Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA-6) wins the Louisiana campaign, the GOP will likely be forced to defend 24 of 34 states up for election in two years. Therefore, Democrats will have ample opportunity to reclaim their lost advantage, which is the storyline we can expect to hear from the major media outlets.

With this backdrop, some senators are already drawing speculation about potential opponents. Illinois is likely at the top of the Democrats’ target list since the state votes heavily with their party, particularly in presidential years. Sen. Mark Kirk (R) started the ball rolling early this week by stating unequivocally that he intends to seek re-election. Democratic speculation surrounds Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), the Iraq War vet who most of both legs in battle. Ready to give birth to her first child, the congresswoman has yet to personally comment about her Senate prospects, but a staff spokesperson did not rule out such a challenge.

New Hampshire Democrats have several prospects who would give first-term Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) all she could handle. Their first choice is former Gov. John Lynch (D), one of the few people ever to serve four consecutive terms as the state’s chief executive. He enjoyed strong popularity all through his eight years in office. (New Hampshire is one of two states, neighboring Vermont being the other, that features two-year terms for governor.) Two other possibilities are current Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) and Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH-2). Under this outlook, Democrats are virtually assured of having a top-tier challenger to Sen. Ayotte.

North Carolina voters, as they again proved in 2014, have a penchant for defeating their US senators. Two-term incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) will be on the ballot in 2016, should he choose to seek re-election, and just-defeated Sen. Kay Hagan (D) appears to be at the top of the Democrats’ prospect list. No word on whether she is considering such a move, but Democratic leaders believe she ran a sound campaign and blame her loss on the national political climate, something they believe will improve for them in the presidential election year. Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) would be another strong challenger candidate, but he seems intent on running for governor.

Should Sen. Mary Landrieu lose her run-off election, which is expected, speculation is already percolating that she could enter the fray for the Bayou State’s other seat. Sen. David Vitter (R) is likely to run for, and is the favorite to win, the governor’s office in the 2015 election. This would mean an interim senator would be appointed to the seat after his inauguration. A Landrieu challenge to a non-elected incumbent in a presidential year would have to be taken seriously, and the Democrats have no better option in their potential stable of candidates.

But, the Dems aren’t the only ones with potential challengers looming. Several people are already being mentioned as possible foes to incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D). Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is the party leaders’ first choice, but he is reiterating that he plans to serve the entire new term he just won earlier in the month. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV-2) and former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) are two other potential candidates.

With Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) sounding like a presidential candidate, Democrats are beginning to whisper former governor and congressman Ted Strickland’s name as a potential candidate. In addition to Sen. Kirk ostensibly committing to run again, Georgia’s Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) has already made public his intention to seek a third term in 2016.

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