Breaking Down the Senate Races

Oct. 8, 2015 — Gov. Maggie Hassan’s (D-NH) announcement Monday that she will challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) changes the national Senate picture. Adding New Hampshire to the most highly competitive category is certainly an advantage for the Democrats but, even so, they are still short of obtaining what they need to recapture the Senate majority they lost in 2014.

As we know, 34 Senate seats are in-cycle for 2016, 24 of which majority Republicans hold. In order to gain control, Democrats must protect all 10 of their seats and convert four Republican states.

Looking ahead as to where the campaigns might find themselves in political prime time, those key eight weeks before the election, we’ve put together the following categories to show how the races break down state to state:

Most Highly Competitive: Toss-ups

  • Florida: Sen. Marco Rubio (R) – Running for President
    Featuring a Sunshine State electorate that routinely votes in close margins, both Democrats and Republicans have strong 2016 candidate fields. The Florida Senate contest could well turn into the best race in the nation, potentially deciding which party controls the Senate in the next Congress. Representatives Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), David Jolly (R-FL-13), and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera are the featured Republicans. Democrats are fielding representatives Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) and Alan Grayson (D-FL-9).
  • Illinois: Sen. Mark Kirk (R)
    Sen. Kirk’s likely opponent: Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8). Illinois is likely the Democrats’ best conversion opportunity, particularly since Kirk defeated a weakened Democratic opponent in a strong Republican year. The state’s Democratic nature makes Kirk’s re-election a difficult prospect.
  • Nevada: Sen. Harry Reid (D) – Retiring
    The general election is already set between former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3). The state has been leaning D, but R’s swept the political board in 2014. Rep. Heck is a strong Republican recruit. This race will go down to the wire, as will the presidential contest in Nevada.
  • New Hampshire: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R)
    Democrats recruiting Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) as a Senate candidate is a strong move. Ayotte maintains the smallest of leads in polling across the board. The wild political swings within this electorate since 2006 makes this a wild card race.
  • Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson (R)
    The 2016 contest will be a re-match from six years earlier when Johnson unseated then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D). So far, the early polling favors Feingold in the return campaign, but the political atmosphere next year will leave the outcome of this political contest in doubt until the very end.

Highly Competitive: Lean Republican

  • Arizona: Sen. John McCain
    First, Sen. McCain must clear primary challenger Kelli Ward, a state senator, before facing Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1) in the general election. Kirkpatrick fits the profile of a candidate who could give McCain a difficult run; hence, this race is likely to turn more competitive than it appears today.
  • Ohio: Sen. Rob Portman
    Democrats have recruited former Gov. Ted Strickland to oppose Sen. Portman next year, thinking that he can rebound from his 2010 defeat. Early polling has actually projected Strickland with small leads, but Sen. Portman has a huge advantage in campaign resources. As in the 2010 race, expect the polling here to be close until the final stages of the race when Portman will likely pull away and win a comfortable victory.
  • Pennsylvania: Sen. Pat Toomey
    Pennsylvania is the Democrats’ biggest disappointment in the early going, as the party faces a difficult primary run. The candidates are former representative and 2010 senatorial nominee Joe Sestak (D-PA-7), of whom the Democratic leadership openly expresses disapproval, and former gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty, the leadership’s candidate. The internal problems have given Republican Sen. Toomey a major edge in a place that has been voting heavily Democratic during presidential election years.

Safe Republicans

  • Alabama: Sen. Richard Shelby
  • Georgia: Sen. Johnny Isakson
  • Idaho: Sen. Mike Crapo
  • Iowa: Sen. Charles Grassley
  • North Dakota: Sen. John Hoeven
  • Oklahoma: Sen. James Lankford
  • South Carolina: Sen. Tim Scott
  • South Dakota: Sen. John Thune
  • Utah: Sen. Mike Lee

Safe Open Republican:

  • Indiana: Sen. Dan Coats (Retiring)
    A major Republican primary featuring Reps. Todd Young (R-IN-9) and Marlin Stutzman (R-IN-3), among others, is already underway. To date, Dems have under-recruited. Former Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN-9) is likely party nominee.

Presumed Safe Republican

  • Louisiana: Sen. David Vitter (Running for Governor)
    Louisiana’s Senate race is compromised with incumbent Vitter running for governor. If he wins, a replacement will be appointed. Once the gubernatorial process concludes this November, a clearer Senate race picture can be projected. The state’s Republican nature in presidential year voting will make the GOP nominee a big favorite no matter how the situation unfolds.

Safe Democrats

  • Connecticut: Sen. Richard Blumenthal
  • Hawaii: Sen. Brian Schatz
  • New York: Sen. Charles Schumer
  • Oregon: Sen. Ron Wyden
  • Vermont: Sen. Pat Leahy
  • Washington: Sen. Patty Murray

Safe Open Democratic

  • California: Sen. Barbara Boxer (Retiring)
    Democrats may qualify two of their candidates for the general election: Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46). At this point, Harris is heavily favored to win the seat.
  • Maryland: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Retiring)
    The Democratic primary, principally between representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) and Donna Edwards (D-MD-4), will determine Sen. Mikulski’s successor.

Safe R With Potential Primary Challenge

  • Alaska: Sen. Lisa Murkowski
    Sen. Murkowski lost the 2010 primary before winning the general election as a write-in Independent. Internal party challenges are rumored for her next year, but nothing is developing so far.
  • Kansas: Sen. Jerry Moran
    Sen. Moran may face what will prove to be a nuisance challenge.

Likely R With Competition

  • Arkansas: Sen. John Boozman
    Sen. Boozman faces a potentially strong campaign effort from ex-US Attorney Conner Eldridge, but the presidential swing toward the Republican presidential nominee makes his unseating all the more difficult.
  • Kentucky: Sen. Rand Paul
    No major challenge appears on Sen. Paul’s horizon at present but, if his presidential campaign fails to show signs of improvement, we can expect Democrats to make a move to create a competitive challenge for the first-term senator.
  • Missouri: Sen. Roy Blunt
    Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander is the consensus candidate to challenge Sen. Blunt. An effort will be made here, but Blunt should have little trouble defending his seat.
  • North Carolina: Sen. Richard Burr
    Democrats have yet to recruit a strong challenger for Sen. Burr in a state that routinely defeats its incumbents. Most of the major potential Democratic challengers have already taken a pass. Burr looks to face only a second-tier opponent.

Likely D With Competition

  • Colorado: Sen. Michael Bennet
    This contest is a major recruitment failure for Republicans, as first-tier potential GOP candidates have all declined to run. With Sen. Bennet likely to draw a lesser general election opponent, this campaign won’t be as competitive as the voting history might predict.

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