Breaking Senate Action

Sept. 11, 2015 The post Labor Day period is already bringing clarity to various Senate races, including several within the last day or two.

North Dakota

Speculation surrounding Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) jumping into the open North Dakota governor’s race was put to bed earlier this week. Sen. Heitkamp announced that she will not enter the state campaign and instead will complete her first senate term. Heitkamp was elected in 2012 and comes in-cycle three years from now.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee leadership was concerned that Heitkamp would run for governor. Though she would not have risked her Senate seat to run, had she been victorious, a new succession law the legislature and Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) adopted this term takes the appointment power away from the governor pertaining to Senate vacancies. Instead, their action now requires calling an immediate special election. The chances of Republicans being able to convert an open North Dakota seat in a special 2017 vote would be very high, hence the importance of the national party leaders prevailing upon Sen. Heitkamp to forego a gubernatorial bid.

Thus, the Democrats have averted their nightmare scenario. If re-claiming the Senate majority next year by just one vote, a Heitkamp victory in the governor’s race could have easily allowed the Republicans to quickly return to control status.

Arkansas

Last month, US Attorney Connor Eldridge (D), the youngest person to hold such a post in the United States, resigned his position. Speculation was rampant that the 38-year-old appointed federal official was relinquishing his job in order to challenge Sen. John Boozman (R).

Such speculation proved true, as Eldridge formally announced his Senate campaign committee for next year. Though Eldridge is an up and coming Arkansas Democratic political star, he faces a difficult task in unseating Sen. Boozman.

Arkansas, after the Bill Clinton period, has now become a very reliable Republican state. The last two Democratic senators were defeated in landslide results, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) scoring just 36 percent of the vote against then-Rep. Boozman (2010), and Sen. Mark Pryor (D), last year, managing only 39 percent in losing to then-Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4).

Whether Eldridge can reverse the Republican trend in 2016 is doubtful, particularly since Sen. Boozman has made few errors during his first five years in office. It would take a massive Democratic wave in the presidential race for Eldridge to sweep past the incumbent, but the unpredictability of the national campaign means anything is possible.

Though the Democrats have fielded their top recruitment prospect here, Sen. Boozman remains the heavy favorite to win his first statewide re-election campaign.

California

It’s odd when a new Republican candidate entering an election contest actually helps a Democrat, but that is what could be happening in the Golden State Senate race.

On Tuesday, former state Republican Party chairman Duf Sundheim formally declared his Senate candidacy. He joins Republicans Tom Del Beccaro, also a former GOP state chairman, and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez as Republicans in the statewide federal contest. California now utilizes a jungle primary system where the top two finishers in the June qualifying election, irrespective of party affiliation, advance to the November vote. Further fracturing the minority Republican vote among additional GOP candidates could actually allow a second Democrat to qualify for the general election.

It is a virtual foregone conclusion that Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) will claim the first qualifying position, but the battle for second is wide open. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46) stands to be the potential beneficiary of a larger Republican field. Though her campaign is not yet operating with all cylinders firing, her slipping past the Republicans in June would guarantee a Democratic victory in the fall, and place her in position to potentially score an upset over Harris.

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