Conversion Opportunities Lie Ahead for Senate Democrats; McSally Wins – Officially

As 2014 closes, we’re taking a quick look ahead at the 34 in-cycle US Senate seats for 2016. The tables have turned in that it is the Democrats who will have to convert Republican seats in order to recapture their lost majority. With Republicans having to defend 24 of the 34 Senate states, the Democrats will have plenty of conversion opportunities. They will need to win all 10 of the seats they currently hold and convert five Republican seats to reach 51 senators. Should the Democrats hold the White House in the presidential election, the Senate conversion number will drop to four because the Democratic vice president will then be able to break a 50-50 deadlock.

Of the senators who preliminarily say they will seek re-election, four (senators Richard Shelby (AL), John McCain (AZ), Charles Grassley (IA) and Barbara Mikulski (MD), will be 80 years old or older at the time of the next election. Another six will be 70 or older.

Right now, several seats are projected to be competitive, and both Democrats and Republicans are eying individuals they would characterize as dream challengers.

For Democrats, the two most competitive incumbent protection contests will be Nevada and Colorado. New Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) expects to seek re-election and the Republicans have several candidates who would make strong challengers, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and two House members. None appear inclined to run, however.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet will likely face heavy competition in his swing state. Most Republicans see Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-7) as the strongest potential contender and there is some chance that the congressman could run. Dealt a difficult seat in redistricting, Rep. Coffman has won two hard-fought victories in a district where Democrats would certainly be considered favorites in an open seat situation. There is no word as to whether Coffman, a former Secretary of State whose wife just won the attorney general’s post, would run but it doesn’t appear as if he is closing the door on such an opportunity.

For the Republicans, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk appears most vulnerable for re-election. With the senator recovering from a debilitating stroke and coming from a highly Democratic state particularly in a presidential year, the Land of Lincoln appears to be the best Dem conversion opportunity. Speculation surrounds representatives Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8) and Bill Foster (D-IL-11) as potential challenger candidates.

Pennsylvania is another typically Democratic state where Sen. Pat Toomey (R) will attempt to defy the odds again and win another term. Though he is not popular with the Pennsylvania Democratic leadership, attempts to recruit an alternative to former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7), the man Toomey defeated in 2010, have so far come up empty. Sestak announced soon after his defeat four years ago that he would run in 2016.

First-term Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) can also expect stiff competition next year, also from the man that he unseated four years ago. Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) is making moves to suggest that he will be a candidate next year. Another Johnson-Feingold race would certainly be one of the most interesting in the country.

Yet one more first term Republican senator, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, can also expect a top-tier challenger. The Democrats’ first choice is Gov. Maggie Hassan; Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH-2) and defeated Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-1) are also strong possibilities.

Other 2014 losing incumbents so far not closing the door on another run are outgoing Sen. Kay Hagan (D) who Democrats would like to see challenge two-term Sen. Richard Burr (R), and soon to be ex-Rep. John Barrow (D-GA-12). The outgoing congressman would figure to be a dangerous challenger to two-term Sen. Johnny Isakson (R). The senator has already announced that he will seek a third term in 2016.

Finally, former GOP presidential nominee John McCain says he is leaning towards running for a sixth term in Arizona. He may face a strong Republican primary challenger, however, possibly in the person of Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ-6). If McCain does draw serious Republican opposition, expect the Democrats to move this seat up on their conversion target list.

It will also be interesting to see if Democrats are able to recruit strong competition for senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KY). Both could enter the presidential contest, thus making a strong early challenger imperative in order to keep the two bogged down with having to secure their Senate seats instead of venturing off into the national campaign.


As predicted yesterday, former US Air Force officer Martha McSally (R) unseated Rep. Ron Barber (D-Tucson) to officially end the 2014 election cycle. With all elections now final, the Arizona victory gives the US House Republicans 247 seats versus the Democrats’ 188.

In the recount process, after legal motions from the Barber camp to add specific new ballots to the count were rejected earlier in the month, McSally actually gained six votes to expand her lead to 167 ballots from more than 220,000 cast. After the results were published, Rep. Barber conceded defeat, thus ending the nation’s longest federal campaign. Barber became the 18th incumbent to lose his House seat during this election cycle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *