Senate ’16 Taking Shape

With several political moves being made this week and last, some of the key 2016 US Senate races are already coming together. Below is a quick recap of the states where action is presently occurring:

Alaska – Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R): Democrats’ first choice is former Sen. Mark Begich (D). Bypassing a race to reclaim his former position as mayor of Anchorage, Begich has instead formed a new consulting firm. He has not yet ruled out a run against Sen. Murkowski, so this potential challenge remains alive.

Arizona – Sen. John McCain (R): A budding Republican primary challenge for the 2008 GOP presidential nominee seems assured. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ-5) may be the strongest potential Republican challenger, and is moving toward running. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9) is a possible Democratic contender, more likely to run if Salmon progresses with his intra-party challenge.

California – Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) retiring: This open seat gives Republicans little hope for conversion. Attorney General Kamala Harris begins as the favored Democrat, but an intra-party general election is possible under California law. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) now will not run, but representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), Xavier Becerra (D-CA-34), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46) are all potential candidates, along with several others.

Colorado – Sen. Michael Bennet (D): Viewed as a top Republican target, things have been relatively quiet so far in the Centennial State. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-6) appears to be the Republicans’ first choice. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) has also expressed public interest in testing the statewide political waters.

Florida – Sen. Marco Rubio (R): The big question is whether Sen. Rubio seeks re-election or runs for president. If he vacates, expect a crowded Republican primary. Three Democratic House members are already making moves to run: representatives Alan Grayson (D-FL-9), Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23). Rep. Grayson says he will yield to Wasserman Schultz if she enters the Senate race. The latter is running into early internal political trouble, however. Rep. Murphy has started strongly. This campaign will be competitive with Sen. Rubio running for re-election, but is a tossup in an open seat configuration.

Illinois – Sen. Mark Kirk (R): This is likely the Democrats’ most promising target in a place that greatly favors them in a presidential election year. Sen. Kirk may face a Republican primary challenge from former one-term Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL-8). Four Democratic House members are seriously considering: representatives. Robin Kelly (D-IL-2), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), and Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17). Expect at least one of these members to run. Duckworth seems most likely to enter.

Kansas – Sen. Jerry Moran (R): Milton Wolf, the 2014 Republican challenger to Sen. Pat Roberts, is considering another senatorial run. Moran should be safe against Wolf or other potential GOP challengers, but will take nothing for granted. He’s in strong shape against any possible Democratic contender.

Kentucky – Sen. Rand Paul (R): Sen. Paul is striving to find a way to simultaneously run for Senate and president. He is attempting to convince party leaders to change the Kentucky nominating format from a primary to a caucus, under the theory that his name then will not appear on the ballot for more than one office. Things are currently quiet on the challenger front.

Louisiana – Sen. David Vitter (R): Should Sen. Vitter be elected governor this year, it is likely that an interim Senator will be running in 2016. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA-4) makes it clear that he wants the seat, and said he will run next year whether he is named Vitter’s replacement or not. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA-3) is also frequently mentioned as a possible candidate. Little will occur in the Senate race until the 2015 governor’s race is decided.

Missouri – Sen. Roy Blunt (R): Secretary of State Jason Kander (D), the Democrats’ first choice, announced that he will challenge Sen. Blunt next year. It is unlikely either will have serious primary challenges, so this match-up will be decided in the general election. Sen. Blunt begins as a strong favorite.

Nevada – Sen. Harry Reid (D): Republicans want Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) to challenge Senate Minority Leader Reid, but the state chief executive and former federal judge has shown little interest in running. The GOP is likely down to former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson. Despite Nevada going heavily Republican in 2014, Sen. Reid will begin the race as the clear favorite unless Sandoval declares.

New Hampshire – Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R): Democrats are attempting to recruit two-term Gov. Maggie Hassan into the Senate race. The latest reports say the governor is seriously considering the challenge. If not her, look for Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH-2) to venture forward. Ayotte appears strong at the outset, but no one can be considered safe in this highly volatile political state.

North Carolina – Sen. Richard Burr (R): Democrats’ first choice is former Sen. Kay Hagan, who lost a close 2014 race to Thom Tillis (R). Like defeated Sen. Begich in Alaska, Hagan has not expressed a clear interest in running but also hasn’t closed the door upon doing so. Sen. Burr appears well prepared to seek a third term, but North Carolinians typically defeat more of their senators than they re-elect.

Ohio – Sen. Rob Portman (R): Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) may announce his challenge to Sen. Portman as early as today. Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld (D) has already issued his statement of candidacy. Sen. Portman is favored against either, but Strickland entering the race makes this campaign a first tier challenge.

Pennsylvania – Sen. Pat Toomey (R): Pennsylvania is a difficult state for any Republican, particularly in a presidential election year, so Toomey is clearly vulnerable. Ex-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7) is already off and running, but state and national Democratic leaders are openly looking for an alternative. Sestak held Toomey to a 51-49 percent win in 2010, but relations between the former nominee and the Dem leadership are so poor that they prefer another candidate. Veteran state Sen. Vincent Hughes, saying he represents the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party, has expressed interest in running. Former Rep. Chris Carney (D-PA-10) is another possibility, though his voting record may be too conservative to pass muster in a Democratic primary.

Utah – Sen. Mike Lee (R): Former Gov. Jon Huntsman says he will not challenge Sen. Lee in the Republican primary. Lee’s potential vulnerability lies in being re-nominated. Former state Republican chairman Thomas Wright is a potential opponent. Lee will do well at the state convention, but the question as to whether a nomination can be won without a primary, as has historically been the case, lies at the crux of this political situation. Expect Sen. Lee to prevail and easily win re-election to a second term.

Wisconsin – Sen. Ron Johnson (R): Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) just resigned his position at the US State Department, which appears to be a precursor to him announcing a 2016 run against Sen. Johnson. Should it develop, this will be a tight, hard-fought contest.

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