By Jim Ellis — Friday, Aug. 11, 2023
Senate Races: Balance of Power — The 2024 US Senate races are critical in determining which party will control the chamber in the next Congress, but before Republicans mount a challenge to the Democratic majority they must first navigate through what, in some cases, could be contentious primaries.
The Democrats have only one legitimate challenge opportunity within the field of 11 Republican defense states — Texas — but here as well, they feature a competitive battle for the party nomination. They are also likely headed to a rousing year-long double-Democratic jungle primary and general election in California and a hotly contested open intra-party battle in Maryland.
The following is a brief synopsis of the primary situations in the states alphabetically from Arizona through Montana. Next, we will cover Nevada through Wisconsin:• Arizona: In this wild-card Senate race that will feature a three-way general election, two of the entries appear set. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I) has not yet officially announced that she will seek re-election, but all indications are that she will mount a vigorous campaign. The question remains as to whether she will run as an Independent or the nominee of a minor party, such as the No Labels Party, which has qualified in her state. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) appears as a lock to win the Democratic nomination.
On the Republican side, reports are surfacing the 2022 gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is close to announcing her Senate effort. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is already a declared candidate. Early polling suggests that Lake would begin with a significant primary lead.
Though most Republican strategists blanch at another Lake run, it is important to remember that she received 49.6 percent of the vote in the governor’s race. In the three-way Senate contest, 35-38 percent is likely all that’s necessary to win and she has strong base support. The Arizona primary is scheduled for Aug. 6, 2024.
• California: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is retiring, and in her wake is a major political battle among three progressive left Democratic House members, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Katie Porter (D-Irvine), and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). The big question coming from the jungle primary is whether a Republican, coalescing the minority party votes, can capture one of the two general election finalist positions because the Democratic vote will be so badly fractured.
Chances are Reps. Schiff and Porter, probably in that order, advance into what promises to be a contentious and very expensive open US Senate general election campaign. The California jungle primary is scheduled for Super Tuesday, March 5.
• Florida: Democrats have yet to find a credible opponent for Sen. Rick Scott (R), but he does have Republican opposition. Businessman Keith Gross, who reportedly has the wherewithal to fund his own campaign but has yet to make a substantial investment, is challenging Sen. Scott for renomination.
Gross may be able to wage a battle against the senator but toppling him for the nomination appears as a bridge too far. Sen. Scott appears in good shape for renomination and re-election. The Florida primary is late, Aug. 20, 2024, so much time remains for a primary contest to take shape.
• Indiana: Sen. Mike Braun (R) is leaving the Senate to run for governor, and Congressman Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) appears to be the prohibitive favorite to succeed him in both the Republican primary and general election. At this point, no strong Republican has emerged, but that could change as we get closer to the Feb. 9, 2024, candidate filing deadline. The Indiana primary is scheduled for May 7, 2024.
• Maryland: Sen. Ben Cardin (D) is retiring, thus leaving what promises to be a very active Democratic succession primary. The two top contenders are Rep. David Trone (D-Potomac), who has enough personal money to spend millions of dollars on his race, and Prince Georges County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. The third contender, at this point, is Montgomery County councilman and former congressional candidate Will Jawando.
The key will be whether Alsobrooks can coalesce the state’s large black population and energize them to turnout for the primary election. She will be strong in PG County and Baltimore, which could control the party primary. Rep. Trone will run strong in the other areas of the state. This promises to be a hard-fought contest with a potentially close outcome. The eventual Democratic nominee will have little trouble in the general election. The definitive Maryland primary will occur on May 14, 2024.
• Michigan: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) is retiring after what will be four full terms in office, and likely leaves contested primaries in both parties. Democrats are favored to hold the seat, and the leading candidate in both the primary and general election is US Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing).
In her primary, Michigan State Board of Education President Paula Pugh, actor Hill Harper, former state Rep. Leslie Love, and attorney Jaquise Purifoy comprise her key challenge group. All are African American, so the black vote will likely split, thus yielding a favorable campaign structure for Rep. Slotkin. As a prodigious fundraiser, she will also have a major financial advantage.
We have yet to see major candidate announcements on the Republican side, but a primary brewing between a pair of ex-congressmen — Mike Rogers and Peter Meijer — could come to fruition. Either would give the Republicans a fighting chance to win the general election, but Michigan has swung leftward in the past two elections, thus making Rep. Slotkin the early favorite to succeed Sen. Stabenow. The Michigan primary is also late, Aug. 6, 2024, so plenty of time remains for the campaigns to develop.
• Montana: The Big Sky Country hosts one of the three key conversion opportunities the GOP must win to claim the Senate majority. Sen. Jon Tester (D) is on the ballot for a fourth term, but for the first time will likely be facing, what for him, will be an unfavorable political climate.
The Republican leadership is convinced that Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) won’t win the general election and are backing retired Navy SEAL and aerospace company CEO Tim Sheehy. Rosendale has not yet launched a Senate campaign, but reports suggest he is close to doing so.
This primary contest has the potential of becoming very contentious and could damage overall GOP chances against Tester. If Rosendale enters the race, this will likely be the nomination campaign that draws the most attention in the early primary cycle. The Montana primary will be held June 4, 2024.