By Jim Ellis — Monday, Aug. 14, 2023
SenateSenate Races: Balance of Power — We conclude our look into the critical Senate primary campaigns by previewing the states alphabetically from Nebraska to Wisconsin. (See Friday’s post:
Senate Primaries Forming — Part 1.)
• Nebraska: Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R) resignation earlier this year led to former Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) being appointed to the seat. The new senator must now run in a special election to fill the balance of the term, and then again in 2026 for a full six-year stint. Sen. Ricketts has already announced that he will run in both elections.
Republicans are safe here in the general election; thus, the primary could become the competitive race. So far, no major challenger has come forward, though rancher Chuck Herbster, who placed only second in the 2022 governor’s primary despite having a Donald Trump endorsement, remains a potential candidate.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R), on the ballot for the regular term, has no opposition to date in either the primary or general elections. Nebraskans will choose their nominees on May 14, 2024.
• Nevada: Sen. Jacky Rosen (D) is on the ballot for a second term, and the Republican primary is now becoming crowded. Sam Brown, a disabled Afghan War veteran, is the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s choice and should be viewed as the leading candidate.
Earlier this week, former ambassador to Iceland Jeff Gunter and retired Air Force officer and director of the Reno Air Aces, Tony Grady, entered the race and could make the Republican primary interesting. The Nevada general election contest could well become a top-tier challenge race. The Silver State primary is scheduled for June 11, 2024.
• Ohio: One of the top three Republican conversion opportunities is the Ohio race featuring Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D) run for a fourth term. Republicans have three major contenders: Secretary of State Frank LaRose, state senator and 2022 US Senate candidate Matt Dolan, and businessman Bernie Moreno.
Early polling gives LaRose, who has won a statewide campaign, the advantage. Sen. Dolan, in his 2022 race, came on strong at the end and finished within one percentage point of second place. Moreno, who was also in the 2022 Senate race but withdrew before voting began, has earned Ohio junior Sen. J.D. Vance’s (R) endorsement.
Regardless of who wins the Republican primary, the Buckeye State Senate campaign will remain a top-tier challenge race. The Ohio primary will occur on March 19, 2024.
• Pennsylvania: Little is occurring in the GOP nomination race as Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) rallies his supporters in a quest for a fourth term.
Republicans are confident that 2022 Senate candidate David McCormick (R) will enter the race, and the primary appears his for the taking. McCormick lost the 2022 Republican campaign to Dr. Mehmet Oz by just 950 votes statewide. Assuming he returns, McCormick will begin the general election contest as a decided underdog to Sen. Casey. The Pennsylvania primary will be conducted on April 23, 2024.
• Texas: The Lone Star State Senate contest appears to be the Democrats only shot at developing a competitive challenge race. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) is on the ballot for a third term and must be considered a clear favorite in a state where Democrats still have not won a major statewide campaign in decades. In a presidential year, their task becomes even harder.
The Democratic leadership is backing US Rep. Colin Allred (D-Dallas), but he faces a serious challenge from state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio). The senator is the top gun control advocate in the legislature and much closer to the party’s progressive left base than is Rep. Allred.
Additionally, Texas state Senate seats are bigger than congressional districts, so Gutierrez actually represents 150,000 more people than does Rep. Allred.
Allred has raised more than $6 million since his announcement, but now must spend that and more just to win the party nomination. Sen. Cruz will use the primary to force both men further to the left on energy issues, which are so critical to the Texas economy. The Lone Star primary will be held on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.
• Utah: The big question lingering in the Beehive State is whether Sen. Mitt Romney (R) will run for a second term. The senator says he will make a decision in the fall. If he does run, Romney faces a competitive Republican primary challenge, likely from state House Speaker Brad Wilson (R-Kaysville).
Sen. Romney has little chance of winning the state nominating convention, so to qualify for the ballot he will need to recruit 28,000 valid petition signatures from around the state. This process would allow him to bypass the party structure and go directly to the primary ballot.
Republicans will hold the seat in the general election, but the political drama comes in the Republican primary where it is not inconceivable that Sen. Romney could lose. The nomination will be decided on June 25, 2024.
• West Virginia: Sen. Joe Manchin (D) continues to waver about seeking re-election. He is again making statements that he could become an Independent or run for president as a minor party nominee. Regardless of his decision, the West Virginia race is the Republicans’ best conversion opportunity. Gov. Jim Justice (R) is an announced candidate in the Republican primary and faces US Rep. Alex Mooney (R-Charles Town).
The winner, likely Gov. Justice, will be considered the favorite for the general election in what has been former President Donald Trump’s second-best state in the nation during both his 2016 and 2020 election campaigns. With the Club for Growth willing to spend millions to help Mooney from the outside, the Republican primary will be more competitive than one might believe at first glance. The victory odds, however, still favor Gov. Justice. The Republican nomination will be settled on May 14, 2024.
• Wisconsin: The Badger State race is the Republicans’ biggest disappointment to date in terms of candidate recruitment. No one has yet come forward to challenge two-term Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), and it’s possible that she could run without a serious challenge in what is typically a close state.
Should the congressional districts be redrawn, it is possible that Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) will find that entering the Senate race is his best political option. He would be the Republicans’ strongest contender. The Wisconsin primary is not until Aug. 6, 2024, so time remains for Republicans to right their political ship.