The Early Senate Maneuvers

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 23, 2019 — Though it is only January of the off-year, already early moves are being made in anticipation of an active 2020 US Senate campaign cycle. With 34 in-cycle Senate races on the ballot, as many as 16, at this point, could become competitive in either the primary or general election.

Below is a quick synopsis of the latest happenings in several states:


• Kansas: The open seat is Kansas is already active with backroom discussions. After first indicating that he would not leave his current position to run for the Senate, pressure is being put on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to re-consider his decision to stay out of the battle to succeed the retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R).

Facing a badly split Republican Party in the Sunflower State, many GOP leaders at the state and federal level believe that Pompeo would be the best candidate to unify the disparate factions, which would enable him to easily hold the seat in the general election. This, after the party just lost the governorship.

• Tennessee: Former Gov. Bill Haslam (R) left office on Saturday and says he will decide in the next few weeks whether to seek retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R) open seat. No one has yet come forward to announce his or her candidacy — the prospective field presumably frozen until Haslam makes public his political plans. Should the former governor decide to run, he would quickly become a prohibitive favorite in the Republican primary and general election.


• Alabama: Sen. Doug Jones (D) attempts to win a full term after claiming the special election in 2017. State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) has already announced his Senate candidacy. A crowded Republican primary is expected, featuring potentially eight candidates or more possibly including Attorney General Steve Marshall, and Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), and Gary Palmer (R-Hoover). Clearly, Alabama will be the Republicans’ strongest conversion opportunity.

• Arizona: Appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R) will presumably run to fill the remaining two years of the current term. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) says he will make his decision about entering the Senate race in the next few weeks but is reportedly unlikely to announce his plans before the special Phoenix mayoral election scheduled for March 12.

The election of new Congressman Greg Stanton (D-Phoenix), the city’s former mayor who resigned to run for the US House, necessitated the irregular municipal election for the state’s largest city.

Former Attorney General Grant Woods, the Republican turned Democrat, and astronaut Mark Kelly, husband to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson), are also potential Democratic senatorial candidates.

• Colorado: So far, five Democrats have already announced their candidacies vying for the opportunity of opposing first-term Sen. Cory Gardner (R). None have any elected background except former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D), who has lost previous races for both the US Senate and House. Stronger candidates are expected, and this will be a highly competitive race.

• Georgia: It’s likely that we won’t have a clear picture of the opposition situation facing first-term Sen. David Perdue (R) until the end of March. Former state House minority leader and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams (D), who came within one and a half percentage points of winning the chief executive position, says she will make her decision about a Senate run at that time.

The Democratic prospective field will remain suspended in place until Abrams, who would clearly become a consensus candidate for the party nomination, plans her next political move.

• Illinois: Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D) has already drawn an announced Democratic primary opponent. New state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville) declared her US Senate candidacy even before she took office. Sen. Durbin is expected to easily win re-nomination and re-election to a fifth term.

• Mississippi: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) defeated former US agriculture secretary and ex-Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy (D) by eight percentage points in the 2018 special election, but it appears that a re-match is in the offing. Espy has already announced his intention to run for the full six-year term in 2020.

• North Carolina: One Charlotte area office holder has already announced his challenge to first-term Sen. Thom Tillis (R), and another will apparently soon follow suit. Mecklenburg County at-large Commissioner Trevor Fuller (D) is in the race. Reports suggest that state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Charlotte) will also become a candidate. We can expect a crowded Democratic field to form before the May 2020 party primary.

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