In the spirit of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament that has proceeded to the quarter-final round that they commonly call “the Sweet Sixteen,” it’s a good time to review the 16 most competitive 2014 Senate, House and gubernatorial races. Today, we start with the Senate:
Alaska: Sen. Mark Begich (D) defends his seat in what could become a must-win campaign for the GOP, if they are to have any chance of wresting the Senate majority away from the Democrats. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) is an announced candidate. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan (R) is a possible candidate. Begich has the clear, early edge.
Arkansas: Sen. Mark Pryor (D) was unopposed in the 2008 election cycle, but already he has at least one opponent and maybe two. Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) is in the race. Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) is seriously considering becoming a candidate. This will likely be a competitive campaign, particularly if Cotton is the Republican nominee. Pryor must be favored, however.
Georgia: Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ (R) retirement has led to what will be a major Republican primary battle. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA-10) is already in the race. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA-11) will likely join him toward the end of this week. Reps. Jack Kingston (R-GA-1) and Tom Price (R-GA-6) are possible candidates. Democratic Reps. John Barrow (D-GA-12) and Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2) are potential candidates. It is unlikely that both will run, however. The eventual Republican nominee will be rated as at least a slight favorite in the general election, but this is one race that could lead to a Democratic upset. Rep. Barrow, in particular, is a good fit statewide and could make the general election highly competitive.
Hawaii: This seat will likely remain in Democratic hands, but an ensuing party primary fight is a distinct possibility. Appointed Sen. Brian Schatz could be facing a Democratic primary challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1). It’s possible that she will soon announce since she has already paid for, and released, a statewide poll that shows her in favorable position. She could challenge Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) instead, however.
Iowa: Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) open seat is likely already cast for the general election. Expect Reps. Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) and Steve King (R-IA-4) to square off in a campaign that will last more than a year. Braley is the early favorite, but King is always under-estimated. This race will be competitive, and Iowa voters are always unpredictable.
Kentucky: So far, this campaign is the biggest Democratic recruitment disappointment. Right now, they do not have a candidate to challenge Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who they believe is vulnerable. There was a lot of early chatter about actress Ashley Judd running against him, but it is becoming evident that she would not match up well against the veteran politician. Her living in Tennessee, for example, is one of a series of negatives that cast dispersions over her chances.
Louisiana: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) runs for a fourth term and she has already dodged the individual who is likely her strongest opponent. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne (R) is taking a pass at the Senate race in order to run for governor in 2015 when incumbent Bobby Jindal (R) is ineligible to seek re-election. Landrieu is likely to face a challenge from either Reps. John Fleming (R-LA-4) or Bill Cassidy (R-LA-6), or both. Louisiana features a jungle primary system that puts all primary candidates on the same ballot. Sen. Landrieu begins the campaign as a clear favorite for re-election.
Massachusetts: The Senate special election to replace Secretary of State John Kerry is underway. The race-deciding Democratic primary is scheduled for April 30 and features favored Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA-5) and underdog Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA-8). The winner takes the seat in a June 25 special general election. Massachusetts Republicans are too weak to mount a legitimate challenge. Rep. Markey is likely the next US senator.
Michigan: Sen. Carl Levin’s (D) retirement opens of this seat for the first time since 1978. Democrats, likely in the person of Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14), will begin the race in the favored position. The Republicans’ strongest contender would be Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI-8), who is seriously considering entering the campaign. No official announcements have yet been made, but they will be soon forthcoming. GOP Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-3) is also a likely candidate, but he would not likely fare well in a general election against Peters.
Minnesota: This state may be the Republicans’ biggest recruiting disappointment as they currently have no strong candidate challenging freshman Sen. Al Franken (D), the man who won the closest election of the 2008 election cycle. You will remember that it took until July of 2009 to actually swear-in Franken as the new senator. The 2014 race can become competitive, but the more time that passes without the Republicans’ securing a credible candidate, the stronger Franken becomes.
Montana: Polling suggests that veteran Sen. Max Baucus (D) could face a rough road to re-election, but the Republicans have yet to develop a first-tier candidate. Two men have announced their intention to run, former state Senate Minority Leader Corey Stapleton and state Rep. Champ Edmunds. Neither has any statewide electoral experience, so it will take them awhile to develop worthy campaigns. Baucus has been similarly vulnerable in previous early re-election situations, but he always wins comfortably. Originally elected in 1978, Sen. Baucus runs for a seventh term in 2014.
Nebraska: The surprise retirement of Sen. Mike Johanns’ (R) after just one term in office, means we could see some competition here next year. But, if Gov. Dave Heineman (R) decides to run, the campaign could quickly be over. His popularity ratings suggest that no candidate from either party will topple him. Should he not decide to run, it is likely that Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) will, while Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE-3) is a potential candidate. The Republicans are well positioned for this open seat contest, but particularly so if Heineman runs.
New Jersey: Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) retiring leaves behind what will likely be a strongly contested Democratic primary. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is already in the race. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) is expected to join shortly. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ-12) is a possible candidate. Republicans could feature Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera, but the general election is not likely to be competitive. Mayor Booker has the inside track to the seat, but Rep. Pallone commands the financial resources to become a viable contender.
North Carolina: This is another budding race where Republicans have not recruited well. Sen. Kay Hagan (D) should be among the most vulnerable of US senators seeking re-election in 2014, but the GOP has no candidate during this early stage. That will soon change, but already Hagan’s hand has been strengthened because she has the field to herself. This race is still likely to become highly competitive.
South Dakota: The Mount Rushmore State holds one of two seats primed for a GOP conversion. Sen. Tim Johnson (D) is a retirement possibility, and will soon announce his intentions regarding re-election. Ex-governor Mike Rounds (R) is running at full speed and is certainly the early favorite to become the Republican nominee. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD-AL) refuses to rule out a run, but she is taking no overt steps to prepare a senatorial campaign. Should the senator retire, former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD-AL) and the senator’s son, US Attorney Brendan Johnson, are potential candidates. An open seat against either would not be considered a “gimme,” but Rounds would definitely be considered the heavy favorite.
West Virginia: The Mountaineer State, now with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) retiring after five terms, becomes the number one GOP conversion race. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) is in the race and looks to be locking down the Republican nomination. No other Republican or Democrat has yet announced to challenge her. Rep. Capito is fast becoming the prohibitive favorite.