Friday, November 25, 2016

Predictions: 2018 Senate Races

Most recent updates: 4/20/18: AZ, FL, IN, MI, MO, NV, NJ, ND, OH, TN, TX, UT, WI

Current Senate: 51 R and 49 D 
Current Prediction: 52 and 48 R
 Democrats to pick up AZ, NV, TN

Overview update: (12/15/17) Democrat Doug Jones won the special election in Alabama for US Senate this week. It would be difficult to overstate the value of this victory for the Democratic party:
* Before the Alabama win, Democrats had virtually no chance of winning control of the Senate next year. Now I'd say they're about even-money.
* Not only has the Republican Senate majority been cut from two seats to one, the shock of losing in deep-red Alabama is having a chilling effect on Republican prospects for next year. We're likely to see more congressional incumbents retire, and likely to see Republicans continue to have recruiting struggles in Democratic Senate seats that were expected to be likely turnovers in 2018, such as Montana and North Dakota.

Overview: (11/25/16). The story of the 2018 Senate races was going to be that of historic gains for the Republican party. Democrats hold 25 of the seats up for election compared to only 8 for the GOP, and the party out of power always does well in the mid-term elections. Of course I expected Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump to become President. So now it's the Democrats who are the party out of power, and, quite possibly, Democratic voters will be more fired up than their Republican opponents in 2018. Of course it may not matter how energized Democrats are, given the increasing effectiveness of Republican voter suppression laws. This may be an election where few if any seats change hands. Retirements will be key.

Races are categorized as either likely or unlikely to be competitive. This post will be updated continuously until election day.

Likely to be competitive:

Arizona
Rating: Leans Democratic takeover
Republican: US Representative Martha McSally or former state Senator Kelli Ward or former Sheriff Joe Arpaio (incumbent Jeff Flake retiring)
Democrat: US Representative Krysten Sinema (likely)
Overview: (11/25/16) For years now, Democrats have found themselves tantalizingly close to winning statewide elections in Arizona, without actually winning any of them. Jeff Flake's approval rating is only 35% (he doesn't like Donald Trump), making him vulnerable to a challenge from the right. If Flake loses his primary to some right-wing yahoo, the door is open for a competitive race. If Flake is renominated, he's a pretty safe bet for reelection.
(8/12/17) Flake's approval ratings are not just poor, they seem impossibly bad for anyone not a convicted felon. Worse, there is major PAC money backing Flake's primary challenger, former state Senator Kelli Ward. Democrats will counter with popular Congresswoman Krysten Sinema. I like Sinema's chances.
(12/13/17) Flake is out. Republicans have a good candidate in Congresswoman McSally, but first she has to get past uber-crazy Kelli Ward. Among other things, Ward believes in the "chemtrails" conspiracy that condensation left in the sky by airliners are a secret government plot to emit harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Polls show Democrat Krysten Sinema slightly ahead of both Ward and McSally and I like her chances.
(4/20/18) Sort-of good news for Republicans: former Sheriff and well-known criminal Joe Arpaio has entered the Republican primary. Although Republicans don't particularly want Arpaio grabbing headlines with his special brand of crazy racism, having him in the race makes it much more likely that the party's preferred candidate, Martha McSally, will win the nomination. Despite already burning through most of the money she's raised, McSally however trails Democrat Krysten Sinema in polls.

Florida
Rating: Leans Democratic hold 
Democrat: Bill Nelson (incumbent)
Republican: Governor Rick Scott (likely)
Overview: (11/25/16) Republican Governor Rick Scott is term-limited out of office after 2018, and, having nothing better to do, apparently he'd like to continue ruining the state of Florida by becoming a US Senator. If he runs, Scott would be the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination. His approval ratings are however underwater, so for the time being I like Nelson to win another term.
(12/15/17) Scott may be getting cold feet about running next year after the shock Republican loss in Alabama. Since Scott is the presumptive nominee, if he doesn't run that means that Republicans will start out that much further behind in building momentum in this race.
(4/20/18) Yep, it's Rick Scott. While Scott will certainly make this a tough race, current polling suggests that if Nelson doesn't make any major mistakes, he'll be reelected.

Indiana
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Joe Donnelly (incumbent)
Republican: US Representative Luke Messer or US Representative Todd Rokita or former state Representative Mike Braun
Overview:  (11/25/16) How the heck did Democrat Joe Donnelly win a Senate seat in Indiana? Well, it seems his opponent, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, suggested during the campaign that women impregnated by rapists must not have abortions, because their pregnancies are something, "God intended to happen."  Can Donnelly draw another opponent as repellent as Mourdock? I wouldn't count on it, and Indiana is a red state going redder.
(8/12/17) Both of the Indiana Congressmen running for the GOP nomination would be strong candidates against Donnelly, and he'll need every possible break to win this race.
(4/20/18) Current polling suggests a surprise on the Republican side: Mike Braun, a businessman who briefly served in the Indiana House leads both Messer and Rokita for the nomination. This same poll shows Democrat Donnelly ahead -quite comfortably in fact- against both Messer and Rokita, but it failed to poll a Donnelly-Braun matchup. In any case, I had Donnelly pegged as the most-endangered Democratic incumbent but as of today his chances of reelection look pretty good.

Michigan
Rating: Likely Democratic hold 
Democrat: Debbie Stabenow (incumbent)
Republican: Businessman Sandy Pensler (likely)
Overview: Stabenow is running for a fourth term, and has easily defeated past Republican opponents. On the other hand, if Michigan can go for Trump just four years after giving President Obama a 10-point victory over Michigan boy Mitt Romney, anything is possible.
(4/20/18) This race is turning into a non-event. Stabenow has a big lead in the most recent poll against the likely Republican nominee, little-known businessman Sandy Pensler.

Minnesota (special) 
Rating: Likely Democratic hold 
Democrat: Tina Smith (incumbent) (incumbent Al Franken resigning)
Republican:
Overview: (12/13/17): Goodbye, Al Franken. Republicans did very well in in Minnesota in 2016, but no matter how you slice it Democrats have the edge in retaining this seat in next year's special election.

Mississippi-Special
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: State Senator Chris McDaniel? (incumbent Thad Cochran retiring)
Democrat: Former Congressman Mike Espy?
Overview (3/19/18): Another big headache for Republicans as Thad Cochran has decided to retire from the Senate 21 months before his term in office ends. There are no party primary elections for this race; on election day in November all candidates will appear on one ballot. If no candidate gets 50% of all the ballots cast (as is likely), there will be a runoff between the top two finishers. The Republican vote will probably be split down the middle between Tea Party darling Chris McDaniel and whomever is chosen by the state's Governor to be Senator for the rest of this year. McDaniel is loathed by the Republican establishment, so sparks are sure to fly. In a runoff, Democrats would prefer to have their top vote-getter face off against McDaniel rather than a less polarizing candidate, but it's hard to be very sanguine about the blue team's chances here. Our best bet would be if several Republicans ran and only two Democrats, then theoretically the two Democrats could face each other in the runoff.

Missouri
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Claire McCaskill (incumbent)
Republican: State Attorney General Josh Hawley
Overview: (11/25/16) Nobody thought Claire McCaskill had a chance of winning another term in the Senate in 2012. As expected, Mitt Romney beat President Obama by a large margin in Missouri. McCaskill however skillfully helped ensure that the Republican nomination would go to the most extreme candidate in the race, Congressmen Todd Akin. Akin then obliged McCaskill by making some truly birzarre comments on rape and pregnancy, and she beat him by 15% on election day. Well, that was then. McCaskill might get lucky again and face a truly terrible opponent, but I wouldn't count on it.
(4/20/18) Claire McCaskill is getting all the breaks in this race. Her opponent Josh Hawley is seen as running a very lackluster campaign. Worse for Republicans, Governor Eric Greitens has refused to resign despite multiple felony indictments. McCaskill has a tiny lead in the polls.

Montana
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Jon Tester (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Libertarian: ?
Overview: Tester ran a brilliant campaign in 2012, and won a race that Republicans were counting on. It didn't hurt that the Libertarian candidate ate some of the Republicans' lunch by taking 6.5% of the vote. Tester won't be easy to beat in 2018, but it wouldn't surprise me that much if he lost.

Nebraska
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Deb Fischer (incumbent)
Democrat: Lincoln Councilwoman Jane Raybould (likely)
Overview: (11/25/16) In 2012, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning was expected to win this race, but State Senator Deb Fischer surprised most by winning the Republican nomination. She then proceeded to campaign so badly in her race against former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey that Republicans were forced to inject last-minute campaign funds into a race that should have seen Fischer able to sleepwalk to victory. More recently, she made the brilliant move of calling on Donald Trump to step down from the Presidential nomination after the release of the Billy Bush tapeonly to endorse him for President 3 days later. To summarize, it wouldn't surprise me if the inept Fischer were to lose renomination to another Republican. But nothing short of a miracle would make a Democrat competitive in this race.
(12/13/17) Fischer's approval ratings stink. According to a recent poll, Jane Raybould is larger unknown to voters, however, "After being given Democrat Jane Raybould’s background and asked again who they would vote for," Raybould leads: 38% to 35%. That's enough for me to think that this will at least be a close race.

Nevada
Rating: Leans Democratic pickup
Republican: Dean Heller (incumbent)
Democrat: Congresswoman Jacky Rosen
Overview: (11/25/16) Heller narrowly beat a scandal-tarred opponent in 2012. Nevada is trending blue, and if the Democrats nominate a good candidate, this will be a close race.

New Jersey
Rating: Likley Democratic hold
Democrat: Bob Menendez (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: (11/25/16) Menendez is facing federal corruption charges. Whether this actually opens the door for Republicans to win a Senate seat in New Jersey remains to be seen. It's hard to imagine voters turning out in a big way for New Jersey Republicans in 2018 given their loathing of Govenor Chris Christie, and the recent convictions in the Bridgegate scandal.
(4/20/18) The feds have dropped the charges against Menendez. He'll win this race.

New Mexico
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
DemocratMartin Heinrich (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Martin Heinrich has decent approval ratings. He also kind of looks like a model. New Mexico is trending blue, and I don't think Democrats have much too much to worry about here.

North Dakota
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Heidi Heitkamp (incumbent)
Republican: Congressman Kevin Cramer
Overview: (11/25/16) Time was when North Dakota elected liberal Democrats to Congress even as it voted strongly for Republicans at the Presidential level. It looked like those days were over in 2012, however, Heidi Heitkamp miraculously beat her Republican opponent by 3,000 votes even as Mitt Romney beat President Obama by 64,000 votes in North Dakota. This will be a close race, but I think Heitkamp has the popularity to win another term.
(4/20/18) Republicans think they had a winner in the form of the state's only US House member, Kevin Cramer. Cramer, is facing ethics problems as well as the fallout from some nasty public remarks, and I'm not so sure how strong a candidate he is given that he's suggested he'd make Heitkamp's vote against the Trump tax cut the focus of his campaign. The first poll since Cramer jumped in shows Heitkamp with a small lead.

Ohio
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Sherrod Brown (incumbent)
Republican: Congressman Jim Renacci (likely)
Overview: (11/25/16) In 2012, Republicans had high hopes that Mitt Romney would carry Ohio, and that "rising star" Republican state Treasurer Scott Mandel would defeat incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown. Neither happened, however, Donald Trump's big win in Ohio in 2016 should give Democrats pause. Brown may be a bit too liberal for increasingly conservative Ohio. But his approval ratings are pretty good, and he has a strong chance to win another term.
(8/12/17) Five years after Brown beat Mandel, Mandel is still Secretary of State in Ohio, and is seeking a rematch. Frustratingly, he's also leading Brown in the pollsPresident Trump's approval rating in Ohio isn't good, but it's also not bad enough to suggest that Brown should automatically get a boost in this race. This will be a closely fought contest.
(4/20/18) So much for the big Brown-Mandel rematch, Mandel has dropped out. Likely GOP nominee Congressman Jim Renacci trails substantially in a recent poll. I like Brown's chances to win another term.

Pennsylvania
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Bob Casey, Jr. (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Bob Casey has good approval ratings and I like his chances to win another term.

Tennessee
Rating: Leans Democratic takeover
Republican: US Representative Marsha Blackburn (likely) (incumbent Bob Corker retiring). 
Democrat: Former Governor Phil Bredesen
Overview: (12/13/17) Corker is out. This may be the most interest content to watch in 2018. Democrats are rejoicing that former Governor Phil Bredesen, who won nearly 70% of the vote in his 2006 race, has entered this contest. His opponent will likely be the ultra-conservative Marsha Blackburn. In almost any other state, I'd give Bredesen the edge (the first poll of this race shows him with a 2-point lead over Blackburn), but there are a lot of factors that will weigh him down. One, he was Governor during the Great Recession, two, he'll be 74 years old and his last race was a long time ago, three, this is Tennessee where President Trump still holds an approval rating around 50%.
(4/20/18) Recent polling shows Bredesen ahead in this race, and Senator Corker has said pretty nice things about him. If Bredesen can maintain momentum, I see no reason why he can't win.

Texas
Rating: Leans Republican hold
Republican: Ted Cruz (incumbent)
Democrat: US Representative Beto O'Rourke (likely)
Overview: (8/12/17) Hard to believe, but a current poll shows President Trump's approval rating underwater in Texas, and Ted Cruz tied with Congressman Beto O'Rourke in this race. Texas is o-so-slowly trending blue, and some day a Democrat will win a statewide election. Probably not this one, but some day.
(4/20/18) O'Rouke is raising a ton of money, and staying very close to Cruz in the polls. I'm not conceding this race to Cruz yet.

Virginia
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Tim Kaine (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Even with popular former Governor and Senator Tim Kaine on the Clinton ticket, she barely carried Virginia. Oh well, moving on. While I expect Republicans to mount a serious challenge here, Kaine is a good bet to win another term.

West Virginia
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Joe Manchin (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Joe Manchin is easily the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. Will that be enough to win another term in very conservative West Virginia? His approval ratings suggest it will.

Wisconsin
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Tammy Baldwin (incumbent)
Republican: Businessman Kevin Nicholson?
Overview: (11/25/16) I don't know what to say about Wisconsin any more. Barrack Obama carried it easily, now it goes for Trump. Republican Ron Johnson is probably the worst member of the Senate, he has terrible approval ratings, and yet he defeats Democrat Russ Feingold. Republican Governor Scott Walker is a total disaster for the state, yet he easily wins reelection. On paper, liberal Democrat Tammy Baldwin is a good bet for reelection. In reality, given what's happened in Wisconsin in recent elections, who knows?
(4/20/18) Baldwin is polling very well against likely GOP nominee Kevin Nicholson and will probably cruise to victory.


Unlikely to be competitive:

California: Dianne Feinstein (D) may not run for reelection (she'll be 85), but California is likely to stay blue.

Connecticut: Chris Murphy (D). Republicans have had high hopes for Connecticut in recent elections; those hopes have gone nowhere.

Delaware: Tom Carper (D) has sky-high approval ratings and is in no danger.

Hawai'i: Mazie Hirono (D). Even in Republican-leaning years, the GOP has gotten nowhere in Hawai'i congressional races.

Maine: Angus King (I-Democratic caucus). King is quite popular, and Maine seems to like incumbents. 

Massachusetts (D). The only way Elizabeth Warren is not still a U.S. Senator years from now is if she runs for higher office.

Maryland: Ben Cardin (D). Maryland is too blue for Republicans to make a go of it here.

Minnesota: Amy Klobuchar (D). Strong approval ratings protect Klobuchar from vulnerability.

Mississippi: Roger Wicker (R)As I noted in a post in 2008, here's how voting works in Mississippi in statewide races: white people vote Republican, black people vote Democratic. The population demographics needed for a serious challenge to Wicker just aren't there.

New York: Kirsten Gillibrand (D). Extremely unlikely any Republican will win a statewide race in New York.

Rhode Island: Sheldon Whitehouse (D). Republicans have made serious inroads in a lot of what were considered blue states in the past few years. But not in Rhode Island.

Utah: Orrin Hatch (R-retiring). (4/20/18) Normally I put all open seat races in the "competitive" list, but this time I won't bother. Mitt Romney will win this race. He will be an improvement over Orrin Hatch.

Vermont: Bernie Sanders (I, member of the Democratic caucus). There is no more popular Senator among his constituents than Bernie.

Washington: Maria Cantwell (D). Republicans have become far less competitive in statewide races in Washington is the past couple of decades, and with Trump in office, the GOP nominee for this seat doesn't have a prayer.

Wyoming: John Barrasso (R). Watching paint dry will be more interesting than this race.

2 comments:

Brennan Merone said...

Gabby Giffords may run in AZ.

M. Joseph Goodfriend said...

I haven't heard about Giffords running, but it would be great if she did.