A Survey of 2018 Senate Races

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 1 – This week:

  • Senate will soon be 51-49
  • Trump admin counting on a friendly map in 2018; Democrats on anger over Trump
  • Senate races A to Z

Senate 2018

It’s a brand new year, and questions about the elections coming in 10 months turn on factors that may not be on everyone’s radar right now.

As Democrat prepare to take over their 49th Senate seat after their victory in Alabama, the importance of the coming midterm elections makes itself obvious. Here is a broad look at the U.S. Senate races in 2018, which broadly favor Democrats to win races that are close, but which, as the map goes, offer far better pickup chances for Republicans.

Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake’s retirement is probably a bit of a relief for Republicans, given that his approval ratings had sunk so low. But with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema putting herself forward on the Democratic side, the GOP will need to produce a serious candidate to replace Flake. The completely unrelated and bizarre downfall of Rep. Trent Franks clears the field just a tad, but the Arizona GOP is strong enough that there’s probably still a good chance for Republicans to retain the seat.

Rep. Martha McSally, R, is arguably the strongest Republican candidate for the seat. Former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who challenged John McCain as an establishment candidate, is still in the running and doesn’t seem to be planning on stepping aside for anyone.

California: There remains a slight possibility of an exciting leftist challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But there is no real chance of Republicans taking over her seat.

Connecticut: Sen. Chris Murphy, D, who ascended to the U.S. House in the 2006 Democratic wave, has made a bit of a name for himself since his 2012 rise to the Senate. There really aren’t any serious Republicans in a position to chase him away.

Delaware: If Sen. Tom Carper faces any threat from the revelations about his having hit his spouse decades ago, it really depends on someone having sufficient political clout being willing to challenge him on the issue. It’s still difficult to imagine in a state as Blue as this one.

Florida: Trump ally Gov. Rick Scott, R, has not announced anything officially, but he is widely expected to take on Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. And that’s an exciting introduction. Scott is a formidable challenger for anyone, if only because of his enormous bank account. No other serious Republican will consider entering the race until he has completely sworn it off.

Hawaii: Republicans barely exist in Hawaii — they don’t harbor any serious hopes of unseating Mazie Hirono.

Indiana: Former Republican state Rep. and businessman Mike Braun has absolutely saturated the local television airwaves in at least Northern Indiana to support his Senate run as an outsider businessman and Trump-like candidate. The better established candidacies of Republican Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are already on the table as potential challenges to incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. Donnelly has a lot of reasons to worry, given his state’s increasingly Republican lean

Maine: Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Chuck Schumer’s Democrats, holds the seat that comes open in 2018. At the moment, no Republican seems to be in any position to challenge him.

Maryland: No matter what the gubernatorial race looks like, Sen. Ben Cardin, D, should have no problem winning re-election in his heavily Democratic state.

Massachusetts: President Trump can tease Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren as much as he wants about her pretended Native American ancestry. She still has the easy leg up on anyone who wants her seat this year, and a strongly Democratic electorate backing her up.

Michigan: Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, is resting a bit easier now. This race seemed vaguely interesting when Kid Rock was still talking about running as a Republican. But now, Republicans have a much less impressive B-team lining up to take the nomination, and they haven’t won a Senate election in Michigan since 1994.

Minnesota: The abrupt resignation of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., brought about by his unseemly behavior toward women, presents a potential opportunity for Republicans, albeit a remote one.

Minnesota is not a Trump state, but it is a Rust Belt state where the trend heads heavily in his direction. It’s still far too early to say if there is there is any serious contest coming up here.

Mississippi: There will likely be no serious challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker, R.

Montana: Sen. Jon Tester, D, has probably escaped the worst Republicans could have thrown at him. After Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke agreed to take a post as Trump’s secretary of the interior, the Republican bench for challenging him became a lot thinner.

Nebraska: An easy gimmee for Republican Sen. Deb Fischer.

Nevada: Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., faces a difficult re-election after his confrontations with President Trump over health care reform. He will most likely face Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who represents the Las Vegas area. His seat is Republicans’ most obvious weak point.

New Jersey: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., survived hs corruption trial and will be trying to keep his seat in 2018. Given the political makeup of his state, he begins as the favorite, and will probably remain so even if he suffers an adverse outcome in a retrial.

New Mexico: At least for now, Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich has no serious competition.

New York: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand D-N.Y., s probably safe for re-election in this deep  Blue seat. Of course, she has much higher aspirations, but nothing about that is going to hurt her current plans to stay in office.

North Dakota: In theory, Republicans should be able to mount a serious challenge to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D, no matter what the national map looks like. But that isn’t a guarantee, as the 2012 election demonstrates.

Many Republicans remain concerned that perhaps the unpolished U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R, isn’t the one to offer that serious challenge. But the state voted heavily for Trump and should be Republican territory no matter what. It may also not be as amenable to a Democrat as it was when Heitkamp first won in 2012.

Ohio: State Treasurer Josh Mandel is the most likely Republican challenger to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. In a Democratic year, Brown would probably come out on top without much trouble, as he did in 2012. But Ohio is a reddening state, and Mandel has good reasons to believe that he can at least make a real go of it.

Pennsylvania: If you want a test of how immigration politics play in the heartland, here it is. Rep, Lou Barletta, R, a longtime immigration hawk, is at this moment by far the most serious candidate challenging Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in a state that President Trump narrowly won.

Rhode Island: Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse shouldn’t have any trouble getting re-elected.

Tennessee: Republicans should understand at this point that no seat is completely safe. But Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn is definitely a heavy favorite in the statewide race that seems to be shaping up between her and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Texas: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is probably the third-weakest GOP incumbent in 2018. That’s not so much a sign of his weakness as it is a sign of GOP strength in the states that are up this year.

Cruz will face at least a respectable Democratic challenge from El Paso area Rep. Beto O’Rourke. But it would be very fanciful at this point to believe that the Lone Star State is about to start electing Democrats to its Senate seats or any other statewide office. Cruz, who has made his own enemies among the D.C. establishment, faces what should still never really become a challenging race.

Utah: President Trump has tried hard to encourage Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to run for re-election instead of letting Mitt Romney inherit his seat. It’s anyone’s guess at this point what Hatch’s final decision will be, but this isn’t a seat that’s likely to be competitive either way.

Vermont: After his well-received presidential run, there’s no way Republicans or Democrats will be able to knock off independent leftist Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Virginia: After the GOP implosion in the 2017 state races, don’t bet on Republicans ousting former VP selection and still-Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. The Old Dominion is increasingly a Democratic state, and Republicans seem less competitive with each passing cycle.

Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is running for re-election and faces no serious challenger so far.

West Virginia: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., might seem like an easy target in a newly Red state, but he remains a popular Democrat and won’t be easily knocked off. Republicans have two top-tier challengers lining up to take him on, however — Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Although Manchin was popular enough in his own right to hold off challenges earlier, the state really has changed and might not smile on him the same way now as it has previously.

Wisconsin: Democrats must be at least slightly favored to keep the seat of liberal Sen. Tammy Baldwin. The Republican primary has quickly become an acrimonious fight between two apparently bona fide conservatives, State Sen. Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson.

Wyoming: Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., should have no problem being re-elected in 2018.