Thursday, December 13, 2012

Outlook for 2014 Senate Races

After an amazing 2012 election, it is already time to start previewing the 2014 Senate races. I have not posted many posts analyzing the 2012 election results yet because I like to wait until all the votes are tallied. In 2014 though, Democrats face a tough map. Like 2012, the majority of the seats up for reelection are held by Democrats and like 2012, some of those Democrats such as Kent Conrad (D) ND and Claire McCaskill (D)-MO, represented Republican leaning states which turned out strongly for Romney. In the beginning of 2011, most pundits were expecting a Republican takeover of the Senate. However, Republican candidate implosions (such as Todd Akin's,) and stronger than expected Democratic candidates (such as Heidi Heitkamp,) allowed the Democrats to retain the Senate and even gain two seats. Another point that compares this election to the 2004 election is that in 2004, Republicans gained seats across the South to create a string of red seats from Oklahoma to North Carolina which helped the Republicans have 55 seats. In 2012 though, Democrats have a string of seats across the North from Massachusetts to Montana which helped give them 55 seats.

Anyway, it is possible Democrats could surprise conventional wisdom and protect their seats in 2014 but it is a harder task than it was in 2012. In 2008, Democrats swept almost all of the competitive races so the 13 seats that Republicans do have up (the Democrats have 20,) are mostly in solidly Republican states such as Wyoming, Alabama and Kansas where Democrats are not going to win. The only opportunity for the Democrats is in Maine where moderate Susan Collins (R) could decide to retire. Another possibility is Georgia with Saxby Chambliss (R) where Democrats came within three points of unseating him in 2008. That year though, there was high African American turnout which is unlikely in 2014. Still, Georgia is having an influx of African Americans and Hispanics and Romney won by 7 points in 2014 when most observers predicted a 10-12 point victory. I am not going to predict Georgia as competitive just yet but if Democrats find a strong candidate to challenge Chambliss, that race could become interesting. As for the Republicans, they have a large range of seats they can win in such as Alaska, Arkansas North Carolina, South Dakota, Minnesota, West Virginia They need to gain six seats though and Democrats seem favored to prevent that. They have a disadvantage in South Dakota but in states such as Alaska, Arkansas and North Carolina, Democrats may be unpopular nationally but the Senate candidates are popular statewide. Anyway, italicized names are potential retirement and here are the ratings:

My ratings standards:
Safe: the incumbent party will win easily, either the incumbent is too popular, the state is too blue or red and there is no potential candidate who can cross the party lines.
Likely: the incumbent party is heavily favored but retirement and/or the right candidate can make a competitive race.
Lean: this race is competitive now but one party is slightly favored.
Tossup: this race is too close to call

Dark blue =Safe Democratic
Blue=Likely Democratic
Light blue=Lean Democratic
Red=Likely Republican
Dark Red=Safe Republican

Safe Democratic
Delaware Chris Coons (D): Republicans had their chance here in 2010 but they blew it by nominating Christine O'Donnell (R) who proved that telling voters "I'm not a witch, I'm you," is not a persuasive argument. Future candidates, please take note.

Illinois Richard Durbin (D): Illinois may have an unpopular Democratic Governor but the Majority Whip Durbin should have no trouble winning reelection here.

New Jersey Frank Lautenberg (D): Lautenberg will be 90 in 2014 so he may retire and if he does, the seat should remain in Democratic hands unless Gov. Chris Christie (R) decides to run which is extremely unlikely because he will be preparing for the 2016 Presidential race.

Oregon: Jeff Merkley (D): Merkley's approval ratings are strong enough at 50/41 but a recent PPP poll shows Merkley with a 4 and 5 point leads over Rep. Greg Walden (R) and former Sen. Gordon Smith (R). While Walden and Smith can run a competitive race, Walden is running the NRCC so he is too busy to run for Senate and Smith has expressed no interest in running. The PPP poll tests other Republican candidates too but Merkley leads all of them by 17+ points. Oregon normally would be at Likely D seeing how Republicans have run close statewide races in 2008 and 2010 but since Merkley has no real opposition, the race is at Safe D.

Rhode Island Jack Reed (D): Republicans have no game in Rhode Island, one of the five most Democratic states. The only danger sign for Reed is if Gov. Lincoln Chaffee (I) ran but due to Chaffee's low approval ratings (at least for now because Governor's approval ratings change faster than Romney's platform does,) I expect Reed to win easily.

Likely Democratic

Colorado Mark Udall (D): Colorado has been trending toward the Democrats recently. In 2010, Democrats retained a Senate seat they were expected to lose and in 2012, Obama won Colorado by 5 points even though pundits said it would be a nailbiter (Colorado's margin was only two points behind Georgia's 7 point Romney margin and no pundit called Georgia a target state,) and Democrats won the legislature. Also, Udall leads by 7 points against a Generic Republican according to a PPP poll on November 4th. A potential Republican candidate is Rep. Cory Gardner (R). However, these Colorado Republican House members do not do well in statewide races. For example, Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) lost in the 2006 gubernatorial race, Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) lost in the 2008 Senatorial race and Rep. Scott McInnis (R) lost in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. I am not a big fan of Colorado's Republican bench and I do not see Udall losing since Republican have not won a Senatorial race in Colorado since 2002.

Iowa Tom Harkin (D): Iowa is well known as a swing state but Harkin has been a Senator since 1984 and will be 74 years old on Election Day in 2014. He has also been quiet about retirement plans but many Senators serve well into their 70s and 80s (hello Frank Lautenberg, Daniel Inouye, Dianne Feinstein etc.) Harkin should be able to fend off Republican challenges due to his popularity but if he retires, expect this race to move to tossup immediately. Potential Republican candidates include conservative firebrand Rep. Steve King (R), popular Rep. Tom Latham (R) and Gov. Terry Bransted (R). Potential Democratic candidates may include Rep. Bruce Braeley (D), Rep. Dave Loesbeck (D) and Christie Vilsack (D), the former Iowa first lady who ran against King in 2012.

Massachusetts John Kerry (D): Kerry is popular enough to win reelection but if he is appointed to Secretary of State by the President, then Massachusetts will have an open Senate seat with a special election. We all remember how the last special election in Massachusetts turned out where Scott Brown (R) shocked everyone by defeating Attorney General Martha Coakley (D). Brown lost his Senate race in 2012 to Elizabeth Warren (D) by 8 points even though Warren may have been too liberal so Brown may be weaker than pundits believe. Democrats have a good list of potential candidates though including Rep. Edward Markey (D), Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and Rep. Edward Capuano who ran in the 2009 Special Election primary. A few pundits mentioned Coakley but she is more interested in running for Governor so many Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief now. Anyway, as long as Kerry stays in the Senate, he should win easily. If it is an open seat though and Brown runs, I am moving this race to Lean Democratic. Markey is a good fundraiser and the other Democrats should beat Brown but they will have to fight a real race. The race will be at Likely Democratic for now though.

Michigan Carl Levin (D): Like Iowa, this is another state with an older Democratic incumbent who should win easily if he runs but would create a competitive race if he retires. Like Harkin, Levin has been quiet about his retirement plans. Republicans have a large bench but it is weaker than it looks (as the 2012 Senate race showed. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) was supposed to be a strong candidate but he ran a racist ad  which ruined his campaign.) Still, Republicans could run Rep. Candice Miller (R) who is a strong fundraiser or Rep. Mike Rogers (R) who is very popular in his swing district. Democrats though could run Rep. Gary Peters (D) but besides that, they do not have a strong bench. Still, Michigan's Democratic lean means this race should lean Democratic if Levin retires.

New Mexico Tom Udall (D): Udall's approval ratings are in the low 50s right now which are good numbers in the blue leaning state of New Mexico. This state used to be a swing state in the early 2000s but has shifted toward the Democrats in the last few years as the Hispanic population shifted toward the Democrats. Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) could try at this seat but she lost by 6 points in the 2012 Senate race so she probably would not beat Udall. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) however could run a real challenge against Udall because her approval ratings are high (although they could change quickly because gubernatorial approval ratings are volatile,) but there has been no noise from her about running.

New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen (D): New Hampshire is such a bellwether state. It mirrors whichever party does well. For example, it went strongly Democratic in 2006, 2008 and 2012 while the Republicans did well in 2010. Midterms usually favor Republicans but Shaheen may be able to win. Her approval ratings are hovering around 50 and she leads a generic Republican opponent by 10 (the same poll sample showed Gubernatorial candidate Maggie Hassan (D) leading by 4 but Hassan won by 13 so this sample favored Republicans so Shaheen leads a generic Republican by more than 10.) Shaheen may face a challenge from former Sen. John Sunumu (R) but PPP shows Shaheen leading 53%-42% so Shaheen should win reelection as long as the Republican winds do not shift too far to the right.

Virginia: Mark Warner (D): Virginia may be a swing state but Warner is extremely popular here, mostly due to his strong career as Governor of Virginia from 2002 to 2006. He won the Senate seat in 2008 with 65% of the vote against former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R). In Virginia, the Governors have always run for Senate (Charles Robb (D), George Allen (R), Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D)) and it may happen again because Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is term limited out so he may challenge Warner. If the Republicans nominate an unknown candidate, I will move this race to 'Safe Democratic' but McDonnell should give Warner a race (although I expect Warner to win.) McDonnell is popular but Warner is more popular.

Lean Democratic:

Arkansas Mark Pryor (D): Pryor faced no Republican opponent in 2008 but he will not be as lucky in 2014. In 2008, Arkansas's congressional delegation was 3-1 Democratic and Democrats controlled the Legislature. In 2012, Republicans control the congressional delegation 4-0 and the Legislature. Rep. Tim Griffin (R), announced he will not run, helping Pryor because Griffin would have been a formidable foe. Still, Reps. Tom Cotton (R) and Steve Womack (R) are potential candidates. In 2010, Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln (D) lost and Republicans hope Pryor will follow her path. Pryor though is more popular than Lincoln and is from a strong political family. He has been moderate but did not anger the base the way Lincoln did. No polls have been released so it is difficult to assess the race but Pryor seems to have an edge.

Louisiana Mary Landrieu (D): Why am I placing Landrieu's seat in the Lean Democratic category despite Louisiana’s strong Republican bent? The reason is that Landrieu has become entrenched after representing Louisiana since 1996 and her political family is popular (her father Moon Landrieu (D) was Governor and her brother Mitch Landrieu (D) is mayor of New Orleans.) She also is popular in the New Orleans metropolitan area and can make inroads in the conservative New Orleans suburbs. Potential Republican candidates include Reps. Charles Boustany (R), Bill Cassidy (R) and John Fleming (R) (one of Fleming's aides said Fleming is interested.) Although the Republicans have many potential candidates, none of them have the star power needed to beat Landrieu but they should run a close race. Also, Louisiana has jungle primaries were candidates of all parties are on the same ballot and if no one receives 50% or more, they have another election between the top two in a month.

Minnesota: Al Franken (D): Franken's approval ratings are at 47/39 and 48%-42% against a generic Republican according to a recent PPP poll so Franken has more supporters than opponents but not by a large margin. Franken probably will win, especially if Michelle Bachmann (R) decides to challenge him. It is possible former Senator Norm Coleman (R) will run after losing in 2008 but he has been quiet about the race and Minnesota Republicans think he is more likely to run for Governor. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) stated he will not run but two strong potential candidates include Reps. John Kline (R) and Erik Paulsen (R). Neither Paulsen nor Kline have said they will not run but neither of them said they will. Paulsen could be the Mark Kirk of Minnesota because of his popularity in a swing district and his appeal to moderates (although his voting record is conservative.) Still, I expect Franken to win but it could be close.

Montana Max Baucus (D): Baucus has been a Senator from Montana since 1978 but he may face a tough race in 2014 even though he has fallen below 55% of the vote only once since his 1974 House election. His popularity sank because of the healthcare controversy and he has a 41/44 approval rating. He also leads a generic Republican 45/42 which means Republicans have a chance to beat Baucus but their bench is weak. Republicans ran their strongest candidate former Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) who lost the 2012 Senate race by 4. Democrats also won all statewide offices except Attorney General in 2012. Also, the influx of Democrats from California and other west coast states is helping Montana become less red. Possible Republican candidates include Attorney General Tim Fox (R), U.S. House Freshman Steve Daines (R) (although he may not be inclined to run after freshman Rick Berg (R) ran for Senate in ND and lost,) and Rehberg (Rehberg challenged Baucus in 1996 and lost though.) Another possibility is a primary challenge from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) because Schweitzer has not quashed any rumors about running although he may be more interested in higher office. Overall, Baucus's low approval ratings put this race at Lean Democratic but the weak Republican bench prevents it from reaching tossup. Republicans also usually underestimate how Montana ticketsplits for Republican Presidential candidates and Democratic statewide candidates. Republicans have not won a single Gubernatorial or Senatorial contest since 2000.

Alaska Mark Begich (D): If anyone is encouraged by Alaska's swing toward Obama (it was one of the five states where Obama performed better in 2012 than in 2008. He lost by 13 points in 2012 instead of by 20 in 2008,) Begich should be happy. In 2008, he barely won against Sen. Ted Stevens (R) who was extremely corrupt and represented Alaska since the 1960s. Begich has kept a moderate profile and will certainly be hard to beat. The Republicans though are already lining up to challenge him including Gov. Sean Parnell (R) and 2010 Senate candidate Joe Miller (R). Democrats should hope Miller gets the nomination because he is a far right conservative who might go the road of Todd Akin (R), Richard Mourdock (R) and Sharron Angle (R). Parnell though is a saner Republican so he would be harder to beat.

North Carolina Kay Hagan (D): The North Carolina Democratic Party took a beating recently with Republicans seizing control of the Governorship and State Legislature. Even Obama could not win North Carolina despite high turnout in the Democratic areas. In 2014, Democratic turnout will be lower but Hagan could make up for it with crossover support in rural eastern North Carolina (many white voters there support Democrats in statewide races.) Also, she has announced she will run.  Republicans though have a large bench of Congressmen looking to move up in the Senate.

South Dakota Tim Johnson (D): Johnson is no stranger to tough races. He faced two close elections in 1996 and 2002 and emerged successfully. His opponent though is popular former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) who recently announced his candidacy so Johnson faces a tough race. There were speculations he would retire but his statement suggests Johnson plans to stay in the race. If Johnson retires, Democrats could recruit former Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D) to run. Although Rounds is popular, he is very conservative and in 2006 signed a bill banning abortion, even in cases of rape. Voters had other ideas and overturned the bill 44%-56%. Johnson may run ads comparing Rounds's abortion positions with Akin's and Mourdock's. Also, Johnson needs to turn out the Native American voters because in 2002, they provided his winning margin. Overall, although South Dakota is a Republican state, the Dakotas will ticket split for Senate races as shown with Heidi Heitkamp's win in North Dakota so Johnson has a strong shot. I think Democrats are overreacting a bit here, Johnson probably will win although it could be close. If it is a Republican wave year, Republicans should win this though.

West Virginia Jay Rockefeller (D): Rep. Shelley Moore Captio (R) announced her candidacy for Senate. Rockefeller has served since 1984, has more than enough money but pundits say he is too liberal for West Virginia. I believe he is an institution in West Virginia but he needs to prepare for a tough race and he is in his mid 70s. However, Capito is moderate which helps her in the general election but since she is pro choice and West Virginia is a socially conservative state, I expect she will receive a challenge from the right such as 2010 and 2012 Senate candidate John Raese (R). Unless the tea party movement shrinks, a right wing challenger should be able to knock her off because I do not see how a socially conservative state such as West Virginia can nominate a pro choice Republican. As for Rockefeller's plans, he may decide to retire and has been quiet about his plans. If he does retire, Democrats could nominate former Sen. Carte Goodwin (D) or Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) for the seat. Overall, I think Capito is overhyped because she will get attacked by the right and it will be hard to beat Rockefeller because West Virginia still supports Democrats for statewide offices (and Rockefeller can self-fund.) Also, Capito probably announced early because she was worried about a conservative primary challenge and wanted to clear the field.

Likely Republican:
Georgia Saxby Chambliss: Although Chambliss seems safe enough from Democrats (he won in 2008 despite the high African American turnout,) Chambliss may not be safe enough from a Republican challenge on the right. The teabaggers may run a candidate because Chambliss may not follow the Norquist pledge. Potential candidates include 2010 Gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel (R), Rep. Tom Price (R), conservative editor of RedState Erick Erickson (R) and former Presidential candidate Herman Cain (R). A PPP poll showed Chambliss leads all challengers except Cain and 43%-38% of Republicans wanted a more conservative nominee. If Chambliss loses the primary, Democrats have a shot because if the Republican candidate is too extreme, Democrats could win the way they did in Indiana and Missouri. A potential candidate is Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed (D). Price leads by only 5 in the PPP poll against Reed so Reed could make it close (but Chambliss leads Reed by 15.) The Gubernatorial polling numbers are more favorable for Democrats though so Reed may run there.

Kentucky Mitch McConnell (R): Democrats would love to defeat the Minority Leader of the Senate and the Minority Leader of Americans who's first priority is to make Obama a one term President. McConnell may receive a challenge on the right but no candidate has emerged. For the Democrats though, actress and Kentucky native Ashley Judd (D) may run for the seat. She is well known, can attract national attention to this race and can raise money. Kentuckians though are not a fan of Hollywood Stars running for office (as shown in 2004 when George Clooney's Father Nick Clooney (D) ran for U.S. House and lost after Republicans tied him to Hollywood.) Still, Judd has real Kentucky roots and will be able to compete with McConnell on the airwaves (and a recent PPP poll shows her within four points of McConnell.)  Also, Kentucky has a tendency to support Democrats in statewide races, as shown when Democrats swept all but one statewide office in 2011. If she decides to run, this race will automatically move to Lean Republican but since Judd has not officially announced, this race remains at Likely Republican. Democrats control all but one statewide office in Kentucky but no candidate there has stepped forward to challenge McConnell.

Maine Susan Collins (R): Collins is very popular in Maine. In 2008, she won 62%-38% against a strong candidate, Rep. Tom Allen (D) so Collins should probably win again and PPP's early November poll gave Collins a 65% approval rating. If Collins decides to run, she will win. If she retires though, Democrats have a great chance to win and I will immediately move the race to Lean Democratic. Potential Democratic candidates include Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) and Rep. Michael McAuland (D). Pingree should be a strong candidate due to her popularity. Also, Collins may get a primary challenge from the right due to her moderate views. Although conventional wisdom says Maine is a moderate state, it does have its conservatives (Maine elected the unpopular teabagger Governor Paul LePage (R). 2012 Senate candidate Charlie Summers (R) is a potential primary challenger.

South Carolina A: Lindsay Graham (R): Graham has been shifting right lately because he is worried about a primary challenge. Even if Graham loses though, the seat should stay Republican because Democrats have a weak bench in South Carolina. Their only strong candidate is State Sen. Vincent Shaheen (D) but he seems more likely to run for Governor and leads Gov. Nikki Haley (R). Also, Graham receives 51% of the vote against a more conservative challenger but if he moderates himself on the fiscal cliff issue, expect the number to go south for him. 

Safe Republican

Alabama Jeff Sessions (R): Alabama has not elected a Democratic Senator in who knows how long. Anyway, Alabama is not unseating Sen. Sessions.

Idaho Jim Risch (R): As long as Risch does not follow the footsteps of former Idaho Senator Larry Craig (R), Risch should win reelection easily.

Kansas Pat Roberts (R): Even if former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) ran here, Roberts should hold this seat easily. Sebelius lost her popularity in the Obama Administration.

Mississippi Thad Cochran (R): Should be an easy hold for Republicans. 

Nebraska Mike Johannes (R): Nebraska is looking pretty safe for Republicans here. Not even former Gov. Bob Kerrey (D) could make a close race for Senate in 2012.

Oklahoma James Inhofe (R): Oklahoma is one of the five reddest states so Inhofe should have no trouble winning reelection. He may retire though because he will be 80 in 2014. If he does, Democrats should persuade Paul Ryan's wife's cousin former Rep. Dan Boren (D) or former Gov. Brad Henry (D) to run. Boren previously represented the 2nd district in eastern Oklahoma and won reelection with double digit margins, even in 2010. Henry was very popular as Governor however Oklahoma has been trending away from the Democratic Party quickly so Henry or Boren may run a slightly competitive race but should not win.
Safe Republican if Inhofe runs, Likely Republican if Boren or Henry runs +Inhofe retirement.

South Carolina B: Open Jim DeMint (R): DeMint resigned to work for the Heritage Foundation. There is no strong Democratic candidate waiting to run for office though (unless Stephen Colbert decides to run as a Democrat.) Republicans should hold this. 

Tennessee Lamar Alexander (R): It was only 2006 that Democrats controlled the Governorship, five House seats and came within three points of winning a Senate seat. Those days are long gone now; Tennessee is a solidly Republican state. Democrats control two House seats and won 30% in the 2012 Senate race.

Texas John Cornyn (R): Texas is trending Democratic but Cornyn should have no trouble winning. 

Wyoming Michael Enzi (R): Assuming former Gov. Dave Freudental (D) does not run here, Enzi should have an easy race.


Ed said...

As you pointed out, Lautenberg is 90 years old. One scenario that has not gotten much attention is that Lautenberg dies before the election, and Christie appoints a Republican that is able to hold the seat, even with the small interim Senator incumbency advantage.

Kerry's appointment as Secretary of State is more likely. However, I think the Brown win in 2010 was mainly due to the Democrats running a genuinely awful candidate. If I was advising Deval Patrick, I would advise him to bring Paul Kirk back for another go as interim Senator, then run in the special election himself.

Alibguy said...

Yeah, Deval Patrick could run for that Senate seat. I agree with you though that Brown won because we ran a bad candidate and our special election candidate whoever it may be will not call Curt Schilling a Yankee player.

I am thinking Ed Markey may run and he's a good fundraiser so he should be able to beat Brown. Also, Patrick would make a great candidate too and he should go for it because his term is up in 2014. Brown also took a beating after his loss so I don't see him winning again.

Good point about Lautenberg dying but I think we should win in New Jersey. Republicans besides Christie with his popular personality have been unable to win statewide in New Jersey.