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Senate Republicans in 2014: do Democrats have targets?

by: AJNolte

Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 13:59:22 PM EST


Following up on my diary discussing the senate races almost certain to be contested, I've noticed that, as in 2012, most of the races tend to be Democrats in tough to hold seats. So, let me follow up with an in-depth look at the incumbent Republicans up for re-election, and why I think the Democrats could very conceivably fail to unseat any of them. First, a general note. In some ways, the senate picture for Democrats in 2014 could be even more difficult than the senate picture was for them at the beginning of the 2012 cycle. Relative to this class as it existed in 2006, Democrats only gained 2 new seats, Maine and Indiana (Massachusetts was, of course, won by Republicans  in a special election in 2010, so relative to 2006, Massachusetts was actually a Democratic hold). I point this out because, in 2014, Democrats look likely to be facing an election cycle even more stacked against them, where offense is concerned. There is one legitimate pick-up opportunity if a Republican retires, but all the low-hanging fruit was plucked for this class in 2008, and most of the seats now held by Republicans would probably need an O'Donnellesque candidate to win a primary against far from Castlesque opposition to have a shot at picking them up. Now, this isn't to say that there won't be retirements, but I seriously doubt Democrats could actually benefit from them, with one important exception.

With that said, here's the race by race:

Alabama. Jeff Sessions will win comfortably if he runs for reelection. Given that he's sort of median age for a senator--in his late sixties--retirement seems unlikely here. If he did hang it up, Republicans have a host of candidates in an open seat, as every row office is now held by a Republican, as are most of the congressional districts. Among the house-members, I could see either Roby (AL-02) or Brooks (AL-05) looking for a promotion here, whereas the rest of the delegation (Bonner, Bacchus, Aderholt) might be a bit unwilling to give up seniority, and Bacchus probably couldn't win a primary. Democrats' best candidate in an open seat scenario just switched parties and moved away, and their second-best candidate just lost reelection to her row office (that's Artur Davis and Lucy Baxley respectively). Side note: with row officers named Luther Strange, Twinkle Cavinaugh and Young Boozer, Alabama totally wins in the best political names in the nation department.

Georgia. I mentioned Georgia previously as a seat Democrats would target, so let me skip straight to the retirement question. If Chambliss does hang it up--and I'm by no means convinced he will--Republicans' bench here is pretty deep. Tom Price has been mentioned a lot here, but I wouldn't entirely count out Secretary of State Karen Handel, if she doesn't end up primarying Nathan Deal, or Reps Austin Scott and Phil Gingrey. One person I don't think will or should run here, in the event of a retirement, is Herman Cain. Democrats' best candidate here is probably one of the gentlemen who lost to Roy Barns in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 2010: Thurbert Baker, the former Attorney General, or state senator Dubose Porter. After fighting tooth and nail to keep his seat, I don't see John Barrow giving it up to run for senate, but he could surprise me and pull a Joe Donnelly. I don't think Barrow can win in a mid-term against any of the candidates I've mentioned accept maybe Cain.

Idaho. Jim Risch is planning to run again, but he's also 71, so should probably at least be on the retirement watch list. The biggest concern, in this eventuality, would be a clown-car primary. Butch Otter, Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador could all be possible candidates, and Education Super-Intendant Tom Luna has taken a pretty prominent role. Democrats' only conceivable credible recruit here is Walt Minnick. I don't really see him as either willing or able, but he's pretty much the only Democrat I know of who could be credible.

Kansas. Pat Roberts is apparently planning to run again, and already raising money for the run. At 78, Roberts could be one to watch for retirement, but even if he does, Democrats would have serious bench issues. Yoder, Jenkins, Huelskamp and Pompio could all run, and to the best of my knowledge, the only Democrat to run and win statewide in Kansas within the past ten years is currently serving as Obama's HHHS Secretary, which pretty much precludes a run. Dennis Moore's medical-related retirement in 2010 takes him out of the running, which means Democrats are probably looking at a state Senator with little name recognition. A Roberts retirement would almost certainly lead to a crowded primary, but I doubt the general election would be any more contested here than it was in 2010.

Kentucky. Mitch McConnell won't be retiring; the question is, do Democrats have anyone remotely capable of beating him. I hear a lot of talk about candidates here, from Steve Beshear to Allison Grimes. What I have yet to hear is a convincing explanation of why any statewide Democrat would want to run against McConnell when Rand Paul or the probably open governor's mansion in 2015 would both seem like more viable targets? Beshear might figure he's better off running for senate in a mid-term, but I'm still skeptical. Even if Democrats did get a top-tier recruit here, I really don't see Kentucky, a state which actually moved further away from Obama in 2012, as a state we can reasonably expect to send a Democratic senator to Washington in Obama's sixth year.

Maine. I'll admit this is the seat which scares me the most. Susan Collins is 61, which is around or below median for a senator, but has already served three terms, and I'm a bit worried she'll follow Olympia Snow out the door. If Collins leaves, Democrats could probably win with either Pingree or Michaud. The best-case scenario would be for Governor John Baldacci to run and win the primary, or for a three-way race with an independent not named Angus King. Republicans' bench here looks a lot like 2012: Charlie Summers, Bill Schnider, Kevin Raye. Bottom line: if Collins retires, this is a likely pick-up for Democrats.

Mississippi. This is Thad cochran's sixth term, and he'll be 76 in 2014. If he runs again, he wins. If he retires, I think Reps Stephen Pelazzo, Greg Harper and Allen Nunnelee, as well as the three statewide officers: Delbert Hoseman, Tate Reeves and Stacy Pickering, are all potential candidates. Reeves and Nunnelee seem like the most likely to me; Reeves is perceived as ambitious and Nunnelee was a quite powerful figure on the Appropriations Committee of the Mississippi senate before he moved to congress in 2010. Democrats' best recruit would be AG Jim Hood, but I'm not sure he's interested in D.C. or could win an election with national implications. Hood's a very effective populist politician, but I don't know how receptive Mississippi would be to any Democrat for senate.

Nebraska. I'd be totally shocked if Mike Johanns retired, and even more shocked if this seat was even remotely competitive. There really isn't much to say here. If, for some reason, Johanns did retire, I have to think Bruning would run again, if Dave Heineman didn't jump in.

Oklahoma. Jim Inhoffe is widely rumored to be on retirement watch, and he will be 79 at the close of his third term in 2014. If he does retire, current Rep. James Langford, former Rep. J.C. Watts or Governor Mary Fallin seem like plausible candidates. Newly-elected Reps Markwayne Mullen and Jim Bridenstine, and Speaker of the house designate T.W. Shannon all seem like candidates with potentially bright futures who could be credible here, but don't seem likely. Democrats could run either Drew Edmundson, to my knowledge the only democratic Attorney General to join the lawsuit against Obamacare, or retired Rep. Dan Boren. Either could run strongly, but I question whether either could win, or would want to try in a mid-term.

South Carolina. I've covered this one before, but to update, State Senator and Ron Paul backer Tom Davis looks very likely to primary Lindsey Graham here. Could Davis pull a Mourdock on us? Yes, but I'm not sure how likely it is. For one thing, Graham seems to be taking the challenge much more seriously than Lugar did. For another, Democrats don't have a Joe Donnelly equivalent readily apparent. State Senator Vincent Shaheen ran an unexpectedly good race against Nikki Haley, but I don't know that Democrats have a bench beyond him. Even with Davis, who I think probably won't win his primary, I'd call this one likely R.

Tennessee. Lamarre Alexander is planning to run for reelection. I suppose he could face a primary here, but given conservatives' tendency to divide themselves and allow more moderate candidates to conquer in Tennessee, I'd have to give the edge to Alexander in any such scenario. If Alexander does hang it up, which I doubt, Black, Blackburn, Jimmy Duncan and maybe even Fincher could all possibly run. For Democrats, either Bretteson or Cooper would be the recruits of choice. I frankly don't see either of them as all that interested, but they certainly might surprise me in an open-seat scenario.

Texas. Of everyone on this list, Mike Johanns is the senator I'm most supremely confident of seeing back in 2014 (given my track record at predictions, of course, he'll announce his retirement within the month). However, John Cornyn's in a fairly close second. He's served two terms, is in his mid sixties, and Texas has been really tough for Democrats, despite repeated bursts of optimism. If Cornyn did retire, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst would be a potential candidate. I don't know which, if any, of the Texas house delegation might run for an open seat, but if Dewhurst bows out, at least one of them would probably run. Democrats' bench looks...pretty much the same as their bench has looked for the past couple of election cycles in Texas.

Wyoming. Mike Enzi will be finishing up his third term and turning 70 in 2014. He would win in a walk if he opted to run again. If he retires, Rep. Cynthia Lumis, State Auditor Rita Myer, and current governor Matt Mead  would be the most likely candidates. Democrats only hope would be to convince former governor Dave Freudenthal to come out of retirement and run in an up-hill race against a Republican with statewide name recognition in a mid-term election.

The bottom line for all but one of the Republican seats up for reelection in 2014 is that these are really red states. True, some of them have had Democratic governors in the past, but getting these governors to run for senate would be about as difficult as getting Republican governors like Donald Carcieri, Jody Rel or Jim Douglas to run for senate. Even if they did run, as Linda Lingle did in Hawaii, the prospects of winning a senate race in a state which leans toward the other party nationally as strongly as these states do is pretty daunting. Ultimately then, for Republicans, we can probably play pure offense in 2014 as long as we convince Susan Collins not to retire.  

AJNolte :: Senate Republicans in 2014: do Democrats have targets?
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Nice!
Some minor thoughts -

Georgia: I do count out Woodall, as he's raised bupkis since 2010 and has been invisible by even backbencher standards. Austin Scott is a posibility, but I'd still put him behind Gingrey and even Graves.

Idaho:  Mike Simpson could run. My theory is that he didn't run in 2008 not because he didn't want to but because he simply deffered to Risch. Whoever runs will probably clear the field thanks to ID's strong wait-your-turn tradition.

Kansas: One other Democrat did win statewide, AG Paul Morrison, but he resigned for having an affair with a staffer. Moore has a very bad disease (I forget what it is exactly). I'd think State Sens. Kelly Kultala or Tom Holland are Democrats' only realistic options here.

Kentucky: The reason Beshear, at least, would run is that he and McConnell still have a grudge. He would also be one of the few Democrats that would benefit from a midterm; in KY there seems to be a pattern of high turnout favoring Republicans for some reason.

Mississippi: Don't overlook the SWOs as options, particularly Tate Reeves, Delbert Hosemann, and Stacey Pickering.

R, WV-1


Good points.
I'll adjust accordingly. I couldn't remember the SWOS' names in Mississippi, but I'll add them. I've heard Reeves in particular is extremely ambitious.  

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.

[ Parent ]
Moore has early-onset Alzheimer's
That makes it even more puzzling that his wife ran. Caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's is a round-the-clock job and not something that a Member of Congress can handle.

[ Parent ]
He wasn't diagnosed until 2011
I imagine he retired because he knew his mind wasn't what it used to be, but he probably didn't realize how serious it was.

R, WV-1

[ Parent ]
Kelly Kultala
She was unseated in the general election...

19, Republican, KS-03
Standing strong with Senator Roberts and Governor Brownback.


[ Parent ]
My take
I think the following will definitely not retire and will not get a serious primary challenge: Sessions, McConnell, Johanns, and Cornyn.

The following might retire, otherwise will not get a serious primary challenge: Risch, Roberts, Collins, Enzi, Inhofe, and Cochran.

The following might retire, but will get a serious primary challenge if they don't: Chambliss, Alexander, and Graham.

If Risch retires, I see Raul Labrador running. The Club for Growth will love him and I don't see Simpson challenging him, especially as he is building up seniority.

If Roberts retires, I see Lynn Jenkins and Kris Kobach going for it in a major clash.

We are in trouble if Collins retires.

I see Enzi retiring, but very late to give Lummis the seat without a tough primary.

I also see Inhofe retiring, but with Fallin walking into the seat.

I also see Cochran retiring, but with many names jumping in and none from the congressional delegation.

And the last three, I would like to see all three retire even though I don't think they will, which might set up a Lugar/Mourdock situation. I would prefer Handel, Blackburn, and Scott getting those seats.

29/Male/Married/Father of One/Republican/CA-3


I think Fallin will wait for 2016
Remember that Coburn has already declared that seat open. Fallin is a lock for re-election as Governor in 2014, so I think that if Inhofe's seat opens up she'll let the other contenders know that this is the time to have at it, because she'll be running in two years. A 2016 run also gives her a free pass to return to her day job in the event of an upset.

[ Parent ]
I've brought this up before
But why would Fallin give up two years of seniority if she is going to run at some point anyway? Especially when she is extremely popular. In two years anything can happen.

29/Male/Married/Father of One/Republican/CA-3

[ Parent ]
That's true
It just comes down to what she enjoys more: being Governor or being in Congress. As she's pinged back and forth between state government and Congress, there's no real way to tell. I guess we'll find out if Inhofe retires.

[ Parent ]
Hmm, I forgot she did that.
Lieutenant Governor to congress to senate, I believe. That would be interesting, in that it would create an open seat governor's race. Who runs for us in that eventuality?

If Fallin does run for senate, I feel pretty confident in saying we keep the seat; any ambitious Democrat is running for governor, not senate.

Did I forget Tom Cole in my list of OK congressmen, and is he likely to run for something or build up seniority?

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.


[ Parent ]
I say run
Cole got knocked out of the leadership ladder after his disastrous 2008 NRCC stint. He also doesn't have much seniority and is too old to build up a lot of it.

R, WV-1

[ Parent ]
Alright, I'll add him.
N/T.

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.

[ Parent ]
Governors like being Governors
a good parallel is Richard Bryan (D-NV) in the 80s. Why would he have passed up the open seat in 1986 to take on an incumbent in 1988? For many Governors (Fallin probably among them) they're not anxious to give up the power of a Governorship for the comparatively more sedate life of a Senator. Thus, it makes sense to take the last Senate opportunity before being term-limited.

R, WV-1

[ Parent ]
Another example
Jim Exon (D-NE) in the 70s - he passed over the 1976 open seat to wait for the one in 1978.

R, WV-1

[ Parent ]
the thing is
She'd have to run a campaign in '14 anyway.  As much as some people like being Govenor (and if she does, then I don't know why she'd leave early), some also don't want to run a full statewide campaign and then once you win, start gearing up immediately for another one months later.  If her goal is the Senate, I agree, then just run if she can in '14 rather than running for Gov in '14 and Senate in '16.

[ Parent ]
Responses.
ID: I doubt Labrador would get a clean shot. There are so many statewide officers who could run even if Simpson doesn't. I like Labrador, but I just don't see all that many people stepping aside for him.
Graham's probably not getting a primary challenger beyond Tom Davis, because DeMint has self-imposed term limits in 2016. I definitely like Tim Scott for 2016, although he might want to stay in the house and become speaker one day or something. Duncan, Goudy, Mulvaney and even Wilson are all possibly going to run in 2016 as well. But Tim Scott is awesome; club for growth + Chick-fil-A = win.
I could definitely see Allen Nunnellee running for senate. I remember he was a big deal in the MS senate before running for the house. But Tate Reeves would be a likely candidate.

Handel is probably running for GA-Gov, and that's probably better. You can't tell me the GA GOP can't do better than Nathan Deal.  

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.


[ Parent ]
Scott has term-limited himself in the House.
Unless he breaks his pledge, he won't be a lifer. I don't know if that means he'll run for the Senate or if he'll just retire. He might not even know the answer to that question.

21, Male, Conservative Republican, TN-08 (home), VA-01 (college)

[ Parent ]
I think every responsible Republican
Needs to send Collins a Benjamin early next year

Might be the highest ROI of any contribution we could make if she's buttered up into staying  


[ Parent ]
What about fmr. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry (D)?
He retired due to term limits at a very young age and could cause headaches for Republicans.

Henry's a thought...
But his problem is the same as Bretteson and Freudenthal, or Rel and Douglas for Republicans. The people of your home state may love you as a governor, but that doesn't mean they want you to go to the senate and vote like a national Democrat. Heck, Joe Manchin ran in 2010 against a three-time candidate who ran a lackluster campaign, and still had to shoot cap and trade to get elected. Against someone like Fallin, Watts, Langford or Cole, I think it'd be likely R, lean R at worst even with Henry.

Frank Lucas: potential candidate here or not? I forgot him as well. It's embarrassing to realize how many congressmen I don't know.  

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.


[ Parent ]
OK Senate
I'd say it's Lean R against Henry.
Lucas won't run; He's the House Ag chair and has almost 20 years of House seniority.  

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
politicohen.com.
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.


[ Parent ]
I could see lean R under certain circumstances.
For example, if Henry raised a boat-load of cash, or Obama suddenly gets a lot more popular. Even if you're a two-term governor though, it's hard to transition to the senate in a state as solidly for the other party as Oklahoma is for Republicans. I'm thinking a Henry run here is Linda Lingle 2012 redux; a good campaign that gives the party hope but ultimately can't overcome the state. And if it's Henry v. Fallin, I doubt it's even that close.  

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.

[ Parent ]
Hawaii is not an ancestrally Republican state
and Obama will not be on the ballot.  I think Lean R is a fair assessment of the race if Henry were to get in.  I'd say Likely R if it were a Senate race, however.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
politicohen.com.
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.


[ Parent ]
Yes it is
HI was R-dominated until John A. Burns organized the Asian and Native Hawaiian population into a strong machine in the 50s and 60s.

R, WV-1

[ Parent ]
True, if you go back enough
But there aren't RINOs there like there are in Connecticut or Vermont.  Not similar to the DINOs in Oklahoma.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
politicohen.com.
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.


[ Parent ]
Wrong again, sorry
The average HI Republican is actually quite liberal by national standards; quite a few state legislators there would be laughed out of a Republican primary on the mainland. It's just that the state as a whole is so far to the left that they're still at the right fringe of the HI spectrum. I'd guess Lingle is at about the median of the HIGOP.

HI and OK would be very good inverse parallels if it weren't for the fact that HI Dems were largely organized from non-voters, whereas OK Republicans grew organically through party-switches and generational turnover. That made HI's transition much more abrupt and gave Republicans significantly less staying power.

R, WV-1


[ Parent ]
I don't think that's true
Hawaii certainly has moderate Republicans, just like every blue state besides CA/OR/WA which have far fewer.  But it isn't the same as Oklahoma:

1) As Setsuna Mudo said, Henry had 70% approval.  Lingle's was around 50/50.

2) Obama won't be on the ballot, so there won't be downticket drag like the type that hurt Ben Chandler and Mark Critz, who both would have won if 2012 was a neutral midterm.

3) Oklahoma has been electing at least one Democrat to Congress every cycle of the last few.  OK-2 and some of OK-4 have FAR more Democrats than Hawaii has Republicans, percentage wise.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
politicohen.com.
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.


[ Parent ]
Oh, you meant lean R in an open-seat governor's race?
That's probably accurate. The issue for Henry would be term limits. I thought you were talking about lean R for a senate race, which I don't think is credible, but lean R if Henry tries to go back to OK-Gov makes sense.

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.

[ Parent ]
I'd say the cusp of Lean and Likely
for a Senate race.  I'd be comfortable with either.

Age 21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)
politicohen.com.
Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal but not progressive.  For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.

Berkeley Class of 2015.


[ Parent ]
Henry and Lingle
Lingle was not popular when she left office; her approval ratings were break even at best and usually slightly underwater. Henry would be an underdog, but he left office with a 70% approval rating (link: http://capitolbeatok.com/repor... ) -- while a lot of that is soft support, it's in a different league than Lingle. Lingle had the campaign apparatus and fundraising connections of a former Governor, but none of the warm feelings it would take to make such a tough state competitive. It would also, of course, be an off year election, which would almost definitely benefit Henry.

That adds up to a cautious Lean R, but a considerably more competitive race than the nascent gadfly that was Lingle 2012.

(-9.38, -7.49), libertarian socialist, KY 01, "When smashing monuments, save the pedestals. They always come in handy."


-- Stanisław Lem


[ Parent ]
It's not just Lingle though.
Deep red and deep blue state governors from the opposite party just don't transition to senate races all that successfully; Manchin was the exception that proves the rule in many ways given his unexpectedly tough race against a weak opponent in 2010. If you don't like the Hawaii comparison, try Vermont. There's a reason the very popular Jim Douglas never tried to run for senate.

If Fallin runs for senate in 2014, Henry might successfully try for OK-Gov. But in a senate race with the six year itch and Obama continuing not to indear himself to anyone right of him, I really don't see even Henry making OK-Sen competitive in 2014.  

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.


[ Parent ]
OK has lifetime term limits
Henry can't be governor again IIRC.

R, WV-1

[ Parent ]
Interesting.
So basically, if he wants to get back into politics, he needs to run for senate. I'm still skeptical that he'll pull the trigger.  

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.

[ Parent ]
Could there be a Jerry Brown like exception for him?
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki...

Under Section Four in Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution, the Governor serves a four year term in office beginning on the second Monday in January. Also, the same Section provides that no person may hold the office of Governor for more than two terms consecutively. On November 2, 2010 voters passed a ballot initiative to limit Governors to only eight years as Governor.

29/Male/Married/Father of One/Republican/CA-3


[ Parent ]
Hmm, maybe
Not sure if it applies retroactively, as some of these statutes do.

Regardless, Henry has largely fallen out of the public eye after his term ended; he doesn't seem like he's chomping at the bit to run again.

R, WV-1


[ Parent ]
Lucas is termed out as Ag Chair after this coming term
He'll be 54 in 2014, which means he could serve 4 or 5 terms in the Senate if he wanted to. The incentive for him to stay in the House would be the Banking Committee, where he'll be 4th in seniority once Hensarling takes the gavel this January.

[ Parent ]
Interesting.
I didn't realize Lucas was that (comparatively) young. His ag background could make him formidable also.  

male, social, fiscal and foreign policy center-right Republican, in but not of academia, VA-08.

[ Parent ]
Wyoming
I thought the plan was that Mike Enzi retires in 2014 and that Liz Cheney gets a free ride in the race to succeed him.

Right plan, wrong name
Lummis would get a free ride in that scenario as she would have a statewide campaign already up and running.

The house race would probably be Cheney's to lose then, with potentially Rita Meyer as competition.

R, WV-1


[ Parent ]
I agree, except on the Meyer part
The worry (from what I've heard from someone in the know from WY) is that Meyer would challenge Lummis for an open senate seat.

That is likely why Enzi won't announce his plans until late, thus boxing Meyer out.  

29/Male/Married/Father of One/Republican/CA-3


[ Parent ]
Doesn't Cheney reside in NOVA?
Good luck with that.

24, MA-07, Rockefeller Republican. Visit me at http://twitter.com/polibeast

[ Parent ]
Just moved to WY
why I think Meyer is more likely to challenger her than Lummis, especially if the race starts very late.

R, WV-1

[ Parent ]
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