3. Lousiana Tossup
Mary Landrieu has cheated political death many times, winning three tough senate races by tight margins in red (and getting redder) Louisiana. Republicans are hoping that 2014 is when her luck runs out; Rep. Bill Cassidy is laying the groundwork for a run and has shown strong fundraising; most of the Republican establishment seems to be silently giving their support. Potential confounding factors in the jungle primary could be Rep. John Fleming, outgoing Rep. Jeff Landry, and Treasurer/2004 candidate/2008 nominee John N. Kennedy, who all may run as well. A crowded primary could force a runoff, which is the scenario that allowed Landrieu to win in 2002. On the other hand, there are circumstances (such as an evenly divided Senate) where a runoff might be beneficial to Republican chances. For now, this one's a pure tossup.
4. Alaska Tossup
Mark Begich, possibly 2008's biggest fluke winner, is certain to face a tough fight for a second term. He's largely been an invisible generic D in the Senate, which generally leads to high but soft approval ratings. The big quesiton mark in this race is Gov. Sean Parnell. Parnell has sounded open to forgoing a second full term to challenge Begich, but seems genuinely uncecided about it. If he does take the plunge, the popular governor would likely clear the primary field and be at parity to a slight favorite over Begich in the very red state. Though he's said he would defer to Parnell, LG Mead Treadwell has begun testing the waters for a bid and would be a strong candidate. Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan also sounds interested; both Treadwell and Sullivan probably make the race a pure tossup quite quickly. A much weaker possible candidate would be 2010 nominee Joe Miller.
5. Arkansas Tossup
After not drawing any Republican opposition in 2008, Mark Pryor is high on target lists this time. Because Rep. Tim Griffin surprisingly decided not to run, the most likely candidate is Rep-elect Tom Cotton. Cotton is a favorite of many Republican insiders after his massive early fundraising and locking down of AR-4 as one of Republicans' easiest congressional pickups this year. After Berg's issues in ND, there is likely to be unease about running a one-term congressman here, which may lead Rep. Steve Womack to be considered as a plan B. Womack has a lower profile than Cotton though, and Cotton seems to be the subject of the most buzz. If he does run, he will need to wait for quite some time to avoid the "running for a new office before getting settled in your old one" knock. If both sitting congressmen demur, the quality of bench drops dramatically as the other big name, LG Mark Darr, is looking more toward a Gubernatorial race. Outgoing State Sen. Gilbert Baker might be a Plan C option, and some lousy candidates who might run include Curtis Coleman and outgoing State Sen. Kim Hendren. Cotton would be a tough challenger for Pryor in a state that's stampeding to the right, but the incumbent does have some advantages in a moderate profile and a golden last name from his popular Governor and Senator father. This one should be a barn-burner.
6. North Carolina Tossup
In what's probably the longest streak of competitive elections of any state, North Carolina hasn't had a noncompetitive Senate election since 1974. And it looks like 2014 will certainly not break that pattern, with Kay Hagan posessing tepid approval ratings in a swingy to light red state. House Speaker Thom Tillis is generally considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination, but he has very low name rec and most likely will not get a cleared primary. The other names being seriously talked about are former ambassador James Cain, State Senate President Phil Berger, and attorney Kieran Shanahan. Reps. Patrick McHenry and Renee Ellmers could also mount a bid. In an expensive state, trying to make sure the primary does not become too acrimonious (and also avoiding a resource and time-depleting runoff) are paramount concerns for Republicans. Thus, the fewer names that run here, the better. Right now this race is a pure tossup, but with the Republican candidates all little-known it could shift signfiicantly in either direction.
Leans toward incumbent party:7. Montana Lean D
Max Baucus hasn't faced a competitive race since 1996, but his authorship of Obamacare and a scandal surrounding his attempt to get his girlfriend appointed US Attorney have left Republicans feeling he is vulnerable. That said, Baucus has two things going for him - a giant warchest from his finance committee chairmanship, and a state that has historically been friendly to Democrats on the local level. The Montana GOP bench is surprisingly weak for such a red state; AG Tim Fox and Rep.-elect Steve Daines could run, but both are new enough in their offices that it would likely be unwise for either to risk taking on Baucus. The most likely office-holder to run is ex-State Sen. Corey Stapleton, who lost this year's gubernatorial primary to Rick Hill. Former State Sens. Bob Keenan and Ken Miller are other possibilities. However, the MT GOP might be better off finding someone outside of elected office, preferably a self-funder. A self-funder would do two things here - neutralize Baucus's cash advantage in a cheap state, and highlight his decades of Washington service and insidery nature. Despite the early timepoint, the red state in an Obama midterm, and Baucus's intrinsic vulnerabilities, we'll err on the side of caution and call this Lean D, though it is very tempting to call it a Tossup. The potential is there to take Baucus down, but it remains to be seen if Montana Republicans have enough power to capitalize.
8. Massachusetts Lean D
With Sen. John Kerry looking like the all-but-certain nominee for Secretary of State, speculation is already turning to the special election to succeed him, which will be held 4-5 months after he breezes through Senate confirmation, meaning in early summer. Republicans are blessed with not one but 3 strong candidate possibilites. Plan A is, of course, Scott Brown, though speculation is he's heading more toward a gubernatorial bid. Plan B is former Gov. Bill Weld, who has aggressively begun raising his profile after moving back into the state from New York. If Weld finds the waters inhospitable, plan C is 2010 gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker, who is thought to be more interested in being Governor but could easily make a Senate bid if Brown wants to run for the Corner Office. On the D side, speculation largely centers around Rep. Mike Capuano, who lost the 2010 special primary to Martha Coakley, Newton mayor Setti Warren, who was forced out of the 2012 race for Elizabeth Warren, and charity founder Alan Khazei, who has both distinctions. Reps. Steven Lynch and Ed Markey may also be interested. MA Dems won't be caught napping this time, and the state is still strongly blue, but a special election would likely be a competitive affair with one of the MAGOP's A team facing an uninspiring Democrat. But there's a chance the special will not be held at all if Democrats change the law 9. Minnesota Lean D
because they can "for valid non-partisan good government principles". In that case Dems would have an advantage of some degree in trying to keep the seat in 2014.
Though Sen. Al Franken's approval numbers have been high as a result of his newfound "inoffensive backbencher" persona, Franken has a trail of controversy longer than the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota from his pre-Senate days. Franken is in a much stronger position than any D who won 42% in 2008 has any right to be, but he is vulnerable under the right circumstances. A lot of this race depends on whether the MNGOP can get its act together and recruit/support a strong candidate. The unquestioned best recruit would be Rep. Erik Paulsen, though Rep. John Kline would also be strong. If both pass our chances at making a run against Franken likely decline precipitously now that Pawlenty has cashed out; 2012 candidate Pete Hegseth might be a backup candidate but wouldn't be particularly strong.
10. New Jersey Lean D
The dyamics of this race depend on two people - Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. And the later is more important. Recent speculation has been that Booker is interested in running for the Senate, and is unafraid to take on Lautenberg in a primary (a primary that Booker would probably win, though it wouldn't be a sure thing as there is some grousing on the left about him.) If Booker does become the D nominee, Republicans have little to no chance against the legendary action hero. However, the boring and jurrassic Lautenberg may be another story. If he runs again at age 90 (as he swears he wants to do) and gets the D nomination, he could be an attractive target for the right Republican. Our best recruit would be State Senate Minority Leader and 2006 nominee Tom Kean Jr, but other speculated names include LG Kim Guandagno and State Sen. and 2012 nominee Joe Kyrillos. Additional potential strong candidates might also include Rep. Leonard Lance and State Sen. Diane Allen. In the unlikely event that Lautenberg retires and Booker doesn't run, Democrats' most likely plan C is Rep. Frank Pallone. The other congressman itching for a Senate promotion, Rob Andrews, is caught up in an ethics scandal, which does not necessarily hamper one's electability in New Jersey but is not exactly a plus.
Likely to stay with incumbent party:
11. Iowa Likely D
Harkin has not-great approval ratings, but experience leads us to be wary of thinking he's too vulnerable - Republicans targeted him three times in a row from 1990 to 2002 and came up short every time. The liberal but likeable Harkin has become pretty entrenched, so even a strong candidate like Rep. Tom Latham would probably have a tough (but not impossible) climb. Unfortunately, the one candidate talking out loud about challenging Harkin, Rep. Steve King, is much more polarizing and has a history of foot-in-mouth disease. Harkin is also a retirement prospect, which would change the dynamics of this race dramatically; Rep. Bruce Braley is almost certain to be the D nominee if Harkin retires. While Braley is a good candidate for Democrats and would be a slight favorite against King, the race would be no better for him than a tossup against someone like Latham or LG Kim Reynolds.
12. New Hampshire Likely D
Famously finicky New Hampshire knows what it likes - fiscal conservative social liberals that don't make a lot of noise - but often has trouble figuring out though which party that categorization applies to. Jeanne Shaheen is at the left end of that ideological range but nevertheless within it, and her approval ratings are decent if not spectacular. At this point it looks like the only Republican who could beat Shaheen is ex-Sen. John E. Sununu. Though Sununu has kept himself in the penumbra of the policial spotlight with a regular op-ed column in the Globe, he doesn't seem to be aching for a third bout with Shaheen and most insiders think he'll ultimately pass. Republicans' most likely candidate is a decidedly weaker choice, outgoing Rep. Frank Guinta, who probably stands little chance short of the state having another of its legendary political mood swings.
13. Colorado Likely D
Mark Udall doesn't seem to be particularly vulnerable in purple Colorado, but one of Republicans' best candidates, Rep. Cory Garder, is apparently at some stage of considering a bid. Gardner would start as the distinct underdog, but could have a decent chance at an upset with his strong political skill and fundraising connections. If Gardner doesn't run, other strong options could include AG John Suthers, Rep. Mike Coffman, Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and former LG Jane Norton. State Sen. Kevin Lundberg might also be interested but would be a weak choice. Udall is inoffensive, so any Republican would probably need a significant tailwind or to run a great campaign in order to oust him.
14. Kentucky Likely R
How tough is the playing field for Democrats? Tough enough that their first offensive opportunity is all the way down at #14, and furthermore, it's taking on the Republican leader. Whether you believe PPP's awful approval ratings or not, Mitch McConnell is not beloved in Kentucky, that much is clear. After a surprising scare in 2008, McConnell is campaigning like he's gearing up for the fight of his life - hiring a Rand Paul aide as his campaign manager to attempt to parry any primary challenge before it starts, sitting on a giant warchest, and openly telling prospective competitors to expect a no-holds-barred campaign against them. So far the strategy seems to be working, as most traditional candidates on both sides seem to have been scared out of exploring a bid. This situation has thus left Democrats turning to liberal actress and Tennessee resident Ashley Judd. Judd wouldn't be a strong candidate in conservative Kentucky, but if she caught a perfect storm might have a chance due to McConnell's low popularity and likeability. If Democrats want to go with a more conventional candidate, the only people of stature who haven't ruled it out appear to be SoS Alison Grimes and former Auditor Crit Luallen - though both, like the rest of the KYDP bench, appear more interested in the 2015 gubernatorial open seat. 15. Oregon Likely D
Jeff Merkley, a bit of a gadfly, has relatively tepid approval ratings and would face a very tough election against an "A" list candidate - if Oregon's GOP can find one. The "A" team, Greg Walden and Gordon Smith, don't seem interested, as Walden is moving up the house ladder and Smith lives in Maryland cashing in on his public service as head of the Broadcasters' lobby. Beyond that, it's unclear OR Republicans have anyone who can give Merkley a run for his money; possible candidates might include State Rep. Bruce Hanna, State Sen. Bruce Starr, party chair Allen Alley, and 2012 SoS nominee Knute Buehler. However any of those might also run in the gubernatorial race and would face a daunting challenge in building name rec and rundraising. Merkley should be somewhat vulnerable, but until Oregon Republicans can find a strong candidate he's lower down on the target list.
16. New Mexico Likely D
The senate's other Udall, Tom, will face marginally less difficulty than Mark in his bid for a second term. New Mexico Republicans have a mediocre bench: 2010 gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh is interested but would bring little to the race other than self-funding ability. LG John Sanchez might run and would be a good but not great choice. The strongest name considering a run is Martinez admin official Jon Barela, who performed well in a D-trending congressional district in 2010 against Heinrich. In a relatively blue state, any Republican will have a relatively tough time against Udall, but the opportunity is there for an upset.
17. Georgia Likely R
Interestingly, the not-particularly moderate Saxby Chambliss is looking like the Republican most likely to face a tough primary challenge. The three names most interested appear to be ex-SoS Karen Handel and Reps. Tom Price and Paul Broun. Price and Handel seem to be coordinating for only one (more likely Handel) to challenge Chamblis; either would be a strong primary opponent and a prohibilitve favorite in the general against any Democrat. Broun appears set to move forward with a run, and the controversial conservative may be the only Republican who could lose the seat. Because Georgia has primary and general election runoffs, there is an interesting dynamic that makes both rounds harder to predict, though the presence of a GE runoff probably helps Republicans if we flub this. So far Democrats haven't shown a lot of interest in this one, with one strong candidate, Rep. John Barrow, outright ruling it out. Dem possibilities thus may include ex-Rep. Jim Marshall, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and ex-AG Thurbert Baker. While any wouldn't have much of a chance against Chambliss, Handel, or Price, they could make a race against Broun competitive.
Very Likely to stay with incumbent party:
Note: The "Very Likely" rating is a shorthand we use at the beginning of the cycle to denote a very specific scenario - an incumbent that's safe, who is a possible but not likely retirement, and who would leave an open seat that's competitive to some degree.
18. Illinois Very Likely D
Durbin has shown a lot of the signs of being a retirement possibility recently, including actively shopping for an Administration job. An open seat in blue Illinois still wouldn't be a great opportunity for Republicans, as Durbin seems to have a ready-made successor waiting in the wings in the form of Rep-elect Tammy Duckworth. Beyond Duckworth, IL Dems' statewide bench is fairly poor though, and an open seat could be a surprise pickup opportunity for the right Republican, like outgoing Rep. Bob Dold. If Durbin runs again, he's beyond safe, but vocally conservative outgoing Rep. Joe Walsh has indicated he's willing to take on the incumbent and would be a decent sacrificial lamb. In an open seat scenario, however, it's important to keep Walsh far away from this one, to preserve any shot Republicans may have.
19. Maine Very Likely R
Collins now has the moderate Republican niche more-or-less to herself after Snowe's retirement and Brown's loss, and is pretty much unbeatable in a general election. Primaries are always a concern, but right now she doesn't seem too vulnerable on that front either. If she retires, the seat probably flips as quickly as Snowe's did, but this one will go to a real Democrat (likely either Rep. Chellie Pingree or Rep. Mike Michaud) rather than an IINO like King Angus.
20. Michigan Very Likely D
Carl Levin is not beatable, but (like just about every other prominent Democrat in Michigan) he's getting up there in years. If he retires, as seems possible but not particularly likely, Republicans have a strong set of candidates to choose from, with the most likely names being AG Bill Schuette and Rep. Mike Rogers. Democrats have much less of a bench; Rep. Gary Peters may forgo a gubernatorial bid to run for the Senate if Levin retires, but beyond him and potentially freshman Rep. Dan Kildee, their candidate quality drops precipitously, meaning an open seat would be a very good pickup opportunity for the GOP.
21. Virginia Very Likely D
Okay, those of you who are optimistic about this race, repeat this ten times in your head: Warner is not beatable. He's Virginia's most popular politician and will beat anyone, McDonnell included. Targeting him is simply a waste of a lot of resources in an expensive state... resign yourself to the fact that he has the seat for as long as he wants it. The question is, how long does he want it? More than most Senators, Warner has been visibly dissatisfied with his experience in DC, leading to speculation that he may forgo a second term even after he declined a gubernatorial bid. If Warner retires this one probably becomes one of Republicans' best pickup opportunities, with Bob McDonnell waiting in the wings. But if Warner runs again, McDonnell is best to wait for a second term in 2017, or jump straight into the 2016 presidential contest.
Safe for incumbent party:22. Delaware Safe D
To think this race could have had "Safe R" next to it. Chris Coons stirred up some buzz when he said he thought Beau Biden was going to challenge him in a primary - but more likely than not that's fundraising hyperbole and Coons will have smooth sailing in the primary thanks to being an inoffensive backbencher. Beyond that, it certainly seems like the luckiest man in Delaware will cruise to a full term, in no small part because DE has no functioning Republican party. Delaware Republicans have not nominated a credible gubernatorial or senatorial candidate in the entire 21st century, and there's little buzz about this race breaking that pattern. In the unlikely event we do decide to make a run at Coons, three names worth considering are State Sen. Colin Bonini, former New Castle County Council President Tom Kovach, and 2012 LG nominee Sher Valenzuela. Each would be a credible candidate but still start out as a heavy underdog.
23. Hawaii Safe D
If 2012 taught us something, it's that Hawaii is almost uniquely reluctant to send a non-Democrat to the Senate. Obviously this race is fluid, but this one isn't likely to be a prime target for Republicans regardless; we're much better off targeting the Governor's race, preferably with Lingle. If we do decide to take a shot at this one, Lingle, former (and perhaps future) Rep. Charles Djou, and former LG Duke Aiona may be good options. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is seen as the certain appointee after Inouye advocated her appointment in a letter hours before his death. 24. South Carolina - Graham Safe R
Graham has looked increasingly safe from a primary challenge, with even his most likely "B" list challenger, State Sen. Tom Davis, seeming to shy away from a bid as of late. A lot can change in two years though, and someone like Mick Mulvaney may come to see primarying Graham as their only route to the Senate. The SCGOP bench is so thick and the weakest name in it (Haley) is running for Governor that I seriously doubt Democrats have any chance here even if Graham loses to a weaker challenger. On the off chance Democrats decide to not run Alvin Greene, possible credible Democrats might include former Georgia State Rep. Gloria Tinubu and former state Schools Supt. and 2004 nominee Inez Tannenbaum.
25. South Carolina - Scott Safe R
Scott is about as safe as a first-term appointee can be. You never put somone relatively unproven on a big stage as invincible, especially relative to the entrenched incumbents below, but Scott is about as close as you can get to that scenario. It's excruciatingly hard to see any Democrat making this competitive. 26. Mississippi Safe R
Thad Cochran will get a seventh term if he wants it, but there is significant doubt over whether he wants another six years. It doesn't matter all that much, because if he goes he will leave behind a largely safe seat. If he leaves the seat open, the 3 congressional Republicans are all likely to take a look, as is LG Tate Reeves and possibly SoS Delbert Hosemann. Any one will be a strong favorite in red MS, but Democrats might have a slight shot if popular AG Jim Hood runs for an open seat.
27. Wyoming Safe R
Mike Enzi is a possible retirement, but he has indicated he will wait until the last possible second to announce his decision. The obvious implication of that is that he's trying to avert a messy primary and hand the seat to the candidate with a strong existing statewide infrastructure, Rep. Cynthia Lummis. If it plays out as planned, either Enzi will have an easy ride to a fourth term or Lummis will skate into the seat. But of course, plans don't always work out in politics; if the retirement gets botched somehow Democrats may have a slight opening, even in America's reddest state. Who could exploit that opening in that very rare hypotehtical, short of ex-Gov Dave Freudenthal coming out of retirement, is an open question.
28. Rhode Island Safe D
The safest Democrat in America is uber-popular Jack Reed, who has indicated he's running again (but is somewhat of a retirement possibility after reports surfaced that he was being considered for an Administration job.) Even if he retires, Rep. Jim Langevin is a strong replacement waiting in the wings. Republicans have a poor bench in blue RI, but potential candidates for the open seat include ex-Gov. Don Carcieri, Mayors Fung and Avedsian, 2010 gubernatorial nominee John Robitalle, and former police superintendant Brendan Doherty. Any would face an uphill race against any Democrat and have no chance against Reed.
29. Idaho Safe R
Jim Risch is a possible retiree, either to leave politics or to run for his old job of Governor. Should he leave, the obvious names to succeed him are Rep. Mike Simpson and Gov. Butch Otter, either of which should be a strong favorite against any Democrat. Democrats' best hope would be for Walt Minnick to come back out of retirement.
30. Oklahoma Safe R
Inhofe has a very slight possibility of retirement, a decision that could set off a free-for-all among the OKGOP's deep bench. The most likely Inhofe replacements would be ambitious Reps. Tom Cole and James Lankford. Either would be heavily favored against most Democrats, except for fomer Gov. Brad Henry, who has largely moved out of the political spotlight, and outgoing Rep. Dan Boren, who just retired. It's hard to see Inhofe retiring though, and even harder to see this one becoming competitive.
31. Kansas Safe R
Pat Roberts is very slight retirement possibility; any decision to step down would set off a contentious GOP primary. Possible candidates could include SoS and immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who is a favorite of Gov. Brownback and has been trying to keep up a profile. Democrats have very little chance, even at an open seat, but possible names might include State Sen. Tom Holland and former State Sen. Kelly Kultala.
32. Tennessee Safe R
Lamar Alexander has started his campaign off on the right foot, securing endorsements from just about every TNGOP elected official in order to ward off a primary challenger. Though the possibility is nonzero, it's extremely unlikely that Alexander would face a serious primary challenge. And the general will be smooth sailing against a TN Democratic party that can't even prevent a right-wing some dude from winning its own primary.
33. Texas Safe R
Despite the fact that TEXAS IS TRENDING BLUE!!!!111!!! Cornyn is in line to be Republican leader and not retiring. And after failing to make much of a dent in the 2012 open seat race, TX Dems will need quite a bit more time to be competitive in a Senate race again.
34. Alabama Safe R
Jeff Sessions has shown no signs of wanting to retire, and it's unlikely Alabama Democrats could even make an open seat competitive. Any strong Democrat (like... [crickets chirp]) would probably run for Governor instead.
35. Nebraska Safe R
After starting the tour with the most vulnerable seat in America in South Dakota, we wind up just having to cross the Missouri River to find the safest seat, in Nebraska. Johanns almost certainly isn't retiring, Nebraska Democrats couldn't even make an open seat comepetitive with a fomer Senator in 2012, and any NE Democrat worth his or her salt will look to the open seat Gov race.
Tomorrow: Gubernatorial Rankings...