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The Senate 2014: State of the Races, part 3

A note before beginning: in the previous entry regarding the mountain states, I admittedly made two mistakes. With respect to Montana, I neglected to mention Steve Daines as a possible GOP candidate and I apologize. Secondly, I was rather deferential to a reference to EMILY’s List. They are a Left leaning pro-choice feminist group, but I glossed over that fact.

Today’s installment involves three states only- New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia. Despite the small number of states involved, each is interesting in its own way for differing reasons. All three Senators up for reelection are Democrats with one- Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia- opting for retirement rather than another run for office.

Starting the smallest of the states- Delaware- incumbent Chris Coons is up for election. He won a special election in 2010 to fulfill the term of vice-president Joe Biden. Initially, this was cast as a probable Republican pick-up as the popular (for Delaware) Republican congressman Mike Castle was considered a shoo-in for the job. To some degree, this writer never really understood the RINO label hung around his neck given his negative votes on several high profile pieces of the Obama legislative agenda. However, there admittedly are votes in his past that may give many a conservative some pause for comcern. Regardless, something funny happened on the way to that GOP nomination- a primary, the Tea Party and Christine O’Donnell. In a stunning defeat of an entrenched sitting congressman, O’Donnell won the primary. Prior to that election, Castle was defeating Democrat Chris Coons by double digits in the polls while O’Donnell was a relative unknown. Without getting into all the sordid details, O’Donnell certainly became well known after the primary not so much for defeating Castle, but more for other things that need not be rehashed here.

In all fairness to Christine O’Donnell, most of the criticisms had nothing to do with her positions on the important issues facing the country, but more of a media-created frenzy regarding her past statements. Apparently, only a president of the Democratic Party can “evolve” on issues. Unfortunately, we never really found out if O’Donnell evolved on anything since she had to defend what was, at the end of the day, rather frivolous, nonsensical side distractions. Really? Witchcraft in 2010?

Over the past three years, O’Donnell has maintained a rather low profile. However, some outlets have recently reported that she is considering a rematch against Coons in 2014. In fact, she confirmed that because of the work of supporters, she is “at least” going to consider a run. This would be her third attempt at the Senate having lost to Biden in 2008. Assuming the media does not create a circus again this time, it would be interesting to see a more cerebral and issue-oriented campaign this time around should she decide to actually run.

Delaware is a decidedly Democratic state in terms of political power. Thus, the GOP bench is rather thin. After O’Donnell, there is basically Tim Kovach, the New Castle County Council President. He lost his congressional bid in 2012. He is more of a moderate Republican in the mold of a Mike Castle. Theoretically at least, he would seem like the tougher challenge to Coons. In any case, Coons is not taking his reelection for granted although the chances of a GOP upset in Delaware are very low.

In New Jersey- my home state- the talk right now is about the 2013 gubernatorial race rather than 2014. I promise not to- after this sentence- mention the name of Chris Christie except in one other context and then only briefly. Frank Lautenberg, the incumbent Democrat, has opted for retirement rather than another run and that is a good thing because his bones need to heal. Lautenberg is older than dirt and needed to retire six years ago. The presumptive Democratic favorite is Cory Booker, the telegenic African-American mayor of Newark (one of the ugliest cities in the country). In a sense, Booker comes off as someone who thinks for himself rather than the party line. This got him into some “trouble” from Team Obama in 2012 with some public comments he made about class warfare.

Booker is smart politically and obviously gauged the waters before making a decision. There was talk at one point that he would challenge that unnamed New Jersey governor up for reelection in 2013 which would have made for a great race. However, Booker is a rising star in the Democratic Party and a loss to the incumbent GOP Governor would have taken some of the luster off that star. Instead, he wisely opted for a Senate run, but even here he created some political intrigue by announcing before Lautenberg announced his intentions. This led to some unflattering comments against Booker by the Democratic establishment in Jersey and from Lautenberg himself. It has also created some friction with other potential Democratic candidates who fancy themselves heir apparent to the seat of Lautenberg.

Two of them are sitting congressmen- Rush Holt and Frank Pallone. Pallone, in particular, would be troublesome as he has built up a power base throughout the state, not just his home district. Courting the favor of county chairmen is his method and it would have to be played to its fullest extent to overcome Booker’s star power. It is very likely Pallone will enter the primary against Booker. Another name being mentioned is state assembly speaker, Sheila Oliver. Thus far, she said Democrats are focusing on a win in the 2013 governor’s race. But, when that likelihood ceases to materialize, then all bets are off and she could enter the race. That would place a fellow Essex County politician who happens to be female and black up against Booker. Hovering over it all is state senate president, Stephen Sweeney, who just seems to have his imprint on everything in Democratic politics in New Jersey.

On the Republican side, no one has stepped forward and declared their candidacy. Unlike Delaware across the bay, there is a decent if not nationally well-known bench. Decided long shots would be assemblyman Jay Webber and state assembly minority leader, Jon Bramnick. Both lack name recognition outside their home counties. State senator Joe Kyrillos can run again (he ran in 2012 losing to the ethically challenged lilliputian Robert Menendez- that should tell you something about NJ politics). Whether he decides to run against an even more formidable opponent like Booker is doubtful. One intriguing name is state senator Michael Doherty who was considering a run in 2012, but endorsed Kyrillos. His somewhat libertarian message may resonate with some independents and some “moderate” Republicans in the state, so I would keep an eye on him going forward. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention the silly notion of a Gerald Rivera candidacy because it would be toooooo scary a thought.

But, the top three names on the GOP potential list are state senate minority leader Thomas Kean, Jr., US Representative Leonard Lance, and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. With Kean, there is the perennial belief he will run for higher office and that he has national aspirations. In all truthfulness, he has not relied on the family name and has set out his own course. Leonard Lance has made noises in the past about moving up the food chain, but in the end, unless someone or something forces his hand, he may bide his time until 2018 and run for the Senate then. Finally, there is Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno who, for a Lt. Governor, maintains a fairly high profile in the state. Truth be told, she has made more visits to the Jersey shore post-Hurricane Sandy than her boss. She is also rather plain-speaking in her approach, much like her boss.

In the end, potential Republicans will have to weigh their options and chances of success in a general election very carefully. I fully expect a good Cory Booker-Frank Pallone Democratic fight. Normally, that has the potential to weaken a candidate heading into a general election. But this is New Jersey which is dominated by the very Democratic and liberal northern counties bordering New York City and the Camden machine in the south. Thus, it is likely that whoever emerges from the Democratic primary will be the next senator from New Jersey (my guess: Cory Booker).

Finally, in West Virginia incumbent Democrat Jay Rockefeller is stepping down creating a golden opportunity for a Republican pick-up here. Although Rockefeller can make statements to the contrary, the changing political atmosphere in West Virginia is likely the reason for his decision. Simply, this state has been turning increasingly red in the recent past. The final straw was when US Rep. Shelley Moore Capito decided to run against Rockefeller or any Democrat shortly after the 2012 election. Her task was made easier when Rockefeller announced his retirement. Moore WILL face a primary challenge against state legislator Pat McGeehan, a Republican in the Ron Paul mold. Her job got easier when fellow congressman David McKinley decided against a primary challenge. That leaves only Bill Maloney who lost two recent gubernatorial runs and John Raese. For Raese, should he decide on a run, this would be his fifth attempt at the Senate. Perhaps the only possible real serious challenger to Capito would be state AG Patrick Murphy, but even he has name recognition problems and likely not enough star power needed to win this race.

The scramble is on with the Democrats. There are several names mentioned, but they all appear to be second tier choices now that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Congressman Nick Rahall have expressed no interest in a run. Either could have been possible decent foils against Capito, especially Tomblin. He survived two recent elections in succession despite being portrayed as linked to Obama who has a bad name in West Virginia. Among those 2nd tier candidates, the names most heard are state appeals court justice Robin Davis, who says she is studying the possibility and intrigued by a run, and Natalie Tennant, the state secretary of state.

The open Democratic seat is clearly one easily within reach of pick up by the Republicans. The only things that can stop that inevitability is (1) a nasty primary battle that wounds Capito or (2) a liberal media assault on Capito. If (2), then it will likely be of the same nature that derailed the candidacies of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock with “gotcha” question responses taken out of context.

Next: the Midwest races.

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