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The 2014 Senate: State of the Races, Part 4

Obligatory note regarding last entry (I have trouble commenting): Beau Biden was not discussed in reference to Delaware. He certainly is the rising Delaware Democrat and may enter the primary, but he has thus far indicated otherwise. My guess is he will use the governorship as a stepping stone to federal office. Right now, there is a logjam since all three federal representatives are relatively young, relatively popular, and not term-limited.

There are eight Senate races in the Midwest in 2014 involving five Democrats and three Republicans. One Republican, Mike Johanns of Nebraska has opted for retirement after one term while three of the five incumbent Democrats are retiring. First, let’s dispense with the easy analysis states.

In Kansas and Oklahoma, incumbent Republicans Pat Roberts and Jim Inhofe are expected to win reelection with minimal token Democratic opposition. Roberts will be 78 in 2014 and this is perhaps his last term. With Jerry Moran’s recent victory there, it is likely that any senatorial Republican aspirant will wait six years. The only real possibility at this point in the game is Todd Tiahrt as Tim Huelskamp has noted he will not seek a primary challenge against Roberts. On the Democratic side, only three names have been mentioned, but none have stepped forward. They are Wichita mayor Carl Brewer, the first black to hold that post, former Governor Mark Parkinson and current HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius would be a disaster for the Democrats and shine an unnecessary spotlight on the failings of Obamacare. Brewer is too new to the scene. The most palatable choice would be Parkinson, a former Republican. In Oklahoma, one of the ruby red states in America, it is almost impossible to find any Democrat mentioned as an opponent to Inhofe. If anyone comes forward, kudos for being the ultimate sacrificial lamb.

Among GOP held seats, that leaves the one being vacated by Johanns in Nebraska. But, like Oklahoma, Nebraska is perhaps one of the staunchest Republican/conservative states; if one jettisons Lincoln, perhaps THE most. Johann’s decision came as a surprise to most. Therefore, the political landscape has changed that can have ripple effects if a US representative enters the race. Thus far, three high-profile names have eliminated themselves on the GOP side: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Governor Dave Heineman (who shows a distaste towards anything DC), and Nebraska secretary of state Jon Bruning who lost the primary in 2012 to Deb Fischer. Both representatives Adrian Smith and Lee Terry have not ruled out a run, nor has Don Stenberg who also sought the 2012 nomination. There are some lower tier names like Shane Osborn, the former state treasurer, but they are second tier. My guess is that either Stenberg or one of the current Republican congressman will seek the GOP nomination. The problem is that there is also a governor’s race in Nebraska in 2014 and many Democrats may feel their chance of success is greater in that race. Perhaps the Mayor of Lincoln, Chris Beutler, would be the top Democratic recruit, but many feel he will run for Governor instead. That would leave either state senator Steve Lathrop or former Lt. Governor Kim Robak. In any case, this seat should remain in Republican hands.

In Illinois, Dick Durbin is expected to win reelection easily as he is the majority whip in the Senate and wields a lot of power. Remember that we are talking about Illinois here. Perhaps the only potential Republican opponent would be Joe Walsh, a former congressman who lost to Tammy Duckworth in 2012. He has expressed interest although he also may be considering a gubernatorial run where he may have a greater chance of electoral success. In any case, whether Walsh or someone else, expect a landslide Durbin victory. The best chance for a Republican candidate would be someone in the Mark Kirk mold in terms of electability, but since Durbin is expected to have a cake walk, why not run the most conservative candidate and see what happens? What have we got to lose? Instead, the most electable Republican should seek the Governor’s office in a statewide race.

In Michigan, Carl Levin has decided to call it a career. Thus far, only US representative Gary Peters has declared his candidacy. The dilemma for Michigan Democrats is that there is also a gubernatorial race in 2014 and they see current GOP Governor Rick Snyder as vulnerable. Peters never considered a gubernatorial run so it really isn’t much of a dilemma. In fact, many Democrats may actually now be free to enter that race rather than a senatorial run. Some thought that former congressman Mark Schauer might run, but he has opted for a gubernatorial challenge. Perhaps the only one of interest still in the possible Democratic mix is US representative Hansen Clarke.

On the GOP side, the two most recruited people have declined to run- state attorney general Bill Schuette and US Rep. Candice Miller. Miller was the one Republican that would have the best chance of victory among those who have declined. Although basically a rank-and-file Republican, she sometimes comes off as a pragmatic moderate. Instead, it is likely that Justin Amash will make a run. He was considering a run before the Levin announcement. No friend of the GOP leadership in the House, his relations with Boehner are very strained and he feels there is nothing to lose with a run for the Senate. Saul Anuzis, the state GOP chair, is said to be mulling a run. If so, and if Amash runs, that would pit an establishment guy against a staunch conservative. Two other names of interest that have not declined yet are congressmen Dave Camp and Mike Rogers. Rogers in particular would be a formidable foe against Peters although he relishes his role as head of the House Intelligence Committee, a serious consideration going forward. But I believe the name to watch is former secretary of state for Michigan Terri Lynn Land. A recent poll showed that despite the higher national profile of Amash, his name recognition in Michigan is nil. Land, on the other hand, left office (term-limited) with a high 36% approval rating for a Republican in that job position. She considered a run against Stabenow and she was close in polls before removing her name (trailing only by 4 points).

Moving on, up in Minnesota at the beginning of this cycle, Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota had a huge target on his back. Several big Republican names in Minnesota have decided against a run. They include a rematch against Norm Coleman, former Governor Tim Pawlenty, and congressmen Erik Paulsen and John Kline. In what could have been a most interesting race, retiring congresswoman Michelle Bachman has declined, although her recent announcement wasn’t a definitive resignation from politics. Thus far, only businessman Mike McFadden has announced his candidacy touting his Minnesota roots. However, the Minnesota Democrats are starting to portray him as Minnesota’s Mitt Romney (a/k/a playing the class warfare game). In reality, because of the names that have dropped out of consideration, the GOP bench is weak with state level possibilities with name recognition nowhere near that of Franken. The only other possibility is ex-congressman Chip Cravaak who stunned the political world by defeating Dave Oberstar in 2010 only to lose his seat in 2012. However, Cravaak just recently said that he will be moving to New Hampshire to reunite with his wife and children. Unfortunately, Republicans missed a chance here in Minnesota against a seemingly vulnerable sitting Democrat. A close race would indicate Franken vulnerability while a Franken loss, at this point, would be perhaps the greatest political upset of 2014.

In neighboring South Dakota, there were rumors that Democrat Tim Johnson would be retiring well before 2012. That was confirmed creating a sound chance for a Republican pick up here. Perhaps one of the greatest recruitments this cycle is former Governor Mike Rounds who left office with high approval ratings, has name recognition in the state, and is the odds-on-favorite at this point to win the GOP nomination and general election. His tenure as Governor certainly had some controversy, especially over their abortion legislation which will figure in the general election campaign without a doubt. The only thing stopping his march to the Senate right now is (1) a primary challenge, (2) a formidable Democratic opponent, or (3) self-destruction. As for a primary challenge, some have suggested Kristi Noem. However, she is rising in the ranks of the GOP in the House and is more likely to stay put rather than move up after two House terms. Regarding a strong Democratic opponent, the toughest- Stephanie Herseth Sandlin- has declined a bid to run and may instead challenge Noem for her old seat in the House. However, her private sector employment may just be more to her liking. As for self-destruction, Rounds’ support for what many on the Left call South Dakota’s restrictive abortion laws will definitely be a campaign issue. This issue has been a minefield for other GOP aspiring Senators in the recent past. So far, only businessman Rick Weiland, who happens to be a a former staffer for Tom Daschle, has declared his candidacy for the Democrats. The only other possibility is TV personality Pat O’Brien challenging Weiland. Simply put, this is a Republican victory in the making. Just as the GOP is having recruitment problems in Minnesota and Iowa, the Democrats are having trouble in South Dakota.

Finally, in Iowa, Democratic incumbent and liberal Tom Harkin has announced his retirement. The Democratic field has pretty much been cleared and they have coalesced around congressman Bruce Braley. Since the Vilsack team dropped out of consideration as well as fellow congressman Dave Loebsack, one half of the general election equation is basically done (unless former Governor Chet Culver decides to enter the primary). That leaves the GOP side which has been difficult at best.

For a state that twice voted for Obama, the Iowa GOP bench is rather large. This gave the Republicans hope, perhaps false hope, after the Harkin announcement. Brad Zaun (state senator), Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, Governor Terry Branstad, US representative Tom Latham and Bill Northey (state agriculture secretary) have all declined a run. Branstad would have been a great choice and Reynolds is positioning herself more as the successor to Branstad in Iowa. Latham has instead decided to stay in the House. In this writer’s opinion, Northey would have been the perhaps the best challenger given name recognition in the state and his DC-outsider status. That left only congressman Steven King as a big-name GOP recruit. However, he too decided to forego a senatorial run. In retrospect, it is a small blessing as King has a tendency to be incendiary and a lightning rod.

Unfortunately, that leaves basically a very thin list of potential candidates. Two names mentioned are Grassley aid David YOung who, with the help of Grassley, could tap into fundraising and be an “outsider” with DC senatorial experience. State senator Joni Ernst, a rising star in Iowa GOP politics, is an intriguing possibility and would be a stealthy candidate making it hard for Braley to attack her. She gets an 86% approval rating from the American Conservative Union and a 92% rating from the NRA. These less than perfect marks makes her certainly conservative, but not extremely so which may appeal to Iowa independents and the general political atmosphere in Iowa. Remember that this is a state that Obama carried twice and that has given us the likes of Tom Harkin besides sending conservative Republicans to the House, Senate and Governor’s office. This will be a highly watched race and the best that can be said at this time is that Harkin is finally out of the Senate.

Next: The South- part 1 of 2: Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina (Tim Scott) and Arkansas

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