Year-End Senate Race Breakdown
My New Years Resolution: Republicans Take Back The Senate And Conservatives Take Back The Leadership
The 2014 Senate general elections are a little less than a year away. The primaries, which in some cases are going to be more crucial, are even closer. I’m going to go through each of the 35 Senate races and provide a summary, along with a candidate recommendation if applicable. Most races have started to shape up at this point. Bear in mind that I have a conservative-libertarian perspective, so anyone to the left of Jim DeMint might have some disagreements with me on my recommendations. I’m going to divide the races into certain categories in order to provide an easier reading experience.
Here is how things stand on the grand scale:
Republicans currently hold 45 seats, while Democrats (along with DFL member Al Franken and independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders, who caucus with them) hold 55 seats.
Republicans therefore need to gain 5 seats to break even, and 6 seats to reach a simple majority. However, because Vice President Joe Biden would be the tiebreaker in the scenario of a tie, Republicans can only achieve a positive change if they win 6 seats.
21 Democratic and 14 Republican seats are up for grabs. 15 races are going to be non-competitive in the general elections by my count.
The Easy Incumbent Re-Elections
Alabama: Republican incumbent Jeff Sessions faces no primary challengers and no Democratic challenger has yet filed. He will easily be re-elected and is better than most of his colleagues.
Delaware: Democrat incumbent Chris Coons was able to win handily in a 2010 special election and will likely face even less resistance this time around. No Republican challengers have filed.
Idaho: Republican incumbent Jim Risch does not yet have any challengers and is in a very conservative state. Like Sessions, he is better than most Republican Senators.
Illinois: Democrat incumbent Dick Durbin is a favorite of liberal elites and will cruse to re-election in Obama’s adopted home state.
Maine: Republican incumbent Susan Collins, a centrist/liberal, is again running and faces no serious threats in the primary or general election. While she is among the worst Republican Senators, she is certainly better than a Democrat.
Massachusetts: Democrat incumbent Ed Markey, who easily beat out liberal Republican Gabriel Gomez earlier this year in this special election, stands to fare even better in 2014. He has no challengers as of now.
Minnesota: Democrat incumbent Al Franken will have little trouble in a state that is trending liberal, especially since there are no notable Republicans running.
New Mexico: Democrat incumbent Tom Udall can thank former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson for not running as well as changing demographics for his safe seat.
New Jersey: Democrat Cory Booker is a liberal hero and will have no problem at all winning his first real election.
Oklahoma: Republican Jim Inhofe, despite his advanced age, is running again without much opposition from within or from the Democrats. Inhofe is better than a lot of Republicans in the Senate.
Oregon: Democrat Jeff Merkley will coast to re-election in this liberal state, and faces no serious opposition.
Rhode Island: Democrat Jack Reed has never received less than 63% of the vote in any of his Senate races and 2014 shouldn’t be any different.
South Carolina (Special Election): Republican Tim Scott, appointed after the retirement of Jim DeMint, will run his first Senate race and should not face any Republican challengers in this overwhelmingly red state. He is among the very best Republican Senators.
Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner has successfully portrayed himself as a centrist Democrat, a strategy also used by Joe Manchin. Normally this would be a competitive race, as Virginia is a purple state, but Warner was a popular Governor and remains a popular Senator. He is also likely helped by the name of his predecessor Republican John Warner (no relation). Additionally, no credible Republican candidate has filed to run, while the most credible speculative candidate is establishment strategist Ed Gillespie. A Bob McDonnell or Ken Cuccinelli run would make this a somewhat competitive race, but neither has shown the slightest interest in running.
Breakdown by party: 9 Democrats; 4 Republicans
The Democratic Primary Challenge Battles
Hawaii (Special): Democratic Senator Brian Schatz is going to face a serious challenge from Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa over what amounts to a battle over the late Daniel Inouye’s legacy. Whichever candidate wins will beat the Republican candidate handily.
The Republican Primary Challenge Battles*
*All of these states should easily remain red.
Kansas: Incumbent Pat Roberts (73% FreedomWorks score) is facing his first serious challenge in Dr. Milton Wolf. Roberts is part of the old guard and needs to go. Wolf is a strong articulate conservative who gained notoriety for being a distant cousin of Barack Obama while being a loud critic of ObamaCare. In fact, his campaign is primarily focused on repealing ObamaCare. Polls are showing Roberts to be very susceptible to a more conservative candidate. The challenge for Wolf will be raising money, but thankfully the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) has endorsed him and will support him financially. I give Wolf a 20% chance of unseating Roberts.
Recommendation: Dr. Milton Wolf: http://www.miltonwolf.com/
Kentucky: Incumbent Mitch McConnell (77% FreedomWorks score) is the Republican Senate Minority Leader, which is synonymous with being the head of the surrender caucus. While McConnell doesn’t have the worst voting record in the world, he is one of the main strategists for creating a moderate, weak Republican party. In other words, taking McConnell out would be the equivalent of beheading the GOP establishment. Rand Paul quietly endorsed McConnell (before anyone else entered the race) early on for political reasons, yet he speaks highly of Bevin and all of Rand’s people are now working for McConnell’s challenger: Matt Bevin. Bevin is essentially the next Rand Paul. Both are non-politicians who agree on all of the issues. McConnell has several million dollars on hand, so Bevin will have an uphill battle. But Kentucky conservatives are yearning for a more conservative candidate in the mold of Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie, therefore money will only do McConnell so much good. On the bright side, Bevin is a millionaire who can self fund, and is backed by the SCF. I give Bevin a 30% chance of unseating McConnell.
Recommendation: Businessman Matt Bevin: http://mattbevin.com/
Mississippi: Incumbent Thad Cochran (58% FreedomWorks score) was first elected to the Senate back when Jimmy Carter was still President. Mississippians are tired of him. State Senator Chris McDaniel, known as the Jim DeMint of the state legislature, is challenging him. McDaniel is perhaps the strongest challenger in any race in 2014. He has already been endorsed by the SCF, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Madison Project, and the Tea Party Express. Despite the race being in its early stages, the last 3 polls have shown McDaniel receiving 31%, 40%, and 38%. With a little more name recognition for McDaniel, it won’t be long before Cochran is trailing. It is possible Cochran will drop out in order to avoid an embarrassing defeat. I give McDaniel a 60% chance of unseating Cochran.
Recommendation: State Sen. Chris McDaniel: http://www.chrismcdanielforsenate.com/
South Carolina: Incumbent Lindsey Graham (76% FreedomWorks score) is an extraordinary opponent of liberty and appears to hold a particularly strong grudge against the Bill of Rights, along with his best buddy John McCain. Whether it is the Patriot Act, NDAA indefinite detention, habeus corpous, NSA spying, regulating journalism, or gun control, Graham sides with the heavy hand of government. Not to mention he is the leading advocate for amnesty and crazy military expeditions. South Carolina has a strong conservative tradition and the best Congressional delegation in the country, with Sen. Scott and Reps. Gowdy, Sanford, Mulvaney, Wilson, and Duncan leading thee way. Graham sticks out like a sore thumb, and voters are fed up with him. Three challengers have emerged, including Nancy Mace and Richard Cash, but the most formidable and conservative candidate is State Senator Lee Bright. Bright has a lifetime 100% score from the state Club for Growth and has a libertarian bent. If some big money groups start to notice him and help him out, he will gain ground quickly. I give Bright a 40% chance of unseating Graham.
Recommendation: State Sen. Lee Bright: http://www.brightforsenate.com/
Tennessee: Incumbent Lamar Alexander (62% FreedomWorks score) is the definition of the old guard. Tennessee is much more conservative than he is.Unfortunately, Tennessee voters for the most part have an Obama supporter-like admiration for the man which goes back for decades.There is little appetite for voters in Tennessee for removing Alexander, other than the informed but few Tea Party activists in the state. His challenger is State Rep. Joe Carr, who dropped out of his House race to challenge Alexander. Carr seems pretty decent on the issues, however very little is really known about him and his campaign has little momentum. I am not optimistic about unseating Alexander. He will likely go out on his own terms. I give Carr a 5% chance of unseating Alexander.
Recommendation: State Rep. Joe Carr: http://www.carrfortn.com/
Texas: Incumbent John Cornyn (79% FreedomWorks score) is the right-hand man of Mitch McConnell and the Senate Minority Whip. He stands in contrast to his fellow Senator Ted Cruz much the same way as McConnell stands in contrast to Paul. So far, Cruz has decided to stay out of the race. Like McConnell, his voting record isn’t exactly on Susan Collins’ level but he is key in formulating the anti-grassroots, pro-establishment GOP agenda. Remember how the Chamber of Commerce promised to spend $50 million to fight Tea Party candidates? They are supporting Cornyn. Knocking him off would be just as good as knocking off McConnell. There are several challengers in this race, the most notable of whom is Congressman Steve Stockman. Stockman is a hell-raiser and bomb thrower. The media portrays him as crazy, when in reality he is just a humorous guy who stands right with Ted Cruz (if not to the right of him) on the issues. Stockman’s current office gives him credibility, but his fundraising numbers leave much to be desired. With that said, Texas grassroots and outside groups need to step up and give him a boost. If he can force a runoff, Stockman can employ the same strategy Cruz did when he won his runoff handily. I give Stockman a 35% chance of unseating Cornyn.
Recommendation: Congressman Steve Stockman: http://stockman2014.com/
Wyoming: Incumbent Mike Enzi (82% FreedomWorks score) has been in office for a long time. It is probably time for him to go. On the other hand, I am not enthusiastic about his primary challenger either: Liz Cheney. Perhaps unfairly, I cannot in good conscience support her unless she can differentiate herself from her father (who is her biggest supporter) ideologically, who is a moderate Republican As it stands, she is also not trustworthy in regards to civil liberties and foreign policy. In terms of some economic issues, she likely would be an upgrade over Enzi. In short, this race is not worth spending any time or money on with so many others going on at the same time. Enzi is not a bad enough candidate and Cheney is not a good enough candidate to warrant any effort on a primary challenge. I give Cheney a 15% chance of unseating Enzi.
The Competitive Races With Incumbents
Alaska: Democrat incumbent Mark Begich is likely the most vulnerable Senator in the country. He was elected in 2008 with less than a 2-point margin on the heels of the Ted Stevens scandal and anti-Bush fervor. Alaska is a red state, and despite Begich trying to portray himself as a Blue Dog Democrat, Alaskan voters are going to prefer a Republican in 2014. The Republican primary is going to be a three-man race. Mead Treadwell, the moderate Lt. Governor, is likely the frontrunner. Dan Sullivan (not to be confused with the Anchorage mayor), formerly Dept. of Natural Resources Commissioner and Attorney General will have some substantial support. But the main challenger to Treadwell will be the 2010 GOP nominee for Senate,Tea Party hero Joe Miller. Miller, who has served as a U.S. magistrate judge and Captain in the Army, lost the general election in 2010 to the write-in campaign of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom he beat in the primary. Despite the loss, Miller still finished far ahead of the Democratic candidate. Miller is a fighter and we should support him.
Recommendation: Capt./Judge Joe Miller: http://joemiller.us/
Arkansas: Democrat incumbent Mark Pryor didn’t face a Republican opponent in 2008, so it is hard to gauge how much support he really has. But polling shows that he is in a very dangerous position and his colleague, Republican John Boozman, won his election with 58% of the vote in 2010. Only one Republican has filed to run against Pryor: Congressman Tom Cotton. Cotton is a freshman legislator who many hoped would be a strong conservative leader. Unfortunately, Cotton has not lived up to fiscal conservative standards many times-including caving in a crucial budget battle which I covered here. On civil liberties and foreign policy, Cotton appears to be a clone of Lindsey Graham. He worries me. In what was a historic year of battles for the Bill of Rights, Cotton was on the wrong side of history. It is with reluctance that I support Cotton over Pryor. It is too bad Republicans couldn’t come up with a better choice, or at least one alternative in the primary.
(Reluctant) Recommendation: Congressman Tom Cotton: http://www.tomcotton.com/
Colorado: Democrat incumbent Mark Udall has an advantage going into this race, but it is one Republicans can overcome with the right circumstances. The Democratic party is unpopular in the state after a series of failed gun control measures this year, which resulted in the defeat of 3 State Senators in a recall effort earlier this year. There are several Republicans running, two of which I really like: Ken Buck and Owen Hill. Hill is a young State Senator with great stances on the issues. Erick Erickson has already endorsed Buck and has been requesting we help him. It appears that Buck has a strong edge in the primary due to his name recognition. While I slightly prefer Hill, I am going to #BackBuck unless Hill can overtake him in the coming months.
Recommendation: DA Ken Buck: http://www.buckforcolorado.com/
Louisiana: Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu won her first two Senate races by virtue of a runoff. In 2008, she won riding the coattails of pro-Obama, anti-Bush enthusiasm. But she does serve in a red state. Louisiana has a jungle primary system, in which all candidates appear on the same ballot regardless of party. If no one finishes with more than 50%, the election automatically moves goes to a runoff. This bodes well for Republicans, who hold the grassroots advantage in midterm elections.The challenge for conservatives is making sure the right Republican continues on to the runoff. On the establishment side is Congressman Bill Cassidy (73% FreedomWorks score), on the Tea Party side is Lt. Colonel Rob Maness. While Cassidy has an edge in name recognition right now, Maness has the endorsement of multiple PACS-including the SCF, Tea Party Leadership Fund, and Madison Project-and has a strong social media presence. We need to do what we can to help get Rob’s name on the airwaves. If he gets to the general election, this should be an easy pick up.
Recommendation: Lt. Col. Rob Maness: http://robmaness.com
New Hampshire: Democrat incumbent Jeanne Shaheen is polling well above her Republican opponents. However, history indicates that she is not as safe as polling indicates. In 2010, Kelly Ayotte was elected by a 23 point margin. Despite the resounding victory in 2010 for Ayotte, in 2012 New Hampshire elected a Democratic Governor by a margin of almost 12 points. 2014 figures to be somewhere in between 2010 and 2012 in terms of Republican enthusiasm. Establishment Republicans throughout the state are begging former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (42% FreedomWorks score) to hop in the race. Obliging them so far, Brown has removed MA from his Twitter handle, sold his Massachusetts house (and is currently living in his NH vacation home), is speaking with Republican groups throughout the state, and making the rounds on Fox News. Even though Brown would be a formidable general election candidate, he is simply too liberal for New Hampshire Republicans to nominate. The excellent alternative is former Senator Robert “Bob” Smith. Smith was New Hampshire’s Senator from 1990-2003. While in the Senate, Smith was one of the very most conservative members, if not the most. He does have some carpetbagger problems of his own-he moved to Florida after losing re-election and briefly flirted with 2 Senate runs there, and he briefly left the GOP a decade ago-but he is in a position to pull a Dan Coats and get re-elected again after a long hiatus. His focus is going to have to be on connecting with younger voters who don’t remember his previous time in office. Smith was in office long before the Tea Party formed, but he shares their values and ideals.
Recommendation: Former Sen. Bob Smith: http://bobsmithforussenate.com/
North Carolina: Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan can challenge Mark Begich for the title of most vulnerable Senator in 2014. She was only elected with 53% of the vote in 2008, again riding the wave of pro-Obama, anti-Bush sentiment. Black voters comprise a large percentage of the electorate in North Carolina and turned out in droves for Obama. She will not be so lucky in 2014. The real race is the Republican primary. It is a two, possibly three horse race at this point. Thom Tillis, the Speaker of the State House, is essentially the John Boehner of North Carolina and is being supported by Mitch McConnell. Dr. Greg Brannon is the Constitutional Conservative running, and has been endorsed by Rand Paul, Erick Erickson, Ann Coulter, Rep. Thomas Massie, and the National Association for Gun Rights. Then there is Rev. Mark Harris, who will get some evangelical support, but he is probably destined to be a minor candidate. Brannon has really hit the ground running despite having no prior political experience. He has connections to both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. One of his top campaign officials, Nick Dyer, worked for Cruz. And he is utilizing Saber Communications, which coordinated Paul’s Senate campaign. In my opinion, Brannon should be our top priority in 2014.
Recommendation: Dr. Greg Brannon: http://gregbrannon.com
The Competitive Open-Seat Races
Georgia: With the retirement of Saxby Chambliss, a slew of candidates promptly announced their campaigns. Michelle Nunn, daughter for former Senator Sam Nunn, is going to be the presumptive Democratic nominee. The Republican primary is going to possibly be the most crowded and intense in the nation. There are five main candidates: Multi-millionaire businessman David Perdue (cousin of former Governor Sonny), former Secretary of State Karen Handel, and sitting Congressmen Jack Kingston, Paul Broun, and Phil Gingrey. Perdue appears to be a Chamber of Commerce-type. Handel is a pretty solid conservative. Kingston (83% FreedomWorks score) is thoroughly establishment, while Gingrey (91% FreedomWorks score) tries to straddle the fence between the power players and the grassroots. Broun (98% FreedomWorks score) is the only true Tea Party candidate in the race and will stand with Rand, Ted, and Mike. I’m supporting Paul Broun. While media pundits seem to think that if they predict him to be the next Todd Akin repeatedly will make it happen, I am sure Broun already knows what to say when answering the abortion issue as it relates to rape. In fact, it was Gingrey who earlier this year defended Akin’s comments, not Broun.
Recommendation: Congressman Paul Broun: http://paulbroun.com/
Iowa: Tom Harkin is in his seventies and decided he didn’t want to go through with what could prove to be a tough election. Iowa is a perpetual swing state. But Republicans may blow it, as the primary is taking a long time to develop. There really aren’t any viable or trustworthy candidates running. Steve Deace wrote a good summary of the candidates. Somebody from the evangelical or liberty movements, which almost jointly control state GOP politics, to step up and run. Bob Vander Plaats and Drew Ivers would both be good choices. By contrast, Democrats coalesced behind Congressman Bruce Braley early on and he is out there and campaigning. At this stage of the race, I cannot yet offer a recommendation.
Michigan: Upon Carl Levin’s retirement announcement, both parties coalesced around their candidates. The presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees are former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and Congressman Gary Peters, respectively. In the past two months two polls have been released, and both show Peters and Land within two points of each other. However, a large percentage of Michigan voters are undecided, likely because neither Peters nor Land are recognizable statewide. The state of ObamaCare is also going to be a big factor in determining who those undecided voters ultimately pull the trigger for. Little is known about Land’s conservative credentials, but she doesn’t come off as an establishment Republican. She is worth supporting.
Recommendation: Terri Lynn Land: http://www.terrilynnland.com/
Montana: For the first time since 1978, Max Baucus will not be running for Senate. The Democratic primary pits former Lt. Governor John Bohlinger against current Lt. Governor John Walsh. On the Republican side, current Congressman Steve Daines (71% FreedomWorks score) is likely to run away with the nomination. Although Daines hasn’t been overly impressive in his first term, he has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express and Gun Owners of America, so he is a worthy candidate. The latest PPP poll shows Daines destroying both Bohlinger and Walsh in the general election. Montana made a mistake in electing Democrat Jon Tester in 2012, but will likely not make the same mistake in 2014.
Recommendation: Steve Daines: http://www.stevedaines.com/
Nebraska: One-term legislator Mike Johanns will not be returning to the Senate. Nebraska is a solidly red state and the Republican nominee is going to win the general election. Te primary loos to be a tough battle between former State Treasurer Shane Osborne and Ben Sasse, the President of Midland University. Osborne, who is a true conservative, has a substantial name recognition edge and leads polls by a wide margin. Republicans should have rallied behind him immediately. He has been endorsed by FreedomWorks and Steve Forbes. So it is troubling that the Club for Growth and the SCF decided to back Sasse as the “anti-ObamaCare candidate,” even though he once strongly supported Medicare Part D. And while Sasse isn’t a bad choice by any means, it doesn’t make sense wasting precious resources to propel him past someone just as conservative if not more than he is.
Recommendation: Shane Osborne: http://www.shaneosborn.com
South Dakota: The retirement of incumbent Tim Johnson has exposed the weak bench of Democratic candidates in South Dakota.With no politicians able to step up, the Democrats have rallied behind businessman Rick Weiland. He is a weak candidate and any Republican should be able to defeat him. Former establishment Gov. Mike Rounds is likely to win the nomination. But Larry Rhoden, the State Senate Majority Whip, and State Rep. Stace Nelson are both strong conservatives who could pose a challenge to Rounds, particularly if any of the conservative super PACs get involved. This race became further complicated when former Republican Senator Larry Pressler announced he would be running as an independent. If Pressler retains any name recognition, it will be hard to predict whether he will pull more votes from the GOP (his old party) or from Weiland (Pressler endorsed Obama in both elections). On a positive note, possible spoiler in Libertarian party candidate Kurt Evans withdrew from the race. In the primary, I do have a preference for Nelson, but would be happy with either him or Rhoden.
Recommendation: State Rep. Stace Nelson: http://stacenelson.com/
West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller had a lock on his Senate seat for years. But West Virginia is finally catching up to the rest of the country in realizing that the Democrats of today are not the Democrats of the past. In 2012, Mitt Romney beat President Obama by an astonishing 27 point margin. The presumptive Democratic nominee is Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. The frontrunner in the Republican primary is liberal Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito (59% FreedomWorks score), but former State Delegate Pat McGeehan represents a chance to nominate a conservative. in what should be an easy pick up for Republicans. It remains to be seen if any national groups will jump into help McGeehan (although the Club for Growth is known to dislike Capito), but he is the best choice regardless.
Recommendation: State Del. Pat McGeehan: http://www.mcgeehan2014.com/
I hope this breakdown was informative and helpful in getting a picture of where things stand. While others are predicting the outcomes of the competitive general election races, I don’t feel I am capable of doing so, so I’ll leave that to them. Please forgive any typos, as this took a long time to type up. Happy new year!