Democrats, Enjoy Your Senate Majority, While You Can

Democrats in the Senate more than dodged a bullet last November.  Given the rampant inflation, crisis at the border and Joe Biden’s miserable numbers — not to mention history — they were widely expected to lose control of the Senate, returning Mitch McConnell to the post of majority leader.  Not only did they hold all their seats, they actually added one:  John Fetterman (D) winning the Pennsylvania seat vacated by retiring Republican Pat Toomey.

So while the GOP is ready and willing to do its mischief in the House, Biden has the luxury of knowing he has a Democratic majority in the Senate.  But it may be not for long.

The Senate numbers for 2024 look daunting for the Dems.  Of the 34 seats that are up, they hold 23 of them (including a group of three Senate independents, which now includes Kyrsten Sinema).  They are also awaiting word as to the plans of both Jon Tester in Montana and Joe Manchin in West Virginia.  If either retires, his seat is all but certain to go Republican.  But there’s no guarantee they’d win even if they run again.  Here’s the lineup:

DEMOCRATS (23):  Kyrsten Sinema (Ind.-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Chris Murphy (CT), Tom Carper (DE), Mazie Hirono (HI), Angus King (Ind.-ME), Ben Cardin (MD), Elizabeth Warren (MA), OPEN MI (Debbie Stabenow retiring), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Jon Tester (MT), Jacky Rosen (NV), Bob Menendez (NJ), Martin Heinrich (NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sherrod Brown (OH), Bob Casey (PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Bernie Sanders (Ind.-VT), Tim Kaine (VA), Maria Cantwell (WA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Joe Manchin (WV).

REPUBLICANS (11):  Rick Scott (FL), OPEN IN (Mike Braun running for governor), Roger Wicker (MS), Josh Hawley (MO), Deb Fischer (NE), Pete Ricketts (Special NE), Kevin Cramer (ND), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Ted Cruz (TX), Mitt Romney (UT), John Barrasso (WY).

Making predictions nearly two years in advance is a fruitless proposition, since a lot of factors (possible retirements, candidate quality, the presidential race, etc.) are likely to change each race’s dynamic.  But here’s what we know so far, with an early prediction at the end of each state summary:

Arizona — Sinema’s decision in December to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent has completely shaken up the race and messed up Democratic plans.  Conventional wisdom was always that Sinema, who has played a big role in stymieing Biden’s agenda the past two years, had little chance of surviving a Democratic primary in a state where progressives can’t stand or don’t trust her.  Rep. Ruben Gallego, whose long planned primary challenge became moot when she left the party, announced his candidacy on Jan. 23.  But if Sinema goes ahead and seeks a second term, Gallego’s candidacy may very well split the Democrat vote and give a boost to the Republican candidate.  Of course, the GOP has problems of its own, for while the Democrats’ intra-party squabbles make the seat more attractive for the taking, Republicans are not likely to back off from making it a divisive contest of their own.  Kari Lake, who is still challenging her loss in last year’s gubernatorial contest, is thought to be looking at a Senate bid; it’s anyone’s guess whether her being a “sore loser” would turn off voters.  Blake Masters, who lost the 2022 Senate race, actually accepted his defeat; he too may be considering a run.  Both Lake and Masters are hard-right Republicans; a more moderate choice could be Karrin Taylor Robson, who was beaten by Lake in last year’s gov primary.  Other Republicans listed as possibilities are Rep. Andy Biggs, head of the House Freedom Caucus who challenged Kevin McCarthy for Speaker, and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.  TOSSUP

California — No one thinks Feinstein, who at 89 is the oldest member of the Senate and whose mental capacities have been questioned in recent years, will run again.  But not everyone is waiting around for her decision.  Rep. Katie Porter (D), who barely escaped with a re-election victory last year, announced her candidacy on Jan. 10.  She’s a favorite of the progressive left, but she won’t have that base all to herself; Rep. Barbara Lee, who is even further to the left, has told friends in the Black Caucus that she also plans to run but wants to first give Feinstein a chance to announce her plans.  And on Jan. 26, Rep. Adam Schiff, who won national acclaim with his leadership in the Trump impeachment and Jan. 6th committee actions, also joined the race.  Schiff recently was kicked off the Intelligence Cmte, which he previously chaired, by Speaker McCarthy, so staying in the House may not be as much fun.  Another possible Dem contender is Rep. Ro Khanna, from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.  No Republican has been elected since 1988, but that fact may be moot; in California’s unique election system, look for two Democrats to face each other in the general election (as was the case in 2016, when Kamala Harris beat fellow Dem Loretta Sanchez).  SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Indiana — Rather than seek re-election, Sen. Mike Braun (R) announced in December he wants to run for governor.  Rep. Jim Banks, a strong conservative, quickly jumped into the race and got the backing of several key GOP congressional leaders, as well as the Club for Growth.  Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was successful and popular in office, is thinking about running, and has been touring Capitol Hill to gauge support.  At 73, coming from the Dick Lugar wing of the Hoosier GOP and having just completed a ten-year stint as president of Purdue University, he may find that the party is nothing like it was when he served as governor (2005-2012).  CFG, as well as Donald Trump Jr., has been attacking Daniels as a past-his-prime RINO.  One similarity, and difference, between Daniels today and Lugar in 2012, when he was unseated in the primary 60-40 by conservative Richard Mourdock:  Back then, Lugar’s views were seen as too moderate in the party — issues about his residence also hurt him — but Mourdock was seen as too conservative to win in November.  Twelve years later, Banks may be even further to the right than Mourdock was, but in this modern age, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t win statewide in Indiana.  SAFE REPUBLICAN

Michigan — Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s Jan. 5 announcement made her the only Democratic incumbent to announce her retirement thus far.  First elected in 2000, she has risen in her four terms to the chairmanship of the Agriculture cmte, which she ceded when Republicans took back the majority.  Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who was narrowly re-elected last year in a district that had long been Republican, is expected to announce her candidacy soon.  She is 46 and has served in the House since 2019 in a district once held by Stabenow.  Many other Democrats are thought to be looking at this seat, most prominently Rep. Haley Stevens; other names mentioned include Rep. Debbie Dingell, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Lt. Gov. Gralin Gilchrist and state Sen. Mallory McMorrow.  Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary who became a recent Michigan resident, says he has no interest in running.  Both Buttigieg and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could find themselves as part of a Dem free-for-all presidential scramble should Biden opt out from running next year.  Potential Republican candidates include Tudor Dixon, the 2022 GOP gov nominee; Kevin Rinke, a gov hopeful last year; Rep. John James, who lost close Senate races to Stabenow in 2018 and Gary Peters in 2020;  and former Rep. Peter Meijer, whose vote to impeach Trump cost him his House seat.  Hard to imagine an anti-Trump candidate winning a statewide Republican primary.  LEAN DEMOCRATIC

Missouri — Sen. Josh Hawley, whose raised fist to Jan. 6th protesters made him a lightning rod for attention and criticism and who is thought to have White House ambitions, is being challenged by Lucas Kunce, who lost the 2022 Dem primary.  LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Montana — Along with Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Jon Tester is the most vulnerable Democrat up for re-election next year.  In his three winning Senate races, he never reached 51% of the vote in a state Trump won twice by double digits.  The state’s two GOP House members, Matt Rosendale (whom Tester defeated in 2018) and Ryan Zinke (who has ethics problems), may be interested, with Rosendale more likely to run.  TOSSUP

Nebraska (special) –To no surprise, Gov. Jim Pillen (R) appointed his predecessor, Pete Ricketts, to fill the Senate seat vacated by Ben Sasse, who resigned to become president of the University of Florida.  Ricketts strongly backed Pillen in the 2022 gov race.  One person not happy with the Ricketts appointment is Chuck Herbster, whom Trump endorsed last year in his run for governor against Pillen.  Herbster, whose candidacy was derailed when several women came forward with sexual harassment claims, may challenge Ricketts in the May 2024 primary.  Whoever wins next year will have to run again in 2026, when Sasse’s term would have ended.  SAFE REPUBLICAN

New York — Lee Zeldin (R), who gave up his House seat to run a close race against Gov. Kathy Hochul last year, may take on Sen. Kristen Gillibrand.  LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Ohio — Sen. Sherrod Brown is the only remaining statewide Democrat in a state that has moved from purple to very red.  Trump won it twice by eight points, Gov. Mike DeWine won a landslide re-election last year at the same time J.D. Vance won an open Senate seat by a larger-than-expected margin.  State Sen. Matt Dolan, a mainstream conservative whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians and was among those who lost to Vance in the primary, has already announced his candidacy.  Other potential Republicans, all further to the right of Dolan:  Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Rep. Warren Davidson and businessman Bernie Moreno, who had dropped out of the 2022 primary.  TOSSUP/LEAN DEMOCRATIC

Pennsylvania — Sen. Bob Casey (D) is battling prostate cancer and has not announced his plans.  David McCormick, like Matt Dolan (above), campaigned for the Senate last year as a moderate conservative but lost a primary squeaker to Mehmet Oz.  He is likely to announce his candidacy against Casey, who is finishing his third term.  There is no shortage of Republicans in the Keystone State who felt McCormick would have had a better shot at beating John Fetterman last year than Oz.  LEAN DEMOCRATIC

Utah — Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the MAGA crowd’s least favorite Republicans, is probably going to be hit with a primary challenge.  There’s bad blood in the Utah GOP over Romney’s votes to convict Trump in his impeachment trial and his refusal to back fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee’s 2022 re-election bid; for the record Lee didn’t back Romney during the 2018 election either.  One person considering a primary challenge is Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Trump acolyte.  SAFE REPUBLICAN

VirginiaSen. Tim Kaine’s possible retirement was keeping Democrats on edge for the past several weeks, and so his announcement that he will seek a fourth term was received enthusiastically.  That doesn’t mean he’s home free.  Republicans would love for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who is popular in the state and is thought to hold White House dreams, to challenge Kaine, who is still experiencing long Covid symptoms.  LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

West Virginia — Conventional wisdom has long been that Sen. Joe Manchin is the only Democrat who could win here, a state that gave Trump his best showing after Wyoming.  Manchin may have driven Biden and Senate Democrats crazy by making it much more difficult for the president to enact his agenda, but that doesn’t mean he’s appreciated by Republicans.  Gov. Jim Justice, who was first elected as a Democrat but switched to the GOP shortly after, is hinting about a run; Rep. Alex Mooney (R) has already announced and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who lost to Manchin in 2018, is considering it.  As stated above, Manchin, along with Ohio’s Brown and Montana’s Tester, are the most vulnerable Senate Democrats going into next year.  TOSSUP

SO MUCH FOR PREDICTIONS.  In response to many queries about my election picks last November, here are the Senate and gubernatorial races I got wrong (state/winner):

Senate (1):  Nevada (Cortez Masto D).

Governor (3):  Arizona (Hobbs D), Kansas (Kelly D), Oregon (Kotek D)

LATEST PODCAST:  “Kevin Can’t Wait” (Episode #398), Jan. 12.


February 7 — President Biden’s State of the Union message.

February 21 — Special election in Virginia’s 4th CD.  Rep. Donald McEachin (D) died Nov. 28 of colorectal cancer at age 61.  State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D) is heavily favored to defeat Leon Benjamin (R).

February 28 — Chicago mayor primary.  Incumbent Lori Lightfoot is seeking a second term.

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This Day In Political History:  In what would ultimately be his last State of the Union message, President Richard Nixon waits until nearly the end of his speech to talk about the Watergate scandal.  “As you know, I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material.  I believe that I have provided all the material that he needs to conclude his investigations and to proceed to prosecute the guilty and to clear the innocent.  I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end.  One year of Watergate is enough.”  He concluded with this: “I want you to know that I have no intention whatsoever of ever walking away from the job that the people elected me to do for the people of the United States” (Jan. 30, 1974).  Nixon will resign the presidency just over six months later, on Aug. 9th.

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