|Safe D||Likely D||Leans D||Tilts D||Pure Tossup||Tilts R||Leans R||Likely R||Safe R|
|Feinstein (CA)||Stabenow (MI)||Nelson (FL)||Manchin (WV)||Tester (MT)||McCaskill (MO)||Cruz (TX)||Wicker (MS)|
|Murphy (CT)||Menendez (NJ)||Casey (PA)||Heller (NV)||Flake (AZ)||UT Open (Hatch)||Barrasso (WY)|
|Carper (DE)||Kaine (VA)||Baldwin (WI)||Heitkamp (ND)||Fischer (NE)||Corker (TN)|
|Hirono (HI)||Brown (OH)||Donnelly (IN)|
|King (Ind-ME)||Tester (MT)|
Democrats are favorable in 2016, numerous pundits predict. Recent polling suggest the Democratic candidate is on track of winning in Wisconsin, Indiana (although there’s only one poll), New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, (either NH or PA has an outlier poll saying large-margin Republican lead) and Democrats have a very good chance at the quasi-abandoned Illinois. At R+0.2, Nevada is considered tossup by most pundits. Also North Carolina (R+2.5), Missouri (R+4.8), Florida (R+5.7), Ohio (R+7.5) Arizona (R+8.0), and even Georgia (R+8.0) could potentially flip Democratic if this election becomes a wave for Hillary Clinton.
If the Democrats were to win all Lean D states, picking up one tossup states (NV and NC), and one Lean R state, Democrats would have a 52-48 majority in the upper chamber. The lead is by no means large; in 2008, the Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats. Now they have 46, losing 14 seats between their supermajority and now.
Enough discussion about 2016 Senate. Let’s move onto our topic–2018 Senate. Republican and Democratic strategists alike point out the math is very unfavorable for the Democrats. 23 Democrats, 8 Republicans and 2 independents are up for re-election (or retirement) in 2018. Like this year with the Republicans, the 2018 map for the Democrats is incredibly bad.
Without wasting words, let us start by doing state-by-state analysis.
Incumbent: Jeff Flake (R)
Last party margin: 49.2-46.2
Senator Jeff Flake is one of the most endangered Republican incumbents in the 2018 cycle. Ever since his vote against Manchin-Toomey amendment (expanding universal background check on all gun purchases), his approval rating has been trending low. A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in 2013 has showed Flake having one of the worst approval ratings in the nation–with just 32% approving and a whopping 51% disapproving. A Morning Consult poll also showed Flake to be one of the least popular senators.
Also conducted by Public Policy, a poll this May showed Flake up only 2 points with Kyrsten Sinema, a prominent Arizona Democrat. Although Sinema is a member of the Blue Dogs coalition, her voting record is nowhere near Jim Matheson, a prominent Utah Democrat and potential candidate to run for the open seat in 2018. According to Ballotpedia, her voting record is moderately left of center and largely voted along the party line. Combining Flake’s one-of-lowest-approval in the nation and his lackluster polling number, Flake would find himself in the tossup column, especially after Trump’s election to the presidency
Rating: Leans R
Incumbent: Dianne Feinstein (D)
Last party margin: 62.5 – 37.5
There is not much to talk about. Safe D no matter Feinstein retires or not. Potential Democratic candidates include Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez, Judy Chu, Xavier Becerra, Norma Torres, California State Sen. Kevin de Leon, or California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Rating: Safe D.
Incumbent: Chris Murphy (D)
Last party margin: 55.1 – 43.3
Still not much to talk about. Connecticut has Democratic trifecta control even at this time. Murphy won the open seat by 11.8%, and this time he would enter the race as incumbent, adding momentum to his side.
Rating: Safe D.
Incumbent: Tom Carper (D)
Last party margin: 66.4 – 29.0
Same as Connecticut except the state is even more Democratic.
Rating: Safe D.
Incumbent: Bill Nelson (D)
Last party margin: 55.2% – 42.2%
If Nelson, 76, decides to run for another term, I see his prospects of winning re-election to be very high, as only his first Senate race was remotely competitive. However, if Nelson decides against running for re-election and decide to retire instead, it would be very difficult for another Democrat to carry the state for them. If Murphy loses 2016, he could potentially run again in 2018 against potential candidates Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Pam Bondi and David Jolly (who is likely to lose his congressional seat this year to former govenor Charlie Crist). Democratic potential candidates include Ex. Gov. Charlie Crist, but he lost two statewide races and if president Clinton has a low approval he is likely running for re-election to his House seat if he gets it this year. Under president Trump it would be a different story, with potential of Democrats sweeping every statewide office.
Rating: Leans D
September 7 update: a Public Policy poll showed Nelson only up by 4 points in a hypothetical matchup with Gov. Rick Scott. I am still standing with my Likely D prediction but it could change.
Incumbent: Mazie Hirono (D)
Last party margin: 62.6 – 37.4
If Hirono could beat a popular former governor by 25 points, she could beat another Republican candidate.
Rating: Safe D
Incumbent: Joe Donnelly (D)
Indiana is certainly one of the most competitive Senate races in 2018. If Bayh is elected in 2016, which would likely happen, Donnelly is more likely to get unseated. Yes, I know Joe Donnelly is one of the most conservative Democrats out there in the Senate (slightly to the left of Manchin on economic issues, and almost the same position as Manchin’s on social issues), but still doesn’t change the fact Hoosiers would probably not be satisfied with two Democratic Senators. In 2012, Indiana was a safely rated as a hold for the Republicans before Lugar’s surprising primary defeat. Mourdock, even by Indiana standards, is considered too conservative to be electable. He never lead the poll more than 5%, and was hurt further by the pregnancy from rape controversy.
Donnelly was incredibly lucky running against Mourdock, but this time around he would face a much more powerful opponent. Republican challengers are plenty. Susan Brooks has been touted as a potential candidate, as well as Greg Zoeller, Curtis Hall, Luke Messer. Although the national climate could be very favorable to the Democrats, Donnelly will no doubt find himself in a tight reelection battle.
Incumbent: Angus King (I)
Last party margin: 52.9-30.7-13.1
Paul LePage is no Charlie Baker or Earl Ray Tomblin. He isn’t the most popular governor in an otherwise Democratic leaning state. His approval rating is also one of the worst in the nation, according to a UNH/Press Herald poll. The same poll showed him down 63-29 with King.
But Angus King, 74 on election day, could obviously decide to retire. Failed gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud could be replacing King as the choice of moderates and progressives. But he lost to LePage, who knows. Maine is relatively nonpartisan, just like North Dakota, which would be covered later in this essay.
Rating: Safe I
Incumbent: Ben Cardin (D)
Last party margin: 55.4-26.7-16.6
Cardin retires or not, Maryland remains solidly D unless Republican candidate is Larry Hogan. Potential Democratic candidates include Donna House and John Delaney.
Rating: Safe D
Incumbent: Elizabeth Warren (D)
Last party margin: 53.7-46.2
Replace Hogan with Baker is Massachusetts.
Rating: Safe D
Incumbent: Debbie Stabenow (D)
Last party margin: 58.8-38.0
Michigan was Tennessee of 2014, enough said.
Rating: Likely D
Incumbent: Amy Klobuchar (D)
Last party margin: 65.2-30.5
Add Minnesota to the list of Connecticut, Delaware and Hawaii.
Rating: Safe D
Incumbent: Roger Wicker (R)
Last party margin: 57.2 – 40.6
Democrats in Mississippi have seem already given up. There is no credible candidate other than Jim Hood (Mississippi Atty Gen). Even if Hood runs for either Governor’s Mansion or Washington, the Republican candidate would still be favored,.
Rating: Safe R.
Incumbent: Claire McCaskill (D)
Last party margin: 54.7-39.2
Now there we have it, the most competitive (or leaning takeover) race in the nation. McCaskill was well on her route of losing re-election in 2012 until Todd Akin said this:
If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
Apparently this is a statement to appease Tea Party voters, strengthening their support for him, but why the hell in the world did Todd Akin want to strenghten his Tea Party support while turning all moderate votes to Claire McCaskill? Tea Party voters only have one choice–him, but moderate voters could split between him and McCaskill, and in the election they sided with McCaskill, beating Akin by a resounding 15-point margin.
Ok. Enough of 2012, moving onto 2018. McCaskill is considered one of the most vulnurable incumbents because of her poor approval rating–merely 39% approving while 46% voicing their disapproval, according to a Public Policy Poll. This figure is only marginally better than Jeff Flake’s approval rating, which is one of the worst in the nation. Having these approval ratings, combined with a strong Republican opponent (Ann Wagner), Claire McCaskill would be the Republicans’ easiest target for 2018. Theoritically, McCaskill and Flake are in the same position because of their less-than-ideal approval ratings, but McCaskill would face a less ideal situation because of her Democratic party affiliation in a red state. Changing demographics in Missouri are propelling Democratic voters out of the state, and St. Louis County region became a solidly red region from a swing region. All these factors are suggesting Missouri is on its path to become solidly red.
Less than ideal approval rating, strong Republican opponent, and changing demographics all suggest Claire McCaskill would face an uphill battle for reelection. Since Missouri has statewide races this November, situations could change after that election, but McCaskill is currently on her track to defeated reelection. If McCaskill is primaried and she does lose, this race would be rated otherwise. For example, if Jason Kander is the Democratic nominee instead of McCaskill, this race would be Tilt D at most.
Rating: Tossup/Tilt R
Incumbent: Jon Tester (D)
Last margin: 48.6-44.6
Sitting representative Danny Rehburg failed to unseat Tester in 2012. President Obama only scored 41% of votes in the state, indicating Tester ran almost 7 points ahead of Obama in his state. And Rehburg was a reasonably popular representative, representing the state for six terms. Sure, it was 2012, but in Montana Obama was not positioned favorably and Tester is reasonably more favorable than Obama in the state. In 2018, to defeat Tester would require Hillary Clinton be really unfavorable if she becomes president, but if Donald Trump, whose favorability is almost guaranteed to be low, becomes president, Jon Tester would virtually be guaranteed to hold the seat for another six years. Some people see this race as very competitive and current trends show that to be true, but Tester would start with a major advantage.
Rating: Lean D
Incumbent: Deb Fischer (R)
Last margin: 57.8-42.2
Fischer could find herself with some nominal opposition with Rep. Brad Ashford, who was just defeated for reelection as Trump carried the district by 2 points, but that’s not enough to bring a serious challenge to her.
Rating: Likely R
Incumbent: Dean Heller (R)
Last margin: 45.9-44.7
Unlike Flake and McCaskill, Heller’s approval rating is more modest. In the same poll that showed Jeff Flake down 19 points in approval rating, it showed Heller up three points 44-41. However, in his 2012 campaign, Heller promised to be bipartisan and independent. Voting records have not shown that. Heller’s records indicate his stance is much to the right of Shelley Moore Capito, who is seen as a “moderate conservative” in her party, but Morning Consult approval poll shows Heller up 26 points with 48 percent approving and 22 percent disapproving. (Morning Consult and PPP are different polls, and they yield vastly different results.)
In comparison (to Jeff Flake and Claire McCaskill), these approval ratings are not bad at all. If there is no significant demographic shift (such as influx of Hispanics or other strong D-leaning population), Heller should be pretty safe here.
The above texts were written pre-election. With Trump’s unexpected election to the presidency of the United States, Heller became the only Republican Senator who sits in a state that both voted for Obama twice and Hillary Clinton, Heller’s uncompromising record, if touted by a strong candidate (Jacky Rosen or Ruben Kihuen are among contenders here), can have detrimental effects on him.
Rating: Leans D
Incumbent: Bob Menendez (D)
Last margin: 58.9-39.3
Menendez has been covered up with scandals lately, but those scandals should not be strong enough for him to decide against seeking a third term. If Menendez doesn’t retire, he should be safe. If he does, unless the Democrats run a lackluster candidate, Democrat should be fairly safe as well.
Rating: Likely D
Incumbent: Martin Heinrich (D)
Last margin: 51.0-45.3
Lately, New Mexico has been trending Democratic. Heinrich, 47, is young and ambitious. Although he hasn’t been featured on the national spotlight, according to Morning Counsult, Heinrich is up 25 points in approval rating, making him on the same level as Heller. New Mexico is six points more Democratic in comparison to Nevada Republican (Nevada is D+2, New Mexico is D+4, so there’s a six point difference between Heller and Heinrich). If Heller is likely, NM should be safe for the Democrats if Republicans only run a generic candidate.
But New Mexico’s Republican bench is solid. Susana Martinez and Gary Johnson are both exceedingly qualified candidates to take New Mexico’s senate seat. Johnson’s popularity in New Mexico has been reflected in recent pollings. If he could get 20% in a presidential race, he could win the Senate race with 50-55%. Martinez is very popular as well, taking 57% while Udall (Democratic nominee for Senate) took 55%, so at least 10% of the voters must have split their ticket. A clash between two (and potentially three) popular politicians in NM would be very interesting to watch.
Rating: Safe D
Incumbent: Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
Last margin: 72.2-26.3
Rating: Safe D
Incumbent: Heidi Heitkamp (D)
Last margin: 50.3-49.2
North Dakota’s senatorial race would be very interesting to watch. Heidi Heitkamp narrowly defeated one-term representative Rick Berg in the 2012 election. I watched a debate between the two candidates and found out Heitkamp to be a very emotional and appealing speaker. Representing an overall conservative state with a large liberal-conservative shift like North Dakota, Heitkamp’s much more to the ideological center than his predecessor is–Kent Conrad was around 30th most liberal, while Heitkamp is around 50th. She has an A rating from NRA and consistently ranked among the most bipartisan senators. She is also pretty conservative on social issues, making the Republicans unable to attack her from this point. North Dakota’s general electoral history is incumbent protection, and incumbents usually get reelected with large margins–Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan all won their elections by wide-margins. But Heitkamp’s popularity is not nearly as high as Conrad and Dorgan’s, so that raises some questions for this North Dakota incumbent protection theory. Entering 2017 we might see some polls done in this state, and they may confirm or reject my theory that Heitkamp is narrowly favored but a strong Republican could beat Heitkamp.
Heitkamp is in a better position than McCaskill mostly because of her approval ratings. Heitkamp, although not Conrad/Dorgan/Hoeven level, is reasonably popular, at least much more so than McCaskill is. That made her to be not in too much of a disadvantage.
Incumbent: Sherrod Brown (D)
Last margin: 50.7 – 44.7
Brown’s opponent Josh Mandel never led the poll in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any power to unseat Brown. Mandel first started as an underdog (trailing Brown almost 15 points in the polls), but he almost equalized that polling near the end of the race. Brown ultimately prevailed, but in 2018 Ohio’s Republican bench would be even larger. Republicans hold every statewide elective offices and all of them are term-limited. DeWine could try to win his old seat back after an eight-year spell at OAG, and his approval rating is not 2006 level (and 2006 was such a large Democratic wave that made Tennessee a tossup) . Kasich could also be a potential Republican candidate–he ran an impressive presidential campaign although losing, but his publicity in Ohio was more than enough that denied Bernie Sanders any chance of a victory.
But keep in mind Brown is much more popular than all these Republican candidates mentioned. Brown is even more popular than Kasich is, by three percentage points according to PPP. Rob Portman, who has a negative approval rating, is expected to win his race against Strickland by more than 15 points. Brown’s approval rating is almost twenty points higher than Portman’s. he also leads by more than 10 points in a hypothetical matchup against Mandel.
Rating: Lean D
Incumbent: Bob Casey (D)
Last margin: 53.7 – 44.6
Casey faced Tom Smith, an unknown, in the 2012 general election and was posed a significant threat. Name recognition should push all independents and undecideds to the Casey side, but that didn’t happen. This is unusual because Casey’s approval rating is not remotely low–he is at Sherrod Brown level according to PPP. Considering Pennsylvania’s Republican bench, Casey would probably face another Smith in the general election (almost all statewides are held by the Democrats), but if a strong Republican comes out by any chance, Casey would be significantly threatened. If Casey faces another Smith, he is safe, but if he meets someone like Charlie Dent, the race could become competitive.
Rating: Lean D
Incumbent: Sheldon Whitehouse (D)
Last margin: 65.0 – 35.0
Not much to talk about. Whitehouse is very safe as the last Republican who could even post nominal threat to this seat became a Democrat.
Rating: Safe D
Incumbent: Bob Corker (R)
Last margin: 64.9 – 30.9
Same as Rhode Island except change D to R.
Rating: Safe R
Incumbent: Ted Cruz (R)
Last margin: 56.4 – 40.6
Cruz could face a primary challenge. Actually he is very likely to face a primary challenge. His primary challengers are unlikely to defeat him, though. There is no significant difference between Cruz, Dan Patrick, Rich Perry or name another Republican. Ideologically and name recognition wise they are all the same. Texas has been trending purple, meaning a strong Democrat could make this one a swing. Potential Democratic candidates include the Castro brothers if they can boost Latino turnout significantly. If no strong Democrat (turnout-driving) is running, the Republican candidate should be very safe.
Rating: Likely to Safe R.
Incumbent: Orrin Hatch (R)
Last margin: 65.2 – 30.2
Hatch is very likely to retire. If he retires (or dies), DINO Matheson could have this seat within reach. If Matheson declines, the Republican candidate should be VERY safe, but if he runs then there could be some drama.
Rating: Likely R (Lean R if Matheson runs, Safe R if he doesn’t)
Incumbent: Bernie Sanders (I)
Last margin: 71.0 – 24.9
Safe I or D, depending if Bernie Sanders runs for reelection.
Incumbent: Tim Kaine (D)
Last margin: 52.9 – 47
Likely D if Kaine runs for reelection, tossup depending on 2017 general election result.
Incumbent: Maria Cantwell (D)
Last margin: 60.5 – 39.5
Rob McKeena (or Dino Rossi) could pose some threat to Cantwell, but not nearly enough to unseat her.
Rating: Safe D