Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Senate Questions

In Senate on May 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

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Within the last week, no fewer than four major potential senatorial candidates have decided not to run. Three sitting members of the House, representatives John Barrow (D-GA-12), Steve King (R-IA-4), and Tom Price (R-GA-6), and one former congresswoman, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin from South Dakota, each announced that they will be doing something other than running for the United States Senate in 2014. With so many potential candidates content to allow their current opportunity to evaporate, what now is the status of the various Senate races?

Both the Republicans and Democrats have, so far, experienced recruitment failures. Democrats see two seats that they currently hold, Jay Rockefeller’s post in West Virginia and Tim Johnson’s position in South Dakota, going by the wayside. Currently, they have no candidate willing to challenge GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) in the Mountaineer State, and their two strongest South Dakota potential contenders have taken a pass. While they do have a former aide to Sen. Tom Daschle (Rick Weiland) now in the race, it is apparent that he is no match for Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds.

Republicans have yet to field a candidate in Iowa where Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is retiring. No less than five potentially strong candidates, including three statewide officials and two US House members, have decided not to run, but the party leadership is reportedly close to getting Secretary of State Matt Schultz into the race.

Republicans also have no viable candidate in North Carolina, where freshman Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan stands for re-election having to defend a liberal voting record before a conservative electorate, and in Minnesota where Sen. Al Franken (D) must again face the voters. Back in 2008, it took eight months to determine that he won the statewide election by just 312 votes from more than 4.4 million cast ballots, yet the GOP has no 2014 challenger for him.

After a debacle involving Hollywood actress Ashley Judd resulted in her not challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Democrats have failed to recruit a Kentucky challenger. They still believe McConnell is vulnerable, but the Republicans do not.

The GOP is working to solidify around one challenger in Alaska. Both Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan are viable potential candidates, but the party must avoid a divisive primary if they are to mount a serious challenge against first-term Sen. Mark Begich (D).

They also need to clarify the situation concerning Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR). Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) is waiting in the wings and most political observers believe he will enter the race. If he doesn’t, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr will run.

Two other Democratic open seats, Michigan (Sen. Carl Levin retiring) and New Jersey (Sen. Frank Lautenberg not seeking re-election), will become open in 2014, but the GOP has yet to field an announced candidate. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14) is the favorite in Michigan; Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) likewise in the Garden State.

Two open seats are being held hostage. In Nebraska, all potential candidates are waiting for Gov. Dave Heineman to provide a clear signal as to whether he will run. First-term Sen. Mike Johanns (R) has decided not to seek re-election. In Montana’s recently vacated Senate seat (Sen. Max Baucus (D) retiring), former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) holds the balance of power. As in Nebraska, all potential contenders are waiting to see what he will do. At this point, the betting is now that Schweitzer will not run. If so, the Montana seat will become heavily competitive as the GOP already has several good candidates ready and willing to run for the seat.

The Senate picture will change greatly in the coming months but, today, it appears that both the Republicans and Democrats are leaving seats on the table. Candidates will eventually surface in all situations, but have both parties already blown winnable situations? Only time will tell.

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