Today we are releasing our inaugural Senate Rankings for the 2018 cycle. This is probably a good time for a baseline assessment as we haven’t seen any real movement on most of these contests. To the map!
|Safe D||Likely D||Lean D||Tossup||Lean R||Likely R||Safe R|
As always, bold denotes a projected flip while italics denotes a D-held Tossup seat. The nominal “Independents” Sanders and King are counted as Dems.
These rankings mean that we start out predicting a net shift in the Senate of between D+2 and R+6. This cycle is likely to be the first since 1998 with no chance of Senate control changing; even if Democrats swept every non-Safe R seat, they would still be a seat shy of taking control of the chamber.
Flip over for the full narratives!
1. North Dakota Tossup
North Dakota zoomed right in 2016 as the formerly prairie populist type voters broke hard for Trump; indeed, North Dakota was Trump’s fourth-best state of all. And that means Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), who won office narrowly in the most surprising Senate result of 2012, starts out as the most vulnerable Senator this time around. Republicans have a ready-made recruit for this seat in at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), who has already acknowledged he is considering a bid. Cramer would likely prove a very tough opponent for Heitkamp, but she has defied the odds before by winning in the first place, so it would be unwise to count her out. In the unlikely event that Cramer does not run, State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt (R), State Sen. Tom Campbell (R), and Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk (R) would be likely candidates. Additionally, there is still at least some chance that Heitkamp could hit the eject button on the tough race and retire to K Street or the Trump administration, which would make this race close to a sure GOP pickup; other Dem possibilities, such as Heitkamp’s brother, talk radio host Joel (D), or State Rep. and 2016 Gov nominee Marvin Nelson (D), seem ill-equipped to hold the seat. All that adds up to this seat being by far the most likely race to flip in 2018, but still one that belongs in the Tossup category.
2. Missouri Tossup
Two-term Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) was another Dem who defied the odds in 2012, winning a second term only because her opponent legitimately self-destructed. It’s unclear McCaskill will get lucky again this time; Missouri continues its steady trend to the right as the GOP swept the statewide positions in 2016 for the first time in memory. Additionally, unlike most of her red-state Dem compatriots, McCaskill has made few moves to feint to the right and has generally been an unapologetic liberal in the Senate. Thus, she is likely to have a very tough fight for re-election. Republicans have a ready-made contender in Rep. Ann Wagner (R), who has been transparently preparing for this race since her first election to the House in 2012. Wagner is well-connected and has strong political skills, and thus stands a good chance of clearing the primary field. However, Reps. Sam Graves (R), Vicky Hartzler (R), Jason Smith (R), and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) could all potentially give her a significant challenge in the primary if they were inclined to upset the apple cart. Assuming it comes to pass, the general election between McCaskill and Wagner, both of whom are known as tough campaigners, will likely be hotly-contested and much will depend on the national environment in 2018. It is also very possible McCaskill could pull a late retirement; in that case, Democratic odds would likely go up somewhat as they have a ready-made successor to her in ex-SoS and 2016 nominee Jason Kander (D). Kander performed better than expected in 2016, losing by just 3 points, and has done a better job selling himself as a moderate than McCaskill has. Overall, this race is still clearly in the Tossup category but one of the GOP’s better pickup opportunities.
3. Indiana Tossup
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) is another somewhat fluky red-state Dem who defied the odds to win in 2012 when his opponent self-destructed. As Indiana trended even further to the right in 2016, he will likely face a very tough fight for a second term. Indiana Republicans have a huge bench with several credible candidates. Rep. Luke Messer (R) has supposedly been already saying in private that he will run, while Reps. Jackie Walorski (R), Jim Banks (R), Todd Rokita (R), Susan Brooks (R), and Trey Hollingsworth (R), and AG Curtis Hill (R) could all also be credible candidates. Any would pose a credible threat to Donnelly. That said, Indiana is not a deep-red state and Donnelly is a strong campaigner; thus, this race is likely to be among the most competitive races of 2018 regardless of who the GOP nominates. As a result, we are putting this race towards the center of the Tossup category and suggest there is no clear favorite.
4. Montana Tossup
Two-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) is another red-state Dem who has gotten lucky by running in friendly cycles, though he is also known for strong campaign skills. Tester got another stroke of luck when his most likely opponent, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R), was pulled out of the running to become US Interior Secretary. Republicans’ recruitment efforts here will now likely focus on AG Tim Fox (R), a strong campaigner in his own right who led the statewide GOP ticket in vote share in 2016. If Fox were to run, he would likely clear the primary field and set up a hotly-contested general election. If Fox were to decline, other possibilities could include SoS Corey Stapleton (R), Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale (R), Superintendent Elsie Arntzen (R), 2016 gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte (R), and potentially even Zinke’s successor in the House. Due to the lean of the state, any of those Republicans would likely pose a credible threat to Tester. Overall there is no clear favorite and much will depend on candidate recruitment for the GOP and the national climate of 2018.
5. Arizona Tossup
The Democrats’ top pickup opportunity is interestingly not the one Republican sitting in a state Clinton carried, but the seat next door. Freshman Sen. Jeff Flake (R) experienced something of a Peter Principle moment upon moving from a safe House seat to the Senate. Flake was unambiguously a conservative star in the House, leading the fight against earmarks and earning a reputation as a fiscal hawk. However, after a surprisingly tough 2012 Senate general, he has become something of an inconsistent moderate in the Senate, earning the ire of the GOP base for his pro-immigration reform stance and essentially becoming a less personally-appealing and less obviously principled version of his mavericky colleague John McCain (R). As a result, Flake is likely to face significant challenges in both the primary and general this cycle. Reps. David Schweikert (R) and Trent Franks (R) are speculated to be interested in a primary challenge to Flake, as is Treasurer and early Trump supporter Jeff DeWit (R). Ex-State Sen. and 2016 candidate Kelly Ward (R) is already in the race; though she is considered a weak candidate, Flake is wounded enough that she may be able to win a one-on-one battle with him. If Flake were to retire, other Republicans, such as Rep. Martha McSally (R), SoS Michelle Reagan (R), and AG Mark Brnovich (R), may be interested in the race as well. Arizona zoomed left in 2016, with Trump only narrowly carrying the state. As a result, Democrats will likely show significant interest in this race. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) would likely be Dems’ strongest possibility as she has built a brand as a moderate and is known as a strong campaigner. 2016 nominee and ex-Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) could be another possible contender, as could 2012 nominee and ex-Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (D). With few strong pickup opportunities this cycle, this seat will likely be a priority for Democrats and neither side looks like a particularly strong favorite.
6. Nevada Tossup
The other serious pickup opportunity for Democrats is the only Republican Senator sitting in a Clinton state, Sen. Dean Heller (R). Heller has announced he will run for re-election, and he is likely to face a tough general election. Heller is a moderate who fits his state well, but with few opportunities Dems will have little choice but to target this seat heavily. Reps. Dina Titus (D), Ruben Kihuen (D), and Jacky Rosen (D), Ex-SoS Ross Miller (D), State Sen. Aaron Ford (D), and businessman Stephen Cloobeck (D) could all be possible Dem candidates. Much about this race will depend on the national climate in 2018, but pending the national climate and Democratic recruitment here it is best to say that there is no clear favorite.
7. West Virginia Tossup
Sen. Joe Manchin (D) has announced he will run for a second full term after a prolonged dalliance with joining the Trump administration. Manchin, a moderate who retains goodwill from his popular gubernatorial tenure, is considered a strong force despite the deep-red nature of his state. That said, his time in the Senate has forced him to take some stances that may be unpopular, particularly in his push for some gun control measures a few years ago that will be a tough sell in the very pro-gun state. Bolstered by the state’s continued rightward trend, Republicans are likely to target this seat. Possible contenders could include the state’s entire House delegation, Reps. David McKinley (R), Alex Mooney (R), and Evan Jenkins (R), and AG Patrick Morrisey (R). All would be credible contenders against Manchin (though McKinley and Jenkins would likely be stronger than the more strident conservatives Mooney and Morrisey). That said, despite the deep-red hue of the state in national elections, West Virginia has a deep Dem heritage and a soft spot for populist conservative Democrats, as evidenced by Dems’ somewhat unexpected retention of the Governor’s Mansion this past cycle even as Trump was carrying the state by a huge margin. That heritage and Manchin’s incumbency and personal brand will make him tough to dislodge, so we are placing this race toward the Dem-leaning side of the Tossup category. However, the lean of the state means this race is certain to be hotly contested and it is best to start this race out in the Tossup category.
8. Ohio Tossup
As Ohio has trended from purple to a clear shade of light-red, two-term Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) has kept up his posture as a strident liberal. Brown is a populist of the kind that sold well in Ohio until very recently, and has won four statewide elections in his career. This year he is facing the prospect of a rematch with his 2012 opponent, Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), the first credible challenger to enter a 2018 Senate race. Mandel, a young veteran who did reasonably well in 2012, has strong name recognition and some grassroots conservative support. He is also known as among the most aggressive campaigners around, which can be something of a double-edged sword as some have found his no-holds-barred style off-putting. Mandel may face a primary challenge from a more establishment-flavored Republican; Reps. Pat Tiberi (R) and Jim Renacci (R) and State Sen. Matt Huffman (R) have all openly indicated interest in this race. Hoping to scare them off, Mandel has put out polls showing him crushing Tiberi and Huffman by a large margin in a hypothetical primary (bolstered by stronger name recognition); it’s unclear if his efforts will be successful or not. The general election will be hard-fought regardless; Brown’s incumbency and a Republican in the White House is somewhat counterbalanced by the newly-red hue of the state, so overall we are marking this race toward the Dem side of the Tossup category. It’s important to note that Brown has been considered a 2020 presidential prospect as well, and may pull a late retirement if he fears a loss that would take him out of the Presidential running. In that case, Rep. Tim Ryan (D) would likely be Dems’ top choice from the depleted Ohio Dem bench.
Leans Toward Incumbent Party:
9. Wisconsin Lean D
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) has not indicated whether she will seek a second term but at 56 is seen by CW as unlikely to retire. Republicans have their eyes clearly set on a top recruit here in Rep. Sean Duffy (R), a former reality star who has held down a seat that has moved from purple to red over his four terms and privately already indicated his interest in the race. Duffy is considered a strong contender and could probably clear the primary field, but he may be hesitant to vacate his safe house seat if the climate starts to look unfavorable. Another candidate who has already indicated some interest in a bid is businessman and 2012 candidate Eric Hovde (R). Other possible challengers to Baldwin could include Reps. Mike Gallagher (R) and Glenn Grothman (R), LG Rebecca Kleefisch (R), AG Brad Schimel (R), and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke (D), a DINO conservative celebrity who would presumably switch parties to run. In the unlikely event Baldwin were to retire, Rep. Ron Kind (D) and State Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D) could be credible Dem contenders. Baldwin is easy to caricature as a Madison liberal, but she defied the CW to win in the first place in 2012. The purple terrain of the state and the benefit of incumbency and a GOP president, along with the uncertain nature of GOP recruitment, leads us to mark Badwin as a slight but noticeable favorite for a second term.
10. Florida Lean D
Incumbent Bill Nelson (D) has said he will seek a fourth term. The most enthusiastic GOP prospect for this race is Gov. Rick Scott (R), who has reiterated his interest in challenging Nelson multiple times. In spite of being easy to caricature as a cross between Monty Burns and Lord Voldemort, Scott has proven a successful Governor and is reasonably popular in his purple state, and his unlimited personal resources will enable him to wage a strong campaign. However, the limited early polling of the race shows Nelson with a moderate lead over Scott. If Scott does not run, there will likely be a crowded GOP primary. LG Carlos Lopez Cantera (R), Rep. Ron DeSantis (R), and businessman and 2016 candidate Carlos Beruff (R) all ran in 2016 and could try again, while Reps. Tom Rooney (R), Vern Buchanan (R), and Dan Webster (R) could be credible candidates as well. Overall Nelson’s strong personal brand and name recognition in the large state leave us to mark him as a moderate favorite, but the race will likely be hard-fought. That said, at 76 Nelson is definitely worth keeping on watchlists for a late retirement; if he were to vacate the seat GOP odds would go up significantly. Possible Dem replacements for Nelson could include Rep. Charlie Crist (D), ex-Reps. Patrick Murphy (D) and Gwen Graham (D), Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (D), and wealthy trial lawyer John Morgan (D); an open seat would likely be among the most competitive races of the cycle. For now based on Nelson’s incumbency and the GOP presidency we mark Democrats as slight but significant favorites to hold this seat overall.
11. Virginia Lean D
Sen. Tim Kaine (D) will likely seek a second term after his bid to move to the VP slot faltered. Virginia moved left in 2016, but it is unclear how much of that movement was home-state bounce for a Virginian on the ticket or reaction to Trump’s personal qualities. As a result, it is unclear how well Republicans will do in recruitment for this race. The GOP’s dream candidate would be Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), who has held a light-blue suburban NoVa seat, but she may be unlikely to give up her seat for an uncertain race against an incumbent. Rep. Dave Brat (R) has also indicated interest in this race when it looked like the seat may be open, but again giving up a safe seat might not be as attractive. Other possible Republican candidates could include Rep. Rob Wittman (R), ex-Rep. Eric Cantor (R), ex-AG Ken Cuccinelli (R), and 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina (R). This race is likely to be competitive as Virginia is still a very purple state. Much will depend on the national climate and GOP recruitment, but overall Kaine is a strong candidate with three statewide wins under his belt and we mark him as a moderate favorite for a second term.
12. Pennsylvania Lean D
Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) won two elections with relative ease due to weak opponents, his famous name, and feints towards social moderation. However, there is some speculation that he may get a tougher challenge this time if he follows through on his plans to seek a third term. Encouraged by Trump’s victory in the state, there is speculation that Rep. Pat Meehan (R) is interested in a bid. A moderate who has held down a purple suburban Philly seat, Meehan could pose a strong threat to Casey. Other than Meehan, some other potential GOP candidates could include Reps. Lou Barletta (R), Tom Marino (R), and Mike Kelly (R), ex-LG Joe Cawley (R), State Sens. Kim Ward and Jake Corman (R) and State Rep. Mike Turzai (R). If Casey were to unexpectedly retire, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) and AG Josh Shapiro (D) could be possible replacements for the Dem nod. Casey will likely start as a significant favorite due to incumbency and the GOP presidency, but the purple nature of the state and potential for a strong GOP candidate suggests that this seat is very much in play.
Likely to Stay With Incumbent Party:
13. Maine Likely I/D
The nominally-independent Sen. Angus King (I/D), who is a mainstream liberal Dem in all but name, has said he will seek a second term, but there are reasons to be skeptical of that, namely money. King has almost no cash on hand and his fundraising has trailed even his safe-seat rivals, which is usually the strongest indicator of an impending retirement. A credible Republican has already openly indicated interest in this race in Gov. Paul LePage (R). LePage is in some senses the polar opposite of King’s measured upscale moderate-liberal sensibilities as a brash blue-collar populist-conservative with a history of inflammatory statements. However, despite being written off for political dead multiple times, LePage has shown enduring popularity in his state and would be a top-tier challenger to King. In a state that is closely divided between an upscale liberal south and a populist conservative north, such a race would be a top-tier contest. That said, there are as many reasons to be as skeptical of LePage’s interest in the race as there are of King’s protestations that he will run again, as LePage has a habit of idlely mentioning his interest in running for various positions. If King runs again, he is unlikely to face credible Dem opposition as he has been a party-line D vote in the Senate. But if he were to retire, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) would likely be interested in the seat and would likely be the Dem nominee. If LePage does not run, State Sen. Eric Brakey (R), considered a rising star and a staunch conservative, has already indicated interest. However, GOP insiders would likely at least attempt to recruit Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R), who has held down his seat in the northern half of the state relatively easily, as their first choice. Overall this race has a lot of uncertainty, especially since Maine will be experimenting with its first use of instant-runoff voting in 2018, making a plurality insufficient to win. Thus, we feel that all the possible outcomes balance out to leave Democrats as moderately strong favorites overall to hold this seat.
14. Michigan Likely D
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) has not said whether she will seek a fourth term; though conventional wisdom is that she will run again, she should definitely be included on retirement watchlists. In spite of Michigan’s rightward turn that led to Trump narrowly carrying the state, Stabenow would likely be a clear favorite for re-election if she ran again, as most top Republicans would likely look toward the open gubernatorial race in that scenario. However, there are still some credible Republicans who could run, such as Ex-Rep. and Macomb County official Candice Miller (R), SoS Ruth Johnson (R), State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R), and Oakland Sheriff and 2006 nominee Mike Bouchard (R). An open seat could be of interest to others such as LG Brian Calley (R), AG Bill Schuette (R), and Reps. Justin Amash (R), Mike Bishop (R), Paul Mitchell (R), and David Trott (R). If Stabenow were to decline, Reps. Dan Kildee (D) and Debbie Dingell (D) and Macomb CE Mark Hackel (D) could be interested and all would be credible candidates. If Stabenow were to run again, she would likely start as a significant favorite pending GOP recruitment, but an open seat would be highly competitive. As a result, we overall mark Democrats as moderately strong favorites to hold this seat.
15. New Jersey Likely D
Sen. Bob Menendez (D) claims he is running for a third full term, despite being under indictment for corruption charges. The question of how to deal with Menendez will be a difficult one for the state’s powerful Democratic machines. Assuming he files for re-election and is not convicted before the filing deadline, will they attempt to go after him and defeat him in the primary at the risk of making a powerful enemy, or acquiesce in the hopes that he will either survive or resign after being re-elected? It’s a tricky chess game of timing, and I don’t envy those whose careers depend on guessing it correctly. If Menendez goes down before the election, there is an obvious ready-made successor in Rep. Don Norcross (D), brother of the state’s most powerful machine boss. Norcross has been transparently positioning himself for a Senate run since entering Congress in 2014, and it looks unlikely that any Democrat would cross his brother (the de facto dictator of the southern half of the state) by opposing him for an open seat. But if Menendez holds on to run for re-election, the math gets trickier: Norcross is probably unlikely to take the risk of running against him, so the task of taking him on in a primary might fall to someone less tied into the state establishment, such as freshman Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D), who is facing a tough re-election in a light-red district and might see challenging Menendez as an easier possibility. If Menendez does make it through the primary, there could be a chance for a GOP pickup here based on his ethical issues. Possible candidates could include LG Kim Guandagno (R), State Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli (R), State Sen. and 2006 nominee Tom Kean Jr. (R), and potentially even wealthy Rep. Tom MacArthur (R) if a weak Menendez looks particularly likely to be nominated. A hobbled Menendez in the general election might be the best chance Republicans have to pick off a Senate seat in the Garden State in over a decade, but it would still be a long-shot, and if Menendez were to be out of the picture Dems will likely hold the seat with ease. Thus, we mark Democrats as strong, but not prohibitive favorites here.
16. Minnesota Likely D
Popular Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) has indicated she will seek a third term. Klobuchar has a strong brand in her state that has enabled her to win two races with ease. However, like the rest of the Midwest, Minnesota has been trending right; Trump came very close to winning the state, and that’s enough to make us think that Republicans will at least pay some attention to this race rather than giving Klobuchar a totally free ride. However, with a more attractive open gubernatorial seat up at the same time, recruiting a credible challenger may be difficult. Possible contenders could include Hennepin Sheriff Rich Stanek (R), State Sens. Karin Housley (R) and Michelle Benson (R), and 2014 nominee Mike McFadden (R). However, any of them would likely face a tough race against Klobuchar. Because of the purple nature of the state, we’re placing this race on the edge of the playing field, but with many more tempting targets for the GOP there is a good chance it may slip off the board with time.
17. New Mexico Likely D
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) has been a backbench liberal in his first term, which is not a bad fit for his medium-blue state. However, New Mexico has been amenable to Republicans in recent midterms, including in 2014 when Sen. Tom Udall (D) had an unexpectedly close race against an untouted opponent. Thus, we are starting this race off on the edge of the playing field. At 47, Heinrich is very unlikely to retire and is unlikely to face significant primary opposition. Republicans’ dream candidate here, and the only one who could instantly make this a top-tier race, would be Gov. Susana Martinez (R), but she has shown absolutely no interest in going to DC in any capacity. Rep. Steve Pearce (R), LG John Sanchez (R), and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R) would all be strong possible candidates as well, but all are probably more likely to try for Governor if they run statewide. Lower-tier candidates who might be more likely to run could include ex-State Rep. and 2016 SoS nominee Nora Espinoza (R), 2014 nominee Allen Weh (R), and Martinez admin official Jon Barela (R). This race may slip off the playing field as the cycle moves on as Republicans have better targets, and Heinrich will likely be favored in any case, but if the GOP recruits a credible candidate the race could be competitive.
Safe for Incumbent Party:
18. Texas Safe R
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) is probably the most polarizing member of the Senate and one of the most polarizing figures in American politics overall. Additionally, Texas has been moving left in recent years; Hillary did surprisingly well here. That has led Democrats to sense some opportunity here, and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) has been actively scouting out this race. However, there are reasons to be highly skeptical of O’Rourke’s chances. O’Rourke hails from El Paso, hundreds of miles from the state’s major population centers, and has a liberal record in Congress that is not very compatible with a conservative midterm electorate in what is still a red state. Additionally, the huge size of Texas means that fundraising will be a significant challenge. Cruz may be Democrats’ best asset here though, as he has earned the ire of many Republicans with his strident conservatism and transparently calculating nature. Thus, there has been indications that he might face a credible primary challenge from a more mainstream Republican, such as uber-wealthy Rep. Mike McCaul (R). Additionally, Bush 43 campaign operative Matthew Dowd (R) may mount a bid as an Independent, which could pull off a small number of moderate Republicans from Cruz. That said, Texas is a huge state with a large and high-turnout conservative base that should remain firmly behind Cruz; thus, it will be difficult for anyone else to gain traction to actually defeat him. As such, we are leaving this race a hair in the Safe R category, though it is possible it might enter the playing field in time if Democrats make a real sustained effort to boost O’Rourke’s candidacy.
19. Connecticut Safe D
Connecticut zoomed right in 2016, driven by discontent with the liberal state program of Gov. Dan Malloy (D). However, it is still a blue state on the federal level, which bodes well for the re-election chances of first-term Sen. Chris Murphy (D). Murphy should be the Dem nominee; at 45, the odds of him retiring are essentially zero, as are the odds of him facing a credible primary challenger. Murphy is among the Senate’s most strident liberals, a position that is not a terrible fit for his state but might be enough to draw him a credible challenger. Possible candidates could include ex-State Rep. and 2016 nominee Dan Carter (R), State Sen. Tony Hwang (R), Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst (R), Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti (R), and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart (R). Though all would likely face an uphill run against Murphy, the potential for a GOP tide at the state level gives us reason to put this race close to the edge of the playing field. That said, the race is still clearly in the Safe D category.
20. Alabama Safe R
Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has delayed the special election for this seat to 2018 rather than holding it this year, suggesting he is likely to appoint a candidate who will seek election to this seat. Only one candidate has indicated he will definitively run for the seat regardless of the appointee, AG Luther Strange (R). Strange, who is popular and has two statewide wins under his belt, is likely to be a formidable contender. However, this race is very much up in the air until we see who ultimately emerges with the appointment, perhaps sometime this week. If Strange is appointed, there is a good chance the race shuts down right there and he faces no credible primary or general opposition in the inelastic red state. But Bentley has interviewed some 20 candidates, including various prominent legislators and members of the congressional delegation, and any appointee would likely have a solid chance of keeping the seat. Democrats have a meager bench in Alabama, but a weak appointee could give them a small opening to make the race competitive; possible candidates could include Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox (D), ex-Surgeon General Regina Benjamin (D), and State Sen. Bill Beasley (D). For now we’ll default to the deep-red lean of the state until we know who the appointee is and place this seat in the Safe R category, though close to the competitive stages.
21. Delaware Safe D
Sen. Tom Carper (D) is squarely at the top of most retirement watchlists, as he has sounded consistently ambivalent to negative about seeking a fourth term. Carper will have an uneventful re-election if he runs again, but if he doesn’t, the race may not get that much more interesting, as Democrats have a ready-made successor in ex-Gov. Jack Markell (D). Markell hasn’t given much word about any plans, but he has no other obvious path to stay in politics and broad popularity in a state that loves shuffling around milquetoast liberals from office to office. It’s hard to imagine either Carper or Markell drawing any serious opposition for the seat. However, if both were to decline to run, the picture would likely become more complicated. Democrats may have a contested primary, as Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D) and AG Matt Denn (D) could both be interested in the post. Republicans could also have a shot at the seat in this case, as Delaware trended right significantly in 2016; by far the strongest GOP possibility would be Treasurer Ken Simpler (R). However, the combined odds of neither Carper nor Markell running for this seat is very small, and as such it’s best to start this seat off in the Safe category.
22. Washington Safe D
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) has not said whether she will seek a fourth term, and thus a retirement is a real possibility. If Cantwell were to run again, the inoffensive mainstream liberal is unlikely to face significant intra-or inter-party opposition in her blue state. However, a Cantwell retirement would likely open up a competitive race. Republicans have repeatedly come close but been unable to break through in top-level races in Washington in recent years, though they have consistently won some downballot Row Officer races. Thus, an open seat would be at least somewhat competitive. Rep. Dave Reichert (R), who has held down a swingy district, would likely be Republicans’ top prospect in such a scenario. Reps. Jamie Herrera-Beutler (R), SoS Kim Wyman (R), and Treasurer Duane Davidson (R) could also be credible candidates as well. Democrats have a huge bench in Washington: left-wing Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D), more establishment-flavored Reps. Suzan DelBene (D) and Denny Heck (D), LG Cyrus Habib (D), AG Bob Ferguson (D), Auditor Pat McCarthy (D), and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) could all be interested in an open seat race. Jayapal emerging as the Dem nominee would likely give the GOP its best chance at a pickup here. However, with no word on Cantwell’s plans, it’s best to start this seat off in the Safe category.
23. Massachusetts Safe D
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) has indicated she will seek a second term; the liberal celebrity is likely to be a strong favorite in her deep-blue state. However, Republicans have at least a credible-on-paper contender exploring the race in former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (R). Schilling, a staunch conservative with a history of some inflammatory statements and baggage from bilking the state of Rhode Island into funding his failed video game company, is a bad fit for the deep-blue state and unlikely to pose much threat to actually defeat Warren. However, the presence of a credible contender for the challenging party pushes this race ahead of the states below. If Warren were to pull a surprise retirement, Reps. Joe Kennedy (D), Katherine Clark (D), and Seth Moulton (D), and AG Maura Healey (D) would likely lead the list of top Dem prospects for this race.
24. Utah Safe R
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) won his first term in 1976 by memorably calling out his 18-year incumbent opponent, then-Sen. Frank Moss (D), for having been in DC for too long. Hatch has now doubled Moss’s service, and seems to be walking back his 2012 pledge to retire this cycle. If Hatch were to run again, it seems likely he will draw credible primary opposition, though from what corners is unpredictable as Utah tends to have a high affinity for unknown outsider candidates. If Hatch were to retire, Reps. Chris Stewart (R), Jason Chaffetz (R), and Mia Love (R) would all likely be interested in the open seat, as could 2016 presidential candidate Evan McMullin (R); additionally, an unknown outsider can’t be ruled out as well. Democrats have essentially no chance in deep-red Utah; even though the state was unfriendly to Trump it remains steadfastly conservative downballot. However, the general election might still be interesting if moderate ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) decides to run as an Independent. Huntsman is wealthy and likely retains some significant appeal in his home state, even though he has alienated much of the conservative base. A Huntsman bid with Democratic and moderate Republican backing could make the general interesting, though the GOP nominee (be it Hatch or anyone else) would still be the favorite.
25. Tennessee Safe R
Sen. Bob Corker (R) is high on retirement watchlists, as he dabbled with retirement in 2012 and scouted out the SoS job in the Trump administration. If Corker ran again, his wealth, generally non-controversial nature, and the establishment-friendly TNGOP primary electorate will likely mean he does not face tough primary or general opposition. If Corker were to retire, right of first refusal to the seat will likely go to popular Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who likewise would be unlikely to draw a credible challenger if he ran. If Corker and Haslam both declined this race, the TNGOP has a huge bench that will likely lead to a crowded primary. Reps. Diane Black (R) and Marsha Blackburn (R) are both considered rising stars in the caucus and would be strong candidates, while freshman Rep. David Kustoff (R) is also quite ambitious. Dems would face long odds in the red state, but State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D), Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke (D), and developer and 2015 Nashville mayoral candidate Bill Freeman (D) could all be credible contenders for an open seat.
26. Maryland Safe D
Sen. Ben Cardin (D) has not definitively said he will seek a third term; at age 75, the political lifer could easily go either way on that decision. If Cardin were to retire, there is a large Democratic bench waiting to succeed him. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) would likely be the front-runner if he wanted to run, but Reps. John Delaney (D) and John Sarbanes (D), ex-Rep. and 2016 candidate Donna Edwards (D), Prince George’s CE Rushern Baker (D), Baltimore CE Kevin Kamenetz (D), and Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) could all be possible candidates for an open seat. Republicans would face very steep odds even in an open seat in deep-blue Maryland, but 2016 nominee and State Rep. Kathy Szeliga (R) and Harford CE Barry Glassman (R) could be potential credible candidates for an open seat.
27. California Safe D
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is the Senate’s oldest member and thus high on retirement watchlists. If Feinstein does decide to run again, she is extremely unlikely to face any serious intra- or inter-party opposition in deep-blue and expensive California. However, if Feinstein retires there is likely to be a very crowded Dem field to succeed her. AG Xavier Becerra (D), LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), Ex-Rep. and 2016 candidate Loretta Sanchez (D), SoS Alex Padilla (D), businessman Tom Steyer (D), and tech executive Sheryl Sandberg (D) may be possible credible candidates in an open-seat scenario. However, in deep-blue California, even an open seat is unlikely to be attractive to the GOP; Republicans are having trouble recruiting a credible candidate for the open Governor’s race and a Senate race is an even tougher lift.
28. Nebraska Safe R
Sen. Deb Fischer (R) is likely to seek a second term and should be favored in her red state. If Fischer were to pull a surprise retirement, possible candidates to succeed her could include Treasurer Don Stenberg (R), AG Doug Peterson (R), and Rep. Don Bacon (R). Nebraska is red enough that it’s unlikely Dems would seriously contest this seat even if it were open, but Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler (D), ex-Rep. Brad Ashford (D), and State Sen. Anna Wishart (D) could be possible candidates for a long-shot race, especially if the seat is open.
29. Rhode Island Safe D
Liberal Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) is a good fit for his deep-blue state ideologically and has said he will run for another term. In the unlikely event he were to pull a surprise retirement, Rep. Jim Langevin (D), AG Peter Killmartin (D), and Treasurer Seth Magaziner (D) could all be potential candidates. Though Rhode Island trended right like much of the rest of the northeast, it is still a deep-blue state and Republicans are unlikely to seriously contest this race. Ex-State Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R), businessman and 2014 Gov candidate Ken Block (R), and ex-RIGOP chair and 2014 nominee Mark Zaccaria (R) might be credible candidates for an open seat, though all would face a very uphill battle against any Dem.
30. Mississippi Safe R
Sen. Roger Wicker (R) is popular in his conservative state and unlikely to face substantive opposition if he seeks a second full term. Mississippi isn’t a particularly deep red state, but it’s perhaps the most inelastic state of all and Democrats are highly unlikely to make a serious play for the seat even in the unlikely event Wicker were to retire. If Wicker were to pull a surprise retirement, LG Tate Reeves (R), SoS Delbert Hosemann (R), Reps. Trent Kelly (R), Gregg Harper (R), and Steven Palazzo (R), and State Sen. and 2014 candidate Chris McDaniel (R) could all be likely candidates. McDaniel is probably the only candidate who could give Dems an opening; ex-Rep. and 2014 nominee Travis Childers (D) and Public Service Commissioner Brandon Pressley (D) might be interested in the race in that unlikely scenario.
31. Wyoming Safe R
Sen. John Barrasso (R), whose stature has been growing in the Senate GOP, is broadly popular in his deep-red state and unlikely to face much opposition for a second full term. In the unlikely event Barrasso were to pull a surprise retirement, Rep. Liz Cheney (R) would likely be heavily favored to move up to the Senate.
32. Vermont Safe I/D
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D) has become a leftist folk hero with his presidential campaign and should face no substantive opposition in far-left Vermont if he ran for a third term. However, Sanders is old enough to be a serious retirement prospect. If Sanders did retire, Democrats have a ready-made successor in Rep. Peter Welch (D), who is broadly popular and would likely slide into the Senate without much serious opposition.
33. New York Safe D
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is a prohibitive favorite for a second full term in her deep-blue state, to the point where she is already actively scouting out a presidential run in 2020. Though Gillibrand was at one point little-known and vulnerable, she benefits from strong establishment support and some residual crossover appeal with upstate moderates. Thus, unless someone is unusually motivated to strangle Gillibrand’s Presidential ambitions in the crib, the odds of her either retiring or facing even a mildly credible primary or general election challenge are all but zero.
34. Hawaii Safe D
Hawaii is a state that values seniority in its congressional delegation like no other, and it’s also the most Democratic state in the nation. That combination is enough to make first-term Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) the strongest favorite of all for re-election. There has been no speculation about serious primary or general election challengers or a possible retirement, and it seems almost a foregone conclusion that Hirono will coast to an uneventful re-election.