RRH Elections October 2017 Senate Rankings

Today it is time to take another look at our Senate landscape. To the map!

Safe D Likely D Lean D Tossup Lean R Likely R Safe R
CA (Feinstein)
CT (Murphy)
DE (Carper)
HI (Hirono)
MD (Cardin)
MA (Warren)
MN (Klobuchar)
NM (Heinrich)
NY (Gillibrand)
RI (Whitehouse)
VT (Sanders)
WA (Cantwell)
ME (King)
MI (Stabenow)
NJ (Menendez)
VA (Kaine)
MT (Tester)
OH (Brown)
PA (Casey)
WV (Manchin)
WI (Baldwin)
AZ (OPEN) 
FL (Nelson)
IN (Donnelly)
MO (McCaskill)

NV (Heller)
ND (Heitkamp)
AL (OPEN)
TN (OPEN)
TX (Cruz)
MS (Wicker)
NE (Fischer)
UT (Hatch)
WY (Barrasso)

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.

RRH Elections has made the following 6 changes to our Senate Ratings since July, 2 in favor of Republicans:

Florida Tossup from Lean D || Pennsylvania Lean D from Likely D

And 4 in favor of Democrats:

Alabama Likely R from Safe R || Arizona Tossup from Lean R || Missouri Tossup from Lean R || Tennessee Likely R from Safe R

These rankings mean that are predicting a shift in the Senate of between R+4 and D+2.

Flip over for the full narratives!

Tossups:

1. Missouri Tossup (1)

Missouri remains most likely seat to flip, though we were perhaps a bit hasty in marking Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) as an outright underdog for re-election. Republicans did a very good job here clearing the field for newly-elected AG Josh Hawley (R), who announced a bid for the seat after reeving deafening overtures to run from all corners of the GOP. Hawley is likely to face only annoyance-level primary opposition from newly-Republican 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen (R). Polling shows McCaskill, who only won a second term in 2012 when her opponent memorably self-destructed, unpopular and trailing Hawley, but by margins that are generally quite narrow.  Democrats’ best bet here is probably for McCaskill to pull a late retirement to and allow ex-SoS and 2016 Senate nominee Jason Kander (D) to make a second run, though so far there seems to be no sign of that happening and it becomes more unlikely every day. However, Kander’s conversion from a non-partisan outsider to national left-wing minor celebrity since the election last year may hinder his ability to win the crossover votes that almost allowed him to pull an upset last year. Given polling showing her unpopular and trailing her challengers, it looks like McCaskill will once again need a lucky break to win re-election, but she may just get one if 2018 is as strong a Dem year as some are predicting. Thus, while we feel comfortable marking Republicans as slightly favored here, the race slips back into the Tossup category.

2. Arizona Tossup (6)

Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) decision to forgo a run for a second term this week may have actually helped Republicans’ odds of holding this seat. Flake had become toxic with both the GOP base and general electorate through his worst-of-both-worlds strategy of criticizing Trump without building up any real crossover appeal with Democrats. Democrats’ recruit for the open seat is still Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D), who has locked down a purple House seat and has a moderate voting record, but has some liabilities in a history as a self-proclaimed “Prada Socialist” activist in the 2000s. Sinema is considered a strong candidate and has a strong shot at flipping the seat in the light-red but strongly left-trending state. Republicans’ field is still deeply unsettled. However, two likely candidates seem to be emerging in Rep. Martha McSally (R), a veteran who has overperformed in her runs for a purple Tucson-area House seat and has strong establishment support, and ex-Rep. Matt Salmon (R), who seems to have stronger ties to the antiestablishment. It’s far too early to handicap the GOP field, but it looks like with an open seat and strong recruit, this is set to be one of Dems’ top pickup opportunities, and as a result this race is well within the Tossup category.

3. Nevada Tossup (2)

Democrats’ other obvious pickup opportunity is the only Hillary-state Republican up for re-election, Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller (R). Heller is one of the more moderate Republicans in the Senate and has a history of statewide wins in the light-blue state. However, Democrats have a top-tier recruit in the race in freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D). Though Rosen has only won one election against a weak opponent, she was able to carry a Trump district and has strong backing from ex-Sen. Harry Reid and his powerful organization, and with Democrats having few major opportunities to go on offense elsewhere she will likely have strong national support. Heller is also facing a challenge from the right in perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R). Tarkanian has announced he is considering a run against Heller due to the latter’s hesitance in voting for the healthcare plan, and has been leading the incumbent in some polls. Heller may be in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation in that respect in trying to thread the needle between possible general election and primary opponents. Additionally, a bloody GOP primary here could work to Rosen’s benefit regardless of the victor, especially due to “None of These Candidates”, Nevada’s unique and popular protest vote option, which could be a sour-grapes option for dispirited Republicans from either side. As a result, this race remains near the top of the list of most likely races to flip.

4. North Dakota Tossup (3)

Polling has shown Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) as fairly popular despite the deep-red nature of her state. Additionally, the small nature of North Dakota could work to Heitkamp’s benefit, giving her better opportunity to differentiate herself from the national party. Interestingly, this seat improbably has the longest streak of electing left-of-center Senators of any Senate seat, going back all the way to 1922(!). Republicans have had a clear recruitment target for the seat in at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R). Though Cramer is not on great terms with either the state or national GOP establishment, he is a proven vote-getter in North Dakota and it’s hard to argue against him being the strongest possible GOP contender for this seat. However, Cramer’s strange hesitancy to make a decision on the race has led Republicans to start looking for alternatives. State Sen. Tom Campbell (R), who has some self-funding ability, is already in the race and (unlike Cramer) is highly enthusiastic about a run. However, Campbell may not clear the primary field if Cramer declines to run – State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt (R) and ex-Rep. Rick Berg (R) have been thought to be considering runs, along with several lesser-known names. Heitkamp will not be a pushover; her incumbency, the small and elastic nature of the state, and the potential for a good Democratic year leads us to place this race clearly in the middle of the Tossup category.

5. Indiana Tossup (4)

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) is the other first-term Democrat sitting in a deep-red state; like much of the Midwest, Indiana swung strongly right in 2016 and Democrats saw their highly-touted gubernatorial and Senate recruits go town in flames to unexceptional Republicans. A pair of Reps., Luke Messer (R) and Todd Rokita (R), have entered the race, and there are signs of the primary becoming nasty.  Both Messer and Rokita are credible if somewhat Generic contenders against Donnelly. Right now Messer seems to have a slight advantage in the primary, as Rokita has been hit with a string of embarassing headlines about him being a diva to his staffers. There may yet be other credible candidates in the race. State Rep. Mike Braun (R) is running and has enough self-funding ability to potentially sneak up the middle if Messer and Rokita nuke each other. AG Curtis Hill (R) is also thought to be scoping out the race, but has not made any concrete moves. Donnelly has proven a strong campaigner, but is facing tough terrain; with so many questions about what kind of year 2018 will be among Trumpist Midwesterners and recruitment for this race, we default to leaving this race firmly in the Tossup category.

6. Florida Tossup (9)

Gov. Rick Scott (R) has not officially declared his candidacy for this race, but both parties are expecting him to throw his hat into the ring to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Scott has been a reasonably successful (if not overwhelmingly popular) Governor, winning two hard-fought re-election races with help from his limitless personal wealth. Nelson, by contrast, has not faced a truly tough race since his first election in 2000, prevailing over “B” list Republicans in 2006 and 2012 without much real effort. However, personalities work in Nelson’s favor; Nelson has a long history in the state and a somewhat grandfatherly image, while Scott’s public image might be well described as a cross between Monty Burns and Lord Voldemort. This race is certain to be hard-fought, with polling now uniformly showing a tied race between Scott and Nelson. As a result, we feel comfortable pushing this race over the line into the Tossup category, though towards the more D-tilting side as incumbency and the nature of the year probably provide the slightest tilt to Nelson. One potential wrinkle in this race would be if Nelson pulls a late retirement, which is not out of the question. In that case, possible Dem options could include Rep. Charlie Crist (D), ex-Rep. and 2016 nominee Patrick “Fratrick” Murphy (D), and wealthy trial lawyer John Morgan (D). But without an incumbency advantage, any other Democrat may face a tougher time against Scott. Conversely, should Scott surprise and not run, possible alternative Republicans could include Reps. Ron DeSantis (R) and Tom Rooney (R) and LG Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R), though all would struggle to gain name recognition in the hugely expensive mega-state.

Leans Toward Incumbent Party:

7. Ohio Lean D (5)

The most likely candidate matchup for this seat hasn’t changed since 2013: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is very likely to face a rematch with his 2012 opponent, State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who transparently began a second bid for this seat immediately after coming up short in his first effort. Mandel seems to have been able to keep other “A” list Republicans, most notably Rep. Pat Tiberi (R), out of the race. However, some establishment Republicans, most notably Gov. John Kasich (R), are far from fans of Mandel due conservatism and often scorched-earth campaign strategies. Many believe that Kasich is behind the candidacy of investor Michael Gibbons (R), whose candidacy seems more focused on attacking Mandel than Brown. In the general, Brown has won two hard-fought races in the state, but Ohio seems to be moving right very rapidly and he will not have the luxury of the 2012 Obama turnout apparatus on his side. That said, Mandel has some weaknesses as a candidate and seems to enjoy less-than-unanimous GOP enthusiasm. So the race remains by a hair in the Lean D category.

8. West Virginia Lean D (8)

There is a high degree of uncertainty about how well Sen. Joe Manchin (D) will perform in his bid for a second full term; on one hand, West Virginia has stampeded right like few other states in the last decade, rejecting national Democrats on a near-total level. On the other hand, Manchin remains a broadly popular figure, with a brand distinct from the national party and high approval ratings. That brand hasn’t stopped a pair of “A” list Republicans from entering this race though – Rep. Evan Jenkins (R), who represents the southern third of the state, entered the race in April while AG Patrick Morrisey (R), who has gained national attention for crusades against Obama-era environmental regulations, jumped in in July. The primary promises to be competitive; while Jenkins has more establishment support, Morrisey appears to be closer to the grassroots. Both also have major liabilities with the primary electorate; Jenkins was a Democrat until 2014, and most of his base in the southern part of the state is Democrats who cannot vote in the GOP primary, while Morrisey hails from the Eastern Panhandle (culturally very unlike the rest of the state) and is a transplant from New Jersey, not a great selling point in a parochial rural state. Jenkins and Morrisey are both imperfect challengers to Manchin, but there is a chance that the Republican nominee may not matter all that much. Much of the race may depend on whether Manchin’s profile as a conservative Democrat will outmatch the state’s love for Trump. Owing to the state’s embrace of a then-Democrat’s candidacy for Governor in 2016 and the potential for a brutal GOP primary that results in a flawed nominee, we feel comfortable marking Manchin as a slight but significant favorite for re-election.

9. Montana Lean D (7)

A solid bet for the luckiest man of the 2018 Senate cycle so far is Sen. Jon Tester (D), who needs to be sending Trump a muffin basket. In one stroke – the selection of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) as Interior Secretary – Trump removed the most likely top-tier challenger to Tester and triggered a House special. Of course, we know that Tester’s second lucky break came the day before that special when now-Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) “body-slammed” reporter Ben Jacobs. Though the incident didn’t prevent Gianforte from winning the election, it likely means his political career is unlikely to progress above the House level. And that opened up the 2020 gubernatorial race as a more attractive option for Republicans’ second choice recruit here, popular AG Tim Fox (R). Likely looking forward to a 2020 election where he will now be the front-runner for Governor without interference from Gianforte, Fox declined a bid against Tester. And that leaves Republicans in a major recruiting quandary here, as no other names on the MT bench can match the stature of Zinke or Fox. Republicans’ new best option appears to be newly-elected State Auditor (Insurance Commissioner) Matt Rosendale (R), who now looks like the front-runner in the primary by default. Also in the race are a few “C” listers including State Sen. Al Olszewski (R), retired judge Russ Fagg (R), and storage company owner Troy Downing (R). Tester is a very strong campaigner and Montana is an elastic state, though one that has been slowly trending right in recent years. But mostly it is the major double recruitment failure for Republicans that leads us to move this seat well into the Lean D category.

10. Wisconsin Lean D (10)

Republicans seem to be experiencing another recruitment failure in this race, to take on first-term Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D). Rep. Sean Duffy (R), who was widely expected to run, declined a bid, but unlike Ann Wagner in Missouri, the contention that it was a calculation motivated by poor general election odds is somewhat easier to believe. Though Wisconsin swung right in 2016, it remains one of the most polarized states of all. And Wisconsin’s Dem base, bolstered by a large collection of moonbats in the 30 square miles surrounded by reality (AKA Madison) is likely to be extremely fired-up to #resist in 2018. Thus, Baldwin’s profile as a Madison liberal may not be a terrible fit for the environment. Republicans now have a primary between “B” to “C” listers in this race, with two credible candidates in the field in State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) and veteran Kevin Nicholson (R). Vukmir hails from the state’s Republican heartland in the deep-red Milwaukee suburbs and cuts a more traditional profile. Nicholson’s biography is more unorthodox; he is a former national college Dems chair who switched to the GOP after a tour in the military. Both are attracting some outside enthusiasm, but it’s still unclear how strong a candidate either would be against Baldwin. 2012 candidate Eric Hovde (R) and several other lesser-known Republicans are also thought to be considering runs. As Trump and Sen. Ron Johnson (R) proved last year, Wisconsin is far from unwinnable for even less-than-ideal Republicans. But all in all the lean of the year and the likelihood of a “B” list challenger leads us to mark Baldwin as a moderate favorite for a second term in her purple state.

11. Pennsylvania Lean D (11)

Sen. Bob Casey (D) has been about as big of an empty suit as they come, with a moderate image largely inherited from his socially conservative late father that belies his current status as a party-line backbencher in the Senate. But though Pennsylvania swung right last year and is firmly a purple state, Casey’s support from the Dem base and modicum of crossover appeal is enough to make him reasonably popular. That is why it was somewhat surprising when Republicans got an “A” list recruit for this race in Rep. Lou Barletta (R). Barletta, who was one of the first mainstream GOP pols to pitch an immigration-restrictionist line and won a Dem-leaning seat in his first House run in 2010, surprisingly gave up his Safe House seat to make this race. Barletta is the clear primary front-runner, though he does face a trio of rivals in little-known SWPA State Rep. Jim Christiana (R) and SEPA businessmen Paul Addis (R) and Jeff Bartos (R). Barletta’s candidate skills should not be underestimated, but the structural factors here working in Casey’s favor are quite strong. Thus it’s hard (though not quite impossible) to see a path to victory for Barletta barring Casey making a substantial unforced error. However, the GOP’s recruiting coup here is enough for us to push this race over the line from Likely D back a hair into the Lean D category.

Likely to Stay with Incumbent Party:

12. Michigan Likely D (12)

This race is just now re-starting after being the subject of a 3-month sideshow. Singer Robert “Kid Rock” Ritchie (R) made overtures toward a bid in the summer, and was able to fool more than a few politicos into thinking he was serious about running, before revealing the ruse last week in an expletive-laced rant. The race to find a Republican to take on three-term incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D) now likely returns to two more traditional “C” listers, judge Robert Young (R) and businessman John James (R). Though both seem like credible candidates, they seem unlikely to end up with the name recognition or funds necessary to be a serious threat to upset the entrenched Stabenow barring an unforced error. Complicating the race further, Stabenow has not officially declared she will seek a fourth term, though CW is that she is likely to run. Should she retire, Democrats’ best options would probably include Rep. Dan Kildee (D) and Macomb CE Mark Hackel (D). Overall, the historically-blue nature of the state and her incumbency leads us to mark Stabenow as a moderately strong favorite for a fourth term, though Michigan is purple enough that the race could be competitive if the year becomes better for the GOP or if Stabenow makes an unforced error.

13. Alabama Likely R (19)

Republicans’ special primary for this seat resulted in the nomination of ex-State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (R), a social conservative firebrand who was thrown off the court twice for disobeying higher-court orders concerning a Ten Commandments statue and same-sex marriage. Moore is a nationally polarizing figure, and national Republicans have been in an uncomfortable position on whether to embrace him or disavow his out-of-the-mainstream social conservatism. However, among the voters that actually have a say in this election, Moore’s social conservatism is somewhat easier to stomach. Alabama is among the nation’s most religious states as well as its most inelastically Republican. While Moore has been underperforming the Alabama GOP baseline dramatically, it seems possible in a state where Trump is very popular that the floor for any Republican is over 50%. Moore is also helped by the depleted state of the AL Dem bench; the only credible candidate to step up was ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D), a staunch liberal who seems as out of step with the state ideologically as Moore is. While polling has shown the race close, Moore has generally been up by a few points, and betting is that will be where the race ends up in the December general. However, an upset here is more within the realm of possibility than Democrats could have imagined even a few months ago.

14. Maine Likely I/D (14)

King Angus I Sen. Angus King (I/D) is fond of remembering his history as an aggressively centrist Governor in the 90s. King was known for being a genuine upscale centrist as Governor, supporting measures from both parties of a fiscally conservative and socially liberal nature. But since entering the Senate, King has been a party-line Democrat in all but name and an occasional moderate vote (particularly on guns). That is not terrible for him politically, as his state is purple to light-blue and he likely retains enough crossover support to be a strong favorite for re-election. However, for someone who came to the Senate in 2012 (apparently sincerely) hoping to reduce partisanship and chart a centrist course, being a party-line Dem foot soldier of low seniority has probably been a disappointment. King looks set to run for re-election though, after being on retirement watch for most of the cycle. His most likely rival is State Sen. Eric Brakey (R), a young “B” list Republican with libertarian tendencies who has won a couple tough State Senate races. Brakey is credible but probably doesn’t stand a strong shot of actually winning barring something unexpected. Should King surprise and pull a late retirement, this race will likely shoot far up the rankings; each side has an obvious ready-made contender for the seat in Reps. Bruce Poliquin (R) and Chellie Pingree (D), who will likely be the ones to square off for an open seat. In a state that seems to be trending both ways between an upscale liberal south and a downscale conservative north, such a clash would likely be hard-fought. But with King still in the race we mark Democrats overall as fairly strong favorites to hold this seat.

15. Virginia Likely D (13)

Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D) VP bid may have failed and netted him a not-particularly-great national image as an angry soccer dad. But in light-blue Virginia, he is known as a relatively successful Governor and a quiet, milquetoast party-line vote in the Senate. That positioning is not terrible in a state that has been trending fairly strongly left in recent years. Kaine’s most likely challenger is a decidedly weak Republican, Prince William CE and self-hating Yankee Corey Stewart (R). Stewart has maintained appeal in low-turnout off year elections in his blue suburban county, and did surprisingly well in a low-turnout gubernatorial primary after a nearly-comical campaign based on defending Confederate Monuments. But needless to say, he is playing in a tougher arena by running statewide against Kaine, and that type of campaign may be a tougher sell in a general election. With essentially all credible GOPers declining a run, Stewart looks like the likely nominee. And that means, while the lean of the state and possibility of an unforced error leave this race as not quite Safe, Kaine should be considered a very strong favorite for a second term.

16. New Jersey Likely D (16)

The ghost of Frank Hague lives on in this race. It’s hard to imagine anything more quintessentially Jersey than the fact that a Senator on trial for massive corruption – Bob Menendez (D) – not only retains his establishment support, but also has decent approval ratings. Thus, the fate of this race is probably riding on a baker’s dozen of people – 12 jurors and a judge, both in what the outcome of the verdict is and what happens in the timing of the appeals process. The state’s Democratic establishment seems to be taking a “wait and see” attitude to Menendez – avoiding saying outright the uncomfortable truth that they support him, but understanding nonetheless that he will be sticking around the Senate, guilty or not, until likely gubernatorial winner Phil Murphy (D) takes office. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t candidates waiting in the wings. The front-runner to replace Menendez is likely Rep. Donald Norcross (D). Norcross is the brother of George (D), an insurance executive who serves as the de facto dictator of the southern half of the state. The tentacles of La Cosa Norcross extend to various machines across the northern half of the state as well, and will likely be activated at full strength for Donald’s bid, which has been rather transparently in the works since then-Rep. Rob Andrews (D) was bought out of his House seat with a cushy job to make way for Donald. The main stumbling block to this plan could be Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D), whose unexpected decision to forgo a run for Governor likely presaged interest in a Senate run; Fulop has support in vote-rich Hudson County that could counterbalance Norcross’s southern machine. The swing vote between the two will likely be the Essex County machine of Joe DiVincenzo (D), which has ties to both machines. Rep. Frank Pallone (D) could also emerge with the appointment as a compromise candidate. Republicans have a path to victory here, but it’s largely out of their hands. It likely involves Menendez filing for re-election, making it onto the ballot, and continuing to run either under a continuing indictment or despite a conviction. As improbable as that is, in Jersey’s crazy political culture we can’t call the odds of that zero, and so the race remains on the board by a hair. Possible Republican contenders for this race could include LG Kim Guadagno (R), who is on pace to lose the gubernatorial election, or her defeated primary rival, State Rep. Jack Ciattarelli (R).

17. Tennessee Likely R (25)

Sen. Bob Corker’s (R) retirement puts this race onto the edge of the playing field. The GOP seems set to have a competitive primary here between two major candidates. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) has been considered a front-bencher in the GOP caucus, even making some Veep longlists, and is generally well-regarded by both the establishment and grassroots. Blackburn looks like the clear favorite in the primary and general in this red state. However, Blackburn is to the right of Corker and the historically-powerful moderate wing of the state party, and that has drawn her a credible challenge from the center in ex-Rep. Stephen Fincher (R). Fincher is a moderate, particularly on fiscal issues, who may be able to harness support from the state’s surprisingly powerful moderate faction. Either will be a favorite in the general thanks to the lean of the state, but this race moves a hair out of the Safe R category and onto the board with the news that Dems’ top recruit is considering a bid. Ex-Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is surprisingly considering a run here, and the popular former Governor would be a top-tier recruit like no other; he won around 2/3 of the vote in his last statewide race in 2006. That said, a state race and a federal race are different beasts and Bredesen would still face a very uphill race against either Blackburn or Fincher, especially since this could be the defining seat for Senate control. If Bredesen were to forgo a bid, Dems’ likely Plan B is Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke (D), who would likely be a credible candidate but a very long-shot barring a major unforced error.

18. Texas Likely R (15)

Democrats’ odds at notching a statewide win in Texas this cycle went from zero to not-quite-zero when Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) entered the race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R). The prospect of beating the staunchly conservative Cruz, and actually TURNING TEXAS BLUE !!!111!! are also beyond exciting for Democrats and catnip for donors. As a result, O’Rourke, a backbench liberal Rep. who is unknown in the 95% of the state outside his remote El Paso base, has attracted an amazing amount of interest from liberal donors. O’Rourke has things going for him – Texas shifted strongly left in 2016, Cruz is at best tepidly accepted by establishment Republicans, and 2018 is likely to be a good year for Democrats. So his odds are not to be written off as totally zero. But let’s not overstate the case here – Texas is huge and brutally inelastic, meaning O’Rourke will be fighting to both gain name recognition and persuade a lot of hard-to-persuade voters, without the benefit of a prior brand or moderate positioning. All in all it looks more like this is a gambit for a MSNBC gig than a serious bid to flip the seat. Additionally, O’Rourke may be the biggest Dem loser from Doug Jones’s (D) newfound competitiveness in Alabama and Corker’s retirement in Tennessee, as both of those now look like significantly better bets for Dems to net their elusive 51st Senate seat. As a result, we are moving this race back to the doorstep of the Safe R category, though there is still the slightest chance for an upset in a mammoth Dem wave.

Safe for Incumbent Party:

19. New Mexico Safe D (17)

New Mexico’s Senate races have been somewhat frustrating for Republicans – the state is just blue enough for Democrats to be secure in normal circumstances, but not so blue that Republicans can’t come close. That dynamic was underscored in 2014, when Republicans came close to beating Sen. Tom Udall (D) with an unheralded “C” lister. But this year there doesn’t seem to be much interest from credible Republicans about trying their luck against Udall’s colleague, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D). Though a pair of credible Republicans, LG John Sanchez (R) and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R), have been mentioned as considering the race, CW is that neither is likely to pull the trigger. Should Republicans get a credible recruit against Heinrich the rating will require re-evaluation, but with so many more enticing pickup opportunities on the board for the GOP, it looks likely that Heinrich’s backbench milquetoast liberalism will be enough to guarantee him a fairly easy ride to a second term.

20. Minnesota Safe D (18)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) continually ranks among the nation’s most popular Senators. Though she does not have a high national profile, she has an affable personality and a mainstream liberal record that has left her basically untouchable in her light-blue but relatively inelastic state. Since Klobuchar declined a gubernatorial bid and announced she would seek a third term, it looks likely she will face only “C” list opposition from little-known State Rep. Jim Newberger (R). We are leaving this race relatively high in the rankings within the Safe category because of Minnesota’s light-blue nature, but make no mistake that Klobuchar is in no danger barring something significantly unexpected.

21. Mississippi Safe R (29)

Sen. Roger Wicker (R) is seeking a second full term, but he may be at risk of a significant primary challenge from State Sen. and 2014 candidate Chris McDaniel (R). While McDaniel would be an underdog to win the primary against the mainstream conservative Wicker, his odds of a win can’t be discounted. Were McDaniel to advance to the general, his polarizing antiestablishment conservatism could give Democrats an opening in the general election. Public Service Commissioner Brandon Pressley (D) has been mentioned as a potential candidate who would have a chance against McDaniel; while Mississippi is a highly inelastic red state, it is one with a high Dem floor where only a few GOP defections could tip a race to Dems. However, McDaniel has not announced his intent to run, and there is a strong chance the other seat will come open as well. Sen. Thad Cochran (R) is considered likely to resign in the next few months, and McDaniel might find taking on an appointee more appetizing than challenging Wicker. Should Wicker make it to the general election, it’s hard to imagine him facing a particularly difficult fight for re-election in his red state. As a result, we consider this seat to still be well within the Safe R category.

22. Maryland Safe D (26)

Sen. Ben Cardin (D) has not yet indicated if he will seek another term. As an inoffensive mainstream liberal, Cardin is a good fit for deep-blue Maryland and is unlikely to face serious primary or general election opposition. But should he make a late surprise retirement, it would likely trigger a crowded Dem primary; possible contenders could include Reps. John Sarbanes (D), John Delaney (D), and Jamie Raskin (D), as well as members of the crowded field of “B” and “C” listers seeking to take on Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Even in an open seat scenario, Republicans would be hard-pressed to come up with credible opposition to any Democrat. In fact, Maryland Republicans might be smarter to actively dissuade credible candidates from this race to prevent Hogan from having to share the ballot with someone credible tasked with campaigning on unpopular Republican federal issues.

23. Utah Safe R (24)

Seven-term Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R) continues his seemingly never-ending kabuki dance on whether or not to seek re-election. Hatch initially pledged to retire this cycle, but reversed course and is now sending mixed signals on a day-by-day basis. He has said that he would likely retire if ex-MA Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who is about as popular as any pol can get in Utah, ran. But after Romney indicated openness to the idea, Hatch waffled on that and said he might forge ahead anyway – even though his wife is apparently not thrilled with the idea. Rumors have been increasing that he ultimately will hang it up, in which case the seat would be Romney’s for the taking. Regardless, it seems likely that one of the two will run and face few problems in a state that, while anti-Trumpist, is deeply conservative; thus, the seat should stay in GOP hands barring something massively unexpected.

24. Washington Safe D (22)

In spite of being both the junior and lower-profile Senator from Washington, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) has always been somewhat more popular than her senior colleague, Patty Murray, never receiving a particularly strong challenge in her two re-election bids. This year seems unlikely to break that pattern as no credible Republicans have indicated interest in this seat. As a mainstream liberal with strong ties to the tech industry, Cantwell is a good fit for her blue state and should have an uneventful re-election unless she pulls a surprise retirement. Should Cantwell surprise and retire, the race would likely become far more competitive. But in the likely event Cantwell seeks a fourth term, no serious rivals are likely to take on the very uphill race.

25. Connecticut Safe D (21)

Sen. Chris Murphy (D) has staked out a niche in his first term as one of the more vocal liberals in the Senate, which makes him a polarizing figure but is in theory is a good fit for his deep-blue state. This race is relatively high up on the list because Connecticut seems primed for a backlash at the state level against Gov. Dan Malloy’s (D) liberal fiscal policies, which give Republicans a tie in the State Senate in 2016 and now a solid chance of picking off the Governorship. That could cause a “C” list Republican the ability to run decently well against Murphy. Possible contenders could include ex-State Rep. and 2016 nominee Dan Carter (R) or former Olympian and 2016 candidate Augie Wolf (R). However, let’s not oversell this; the lean of the state and the federal/state distinction mean that Murphy should be completely Safe barring further unexpected developments.

26. Delaware Safe D (20)

Sen. Tom Carper (D) was at the top of retirement watchlists for much of the cycle, as he has been tepid at best on whether to seek a fourth term, but he has now declared he will run again. Carper should not face serious primary or general election opposition in his medium-blue state that loves milquetoast moderate liberals. Should Carper reverse course and retire, it would be less than meets the eye; Carper’s likely successor would be popular ex-Gov. Jack Markell (D), who would likely face no trouble holding the seat should he run. Republicans’ seem unlikely to get much better than a Some Dude level candidate here.

27. Massachusetts Safe D (23)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) should not face much trouble getting a second term in her deep-blue state, but that doesn’t mean some semi-credible Republicans aren’t seeking to take a go at challenging the left’s favorite cookbook writer, likely in hopes of getting name recognition. There are interestingly four serious candidates in the race. Romney aide Beth Lindstrom (R) looks like the most establishment-friendly choice and the primary front-runner.  Attorney John Kingston (R) is also an establishment-oriented choice. Two more anitestablishment candidates are State Rep. Geoff Diehl (R) and Shiva Ayyadurai (R), a tech entrepreneur and Fran Drescher’s ex who is the self-proclaimed “inventor of email”. None have any chance to beat Warren’s national network, but they may be able to land some blows that damage her with a national audience ahead of a possible 2020 bid.

28. Rhode Island Safe D (28)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) has indicated his intention to seek another term. But surprisingly despite the deep-blue nature of his state, he has not one but two semi-credible challengers. State Rep. Robert Nardollio (R) has strangely decided to give his legislative seat to get flattened, while retired judge Robert Flanders (R) may also decide to contest the primary. Either one will lose to Whitehouse, but could raise their name recognition for a future race.

29. Nebraska Safe R (27)

Sen. Deb Fischer (R) is seeking a second term; though she had some hiccups with an un-endorsement and re-endorsement of Trump last year, she seems unlikely to face a significant GOP primary challenger; Bannon’s top recruit, ex-State Treasurer Shane Osborn (R), has declined to run and endorsed Fischer. Democrats got a candidate a step above Some Dude level in Lincoln councilwoman Jane Raybould (D), but she seems unlikely to pose any threat to Fischer.

30. Hawaii Safe D (30)

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) has been widely expected to seek a second term and should face zero troubles if she goes through with those plans. However, she has recently been diagnosed with what is likely metastatic kidney cancer – and thus the possibility of her retiring for health reasons needs to be regarded as very real. It likely wouldn’t make much difference for the safety of the seat though – Hawaii is the bluest state of all, and there are many names on the huge Dem bench that could replace Hirono, including Reps. Colleen Hanabusa (D) and Tulsi Gabbard (D), Gov. David Ige (D), and many others. Overall it’s almost impossible to see this seat slipping out of Democratic hands.

31. Vermont Safe D (31)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D) has parlayed his improbable 2016 presidential run into a major national network and a position as arguably the Democratic Party’s new national leader (despite not even being a member of it). Thus, he is unlikely to face serious primary or general opposition in his deep-blue state – unless the nascent investigation of his wife gains traction. Sanders’s wife, a former college president, secured an irresponsibly large loan to buy her small college a new campus – which then resulted in the college not being able to afford the bill and going bankrupt. The FBI is currently investigating whether Sanders used his influence to get his wife’s college that loan and if there was any fraud in the process. Should Sanders retire (or be forced out), the race would likely stay boring, as popular Rep. Peter Welch (D) would likely simply slide up to the Senate seat in the deep-blue state. Either way, this seat is essentially certain to stay in Dem (or quasi-Dem) hands.

32. Wyoming Safe R (33)

Wyoming is America’s reddest state, and Sen. John Barrasso (R) is popular with Republicans, particularly for his work on health issues. However, Barrasso has been strangely the focus of Bannon’s primary-challenge overtures, with Blackwater founder Erik Prince (R) considering a bid. Prince’s odds of defeating Barrasso are incredibly long, not the least because Prince’s Wyoming ties are tenuous at best and he seems to divide most of his time between Michigan and Abu Dhabi. Barrasso’s strong primary position combined with the ultra-red nature of Wyoming means that this seat is still overwhelmingly Safe for the GOP.

33. New York Safe D (34)

New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has completed a fairly impressive growth in the last ten years from accidental appointee to a major figure in the Dem party and likely 2020 contender. It seems unlikely Republicans will seek to challenge Gillibrand in the hugely expensive state with anyone more serious than a Some Dude, and thus this seat stays almost at the bottom of the rankings. But it gets edged out for the safest seat of all by…

34. California Safe D (32)

Octogenarian Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) has improbably indicated that she will seek another term; due to her name recognition across her huge and deep-blue state and mainstream liberal position, she is the clear favorite for another term. However, Feinstein’s moderate liberalism has not kept pace with her state’s leftward stampede, and she is now facing a credible rival from her left in State Senate Pres. Kevin DeLeon (D). DeLeon seems likely to advance to a general with Feinstein as no Republican seems likely to mount a credible enough campaign to make it to the general. Feinstein will still have the advantage there based on her incumbency, establishment support, and crossover appeal, but an upset might be slightly possible. With a D-on-D general looking increasingly likely, this seat now takes the top spot as the safest seat of all.

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49 Comments

  • The Zenome Project October 28, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Agreed with almost all of your ratings so far. I do regard Rosendale in MT and Nicholson in WI as very good candidates, however. I think Nicholson has a particularly compelling story as both an outsider and as a former president of the College Democrats of America that I think would make him a strong general election candidate in a R-trending state.

  • HS October 28, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Great write up! I would make MO lean Republican and IN and ND lean Democrat. Those would be my only changes.

  • davybaby October 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    I have Ben Cardin in mind as I write this, but my comment is really more general. I wish those incumbents who are rumored to be considering their retirement would announce their plans sooner rather than later.

  • Red Oaks October 28, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Nice work. I mostly agree with these although it is surprising to see Tennessee so high. Out of curiosity were there any ties among the moderators that forced you to err or on the side of a more Democratic rating?


    MI-03: Tired of Presidency; Focused more on downballot races; Chris Afendoulis for State Senate

    • shamlet October 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Nope, no ties this time. Though one changed vote could have swung Texas and Pennsylvania.


      R, MD-7. Put not your trust in princes. Process is more important than outcome.

  • Jon Henrik Gilhuus October 28, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    I think you mean Florida tossup from lean D, not lean R. Otherwise it would hardly be a change in favor of the GOP. I’ve changed the six state pages to reflect the ratings changes btw.


    The mystery of government is not how Washington works but how to make it stop.
    - P.J. O'Rourke

  • cer October 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    MO should be lean GOP. Other than that, great write up.


    Conservative first, Republican second!

    • krazen1211 October 28, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Who was the last incumbent to consistently lose in early polls and still win, other than Ron Johnson?

      • The Zenome Project October 28, 2017 at 6:17 pm

        Harry Reid, but unlike Johnson he had a mobilized machine of loyal casino/hospitality unions that turned out for him.

    • Jon October 28, 2017 at 7:04 pm

      Agreed.


      45, M, MO-02

      • GoBigRedState October 29, 2017 at 11:00 pm

        I had MO as Lean R, but I didn’t see whether any of the other moderators did.


        45, NE-1, #NeverTrump in 2016, support Trump now as situation warrants

  • davybaby October 28, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Not to be ghoulish, but two senators are gravely ill. As mentioned above, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) of Hawaii has Stage IV liver cancer. If she were to pass away I would think that Gov. Ige (D) might use this as an opportunity to get rid of his primary opponent, Rep. Coleen Hanabusa, by appointing her to the Senate.

    The other ailing senator is, of course, John McCain. Along with the open seat caused by Jeff Flake’s retirement, if McCain were to die this would mean that Arizona would have elections for both senate seats next year. BTW, not since 1966, in South Carolina, has any state simultaneously voted for senators from different parties.

    • shamlet October 28, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      Three. Don’t forget Cochran, who I think is likely worse off than they’ll publicly admit.


      R, MD-7. Put not your trust in princes. Process is more important than outcome.

      • Jon October 28, 2017 at 7:03 pm

        I think we can place potential HI special as Safe D, potential AZ special as Tossup, and potential MS special as Likely R.


        45, M, MO-02

        • Izengabe October 29, 2017 at 7:45 pm

          How would a special election in HI work? If they use the same rules as they did for the House special in which everyone runs on the same ballot we could see a return of Charles Djou winning with 43% of the vote.


          Follow me on Twitter: @Izengabe_

          • Mike1965 October 29, 2017 at 7:55 pm

            Unless something has changed since Danial Inouye passed away the Governor appoints a replacement who serves until the next general election.


            #ThanksObama

          • davybaby October 29, 2017 at 8:04 pm

            The 2014 Senate election in Hawaii was a special election. (Inouye was reelected in 2010; Schatz was reelected to a full term in ’16.) The 2014 election had partisan primaries and a D vs. R general election.

  • pstchrisp October 28, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    New Jersey is a difficult state to Govern if you are a Democrat. No D Governor has made it to a second term in 40 years (and every R Governor has). Should he win, Murphy is going to have to make some tough, unpopular decisions. When that happened to Florio in 1990, Whitman almost beat the Safe D Bill Bradley.
    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/11/08/nyregion/1990-elections-what-went-wrong-bradley-says-he-sensed-voter-fury-but-it-was-too.html
    I think Likely D is appropriate, but if Murphy bombs, who knows…

    Aside: We lament polling’s downfall, but how about having Bradley up 26 in the last week of the campaign, and he won by 3.

    • The Zenome Project October 28, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      Having elections in off-years probably worsens polling deviations. Also, because the Democrat is so expected to win, there’s probably tons of voter complacency.

  • StatenIslandTest October 28, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Great observation. No NJ Dem governor has had even a one-night stand in an AC motel of a honeymoon.

    Menendez approval is 31 pct and his reelect is 19 in increasingly PPPish Quinnipiac. I feel like barring total exonoration he will face a primary and probably a very competitive general. Also 06 nominee and State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr is still in the mix for sure.


    31, Jersey City

    • cer October 28, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      Menendez will be convicted, and won’t finish out his term.


      Conservative first, Republican second!

  • andyroo312 October 28, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Excellent work! My hunch at this point is MO/AZ/NV indeed flip. Oh, and I suspect Diehl actually wins the GOP nom in MA-Sen.


    MA-7

    • cer October 29, 2017 at 12:32 am

      The GOP will have a net gain of senate seats, not a net loss.


      Conservative first, Republican second!

      • andyroo312 October 29, 2017 at 3:00 pm

        I disagree.


        MA-7

        • cer October 29, 2017 at 6:03 pm

          That’s fine, but hopefully you will be wrong like you were with one of your more recent predictions.


          Conservative first, Republican second!

  • The Zenome Project October 29, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Inside Elections has moved the Virginia Governor’s Race from Lean Democrat to Tilt Democrat: https://insideelections.com/ratings/governor

    I think that a potential Gillespie victory has a few consequences for the Senate race against Tim Kaine in 2018. I think it becomes more likely that an A-to-B list unity candidate will be emboldened to step up to challenge him if Gillespie proves that there is a path to statewide election for Rs in the state. I like Corey Stewart-style culture war campaigns and I think that they’re very effective, but he might just be too scary for the general electorate to unite my border hawk/nu-right coalition with the moderate coalition. I think Dave Brat would be a sterling candidate for this race, because he has all of the anti-establishment cred in the world (thanks to the Cantor ouster) and a picture-perfect conservative voting record without scaring too many people.

    • HS October 29, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      Even if Gillespie wins, which I hope, I just don’t see Kaine losing. He seems pretty popular with the voters, even though I find him to be far more partisan, leftist and just annoying than Mark Warner. And I doubt David Brat, or any Republican House member, would give up a safe seat to challenge him. Only someone with nothing to lose – Cuccinelli or Obenshein or Stewart come to mind – would risk a loss to challenge Kaine. And to win they would have to get lucky.

    • segmentation_fault October 29, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      On earth 2, where Hillary is president, Dave Brat wins a special election to replace Tim Kaine next week. But not on this planet.

      • davybaby October 29, 2017 at 3:31 pm

        In that alternate universe, there probably would have been Chuck Robb as an interim appointee, with Terry McAuliffe running to replace him.

  • coldbum1976 October 29, 2017 at 11:42 am

    “Missouri Tossup” I have to say your assumptions about the level of game Austin Petersen will bring to the Republican primary is way off. Americans and the people of Missouri are sick of the establishment and career politicians. Hawley made a promise to Missouri that he was not just another politician climbing the ladder. He was going to complete his term and honor his promise to the people. He is favored by McConnell and the establishment. His money is coming from big time donors. Mr. Petersen has a huge grassroots support network and has received many times the number of donations that Hawley has. He was born and raised in Missouri on a farm, something many can relate to. He has been fighting for liberty and freedom for nearly a decade. If Missourians want a pro-life, pr0 Second Amendment, tax cutting, establishment stomping and liberty loving senator they will consider Austin Petersen.

    • CTIronman October 29, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      This the dude who hated Trump in ’16 or likes Trump & hates “neo cons” in ’17?

    • andyroo312 October 29, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      McCaskill will win if Petersen is the nominee.


      MA-7

      • MikeFL October 29, 2017 at 3:09 pm

        Seriously, it’s like let’s throw away another seat 101.


        26 | FL-16/27 | FisCon

      • Midnight901 October 29, 2017 at 3:13 pm

        I concur. Petersen might be literally the only Republican candidate in the race who could lose to Claire McCaskill in 2018. Even Bannon seems to be leaning towards Hawley.

    • Izengabe October 29, 2017 at 7:55 pm

      My issue with Austin Petersen is the guy keeps choosing to run for offices he has no chance at winning. Instead of finding a nice state Senate seat or row office to run for he shoots for President of the United States and US Senator instead. Petersen should run for an office he could actually win, do some good in elected office and then try to move up. He’s 36 years old. If he wants to be a politician he should run for an attainable office instead of running to be a perennial candidate.


      Follow me on Twitter: @Izengabe_

  • Midnight901 October 29, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    New York Times piece on the Arizona Senate race: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/us/politics/arizona-senate-race-flake-sinema-ward-bannon.html

    Establishment Democrats are eager about Sinema, but progressives and illegal immigration advocates don’t want a moderate. One potential challenger to Sinema’s bid is Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, who would probably run on a gun control platform. The rest of the piece is stuff already known — polling shows it would very hard for an anti-Trump Republican to win a primary, some conservative groups are already voicing opposition to Martha McSally and trying to recruit Matt Salmon.

    • cer October 29, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Salmon would be my preferred choice in AZ.


      Conservative first, Republican second!

      • HS October 29, 2017 at 1:12 pm

        It sounds like Salmon is all but in, considering the potential candidates who seem to have bowed out. I doubt Trent Frank’s, DeWit, or Schweikert would all pass on a very winnable race otherwise.

      • andyroo312 October 29, 2017 at 3:03 pm

        I would concur Salmon is the GOP’s strongest option here. Still think Sinema wins, though.


        MA-7

      • HoneyBee October 29, 2017 at 3:09 pm

        I know this is probably insensitive but aren’t we likely to need 2 candidates in Arizona in 2018? Isn’t McCain expected to die before the midterms? I think there’s a spot for both


        Former Anti-Trump Rubio supporter in the primaries. Trump is now my favorite Republican

        • segmentation_fault October 29, 2017 at 3:22 pm

          Prognosisis not good, but we don’t know if the seat will be vacated in time for Ducey to call a 2018 special.

        • HS October 29, 2017 at 3:33 pm

          Yes I think so. And that is another reason some people are holding off, I think. I wouldn’t be surprised if McCain will persuade Ducey to appoint McSally to his seat (I think that is the AZ system). This is why I think she will wait to run.

  • Greyhound October 29, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Fun fact–if the GOP wins all the Senate Seats marked as Lean D or better for them in this map, literally every state Trump won except Michigan will have 2 Republican Senators.


    R, 26, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

    • krazen1211 October 29, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      Senate self sorting is a bad deal when your party wins 20 states and the other party wins 30 states.

      • Boehnerwasright October 29, 2017 at 8:11 pm

        The margin by which a party wins a state also matter. The dems wouldn’t be much better off in the senate if we HRC had performed by 1,5% better across the board and won FL MI WI and PA by a small margin for a 24-26 split.

    • FiveAngels October 30, 2017 at 7:22 am

      Out party incumbents have been very hard to beat in midterms lately (batting 1.000 ever since Cleland lost to Chambliss), although Democrats have a historically terrible map in 2018. It would still be quite something to beat even 3-4 incumbents, much less 9.

      • Red Oaks October 30, 2017 at 7:38 pm

        Technically Carnahan lost in Missouri in that same 2002 election year too.

        I don’t think Greyhound was suggesting defeating 9 incumbents was remotely plausible; just stating a fun fact.


        MI-03: Tired of Presidency; Focused more on downballot races; Chris Afendoulis for State Senate

        • Greyhound October 30, 2017 at 7:48 pm

          Yeah, it was more of an observation that the Democrats are batting 1/44 between 2014 and 2016 in terms of Senate Seats in Trump States. They better hope that margin goes up next year!


          R, 26, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

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