If you recall, Republicans possess an advantage this cycle as they only have to defend 11 seats, while the Democrats are tasked with protecting 20 seats. On top of that, Democrats must defend three seats in states where Donald Trump won in 2016 and 2020: Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. Conversely, Republicans don’t have any seats up for grabs in states Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden won.
Given that the Democrats currently hold a narrow 51-49 majority, such a playing field heavily favors the GOP opposition.
Recently, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly opined on how he views next year’s map, giving us some valuable insight into just how these battles may unfold. For instance, in this interview McConnell made a surprising assertion when asked about 2024’s toss-up races.
The Big Four?: Montana, Ohio, West Virginia….and Pennsylvania
According to Sen. McConnell, the aforementioned ‘Big Three’ should really be referred to as the ‘Big Four’.
“As of right now the day that you and I are talking, I think we know that we are going to compete in four places heavily,” Sen. McConnell told CNN’s Manu Raju earlier this month. “And that would be Montana, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
I must admit, I was quite surprised to see the Keystone State grouped together with those three. After all, in 2020 Trump won Montana, Ohio and West Virginia by 16%, 8% and 39% respectively. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, went for Joe Biden by a one-point margin.
So what prompted McConnell to pick Pennsylvania over other potential top targets? Apparently, the long-time Republican Senate leader believes they have a “high-quality candidate” in David McCormick.
McCormick, you may remember, competed in last year’s open Senate race in Pennsylvania. While the party had high hopes for the former hedge fund CEO, McCormick managed to secure only 31.14% in the Republican Primary, and ultimately lost the nomination to TV’s Dr. Oz by 950 votes.
Nevertheless, despite such evidence to the contrary, national Republicans remain convinced that McCormick is a winner. That belief will be tested by yet another primary challenge, this time from State Senator Doug Mastriano, who won the GOP’s 2022 Gubernatorial nomination before losing in a landslide come November. A March PPP poll shows that Mastriano would start off such a fight with an eighteen-point lead.
Suffice to say, Pennsylvania doesn’t seem to be as enticing an opportunity as West Virginia, where incumbent Democrat-turned-Republican Governor Jim Justice jumped into the race against Joe Manchin. On top of being a two-term Governor, Justice is also the richest man in West Virginia, making him a dream candidate for the GOP.
Now Gov. Justice and Sen. Manchin are set for a titanic battle in the Mountain State, with Manchin’s party affiliation threatening to drag him down. In fact, Manchin may yet decide to run for President on a No Labels ticket or even retire from politics altogether to avoid such a confrontation with Justice.
Although Manchin appears to be in deep trouble, Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana are each fairing a bit better. As of yet, no major Republican has jumped into the Ohio GOP Primary (State Sen. Matt Dolan announced, but he’s an anti-Trump Republican who lost his 2022 primary to J.D. Vance). Meanwhile, Sen. Tester scored a potentially vital victory of his own.
Montana Republicans were attempting to implement a top-two run-off system, specifically only for Tester’s Senate race, that would prevent a third-party candidate from making the November ballot. The GOP was motivated to make this move because Libertarian spoiler votes helped Tester win his 2006 and 2012 races.
In 2018, however, Sen. Tester finally won a majority of the vote (50.3%), suggesting this maneuver may not provide the solution Republicans are hoping for. Regardless, their effort was defeated last month.
McConnell’s Second Tier of Targets
Just as surprising as Pennsylvania’s inclusion in McConnell’s personal top tier of targets were the states that he excluded. Omitted from his list were the Democratic incumbents in a trio of 2024 toss-up states: Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Arizona is the most complex case of them all, as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is threatening to make an independent third-party bid on her own. While the GOP would be happy to watch Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego and Sinema fight among themselves, they still face their own set of problems here. Chief among them, the reality that Kari Lake – who many observers believe cost Republicans last year’s Governors race thanks to her far-right, 2020 election-denying campaign – appears to now be gearing up to run in this contest.
This gets to the heart of why McConnell seems so hesitant about competing in these states, as he’s unsure that their GOP primaries will produce quality candidates.
“I didn’t mention Wisconsin; I think clearly you’d have to have an outstanding candidate,” McConnell explained to Raju. “And I think there are some other places where with the right candidate, we might be able to compete – in Nevada, Arizona.”
With the Republican field of candidates in Nevada and Wisconsin still so uncertain, it remains to be seen if the GOP can take full advantage of this favorable map and maximize their possible gains in 2024.
Democratic Offensive and Open Seat Opportunities
Let’s finish up with a look at the various opportunities for Democratic candidates on this map; starting with the party’s one real chance to flip a red seat next year.
In Texas, Congressman Colin Allred recently entered the race to take on Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz, who’s already dealing with Texas’ shifting electorate, opened himself up to further trouble with that ill-timed vacation to Cancun while a power outage left the Lone Star State freezing.
With the Democratic Party on its back foot in Florida, the Texas seat is their only real offensive opportunity right now. That’s not to say there aren’t golden opportunities for Democrats elsewhere, though, so let’s finish up with a trio of open races in blue states.
The most notable such contest, of course, is in California where Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff are all vying for the Democratic nomination. There’s two key factors to keep in mind for this race. First, California is a top-two primary state so the November general election could very well feature two Democrats. Second, this is the seat of retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Despite noticeably suffering from several maladies, Feinstein refuses to resign. Her top ally in this is former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While the two are long-time friends, there are also political considerations involved in Pelosi’s stance. You see, after Gavin Newsom took some criticism for picking Alex Padilla to replace Kamala Harris in 2021, Newsom pledged that, if given another opportunity to appoint a Senator, he’d pick a black woman.
Apparently Pelosi is worried that Newsom will appoint Lee, giving her a leg up in this contest at the expense of Pelosi protégé Adam Schiff. It’s just this sort of mess that guarantees we’ll have plenty to write about this race over the next 18 months.
Meanwhile, over in Maryland, Ben Cardin’s retirement opens up a Senate seat in one of America’s bluest states. All eyes are now on Rep. Jamie Raskin, who became a progressive hero after managing Trump’s second Impeachment trial and serving on the January 6th Committee. Last month, Raskin revealed that his lymphoma was in remission and that he’s currently “wavering back and forth” about getting into this race.
Raskin’s Congressional colleague David Trone, however, isn’t waiting to throw his own hat in the ring. Additionally, Prince George County Executive Angela Alsobrooks made her own announcement, along with endorsements from Rep. Kweisi Mfume and EMILY’s List.
Finally, there’s the open race in Michigan that suddenly doesn’t seem open at all on the Democratic side. Instead, retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow was able to clear the field of major challengers for her chosen successor Rep. Elissa Slotkin. On the other side, over a dozen Republican prospects are circling this race, although no serious contenders have yet taken the plunge. As a result, McConnell never even bothered to mention Michigan as a possible battleground.