The battle for the Senate truly never ends.
So since we’re now two full months into 2023, we’ve seen some significant developments in several states, making this the perfect time for a 2024 news round-up.
Last week, Democrats got the best news conceivably possible when Montana incumbent Sen. Jon Tester revealed that he would indeed seek a fourth term.
Three times already in his career, Tester has managed to secure narrow upset victories over Republican challengers in this ruby red state: by a 49.2% to 48.3% margin in 2006, then 48.6% to 44.9% in 2012, and finally 50.3% to 46.8% in 2018.
Tester is one of a trio of Democratic Senators, the others being Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who are defending seats next year in states Donald Trump won in 2020. In a 51-49 chamber, the Dems’ majority will likely depend on at least two of these three incumbents winning re-election – a prospective made all the more daunting by Manchin’s public vacillations on whether he’ll even run again.
One potential advantage for Tester would be a messy Republican primary. Among those currently circling the race are Governor Greg Gianforte, Attorney General Austin Knudsen, and both of Montana’s Reps. Ryan Zinke and Matt Rosendale. So long as the GOP doesn’t coalesce around one of them beforehand, Tester will be free to fundraise for the general and gleefully watch his opponents tear each other apart.
In the Golden State, incumbent Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein announced that she will not run for another term in 2024. Reporters and constituents have closely scrutinized the 89 year-old ever since a December 2020 report from Jane Mayer of The New Yorker revealed that many of Feinstein’s colleagues believe she was in the midst of a steady mental decline.
The past few years have brought even more such stories and anecdotes, raising the question of whether Feinstein should (or even can) finish her current term. As Feinstein remained silent into 2023, Congresswoman Katie Porter decided she was done waiting and jumped into the race. A few weeks later, Congressman Adam Schiff threw his own hat in the ring, and a few weeks after that Rep. Barbara Lee got into the race too.
This poll found most of Schiff’s support comes from older Democratic voters from Northern and Central California, while Porter leads among young voters and Southern California residents.
Such a divide makes sense as Schiff is the more experienced pol of the two, serving in the House since 2000. Porter, on the other hand, was part of the 2018 wave, and represents Orange County, a hotbed of upscale voters that’s gone from deep red to purple post-Trump.
Schiff is essentially the establishment candidate in this race, as he’s relying on the crucial support of long-time mentor Nancy Pelosi. After all, it was Pelosi who steered Schiff towards this contest instead of a challenge against Hakeem Jeffries (Pelosi’s choice to succeed her as House Democratic leader). According to Tara Palmeri of Puck, Pelosi’s been maneuvering Feinstein’s exit from the race while also actively trying to secure Feinstein’s endorsement of Schiff.
Therefore, it could very well be an uphill battle for Porter, Lee and anyone else who decides to jump off the Dems’ deep California bench to try and claim this open seat.
Speaking of open races, the recent retirement announcement from incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow set off another such scramble in Michigan.
While several big names on the left like Governor Gretchen Whitmer and State Sen. Mallory McMorrow decided to take a pass, among those still seriously considering a bid are Congresswomen Debbie Dingell and Elissa Slotkin, as well as Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
On the Republican side, even as 2020 Senate nominee and Congressman John James pulls out of contention, Reps. Bill Huizenga and Lisa McClain lead a crowded list of contenders – one that also includes polarizing 2022 Gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that while the Great Lake State is a presidential battleground, Republicans haven’t won a Senate seat here since 1994, so it will likely lean blue throughout this cycle.
With so few Republican incumbents defending their seat in this cycle, Democrats don’t really have any attractive offensive opportunities. The only one that even comes close is Ted Cruz down in Texas, but as evidenced by Beto O’Rourke’s quixotic 2022 Gubernatorial run, Lone Star Democrats are having a tough time attracting top candidates for statewide races.
Recently, though, we received a report from the Dallas Morning News that Congressman Colin Allred is taking a look at the race. Allred, a former NFL linebacker who won a Dallas House seat in 2018, would likely be the best candidate the party could hope for in this race.
It’s not inconceivable that Cruz could be vulnerable, after all he beat the aforementioned O’Rourke by a narrow 2.6% in 2018. Nor was Cruz ever particularly popular, especially after an ill-advised trip to Cancun while Texans suffered from massive power outages. In fact, Cruz hasn’t recorded a net positive approval rating since that fateful flight in February 2021.
Nevertheless, it will be an uphill battle for Allred in a state that Joe Biden is unlikely to win in 2024 – Biden lost Texas by 5.5% to Trump in 2020 – meaning Cruz will have some leeway to run behind the top of the ticket yet still emerge victorious.
The wild card of the 2024 cycle is bound to be Arizona, where incumbent Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s move to become an Independent sets up a potential three-way contest.
Sen. Sinema enters the race in a unique position, an incumbent with no real constituency, and a full fundraising chest yet with no real team to help her. Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego has already won over Sinema’s former Silicon Valley donors, as well as most of the party’s establishment.
Nor is it clear that Sinema can count on Arizona Republicans to boost her to victory. Sure Joe Lieberman once pulled off just such a feat, but that was eighteen years ago, and in a solidly blue state. Any nominee could win in purple Arizona, and most local Republicans won’t abandon a real conservative candidate like Kari Lake or Blake Masters for the iconoclastic Sinema.
So while Sinema holds considerable power at this moment, that clout is likely to expire on January 3, 2025.
There’s a theory, discussed among Pennsylvania’s top Republicans, that the party could’ve defeated John Fetterman in last year’s Senate contest if only Dr. Oz and Donald Trump hadn’t intervened and derailed their strongest candidate. These Republicans believe Dave McCormick was robbed of an opportunity to repeat Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s trajectory from hedge fund CEO to successful GOP politician.
As a result, these same backers are now pushing McCormick to challenge Bob Casey in 2024. Casey, however, represents a far more formidable foe for the PA GOP. For instance, John Fetterman had never won a statewide general election on his own before 2022, whereas Bob Casey has done so six times as Auditor General, Treasurer and Senator. Moreover, Casey won his three previous Senate races by seventeen, nine and thirteen points respectively.
Despite a recent prostate cancer diagnosis, Casey’s made clear he does still intend to seek a fourth term. Meanwhile, a recent move by McCormick to offload a pair of Manhattan apartments suggests he very well could be preparing for another PA campaign.
Finally, in Indiana, the decision by incumbent Republican Senator Mike Braun to seek the Governorship, instead of a second term in Washington, opened up the first and possibly only GOP seat of this cycle.
Congressman Jim Banks quickly jumped on the opportunity, not only declaring his candidacy but also securing the support of Donald Trump and ten GOP Senators. Such a swift move may well have convinced former Governor Mitch Daniels to take a pass on the race.
Outgoing Governor Eric Holcomb, though, is still keeping his options open, potentially setting up an intense primary battle in this ruby red state.