After our initial sweep through Senate and Gubernatorial races last month, we have a few updates.
First, the Senate:
We have a handful of changes in the GOP direction:
Missouri: Tossup -> Tilts Republican
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) has been considered our most vulnerable Democratic incumbent for a while. It’s looking like her likeliest challenger, State AG Josh Hawley (R), is all but in, and will have the types of resources he needs. McCaskill is campaigning like the underdog who once held her seat – President Truman; she’s holding dozens of town halls across the state. Still, at this rate, Democrats may ultimately need a Truman-esque upset to hold this seat.
Indiana: Tilts Democratic -> Tossup
In what wasn’t especially unexpected two Republicans, Rep. Todd Rokita (R) and Rep. Luke Messer (R), are running against Sen. Joe Donnelly (D). Donnelly gets some help in that Rokita and Messer were fighting a shadow primary for some time, and the actual primary has potential to get nasty. Another name who’s considering this race is State AG Curtis Hill (R).
West Virginia: Leans Democratic -> Tilts Democratic
While we still consider Sen. Joe Manchin (D) a slight favorite, due to his personal brand his red state, it’s obvious Republicans are making this race a priority. All things considered, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) would probably a better general-election opponent than State AG Patrick Morriesy (R), though.
Michigan/Pennsylvania: Likely Democratic -> Leans Democratic
Both incumbents in these Obama -> Trump states are favored, but their races are getting more competitive. In Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) has put up weaker than-expected numbers in a potential matchup against Kid Rock (R). Even more interestingly, Republican establishment groups seem open to backing him. Given the type of candidacy he’d likely run, it’s easy to see Obama -> Trump voters giving Kid Rock a serious look.
In Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey (D) drew a challenger, in the very Trump-ish Rep. Lou Barletta (R). Both Casey and Barletta hail from what we call ‘Bidenland’ – the northeastern corner of the state that has suffered from institutionalization. While Casey has run ahead of his party’s Presidential nominee in subruban areas in the past, a lot will depend on how Barletta plays there. As a result, both Michigan and Pennsylvania are on the upper end of Leans Democratic.
But some races are moving in the Democrats’s direction…
Arizona: Leans Republican -> Tossup
We were going to move this to ‘Republican’, but the President seems determined to undermine Sen. Jeff Flake (R), prompting us to go further. Last week, the President apparently endorsed his primary challenger, ex-State Sen. Kelli Ward (R). While a preponderance of polls have suggested that Flake is not popular, Ward has had a number of controversies that suggest she wouldn’t be a much better general election candidate. Finally, it looks like Democrats have recruited one of there better candidates; Rep. Krysten Sinema (D) has locked down her light-blue Phoenix area seat, and is making moves towards running here.
Nevada: Tilts Republican Tossup -> Tossup
If there’s one swing state Senator who came out of the recent healthcare debacle getting on the wrong side of everyone, it was Sen. Dean Heller (R). Democrats attacked Heller for initially taking a mavericky stance on the proposed Senate healthcare plan, but ultimately supporting it. They already have a top-tier candidate in Rep. Jacky Rosen (D). On the right, Heller now has a primary challenger in perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R). While Tarkanian doesn’t seem likely to go far, he’s nevertheless criticizing Heller for not siding with the President enough. This is likely indicative of the sentiment on the right, which played a big part in Rep. Joe Heck’s in last year’s Senate race there.
And some changes for the Governor’s races..
Moving in the Republican’s direction:
New Hampshire: Leans Republican -> Likely Republican
In our initial assessment of the Gubernatorial races, we were in somewhat of a ‘wait and see’ mode here, as Gov. Chris Sununu (R) was just elected last year. He’s posted positive approval numbers which have generally held up. He has a challenger in former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Merchand. Democrats also have tended to do well in Granite State Gubernatorial races – they’ve held it for 17 of the last 20 years. Still, Sununu seems to be on the right side of the electorate, which warrants a ratings upgrade.
Moving in the Democrats’ direction:
Wisconsin: Likely Republican -> Leans Republican
Last month, we justified a Likely Republican here by citing the poor crop of Democratic candidates against Gov. Scott Walker (R). It’s looking like Democrats will have better options than we initially though. State Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers (D) entered the race; holding office since 2009, Evers is popular, though his races were nonpartisan and featured lower turnout. Two other Democrats that have entered are State Sen. Kathleen Vinehoot (D) and and State Rep. Dana Wachs (D) – both hail from the Eau Claire region, which has trended GOP in recent cycles. Walker’s approval rating has risen steadily since his Presidential campaign; he’s now breaking even, as opposed to being in double-digit negative. Walker isn’t one to be underestimated in Wisconsin, so remains a lesser, but clear, favorite.
New Jersey: Likely Democratic -> Strong Democratic
Since the primaries here in June, we gave Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno (R) some time to move this race back into the GOP direction, but that largely hasn’t happened. When your own internals show you <30%, there’s clearly a problem. In fairness to Guadagno, probably no Republican could win New Jersey this year, and Gov. Christie has seemed to go out of his way to make sure this seat flips. At point, we’re just watching to see if Phil Murphy (D) can win in traditional GOP strongholds, such as Morris County.