Moving on with our 2018 Senate ratings, today we’ll start looking at the Democratic-held seats. We’ll start with the states in the northeast:
Maine is one of the friendliest states for third parties, and currently has one of the Senate’s two Independents. Elected with 53% in 2012, Sen. Angus King (I) caucuses with the Democrats. Before running for Senate, King was a popular Governor, who served two terms in the 1990’s.
King has drawn three challengers, all with different party affiliations. Fred Wiand (D) is a veteran, and first time candidate. Republicans are running State Sen. Eric Brakey (R). Brakey was active in Ron Paul’s Presidential campaigns. A third candidate is Alex Hammer (I), who, like King, seems to be a left-leaning independent.
Other bigger names could get in, but given that King is reasonably popular and name recognition, we consider Maine to be LIKELY INDEPENDENT.
The Senate’s higher-profile independent member is Bernie Sanders (I), who became a household name last year with his Presidential run. A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders is popular at home. In the Vermont’s primary, he took 86% to Secretary Clinton’s 14%. Later, despite his full-throated endorsement of Clinton, 6% of Vermonters wrote in Sanders’ name in the general election.
So far no candidates have announced plans to run here. As Sanders still has a national profile, which is quite helpful with fundraising, and routinely ranks among the most popular Senators, we call this race STRONG INDEPENDENT.
Before Bernie Sanders rose to national prominence, the clear leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic party was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D). Warren is still broadly popular with Democrats, and is favored for reelection in her deep blue state.
Warren was elected in 2012, defeating incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R) in what was one of the most expensive races of the year. This cycle, the Senate race here likely won’t be as closely-watched.
Warren’s most serious opponent looks like State Rep. Geoff Diehl (R), who has represented Plymouth County since 2010. Other Republicans include 2014 candidate Allen Waters (R), Libertarian activist Heidi Wellman (R) and scientist Shiva Aayyadurai (R).
National Republicans have many other considerably better pickup targets, and state Republicans will undoubtedly be more focused on reelecting Gov. Charlie Baker (R). Thus, Warren’s race starts of as STRONG DEMOCRATIC.
In Rhode Island, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D), who is known for emphasizing the impacts of climate change, is running for a third term. He was initially in the 2006 wave, defeating then-GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R/I/D) by 8%. His went on to be reelected by 30% in 2012.
The GOP has two candidates running, the stronger of which looks like State Rep. Robert Nardolillo (R). His district includes the city of Coventry, and is located in the central, and redder, part of the state. Another candidate is ex-State Supreme County Justice Bob Flanders (R).
At the federal level, President Trump actually made decent gains in Rhode Island – compared to President Obama’s 27.5% margin in 2012, Secretary Clinton fell to 15.5%. Still, it’s going to take a lot for the GOP to have a chance here – STRONG DEMOCRATIC.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D) was elected in 2012, after serving three terms in the House. Weeks before Murphy was sworn into the Senate, the Sandy Hook shootings took place; since then, he is best known for his advocacy on reducing gun violence.
In 2012, he defeated wealthy self-funder Linda McMahon (R) by 12%; McMahon currently serves in the Trump Administration. The Republican who is most mentioned for this race is State Sen. Tony Hwang (R). His district is centered around Bridgeport, an area that swung hard to Clinton last year.
As Murphy starts off reelection in pretty good shape, we rank Connecticut as STRONG DEMOCRATIC.
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D) was originally appointed to the Senate in 2009; she took the place of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), who went to lead the State Department. Gillibrand is often mentioned as a potential Presidential candidate herself. In the Senate, she’s been a vocal advocate for women’s issues, especially on working to curb sexual assault.
Before her appointment, Gillibrand represented a swingy upstate House seat – as such, she’s unusually popular, for a Democrat, in that region. She won the Senate seat in her own right twice. She took 62% in a 2010 special election, and 72% in 2012.
Two lower tier Republicans are currently running: first time candidate Rafael Jones (R) and longshot 2016 Presidential candidate David Webber (R).
Gillbrand pretty clearly enters this cycle as one of the safest Senators, thus our STRONG DEMOCRATIC ranking.
With most of the Garden State’s political oxygen being sucked up by the open Gubernatorial race this year, its easy to overlook the Senate race next year. Things are somewhat interesting, as sophomore Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is under indictment. The Menendez is under investigation for favors that he allegedly did for a campaign donor. As a trial is set for September, we’ll know a bit more then.
Still, local New Jersey Democrats don’t seem that worried about Menendez. If his investigation worsens, a likely replacement would be Rep. Donald Norcross (D). New Jersey elections are still very much driven by political machines, and Norcross’ brother controls the southern part of the state. Menendez already has a challenger in progressive activist Lisa McCormick (D), though is still heavily favored.
A Republican who is mentioned is Rep. Tom MacArthur (R), who represents a light red seat in running from the New Jersey shore to the Pennsylvania border. MacArther played a key role in helping pass the GOP healthcare reform bill through the House. A good candidate here for the GOP may have been current LG Kim Guadagno (R), but she instead opted for the very unfavorable Governor’s race.
Despite Menendez’s potential problems, we still see Democrats as having a good chance to hold this seat. We’ll be following his trial, but otherwise start things out her as LIKELY DEMOCRATIC.
In the Decision Desk’s favorite state, Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D), will run for a third term. Casey was elected in 2006, ousting ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R) by 18%. In 2012, he was criticized for running a lackluster campaign, but still beat wealthy businessman Tom Smith (R) by 9%.
One of Casey’s biggest assets is his name; his late father, and namesake, served as Governor from 1987 to 1995, and is considered the most popular Pennsylvania politician in recent memory. A devout Irish Catholic, his father was known for being strongly pro-life; while Casey Jr. has been more of a generic partisan, he still is considered one of the more socially moderate Democrats.
A number of Republicans, likely encouraged by the President’s victory here, are running. Fortunately for Casey, none seem especially high-caliber. Two legislators from reddening southwestern PA, Rick Saccne (R) and Jim Christiana (R) are running. Other candidates include Trump campaign activist Bobby Lawrence (R), Andrew Shecktor (R), a local official from Columbia County, energy executive Paul Addis (R), and partisan fundraiser Jeff Bartos (R).
Two bigger name Republicans to watch, who haven’t announced anything but are considering this race, are Reps. Lou Barletta (R) and Mike Kelly (R). Both represent areas that the President had significant upside in last year; Barletta is from the Wilkes-Barre area, and Kelly represents Erie.
Overall, given the current field of Republicans, we see Casey as a clear favorite. It’s interesting that the GOP looks to have a better chance in the Governor’s race, but their field here is more crowded. In any case, we start out PA as LIKELY DEMOCRATIC.