DDHQ 2018 Senate Races Ratings – Democratic Seats (Part II)

Continuing DDHQ’s initial assessment of the 2018 Senate races, we’re rating more of the Democratic-held seats today. For this installment, we’re looking at east coast states and working our way into the rust belt. We’ll wrap things up later this week with one last installment, ranking the remaining races.

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MARYLAND

In a state where Secretary Clinton cleared 60% last year, Sen. Ben Cardin (D) hasn’t announced whether he’ll seek a third term. Cardin, who will be 75 on election day, has held office in Maryland, in one form or another, since 1967.

If Cardin runs again, he’ll be favored. If the seat becomes open, any number of Democrats could jump in. Rep. John Sarbanes (D), who’s father preceded Cardin in the Senate, has been mentioned for statewide office in previous cycles. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) would have likely been the favorite for the state’s other Senate seat, which was open last year, but ran for reelection instead. Ex-Rep. Donna Edwards (D), who is close to the party’s more liberal wing, ran in 2016 but could try again. Rep. John Delaney (D), who is personally wealthy, has been mentioned as a candidate for Governor, but may consider an open Senate seat as well.

The Republican bench is considerably thinner. Unless they’re not otherwise retiring, any member of the legislature would have to give up their seat to run next year. 2016 nominee, State Rep. Kathy Szeliga (R) took 37% last year, and could run again. Cardin’s 2012 opponent, former Secret Service officer Dan Bongino (R), carpetbagged to Florida last year to (unsuccessfully) run for Congress. The sole Republican in Maryland’s Congressional delegation is Rep. Andy Harris (R). Representing the eastern shore, he’s a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus and would seem unlikely to leave behind his safe seat.

In 2012, there was a strong third party candidate in Rob Sobhani (I). Previously a Republican, Sobhani fared best in the Baltimore metro area. He seemed to siphon off more voters from Bongino, though, as Cardin still easily cleared 50%.

Overall, we expect the general election, with or without Cardin, to be a very boring affair – the Governor’s race should be much more interesting. STRONG DEMOCRATIC.

DELAWARE

Sen. Tom Carper (D), a relatively non-ideological and low-key member of the Senate, fits Delaware well. As he’s held statewide office since the Carter era, though, he’s at top of what’s shaping up to be a short retirement watchlist.

If Carper runs again, we’ll have a very boring race. He took 2/3 of the vote in his previous two campaigns, and we’d expect a similar result. If he retires, ex-Gov. Jack Markell (D), who was term-limited last year, would likely have the inside track to the Democratic nomination. If he passes as well, any number of Democrats could try. Freshman Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D) could try to move up, and State AG Matt Denn (D) may consider.

Republicans already have a candidate in businessman Chuck Boyce (R). Their strongest candidate, though, would be State Treasurer Ken Simpler (R). Given Carper’s strength, he’d likely have to retire for Simpler to consider running.

With or without Carper, Delaware would be a very heavy left for the GOP, so we consider it STRONG DEMOCRATIC.

VIRGINIA

In blue-trending Virginia, Sen. Tim Kaine (D) starts out this cycle in a pretty strong position. Kaine ran for this open seat in 2012. He brought an impressive resume, has he served  as mayor of Richmond, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and then DNC Chair. In what was considered a tossup most of the cycle, he beat ex-Sen. George Allen (R) by a clear 6% margin.

More recently, Kaine was, of course, tapped to be Secretary Clinton’s running mate. In an unfortunate irony for state Republicans, this seat would be much more susceptible to flip if Kaine was serving as Clinton’s Vice President. Instead of contesting an open seat, Republicans will have to run against a popular incumbent.

Fresh off his narrow loss in the Republican Gubernatorial primary, Prince William County councilman Corey Stewart (R) is interested in this race. Stewart is a strident supporter of the President, and is known for defending Confederate monuments. Another polarizing candidate who is considering this race is 2013 Lt. Gov. nominee E. W. Jackson (R). 2016 Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina (R) is looking at in this race; she was the GOP’s nominee in California for the 2010 cycle, and lost by 10%. Similarly, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham (R) has expressed interest.

The GOP’s strongest candidates seen less likely to run. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R). Comstock is more of a centrist conservative, who won reelection in her northern Virginia VA-10, even as Secretary Clinton carried it. Comstock seems likelier to run for reelection, though. Another candidate who may fare with moderate voters is ex-Rep. Scott Rigell (R), of Virginia Beach. Rigell retired last year after three terms, and endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson over his party’s nominee.

Given the confluence of the weak GOP field, his popularity, and Virginia’s blue tint, Kaine is clearly in a good position next year. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC.

WEST VIRGINIA

Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is probably the candidate who is helped the most by Trump being President instead of Secretary Clinton. The most conservative Democrat in the Senate, he has a strong personal brand, but watched last year as his state voted Republican by a punishing 68/26 margin. Still, Manchin goes into next year without the albatross of Clinton, and has a good relationship Trump.

After the 2010 death of West Virginia’s best known legislator, Sen. Robert Byrd (D), Manchin, then Governor, won Byrd’s seat 53/43 in a special election. In the 2012 regular election, he faced a rematch with his 2010 opponent, gaffe-prone businessman John Raese (R). That race wasn’t really on either party’s radar, and Manchin won a full term by 24%.

As West Virginia has reddened in further since then, Republicans are more serious about competing here. The GOP has already landed a top-tier recruit in Rep. Evan Jenkins (R). Jenkins represents the coal-heavy WV-03, in the state’s south. A Democratic state legislator since the 1990’s, he switched parties to run for Congress, ultimately ousting 18-term incumbent Nick Rahall (D). 

Jenkins’ party switch is complicating his candidacy somewhat, as he supported Manchin in previous years. In fact, allies of his likeliest primary opponent, State AG Patrick Morrisey (R), have dubbed Jenkins a ‘mini-Manchin.’

A third Republican who may consider this race is Rep. Alex Mooney (R). West Virginia is poised to lose a House seat after 2020. Mooney’s WV-02, which runs from the eastern pandhandle to Charleston, is liable to be split between the state’s other two districts. Mooney may look at running for Senate instead of waiting for a potentially unfavorable remap.

Manchin has a challenger on his left, as environmental activist Paula Swearengin (D) is running in the primary. However, given the state’s large amount of registered Democrats, the Democratic electorate in West Virginia is likely the most conservative in the country.

We still see Manchin as a favorite, and his poll numbers are holding up well. Further, the Mountain State hasn’t completely abandoned the party of Jackson; Gov. Jim Justice (D), for example, ran nearly 50% ahead of Clinton to win. LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

OHIO

Ohio proved to be fertile ground for the President’s message of economic nationalism. Many Democrats in the state’s industrial centers jumped ship to support him, as he carried this erstwhile swingy state by a comfortable 8%. Interestingly, some of the factors that made Trump a strong candidate here may also benefit Sen. Sherrod Brown (D).

Brown is a strong campaigner who has framed himself as a populist for much of his career. With an electoral base in the Akron area, he’s been especially critical of free trade. Brown was elected in 2006, and won again in 2012. Last year, he was often mentioned as a potential running mate for Secretary Clinton.

Republicans went into this race with a decent, though perhaps not exceptionally strong, candidate in Treasurer Josh Mandel (R). Mandel was the party’s 2012 nominee, and lost by 6% to Brown. A 40 year-old veteran, Mandel is from his party’s more conservative wing. Last year, while the more moderate Gov. John Kasich (R) had broad homestate support in his Presidential run, Mandel endorsed Sen. Rubio instead. This may be why wealthy investment banker Josh Gibbons (R) recently got in. Gibbons is was a donor to Kasich, and is closer to the Governor’s wing of the party. The OH GOP’s factionalism here should make for an interesting primary.

Going into this cycle, we see Brown as still having the advantage. He’s considered a strong campaigner, and some potentially tougher opponents have passed on this race. LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

INDIANA

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) fits the red-leaning Hoosier State about as well as a Democrat can. Before winning this seat in 2012, he represented the South Bend area in the House; he was in the Blue Dog caucus.

While a good candidate in his own right, Donnelly caught a major break in 2012. Longtime moderate Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (R) was defeated in the primary by the more conservative State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R), who ran a tea-flavored campaign. Lugar would have easily won the general election; Mourdock, by contrast, was a controversial candidate. He had a particularly bad gaffe towards the end of the election, claiming that “God intended” rape-induced pregnancies; an ironic gaffe, considering Donnelly is also pro-life.

The President carried the previously light-red Indiana by a wide 18% – though his margin was probably helped by his selection of then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) as VP. Still, so far, only lower tier Republicans have entered this race. The current field includes Attorney Mark Hurt (R), businessman Terry Henderson (R), and Purdue University official Andrew Takami (R). Three bigger names considering this race are Congressmen Todd Rokita (R) and Luke Messer (R), as well as State AG Curtis Hill (R).

We see Donnelly as a slight favorite, all things considered. Indiana has trended red, but Donnelly is much better funded than his current field of opposition, and has a record of winning competitive race. TILTS DEMOCRATIC.

MICHIGAN

Michigan is the only Trump state with two Democratic Senators, and we think that’s likely to be the case after 2018, as we consider Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) a favorite for reelection.

Stabenow was a Congresswoman from the state’s 8th Congressional district, in the 1990s; at the time, she represented Lansing, as well as the Flint and Ann Arbor areas. In 2000, she ousted Sen. Spencer Abraham (R), narrowly. The single-term Abraham was the only GOP Senator Michigan has had since the Carter era. Stabenow was reelected easily in both 2006, by 17%, and 2012 by 21%.

As several big Republican names eyeing the open Governor’s race, their Senate field is looking less promising. Two Republicans are currently running: businesswoman Lena Epstein (R), who worked on the Trump campaign, and ex-State Supreme Court Justice Bob Young (R). Perhaps the biggest name who is considering this race is Congressman Fred Upton (R), who’s represented the state’s southwestern corner, primarily St. Joseph and Kalamazoo, since 1987. Upton is popular in his district, so he’d have to be willing to give up a safe seat to run in a tough statewide race.

Given the current field and likely environment, its hard to see how Stabenow doesn’t start out as a clear favorite. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC. 

WISCONSIN

In 2012, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) won her seat by defeating popular 90’s era Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). Baldwin previously represented the 2nd Congressional District in the House, which is centers around Madison. Despite having a base in the state’s most liberal area, she outperformed President Obama in many rural areas, though perhaps also benefited from Thompson’s allegedly subpar campaign. In the the Senate, she’s has kept a fairly low profile.

Baldwin caught a break when her strongest potential opponent, Rep. Sean Duffy (R), declined to run. Duffy has held the 7th Congressional District, which stretches from Wausau to Lake Superior, for four terms, and would have likely been able to unite the party. Still, the GOP has several others looking at this race. One possibility is businessman Eric Hovde (R), who also ran in the 2012 primary, and nearly beat Thompson. The likeliest sitting member of the legislature to run seems like State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R), of suburban Milwaukee. State Senate Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) and State Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R) are also looking at this race. Controversial Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke (D), is technically a Democrat, but is a strident supporter of the President and may run as a Republican.

Democrats, in general, took Wisconsin for granted last year. The President narrowly edged out Secretary Clinton there. More surprisingly, Sen. Ron Johnson (R), who was thought to be an underdog against ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D), held on by 3%. Still, like the second golfer up to the tee, Baldwin has the benefit of learning from the party’s mistakes last year, and is running an active campaign. Coupled with the fluid Republican field, we currently give her the edge for reelection. LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

FLORIDA

In the country’s quintessential swing state, its sole statewide Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is running for a fourth term. A former astronaut with a southern drawl, Nelson represented the Space Coast area in the House before becoming State Treasurer, and then winning his Senate seat in 2000. Since then, he was reelected twice by double-digits.

Though he hasn’t formally announced plans to run, Gov. Rick Scott (R) is widely expected to challenge Neslon. He’ll be term-limited in 2018 and has been strongly encouraged by the President to run for Senate. Scott, described by our friends at Red Racing Horses, as a ‘combination between Voldemort and Montgomery Burns’, isn’t particularly likable at the personal level. Still, he’s come out on the winning side of two razor-close races for Governor, so he shouldn’t be underestimated. Scott is also personally wealthy; his self-financing abilities would be very helpful in this expensive state.

If Scott doesn’t end up running, Republicans have a few other options. Current Rep. Ron DeSantis (R), may be a consensus choice among state conservatives. DeSantis’ FL-06 is based in Daytona Beach, and encroaches on the suburbs of Orlando and Jacksonsville. Another option may be Rep. Tom Rooney (R). Rooney’s FL-17 is near the Sarasota area, and takes in a large swath of south-central Florida. Scott’s Lieutenant, Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) could run; he ran in 2016, when it appeared that his close ally, Sen. Marco Rubio (R), would be retiring. As he hails from the Miami area, state Republicans would probably be better running Lopez-Cantera for the open FL-27.

Nelson and Scott should both be pretty familiar to voters in the Sunshine State. As the Democrat has led in every poll taken so far, we’ll start this race out as LEANS DEMOCRATIC.