With Duffy Out Against Baldwin In Wisconsin, Senate Election Expectations Change

While confirm-a-rama has been gobbling up time, we’ve been keeping an eye on the upcoming Senate races. Kyle Kondik wrote up the initial estimates for Sabato’s Crystal Ball late last night, and we’re largely in agreement:

2017-02-16_senate_mapSome of these may seem generous to the incumbent, like Joe Manchin’s (WV) rating. Mr. Kondik explains his current crossover appeal rather well:

[Manchin] won by 24 points in 2012 even as Barack Obama was losing statewide by 27 points — and Gov. Jim Justice’s (D) seven-point open-seat gubernatorial victory last year even as Trump was carrying the state by an astounding 42 points shows that Mountain State voters are still willing to split their tickets in some instances.

The Senator has been criticized by progressives for being a Democrat in Name Only. Indeed, he has voted for more of the President’s nominees than any other Democratic Senator. But you don’t convince conservative voters to split their vote this dramatically and earn re-election without appealing to them. Democrats are lucky to have him in their conference: a Manchin retirement would almost certainly tee up a Republican pickup.

Beyond Mr. Kondik’s individual ratings is a note about the potential Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen who have already passed on the opportunity to mount a challenge: Ryan Zinke opted for a Cabinet spot over a Senate run, and Reps. Susan Brooks of Indiana, Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania, and Dave Brat of Virginia. Add to that list, to our surprise, Sean Duffy, whose district went heavily for President Trump after narrowly favoring Mitt Romney four years earlier. Because of the changing nature of Wisconsin, particularly the collapse of Democratic fortunes in its West, he would have proven a strong contender against Senator Tammy Baldwin, recent comments aside.

With Duffy out, perhaps 2012 nominee Eric Hovde or the State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald jumps to challenge Baldwin now, but Senator Baldwin is likely breathing a bit easier this morning: a popular (in district) Congressman from a crucial area took a pass. Every single Democrat facing re-election in a state that went by double digits for President Trump- Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester- needs a challenger to become truly vulnerable. With Duffy, Meehan, Brooks, and Zinke passing, all eyes are on Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner to see if she too passes a prime opportunity. If she bails out, Senator McCaskill has a fighting chance. If she runs and is the nominee, McCaskill’s six years of luck run out.

There is still time for those in waiting to make a decision, or even for those who have already passed to change their mind. But Senate contests are increasingly expensive battles, and the jump from regional to statewide takes serious consideration. The clock is ticking.