In the 2014 elections, Senate Democrats faced a daunting environment. With an unpopular President, a smaller, more conservative electorate than in a presidential election year and more seats up than Republican, the GOP took the Senate.
In 2016, there is a reverse situation. Republicans have 24 seats up for election and Democrats only 10. President Obama carried all 10 states represented by Democrats; he also carried seven of the states held by Republicans with a Senate seat up in 2016: Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. The electorate will be larger and more Democratic than in 2014. And at this point, Democrats appear stronger and more unified behind Hillary Clinton for President compared to a very splintered Republican field.
While Democrats are likely to gain seats in 2016, gaining the four or five seats to win back control of the Senate is very much an open question. Much will depend on Senate retirements, candidate recruitment, primary challenges and the state of the economy.
Only two Democratic seats appear to be in jeopardy. Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Michael Bennet of Colorado won difficult races in 2010, but face a more favorable electorate than in 2010 when the Tea Party was making great gains. Reid has said he will run again.
Only one Senator has announced her retirement thus far, California’s Barbara Boxer, and Democrats will be strongly favored to retain her seat no matter who runs. Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris was first out of the box and has attracted some significant endorsements. However, she could face a host of Democrats, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and several Members of Congress. Republican prospects are not strong in the state.
Arizona Senator John McCain is subject to both retirement rumors and a tea party challenge. One of the Republican House members from Arizona make take up the challenge, and McCain knows he has a target on his back. There is also speculation whether Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, who will turn 83 in 2016, will run. Both Grassley and McCain say they are in.
Two Senate candidates who lost in 2010 could be back for a rerun. In Wisconsin, former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold may challenge a vulnerable Sen. Ron Johnson. In Pennsylvania, former U.S. Representative Joe Sestak has been campaigning vigorously and declared he would run in May 2013 against Sen. Pat Toomey. Toomey won 51%-49% in 2010. Sestak has already raised $2.1 million for the contest and had $1.5 million in his campaign treasury at the end of 2014. It is not certain if either Feingold or Sestak will face a Democratic primary opponent.
Two seats held by Republicans could be open depending on the status of the Republican contest for President.
In Florida, Senator Marco Rubio has said that if he runs for President, he will not run for re-election. An open seat in Florida could be very competitive. Among Democrats considering running are U.S. Representatives Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Kentucky’s Rand Paul hopes to run for both President and re-election, but state law currently prohibits a dual run. He will be hard to beat if he runs again for Senate; an open seat still favors Republicans.
One of the more vulnerable Republicans is Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who suffered a severe stroke in early 2012 and is running in a state carried by President Obama by 17 point. Four House Members are thinking of taking up the challenge, Tammy Duckworth, Bill Foster, Robin Kelly and Cheri Bustos. Kirk says he is running “come hell or high water.”
New Hampshire will become a battleground if Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan challenges Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte is also mentioned as a potential candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket.
Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman remains popular in one of the swingiest of swing states and has $5.8 million sitting in his campaign account. Nevertheless, several Democrats are considering running, including former Governor Ted Strickland and U.S. Representative Tim Ryan. Thirty-year old Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has said he is running.
In North Carolina, Republican Senator Richard Burr has only $747,000 in his campaign treasury and could retire. Democrats would love to entice former Senator Kay Hagan to run for the Senate again.
SENATORS UP FOR REELECTION IN 2016
DEMOCRATS – 10
Michael Bennet (Colorado)
Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut)
Barbara Boxer (California) – announced retirement
Patrick Leahy (Vermont)
Barbara Mikulski (Maryland)
Patty Murray (Washington)
Harry Reid (Nevada)
Brian Schatz (Hawaii) **
Charles Schumer (New York)
Ron Wyden (Oregon)
REPUBLICANS – 24
Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire)
Roy Blunt (Missouri)
John Boozman (Arkansas)
Richard Burr (North Carolina)
Dan Coats (Indiana)
Mike Crapo (Idaho)
Chuck Grassley (Iowa)
John Hoeven (North Dakota)
Johnny Isakson (Georgia)
Ron Johnson (Wisconsin)
Mark Kirk (Illinois)
James Lankford (Oklahoma) **
Mike Lee (Utah)
John McCain (Arizona)
Jerry Moran (Kansas)
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Rob Portman (Ohio)
Marco Rubio (Florida)
Tim Scott (South Carolina) **
Richard Shelby (Alabama)
John Thune (South Dakota)
Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania)
David Vitter (Louisiana)
** Special election winners in 2014 whose seats will also be up in 2016.