Senate: Revised Bottom Lines – Arizona to Wyoming

Bottom Lines are our most up-to-date take on a race.
 

ARIZONA:

As Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake gears up to seek a second term, his first obstacle will be his own party. Late last year, Kelli Ward, a former state Senator, announced that she would challenge Flake in a primary. Ward ran against U.S. Sen. John McCain in the 2016 primary, taking 40 percent of the vote. That percentage says more about the very conservative nature of the state’s Republican primary electorate and its dislike of McCain than it does about Ward or the campaign she ran. State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, an avid Trump supporter, and former state party chairman Robert Graham have also been mentioned as possible primary challengers, and are potentially bigger threats to Flake than Ward. Flake has been battered on both the left and the right over health care reform, and his recently published book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, has not been well received by some conservatives (although few voters primary voters are likely to have read it). Democrats’ first choice of challenger is U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Although Sinema has sent some mixed signals about her intentions, recent news reports suggest that she will run. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has been mentioned as a candidate if Sinema doesn’t run. To date, retired administrative law judge Richard Sherzan and attorney Deerdra Abboud have announced their candidacies. Of the nine GOP seats up this cycle, this amounts to Democrats’ second best opportunity simply because Trump only carried the state by four points. That Flake faces a potentially competitive primary makes the seat a bit more vulnerable. The race is in the Lean Republican column.

CALIFORNIA:

Speculation that Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein would retire at the end of this Congress appears to be just that – speculation – as she has been actively laying the groundwork to seek re-election to a fifth full term next year. Interestingly enough, the few doubters that remain about the 83-year old incumbent’s intentions are Democrats. The state’s relatively new top two primary system has made Republicans’ already uphill climb for statewide office even tougher, so it’s really ambitious Democrats who would have the most to gain by Feinstein’s retirement. At this point, our view is that Feinstein is running until – and if – she says she isn’t. But, even if this seat is open, it will likely remain exactly where it is on the ratings chart – in the Solid Democratic column.

CONNECTICUT:

Democrat Chris Murphy won this open seat in 2012 with 55 percent of the vote, despite being outspent by a nearly 5-1 margin by former WWE CEO Linda McMahon. Murphy’s bid for a second term may prove to be even easier. The bench of potential Republican challengers is narrow, and the party seems more interested in the open gubernatorial race than it is in taking on Murphy. The race is in the Solid Democratic column.

DELAWARE:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Carper recently put to rest talk of his retirement by saying that he plans to run for a fourth term. Republicans will be hard-pressed to find a remotely credible candidate willing to take him on, making Carper a prohibitive favorite. The race is in the Solid Democrat column.

FLORIDA:

Republicans always seem to target Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, but fall well short of defeating him. He was re-elected in 2012 with 55 percent against then-GOP U.S. Rep. Connie Mack. Nelson may face a different problem in his bid for a fourth term next year as progressive Democrats have threatened to challenge the more moderate incumbent in a primary. At this point, though, no well-known progressive has come forward to make good on that threat. A potential primary challenge notwithstanding, Nelson might not escape a tough general election challenge this cycle. Gov. Rick Scott, who is termed out of office in 2018, is expected to run, and would face just nominal opposition for the nomination if he does. Scott is also accustomed to expensive races, erasing the financial challenge that dogged past Republican opponents. It is interesting, though, that Scott was just elected vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to chair the organization in 2018. Republican strategists contend that this does not mean that Scott won’t run for the Senate. At the same time, it seems very unlikely that he can do both. Early polling of a Nelson-Scott match up show the Democrat ahead by single digits, but under 50 percent, which suggests that the Governor could give Nelson the most competitive race he has had since winning this seat in 2000. For now, the contest is in the Lean Democrat column.

HAWAII:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono was first elected to this seat in 2012 to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. She defeated former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, 63 percent to 37 percent, as then-President Barack Obama carried the state with 71 percent. Hirono’s election made her the first Asian-American woman and the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate. She has spent the last few months being treated for kidney cancer, but Hirono says that she has every intention of seeking a second term. The race is in the Solid Democrat column.

INDIANA:

In 2012, Democrat Joe Donnelly, who was then in the U.S. House, was considered an underdog in this Senate race where he was supposed to face long-term GOP U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, but Lugar lost his primary and Donnelly’s opponent became then-state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Mourdock won with the support of tea party activists, but stumbled out of the primary with a series of impolitic remarks about partisanship, abortion and rape, and never recovered. So even while then-President Obama lost the state, Donnelly defeated Mourdock, 50 percent to 44 percent. In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the state by 19 points while Republicans also won an open U.S. Senate seat, the Governor’s office and six of eight congressional districts. This puts Donnelly high on Republicans’ target list this cycle. Republicans will host a competitive primary between U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, state Rep. Mike Braun, attorney and staffer to former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats Mark Hurt, and Purdue Polytech director Andrew Takami. Businessman Terry Henderson and state Attorney General Curtis Hill are also considering bids. Democrats hope to benefit from a crowded and potentially ugly primary. It is worth remembering that Republicans held a competitive race in 2016, but it had no impact on the general election. It is very hard to see how Donnelly does not get very competitive race this cycle. The contest is in the Toss Up column.

MAINE:

When Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe announced in early 2012 that she would not run for re-election, the best-known candidate to enter the field was former Gov. Angus King, who served two terms as an independent and opted to keep that label in the Senate race. He faced Democrat Cynthia Dill, who got no support from her party, and Republican Charles Summers in the general election, taking 53 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Summers and 13 percent for Dill. This cycle, King might get a very different race. GOP Gov. Paul LePage is seriously considering a challenge. LePage is very controversial, but that didn’t stand in the way of winning a second term and won’t prevent him from giving King a competitive race. To date, state Sen. Eric Brakey is the only announced GOP candidate. The question is whether Democrats will put up a first-tier candidate. While national Democrats won’t recruit a candidate since King caucuses with them, progressives who are unhappy with King’s more moderate stances on many issues are talking about putting up a challenger. That scenario might create a real opening for Republicans. For now, the race is in the Lean Democratic/Independent column.

MARYLAND:

In 2006, Democrat Ben Cardin won this open seat with 55 percent of the vote. Six years later, he won re-election to a second term with 56 percent. Republicans don’t have much of a bench and the party seems very focused on re-electing Gov. Larry Hogan to a second term than they are in mounting a competitive challenge to Cardin. In fact, not a single Republican name has been floated as a potential nominee at this point. Cardin should have no trouble winning a third term in this solidly blue state. The contest is in the Solid Democrat column.

MASSACHUSETTS:

Republicans would like nothing better than to defeat Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren who won this seat in 2012 by defeating GOP U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, 54 percent to 46 percent. But, Brown’s victory in a 2010 special election was something of an outlier in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts. Still, for Republicans, Warren epitomizes all that is wrong with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. As a result, there is some interest in a race that will be a real long shot for Republicans. Computer scientist Shiva Ayyadurai, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, and financial consultant Allen Waters have already announced. Businessman John Kingston is likely to join the field. There are a number of other candidates looking at the race, including former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. Although Schilling has a famous name and a good story, he also has his share of negatives that make him less than an ideal candidate. Republicans are likely to make Warren pay close attention to her re-election bid and spend some of her war chest, which stands at about $11 million today. The race is in the Solid Democrat column.

MICHIGAN:

President Trump’s victory in Michigan last November has energized Republicans in state heading into the 2018 election cycle. They are preparing to defend an open gubernatorial seat, and are starting to focus on Democrat U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is seeking a fourth term next year. Apart from her first Senate race, which she won with just 49 percent, Stabenow has won re-election with relative ease, taking 57 percent in 2006 and 59 percent in 2012. The more this cycle progresses, the more interest this contest seems to generate. So far, businesswoman and Trump state campaign chair Lena Epstein, national security consultant John James, and retired state Supreme Court justice Robert Young, Jr. have all announced. Former state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville is also looking at the race. Republicans hope that U.S. Rep. Fred Upton decides to run, believing that he would be the strongest nominee. Finally, musician Kid Rock (a.k.a Robert Ritchie) has talked about running and Republicans are taking his interest seriously. Stabenow may be vulnerable to the right candidate, but that candidate needs to emerge from what looks destined to be a crowded primary. In the meantime, the contest is in the Likely Democrat column.

MINNESOTA:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was easily re-elected to a second term in 2012 with 65 percent of the vote, which helps explain why ambitious Republicans aren’t forming a line to challenge her next year. The only announced candidate is state Rep. Jim Newberger. The other factor that is likely to spare Klobuchar a competitive challenge is the open-seat Governor’s race in 2018, which has generated great interest among Republicans looking to move up the political ladder, particularly given that Democrats have held the office since 2011. Republicans believe that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s narrow 1.5-point victory last November is proof that the state is more purple than blue, but Klobuchar hasn’t given voters much cause to be unhappy with her. The race is in the Solid Democrat column.

MISSISSIPPI:

Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker doesn’t have much to fear from Democrats as he seeks a second full term next year, but he might get a challenge from within his own party. U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, Wicker’s more senior colleague, is well acquainted with the reality of primaries. When Cochran was up for re-election in 2014, state Sen. Chris McDaniel challenged him in a primary, and forced a run-off that Cochran won by a narrow 51-percent to 49-percent margin. McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite, said that Cochran was part of the reason that Washington is broken, citing his longevity in the chamber and his membership on the Appropriations Committee. McDaniel is now contemplating a primary run against Wicker. But, the incumbent would start the race in better shape than Cochran did. Wicker had $3.1 million in the bank as of June 30, 2017, and while his past races weren’t toss ups, they were more competitive than the easy races Cochran had enjoyed for years before McDaniel’s primary challenge, leaving Wicker better prepared. Wicker won’t be able to take McDaniel for granted if he runs, but McDaniel would be less of a threat than he was against Cochran. At this point, no Democratic names have surfaced as potential challengers. The race is in the Solid Republican column.

MISSOURI:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill won this seat in 2006, a very good year for Democrats nationally, with just 50 percent of the vote. When she was up for re-election in 2012, McCaskill hoped to avoid another nail-biter of a race by influencing the outcome of the Republican primary in order to pull a weaker opponent. With television and radio ads, and some help from the DSCC, she succeeded as then-U.S. Rep. Todd Akin prevailed in an eight-way field with 36 percent. McCaskill believed that Akin was too conservative as a general election candidate, even by Missouri standards, and there was ample evidence that he was a weak campaigner and a mediocre fundraiser. But, Akin managed to exceed Democrats’ expectations when shortly after the primary he argued that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t become pregnant because “…the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” And that was the end of the race despite the fact that it was only the third week in August. McCaskill took 55 percent to 39 percent for Akin; a Libertarian got 6 percent. She isn’t likely to have as easy a path to re-election this cycle. It is not certain that Republicans can avoid a primary, but they aren’t likely to let McCaskill and Democrats dictate the terms. And while the Democratic incumbent understands what a fine line she walks in a Republican-leaning state, the electorate has become even more conservative since 2012. In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the state by 19 points, as Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat and every statewide office on the ballot. The most interesting and surprising development in this race so far has been U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner’s decision not to run. Her announcement left Republicans working to entice state Attorney General Josh Hawley into the race; he has formed an exploratory committee and is widely expected to run. Libertarian activist Austin Petersen has announced his candidacy and state Rep. Paul Curtman has formed an exploratory committee. The 37-year old Hawley is likely to unite the party and will give McCaskill a very tough race. The race is in the Toss Up.

MONTANA:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester kicked off the cycle by getting a very big gift from President Donald Trump when he named At-Large U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke to be his Interior Secretary. Zinke was gearing up to challenge Tester, and would have given the incumbent a very tough race in state that Trump carried by 20 points. There isn’t another candidate as strong as Zinke, but there are others who can give Tester a competitive race. There are five announced candidates: USAF veteran and storage company CEO Troy Downing, attorney Scott McLean, businessman Ronald Murray, state Auditor Matthew Rosendale, and state Sen. Albert Olszewski. In addition, Russell Fagg, a Yellowstone County District Judge has formed an exploratory committee. Obviously, it is going to take some time to for the Republican field to sort itself out. Whether the primary will produce a first-tier nominee remains to be seen. Tester, who has built a record as a populist, is a good fit for rural Montana, and will not be easy to beat. The race is in the Likely Democrat column.

NEBRASKA:

In 2012, Deb Fischer, then a state legislator, scored an upset in the Republican primary by beating two better-known and battle-tested candidates. She took 41 percent to 36 percent for then-Attorney General Jon Bruning and 19 percent for state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Democrats recruited former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey to run, but Kerrey had been living in New York City for much of the previous decade and Republicans were able to portray him as out of touch with voters. Fischer prevailed in the general election, 55 percent to 42 percent. She shouldn’t have any trouble winning a second term. She has amassed a conservative voting record and remains connected to her rural roots. At this point, no Democratic names have surfaced as potential challengers. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.

NEVADA:

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller has the unfortunate distinction of occupying the most vulnerable of the 10 Republicans seats up this cycle. His vulnerability stems largely from the fact that he is the only Republican incumbent facing voters next year who is sitting in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Conversely, that also means that he is Democrats’ only real target and the party, which is in desperate need of pick-up opportunities to offset their own vulnerable seats, are throwing everything they have at him. But before Heller can focus on his Democratic opponent, he must first survive a primary challenge from Danny Tarkanian, who is running to the incumbent’s right. Tarkanian has unsuccessfully sought a number of offices in the last 12 years, including the U.S. Senate and House, the state Senate and Secretary of State. Heller needs to take Tarkanian seriously, despite his losing record. The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination is U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, who was elected to Congress in 2016, beating none other than Tarkanian. U.S. Rep. Dina Titus is also looking at the Democratic primary, but most observers expect her to pass. Heller is well acquainted with close races; he won this seat in 2012 by just over 10,000 votes, but this may turn out to be a tougher race as he is under siege from both Democrats and conservatives in his own party. The contest is in the Toss Up column.

NEW JERSEY:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s re-election prospects are seriously complicated by his impending federal trial on 14 counts of corruption, including bribery, conspiracy and making false statements. Menendez has exhausted his legal efforts to get the charges dismissed, and his trial is scheduled to start in early September. If Menendez is convicted and resigns from the Senate, the Governor will make an appointment and there will be a special election. This is where it could get interesting. Republican Gov. Chris Christie is in his final year in office; his term ends on January 16, 2018. Thus, if Menendez is convicted before Christie’s last day in office, then he makes the appointment, flipping the seat and giving Republicans one more vote in the chamber. While Democrats certainly hope that Menendez is found innocent, their alternative wish is a very prolonged trial that potentially allows a Democratic Governor to appoint a successor. That might not be terribly realistic, but it is a reflection of how out of their control the situation is. If Menendez is found innocent, he may still get a competitive challenge, but even that depends on other events. The gubernatorial election is in November and while Democrats are heavily favored to win the race today, the outcome will affect what Menendez’s re-election or a special election might look like. For now, the political universe in New Jersey is focused on November’s elections, and is unlikely to give the Senate race more than a passing glance until Menendez’s trial starts. For now, the contest is in the Likely Democrat column, but that is more a reflection of the state’s Democratic tilt than where the actual race stands today.

NEW MEXICO:

Democrat Martin Heinrich won this seat in 2012, beating former GOP U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, 51 percent to 45 percent. Like his colleague, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, Heinrich has amassed a progressive record that seems to be in line with what voters want from their Senators. The only Republican name mentioned so far is Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who also makes the list of potential gubernatorial candidates. The governorship is open this cycle, and that seems to be the focus of both parties at the moment. Heinrich may well get a considerably easier race this time around. It is in the Solid Democrat column.

NEW YORK:

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to this seat in January of 2009 when its occupant, Democrat Hillary Clinton, resigned to join President Obama’s administration as Secretary of State. Gillibrand won a 2010 special election with 63 percent and was elected to a full six-year term in 2012 with 72 percent. Given the state of the New York Republican Party, Gillibrand isn’t likely to get much of a race this cycle either. In fact, the most challenging part of her re-election bid may well be staving off questions about whether she will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Although Gillibrand has said that she doesn’t plan to run, the speculation will continue. The contest is in the Solid Democrat column.

NORTH DAKOTA:

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is in an unenviable position; she is a Democrat sitting in a state that President Donald Trump carried by 36 points and is a member of a Senate minority doing everything in its power to oppose Trump and Senate Republicans. That’s the bad news. The good news is that she is well known statewide and votes her state’s priorities as much as she can. She won this seat in 2012 by less than 3,000 votes against then At-Large U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, who was a less than stellar candidate. While Heitkamp was eking out a win, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the state by 19 points. Republicans would like to see At-Large U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer run. Cramer succeeded Berg, winning a third term in 2016 with 69 percent, and would give Heitkamp a very competitive contest. Cramer has been slow to make a decision, allowing state Sen. Tom Campbell to jump in the race ahead of him. While Campbell isn’t as well known as Cramer, his profile as a successful businessman has some appeal to voters. Now that Heitkamp has a credible opponent, the contest is in the Lean Democrat column, at least until Cramer announces whether he will run.

OHIO:

This race is shaping up to be a rematch between Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel. In that 2012 open-seat contest, Brown, who was then serving in the U.S. House, beat Mandel, 51 percent to 45 percent, with an independent candidate taking the remaining 5 percent. Mandel, who was 35 years old during that race, has a strong personal narrative, but his campaign got tripped up often for what Politifact called a “casual relationship with the truth.” Mandel is still state Treasurer and has had time to hone his political skills, but the question is whether he learned anything from his loss to Brown. While some GOP strategists are skeptical that he will be a better candidate this time around, all acknowledge that he has the nomination locked up. That doesn’t mean that Mandel is escaping a primary as investment banker Michael Gibbons has announced his candidacy. For his part, Brown remains the progressive populist that has defined his career, and still has support among blue collar Democrats, many of whom abandoned the party in last year’s presidential race. It is a good bet that many of the issues that defined the contest in 2012 will be back this cycle. The race is in the Lean Democrat column for now, and the onus is on Mandel and Republicans to make this a Toss Up.

PENNSYLVANIA:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey won this seat in 2006, a very good year for his party nationally, with 59 percent of the vote. In 2012, Casey was re-elected to a second term with 54 percent, outperforming President Barack Obama by two points. That year, GOP nominee Tom Smith, a political novice and former coal company executive, spent enough personal money to make the race interesting, but never got close enough to pose a real threat to Casey. Republicans are on a high after carrying the state in the 2016 presidential contest and seeing U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey win a second term, but they will need a first-tier candidate if they are going to give Casey a competitive race. The primary field has gotten crowded and includes: businessman Paul Addis, cyber security consultant Cynthia Ayers, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, real estate developer Jeff Bartos, state Reps. Jim Christiana and Rick Sacone, small businessman Bobby Lawrence, and Berwick Councilman Andrew Shecktor. Barletta is probably the nominal frontrunner by virtue of his base; he has represented the Harrisburg/suburban Wilkes-Barre-based 11th congressional district since 2010. There is some concern, though, about whether Barletta can raise the kind of money necessary to win a primary and then mount an effective general election campaign. At this point, the onus is on Republicans to make this a competitive contest. It is in the Likely Democrat column.

RHODE ISLAND:

Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse has earned a reputation in the U.S. Senate as one of its more progressive members. He focuses on issues like climate change and “dark money” in politics, and he has been one of the chamber’s most vocal critics of the Trump Administration. These positions don’t put Whitehouse at odds with voters in this heavily Democratic state – unless they believe that he has lost touch with their more immediate needs and issues closer to home. So far, there hasn’t been any indication that is the case. Whitehouse won this seat in 2006 – a good year for his party nationally – by beating Republican incumbent Lincoln Chafee, 54 percent to 46 percent. He was re-elected in 2012 with 65 percent, outperforming President Barack Obama by two points. Two Republicans have announced their candidacies: former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Flanders and state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo. Flanders gets very strong reviews from political observers in the state, but either candidate would face a steep hill against Whitehouse. The contest is in the Solid Democrat column.

TENNESSEE:

While former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker just eked out a victory in what was an open seat in 2006 with 51 percent, he easily won a second term in 2012 with 65 percent, outperforming GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by six points. Corker has risen up the seniority ladder and is now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the third most senior Republican on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He has also proven to be a successful fundraiser, entering this cycle with nearly $6.6 million in the bank. There has been talk that Corker could get a primary challenge to his right and several names have been mentioned, but none have taken any steps toward running. On the Democratic side, attorney James Mackler is running. While Mackler has gotten good reviews, he faces a very uphill climb against Corker. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.

TEXAS:

After his disappointing showing in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz had to spend time tending to business at home, particularly mending fences with his own party. Soon after leaving the presidential contest, some Texas Republicans started talking about a primary challenge to Cruz. The most vocal was U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, but it now appears that McCaul is unlikely to give up his seat in the House to challenge the incumbent. This may well spare Cruz a truly competitive nomination contest, although Houston attorney and political newcomer Stefano de Stefano has announced and will run as a moderate Republican – or at least more moderate than the incumbent. Democrats believe that they can give Cruz a very credible challenge in the general election. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Currently in his second term, the 44-year old O’Rourke represents the El Paso-based 16th congressional district. The district is reliably Democratic with a PVI of D+17, meaning that it votes 17 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. Members of the congressional delegation tend to struggle in statewide contests. With 36 CDs and 19 media markets, building name recognition is an arduous and expensive process. For now the race is in the Solid Republican column, but it is worth watching to see if O’Rourke can gain any traction.

UTAH:

Will he or won’t he? That is the operative question in this race as GOP U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch contemplates whether to run for an eighth term. When he was running for re-election in 2012, Hatch said that campaign would be his last. Over the last couple of years, though, he has indicated a strong desire to run again in 2018. And while Hatch has said that he plans to run barring any unexpected developments, he has also said that he might step aside if 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney is willing to run. For his part, Romney is giving the idea serious consideration, but he won’t challenge Hatch and would wait for Hatch to opt out of seeking re-election before he makes a final decision. Hatch has always struggled with the party’s most conservative voters who believe that the incumbent’s willingness to work with Democrats on some issues is nothing short of treasonous. These conservative activists won’t be happy if Hatch runs again, and will likely find a candidate to challenge him for the nomination. In the past, this might have presented a serious threat to Hatch because the party nominated candidates in a convention with a no path to get on a primary ballot. This is how incumbent Bob Bennett lost the nomination in 2010. The nominating process has now changed, allowing candidates to petition on to the primary ballot in addition to (or instead of) participating in the convention process. This will be very helpful to Hatch, but doesn’t mean that he won’t have a competitive primary. To date, the only announced challenger is Duchene County Schools Director Danny Drew, although several better known candidates have been mentioned. On the Democratic side, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has announced. Democrats struggle in statewide races here, so Hatch’s decision may have very little impact on what the general election looks like. For now, political observers are waiting to see what Hatch, and thus Romney, does. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.

VERMONT:

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is one of two independents in the Senate, but he caucuses with Democrats. As a result, Democrats look after his well being when he’s on the ballot whether he wants them to or not. He was elected in 2006 after serving eight terms in the House. Although Democrats gave him their nomination in that first Senate bid, he turned it down and there was no Democrat on the general election ballot. Sanders won the seat with 65 percent. In 2012, Sanders again won the Democratic nomination and yet again said no thanks, leaving the line blank. The incumbent won a second term as an independent with 71 percent of the vote. After seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, the question for Sanders as he gears up to seek a third term is whether he will run as a Democrat this time, or allow the party to nominate him again and turn it down. Frankly, this might be the only intrigue voters will see in this contest. Republicans have a weak bench, and are focused on protecting incumbent Gov. Phil Scott who will face voters again in 2018. Sanders is very popular, providing further incentive for Republicans to take a pass on the contest. The race is in the Solid Democrat/Independent column.

VIRGINIA:

Being on a losing presidential ticket in 2016 hasn’t dampened U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s popularity with voters at home. In fact, it may have enhanced it as Kaine proved to be a very capable addition to the ticket. Even so, Republicans view Virginia as a swing state and they believe they can give Kaine a competitive race. Their effort hit a bump in July, though, when Prince William County Board of Supervisors chair Corey Stewart announced his candidacy. Stewart ran for the gubernatorial nomination, losing the June primary by two points and giving Ed Gillespie a scare. At his announcement, Stewart said, "I am going to run the most vicious, ruthless campaign to dethrone Tim Kaine. … We're not holding back any punches. I'm going to go after him very, very hard.” Stewart is probably too conservative to win a general election, and his take-no-prisoners rhetoric may dissuade more competitive candidates from running. One name that has that is frequently mentioned is Carly Fiorina. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in California in 2010 and sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. If she runs, Democrats will certainly work to label her as a carpetbagger, but Fiorina has roots in Virginia and has lived there for the last several years. This will remain a sleepy race for much of this year as all the political energy in the state is focused on the gubernatorial contest in November. After that, it will be worth watching to see what develops. For now it is in the Likely Democratic column.

WASHINGTON:

After her narrow win in 2000, Republicans have had Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell in their sights, but have come up well short of giving her a truly competitive race. She was re-elected to a second term in 2006 with 57 percent and in 2012 with 60 percent. 2018 might well be the cycle they decide not to target this race, particularly given the number of better opportunities of the map. At this point, not a single name has been mentioned as a potential Republican challenger. The contest is in the Solid Democrat column.

WEST VIRGINIA:

On the one hand, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin should be the most vulnerable incumbent up this cycle given that he is a Democrat representing a state that President Donald Trump carried by 42 points. On the other, Manchin has accumulated a very moderate voting record and seems in sync with voters, and thus has solid job approval and favorable ratings. He was elected to the Senate in a special election in 2010 with 54 percent, and then won a full term in 2012 with 61 percent. Republicans are intent on testing theory of presidential performance – that which party wins a state in the presidential contest plays a major role in determining the outcome of a Senate race. They have two first-tier candidates seeking the GOP nomination: U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Former coal industry worker Bo Copley is also running. Either Morrisey or Jenkins will give Manchin a competitive general election, but the early weeks of the campaign suggest that it will be a very contentious primary. The contest is in the Toss Up column.

WISCONSIN:

In 2016, GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson was considered the underdog in his bid for a second term, but ended scoring an upset, winning the seat with 50 percent to 47 percent for former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. Republicans attribute Johnson’s win to the state GOP’s strong organization that was first constructed by Gov. Scott Walker during his 2011 recall contest and has been refined each cycle since. It is for that reason that Republicans think that Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is vulnerable in 2018. Strategists contend that Baldwin has compiled a voting record that is far to the left of a majority of voters in the state. Democrats disagree, arguing that Baldwin focuses her attention on the issues that are important to voters. But, if Republicans are going to have a shot at beating the incumbent, they need a candidate. Their first choice, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, has already taken a pass on the race. At this point, only political newcomer and management consultant Kevin Nicholson has announced. He has attracted attention of conservative groups and has an endorsement from the Club for Growth. There are a number of other candidates looking at the race, including, businessman and 2012 U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, and state Sen. Leah Vukmir. This contest needs more time to develop. Until it does, the race is in the Likely Democratic column.

WYOMING:

Republican U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon by training, was appointed to the chamber in 2007 and won a special election in 2008 with 77 percent. He was elected to a full term in 2012 with 76 percent. There is no reason to believe that Barrasso will get anything that resembles a competitive race in 2018. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.