The following Bottom Lines have been updated following this week's Senate primaries in Maine, Nevada and Virginia
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. King took 53 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Summers and 13 percent for Dill. This cycle, King will get a less challenging contest than he did six years ago. He will face Democratic nominee Zak Ringelstein, a teacher, and Republican nominee Eric Brakey, a state Senator in November. Construction company owner Benjamin Pollard is running as an independent. None of these candidates poses a threat to King. As such, the race is now rated as Solid Independent.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller has the unfortunate distinction of occupying the most vulnerable of the nine 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 sits in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. This means that Democrats have put a very big target on him, and are throwing everything they have at him. Conservatives may not be happy with Heller, but they didn’t give him much of a primary fight. He won the nomination in the June 12 primary with 70 percent of the vote, while public works manager Tom Heck took 19 percent, and three minor candidates and “none of these candidates” combined for the remaining 11 percent. Heck didn’t run much of a campaign and it’s possible that some voters confused him with former U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016. The Democratic nominee is U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, who won the primary with 77 percent. “None of these candidates” placed second with 7 percent, and five minor candidates combined for the remaining 16 percent. Heller is well acquainted with close races; he won this seat in 2012 by just over 10,000 votes, but this may prove to be a tougher race as he is under unrelenting attack from Democrats. The contest is in the Toss Up column.
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, any hope Republicans had of giving him a competitive race evaporated on primary night as voters nominated Prince William County Board of Supervisors chair Corey Stewart with 45 percent of the vote. State Rep. Nicholas Freitas, who was backed by the GOP’s leadership, placed second with 43 percent, and E.W. Jackson, who made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2012, took 12 percent. Stewart ran for the gubernatorial nomination in 2017, losing the primary to Ed Gillespie by two points. Stewart is controversial and spent much of the last few years defending the state’s Confederate monuments (and protesting their removal). He appeared at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in May of 2017. As a result, the Republican Senate leadership has disavowed his candidacy, and will not get involved in the race. When Stewart announced his candidacy, he promised that he would, “… 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.” He may make good on his threat, which has state Republicans concerned that he could damage other Republican incumbents and challengers on the ticket. Stewart may create a lot of noise in the race, but Kaine has nothing to fear from him. The contest is in the Solid Democratic column.