The following Bottom Lines have been updated following this week's Senate primaries in Nebraska and Pennslyvania
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. While Fischer has amassed a conservative voting record and doesn’t appear to have made any serious errors in her first term, the only poll released in the race suggests some softness in Fischer’s support; her re-elect and job approval scores were in the mid-30s. GOP strategists contend that their polling shows that Fischer is in a much stronger position. Fischer easily won the GOP primary with 76 percent against four other candidates. Given the poor political environment for Republicans, Democrats are recruiting even in solidly red states. They are enthusiastic about Lincoln City Councilwoman Jane Raybould, who is an executive in the small chain of grocery stores her family started in 1964. She won the Democratic nomination with 64 percent to 20 percent for bakery owner Chris Janicek; two other candidates combined to 16 percent. Nebraska isn’t friendly territory for Democrats, but Raybould is an appealing candidate. It isn’t clear whether she can get real traction here, but it’s worth watching developments. As such, the contest is in the Likely Republican column.
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 giving Casey a competitive race won’t be easy. U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who had his party’s endorsement, won the primary with 63 percent to 37 percent for state Rep. Jim Christiana. He has represented the Harrisburg/suburban Wilkes-Barre-based 11th congressional district since 2010. Barletta has been the target of criticism from GOP leaders and activists in the state who question whether he can raise the kind of money and run the effective campaign necessary to give Casey a competitive race. As such, the onus is entirely on Barletta to make this a competitive contest. It is in the Likely Democrat column.
Image: Lou Barletta Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum