Bottom Lines are our most current take on a race.
Citing his frustration with President Trump and the direction of the Republican Party, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake announced on October 24 of last year that he would not run for a second term. Flake had been facing a primary challenge from former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who 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. But, Flake’s absence doesn’t mean that Ward has the nomination wrapped up. U.S. Rep. Martha McSally has announced her candidacy. McSally, who made history as the first female combat fighter pilot, was first elected to represent the Tucson-based 2nd congressional district in 2014. The 2nd district has a PVI of R+1, meaning that it votes one point more Republican than the nation as a whole. While GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the district by two points in 2012, President Trump lost it in 2016. McSally was re-elected to a second term with 57 percent, outperforming Trump by 13 points. Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, has also announced. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in June of last year and subsequently pardoned by President Trump. Arpaio’s entry into the primary is actually bad news for Ward, as they are very likely to split the party’s most conservative voters, creating a path to victory for McSally, who is more electable in a general election. Meanwhile, Democrats got their first choice of challenger in U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema was first elected in 2012 to represent the 9th congressional district, which encompasses the central and eastern suburbs of Phoenix, Tempe and western Mesa. It has a Partisan Vote Index of D+4, which means that it votes four points more Democratic than the country as a whole. The DSCC immediately endorsed Sinema, which will keep other credible candidates out of the primary. As for the general election, it’s safe to say that Sinema would be a slight favorite against Ward or Arpaio, and evenly matched with McSally. Regardless, the race is in the Toss Up column.
On December 13, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton announced that he is appointing Tina Smith, his Lieutenant Governor, to the seat being vacated by the resignation of Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken. She was sworn in on January 3, and will have to run in a special election in November. The seat will also be up for a full term in 2020. Smith, 59, has a background in marketing. From 2006 until 2010, she was chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. She managed his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010. She then joined Dayton’s gubernatorial campaign as a senior adviser. He appointed Smith to be his chief of staff in the Governor’s office. When his Lieutenant Governor said that she would not be on the ticket in his bid for a second term, Dayton named Smith as his running mate. It is unlikely that Smith will get serious opposition in the primary. There is a long list of potential Republican challengers, but their strongest candidate, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has said that he will not run. Strategists are now likely to turn to the GOP members of the congressional delegation in search off a candidate. To date, the only announced challengers are state Sen. Karin Housely and dental technician Bob Anderson. The situation remains very fluid, which is why it is in the Toss Up column, but Republicans will need to recruit a first-tier candidate for it to stay there.
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 nearly $3.6 million in the bank as of September 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. Democrats thought they had found a very strong candidate in Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, but Presley has decided not to run. Democrats’ chances against Wicker are very uphill, but if McDaniel was to score an upset, the general election could get interesting, provided Democrats find a good candidate. For now, the race is in the Solid Republican column.
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 had hoped that At-Large U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer run, but Cramer announced in early January that he would stay in the House. This leaves state Sen. Tom Campbell as the only announced candidate. While Campbell isn’t as well known as Cramer, his profile as a successful businessman has some appeal to voters. He has already been on the air with ads designed to boost his name recognition. Campbell is a credible enough opponent to put the race in the Lean Democrat column, but it will be up to him to make it competitive enough to warrant a move to Toss Up.
This turned out to be the rematch that wasn’t. Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel announced in December of 2016 that he would again challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018. In a 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. In truth, it didn’t appear that Mandel’s candidacy was catching fire, but it became a moot point in early January when he exited the race. GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who running for his party’s gubernatorial nomination, switched races. Apart from investment banker Michael Gibbons, the question is whether Renacci will get credible opposition. 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. The race is in the Lean Democrat column for now, and the onus is on Republicans to make this more competitive.
After months of speculation about whether he would or would not seek an eighth term, Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch announced on January 2 that he will in fact retire at the end of this Congress. It is widely expected that 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will run. While he is a clear favorite for the nomination, it is possible that Romney will get a credible primary challenge to his right. The question is from whom? On the Democratic side, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has announced. Wilson has extensive experience in campaign politics and has a strong political pedigree; her father, Ted Wilson, was Mayor of Salt Lake City. Democrats struggle in statewide races here, but they would have preferred to run against Hatch than Romney. The contest is in the Solid Republican column.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin