2011's Luckiest Candidates
FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2009 file photo, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, laughs during a light moment after an interview with The Associated Press in Portland, Maine. Moderate Republicans may be a vanishing breed elsewhere, but Snowe and fellow Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins are thriving. In a narrowly divided Senate, the two women enjoy outsized influence. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)
(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
As 2012 approaches, we've been bringing you our series of year end posts/recaps (see our 2011's Top Comeback Kids, Year in Media, and Biggest Twitter Losers) and now, here is our compilation of the luckiest senators up for reelection:
5. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine: At the beginning of the 2012 election cycle, a strong tea party challenge to the moderate Snowe was considered likely (I even speculated last November about the possibility of her running as an independent if necessary). But that tough challenge never materialized.
Maine tea party activist Andrew Ian Dodge had touted a mystery candidate who he said would emerge to challenge Snowe -- but that candidate turned out to be Dodge himself. Neither he nor Republican businessman Scott D'Amboise has been able to raise significant money and get any traction against the incumbent, who now looks poised to sail through with little resistance.
4. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: Hatch was another GOP senator in danger of a serious tea party challenge, particularly in the wake of former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, losing the nomination at Utah's 2010 convention. But specifically, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, appeared likely to mount a credible challenge from the right -- until he suddenly announced he wouldn't enter the race after all. Hatch's well-stocked campaign coffers likely played a role in his would-be opponent's decision.
Hatch is far from out of the woods -- state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who has a compelling personal story and could command both tea party and establishment support, has said he is leaning toward a run and will announce in the new year. But for now, we'll count Hatch as lucky for Chaffetz taking a pass on the race, and for Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, deciding to run for the House again after floating the idea of entering the Senate race.
3. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.: Lugar completes the trio of Republican senators who came out of the 2010 cycle expecting a tea party challenge -- and again, he has fared somewhat better than he could have. Lugar did get an early tea party challenger in Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, but Mourdock doesn't seem to be getting the momentum necessary to knock off the longtime senator.
He lags in fundraising, and despite efforts to consolidate tea party support behind him, it now looks as though Republican auto dealer Bob Thomas will enter the race after the start of the new year - a development that would potentially serve to divide the anti-Lugar vote
2. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.: 2010 was a big year for Republicans in Pennsylvania -- they won Senate and gubernatorial races in the state -- and it looks like the Keystone State could be a presidential battleground in 2012. Casey could potentially be vulnerable, but so far the GOP field is big and muddled, with no obvious frontrunner.
1. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.: Manchin won a hard-fought race in the 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd's, D-W.Va., seat, and there was no reason to believe 2012 would be any easier for him - especially in a presidential election year in a state where President Obama is extremely unpopular.
But Manchin has no Republican challenger so far, and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the more popular Republican in the state, has given no indication of interest in a bid. And Manchin's own high popularity makes a run against him unappealing. A candidate could still emerge - perhaps another self-funder like his 2010 opponent, John Raese - but for now, it's looking like Manchin lucked out.