The Hotline‘s Senate Race Rankings: Democrats on Defense

Thirteen of the 15 seats most likely to switch are Democratic-held.

WASHINGTON - APRIL 26: Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) talks with reporters after voting on the US Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health And Iraq Accountability Act at the US Capitol April 26, 2007 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted 51-46 in favor of the emergency appropriations bill which provides $100 billion the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a non-binding timeline for combat troop withdrawal beginning in October 2007. President George W. Bush has promised to veto the bill. 
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Kevin Brennan and Steven Shepard
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Kevin Brennan Steven Shepard
Nov. 27, 2013, midnight

A lot has happened since Na­tion­al Journ­al Hot­line last sur­veyed the Sen­ate land­scape. Re­pub­lic­ans took a sig­ni­fic­ant hit when their ef­forts to de­rail the Af­ford­able Care Act res­ul­ted in a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down. But the struggles in im­ple­ment­ing that law have swung the pen­du­lum back in the GOP’s fa­vor in re­cent weeks.

Com­bined with a fa­vor­able map, Re­pub­lic­an mo­mentum has put con­trol of the Sen­ate firmly in play. In fact, the 7 seats most likely to switch parties in our latest Hot­line Sen­ate Rank­ings are only Demo­crat­ic-held. If Re­pub­lic­ans flip 6 of the 7 — without los­ing any of their own vul­ner­able seats — they would con­trol the Sen­ate in 2015.

Over­all, 13 of the 15 most vul­ner­able seats are held by Demo­crats. Just two GOP-held seats are even some­what in danger of flip­ping parties: Geor­gia, where Re­pub­lic­ans could nom­in­ate a con­tro­ver­sial can­did­ate like Rep. Paul Broun, and Ken­tucky, where Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell isn’t pop­u­lar and faces well-fun­ded primary and gen­er­al-elec­tion chal­lengers.

The seats are lis­ted in or­der of their like­li­hood to switch par­tis­an con­trol after the 2014 elec­tions. These rank­ings rep­res­ent The Hot­line‘s cur­rent read of the Sen­ate land­scape.

    SOUTH DAKOTA (Open D, Sen. Tim John­son re­tir­ing) (Pre­vi­ous rank: 1)
    Former Gov. Mike Rounds is a heavy fa­vor­ite to re­place John­son. Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing re­cent de­vel­op­ment in the race is former three-term Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Larry Pressler’s po­ten­tial in­de­pend­ent can­did­acy. But Pressler him­self ad­mits he prob­ably can’t win, and his pres­ence on the bal­lot prob­ably wouldn’t be enough to give likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Rick Wei­l­and a ser­i­ous chance of hold­ing the seat. WEST VIR­GIN­IA (Open D, Sen. Jay Rock­e­feller re­tir­ing) (Pre­vi­ous: 2)
    Rock­e­feller’s de­cision to re­tire handed Re­pub­lic­ans a prime pickup op­por­tun­ity in a state where Pres­id­ent Obama re­ceived less than 36 per­cent of the vote last year. Rep. Shel­ley Moore Capito, the GOP’s top choice for the race, was one of the first can­did­ates of the cycle to an­nounce she’s run­ning. She has raised money at a steady clip, giv­ing her a more-than-$3-mil­lion lead over Sec­ret­ary of State Nat­alie Ten­nant, who launched her can­did­acy in Septem­ber after sev­er­al oth­er Demo­crats de­cided not to run. MONTANA (Open D, Sen. Max Baucus re­tir­ing) (Pre­vi­ous: 3)
    For once, Demo­crats might be the ones with a messy primary in a cru­cial Sen­ate race. Lt. Gov. John Walsh is the fa­vor­ite to cap­ture the nom­in­a­tion over former Lt. Gov. John Bo­hlinger, but Walsh will at least have to ex­pend re­sources fight­ing off the chal­lenge. Both Demo­crats trailed Rep. Steve Daines by double di­gits in an auto­mated poll con­duc­ted last week by the Demo­crat­ic polling out­fit Pub­lic Policy Polling. Sen. Jon Test­er held onto his seat in this red state last year, but Demo­crats are less likely to re­tain con­trol of the seat oc­cu­pied by Test­er’s re­tir­ing coun­ter­part, Sen. Max Baucus. ARKAN­SAS (D, Sen. Mark Pry­or) (Pre­vi­ous: 4)
    Pry­or re­mains the most vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent in the na­tion, and he’s up against a top Re­pub­lic­an re­cruit in Rep. Tom Cot­ton, who ap­pears likely to avoid a messy GOP primary fight. While Pry­or and his al­lies had hoped the gov­ern­ment shut­down would weigh down the House Re­pub­lic­an, the botched rol­lout of the health care law has giv­en the in­cum­bent an even big­ger head­ache. Polls show a dead heat, but Pry­or is run­ning in a state that gave Mitt Rom­ney 60 per­cent last year. ALASKA (D, Sen. Mark Be­gich) (Pre­vi­ous: 5)
    Be­gich’s 2008 win is the only statewide vic­tory to his name, and it came in a great en­vir­on­ment for Demo­crats against an eth­ic­ally-chal­lenged in­cum­bent, late Sen. Ted Stevens. Be­gich’s run this year may prove more dif­fi­cult, as he’s forced to de­fend his vote for Obama­care in a state the pres­id­ent lost by 14 points last year. The good news for Be­gich is that a con­ten­tious GOP primary is brew­ing between Lt. Gov. Mead Tread­well, former At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Dan Sul­li­van and con­tro­ver­sial 2010 nom­in­ee Joe Miller. LOUISI­ANA (D, Sen. Mary Landrieu) (Pre­vi­ous: 6)
    We con­sidered pla­cing the Pel­ic­an State over Alaska in our rank­ings; Obama won slightly more than 40 per­cent of the vote in each state. But we’ll put our thumb on the scale in fa­vor of the three-term Landrieu, who’s sur­vived reelec­tion chal­lenges in midterm (2002) and pres­id­en­tial (2008) years. An all-party gen­er­al elec­tion and split GOP op­pos­i­tion means Landrieu is a de­cent bet to win the gen­er­al but fall short of the ma­jor­ity she would need to avoid a run­off. A head-to-head match­up with re­tired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, the fa­vor­ite of in­sur­gent con­ser­vat­ive out­side groups, would bet­ter en­able Landrieu to make her cent­rist ar­gu­ment than a Decem­ber date with the more mod­er­ate GOP Rep. Bill Cas­sidy. NORTH CAR­O­LINA (D, Sen. Kay Hagan) (Pre­vi­ous: 8)
    Hagan was swept in­to of­fice in 2008, along with Obama and former Gov. Bev Per­due. But North Car­o­lina has moved away from Demo­crats since then: Sen. Richard Burr won a re­l­at­ively easy reelec­tion, Obama ran close but lost the state last year and Per­due didn’t even both­er to seek reelec­tion. State House Speak­er Thom Tillis is the nom­in­al fron­trun­ner in the GOP field; Karl Rove helped him raise money earli­er this month. Demo­crats think Tillis and the GOP-led Le­gis­lature over­reached this year in passing a Re­pub­lic­an wish-list of pro­pos­als, but polls show Tillis still re­mains re­l­at­ively un­known. GEOR­GIA (Open R, Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss re­tir­ing) (Pre­vi­ous: 9)
    Demo­crats’ abil­ity to flip this seat has less to do with likely nom­in­ee Michelle Nunn, who pos­ted an im­press­ive first fun­drais­ing quarter, and more to do with the po­ten­tial for a dis­astrous Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee. If con­tro­ver­sial Rep. Paul Broun se­cures the nom­in­a­tion, the race will move a few spots up this list. For Re­pub­lic­ans, the hope is that one of the more elect­able con­tenders, like Rep. Jack King­ston or former Sec­ret­ary of State Kar­en Han­del, can sur­vive the likely primary run­off. KEN­TUCKY (R, Sen. Mitch Mc­Con­nell) (Pre­vi­ous: 7)
    Mc­Con­nell wants to be Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er, but he should first worry about his own reelec­tion. Mitt Rom­ney won the Bluegrass State by 23 points last year, but Mc­Con­nell and Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes are run­ning neck-and-neck. And even be­fore reelec­tion comes re­nom­in­a­tion, with con­ser­vat­ive groups tak­ing aim at Mc­Con­nell by back­ing polit­ic­al neo­phyte Matt Bev­in. The smart money is still on Mc­Con­nell, who’s sit­ting on $10 mil­lion already, sur­viv­ing. But Bev­in and Grimes will come out swinging. MICHIGAN (Open D, Sen. Carl Lev­in re­tir­ing) (Pre­vi­ous: NR)
    Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gary Peters is off to a good start, but former Sec­ret­ary of State Terri Lynn Land, about whom Re­pub­lic­ans wer­en’t too ex­cited ini­tially, is keep­ing pace. Land raised $1 mil­lion in the third quarter, then backed it up with an­oth­er $1 mil­lion of her own money. Peters had about $500,000 more than Land in the bank at the end of Septem­ber, and re­cent in­de­pend­ent polls show a tight race. But Re­pub­lic­ans haven’t won a Sen­ate race in Michigan since the 1994 GOP wave, and Land might need a sim­il­ar tide to carry her over the fin­ish line this year. IOWA (Open D, Sen. Tom Har­kin re­tir­ing) (Pre­vi­ous: 10)
    Demo­crats landed a top-flight con­tender in Rep. Bruce Bra­ley, and he’s lived up to the hype by string­ing to­geth­er im­press­ive fun­drais­ing quar­ters. Mean­while, Re­pub­lic­ans have an over­crowded field of un­known names who have struggled to raise money. The GOP field in­cludes some in­triguing pro­spects, like state Sen. Joni Ernst and busi­ness­man Mark Jac­obs, but the nom­in­at­ing pro­cess might make it dif­fi­cult for either con­tender to win the nom­in­a­tion: If no can­did­ate re­ceives 35 per­cent in the primary (a likely pro­pos­i­tion giv­en the huge field), the nom­in­ee will be chosen at the party con­ven­tion, a scen­ario which fa­vors the most con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ates over the more elect­able ones. COL­OR­ADO (D, Sen. Mark Ud­all) (Pre­vi­ous: NR)
    Polls show Demo­crats tak­ing a beat­ing in Col­or­ado, stuck between un­pop­u­lar le­gis­la­tion at the state level and Obama’s slip­ping na­tion­al stand­ing. Ud­all has been one of the more vo­cal Demo­crats up­set about the health care rol­lout, and he’s now only mar­gin­ally ahead of his GOP com­pet­i­tion. But Re­pub­lic­ans have their own prob­lems; 2010 nom­in­ee Ken Buck is back for an­oth­er try after bungling his way to a loss against ap­poin­ted Sen. Mi­chael Ben­net three years ago. MIN­NESOTA (D, Sen. Al Franken) (Pre­vi­ous: NR)
    Franken had to wait six months to take his Sen­ate seat in 2009 after a pro­trac­ted re­count, but he’s mostly flown un­der the radar thus far this cycle. The Re­pub­lic­an field is pretty crowded, but the lead­ing fun­draiser has been Mike Mc­Fad­den, whose 8-fig­ure net worth looms as pos­sible cam­paign kind­ling. Franken is a pro­lif­ic fun­draiser him­self, so odds are he won’t be out­spent, even if Mc­Fad­den emerges as his party’s nom­in­ee. NEW HAMP­SHIRE (D, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen) (Pre­vi­ous: NR)
    Just about every big-name Re­pub­lic­an (and a num­ber of smal­ler names) in the Gran­ite State has passed on the race, leav­ing con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist Kar­en Test­er­man and former state Sen. Jim Rubens as the only GOP con­tenders. Former Mas­sachu­setts Sen. Scott Brown, who con­tin­ues to play coy after months of vis­its to the state, might be the party’s last chance at a com­pet­it­ive nom­in­ee, but GOP sources in New Hamp­shire doubt he’ll go through with it. Even Brown would be­gin the race as an un­der­dog against Shaheen, who re­mains one of the most pop­u­lar fig­ures in the the state. ORE­GON (D, Sen. Jeff Merkley) (Pre­vi­ous: NR)
    Merkley is fa­cing a field of un­tested Re­pub­lic­ans. But dis­ap­point­ment over the 2010 health care law could res­on­ate more in Ore­gon, which cre­ated its own ex­change but has struggled to get it star­ted. Even if the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment gets its web­site fixed soon, Ore­gon’s portal might not be up un­til mid-Decem­ber. One of Merkley’s GOP chal­lengers is pe­di­at­ric neurosur­geon Mon­ica We­hby, who has no polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence but could ap­peal to voters on the is­sue.
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