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. 
National Journal
Kevin Brennan and Steven Shepard
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
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.
What We're Following See More »
House Approves Opioid Package
4 hours ago

"The House on Friday overwhelmingly passed sweeping bipartisan opioid legislation, concluding the chamber’s two-week voteathon on dozens of bills to address the drug abuse epidemic. The measure combines more than 50 bills approved individually by the House focusing on expanding access to treatment, encouraging the development of alternative pain treatments and curbing the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S. It was passed 396-14, with 13 Republicans and one Democrat voting against the package."

Trump Tells Congress North Korea Remains a Threat
4 hours ago

In a letter to Congress on Friday, President Trump wrote that he's continuing the national emergency status with respect to North Korea, citing the country's “provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions," which "continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat” to the United States. In a series of tweets following his meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump said Americans could sleep well at night because North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat.

Navy Document Outlines Plans For Detention Camps
5 hours ago

"The U.S. Navy is preparing plans to construct sprawling detention centers for tens of thousands of immigrants on remote bases in California, Alabama and Arizona, escalating the military’s task in implementing President Donald Trump’s 'zero tolerance' policy for people caught crossing the Southern border." The document outlines plans for "temporary and austere" internment camps for 25,000 migrants "at abandoned airfields just outside the Florida panhandle," and in Alabama, for 47,000 people near San Francisco, and "as many as 47,000 people at Camp Pendleton" in California. The document estimates that operating a camp to detain 25,000 people for six months would cost approximately $233 million.

U.S. Military Aircraft Targeted By Lasers
8 hours ago

"Lasers have targeted pilots of American military aircraft operating over the western Pacific Ocean more than 20 times in recent months," said U.S. officials. The lasers appeared to be coming from Chinese fishing boats in the South China Sea, said the officials, which is the setting of a "long-running dispute between China and Japan over the control of nearby islands ... The incidents likely will come up as part of a broader discussion of issues when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visits Beijing next week and meets Chinese President Xi Jinping."

Trump Overturns Obama Orders on Oceans
8 hours ago

"President Donald Trump has unveiled a new policy that depicts the world’s oceans as a resource ripe for expanded business opportunities, reversing the Obama administration's emphasis on protecting 'vulnerable' marine environments." Rather than emphasizing environmental protection, as Obama's policy did, "Trump’s directive speaks mostly to the oceans as a resource for promoting national security" and creating jobs.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.