The Senate A Year Out, Part 2: The Midwest Races

First, let us start with some of the least interesting races.

KANSAS: Republican incumbent Pat Roberts has built up a reputation as a rather consistent conservative Senator representing a rather consistent Republican state. To wit, Roberts has not won with less than 62% of the vote in any Senate election since 1996. The state is so safely Republican that no credible Democrats are even being mentioned as possible candidates at this juncture. PREDICTION: Safely Republican

NEBRASKA: Mike Johanns in Nebraska is like Pat Roberts in Kansas: consistently conservative from a conservative red state with no credible Democratic opposition on the horizon out of Nebraska. Johanns is a former Governor and Secretary of Agriculture under Bush for two years after that before assuming office. He replaced Republican Chuck Hagel in the Senate. PREDICTION: Safely Republican

OKLAHOMA: Republican incumbent James Inhofe is perhaps one of THE most conservative members of the Senate best known for his sometimes comic, sometimes caustic criticism of man-made global warming hysteria. He is the anti-Gore. There are some issues in his past like his use of government money to pay for trips of a personal, religious nature to Africa, his alleged reckless use of an airplane in 2010 and the fact he was rated in the top 50 of Senators when it came to earmarks for his home state. Still, it is difficult seeing him losing to any Democrat, even if they were to offer one up. PREDICTION: Safe Republican

MICHIGAN: Things now start to get interesting in the Midwest and they start in Michigan where Carl Levin, the Democratic incumbent is up for reelection. Thus far, he has been mum about his plans and that has landed him on the Retirement Watch List of some pundits. As conservative as the previous three mentioned Senators are, Levin is their polar opposite in the Senate- a tried-and-true liberal Democrat in the Ted Kennedy mold. Given the failure of the GOP to wrest control of a seat here in 2012- Pete Hoekstra lost badly to Debbie Stabenow- should Levin retire, an open race may be an easier task. One name mentioned as a possible Democratic successor is 14th District congressman Gary Peters. He has positioned himself rather nicely in the debate on many issues, but at heart his ideology swings to the left although not as far as Levin.

Among possible Republican candidates mentioned is current 8th District Congressman, Mike Rogers who won reelection to the House in 2012 in a district that was basically split in the presidential vote. This area was once represented by Debbie Stabenow. Socially conservative, there is enough economic populism that wins over some Democratic voters and independents. Despite the talk about Rogers, another member of Congress often mentioned is Candice Miller of the 10th Congressional District. Slightly to the left of Rogers on some issues, some see her as the more palatable choice here in an effort to gain the votes of women. Most of the opposition to her comes from within the party in Michigan. In 2012, her choice for the 10th district party leader lost out to a Tea Party-backed candidate, a blow to her power within the district. Miller was also once admonished by the Ethics Committee for trying to influence a vote by a fellow member of Congress. In her initial run for Congress, she is was a rarity among Republicans- she secured the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. One interesting potential candidate with a long and impressive resume would be Bill Schuette, the current state attorney general. He served three terms in the House before running against Levin for the Senate and obviously losing. He was the state department of agriculture head, served in the state senate and was a Michigan Appeals Court judge. Among the three, although not really new to Michigan politics, Bill Schuette may be a relative fresh face to national politics. He is certainly known in his state. PREDICTION: If Levin runs, Safely Democratic; If Levin retires, leans Democratic

ILLINOIS: Like Levin in Michigan, Democratic incumbent Dick Durbin, as hard core a liberal as they come, has been coy about his future plans. However, given his recent high profile on legislative matters not to mention the almost bi-weekly appearances on the political talk show circuit, Durbin is riding an all-time high as a political power broker in the Senate. It is hard to see an office he would aspire to other than the one he currently occupies, so I expect him to run for reelection. The two names most often mentioned for the GOP are Joe Walsh and Chad Coppie. Walsh is the former one-term Tea Party-backed congressman who defeated Melissa Bean in a surprising victory in 2010. After the districts were redrawn in 2011, he faced a potential run against fellow Republican congressman Randy Hultgren but later decided to take on Tammy Duckworth in the Eighth District where he lost in 2012 in a bitter race. In his failed 1996 bid, Walsh was decidedly more liberal on social issues, but that has changed since. On fiscal issues, however, he has been consistently conservative. Coppie would be a colorful opponent that would add some interest to the race. He formerly ran against Durbin in 2008 on the ticket of the Constitution Party. Best described as a pro-life activist, his chances against Durbin would be nil and his chances in the Republican primary not much better. The best chance for the GOP in Illinois is to simply go for broke and put up as conservative a foil for Durbin as possible. PREDICTION: Safely Democratic

MINNESOTA: One my favorite moon bats, Al Franken, is up for reelection. Make no mistake; Franken is a fine comedic actor and political satirist, but as a Senator, he is an embarrassment. My original thought for an interesting race in Minnesota would be for Michelle Bachmann to challenge him for his Senate seat. She has not expressed any interest in that course of action. Considering the fact that Franken had to basically resort to fraud to get this far in his political life, Republicans should be salivating at the chance to get back at him. His defeat of Norm Coleman was a true travesty of political justice.

In previous posts, I have stated that Minnesota politics along with those in Wisconsin and,to a lesser extent New Hampshire, befuddles me. They seem to have dramatic swings. This is the state that can give us such staunch conservatives as Bachmann and liberals like Franken and Paul Wellstone. This is a state that elects a retired wrestler- Jesse Ventura- as governor and then later elects a more cerebral Tim Pawlenty. If they wanted to put an end to the bipolar nature of their politics, then a center-right candidate like Congressman Erik Paulsen would be a good choice for the Republican Party. Almost libertarian in some aspects, he retains enough conservative credentials. He will not get a perfect score from many conservative special interest groups, but neither will he score high on scores from liberal groups. Another Republican possibility and considerably more to the right than Paulsen would be Congressman John Kline. However, he may be TOO conservative for Minnesota in a statewide race. Regardless, Paulsen has said that a Senate run is not being considered for now. As a non-Tea Party backed Republican, he was rewarded by John Boehner and named to the tax writing Ways and Means Committee. He may not want to relinquish that power although he is rather low on the pecking order. Still, time and circumstances may dictate a Senate run and from everything I have heard and read out of Minnesota, Erik Paulsen is Al Franken’s biggest worry in 2014. PREDICTION: Leans Democratic (for now)

IOWA: With the retirement of Democratic incumbent and liberal stalwart Tom Harkin, a wide open race had emerged in a battle for the political soul of Iowa. By all accounts, the Democratic field is being cleared for current congressman Bruce Braley. To a certain degree, he appeals to the liberal base in Iowa with his support for cap-and-trade and universal health care. He can be painted as out of the mainstream and a Left wing zealot in these areas. On the Republican side, two congressmen are mentioned- Steven King and Tom Latham. King would not be a good choice as he would be portrayed as too conservative for Iowa, just as Braley would be too liberal. Latham, on the other hand, is probably as conservative as King, but goes about it in a more quiet fashion. Latham has also proven that he can take on and defeat a Democratic mainstay- Leonard Boswell in 2012. But as good as a conservative choice that he is, Latham may be better utilized by the GOP in the House especially since he sits on the important Appropriations Committee. One dark horse would be state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey who won a narrow election for that position statewide. He could portray himself as a Washington outsider since his entire political career has been devoted to Iowa, especially agricultural and rural concerns. The drawback may be name recognition. There is also current Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds who was specifically recruited by popular Governor Terry Branstad. There is the little problem of her two past DUI charges popping back up in a general election campaign.

Democrats know the importance of keeping this seat. The Harkin announcement that he would retire has shaken up Iowa politics. This race will demonstrate the relative power of the establishment Republicans who favor Latham versus the Tea Party-backed Steven King. The problem with King is that he has a tendency to make controversial statements at times. His politics may be absolutely correct, but his mouth often gets in the way. However, Ryenolds is sounding more and more like she is seriously considering a run and she may very well be a happy compromise and likely to receive the endorsement of Branstad. There is also a push among some within the Iowa Republican establishment to field a woman candidate in 2014. Taking on Braley will be tough with the best chance for victory being Latham followed by Reynolds, then King and Northey. It is doubtful anyone else will emerge in the interim so it may very well be these four names.

SOUTH DAKOTA: There are rumors that Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson may be stepping down in 2014 which would make this state a key target for the GOP. If that happens, the name most mentioned is Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin on the Democratic side. Although pro-choice, she bucked her party on gun control legislation and voted against Obamacare. Hence, she has positioned herself as a moderate, almost conservative Democrat, the last of a dying breed. Currently a Washington lawyer, she could be portrayed as an DC insider detached from her home state. Herseth-Sandlin lost a close election to current at-large representative Kristi Noem in the GOP wave election of 2010.

Noem has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate whether Johnson decides to retire or not. She has quickly built up some power within the GOP in Congress. However, all bets are off now that fairly popular former Governor Mike Rounds announced that he would seek the nomination to run against Johnson, or whoever. He is a political heavyweight in South Dakota state politics. Thus, Noem will most likely bypass any Senatorial aspirations. The entrance of Rounds into the race may actually force a decision on Johnson as he knows full well, as well as the Democratic Party, that he would be in the fight of his political life. PREDICTION: Likely Republican Pick-Up

Next: The East- Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and New Hampshire