2014 Senate Races A Year Out, Part 3: The East

RHODE ISLAND: There are several interesting Senate races in the east this year, but Rhode Island is not one of them. Democratic incumbent Jack Reed should win easily. In reality, Sheldon Whitehouse was the weaker of the state’s two Senators entering their reelection efforts and he handily won in 2012. If Whitehouse could win as easily in 2012, then Reed’s chances are even greater in 2014. To date, no Republicans have even come forward to challenge Reed. PREDICTION: Safe Democratic

MAINE: The question surrounding this race will be whether Republican incumbent Susan Collins will seek reelection which seems almost certain. The former question was whether Susan Collins would face a primary challenge from the Tea Party. That opposition has certainly waned and fallen by the wayside. Therefore, the next question is who will challenge Collins for the Democrats. Thus far, some pundits have kept Collins on the retirement watch list although most in-state Republican operatives have indicated that she has shown no signs of retiring. That would be bad news for the Democratic Party even though Maine leans that way. It is doubtful that any of their two Congresspeople- Chellie Pingree or Mike Michaud- would chance a run against Collins and if they have any aspirations for higher office, then it would more likely be in an open race if it comes to that. This is why it is important that Collins seeks reelection as a run by Michaud would likely result in a Democratic win. So, keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Collins does not retire. PREDICTION: (For now) Safe Republican

DELAWARE: Chris Coons won in 2010 to fulfill the term of Joe Biden. He will be seeking reelection for a full six-year term in 2014. Coons is the self-avowed “bearded Marxist” and “pet” of Harry Reid who defeated surprise GOP primary winner Christine O’Donnell. In what was probably the most interesting race of 2010, Coons easily won election to a seat many believed would have been a Republican pick-up if Mike Castle had been the Republican candidate. In fact, Coons was a relative unknown within Democratic circles not to mention the state of Delaware before his 2010 Senate run. Despite being the self-avowed Marxist (a reference to a paper he wrote when he was 21 and in college), his performance in the Senate has not exactly panned out as one of an avowed Marxist (so far). Generally speaking, he has towed the Democratic line, but there are areas where he has deviated. For example, although he is considered pro-choice, he is opposed to federal dollars going towards abortion. In 2010, he even voiced support for giving legal protections to the unborn.

The problem is that the Republican Party really has little to offer up against Coons in 2014. That has led to some speculation that 2010 loser Christine O’Donnell may consider another run. She has stated that she “at least owes it to (her) supporters to consider a run.” Unfortunately, many people remember the 2010 campaign and its many side shows that had little to do with a serious policy debate. Another name mention is New Castle County President Tom Kovach who lost out for the at-large House seat in 2012 to Tom Carper. Kovach may be a better fit for Delaware’s moderate Republican streak rather than a hard-core conservative and may receive more consideration from voters. PREDICTION: Safe Democratic seat

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen is up for reelection. She is considered a moderate Democrat in most respects. And New Hampshire is quite proud of the fact that both representatives, both Senators and their Governor are all female. It makes for a nice story line, but is hardly a reason to retain a person in political office. Unfortunately for the GOP, Shaheen has built up that moderate resume in six years to the point that she would be palatable to the fickle voters of New Hampshire. That is not to infer that there are not Republican possibilities out there who could give her a run for the money. We can start with the man she defeated in 2008- John Sununu- who has been making noises of a possible rematch against Shaheen. Soon after the 2012 election, he headlined a GOP fundraiser that had many believing this was a small step towards seeking the nomination to run against Shaheen.

In 2012, both incumbent House members- Charlie Bass and Frank Guinta- were defeated and either of them could mount a campaign against Shaheen, with Guinta being the most likely of the pair. In 2012, political activist Kevin Smith lost the Republican gubernatorial primary, but still garnered 30% of the vote. He is another consideration. Finally, there is state senate leader Jeb Bradley who happens to be a former US Congressman. One his staffers was the aforementioned Guinta. Often described as a moderate Republican, some of his votes in Congress were on the conservative side. Plus, as a state senator, he has consistently voted against gay marriage. This is a sleeper race that needs to be watched. Assuming Republicans do not beat each other up in a crowded field and they coalesce early around someone (they have a late primary), any one of these names can mount a somewhat serious challenge to Shaheen. PREDICTION: Leans Democratic

NEW JERSEY: The big question out of New Jersey is whether Frank Lautenberg will retire or not. If so, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is poised to become his heir apparent. Complicating the mix is the fact that current congressman Frank Pallone has expressed some interest in the seat, but only if Lautenberg steps aside. Unlike Pallone, Booker has basically formed an exploratory committee after rejecting a challenge to Chris Christie in 2013 for the Governor’s office. That would have set up a very interesting gubernatorial race had it come to fruition because at this time Booker is probably the only one who give Christie a run for the money. But, the political risk is too high should he lose and Booker has opted for the more likely winning scenario for higher office- the US Senate.

Like Delaware, there are not too many viable Republican opponents for either Booker or Lautenberg other than 2012 loser Joe Kyrillos. Truth be told, as a resident of New Jersey and registered Republican, should Lautenberg run for reelection, I would vote for Willy the Wonder Donkey rather than him. If Booker runs due to a Lautenberg retirement or primary defeat, I would likely vote for Booker against any Republican. I have watched Booker’s rise and his commentary whenever possible. Plus, he has made some comments during the 2012 Presidential campaign that grated on the nerves of the Obama people, so he cannot be all that bad. PREDICTION: Either way, Safe Democratic seat

MASSACHUSETTS: In six months, there will be a special election to fill the seat being vacated by John Kerry. His term is up in 2014, thus setting up another election. The winner of the special election will have a leg up come 2014. The Republican bench is not very deep in Massachusetts and revolved around one name- Scott Brown. However, his recent announcement he would not seek the seat in a special election took his name out of the mix. I wrote a previous entry on this as being a good move mainly because if he had run and won, then 2014 woould have been his fourth senatorial campaign in as many years. In effect, his senatorial tenure would be one long campaign. My suggested back up name- Richard Tisei- also took his name off the list and opted against a run as did former Governor William Weld. Thus, it is now left to a likely state representative to be the “sacrificial lamb.”

Democrats feared a Brown candidacy the most. When he decided against a run, he was leading in hypothetical polling. Some suggested that if he had run and won, incumbency has it advantages for the 2014 run. While it is true that there will be no Obama on the ballot in 2014 and the opponent will not be Elizabeth Warren, incumbency did not exactly help Brown in 2012. I believe that the politically ideological slant of Massachusetts trumps any advantage of incumbency a Republican should possess. Regardless, the faces are lining up for a possible bloody and divisive Democratic primary in 2014. If Brown decides to run next year, then all the better for him. PREDICTION: Leans Democratic if Brown runs; Likely Democratic if anyone else runs in 2014

WEST VIRGINIA: There are two good pieces of news out of West Virginia. First, Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito announced early on that she would seek the GOP nod to run for Senate. The district she represents in West Virginia is somewhat conservative with a visceral dislike of Democrats, so vacating this seat will not upset the balance of power in the House. Additionally, she has statewide name recognition and has proven an able fundraiser. Perhaps the biggest complaint against her is that she is not conservative enough for the likes of some people. On the whole, however, she appears an ideal candidate. The second piece of big news is that incumbent Democrat Jay Rockefeller decided soon after the Capito announcement that he would retire. Whether her announcement led to his decision is a matter of debate as he was on the retirement watch list before Capito entered the race. Most likely, it simply push him over the edge as he realized that it would be the political fight of his life and that he was increasingly at odds with the direction of West Virginia political leanings. One need only look at the campaign of Joe Manchin in 2010 to see how far he had to tack right in order to win statewide. That would simply not be in Rockefeller’s DNA to do the same.

Several names have been mentioned on the Democratic side in what could be a wide open Democratic primary. There is Congressman Nick Rahall, but although he is popular in his district, that district is also very conservative and likely to cost the Democrats a seat in the House. Current state secretary of state Natalie Tennant and state treasurer John Perdue may enter the race, although Tennant is a name to keep an eye on. Carte Goodwin, who briefly was a Senator replacing Byrd before Manchin won the seat, may also enter the race. His break with the Democrats over cap and trade legislation should be worth a few votes against Capito. State supreme court jurist Robin Davis has also been mentioned. Finally, there is Mike Callaghan who lost a 2006 race against Capito for her congressional seat. PREDICTION: Likely Republican pick up.

NEXT: The southern states- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina (both races), and Tennessee.