The 2014 Senate: State of the Races, Part 6

Opening caveat: With respect to the Tim Scott race in South Carolina, it is clear that the race card often enters these races (example: the whisper campaign against McCain in 2000; negative Democratic comments against Haley now). Tim Scott is clearly set for reelection, but the GOP needs to be wary of that race card being played. Democrats will stoop to nothing. In North Carolina, Tillis does seem to have some ethical issues on his hands and it is best he get them out of the way now before campaigning in earnest begins. Perhaps, the best way to do the weeding out is through a wider primary. Finally, in Arkansas, Pryor is clearly vulnerable, but not as heavily as some perceive. With the right candidate and the right campaign theme, he can be taken out though.

Today, we find ourselves finishing off the races in the South. Of the six races in this entry, only two are held by Democrats, neither of which are retiring. Of the four Republican incumbents, one is definitely retiring (Saxby Chambliss of Georgia) and one is on the list of potential retirements (Thad Cochran in Mississippi). All these remaining southern races have interest for differing reasons. First up is Tennessee where Lamar Alexander is the incumbent Republican running for reelection. By Tennessee and southern standards, Alexander is almost a moderate and there begin his potential problems. He is potentially vulnerable to an assault in a primary from the Right. However, the only name mentioned has been wrestler Glenn Jacobs. If this is the best they can do, then Alexander should have little problems in a primary.

On the Democratic side, Larry Crim has declared his candidacy. But, it is hard to see him being the first choice of the Democrats considering he could not defeat a more vulnerable Bob Corker in 2012. A decent opponent would have been Governor Phil Bredesen, but he declined a run. Instead, we are left with the likes of Joe Brown who many may know from afternoon television, or Craig Fitzhugh, the minority leader in the Tennessee House. One is a joke and the other is an unknown. Thus, it would appear that Alexander is a safe bet for reelection.

The other senatorial election in South Carolina is interesting from a different angle. Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham has little to fear in a general election. Instead, any challenge will come from the Right in a primary as Graham is one of the least popular senators among conservatives. Thus far, he has drawn businessman Richard Cash who lost in the 3rd Congressional district in 2010. With bigger names like Representatives Mick Mulvaney and Joe Wilson out of the running, Graham’s possible biggest primary challenge may come from state senator Lee Bright. Bright is certainly conservative given some of his stances in the South Carolina state senate. Should he enter, this will be a serious test of Graham’s staying power within the GOP in South Carolina.

On the Democratic side, only the somewhat controversial Jay Stamper, a businessman, has declared his candidacy. If this is the best they can do, then their problems in South Carolina are deeper than they thought. In 2002, he played a prank by registering names of prominent Republicans and linking them to controversial websites like promoting cannibalism all in the name of satire he claims. If this was done by a Republican, there would be outcries of GOP dirty tricks. One of his enterprises, Progressive Homesellers, was investigated by the state and realty groups went after him with a vengeance. The problem with Stamper is that he always seems just a fine line away from crossing over into illegal activity. Therefore, his morality will be called into question. South Carolina politics can get dirty real big real fast and this race could be an example.

In Mississippi, GOP incumbent Thad Cochran is on everyone’s retirement watch list so it would not become a major surprise if he opts for retirement. His decision will likely affect who runs for the Democratic Party as he would be a shoo-in for reelection. If not, there are able Republicans ready to move into his seat starting with Rep. Gregg Harper. The Third District is heavily Republican so it would not affect the balance of power in the House. If he decides to stay put, there is Mississippi secretary of state Delbert Hosemann and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves. One major consideration for Cochran, who is putting off a decision, is his seniority in DC which Mississippi heavily relies upon more than other states. Looking at the stream of Senators they sent and their longevity there, this becomes apparent. Roger Wicker, the other Senator, does not enjoy that seniority. For the Democrats, everyone is touting state AG Jim Hood, the only statewide elected Democrat in office. He is known as a good campaigner and the Democratic Party would no doubt lend financial support here should he run. However, most political watchers in Mississippi do not see Hood as too eager to make a move to Washington. That would mean for any conceivable chance in an open race or one against Cochran, former Governor Ronnie Musgrove or Navy secretary Ray Mabus may enter the race.

In Virginia, Democratic incumbent Mark Warner is running for reelection and would seem like the odds on favorite to win at this point. On the Republican side, this writer believes it comes down to two names: Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli will be running for Governor in 2013 and the outcome of that race, should he win, clears the way for McDonnell. Making things equally interesting is the fact that the GOP in Virginia has opted to nominate through a convention rather than a primary. That may give McDonnell a slight edge if Cuccinelli throws his name in the senatorial hat. McDonnell certainly has the name recognition (they both do) and can tap into a large fundraising network nationally while Cuccinelli would likely depend on Tea Party activism. Thus, a lot depends on the 2013 gubernatorial race and McDonnell’s aspirations going forward. One thing to note is that Mark Warner is a very popular Senator in Virginia. Some have mentioned him as a possible Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. From my standpoint, I believe Warner would make a formidable Democratic foe, more so than Hillary Clinton. Thus, assuming Warner wins, it may be for an abbreviated term. But, let us get by 2013 first.

The retirement of Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, a Republican, has created a domino effect of openings throughout the state’s congressional districts. Three current representatives have declared their candidacy and will appear in the primary in a very crowded field that will only get more full it appears. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston have all entered the race. Throw in conservative activist Derrick Grayson and former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel and you have the field as it is right now. Among others considering the chance of a lifetime are Casey Cagle (Lt. Governor), Brian Kemp (Secretary of state), Sam Olens (state attorney general) and several others. The chances of a runoff are very high here. The list of those declining a run is too long to recount here, but suffice to say, there is no shortage of possible GOP candidates in Georgia. General polling thus far indicates that no one has achieved front runner status as the polls have been all over the place.

For the Democrats, the field should be smaller and less contentious. Thus far, the big names like John Barrow and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have declined. Despite being a basically red state, there is a surprising list of possibilities including former Governor Roy Barnes, Rep. Sanford Bishop, and former Senator Max Cleland. However, the name that keeps cropping up lately is Michelle Nunn, the daughter of popular and powerful former Senator Sam Nunn. The name alone may be worth a few points at the polls. Nunn heads a non-profit organization that was started by former President George H.W. Bush and answers to Neil Bush which makes for interesting considerations right there. If Nunn enters the race, and she is considering it, the GOP had better make sure they have the right candidate for the job lest they be caught with their pants down and a very winnable seat could be lost.

Finally, there is Louisiana where incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu finds herself threatened. According to many sources, she is seeking to tap campaign operatives from Heidi Heitkamp’s successful senatorial campaign in conservative North Dakota. Louisiana is perhaps as, if not more, conservative that North Dakota, but unlike Heitkamp, they are dealing with an incumbent who, although endangered, has money to spend. Also, there is no primary to worry about and she can let the Republicans inflict wounds on themselves before taking her on.

For the GOP, some high profile names have declined a run. Chief among them is highly popular Governor Bobby Jindal who would have given her a run for the money. Also, congressmen John Fleming, Charles Boustany, and Steven Scalise along with former Governor Buddy Roemer will not run. So far, only Rep. Bill Cassidy has announced his intention to run along with retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness. Cassidy is certainly the least conservative of the Republican congressional contingent from Louisiana, but conservative nonetheless. However, many conservative websites are starting to tout Maness as a better choice for the GOP. If former Representative Jeff Landry enters the race, it could change the whole dynamic since he has conservative credentials and is a local Tea Party favorite. Additionally, John Fleming has not ruled out a run, so the GOP field could get crowded. This would certainly be to the advantage of Landrieu.

Landrieu will always be known as first being against Obamacare, but certainly changing her mind once two pages were added which guaranteed Louisiana an additional $300 million in Medicaid funding- the so-called “Louisiana Purchase” aspect of the bill. This led Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to describe her as a high-priced prostitute. Recently, she is known for a speech on the Senate floor where she stated the federal government does not have a spending problem. Any potential GOP opponent should be using coverage of that speech in a campaign commercial against her.

The problems thus far are potential Republican in-fighting, especially if the primary field widens. Secondly, incumbency DOES have its advantages and she can always portray the Louisiana Purchase as fighting for her constituents. Thus far, polling against potential Republican challengers put them within reach of Landrieu in a general election scenario. It should also be mentioned that she enjoys a 49% approval rating in Louisiana. David Vitter was reelected with a lower approval rating. Had Jindal run, then all bets would be off, but since he is not, Landrieu’s chances of reelection certainly passed the 40% mark. Time will tell and there are still tough votes to be made and stupid statements to be uttered. But at this point in time, an opportunity in Louisiana looks less and less for the GOP.

Next: The Northeast- Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

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