Assessing the Senate Races in 2016: The South

Having surveyed the Senate races in the Northeast, it is now time to head south because it is never too early to look at potential trouble spots and targets of opportunity.  Much has been made of the GOP make-over of this region, but a deeper look indicates that the lock is not so certain in some areas.

Alabama– No one expects anyone to seriously challenge [mc_name name=’Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’S000320′ ] in the primary or general election.  Cochran’s victory in neighboring Mississippi denied him chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, but he still gets Banking which carries some clout.  The only thing that may keep him out is his health over the next two years.  If so, there are many Republicans waiting in the wings with Luther Strange probably topping the list and the current crop of Representatives who might be willing to move up given the fact their districts are all safely Republican.  For the Democrats, there is possibly Bobby Bright or Sue Bell Cobb, but both would likely wait and run in an open seat race.  Odds of Shelby winning: 100%; Republican chances in an open race: 90%.

Arkansas- There is some limited speculation that one-term Republican incumbent [mc_name name=’Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001236′ ] may retire due to health reasons, although he stated he will seek reelection.  If so, he will have to improve his fundraising since he only has about $85,000 on hand.  Recent reports indicate that he will embark on a serious fundraising effort this spring in an effort to intimidate potential primary opposition out of consideration.  If anyone could present a challenge for the Democrats, it would be former Governor Mike Beebe.  Watch his moves as this year proceeds for signs of a challenge.  Some limited polling shows Beebe with a lead over Boozman.  If not, Bill Halter and Wesley Clark have been bandied about.  If the Democrats have any chance of regaining a foothold in the South, it would likely be in Arkansas.  Chances of a Boozman victory: 70%; Republican chances in an open race: 55%.

Florida- With Jeb Bush likely to seek the presidential nomination, some say it is difficult to see another Floridian like [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] also throwing his name in the ring.  Bush’s announcement of forming an exploratory committee- a move without a formal announcement- puts off any decision by Rubio, although he says one is coming soon.  Like Arkansas, both benches are deep with potential candidates should Rubio run for President.  So, concentrating on the Democrats, they have Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Ted Deutsch, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz who might consider a run.  I doubt the Democrats would go with failed gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink again, but her name has been mentioned.  [mc_name name=’Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’M001191′ ] has indicated that he might run regardless of what Rubio decides and Gwen Graham has some cross-over appeal.  However, both represent swing districts in Florida which could open them to Republican challenges and gains in the House.  It should be remembered that Rubio won in 2010 with less than 50% of the vote in a 3-way race.  The Democrats feel he sneaked into the Senate and do not consider him that formidable an opponent in 2016.  Rubio odds of victory: 65-75%; Republican odds in an open race: 50%.

Georgia-  John Isaakson is running for reelection and appears poised to win without a primary fight.  There were some rumors that Alan West might have challenged him from the right, but West discarded those rumors.  There is a substantial bench for the Democrats.  Michelle Nunn may make another run, but if she could not win in an open seat race, I doubt she can take down an incumbent.  Instead, the Democrats might bide their time here and go with a second tier candidate since they have no realistic chance and nothing to lose other than dent the GOP brand for a run in 2020 against Perdue.  My guess is that the choice will come from the bevy of potential candidates currently in the Georgia legislature- Stacey Abrams,  Stacey Evans, Scott Holcomb or David Wilkerson.  One intriguing possibility is former Congressman [mc_name name=’Rep. John Barrow (D-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B001252′ ]- an excellent campaigner who represented a Republican district for years.  Whether he wants to put political capital on the line now or possibly wait for a gubernatorial run in 2018 remains to be seen.  Odds of Isaakson reelection: 100%.

Kentucky–   Whether [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] runs for president or not will have a big impact on this race.  He has already filed for reelection.  Democrats in the legislature seem intent on keeping the law as it is should he win the GOP presidential nomination and would have to resign his Senate seat.  If Paul is the presidential nominee, James Comer, Trey Grayson and some current representatives like [mc_name name=’Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B001282′ ] or Hal Rogers may step forward.  For the Democrats, some have speculated that Allison Lundergan Grimes may run and she just may if it were an open race.  But if she could not take down McConnell, who was more vulnerable than Paul, then she will not run against Paul.  Governor Steve Beshear would likely be their best shot at taking this seat, but again one has to wonder whether he wants to take on Paul.  My guess is that [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] runs for the Senate after not getting the GOP presidential nomination and a second tier Democrat steps forth and loses.  Odds of [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] being reelected: about 85%; odds of Republican victory in an open race- 60%.

Louisiana-  This is another interesting situation.  [mc_name name=’Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’V000127′ ] will most likely be the next Governor of Louisiana and will then appoint his successor in the Senate to fill out his term.  That person would then run for a full term in 2016.  Potential replacements are any of the Republican congressional delegation or even Bobby Jindal.  But, Jindal may have presidential aspirations.  The Democrats are still reeling from the Landrieu loss and their candidate will likely come from the ranks of the state legislature.  Some names mentioned are John Bel Edwards, Katrina Jackson and Karen Carter Peterson.  Jim Bernhard, a wealthy businessman, is also considered a choice for statewide office.  Jacques Roy, the white mayor of Alexandria who represents a largely minority city, may be the best statewide candidate for the Democrats not named Landrieu.  And speaking of that, one cannot dismiss Mary’s husband, Mitch, who happens to be the mayor of New Orleans.  Odds of Republicans retaining this seat: 85%

North Carolina- Republican [mc_name name=’Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001135′ ] is on the retirement watch list given the paucity of his fundraising and his non-commitment to reelection.  My educated guess is that Burr will seek reelection.  Recent history shows that North Carolina has become expensive turf in statewide races.  For the Democrats, [mc_name name=’Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’H001049′ ] is likely biting at the chomps to return to the Senate so watch her as the year progresses.  If she keeps a high profile, then I would think she is leaning towards a run and the Democrats would go with her.  In fact, she is probably more high-profile right now in North Carolina than Burr.     This is a state with no shortage of potential Democratic possibilities and after Arkansas, the most likely to elect one.  I worry about this seat the most for the GOP.  Incidentally, the Republican bench is just as deep as that of the Democrats.  Odds of Bur’s reelection: 65%; odds of GOP keeping the seat in an open race: 50%.

South Carolina- Last, but certainly not least, is [mc_name name=’Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’S001184′ ], the [mc_name name=’Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000555′ ] of the GOP; it sure seems like a lot of elections in a short period of time.  If he decides to run, which is highly likely, he will win in a cake walk.  The Democrats have very few potential candidates and this state is solidly Republican.  In fact, the Democrats may not even field a candidate and a third party candidate will be his only opposition.  Chances of a Scott victory: 100%.

In conclusion, Republican chances are great in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina.  The races to watch are Arkansas and North Carolina.  Florida can be the sleeper race and Kentucky is busted wide open depending on what happens with [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ].

Next: the Midwest