Assessing the 2016 Senate Races: The Midwest

If there should be some fretting regarding some GOP seats in the South, the sometimes unpredictable Midwest creates more opportunity for Democratic pick ups.

Illinois- [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’K000360′ ], a RINO of the highest order, may be the best chance for the Republican Party in Illinois.  There was speculation he might retire after one term because of health reasons, but he has adamantly denied he is retiring.  Thus, we have to start with the assumption he will be the GOP candidate, although Joe Walsh has made some rumblings that he might run in the primary creating a challenge from the right.  This is a solidly blue state and as such there is no shortage of potential Democratic candidates emerging from all levels of government and even the private sector.  Tio Hardemann is the only declared Democratic candidate at this time.  The best scenario for Kirk would be a wild Democratic primary where they beat each other up while he faces no opposition. Towards those ends, both [mc_name name=’Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’D000622′ ] and [mc_name name=’Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’K000385′ ] have expressed interest in a run for the Democrats. If state AG Lisa Madigan also opts for a run, it would make for a messy Democratic primary- the best scenario for Kirk.  Taking Kirk at his word, his odds of being reelected: 50%.

Indiana–   Dan Coats says he is running for reelection but has not taken the tip-off steps yet, so there is some uncertainty here.  Still, this is a fairly decent Republican state with several potential waiters in the wings should Coats call it quits.  For the Democrats, Brad Ellsworth and Evan Bayh have been mentioned, but I doubt either of them would be willing to take on a fairly popular incumbent.  That would leave either South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg or Evansville mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel (say that three times). One final possibility is John Gregg who performed better than expected against Mike Pence in the 2010 gubernatorial race. Odds of Coats reelection: 85-90%.

Iowa– Again, there are rumors of retirement as Chuck Grassley’s seat is up for reelection.  Although he will be 83 in 2016, he says he intends to run for reelection.  Given the fact he has the chairmanship of the high profile Judiciary Committee, he might be aiming to make a mark.  If he opts for retirement, firebrand [mc_name name=’Rep. Steve King (R-IA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’K000362′ ] and the more moderate [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’L000111′ ] are waiting with Latham being the more electable candidate statewide.  I doubt the Democrats would mount a serious challenge against Grassley unless he totally screws up over the next two years.  Bob Krause has announced his candidacy and would seem like the perfect sacrificial lamb for the Democrats.  Should Grassley read tea leaves and those leaves are not good and he opts for retirement, all bets are off.  Then you may see [mc_name name=’Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’L000565′ ] or Tom Vilsack jump in the race.  Odds of Grassley winning reelection: 90%; chances of GOP retaining the seat in an open race: 50%.

Kansas–   Three things about this race: (1) [mc_name name=’Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000934′ ] is running for reelection, (2)  Moran is no [mc_name name=’Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000307′ ], and (3)  Moran will be relatively young (62) in 2016.  There are only two questions that remain about this race.  The first is whether there will be a primary challenge from either Milton Wolf or [mc_name name=’Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’H001057′ ].  If Wolf could not defeat Roberts, he has less of a chance against Moran.  The second question is whether former governor and HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius will throw her name in for the Democrats because that is about as good as it gets for them in Kansas.  Chances of a Moran victory: 100%.

Missouri– Everyone talks about the Republican make over of the South, but ignore the GOP make over of Missouri- at least at the federal level.  My guess is that the next Governor of Missouri will be Republican also.  [mc_name name=’Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B000575′ ] says he is seeking reelection.  Left out of the equation is whether Todd Akin will mount a primary challenge or- more likely- state senator John Lamping.  Personally, I doubt either will do so.  Things are so bad for the Democrats in Missouri that the only person mentioned is Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders.   Because state treasurer Clint Zweifel has announced he will pass up a run for Governor, he might be the Democratic front runner if he opts for a Senate run.   Chances of Blunt’s reelection: 100%.

North Dakota– [mc_name name=’Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’H001061′ ] won in 2010 with 76% of the vote.  One would not expect such a huge margin of victory in a presidential year, but he will win reelection.  My guess is that the Democrats will initially see a chance here and go with the best they can offer- state senator George Sinner- but that they will pull out money and support as it becomes apparent that Hoeven will cruise to reelection.  Odds of Hoeven’s reelection: 100%

Oklahoma– Jim Lankford runs for a full term here for [mc_name name=’Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C000560′ ]’s former seat.  No one will likely challenge him in a primary.  The best chance for the Democrats would be Dan Boren, but he has not shown any willingness to run.  This is a reliably Republican state and Democratic chances statewide are very, very low.  Constance Johnson, who ran in the special election in 2014, said she may run again.  She must be a masochist.  Chances of Lankford victory: 100%

South Dakota– [mc_name name=’Sen. John Thune (R-SD)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’T000250′ ]’s seat presents some interesting dynamics.  He will likely run for reelection although there are some who believe he may be presidential or vice-presidential material.  How the GOP presidential field shakes out will determine things in South Dakota.  In 2010, he ran unopposed.  If he opts for reelection to the Senate, the Democrats will likely put up some token opposition in the form of US Attorney Brandon Johnson in a grooming exercise for a future statewide run.  If not Thune, then the logical choices for the GOP would be [mc_name name=’Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’N000184′ ], considered an up-and-coming Republican leader.  The Democrats might then counter with Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.  What may hurt her chances are twofold.  First, she works for a DC firm which also lobbies Congress and that may not play well.  Second, she was a member of a congressional committee on global warming and green energy.  Her stances there may run counter to the economic boom- energy production- that is fueling the South Dakota economy.  Chances of Thune being reelected: 100%; chances of GOP retaining seat in an open race- 80%.

Wisconsin– This is one of the most difficult states to understand and predict politically (New Hampshire and Minnesota are two others).  In 2010, Republican [mc_name name=’Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’J000293′ ] stunned the political world by defeating Russ Feingold.  The political winds change abruptly in Wisconsin and the Democratic Party knows that, which is why they are lobbying hard for Feingold to challenge for his old seat.  Preliminary polling indicates that he would be the strongest candidate and may possibly win.  One needs to watch Johnson’s policy positions over the next two years.  Personally, I view him as the prototypical conservative pragmatist that personifies Midwestern Republicans.  Also, his chances will depend on the success or failure of the face of Wisconsin politics- Scott Walker.  If Walker remains fairly popular and has some popular legislative achievements, then Johnson gains by proxy.  If not, it creates a wide opening for even a [mc_name name=’Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’M001160′ ] to defeat Johnson.  This is perhaps the most vulnerable Republican seat to defend this cycle and the unpredictability of Wisconsin politics should have the GOP biting their nails.  Odds of Johnson being reelected: 40-50%.

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