Assessing the 2016 Senate Races: The West

Having looked at the rest of the country, I now turn my attention to the West.

Alaska– [mc_name name=’Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M001153′ ] won as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing the GOP primary to Joe Miller.  The only question is whether she will run as an independent again, or will she run as a Republican?  The only fear of an independent run is that there is no guarantee she will continue to caucus with the GOP, especially if they veer considerably too far to the right for her liking.  If I were McConnell, I would bite the bullet and make sure she is solidly in the fold just for the numbers.  Some have suggested that [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001265′ ] may run for the Democrats, but he would be no match for Murkowski who is considerably more popular than Dan Sullivan was.  Instead, her opponent will likely be from the state legislature, but not Hollis French. It should be mentioned that she would be vulnerable to a primary challenge.  She actually polls higher among Democrats and independents than she does among registered Republicans in Alaska.  This presents some interesting dynamics.  However, her reaction to Obama’s recent ANWR executive order may be good for a bump in approval ratings among Republicans.  There is too much drama this far out to declare her a shoo-in.  Odds of Murkowski reelection: 80%

Arizona– The best chance for the GOP in Arizona is, ironically, NOT [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] although incumbency has its advantages however.  Personally, I do not really like him as a Senator.  He is old guard and…old.  In 2013, he hinted that he may just retire, but he is acting as if he is clearing the field for another run.  Regardless, should McCain run he will still likely receive a primary challenge.   I would prefer someone like Jan Brewer as the candidate for the Republicans.  What I do not want to see is Sarah Palin running, although I doubt she would primary against McCain.  [mc_name name=’Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001183′ ] and [mc_name name=’Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S000018′ ] are mulling a primary challenge although both will not enter the fray together.  Even still, there are several other potential Republicans and an open race would create an interesting free-for all.  The Democrats could make things even more interesting if they go with Janet Napolitano, or some nut case like Krysten Sinema.  A very interesting choice would be Gabrielle Giffords and Richard Carmona could see a chance if McCain retires.  Chances of a McCain victory: 55%; Republican chances in an open race- 60%.  The reason being: McCain’s overall negative approval ratings are attributable to his low numbers among Republicans.

California– [mc_name name=’Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B000711′ ] is the first to announce her retirement.  The unfortunate part is this is California which means there is no shortage of Democrats willing to run.  They run the gamut from congresspeople current and former, the private sector, and state government current and former.  When even Governor Moonbeam is mentioned as a viable candidate, the GOP knows it will have trouble.  My guess is that the candidate will be state attorney general Kamala Harris.  This is especially true since Gavin Newsom decided against the office (probably a gubernatorial run in 2018).  I believe that any of the Los Angeles mayors mentioned would be too polarizing on the immigration front and make this race closer than the Democrats want it to be.  There are some Republicans in the field of interest, but I would think San Diego mayor Kevin Falconer would be an interesting choice, although likely to go down to defeat.  One final thought: this race would be a whole lot more interesting if Angelina Jolie runs as an independent.  Chances of Democrats retaining this seat: 99.9999%.

Colorado– After Gardner defeated Udall in 2014, the GOP correctly used their best weapon in Colorado.  Of the two Colorado Senators, Udall was the more liberal.  [mc_name name=’Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001267′ ], on the other hand, should be reminded that he won in 2010 with less than 50% of the vote.  Although there are Republicans who could run, the bench is weakened somewhat with Gardner’s 2014 victory.  One would have to hope that things go really bad for the Democratic brand in Colorado for the GOP to have any hope.  Therefore, they should carefully gauge the political landscape.  If things are going south for the Democrats, then someone like Walker Stapleton would have a chance.  If not or if the Democrats maintain the status quo, the GOP should go with a lower tier candidate like George Brauchler and attempt to push Bennet into some uncomfortable positions.  Chances of a Bennet victory: about 75%

Hawaii- [mc_name name=’Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’S001194′ ]’s only competition will be in the primary where he may yet again have to face [mc_name name=’Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’H001050′ ].  That would be the only intrigue because unless your last name is Djou or Lingle in Hawaii, the GOP has no chance.  Even then, they have no chance.  Odds of a Democratic retention: 100% no matter who it is.

Idaho– Now take what was said about Hawaii, apply it to the Republicans in Idaho and you get the same picture.  There are no real viable Democrats in Idaho statewide and Mike Crapo will not even likely face a primary challenge.  Odds of a Crapo victory: 100%

Nevada– This is perhaps the most interesting race this year in the Senate and [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] is considered the most vulnerable Senator regardless of party.  There is no shortage of Republicans lining up to take him on.  One caveat: one cannot discount Reid’s ground game in Nevada where he has the unions in his back pocket.  But if there was ever a chance to unseat this spew, it is 2016.  For the GOP, the only worry would be a contentious and expensive primary.  Bob Beers is the only announced candidate. One major obstacle to Brian Sandoval running was solved on election night in 2014 when Democrat Lucy Flores lost the race for Lt. Governor.  Had she won, then Sandoval would not retire to seek the Senate seat.  Now the worry of a Democratic Governor in Nevada is removed.  In fact, Sandoval benefits from very high approval ratings and although conservatives may not like all his positions, he represents the best hope to take down Dingy.  Reid’s chances of reelection: 45-50% if Sandoval runs, and I like those odds.  Caveat: his recent address to the state legislature leads some to believe that he (Sandoval) will NOT challenge Reid after all and will focus instead on revamping Nevada’s educational and tax structure.

Oregon– Democrat and ghostly look-alike [mc_name name=’Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’W000779′ ] is probably running for reelection although he has given no indication one way or the other.  Given his appearances of late on news programs, I would say he is running.  If that is the case, then GOP chances are nil and they should just run the most conservative, outrageous candidate just for the fun of it and turn the election into a real life episode of Portlandia.  Odds of Wyden’s reelection: 100%

Utah-  In 2010, [mc_name name=’Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000577′ ] scored a palace coup of sorts by outmaneuvering and then defeating then Senator Bob Bennett who many conservatives believed had lost his way.  Lee is up for reelection this year and one suspects that in this very red state, he would be poised for a very easy win.  In fact, most of his competition will come from within the party, not from the Democrats.  The most formidable Democrat would be [mc_name name=’Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’M001142′ ], but even he would likely lose.  Regardless, he recently joined a Washington lobbying firm which all but confirms he will not run against Lee.   Due to changes in the nominating system- mainly the convention method- candidates can move directly to the primary bypassing the convention if they get so many signatures.  Formerly, a potential candidate can forego a primary if they gain so many votes at a state convention.  Failing to get a threshold number of votes (60%) forced a primary.  People forget that [mc_name name=’Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000577′ ] actually finished second at the convention and did not face Bennett in the primary since he finished third in balloting at the convention.  This was political intrigue at its best.  However, since the system has been somewhat reformed, the dynamics are different this time around.  No fewer than 10 potential Republican challengers have been mentioned and it is unknown how many will bypass the convention/possible primary system and actually wage a primary campaign against Lee.

This writer has absolutely no problems with Lee as he seems rather principled and full of innovative ideas in a variety of areas, especially education.  As some have noted, he took a hit in popularity polls after the 2013 government shutdown and Democrats- the few there are in Utah- will hammer away at this theme.  But that will have been three years previous- eons in political years.  This has the potential to get messy, but the GOP brain trust would be well-advised to just steer clear of Utah and let nature take its course.  If the establishment endorses a more moderate alternative to Lee, it may lead to an angry backlash.  Just let the voters of Utah decide this one.  Odds of Lee winning reelection: Depending on the damage of a potentially ugly primary, 85%.  If a good, clean primary, 100%.

Washington– Finally, [mc_name name=’Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M001111′ ] will seek reelection in Washington.  In 2010, she won with 52% of the vote.  Although she would likely win, there is the potential to make this a closer race than it should be.  The most logical GOP choice would be [mc_name name=’Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000578′ ], but he represents a swing district and jeopardizing that seat may not be in the cards.  Instead, I would look to a conservative alternative to Murray, or “pull an Orman” on the Democrats here and support a third party candidate to steal some votes and throw a scare into them and divert resources to this race.  What the hell- they did it; why can’t Republicans?   Realistically, it would take the right Republican under the right circumstances (a GOP wave) to unseat Murray.   Odds of Murray being reelected: 90%

That concludes this series.  To recap, the GOP is not that vulnerable as some suggest given the number of seats they need to defend in the Senate.  Being this far out from even any primary, this is only a preliminary look at the races and where the GOP can find opportunity for a pick up, or where they should be concentrating resources on defense.