The GOP will be defending only a few seats while Democrats will be forced to play defense in many more states. A quick breakdown: 33 Senate seats will be in play. Only eight of those seats are in GOP hands. This means Democrats will be defending 25 seats this upcoming election cycle (two are independents who caucus with the Democrats). Of those 25 – 10 are in states recently won by President Trump.
It will be a year of offense for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Republicans could potentially win eight seats and a filibuster-proof majority. But Politico is reporting that the NRSC is struggling to find top quality recruits. While many states are in play, we are looking at a few specifically that have a high chance of flipping: Missouri, Montana, Florida, North Dakota and Indiana.
We were all a little disheartened when Rep. Ann Wagner decided not to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill. Wagner’s background would’ve been a superb match up against McCaskill – a Democrat who is too liberal for the state she represents. Wagner’s bowing out was a shock to most – she had hired a campaign manager in preparation for a run. GOP leaders are now looking at Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley as their top recruit. Hawley is a force to be reckoned with – this is the guy who argued the Hobby Lobby case to the Supreme Court. (I still think Austin Petersen is someone to keep an eye on.)
Montana is an interesting state. The Treasure State continually votes Republican at the presidential level, but residents here have no problem voting Democrat at the local and statewide level. Trump won here, as did Greg Gianforte very recently amid that crazy special election. Sen. Jon Tester (D) has won twice here, but by thin margins. The right recruit could finally send him packing. Republicans were hoping that guy would be former Rep. Ryan Zinke, but he decided to take a job in the Trump administration. Tim Fox, the state attorney general, has opted not to run for the senate seat, instead looking ahead for a gubernatorial run. This leaves the top GOP contender to be state Treasurer Matt Rosendale.
Indiana is prime real estate for Republicans. The state is home to Vice President Mike Pence; voted for President Trump; and residents here shot down their last Democrat senate challenger. Sen. Joe Donnely (D) has been serving since 2013 and touts a moderate record. There will be plenty of Republican members contending for his seat, nonetheless. GOP reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer are top recruits. Analysts point to Messer’s fundraising apparatus as a sign of his tenability, but it’s Rokita – having served two terms as secretary of state – that has won statewide. GOP leaders are also looking at Rep. Susan Brooks as another possible option.
Florida went Donald Trump’s way last year. Sen. Marco Rubio also won by astounding margins. However, incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has literally been an institution in the Sunshine State. He has been serving office in Florida, in some form or fashion, since 1973. The Democrat has deep roots and a moderate image. There is one Republican who could finish him: Gov. Rick Scott. Coming off a recent gubernatorial election victory, Scott carries strong name recognition and a well-run campaign apparatus. He also has another thing going for him – an ability to self-fund like no other. The Florida governor has made millions in the hospital business and has self-funded his campaigns before. He could potentially inject millions into a 2018 senate run.
Last up: North Dakota. The fact Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was even elected statewide here is a sad story. The Peace Garden State has a long history of GOP domination, but 2012 was a bad year for the GOP and she won her seat by a nail biter. However, Trump won North Dakota by a 36-point margin and Sen. Hoeven by a 68-point margin last year. It’s safe to say Heitkamp has her work cut out for her. Heitkamp, for her part, has built a very moderate voting record in the Senate. Republicans are looking at Rep. Kevin Cramer, a guy with Trump-like demeanor, and state Sen. Tom Campbell as their best options.