We’ve also decided to make a ratings change in Alaska, shifting it from Likely Republican to Safe Republican. While we don’t have any shifts in the other races, we do have updates on many of them below. With well over a year until the November elections, there is room for many of these races to develop, and we expect to make additional changes as the year goes on.
Alabama (Safe Republican)
In February, incumbent Republican Richard Shelby announced he would not seek a seventh term. While the race hasn’t set off the firestorm of expected primary candidates yet, two candidates have already announced. Lynda Blanchard, former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia, is running a long-shot campaign. A more likely contender is Representative Mo Brooks of the Huntsville-based 5th district, a conservative member of the Freedom Caucus. Brooks had previously run for Senate in the 2017 special election and finished a distant third behind Roy Moore and Luther Strange. Katie Britt, Shelby’s former Chief of Staff, is known to be considering entering the race, as is Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.
None of these candidates should have any issue winning the general in this deep-red state, although Brooks’s inflammatory rhetoric and hardline stances aren’t what DC Republicans would prefer. If Britt announces, expect her to receive support from more establishment conservatives; she might even be appointed to the seat if Shelby resigns from his seat early. Of course, that same strategy failed to get former Strange through his primary, so it remains to be seen if that’s a viable strategy.
Alaska (Likely Republican > Safe Republican)
As long as incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski runs, she is the decisive favorite thanks to Alaska’s new top-four ranked-choice-voting system. As I explained in a previous article, a conservative challenger would stand little chance in the one-on-one matchup the system will likely force. However, there is a wrinkle that might change the race: Murkowski hasn’t committed to running for another term.
If Murkowski decides to retire, a more conservative Republican is almost certain to win the race. Kelly Tshibaka, a Dunleavy administration official, has already announced her candidacy, and she won’t be the last Republican to file. While the field would likely be crowded – as many as three Republicans might make the final four – the new top-four system essentially eliminates the plurality victory path that Democrats had been able to occasionally use. After re-evaluating this race, and our own analysis of the top-four system, we just don’t see a Democratic path here; we’re moving the race to Safe Republican.
Arizona (Leans Democratic)
While first-term Democratic Senator Mark Kelly should be a top-tier target, Republicans in Arizona have struggled to find candidates so far. Much of the party’s internal politics have revolved around Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward, a hardcore Trump loyalist and two-time failed Senate candidate. Ward narrowly won re-election to a second term as chair, but her victory has been marred by allegations of irregularities – ironic, given Ward’s repeated claims of election fraud in the presidential race. If Ward is unseated, it might shift the race slightly towards the Republicans, who might benefit from a functional state party.
As it stands right now, Freedom Caucus members Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar have both expressed interest in running. Both Representatives are hardcore Trump loyalists and staunchly argued against certifying the 2020 presidential results. Gosar’s decision to speak at America First Political Action Conference, an alt-right event run by white nationalist Nick Fuentes, underscores the problem Arizona Republicans face: an increasingly moderate and Democratic-leaning state will be an uphill climb for candidates as radical as Gosar.
Florida (Likely Republican)
The increasingly-red Sunshine State appears to have averted a primary challenge for incumbent Senator Marco Rubio, who is wildly popular with the Cuban Republican base in newly purple Miami-Dade County. The Democratic side has seen a slew of declarations, in the meantime, including from left-wing firebrand Alan Grayson, who was demolished in the 2016 Democratic Senate primary.
Orlando-area Representatives Stephanie Murphy and Val Demings have both expressed interest in running for the seat as well, likely in anticipation of a Republican redraw that might eliminate a Democratic seat in the region. The more moderate Murphy might be a more appealing candidate, but Rubio will be an incredibly tough opponent, especially in a Democratic midterm. An increased draw in Orlando likely won’t be enough to overcome Rubio’s home-turf advantage in voter-rich South Florida.
Iowa (Likely Republican)
As an increasingly Republican state, Iowa appears to be in fairly safe Republican hands for the time being. However, a wrinkle has emerged in the Senate race. A recent poll from Ann Selzer at the Des Moine Register – the gold standard of Iowa polls – found that voters want incumbent Senator Chuck Grassley to retire. The 87-year old has had virtually no issue being elected to seven terms as Senator, but he has yet to announce if he plans to run for an eighth.
Pat Grassley, the Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, is being floated as a potential successor, and freshman IA-01 Representative Ashley Hinson hasn’t ruled out a run either; Republicans would be favored to hold this seat even if Grassley retires. On the Democratic side, 2020 nominee Teresa Greenfield seems interested in another shot, as do IA-03 Representative Cindy Axne and State Auditor Rob Sand.
Missouri (Safe Republican)
With two-term Senator Roy Blunt retiring, the biggest – and perhaps only – relevant factor in this race is former Governor Eric Greitens. The disgraced Greitens resigned in scandal in June 2018 over several scandals, but has been eager to attempt to salvage his political career. Greitens is attempting to corner the pro-Trump lane, but he likely faces several obstacles here. Senator Josh Hawley had investigated Greitens as Missouri’s Attorney General; the two are not on friendly terms, and Hawley maintains he was correct to call for Greitens’s resignation. Hawley is known to have Trump’s ear, making the prospect of a Trump endorsement unlikely. However, Republicans are not sleeping on Greitens’s candidacy and are treating it as the “clear and present danger” it is, and the party will likely try and pull out all the stops to prevent him from winning the primary.
Nevada (Leans Democratic)
Little has changed in the state of this race. Incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto remains marginally favored against a fairly weak Republican field; potential Republican candidates include former Attorney General and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Adam Laxalt and former Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchinson. However, a factor that might influence this race is an unusual one. All leadership positions in the Nevada Democratic Party were recently seized by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This was a stunning blow to the Reid machine, which has dominated the state party and has proven highly successful at winning races. In response, all of the staff in the state party resigned, and it is expected the Reid machine will attempt to work around the state party.
After Ron Paul supporters seized the state Republican Party in 2012, Republicans formed their own organization – Team Nevada. While they failed to win the Presidential contest, they did ultimately hold their Senate seat. However, the loss of a state party can have consequences; just see neighboring Arizona. With historic Republican gains with Hispanic voters nationwide and an ever-so-slight red shift from 2016, Nevada can’t be taken for granted – and a weak state party can make the difference in a close race.
North Carolina (Leans Republican)
With incumbent Richard Burr Republican retiring, North Carolina’s open Senate race remains a free-for-all. On the Republican side, Mark Walker remains the only declared candidate, and he’s received a strong slate of endorsements so far. Former Governor Pat McCrory is considering a run, as is Wilmington native Lara Trump – although her new gig as a Fox News contributor might be a sign she’s backing off.
The Democratic side remains wide open as well. State Senator Jeff Jackson has failed to garner any real endorsements and certainly hasn’t cleared field; three other candidates, including former State Senator Erica Smith, have also declared, with Smith being the only notable name in the bunch. Former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who lost her race in November by 401 votes, is also expected to announce her candidacy within the next month. Beasley, the first black Chief Justice in North Carolina’s history, would have a relatively high profile, but would also face lingering criticism over her actions in that contested election.
Controversially, Beasley attempted to convince partisan state and county boards of education to accept 2,000 rejected provisional and absentee ballots they skewed almost entirely Democratic. News outlets sharply criticized this and found her claims were without merit, and most boards of elections refused to consider them; Republicans, meanwhile, accused her of trying to “Cheri-mander” the election by “Cheri-picking” votes. Needless to say, she might face an uphill climb in repairing that part of her image.
Ohio (Likely Republican)
Another state with a retiring Republican Senator showcases another fight over the future of the Republican Party. Two-time Senate candidate and former State Treasurer Josh Mandel has run an aggressive campaign which has faced substantial criticism. From appearing to fake a southern accent to posting inflammatory and arguably racist content on Twitter, Mandel is clearly attempting to corner the Trump lane. Former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken is also running as a pro-Trump candidate, touting the party’s strong successes in 2018 and 2020. Trump reportedly met with both, alongside two other candidates, at the same time in an Apprentice-style job interview; it remains unclear who he will endorse.
The Democratic side, meanwhile, might get more interesting with the assumed entry of former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton into the race. Representative Tim Ryan is already planning on running; Acton’s entry sets up a potentially bruising primary battle. With Ohio settling into its status as a red state, we remain confident in a Likely Republican rating, but a Mandel victory in the primary might make this race more interesting.
The main focus in this race has been the Democratic side. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and State Representative Malcom Kenyatta, both progressives, are already in the race. And while they may both be progressive, coming from opposite sides of the state means they aren’t competing for the same base. Kenyatta will likely have more competition than Feterman in that regard, as State Senator Sharif Street, who is also from Philadelphia, announced that he plans to start up a run in April. Not only that, but it looks increasingly likely that Madeline Dean, the Congresswoman from District 4, will also run for this seat, placing three major SEPA candidates up against a singular Western PA candidate. That matters, as a previous article explains.
Of the major candidates in this race on the GOP side, action of actually announcing has so far been limited. Former LG candidate and businessman Jeff Bartos officially hopped in this past week. Bartos was one of the few who came out of 2018 relatively unscathed in the eyes of the public, even though he was the running mate to Scott Wagner. Former Congressman Ryan Costello has also continued to run his shadow senate campaign online so far, with an official announcement likely coming soon. Former US Attorney Bill McSwain was expected to run, but seems to be headed towards a Governor run instead. However, all of these candidates come from the SEPA area, which could tempt Congressman Guy Reschenthaler to jump in as a singular western candidate.
Wisconsin might just be America’s new premier tossup state, and this Senate race appears to be no exception. The Republican side remains static as incumbent Republican Ron Johnson still hasn’t decided whether he’s running for a third term. Until he does, it’s unlikely any major Republicans will declare. Oddly enough, some Republicans might prefer Johnson, a firebrand conservative, retire. This move would enable Mike Gallagher of the 8th district to run; Gallagher is seen by many as a rising star.
The Democratic side, meanwhile, has seen a lot of action. In addition to Outagamie County executive Tom Nelson, two other Democrats have filed. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry has also entered the race as a Democrat, but his candidacy has seen sharp criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for his lack of ties to the state. WI-03 Representative Ron Kind, one of the few Trump-seat Democrats left standing, has also expressed interest in running and could be a strong candidate.