By Hastings Wyman –
Republicans presently control the Senate by a narrow margin of 52 seats to 46 Democrats plus two independents who vote with the Democrats. But in 2018, 25 Democratic seats will be up for election, including the two independents; only eight Republican seats will be up. Thus, the math favors, but does not guarantee, the GOP keeping control.
Five of the Senate seats up next year are in the South; a sixth, in Alabama, will be decided in a special election late this year. Four of these Senate seats are held by Republicans (AL, MS, TN & TX), none of which look likely to flip to the Democrats at this point. Two are held by Democrats (FL & VA). Florida is likely to be competitive; Virginia will have a spirited race, but incumbent Tim Kaine is the early favorite.
The 1st Quarter Federal Election Commission (FEC) financial reports show that Southern incumbents across the board are beginning to build significant war chests for these important elections.
Alabama: US Sen. Luther Strange (R) was appointed to the office by then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to fill the remainder of Jeff Sessions (R) term, which ends in December 2018. Strange is facing four opponents so far in the August 15 Republican Primary: Former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, a long-time force in the state’s conservative politics; state Rep. Ed Henry, who led the drive to impeach Bentley; Dr. Randy Brinson, former president of Alabama’s Christian Coalition; and Huntsville businessman Dominic “Dom” Gentile. All four have filed with the FEC, but only Strange has reported financial activity so far. He raised $674,000 in the first quarter, and had $764,000 cash-on-hand as of March 31. Two other Republicans, US Rep. Mo Brooks and state Sen. Del Marsh, may also run, though neither has announced. One Democrat, former US Attorney Doug Jones, announced in early May. Of interest: The Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP Super PAC associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has already made a $2.6 million TV buy on Strange’s behalf. In addition, the Fund has filed a motion asking for any correspondence, phone or meeting records between Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on the one hand and Moore, Brooks or Marsh on the other, reportedly to determine if there was questionable collusion between Ivey and one or more of these candidates to move the election back from 2018 to late 2017, which is probably less favorable to Strange.
Florida: US Sen. Bill Nelson (D), 76, raised $2 million and had $3,643,000 on hand. He may face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott (R). Nelson, a former astronaut, is finishing his third term. A Mason-Dixon Poll in March showed Nelson leading Scott 46% to 41%. Scott has not announced, but his political committee called “Let’s Get to Work” had raised and spent some $2 million as of November, 2017, the last figures available. Since this is one of the most competitive Senate races in the country, both campaigns are sure to be well-financed, with both in-state and out-of-state money.
Mississippi: US Sen. Roger Wicker (R) raised $466,000, with $1,997,000 on hand. He does not have an announced opponent so far, but state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), who lost a hard-fought runoff to US Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014, is sounding like a candidate against Wicker, telling the National Journal, “I don’t think I’m the underdog” against Wicker. McDaniel blamed his 2014 loss on the Cochran campaign’s outreach to black Democrats in the runoff. Note well, however, that in 2014, then-businessman Donald Trump endorsed McDaniel; if he does so again, it could be a battle royal.
Tennessee: US Sen. Bob Corker (R), 65, raised $157,000, but had $6 million on hand. He has not yet said he will run for a third term, but if he does, he’s a solid favorite. He is also considering a run for governor, but has made no commitment in that direction either. He has one primary foe, perennial candidate Larry Crim. One Democrat has announced for the seat, James Mackler, an Iraq War veteran (a Blackhawk helicopter pilot) and a political novice..
Texas: US Sen. Ted Cruz (R) raised $1,469,000, with $4,852,000 on hand. Cruz will seek his second term next year. Early talk of a primary challenge for Cruz has come to naught. But Cruz already has an announced challenger, US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), who raised $208,000, with $535,000 on hand. Note well, however, that O’Rourke’s father-in-law, Bill Sanders, is reportedly a billionaire (real estate). Another potential Democratic candidate, US Rep. Joaquin Castro, has announced he will not run for the Senate. Matthew Dowd, a strategist for George W. Bush in 2004, had pondered running as an independent, but has also bowed out.
Virginia: US Sen. Tim Kaine (D) will seek his third term next year. He raised $2,928,000, with $5,504,000 on hand. Conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham has expressed an interest in challenging Kaine, but has not made it official. There is, however, a Draft Laura Ingraham committee soliciting signatures urging her to run. Former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has also indicated an interest. A Quinnipiac poll taken in early April showed Kaine leading Ingraham 56% to 35%, and leading Fiorina 57% to 33%.