With all eyes on the special election in Alabama, it’s easy to overlook five 2018 US Senate races in the South, each one of which may be competitive, either in a primary or the General Election. Here’s a brief look at upcoming US Senate contests in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Florida: Nelson vs. Scott? If Gov. Rick Scott (R) decides to challenge incumbent US Sen. Bill Nelson (D) next year, a highly competitive, very costly contest is in store. As of Oct. 31, Nelson had $6,311,000 cash-on-hand. Richardson, who is personally wealthy, had $1.5 million in his fundraising account, “Let’s Get to Work.” Recent polls have shown a close race, with an October survey by Mason-Dixon showing a 44% tie and a November poll by St. Leo University showing Scott leading Nelson, 42% to 32%.
Mississippi: Will Wicker get primaried?
US Sen. Roger Wicker (R) should have an easy time unless state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), a hard-right GOPer, decides to take him on in the primary. McDaniel forced veteran US Sen. Thad Cochran (R) into a runoff last year, which Cochran won 51% to 49% in a bitter contest. But McDaniel may decide to wait and run for lieutenant governor in 2019. In any case, Wicker has a strong hand. He had $3,502,000 on hand. Moreover, a Public Opinion Strategies (R) poll, taken in April of 2017, showed Wicker with 55%, McDaniel 30%. Stay tuned.
Tennessee: Lots of action for an open seat.
Two prominent Republicans will be facing off in the Republican Primary in the Volunteer State. The first to announce was US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R), a feisty Trump-style conservative. Also entering the GOP contest was former US Rep. Steve Fincher (R), who is not quite so far to the right. Blackburn had $3,211,000 on hand and is likely to get plenty more where that came from. Fincher, a farmer and country singer, had $2,340,000. If need be, Fincher could reach into his own pocket.
On the Democratic side, Nashville lawyer and Iraq War veteran James Mackler (D) announced early, but with little name ID, had only $321,000 on hand. He has been endorsed by former state Democratic Chair Bob Tuke, but that’s no match for the political muscle of former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), who announced last week, turning what was supposed to be a Safe Republican seat into – for now – only Leans Republican. Bredesen was governor of Tennessee from 2003 to 2011. Trump did carry the state handily, so Blackburn could be strong against Bredesen. Fincher wouldn’t stir up the base as much, but he might appeal to more moderate Republicans, who are plentiful in the state, e.g., retiring US Sen. Bob Corker (R). Of interest: Bredesen is 74, Blackburn 65 and Fincher 44. An October poll by Middle Tennessee State University showed Blackburn with a 37% approval rating to 34% by Bredesen.
Texas: Cruz in the Democrats’ cross-hairs.
On the Republican side, US Sen. Ted Cruz is a shoo-in in the primary over, so far, only token opposition. For starters, he already has $5,658,000 on hand. Despite Cruz’s hostile relationship with Trump in the past, Cruz votes with President Trump 94% of the time and will likely have full White House support. The Democratic nominee is likely to be US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has been campaigning, officially or otherwise, for months. He has $2,855,000 on hand. A friendly and energetic politician, O’Rourke, who is a Latino, will get strong support from the many Mexican-Americans in Texas. A Texas Tribune and University of Texas Poll, taken in October 2017, should Cruz with a favorable rating of 38%, unfavorable 45%. O’Rourke was far less known, with 16% favorable to 13% unfavorable, while 69% chose neither.
Virginia: Kaine could face a divided GOP.
The closest thing to a sure thing in the South’s US Senate races is in Virginia, where incumbent and former Veep nominee Tim Kaine has $8,396,000 on hand. Virginia is the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, and President Trump remains very unpopular in the state. The only announced Republican candidate is Corey Stewart (R), chairman of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors, who had $150,000 on hand. Stewart, a foe of removing statues of Confederate heroes, ran an unexpectedly strong race – 43% to Ed Gillespie’s 44%, with 14% for state Sen. Frank Wagner. A poll of registered voters taken by in September by Mary Washington University showed Kaine with a 53% to 36% over Stewart. In addition, with encouragement from US Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), Del. Nick Ferias of Culpeper officially announced Saturday for the GOP Senate nomination. Other Republicans dissatisfied with Stewart, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have encouraged former Gov. James Gilmore (R) to run. And there are indications that the Rev. E. W. Jackson, an African-American pastor and right-winger who was the GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013, might run.
For news and analysis on each of these five important 2018 elections in the coming months, stay tuned.