The 2018 midterms will be the Democrats’ first big chance’ first big chance to see if the unpopular Donald Trump presidency can tank the Republican Party as a whole. Before 2017, the idea that Democrats could potentially take over the Senate during the next election seemed pretty impossible — especially with so many Democratic seats up for grabs. Now, a flip could very well happen.
According to the New York Times, before last month’s special election flipped Alabama’s red seat blue, “Democrats needed three states to flip control of the Senate, but they entered the cycle defending 25 seats (two of them independents) to the G.O.P.’s eight. Of those Democratic seats, a staggering 10 of them were in states that chose Donald J. Trump for president, including five that he carried by at least 18 percentage points.”
With most of the Democratic seats now looking much less vulnerable — and a number of Republican incumbents choosing not to run — there’s a real path to a blue chamber after the midterms. Here are five races to watch closely in the coming year.
Of all of the Democrats up for reelection, the GOP sees Senator Claire McCaskill as the most vulnerable. She squeaked out a surprise reelection win in 2012, riding the coattails of President Barack Obama’s second term victory. And McCaskill’s painfully clueless Republican challenger didn’t hurt her chances either. Todd Akin tried to argue that you can’t get pregnant after sexual assault, so there was no reason to have rape exceptions in abortion bills.
This year, there won’t be a presidential race on the ticket to bring voters out, and both the establishment and Tea Party GOP support her likely Republican challenger, Attorney General Josh Hawley, making him far less likely to put his foot in his mouth on the trail.
President Trump was the solid winner in 2016, so the question becomes whether this could be the one state where White House support might actually help the Republicans take out a Democratic incumbent. With SBA List planning massive on the ground outreach over McCaskill’s opposition to a federal 20-week abortion ban, the right could very well pull it off.
Just a few weeks ago, no one would even have put Minnesota on a Senate watch list. But with Democratic Senator Al Franken resigning amid sexual harassment accusations, the state will now have two Senate seats up for grabs in 2018.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar is still considered an easy win for her own seat, but newly appointed Senator-elect Tina Smith will first have to survive a primary — if she decides to run for the term — and then face down a yet-to-be-determined GOP candidate. While Minnesota is still one of the bluer states in the nation, it has history of splitting tickets. It wouldn’t be out of the question for voters to choose one senator from each party at the ballot box.
Sure, this may be the home of Sheriff Arpaio and former Rep. Trent Franks, but that doesn’t mean Arizona can’t flip blue at a state level. With the Trump administration pushing harder than ever on the idea of deporting undocumented Americans, jailing DREAMers and building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, it’s no wonder that many Arizona’s residents feel attacked.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Jeff Flake announced he won’t be running for reelection, and the leading candidates for the GOP nomination are Kelli Ward — a Tea Party activist only slightly to the left of Roy Moore — and Rep. Martha McSally — a Tea Party Congresswoman only slightly to the left of Kelli Ward. Whoever does win will face a strong Democratic challenge from Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, making this the race that well could tip the balance of the Senate.
No, Tennessee isn’t normally a state you would turn to for a Democratic pick-up, but this is no normal year.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker — now in a full out feud with President Trump — will not run for reelection, putting the open seat up for grabs for both parties. Republicans have a few strong contenders — most notably Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a staunch Tea Party member and rabid abortion opponent. But Democrats also have very strong candidate who threw his hat into the ring: a former Democratic governor.
“The Cook Political Report, a top nonpartisan election handicapper, changed its election rating for Tennessee’s Senate race to a toss-up following former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) launching his bid for the seat,” the Hill reported in early December. According to the Hill, “Bredesen won his first term as governor in 2002 and handily won reelection in 2006 with 69 percent of the vote, winning every county in Tennessee.”
Yes, Indiana could end up being the final straw in the blue or red debate. Democrat Joe Donnelly currently holds the Senate seat, after managing to beat Republican challenger Richard Mourdock in 2012. And if you’ll remember, Mourdock famously called getting pregnant after a sexual assault a “gift from God.”
But Indiana has changed greatly since then, especially because their former governor is the new Republican vice president. So far the GOP hasn’t found a viable candidate to knock Donnelly out office, as no big-name Republicans have stepped forward. Considering how very red the state is, that’s a clear indicator of just how toxic the Republican party has become.