I started this diary series a few months back, but found myself dissatisfied with the quality of my postings, so I have decided to reboot it.
Building a party requires a great deal of forward planning, both to pinpoint winnable races and expand the playing field for the future. Here, I want to take a look at how the Democrats can build a lasting supermajority in the U.S. Senate over the next three cycles. The typical analysis for the upcoming 2014 elections says that we will face a challenge retaining a simple majority in the Senate, as the Republicans have a decent shot at picking off the 6 net seats they need to regain control. I think their chances of getting to six are pretty slim, but still possible, which is why looking ahead to the much more favorable 2016 and 2018 playing fields is so important. While the focus of this series will be on offense, defense will come into play too, as holding the seats we currently have will be just as important as winning new ones.
I'm going to start with the Class 1 Senate seats for Parts 1-3, which were up in 2012 and will be up again in 2018. The conditions for these are obviously the hardest to predict, since the election is so far away. We currently hold 25 out of 33 seats, and there are only a few pickup opportunities overall. To give an overall impression, without regard for future national trends, I'd say we're in pretty good shape with these seats. I don't see many incumbents retiring in competitive seats, and most of the freshman from 2012 proved themselves against strong opponents already.
Jeff Flake (R-Arizona): I believe Arizona is one of the states where we can really have an impact this decade. Despite being considered a pretty solidly red, conservative state, Flake won his election in 2012 by just 3% over former Surgeon General Richard Carmona. Carmona's support was largely drawn from Arizona's Hispanic community, which has been increasing at a very steady clip. It is not unreasonable to think that when Flake is up for reelection in 2018, Hispanics could make up 22% or more of voters (compared to 19% in 2012).
As with all of the 2018 elections, it is impossible to say where Flake's popularity will be in in 4 years. That said, unless he becomes an extremely popular figure in the state, he will have a tough time avoiding the demographic changes Arizona is experiencing, particularly if the Republican Party in general remains as anti-immigration as they are now. Combine that with the fact that our bench in the state is fairly deep, and you have a potential recipe for putting a traditionally red seat in the Democratic column for years to come.
Possible opponents to Flake (assuming one of them don't win the state's other Senate seat in 2016) include Carmona, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, her husband Mark Kelly, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Rep. Ron Barber and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Giffords would, of course, be the most electable candidate, considering her national fame and adulation in the aftermath of her attempted assassination in 2011. However, if she is not yet physically fit to run, I think any of the above would make strong candidates. If first time candidate Carmona could hold Flake to 49% in 2012, any of them would be competitive.
Dianne Feinstein (D-California): Feinstein has been in the Senate since 1992, when California was still a swing state. It is now a solid Democratic state, trending bluer, whose media prices have proven too expensive for even billionaire Republicans to compete. Feinstein will be safe if she runs for reelection (which she has apparently already quietly announced), but she will 85 on Election Day 2018 and may opt to retire instead.
I believe this is a state where you really need a statewide profile to compete, meaning it's unlikely a Congressman, state legislator or even big-city mayor will be able to win this seat. The two most obvious candidates if Feinstein retires would be Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris. I don't see any other Democrats being able to muster the resources to compete against these two, and I believe one will opt to run for Governor in 2018 while the other runs for Senate if Feinstein retires (this is, of course, assuming Barbara Boxer doesn't retire in 2016).
Whether or not Feinstein sticks around, this is one of our safest seats.
Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut): Murphy defeated WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 12% in 2012, despite being outspent 5-to-1, to win his first term in the Senate. Murphy is the youngest current member of the Senate at 40, so I think he'll be sticking around for awhile.
Though she's been seen as a bit of joke in retrospect, I think McMahon was the best candidate Republicans could hope for in deep blue Connecticut. No one will be able to match her spending in the future, and Murphy's incumbency will keep him safe from more electable Republicans, like former Congressman Chris Shays, who McMahon defeated in the Republican primary by 45%. Unless he goes national, Murphy will hold this seat for a long time, and Democrats will hold it for longer.
Tom Carper (D-Delaware): Delaware is a state where the word "institution" gets thrown around a lot, and Tom Carper is certainly a Delaware institution. Politics is tight-knit in this small state, and Carper has served in a statewide capacity for most of the last 30 years. He will be 69 on election day 2018, so my guess is he runs for a third term. He will win easily if he does.
If he chooses to retire (which I doubt), he will probably be replaced by either Governor Jack Markell or Attorney General Beau Biden. Again, Delaware is a state that loves incumbents, so even at this early stage, I can't see other possibilities arising. The Republicans have no bench in the state, so either way, this seat will stay safely in Democratic hands.
Bill Nelson (D-Florida): This was supposed to be a tough state for us in 2012, but Senator Nelson managed to beat Rep. Connie Mack by 13% in this pure swing state. He will be 76 on Election Day 2018, so I'd say retirement is a tossup. Either way, Florida can be a tricky state despite its blue trend, so I'd say Nelson is probably safe if he runs again, but could face a tough challenge.
If Nelson does retire, it's hard to say who the Democrats would nominate as a replacement, as we also have a very winnable Senate contest here in 2016. The names most often thrown around seem to be Alex Sink, if she wins a congressional seat this Tuesday, and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Both women would make strong candidates, which will be necessary to win an open seat here.
I do think Nelson will run again as long as he's in good health, but I'm confident that our bench will be strong enough to start as the favorites in this race either way. Still, it's a seat that could potentially be in danger.
Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii): Hawaii is the most Democratic state in the Union, and it showed in 2012, when Hirono crushed former Governor Linda Lingle by 25%. We'll see if the Republicans can come through with a breakout candidate, but those numbers don't bode well for even the strongest possible challenger. Hirono will be 69 on Election Day 2018, so she will probably run again, and I'd be surprised if she wasn't one of the safest Senators in the country.
Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana): This is the first defensive seat that really make me nervous. Indiana is a pretty solidly red state, and is barely trending at all in either direction. Donnelly won in 2012 due to a flawed Republican nominee, a mistake I can't see the party making again in 2018. Donnelly's incumbency will obviously be an advantage, but it can be very tough to keep seats you probably shouldn't have won in the first place.
Indiana has a very strong Republican base, and I can see most of the statewide elected officials and Congressman putting in a strong performance. Take your pick from them, really. Particularly considering 2018 will be a midterm year, I see Donnelly being in as much trouble as Mark Pryor is this year. The best path I can see to victory is if the Clinton campaign contests Indiana in 2016 and builds a lasting infrastructure that Donnelly can take advantage of. Otherwise, it's a pure tossup at best.
Angus King (I-Maine): King is a center-left Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, so this is essentially a seat we hold. He will be 74 on Election Day 2018; considering he's a freshman now, I think he will probably run again. King is a former Governor of Maine and is broadly popular, winning a majority in a three-way race in 2012.
Maine is a state that loves moderates and incumbents, so I don't see King having any trouble winning reelection in 2018, even if the Democrats have a strong nominee in this blue state. If he does retire, there is a strong Democratic bench who I'm sure will have a crowded primary for the nomination. We would have to be careful, however, as Maine has been known to elect moderate Republicans.
Ben Cardin (D-Maryland): Ben Cardin is in his second term, and will be 73 on Election Day 2018. He has had a long career in politics dating back to the 60's, so retirement is a possibility; that said, I'd put my money on him running for a third term.
This is a safe Democratic seat, so the Republicans won't put up much of a fight no matter who runs on our side. If Cardin does retire, I'd say Governor Martin O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would be his most likely successors. O'Malley will run for President in 2016, and my guess is that he will remain popular in the state after losing to Hillary Clinton. However, Rawlings-Blake is a young, African-American woman, and would be a good pick for those who think the Senate needs more diversity.
Of course, Maryland's other Senator will be 80 when she's up for reelection in 2016, so she may retire as well. If so, there could be room for both O'Malley and Rawlings-Blake in the upper chamber. No matter what happens, this seat is ours.
Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts): The freshman Senator will be 69 on Election Day 2018, and will not be President, so I think she runs for reelection. I can't see her facing a tougher challenge than the one she faced to win the seat in 2012, defeating incumbent Republican Scott Brown by 8%. I see Warren becoming the liberal lion of the Senate, and a very fitting replacement for the late Ted Kennedy.
Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan): This was supposed to be a Republican pickup opportunity in 2012, but Stabenow won by over 20%. She will be 66 on Election Day 2018, so I think she runs for a fourth term.
Michigan can be a very frustrating state for Democrats, as it's one we should nearly always win, but consistently see disappointments in. The Republicans have a strong bench here after the 2010 wave, so Stabenow could face a tough race despite her trouncing of Pete Hoekstra in 2012. The most obvious opponent is Governor Rick Snyder, who will be termed out in 2018 if he wins reelection this year. Rep. Justin Amash, popular with the libertarian crowd, would also make for an intriguing Republican candidate. Like Florida, this is one to watch out for, even if we're probably favored.
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota): Minnesota is one of the few states trending red, but Republicans have yet to be able to take advantage, and the trend may be dissipating. Regardless, Klobuchar is young and deeply popular in Minnesota, winning reelection by 35% in 2012. The state has a weak Republican bench, so much so that Senator Al Franken (D), who should be vulnerable this year, really isn't. I'm sure Klobuchar, who will be 56 on Election Day 2018, will run and win once again.
Part 1 Conclusion
All but one of the seats we looked at today are in Democratic hands right now, so there's not much room for expansion given these 11. That said, I think we have a strong shot at winning the Republican-held seat in 2018, as well as a strong shot at losing the Indiana seat. Call this a +1 best case scenario. Part 2 will have a few more Republican-held seats, though it's still mostly Democrats.