[Rushtalk] Six Months Out: The 10 Most Vulnerable Senators in 2018

Carl Spitzer {C Juno} cwsiv at juno.com
Thu May 24 07:33:59 MDT 2018


May 21, 2018

Six Months Out: The 10 Most Vulnerable Senators in 2018
Nevada Republican Dean Heller remains in top spot
Posted May 10, 2018 5:05 AM
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Sen. Dean Heller is the only Republican running for re-election in a
state Hillary Clinton won in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Democrats are still defending 10 states that President Donald
Trump won in 2016, but six months out from Election Day, the most
vulnerable senator remains a Republican.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller no longer faces a primary threat, but he’s the
only Republican up for re-election in a state Hillary Clinton won, and
in this national environment that’s a tricky place to be.

The Democrats’ odds of flipping a few GOP-held open seats in Arizona and
Tennessee have increased over the past six months, but this list — like
the one we did a year out from Election Day — ranks incumbents most
likely to lose — not seats most likely to flip. That means nine of the
10 senators are Democrats, with the second and third spots remaining

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III
have traded places, with Heitkamp now at fourth and Manchin at fifth.
Democrats would have been happy to face Don Blankenship in the West
Virginia Senate race, but they’re also not getting Rep. Evan Jenkins,
whom they spent nearly $2 million against in the primary.

Watch: Iowa’s Blum Now Most Vulnerable House Member, Nelson Moves Up
List for Senate

The biggest change is Florida Sen. Bill Nelson moving up from eighth to
sixth with Gov. Rick Scott’s entry into the race. That pushes Montana
Sen. Jon Tester and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown down a spot each to seventh
and eighth, respectively.

As always, this list is compiled after consultation with strategists
from both sides of the aisle and the race ratings from Inside Elections
with Nathan L. Gonzales.


Heller remains at the top spot because he’s the only Republican up for
re-election in a state Clinton carried in 2016, and Democrats have a
favorable national environment this cycle. Heller has one less hurdle
with perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian dropping his primary challenge
to run for the House, at Trump’s urging. Democrats contend Heller moving
toward Trump while Tarkanian was in the race could come back to haunt
him. They have coalesced around Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is already up on
television. (She does have a self-funding primary challenger.) Rosen
raised more than twice as much as Heller in the first quarter of the
year, pulling in $2.6 million to Heller’s $1.1 million. But Heller still
has a cash on hand advantage.

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Although some Republicans have fretted that likely GOP challenger Josh
Hawley wasn’t living up to expectations, McCaskill is still one of the
most vulnerable incumbents. Hawley’s fundraising caused some concern,
but he also shook up his team, bringing in experienced GOP fundraiser
Katie Walsh, according to Politico. Some operatives say Hawley could be
hurt by his connection to disgraced Missouri GOP Gov. Eric Greitens, but
Hawley’s team says the scandals won’t affect him. Republicans say
Missouri is moving to the right, and point to Trump’s continued
popularity in the Show-Me State.


Former state Rep. Mike Braun, who touts himself as a businessman
outsider in the mold of Trump, is taking on the first-term Democratic
senator. In a big Trump state, Donnelly’s got his work cut out for him,
as Braun — who’s got plenty of his own money — will try to tie him to
Washington, much like he did his two primary opponents. But Braun’s
state legislative record and business background comes with its own
vulnerabilities, and Donnelly has proved willing to support the
president at times.


Heitkamp is the only statewide Democratic official in North Dakota, and
Republicans believe the state’s shift to the right means she’s in
serious trouble this year. Her challenger, GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, has
the advantage of not facing a primary. As the state’s at-large member,
he also enjoys high name recognition. Heitkamp does still have a cash on
hand advantage with $5.4 million in the bank, compared to Cramer’s $1.9
million. Democrats believe Heitkamp has a strong personal brand in the
state as an independent lawmaker.


Facing state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in November, Manchin’s in
for a tough race in a state that went big for Trump. Morrisey will tout
his lawsuits against the Obama administration and hammer Manchin on his
support for Clinton in 2016. But Morrisey’s not without his own ties to
Washington and the pharmaceutical industry, which could complicate the
GOP playbook. The senator has a significant cash-on-hand advantage.


The three-term senator moves up the list because of the entrance of Gov.
Rick Scott into this race. With statewide name identification and
endless personal resources, Scott poses a real threat to Nelson, even in
a state that’s more Democratic than the home states of some other
senators appearing lower on the list. Nelson ended the first quarter
with $10.7 million, while Scott hasn’t had to file a fundraising report


Trump took aim at Tester, even calling on him to resign, over his
resistance to the president’s VA nominee. Along with Tester’s vote
against a stopgap funding measure that would have reopened the
government earlier this year, Republicans think they have a strong case
against the former DSCC chairman. Tester’s never taken more than 50
percent in his prior Senate races. But it’s also possible that as the
senior Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, Tester has helped
solidify his own brand in Big Sky Country by doing what he thought was
best for veterans. It’s looking like he’ll face fellow flat-top Matt
Rosendale, who will likely be attacked as a carpetbagger from Maryland.
Tester ended the first quarter with nearly $7 million to Rosendale’s


Wisconsin has attracted the most outside spending of the Senate races so
far, in part because Republicans view Baldwin as vulnerable on issues
relating to veterans’ health care. But Democrats are watching for a
potentially ugly primary between the two GOP candidates: state Sen. Leah
Vukmir and Marine veteran Kevin Nicolson. Baldwin has kept her focus on
the general election, airing five television ads so far. Republicans
still believe she is very vulnerable and too liberal for the state (she
was the only red state Democrat to sign on to Medicare-for-All


One major change since the last iteration of this list: Rep. James B.
Renacci is now the Republican nominee here, not state Treasurer Josh
Mandel, as was long expected. Brown’s running for re-election in a state
that’s trending away from Democrats, but Renacci — a wealthy congressman
and former registered lobbyist — should quiet attacks on Brown for being
part of Washington. Although Renacci has plenty of his own resources,
Republicans haven’t been impressed with his fundraising. His latest FEC
filing shows $4.2 million in the bank to Brown’s $13.3 million.


Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that Casey is one of the least
vulnerable Democratic senators running in states Trump carried in 2016.
One of Trump’s early allies, GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, appears to be the
likely nominee. Casey has broken fundraising records with more than $10
million on hand — the most of any Senate candidate in the state’s
history according to Casey’s campaign. Barletta had $1.3 million on hand
at the end of this year’s first quarter.

Graphics by Sara Wise

Watch: Which House Races Are the Parties Targeting? Look to the Money,
the TV Ad Money

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Topics: 2018 at-the-races democrats elections politics republicans
Arizona Barack Obama Bill Nelson Business Campaign Finance Campaigns
Dean Heller democrats Donald J. Trump DSCC Elections Environment Evan H
Jenkins Executive Branch Florida health care Heidi Heitkamp House
independents James B Renacci Joe Manchin III Jon Tester Kevin Cramer
Keystone XL Pipeline Lobbying Lou Barletta Maryland Medicare Missouri
montana Nevada North Dakota
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