Skip to main content

How the GOP Could Win Senate Supermajority in 2018

While Republicans remain hesitant about their chances of keeping the House of Representatives, it is becoming clearer and clearer that their Senate opportunities are endless.

There is almost no question that they will maintain their majority, and there are 13 races that I rate as being competitive for the GOP, meaning that there is a possibility that they could end up with a Senate supermajority. There are another four races that will be difficult pickup opportunities, but are still within the realm of possibility.

Cartoon by Tina Garrison

The Senate is crucial. It currently has a bigger role to play than the House in our republic, with it being responsible for sending President Donald Trump's nominees to the courts, confirming Executive Branch appointments, and determining whether the president should be convicted on Democratic impeachment charges.

Even without control of the House, the Republicans can keep the machinery moving (and preserve the Trump presidency) if they hold the Senate.

The Democrats have plenty of causes for concern (13, to be exact): Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

***

The Trump States:

Missouri: State Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) is challenging incumbent Claire McCaskill (D), who has been dogged by a corruption scandal: "Businesses tied to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s husband have been awarded more than $131 million in federal subsidies since the Missouri Democrat took office in 2007," according to The Kansas City Star. On the other hand, as attorney general, Hawley has challenged entrenched interests such as the former GOP governor, social media companies, and the Catholic Church. Hawley currently leads by less than a point in the average, but he will be helped by Trump's support in a state that went for the president by 19 points in 2016.

Josh Hawley with President Trump

Michigan: The Republicans have nominated a 37-year-old U.S. Army aviation officer and entrepreneur, John James, to challenge 68-year-old incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D), who has served in political office since 1979. James is behind by 17.3 points per the average, but he has been a fundraising prowess and he is certain to surge once he makes himself known on the airwaves. Keep in mind that Kid Rock (R) was ahead of Stabenow when he was in the race -- it is all about name recognition.

John James

Wisconsin: With Gov. Scott Walker (R) turning the tide in the gubernatorial race, Wisconsin Senator Leah Vukmir (R) is emerging as a real threat to incumbent Tammy Baldwin, a staunch liberal. Trump won the increasingly conservative state in 2016, but Baldwin supports the administration position only 22.7% of the time. Vukmir, who is behind by only two points in a recent Marquette poll, could prey on this dynamic and upset Baldwin.

Florida: Incumbent Governor Rick Scott (R), with rising approvals, is challenging unexcitable incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (D) in a state won by Trump. While Nelson had the early lead, Scott has surged to a 1.5-point lead in the average and a six-point lead in the most recent poll, conducted by the Florida Atlantic University. Scott's governorship has been a boon for the Florida economy, and he has shown that he will cooperate with the other side on issues like gun control. Ultimately, the sky is the limit for his candidacy.

Indiana: Mike Braun, a millionaire businessman who served in the Indiana House, is challenging incumbent Joe Donnelly (D) in a state that Trump swept in 2016. Polling has been scarce and mixed, with Gravis showing a one-point lead for Braun and Trafalgar showing a 12-point lead for Donnelly. More polling will crystalize the dynamics of the race, but Braun is a strong candidate and RCP ranks the race as a toss-up.

North Dakota: In North Dakota, at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) is up against incumbent Heidi Heitkamp (D), who won by less than a point in 2012. Heitkamp has tied herself to the moderate line, refusing to take bold action against the president whom her party despises, but she did endorse Clinton in a state that went for Trump by 36 points. Cramer currently leads in the average, and he led by four points in the most recent poll, conducted by Mason Dixon.

Montana: State Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) is up against incumbent Joe Tester (D), who virulently campaigned against the GOP tax cuts and sank the nomination of decorated Admiral Ronny Jackson with slander that would make Joseph McCarthy proud. Trump won Montana by 20.5 points in 2016, and Rosendale trails by only three points in the most recent poll, conducted by Remington Research. All in all, Tester is up for quite a challenge -- he will have to defend a record of resistance in a state where the president is quite popular.

Matt Rosendale

West Virginia: After defeating coal baron Don Blankenship and Rep. Evan Jenkins in a hotly-contested race, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey took the GOP nod to confront incumbent Joe Manchin (D). Manchin, like Heitkamp, has taken the moderate mantle, claiming to be an ally of Trump in a state where the president won every county. However, Manchin's conflicting loyalties are evidenced by the fact that within a month, he smiled for photos with activists who were for and against Planned Parenthood. Morrisey, who successfully challenged Obama regulatory policy in court, is a strong challenger who has received strong, in-person support from the president. He is behind by seven points in the average, but no poll has been conducted since a presidential rally in West Virginia this month.

President Trump and Patrick Morrisey

Ohio: Rep. Jim Renacci (R) is challenging incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) in a state where Trump won by eight points in 2016. Renacci has benefitted from strong presidential support, and on Friday, Trump headlined a fundraiser in his benefit in Columbus. He is currently behind by 15.4 points in the average, but no poll has been conducted since June. If Brown decides not to vote for Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation, this could serve as fodder for Renacci as he attempts to close the gap.

Pennsylvania: Rep. Lou Barletta (R) is up against incumbent Bob Casey (D), a left-wing senator has already announced that he will not support Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation. While Barletta trails by 15.7 points in the average, a fresh internal poll conducted by the Commonwealth Leaders Fund shows him behind by only two points. If this poll is any indication, Barletta could run on his economic message and close the gap ahead of November 6th.

***

The "Blue" States:

Minnesota Special: Incumbent Tina Smith, appointed to replace the disgraced Al Franken, is up against Karin Housley, a Minnesota senator who is married to Sabres coach Phil Housley. Housley is behind by 8.4 points in the average, but a recent Emerson poll showed her in the red by only four (and 31% of the state still doesn't know who she is).

Karin Housley

Minnesota Regular: Housley has the best chance of winning a Minnesota Senate seat, but don't discount state Rep. Jim Newberger, the GOP candidate running against left-wing incumbent Amy Klobuchar. Trump nearly won Minnesota, but Klobuchar only votes with the administration 30.3% of the time. If Newberger, an ally of the president, can turn out the Trump base in northern Minnesota, he has a real shot at winning the race.

New Jersey: Biopharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin (R), who is self-financing his campaign, is up against beleaguered incumbent Bob Menendez (D). Menendez was charged with corruption, but he got off thanks to a deadlocked jury. Nonetheless, he was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee, who said that he "violated Senate Rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct." Menendez is barely in the lead, with Hugin behind by two points per Gravis, four points per Fairleigh Dickinson, and six points per left-leaning Quinnipiac. In a state that elected Chris Christie twice, Hugin's campaign isn't quixotic.

***

Obtainable Challenges:

There are another four races where the GOP has a fighting chance: Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, and Rhode Island.

Connecticut: The GOP nominated U.S. Navy veteran Matthew Corey, a small business owner who has already consolidated 31% support, to take on incumbent Chris Murphy (D), a staunchly anti-gun senator. Corey could be assisted by the fact that at the top of the ticket, Democrats are unpopular in Connecticut (incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy trashed the state's finances).

Matthew Corey

Maryland: With a popular Republican governor at the top of the ticket, Dr. Tony Campbell (R) could beat incumbent Ben Cardin (D). No polls have been conducted, and Cardin may be overplaying his hand: His opponent is a professor at Towson with an endorsement from Johns Hopkins surgeon Ben Carson, now the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The GOP should throw some money towards Campbell, who is a staunch constitutionalist and a perfect candidate for the Senate.

Antonio "Tony" Campbell

Rhode Island: The scenario in Rhode Island is similar to the one in Connecticut, where an unpopular Democrat at the top of the ticket could bog down the Democratic senatorial candidate. The GOP has nominated Justice Robert Flanders, a Harvard graduate who served on the Rhode Island Supreme Court, to challenge incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse (D). No polls have been conducted, but Whitehouse's approval is only at 51%, six points lower than the other Rhode Island senator, Jack Reed. Despite Whitehouse's apparent advantage, Rhode Island lawyer William Jacobson said that the race "could shape up to be the surprise of the year."

Maine: State Senator Eric Brakey (R) is up against incumbent Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Zak Ringelstein (D). The only poll of the race shows King with only 52% of the vote, and if there is a significant break in Democratic voters, Brakey could win with a plurality. The state, of course, did elect loudmouthed Republican Gov. Paul LePage (R) twice -- it isn't unfathomable that they would send reserved conservative Brakey to the Senate. Perhaps Brakey, a committed limited-government constitutionalist, will benefit from an endorsement by Ted Cruz in a state where the Texas senator swept the 2016 presidential primary.

Eric Brakey

***

The Flip Side:

There is only one 2018 Senate race where the Republican incumbent is truly vulnerable, and it is the contest between Dean Heller (R) and Jacky Rosen (D) in Nevada. Rosen currently leads by three-fifths of a point in the polling average, but Heller leads in the most recent poll -- conducted by Suffolk -- by one point. It will be a tight race, but don't count Heller out.

There is are two additional races, the Tennessee and Arizona Senate contests, where the GOP contenders will be fighting to fill traditionally Republican seats. In Tennessee, GOP nominee Marsha Blackburn trails by 1.6 points in the average, but she led by four points in the most recent poll of the race, conducted by Gravis. In Arizona, the GOP primary is on Tuesday, but it is expected that Martha McSally (R) will be up against Kyrsten Sinema (D). Sinema ostensibly leads, but no poll has been released since July. McSally, a long-serving Air Force colonel up against an anti-war protestor, will surge when Republicans consolidate around her campaign after the primary.

Sinema protested as McSally served

The races in Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, and Wyoming, all of which are staunchly Republican states, are essentially no-contests. Despite concerns over Democrat Beto O'Rourke's ascendancy in Texas, Ted Cruz is a formidable senator who leads by a solid 6.2 points in the average. He should have no problem sweeping the Lone Star State on November 6th.

Senator Ted Cruz

Ultimately, with 17 Democratic seats being potentially competitive, it is no secret that the Republicans have a big advantage heading into the 2018 races. They could end up with a supermajority in the Senate, allowing them to override any Democratic filibuster without the invocation of the nuclear option.

Comments