Senate Races to Watch in 2016

Capitol

Control of the United States Senate is hanging in the balance and playing out in the shadows of the 2016 presidential race. When the new Senate convenes in January 2017, it will have to approve a slew of new nominations from the 45th president, including a highly coveted open seat on the Supreme Court, and also tackle an uncertain agenda put forward by a new president. The dynamics of the presidential election will make it difficult for Senate candidates to run independent races, and make both parties nervous.

With that in mind, let’s take some time to run through five Senate races (in no particular order) worth watching in 2016.

New Hampshire: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) vs. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D)

Current Real Clear Politics Average – Ayotte +3.8

Sen. Ayotte is seen as a rising star in the Republican Party. She quickly gained traction in the chamber and became a key voice on national security issues, which has made her a popular Senator in the Granite State. However, the only politician in the state with numbers as strong as Ayotte happens to be running against her – Governor Maggie Hassan. This race could be all about timing – in a presidential year, the state tends to lean more Democratic (just ask Frank Guinta and Carol Shea-Porter) – but Ayotte’s record of independence in the Senate may align better with New Hampshire’s moderate electorate.

Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson (R) vs. former Sen. Russ Feingold (D)

Current Real Clear Politics Average – Feingold +5.7

This race sets up a rematch between Republican incumbent Ron Johnson and former Senator Russ Feingold, whom Johnson defeated 52%-47% in 2010. Feingold is trying to defy history – not since 1934 has a losing Senator come back to win his seat six years later. While Johnson has received good DC press on national security issues, he is not very well-known or popular in Wisconsin. While the state has trended more Republican in state-level races in recent years, it is a definitively populist state where anti-Washington and anti-Wall Street sentiment is strong – issues that will benefit Feingold.

Pennsylvania: Sen. Pat Toomey (R) vs. Katie McGinty (D)

Current Real Clear Politics Average – Toomey +12.2

The Senate race in Pennsylvania pits freshman Senator Pat Toomey against Katie McGinty who, despite a long career in government, is running only her second political campaign and just finished a bruising primary battle with liberal favorite Joe Sestak (whom Toomey beat in 2010). The dynamics of Pennsylvania politics will surely tighten this race even if the numbers don’t show it yet. McGinty’s long career in and out of government may hurt her, but if the presidential race in Pennsylvania starts to move squarely into the Democratic column, the numbers may not be there to reelect Toomey.

Ohio: Sen. Rob Portman (R) vs. former Gov. Ted Strickland (D)

Current Real Clear Politics Average – Strickland +1.5

Senator Portman could have been a lock to win this race. As a moderate Republican in a moderate state, he was able to avoid a primary challenge that would have required him to move right and hurt him in the general election. The problem is that his challenger, former Governor Ted Strickland, has strong statewide name recognition and, despite losing his reelection bid to Governor John Kasich, has improved his image in the state. Combine that with interesting dynamics at the top of the ticket and you have a situation that could quash Portman’s chances. While both of these candidates will try to make this a race about them, it will almost certainly be won or lost based on the outcome of the presidential race.

Arizona: Sen. John McCain (R) vs. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D)

Current Real Clear Politics Average – McCain +0.5

The 2008 Republican presidential candidate and long-time Senator McCain is, without a doubt, facing his toughest reelection fight ever against Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. In most years, even with a strong opponent, McCain would not be in trouble, but 2016 is not a normal year and Arizona is a state in political flux. While there are races that are certainly more competitive than this one, Arizona is a race to watch because it may be emblematic of what is happening across the country. If Kirkpatrick surprises McCain, Republicans have reason to worry.

There are several other races that could be on this list – Illinois, Florida and Nevada all come to mind – but these five are particularly interesting because they will serve as microcosms of the dynamics at play on the presidential level: Realignment on trade policy, the changing demographics of the electorate, the potential of electing the first female president and the likelihood of a very unpopular Republican (and Democratic) presidential candidate.

The 2016 map favors Democrats given the number of seats Republicans have to defend after they wiped the floor with the Democrats in 2010, but in such a volatile and surprising election year there is no way to predict how the chips will fall in November.

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Senate Races to Watch in 2016

Capitol

Control of the United States Senate is hanging in the balance and playing out in the shadows of the 2016 presidential race. When the new Senate convenes in January 2017, it will have to approve a slew of new nominations from the 45th president, including a highly coveted open seat on the Supreme Court, and also tackle an uncertain agenda put forward by a new president. The dynamics of the presidential election will make it difficult for Senate candidates to run independent races, and make both parties nervous.
With that in mind, let’s take some time to run through five Senate races (in no particular order) worth watching in 2016.
New Hampshire: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) vs. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D)
Current Real Clear Politics …

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