The Intersection: Nov 2016

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Is it 2018 Already?

by John Dunagan

Let’s start with a caveat. All political predictions or analyses from here forward should start with a healthy dose of skepticism, and perhaps we should just throw all conventional wisdom right out the proverbial window.

Since I’m sure we’re all ready for more television ads, polls and “expert” projections, let’s take a look ahead at the 2018 Senate map – it’s only 720 days away!

Given the unexpected victories last Tuesday night for incumbent Senators Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, the GOP currently possesses a 51-48 seat majority in the world’s most deliberative body (that spread includes two independents – Angus King and Bernie Sanders – who regularly caucus with the Democrats, but does not include one undecided Senate race in Louisiana that will likely be retained by a Republican).

But could the GOP get to the ever-important filibuster-proof 60 seats in 2018 and hand Majority Leader Mitch McConnell his “super” majority?

It’s possible.

As challenging as the 2016 Senate map was for Republicans – who had to defend several blue- and purple-state seats yet only ended up with a net loss of two – the 2018 map looks far more daunting for Democrats. The party starts with five seats in deeply red states they need to defend: Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Plus the Democrats have a slew of senators up for re-election in traditional swing states, including Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Eight of those ten states voted for Donald Trump while the ninth, Virginia, very well may have had its home state senator, Tim Kaine, not been on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s ticket.

Let’s take a deeper look at three of these potentially exciting races held by Democrats.

Ohio

  • Incumbent: Sherrod Brown
  • Potential Challengers: Current State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who ran against Senator Brown in 2012, Congressman Pat Tiberi from central Ohio, and current Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor.
  • Bottom Line: Several well-known potential candidates on the Republican side make a primary highly likely – potentially a very tough one – but Mr. Mandel seems to be in the strongest position based on today’s facts. However, Sherrod Brown is a popular senator and a notoriously good campaigner who, as Banking Committee ranking member, will have no shortage of funding.

Indiana

  • Incumbent: Joe Donnelly
  • Potential Challengers: Congresswoman Susan Brooks, former Indiana Secretary of State and Current Congressman Todd Rokita, and newly elected Attorney General Curtis Hill.
  • Bottom Line: Senator Donnelly was aided in his original victory by a weak opponent in Richard Mourdock, yet he has carved out a relatively moderate profile in the Hoosier State. However, Indiana has a pretty deep bench of elected Republicans, plus Donald Trump won Indiana by a 57-38% margin. This will be one of the top five races in 2018.

Missouri

  • Incumbent: Claire McCaskill
  • Potential Challenger: So far it seems to be limited to Congresswoman Ann Wagner. There may be others eying it but none have so far expressed any desire to do so publicly.
  • Bottom Line: Missouri has trended right over the last few election cycles and Senator Roy Blunt just fended off an extremely good candidate in Jason Kander. So, Senator McCaskill will be vulnerable but this race may have a lot to do with the popularity of President Trump and Governor-elect Eric Greitens.

All too soon all eyes will be on the Senate and whether Republicans can win seven of these nine races needed to get to the all-important 60 seats. It’s feasible given the map and quality of the challengers but much may depend on President-elect Trump’s agenda and popularity during his first two years in the Oval Office. So, keep an eye on the polls.

Or don’t.

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John Dunagan

Senior Vice President

202-772-5017 \ jdunagan@voxglobal.com