Branstad Nomination Gives Democrats a Possible Pickup Opportunity in Iowa

Donald Trump chose Iowa governor Terry Branstad to be his ambassador to China, an offer that Branstad accepted.  The vacancy for Iowa’s chief executive would be filled by Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds until the 2018 election. Branstad – who was already the state’s longest serving governor – was up for reelection, but now Democrats will have the opportunity to run against Reynolds. This would give Democrats an opportunity to win another governorship, in a state Trump won by a slightly larger margin than Texas.

The Democratic Governors Association went through the opposition research on Reynolds and forwarded this Politico story mentioning her as a potential U.S. Senate candidate in 2014. Depending on the political and economic winds in two years, as well as candidate recruitment, this could be a good opportunity for Democrats to get a win.

Ohio 2018 Senate Race Begins to Take Shape

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel announced he will be running to unseat Democratic senator Sherrod Brown in 2018, a potential rematch of their 2012 contest which Brown won by 5 points. Mandel has been using Trump rhetoric in public campaign events as well as his campaign announcement video. Also interested in a possible run is Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), a more moderate Republican more aligned with Governor John Kasich who refused to endorse Donald Trump during the presidential election.

Brown was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 and re-elected in 2012 – both very favorable cycles for Democrats. Donald Trump won Ohio by 8 points in the last election. Historically, the party that controls the White House tends to lose seats during midterm elections, though the Senate Republicans have a very favorable calendar for 2018. The question is what will the national and local dynamics be after two years of Trump as president. If times are good and he retains the popularity that got him elected, then odds are Sherrod Brown will be in for a tough race.  If the economy is bad or Trump is mired by unpopularity, having such a close association with him could be a negative for a candidate like Mandel.

Trump Transition Floats Red State Senate Democrats as Potential Cabinet Nominees

Two leaks coming out of New York today that have some Democrats worrying:

Manchin’s office has denied the Politico report. Heitkamp was invited to meet with Trump tomorrow and accepted the invitation. According to CNN’s Manu Raju, she did not rule out accepting a job in the new administration.

Some context to this: first, both Heitkamp and Manchin are Democrats up for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won easily and have become more Republican in recent years. Second, if one or both of them accepted, that would weaken Democratic opposition in the Senate, from the current 52-48 majority to 53-47 or 54-46. Why? Because the sitting Republican governors in North Dakota and West Virginia would be able to appoint their replacements, who would most certainly be Republicans.

CORRECTION: Earl Ray Tomblin, the current governor of West Virginia, is a Democrat. If Manchin were to accept a position in the Trump administration, he would nominate a Democrat as a temporary replacement, but Republicans would have the opportunity to win that Senate seat during the next election cycle.

Democrats Looking Ahead to Governors’ Races in 2017 and 2018

Politico has a good look at the governors’ races coming up in the next two years, and how they offer the Democratic Party’s best immediate chances as a path to rebuilding in the wake of the recent election.

Coming up first are the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races and statewide legislative races scheduled for late 2017. Candidates in both parties are already moving in these races. I will write a preview/outlook of these states and races in December as a look for what’s ahead in the new year.

Even further down the line are the 2018 midterms. The Senate calendar that year is particularly difficult, and the likelihood of retaking the House of Representatives is slim. However, 26 out of 36 governor’s mansions up for election (or re-election) are held by Republicans. This means that if Democrats can retake some of those states, their party will be in place and in control for the 2020 census and redistricting.

The great unknown right now will be the dynamics of the country and individual states going into those election cycles. Looking at it one or two years ahead, the two obvious factors that will have an impact will be the state of the economy, as well as the popularity of the Republican-controlled Washington DC (President Trump and the McConnell/Ryan Congress).

Lots more on this subject to come in the future.

The Senate Democrats’ Rough 2018 Cycle

These are the senators up for re-election in 2018 – in the case of many Democrats, they are the ones who got elected by riding Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election coattails.

  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • John Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
  • Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
  • Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Angus King (I-ME)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Jon Tester (D-MT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Roger Wicker (R-MS)

Most of these seats are generally safe for the incumbent or the incumbent party. The problem for Democrats is they will be defending more seats this cycle (23, and two independents in Maine and Vermont) than the Republicans (8).  Republicans will likely have a 52-48 majority in the Senate for the next two years (pending on the outcome of the Louisiana Senate runoff election scheduled for December).  If Democrats are to retake the Senate, they need a net gain of 3 seats. This is going to be very difficult because many of them represent states won by Donald Trump (red is solid Republican, purple is swing state, blue is solid Democrat):

  • Baldwin
  • Brown
  • Casey
  • Heitkamp
  • Manchin
  • McCaskill
  • Nelson
  • Stabenow
  • Tester

Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill and Tester are particularly vulnerable because of the states they represent, so out of self-preservation they may vote for Trump nominees and legislation to save face back home.  The other states are traditionally Democratic, but given that Trump won them in 2016 and that Democrats tend to have less reliable turnout for midterm elections, they can’t take anything for granted.

On the other hand, the Democrats’ best opportunities for a pickup are in purple or purple-leaning states:

  • Flake
  • Heller

Arizona has historically been a safely Republican state, but Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here 49-45, probably a closer margin than state Republicans would like. Nevada Democrats – led by the Harry Reid political machine – ran the table and won every race in the state. If Democrats recruit a solid candidate and the Reid machine can put together another performance like they did in 2016, Heller could be their biggest chance for a pickup opportunity.

A lot can happen in two years. The political dynamics, such as the state of the economy, will determine which party benefits. Historically, the party in the White House tends to lose congressional seats during the midterm elections. But right now, two years out, it’s looking difficult for Senate Democrats.

Tim Kaine Not Running in 2020

Senator Tim Kaine told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he would not run for president or vice-president again, and will focus on reelection to the Senate in 2018. He cites John Warner, the long-serving Republican senator of his home state of Virginia, as the model he hopes to emulate.

This means that the Democratic field for 2020 will be truly open – think the Republicans in 2008 or 2012 with no presidential or vice presidential nominee running for the spot.