The Democratic Governors Association released an open letter to the candidates running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee listing the five criteria the DGA will use to evaluate candidates. From the letter:
1) Real, measurable commitment to investing resources in winning gubernatorial and state legislative races in 2018 and 2020, years that will decide the fate of redistricting;
2) A commitment to investing in organizing in states with competitive gubernatorial and legislative races — not just in states with competitive presidential or congressional elections;
3) A commitment from the candidate to serving full time as chair;
4) Commitment to provide resources to state parties for organizing and communications staff; to provide technical assistance for redistricting; provide training and support to recruit and support next generation of Democratic leaders;
5) A commitment to working with Democratic governors and other state policy leaders on advancing policies that grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.
The first two points are especially critical for the party’s short and long-term rebuilding plans. First, congressional redistricting is four years away, and in order to redraw more favorable maps, Democrats need to control governorships and state legislatures. (South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison noted at the forum organized by the Ohio Democratic Party last week: “33 out of 50 governorships are controlled by Republicans, 69 out of 99 state houses are controlled by Republicans, but we only obsess about the White House.”) The fact that the Democrats’ 2017-2018 calendar is much better at the state level than at the congressional level gives this even greater urgency.
The second reason is that they need to rebuild their bench in a hurry so that a new post-Obama, post-Clinton generation of leaders can make their way up the ranks. Remember, Barack Obama was in the Illinois state senate for seven years before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, which became his springboard to the presidency four short years later.
Coming off his failed attempt at toppling Nancy Pelosi in the House Democratic leadership, Rep. Tim Ryan (R-Ohio) is flirting with possibility of running for governor of his home state in 2018 when the seat will be vacant because of term limits on incumbent Republican governor John Kasich. According to Politico:
“Everyone says ‘He never runs … he flirts,’” he said at the Capitol on Thursday. “Well, you know, we got slaughtered in 2010 when the speaker wanted me to be lieutenant governor with [Ted] Strickland and then they wanted me to run for Senate last time. I was glad I didn’t do any of that.”
A decision about 2018 will similarly be based on his gut — and the economy under a Donald Trump presidency and Republican rule in Ohio.
“That’s the gamble everyone has to try to make,” he said. “Evaluate and try to anticipate as best you can and then once you decide to go, you just go, run hard.”
Ryan says he’s been getting recruitment calls and texts since his failed effort to oust Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic House leader, a bid that his detractors argued was about positioning himself for higher office in Ohio. He declined to give a timeframe for a decision — “I don’t want to put myself in a box,” he said — but suggested he’d “step away from everything for a couple weeks” and then reevaluate.
Other rumored Democrats interested in running to succeed Kasich include Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Richard Cordray, the director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who may be out of a job in a few weeks after the new administration takes office, former state representative Connie Pillich, former congresswoman Betty Sutton, and former state senator Joe Schiavoni.
On the Republican side, the Columbus Dispatch points out that all six Republicans elected to statewide executive office are term-limited out of their current jobs. Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor are all said to have aspirations for the governorship.
Incumbent Democratic senator Bill Nelson recently confirmed to CNN that he would be running for a fourth term in 2018. Nelson has the benefit of seniority in the Senate, as well as the fact that his previous two reelections (2006 and 2012) were in very favorable cycles, as was the case for Senate Democrats in general who were elected or re-elected in those years.
One potential Republican who is interested in running for the seat is Governor Rick Scott, who is term-limited from running again for governor in that same year. Scott would enter the Republican field with the advantages of name-recognition, fundraising, networking, as well as the fact that he has already won two consecutive statewide races. On top of all of that, he was an early supporter of Donald Trump, who would presumably campaign heavily on his behalf in the midterms if he chooses to run for Senate.
If this is the matchup for November 2018, Florida will be a long and very expensive race.
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 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.
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.
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.
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):
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:
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.
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.