With Manchin out, Democrats’ path to retaining the Senate is narrow | ET REALITY


Sen. Joe Manchin III said he decided to forego re-election because he had achieved all his goals. But for the Democrats he is leaving behind in Washington, the work to maintain the party’s already slim majority in the Senate is just beginning.

While there are no guarantees in politics, West Virginia is now virtually a lock to go Republican. The state has become so conservative that only Wyoming achieved a larger Republican margin in the 2020 presidential race.

Immediately after Manchin’s announcement, several well-placed Democratic operatives said they couldn’t name a single West Virginian who could take his place on the ballot and be remotely competitive, particularly if Gov. Jim Justice wins the Republican nomination. .

“This is a huge impact,” said Ward Baker, former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group that oversees Senate elections. “Manchin not running will save Republicans a ton of money and take a seat off the board early.”

The path to maintaining power was always going to be difficult for the Democrats’ current 51-seat majority, with or without Manchin.

Two incumbents are running for re-election in red states, Montana and Ohio. A third senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who was elected as a Democrat but has since changed her party affiliation to independent, has not yet declared her plans, leaving open the prospect of a normally competitive three-way race. And the party must also defend four Senate seats in four of the most hotly contested presidential battlegrounds: Wisconsin, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

But Republicans face some potentially divisive primaries and a recent history of nominating extreme candidates who have lost key races.

With West Virginia off the Senate board next year, Democrats must win every election they defend (and depend on President Biden to win the White House) to maintain the majority. In a 50-50 Senate, the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote. But that’s a risky bet considering a plurality of Americans have not approved of President Biden since August 2021, according to Gallup Polls.

The bad news for Senate Democrats is that they are on the defensive in each of the seven seats that both parties consider most competitive this year. The good news is that in five of those seven, the party has incumbents running for re-election, which historically has been a big advantage.

At least 83 percent of Senate incumbents have won re-election in 18 of the last 21 election cycles, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics. Last year, 100 percent of Senate incumbents were re-elected.

“Given Democratic success in 2020 and 2022, it would be poor practice to write off Democrats at this stage,” said Justin Goodman, a former senior adviser to Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader. “Candidates matter,” he also said as the current contrast Democrats have tried to strike against the “extreme MAGA agenda.”

Democratic incumbents in Montana and Ohio, Republicans’ top two targets with West Virginia off the map, are seeking re-election in states former President Donald J. Trump easily won twice. Both Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio have exceeded expectations before, but never with such an unpopular presidential candidate at the top of the ticket. And unlike most starters, whose wins tend to get easier over time, Tester has always had close races. Brown’s margins have shrunk.

But close victories count as much as easy ones, and Democrats maintain that the personal records of both Brown and Tester matter more in their states than national political winds.

Republicans, also facing headwinds due to Trump’s unpopularity and the party’s role in rolling back abortion rights, are trying to do the same. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is placing heavy emphasis on recruiting candidates this cycle to find contenders who can appeal to both conservatives and moderates in the party.

The strategy has already paid off in West Virginia.

One of the first calls this year from Senator Steve Daines, a Montana Republican who oversees his party’s Senate elections, was to Mr. Justice in West Virginia, believing that the popular governor’s presence in the race would help persuade Manchin to retire.

The second part of Daines’ strategy in West Virginia was to push persistently to secure Trump’s endorsement for Justice, with the goal of not only ousting Manchin but also hoping to convince him to run for president as a candidate. independent. Trump endorsed Justice last month.

Meanwhile, Manchin added to speculation about a possible presidential run by saying Thursday that he planned to gauge “interest in creating a movement to mobilize the media and unite Americans.”

In 2018, Democrats and Republicans together spent about $53 million on the West Virginia Senate race. Without a competitive race there in 2024, both sides will have tens of millions of dollars to spend on a second tier of battlefield racing. Last year, candidates, parties and outside groups spent more than 1.3 billion dollars in 36 Senate races, including $737 million in just five states (Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) that will also be on the ballot next year.

“I think Wisconsin and Michigan are about to get a lot of Republican money that they wouldn’t otherwise get,” said Brad Todd, a Republican strategist who has worked on Senate races.

The most interesting of the second-tier races may be in Arizona, where the state may have a competitive three-way race, a rarity in American politics. The wild card is Ms. Sinema.

If he runs for a second term, he will most likely face Rep. Rubén Gallego, a well-liked progressive Democrat who has already spent $6.2 million in the race this year, and Kari Lake, the conservative Republican and a one of the best in his party. well-known electoral deniers who is the favorite in their party’s primaries.

A competitive three-way general election would add a fascinating dynamic to what could be the most expensive Senate race in the country next year. Last year’s state Senate race, which pitted Sen. Mark Kelly against Blake Masters, the Republican candidate, cost more than $225 million.

There is no senior Republican challenging Sen. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, but the party has been pushing Eric Hovde, a businessman who ran for the Senate in 2012. In Pennsylvania, Republicans have cleared the way for David McCormick with the aim of avoiding a painful primary and strengthening his bet against Senator Bob Casey, who is seeking a fourth six-year term.

Republicans haven’t been so lucky in Michigan or Nevada.

In Michigan, the only competitive Senate race without an incumbent, Democrats have so far mostly lined up behind Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst who represents a divided district. Daines recruited former Rep. Mike Rogers, who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But James Craig, former Detroit police chief, and former Rep. Peter Meijer, who lost his seat after voting to impeach Trump, also entered the Republican race.

The establishment Republican choice in Nevada is Sam Brown, a retired Army captain who lost the Senate primary last year. But he faces a primary against Jim Marchant, a Trump supporter and election denier who lost the race for secretary of state last year. The winner would face Sen. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat seeking her second term.

With West Virginia eliminated, the Democratic Senate map is undeniably restrictive. But the party will seek to go on the offensive in Florida and Texas. Both states have been reliable Republican strongholds in recent years, but realistically, Democrats have no better options to flip a Republican seat this year.

In Florida, Senator Rick Scott, the state’s former governor, is seeking a second term. He has never won an election by more than 1.2 percentage points and has also never run in a presidential election year, when Democrats typically do better in Florida.

But the state lurched to the right last year as Republicans won five state elections by an average of 18.9 percentage points. The primary Democratic challenger in Florida’s Senate race this year is former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who was ousted from her Miami seat after one term.

In Texas, Senator Ted Cruz has been a constant target for Democrats and survived each time. This year, his main challenger appears to be Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas-area Democrat who defeated an incumbent Republican in 2018.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been testing campaign messages in both states, and the party has dedicated communications and research staff in each location.

But to win Florida and Texas, Democrats will need stars to align in a way they didn’t in West Virginia.

“It’s possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Baker, the former NRSC director, said of Democratic hopes of taking Florida or Texas. “They just lost a seat in the Senate. There’s no way around that.”

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