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The 10 most vulnerable 2024 Senate seats
Maybe it’s recency bias but I cannot remember an election cycle in which Senate races got started sooner than this one.
On Monday, Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego got into that state’s contest, creating the likelihood of a three-way contest with now independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and a Republican.
We’ve already had two retirements — in the former of Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun — and major candidate announcements in Indiana, West Virginia, Ohio
And it’s still January 2023!
Given the level of activity on the Senate side — plus the fact that I just love doing this stuff — I decided that now is as good time as any to release my first Senate rankings of the 2024 election.
At first glance, one thing is very clear about the 2024 map: It’s heavily tilted in Republicans’ favor. Democrats have to defend 23 of their own seats as compared to just 11 for Republicans. (Newly appointed Sen. Pete Ricketts will stand in an election in November 2024.)
There are three seats currently held by Democrats — Montana, Ohio and West Virginia — that Donald Trump won in 2020. There are zero seats currently held by Republicans that Joe Biden won.
My initial rankings reflect that disparity. Nine Democratic seats makes the cut as compared to just a single Republican seat (and that one barely made it on the list).
My rankings are below. The #1 ranked race is considered the most likely to switch parties in November 2024.
Florida (R): Given the crushing victories by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio — over credible challengers! — in 2022, it’s hard to call Florida a swing state anymore. It’s clearly been moving in Republicans’ direction for the last decade and went way over to the GOP side in the last election. All of which makes Sen. Rick Scott (R) a clear favorite to win a second term. Could the eventual Democratic nominee benefit from presidential election year turnout? Sure. And could Scott’s obvious interest in a national race distract him from reelection? Also sure. But this is a long shot for Democrats — even if they can convince a serious candidate to run. Which is a big “if.”
Virginia (D): Sen. Tim Kaine created a bit of drama earlier this month when he teased a big announcement about his reelection plans. But the big announcement was that he is running for a 3rd term. Which, well, less interesting. Kaine is a popular figure in the state — he spent a term as governor before running for Senate in 2012 — and starts as a favorite. Gov. Glenn Youngkin is Republicans’ dream candidate but he appears to have his eyes more focused on running for president (or vice president) in 2024. Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in 2021 does suggest that a Republican can win under the right circumstances but Kaine will run a well-funded and serious campaign. And it’s not clear who, aside from Youngkin, Republicans have to run against him.
Wisconsin (D): Sen. Ron Johnson’s come-from-behind victory over Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes last November has to make Republicans excited about their chances against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2024. But, Baldwin has shown considerable political resilience in the state over the past decade. She beat Wisconsin political legend Tommy Thompson in a 2012 open seat race and then cruised to a 10-point win to claim a second term in 2018. Rep. Mike Gallagher was mentioned as a possible Republican nominee had Johnson not run again in 2022 and is likely at the top of GOP wish lists going into 2024.
Pennsylvania (D): The Keystone State delivered the lone Senate switch in 2022 as Sen. John Fetterman (D) won the seat vacated by retired Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. That race affirmed Pennsylvania’s status as one of a handful of major battleground states in the 2024 presidential race — a status that may have a trickle-down effect on Sen. Bob Casey Jr.’s reelection bid as well. Casey, the son of a former Pennsylvania governor, has easily won three terms, never dipping below 54% of the vote. But Republicans are keen on giving it a go against Casey and may get a candidate soon in the form of Dave McCormick, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate nomination in 2022.
Michigan (OPEN-D): Stabenow’s retirement came as a bit of a surprise — and definitely complicates Democrats’ efforts to hold the seat. Michigan, like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, has proven to be increasingly competitive at the statewide level in the past few elections. But, unlike those two states, Democrats still have a bit of an edge in a neutral political environment. (Democrats had a GREAT 2022 election in Michigan, for example.) The fields to replace Stabenow remain fuzzy at the moment. Rep. Elissa Slotkin is probably the favorite for the Democratic nomination — and is likely to enter the race sometime soon. Republicans may well try to convince freshman Rep. John James to make the race but he may well be happy in the House following 2 Senate losses in recent cycles. Republicans’ bench in the state is decidedly thin.
Nevada (D): The Silver State will be a major focus for both national parties — at both the presidential and Senate level. The 2022 election delivered a bit of a split decision; Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto won reelection but Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak lost his bid for a 2nd term. Like Cortez Masto, Sen. Jacky Rosen is in her first term and is seen as vulnerable by Republicans. The problem for the GOP is who its candidate will be. Adam Laxalt, widely seen as the future of the party in the state, lost to Cortez Masto — his second statewide loss in the last 3 elections. It’s hard to see him running again. But if not Laxalt then who?
Arizona (I): Sinema’s stunning party switch is proof of one thing: She didn’t believe she could win a Democratic primary in 2024. And Gallego’s candidacy affirms that fact; he is popular among the liberal wing of the party that has turned against Sinema over her first 5 years in office. Handicapping this race is very challenging because a) it’s not clear if Sinema is going to run again and b) the GOP field is very much up in the air with 2022 gubernatorial nominee/election denier Kari Lake apparently considering the race. Smart Republicans warn not to write off Lake, believing she could win a 3-way race with Sinema and Gallego.
Ohio (D): Like Florida, Ohio has gone from a swing state in the early 2000s to a state where Republicans now start with a clear edge. (Trump won Ohio by 8 points in 2020 and 2016.) Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan’s disappointing showing against Sen. JD Vance (R) — despite running what was widely regarded as one of the best campaigns in the country — had to give Democrats in the state pause. Standing alone against the Republican march across the state is Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has managed to win three terms despite the political ground moving against him. State Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in 2022, is already in the race against Brown. He’s not likely to have the field to himself given how vulnerable Republicans believe Brown to be.
Montana (D): Two recent results in Montana — both from the 2020 election — should scare Democrats. The first is that Trump won the state by 16 points over Joe Biden. The second is that Sen. Steve Daines (R) crushed popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock by 10 points in the Senate race that year. Now, Sen. Jon Tester (D) is a proven vote getter and has won in not-great years for his party — including 2018 — before. And the two Republicans mentioned — Reps. Ryan Zinke and Matt Rosendale — as Tester’s most likely opponents aren’t world-beaters. (Rosendale lost to Tester by 3 points in 2018.) Still, this is Montana in a presidential election year, which almost certainly makes it Tester’s toughest race yet.
West Virginia (D): Let’s say this first: There is no Democrat other than Sen. Joe Manchin who would have any chance in hell of winning this seat. Manchin is it. (Trump won the state by, wait for it, 39 points in 2020.) Which makes his wishy-washiness on his future plans notable. "Everything's on the table," Manchin told “Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd over the weekend when asked about 2024. (That “everything” apparently includes a run for president. Hmmmm.) Republicans are lining up to run even if Manchin does decide to go for a 3rd full term. Rep. Alex Mooney is already in the race and Gov. Jim Justice, himself once a Democrat, seems to be very interested in the race. This is going to be an extremely tough hold for Democrats even under their best-case scenario of Manchin running again.