The Democratic Party has a huge opportunity this year to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time since Barack Obama’s 2008 election. But Democrats in the Senate are not so lucky.
In 2018 Democrats will have to defend half of all their Senate seats. Depending on how you look at it, at least ten of those seats (maybe more) are going to be significantly challenging to hold on to.
Compare that to Senate Republicans who only have 9 seats in play – seven of which are in reliably Republican states.
If you are the optimistic type – that means that if Democrats held on to every single one of their seats – plus picked up two from Republican control, the Democratic Party could have a +1 advantage in the Senate.
That’s a lot of “what-if’s,” – but if the last two years have taught us anything about politics, it’s that anything is possible.
Here’s 10 Senate Races to Watch in 2018
1. Nevada – Dean Heller (R)
Republican Sen. Dean Heller was one of the first Senators that Democrats decided to go after in 2018. He is the only Senator up for reelection in a state that Hillary Clinton won. Nevada is also one of the textbook cases of rapidly changing demographics, which more often than not helps Democrats.
2. Arizona – Open
With Republican Sen. Jeff Flake retiring after this year, his Arizona seat is wide open. Republicans in Arizona are more divided than in most other states – in 2016 when John McCain was up for reelection he had to fend off a rabid right-wing insurgency in the Breitbart-backed Kelli Ward.
Ward ultimately lost to McCain, and quickly announced her reentering the next race against Jeff Flake (before he announced his retirement). She had two Breitbart alumni on her team, Jennifer Lawrence and Dustin Stockton, but they quit after only 6 months of campaigning with Ward.
While the Republican primary shapes up to be a brutal one, Democrats recruited Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, whose “moderate, even GOP friendly politics match the state’s.”
3. Montana – Jon Tester (D)
Like many up for reelection this year, Jon Tester is the sole Democratic Senator in a state Trump won by a significant margin – in Montana’s case by 20%. Tester has listened to his constituents though, and he has voted for more than half of Trump’s nominees and returns home on the weekends to farm (yes, literally work on a farm).
Tester is currently the only statewide Democrat in Montana.
4. West Virginia – Joe Manchin (D)
Like Tester, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is the only Democratic senator in his state of West Virginia… and if you know anything about West Virginia, you know it is Trump Country through and through. In 2016, the end result was Donald Trump 68.7% with Hillary Clinton at 26.5% (the second biggest state margin in the country).
As a point of comparison, West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice, announced at a September Trump rally that he was switching parties (from Democrat to Republican).
However, as Amber Philips of the Washington Post notes, “It’s hard to find a senator of any party with a stronger in-state brand than Joe Manchin.” Republicans are fighting over who will challenge him, but whoever it ends up being better not be too bruised up from their primary, because they are going to have a tough fight ahead of them.
5. Missouri – Claire McCaskill (D)
When they come for you, they come for you hard. Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill learned that the hard way when her young Republican challenger Josh Hawley started connecting McCaskill to (now) former Missouri Senator Al Franken.
Hawley came out of the gate swinging – but that’s because he had just taken a job as Missouri’s Attorney General just before switching gears to the Senate campaign.
McCaskill will undoubtedly continue to point out the “political stepping stool” aspect of Hawley’s job-jumping. But, it also means Hawley goes into his race against McCaskill with a solid group of support behind him.
6. Wisconsin – Tammy Baldwin (D)
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is yet another lonely statewide Democrat in a Republican state. Even though Wisconsin hadn’t voted for a Republican in a presidential election since Roald Regan in 1984, the state’s Republican apparatus is among the most well-mobilized in the country. The state ended up putting Trump over the top in 2016, and Republican party bosses in the state are eager to show it wasn’t a Trumpian fluke.
7. Indiana – Joe Donnelly (D)
Mike Pence’s former Senate counterpart is going to have his work cut out for him in 2018. Trump won Sen. Joe Donnelly’s state of Indiana no problem.
Donnelly has mostly been able to stay independent, but at a September rally, Donald Trump tried to get Donnelly to back the Republican tax plan. “If Sen. Donnelly doesn’t approve it, because you know he’s on the other side, we will come here. We will campaign against him like you wouldn’t believe.”
At the moment, Republican Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer and businessman Mike Braun are all tearing each other apart in the primary. But eventually, that fire will turn on Donnelly, and he better hope he’s ready.
8. Ohio – Sherrod Brown (D)
The Hill’s Sylvan Lane described Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown as a “rarity” – “a liberal considered to have a good shot at reelection in a state President Trump won by an overwhelming margin.”
So far, it’s looking like Brown will again face Republican Josh Mandel, who he beat for a Senate seat in 2012. The rematch will undoubtedly be a rough one.
9. Florida – Bill Nelson (D)
Two term Republican Governor Rick Scott is expected to enter the race for U.S. Senate – and if he does, then his race against Nelson will become one of the most watched (and definitely most expensive) races in the country.
Also, Scott already has tons of money – in personal wealth and fundraising ability. That means the national Democratic party could have to spend much more than they want to in Florida, taking money from crucial other races all over the country.
10. Texas – Ted Cruz (R)
This one is particularly interesting. When Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016, he surprised many people when he became one of the last holdouts standing between Donald Trump and the Republican nomination. In order to even get to that place, Cruz had to spend a lot of time in the mud with Trump.
But there was a price to the antics: Much of the public’s anger with Trump, is as easily applicable to Cruz – and his likely 2018 challenger Rep. Beto O’Rouke has undoubtedly figured this out.
When O’Rourke entered the race in March 2016, liberals all over the country were overjoyed. Judging by the past House and Senate races of Trump’s America – especially the ones that have drawn national attention – O’Rourke could have an easy time fundraising from Democrats outside of Texas. Of course, the same races that taught us that, also taught us that can become a liability too.