The Top Senate Races to Watch in 2016

2016 – there is a lot more to the elections than Donald Trump’s obscure comments or Hillary Clinton’s inevitability as the Democratic nominee. While the Presidential election tends to dominate the ever-present 24-hour news cycle, there are still 33 Senate elections in 2016, and the outcome of some key races could determine the balance of power in the United States Senate. Here they are;

Nevada – Harry Reid’s seat is once again center stage. Who is going to be the star of that show in 2016?

Harry-Reid

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced in March of 2015 that he would not seek re-election in 2016. Currently, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto is the lone declared Democratic candidate, and she is also Harry Reid’s hand-picked choice to replace him in the Senate. On the Republican side, United States Congressman Joe Heck is the only formidable candidate running so far. Heck, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010, is an Army Brigadier General and a physician. A potential matchup between Cortez-Masto and Heck would be costly, high-profile and extremely competitive. Current polling has shown each of the two potential nominees winning in a head-to-head general election matchup. A Gravis Marketing poll in July of 2015 had Heck up 14% over Cortez-Masto. However, a Public Policy Poll, released one day prior to the Gravis poll, gave the win to Cortez-Masto, giving the Democrat a 1% edge over the Republican Heck. But like all good Senate contests, there is a wild card.

Her name is Sharron Angle. The 2010 Republican Senate nominee is threatening another run for the same seat she lost to Harry Reid only 5 years ago. Some in the party’s establishment, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been abundantly clear that the party must nominate viable general election candidates, and Angle exemplifies the antonym of that desire by the GOP establishment.

Since then, Angle has been touting her conservative bona fides amongst conservative circles. In 20102, Angle flirted with once again with running for the United States Senate, but ultimately yielded on another campaign. Angle’s potential entrance into the race would complicate Heck’s game plan, and would send him into a costly primary against the Tea Party-backed Angle.

Mitch McConnell might be onto something, however. In the same Gravis Marketing poll that placed Heck up 14% over Cortez-Masto, the question was asked about a potential matchup between Cortez-Masto and Angle. That poll put Cortez-Masto ahead by 23%, and left the former 2010 nominee Angle with only 30%.

New Hampshire – U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte’s Granite State woes.

United States Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has a couple of things she needs to be worrying about – especially the fact that she is running against a popular Democratic Governor and in an Presidential Election cycle. Ayotte was elected in 2010 in the tidal wave that swept many Republicans back into the Senate. She trounced Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes by a substantial 24% margin. But 2016 is going to be a bit different for the freshman Senator who has aligned herself as a hawk on foreign policy by teaming up with the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Ayotte’s challenger is two-term Governor Maggie Hassan, who was elected in 2012 and subsequently re-elected by an even wider margin in 2014. Hassan is a formidable challenger, and potentially could be Ayotte’s worst nightmare. Hassan, who has distanced herself from some of the positions of the woman she endorsed to be President (Hillary Clinton), has failed to break through in terms of polling (of which there is an abundance of in the First in the Nation State). From April to October of 2015, Ayotte led in every single poll, whether it was by 1% or 11%. However, in the two most recently commissioned New Hampshire Senate polls, Hassan seems to be moving the needle back in her direction. An October PPP Poll had Hassan up 44% to 42% for the incumbent Ayotte. A November/December PPP Poll put both the Governor and the Senator at 42%. Ayotte and Hassan are going to have to work to win, a concept familiar to every Granite State politician.

Let’s just put it this way; New Hampshire is going to be close. Really, really close.

Colorado – Michael Bennett might become the next Mark Udall.

If there is one target in specific that the Republicans want to defeat in 2016, his name is Michael Bennett, and GOP operatives would like to make him Colorado’s next Mark Udall. In 2014, incumbent United States Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) was defeated by Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO) – by only 40,000 votes out of 2 million cast. Add to that, the race was infused with campaign cash, with the candidates and outside groups spending just north of $100 million, making it the second most expensive senate race behind the record-breaking $118 million spent in North Carolina.

The 2016 Senate race is going to be a bit different from 2014, but not by much. Colorado, which has been considered one of the most purple states in the country, has a diverse electorate. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democrat to win the state since 1964. Even more so, he once again won Rocky Mountain High’s 9 electoral votes in 2012.

The Republicans do have one setback in this contest – there are 8 declared Republican candidates, and over 20 potential candidates who have still not made their intentions clear either way. One of the most prominent undeclared potential candidates is Gale Norton, a former Secretary of the Interior under President George W. Bush. With so many unknown candidates already declared, and with so many somewhat-known candidates still in the wings waiting to make their entrance into the contest, it seems as if Bennett, who is unchallenged in his party’s primary, has an upper hand – but only until the GOP cards fall into play.

Florida – Rubio is out, but who is going to be in his Senate seat in 2017?

rubio

2010 has been Marco Rubio’s decade – he forced then-Florida Governor Charlie Crist to leave the Republican Party, then he won a 3-way Senate contest (against Crist and former Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek), and now he is a Republican candidate for President of the United States.

But Florida Republicans now have a problem. With Rubio’s announcement that he would be running for Commander in Chief, he also ruled out that he would run for re-election to his Senate seat. For Rubio, it’s all or nothing. And the Senate seat Rubio will vacate in 2017 is in jeopardy for the Republicans.

With Rubio out, other Republicans down the ranks started coming in. Currently, Congressman Ron DeSantis, Congressman David Jolly and Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera have all announced that they will seek the Republican nod to replace Rubio in the Senate. DeSantis and Jolly have both picked up some endorsements from fellow Congressional Republicans, but Lopez-Cantera has dominated in terms of State elected officials endorsing his campaign, with nearly 28 State Representatives and 4 State Senators backing him. For Lopez-Cantera, positioning himself as the next Marco Rubio might be his best bet. Lauren Konkol, a contributing writer for OUTSET Magazine, went on the record saying, “He is running on his successful state record and is passionate about following in the footsteps of Senator Rubio, promoting a conservative message and dedication to the constituents of Florida.”

For the Republicans, polling has indicated that Jolly, the Pinellas County Republican, is running ahead of DeSantis and Lopez-Cantera, respectively. But, that could potentially change if the man that everyone has been looking to for an endorsement decided to step in – Governor Rick Scott. Many believe that Scott would endorse his right hand man, Lopez-Cantera, but some speculate the Governor might hold out on endorsing any Republican in the primary.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-FL) is the party’s hand-picked choice to win the nomination, but Central Florida Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) is having none of it. Grayson and Murphy are in a tight primary contest, and the party’s establishment is getting worried – really worried – that the flamboyant, bomb-dropping Grayson might secure the nomination from the liberal left. A recent PPP Poll showed Grayson toppling Murphy in a head-to-head contest, giving Grayson 33% to Murphy’s 27%. If this does in fact happen, most observers believe the seat would inevitably fall in the hands of the Republicans, considering Florida’s right-tint and Grayson’s radical left views.

Illinois – Duckworth is going to give Mark Kirk a run for his (big) money.

2010 was a year of substantial electoral gains for Republicans, but none were as celebrated as was then-Congressman Mark Kirk’s capturing of President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois. Kirk, a former Commander in the United States Navy, was able to do what was considered to be the impossible when he won in Illinois only two years after Obama’s election as President.

In 2012, things changed for Kirk. The Republican Senator suffered a severe stroke, and didn’t return to his Congressional duties for over a year. In that time, a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army, defeated Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) to represent Illinois’ 8th Congressional district in Congress. Her name is Tammy Duckworth, and now she is going to be giving Mark Kirk a run for his (big) money. Kirk spent $13.6 million in 2010, but he is going to have to spend more to save his job in 2016.

The outlook for Kirk is bleak in Illinois. In almost every poll, Duckworth tops the Senator, and with a Presidential election leading the ballot, things only seem to be getting worse for the Illinois Republican. Even more so, the Democrats are out for blood. For them, Kirk’s 2010 victory was a fluke, and they are going to do whatever it takes to get the seat back in their hands.

But Kirk isn’t out for the count yet. The resilient Senator is positioning himself as a pragmatic, independent problem solver, and he has taken positions to the left of center in order to portray Duckworth as a rank-and-file liberal. But the Congresswoman won’t go quietly either. Let’s leave it at this – Illinois is going to get expensively dirty.

Bonus: Arizona – The Maverick is back, but so are some lofty challengers.

Ward-Kelli

The Maverick is back in Arizona. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is running for re-election, but he faces a stiff primary challenge from the right. Former State Senator Kelli Ward (R-AZ) announced that she would challenge the 2008 Republican Presidential nominee in this 2016 contest. Does she stand a chance? Some polls – and the Ward campaign – say yes.

McCain is one of the most unpopular United States Senators up for re-election in 2016. According to a May , 2015 PPP Poll, McCain’s approval rating sits at only 30% – and if that translates into electoral numbers, that won’t be enough to secure him another term in the United States Senate. The Ward campaign is capitalizing the former State Senator’s conservative bona fides, and she is taking McCain on when it comes to issues such as repealing Obamacare, his support for more federal spending, and his support for amnesty.

In an August 2015 poll conducted by Gravis Marketing, Ward topped McCain by 9%. For Ward supporters, this is welcomed news. Josh DeFord, a Ward campaign supporter, went on the record and said, “Voting out a problem doesn’t solve the problem, you must vote in a solution. Kelli Ward is Arizona’s solution, and the voters agree.”

But for McCain, it could mean the end of the line for his political career.

About Blake Humphrey

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Born in Orlando, Florida, Blake and his family moved to Wheeling, West Virginia in 1997. Since then, Blake has become involved politically in the Mountain State. In 2010, he helped Erikka Storch win a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. From 2011 to 2013, Blake interned for Congressman David B. McKinley. In 2012, Blake managed two campaigns (Patty Levenson for Ohio County Commissioner and Bob Miller for Marshall County Commissioner). In May of 2014, Blake graduated from Wheeling Park High School. He served as Senior Class President, Student Council Vice President, and as the Student Representative to the West Virginia Board of Education and the Ohio County Board of Education. Blake currently resides in Morgantown, West Virginia where he is attending West Virginia University. Currently, Blake serves as a Member of the West Virginia University Student Government Association Board of Governors. As a Member of the Board, he is currently working on college and textbook affordability issues. Blake is majoring in Political Science and Economics. In his free time, Blake enjoys traveling, hiking, fine coffee and reading.