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Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.
Could the Republicans blow another chance to win Senate control?
Given the more favorable GOP 2024 landscape, it seems unlikely since the Democrats would need to repeat their 2022 success of holding every vulnerable seat.
But the Republicans’ propensity for nominating unacceptable right-wing candidates has kept them from converting favorable odds into Senate control four times in the past 14 years — 2010, 2012, 2020 and 2022. Who’s to say it won’t happen again in 2024?
Of the 34 seats being contested in 2024, just 11 are held by Republicans and 23 by Democrats or Independents who vote with them. None of the 11 GOP seats is now considered vulnerable, though some Texas Democrats believe U.S. Rep. Colin Allred could give Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz a run for his money.
By contrast, five incumbent Democrats face re-election races that loom as either toss-ups or lean to them only slightly. In addition, Arizona U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a maverick who caucuses with the Democrats but switched this year to independent, likely faces a difficult three-way race. And several other Democrats could face close races, depending on GOP primaries.
That means that, barring the kinds of surprises that are always possible, Republicans probably have six chances to win the two seats they need to ensure Senate control, if Democrats retain the presidency, or only one, if the GOP regains the White House.
The odds in favor of GOP success increase when one factors in the 2020 results. Of the six key states, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden each carried three. Two of them — Montana and West Virginia — are seen as solidly Republican on the presidential level and the third — Ohio — are almost as certain.
The other races are in “tossup” states Biden carried — Arizona; Pennsylvania, where Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is seeking his fourth term; and Nevada, where Democratic U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen seeks her second.
Seems simple. But in the year before the election, the same old Republican internal battles have emerged in several prime GOP target states.
The likeliest chance of a divisive GOP primary battle is in Arizona, where Republicans should be favored in a three-way race with a Democrat and Sinema. She has lost popularity since winning narrowly as a Democrat in 2018.
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, an arch-conservative and avowed Trump loyalist, is running. Keri Lake, another avid Trumper who narrowly lost the governorship last November, is actively exploring the race.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, who initially planned a primary challenge to Sinema, is running in a race almost impossible to calculate at this early date.
Besides Arizona, Republicans could jeopardize their chances in three other states by choosing nominees too far right. They are:
Nevada: Jim Marchant, an election denier defeated last year for secretary of state, recently became the first Republican to announce against Rosen.
Pennsylvania: Defeated pro-Trump gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano may challenge the party establishment’s choice, wealthy industrialist David McCormick, who narrowly lost a primary for the state’s other seat last year.
Polls show Casey, the son of a former governor, leading both Mastriano and McCormick.
West Virginia. Top Republicans favor Gov. Jim Justice, a wealthy former Democrat, for the seat now held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
Manchin, the most conservative Senate Democrat and a frequent White House critic, was narrowly re-elected with under 50 per cent in 2018. He says he will decide by Jan. 15 to seek re-election, seek another office or retire. He has declined to rule out an independent presidential bid.
Polls showed Justice leading Manchin by double digits. But U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, who won a contested congressional race with Trump’s support last year, is also running. Several polls show Justice would beat Mooney, and the poll that showed Justice beating Manchin had the senator ahead of Mooney.
The other top GOP chances are in states Trump won big in 2020:
Montana. The top target of Montana U.S. Sen. Stephen Daines, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is his Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. But GOP officials lost an attempt to change election rules to keep a third candidate from draining enough votes to re-elect Tester.
The GOP choice is uncertain. U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, a strong Trump supporter, is one possibility. Axios reported GOP leaders are encouraging Tim Sheehy, a wealthy businessman and war veteran, to run.
Tester won in 2018 with only 50.3 per cent, and Trump carried the state by 20 points.
Ohio. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the state’s last major Democratic statewide office holder, faces a stiff challenge for a fourth term after Trump carried the state by 8 points and Republican C.D. Vance won a contested 2022 Senate race.
A GOP primary fight is likely. Bernie Moreno, a wealthy businessman and Trump supporter, has announced his candidacy and called for reparations for white soldiers who “freed slaves” during the Civil War.
State Sen. Matt Dolan, who criticized Trump for lies about the 2020 election outcome and finished third in 2022, is also running. Several prominent GOP officeholders are considering joining them.
Elsewhere, Republicans have hopes in Wisconsin against U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and in Michigan, where U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin hopes to succeed retiring Democrat Debbie Stabenow. Both Democrats are currently favored.
As in 2022, Republicans have several ways to win the small number of seats they need. Once again, they have several ways to lose them.