Skip to content

At the Races: Democrats’ Senate forecast brightens?

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

For months, the conventional wisdom held that Senate Democrats face a bleak map in 2024. The numbers tell the story: Democrats have to defend 23 seats this cycle, compared with 11 for Republicans. Many of those races are in states that range from purple to deep crimson.

But in recent weeks, the picture has brightened somewhat. Several incumbents that were thought to be weighing retirement, such as Montana’s Jon Tester, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and Virginia’s Tim Kaine, announced they are going for another term.

Fundraising disclosures earlier this month added to the Senate Democrats’ increasingly sunny outlook. The DSCC reported raising $19.6 million in the first quarter of 2023, outpacing the NRSC by almost $2 million. Tester and Brown also posted strong fundraising numbers.

For Republicans, early optimism has run up against the potential for bruising primaries that pit the establishment wing against conservative upstarts in several key states. In Ohio, three Republicans are expected to fight for the nomination to take on Brown. In Pennsylvania, the party’s establishment wing is wooing Dave McCormick, but Doug Mastriano, who got trounced in the 2022 governor’s race, has sparked a round of GOP hand-wringing by publicly pondering a Senate run.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice filed paperwork Thursday for a U.S. Senate run, setting the table for an intraparty battle with Rep. Alex Mooney, who enjoys the backing of the powerful conservative group Club for Growth. Justice, the wealthy coal mining magnate, is expected to launch his run this afternoon. 

And, with a little more than 18 months to go before the 2024 election, Republicans have yet to coalesce around candidates in two other important states: Wisconsin and Nevada.

That’s not to say Democrats will have an easy time of it. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of the most consequential players in terms of who will control the chamber, says he won’t announce his decision on whether to run for reelection until December. Without Manchin, Democrats’ chances of holding on to the West Virginia Senate seat are slim.

Manchin said Thursday that he’s “laser focused on doing the job West Virginians elected me to do — lowering healthcare costs, protecting Social Security and Medicare, shoring up American energy security and getting our fiscal house in order.” But, he added, “make no mistake, I will win any race I enter.”

Starting gate

Inside the beltway: Two potential 2024 White House contenders in the GOP not named Donald Trump were in the national capital region this week. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke about abortion at an event in Arlington, Va. And as CQ Roll Call’s Ryan Tarinelli reports, former Vice President Mike Pence did the same at a Federalist Society gathering at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

Taking shape: President Joe Biden’s announcement that he’ll seek reelection means battleground incumbents — there are at least 11 House seats held by Democrats in play in states Biden or Trump won by less than 3 points in 2020 — will know who’s at the top of the ticket. Elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales also discusses the landscape with Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick for this week’s edition of the Political Theater podcast.

Election investments: Members of the National Council on Election Integrity are seeking at least $400 million in fiscal 2024 for election security grants. In a letter to members of Congress, the bipartisan group of former members, national security officials and Cabinet secretaries say the money is needed to counter cyberthreats.

K Street strength: New lobbying disclosures show that divided government has been good for K Street. The 10 biggest spenders on federal lobbying increased their combined outlays to $79.2 million during the first three months of 2023. And with several crucial pieces of “must-do” legislation looming, lobbyists say they expect vigorous efforts to influence the legislative and executive branches to continue.

ICYMI

RIP: Former talk show host (and Cincinnati mayor) Jerry Springer died Thursday at age 79, multiple media outlets reported. Well into his television career, Springer thought about running for Senate, and then-Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who was the Democratic whip at the time, was eager to answer any questions he had.

Endorsed: Club for Growth is backing Republican Scott Baugh’s second run in California’s 47th District, this time without incumbent Democrat Katie Porter running. EMILY’s List endorsed Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for reelection. 

#MI07: Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is running for the state’s open Senate seat, says she is dedicated “to the point of obsession” with keeping the 7th District in Democratic hands. Republican Tom Barrett, who lost to Slotkin last year, is expected to run again, but no Democrats have officially declared they will run for the seat, one of the most competitive in the country. The NRSC released a new ad criticizing Slotkin on Thursday.

Politics runs in the family: Democrat Liz Gereghty, the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said she would run in New York’s 17th District, a seat currently held by GOP freshman Rep. Mike Lawler. Gereghty, a member of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District board, is likely to face more competition in the district. 

Blue targets: Swing Left, a liberal advocacy organization, outlined its initial targets to help Democrats win back the House next year. The group said it would focus on defending six Democrats and flipping six Republican-held seats. The Democrats are Reps. Eric Sorensen of Illinois, Don Davis of North Carolina, Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico, Pat Ryan of New York and Greg Landsman and Emilia Sykes of Ohio. The Republicans they are targeting are Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon; John Duarte and Mike Garcia of California; George Santos, Anthony D’Esposito and Mike Lawler of New York.

They’re running: Democratic Harrisburg Councilwoman Shamaine Daniels will seek a rematch with GOP Rep. Scott Perry in Pennsylvania’s 10th District again, after losing by nearly 8 points in 2022. Physician Josh McConkey is vying to challenge Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel in North Carolina’s 13th District.

New York coordination: The Democratic triumvirate of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Gillibrand and Gov. Kathy Hochul is plotting a coordinated campaign effort within the New York Democratic Party to try to prevent a repeat of last cycle’s losses in the Empire State. HuffPost cites sources that the effort, which isn’t finalized, would be a key part of the push to take back the House majority.

Ad watch: The group Unrig Our Economy launched a set of digital and streaming ads opposing the debt limit bill passed by House Republicans on Wednesday. The ads urged New York Reps. Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams, Virginia Rep. Jen Kiggans and California’s Duarte to vote against the measure, which an ad targeting Molinaro called “McCarthy’s default plan.” All four ultimately voted for the bill. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was going to be the alternative to Trump who didn’t turn off suburban voters, why does he seem to be always looking for a fight, Stu Rothenberg wonders.

Portuguese connection: Rhode Island is home to one of the largest Portuguese-American communities in the United States, and local lobbyist Matt Jerzyk tells The Public’s Radio that Portuguese Americans will play an outsize role in deciding the winner of the 1st Congressional District contest. Fifteen Democrats are running for the seat, which Rep. David Cicilline will vacate in June.

Listening to Linda: Former WWE CEO and two-time failed Senate candidate Linda McMahon discussed her support of Donald Trump and her efforts to help rebuild the Connecticut Republican Party in an interview with WTNH-TV. Asked if she is pondering another run for elective office, McMahon answered: “No … I’ve gotten that out of my system.”

Frank talk: Sorensen, the Illinois freshman with Swing Left’s backing, was among the 14 Democrats who voted with Republicans to block Washington, D.C.’s, police accountability law. In response to a message from a constituent questioning that vote, Sorensen suggested politics played a role, according to the Journal Star of Peoria. “We frontliners often walk tightropes others do not,” he said later on Twitter.

Granite State complications: Most of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation is on board, but neither Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas nor the state Democratic Party posted anything online about Biden’s bid for a second term, according to Politico. The president’s support for moving the first presidential primary to South Carolina has angered some New Hampshire Democrats, who have long relished their first-in-the-nation status.

The count: 4 points

That’s how much the Republican position on the generic House ballot would improve with DeSantis as the presidential nominee next year instead of Trump, according to a poll in five battleground states that Public Opinion Strategies shared with CQ Roll Call. With Democrats needing a net gain of five seats to take back the House, the poll found a 1-point GOP edge in the generic House ballot with DeSantis at the top of the ticket, with a Republican candidate getting 43 percent to the Democrat’s 42 percent. But that became a 3-point edge for the Democrat (40 percent Republican, 43 percent Democrat) with Trump at the top of the ticket. The poll’s head-to-head test also found DeSantis had a 3-point edge over Biden, 45 percent to 42 percent, while Biden had a 3-point edge over Trump, 46 percent to 43 percent. The survey of 2,500 voters used cellphones and landlines and was taken April 11-13 in Arizona and Pennsylvania; April 17-19 in Michigan; and April 17-20 in Nevada and Wisconsin. The margin of error was plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Nathan’s notes

The same four states that were Toss-ups in 2020 and helped decide the presidency for Joe Biden — Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and their 56 electoral votes — are rated Toss-ups in Nathan’s first ratings of the 2024 race. 

Shop talk: Zack Roday

Roday is an executive vice president at Ascent Media who managed Colorado Republican Joe O’Dea’s Senate campaign last year and was named this week as director of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s coordinated campaign focused on the 2023 Virginia legislative races. 

Starting out: “Miss Duffy’s history class in 11th grade. We had to go out and knock doors as a part of an assignment and I loved it,” Roday said. He grew up on Long Island in a family that often talked politics and were “big State of the Union watchers” who went to presidential inaugurations growing up. “From a formal perspective, though, it was through the University of Connecticut’s honors internship program in D.C., where I did a whole semester, and I worked full time as an intern in college and it was a lot of fun. … I got hooked from there. I kind of switched my mindset from being a prosecutor and a lawyer to ‘I want to do government.’ I wasn’t quite set on campaigns yet, but I knew I wanted to be in that public space.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Winning,” he said. “Getting the call from the AP and then handing the phone to [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker in 2014 was an absolute high. That’s a thrilling experience, and I had put all the work in, the team had put all the work in. We had grinded for, most of the staff had been on the ground and working for 18 months, some longer, some a little less. I met my wife on the campaign. That’s the most unforgettable. Scott Walker is the reason I know my wife.”

Biggest campaign regret: “Wanting to start out too big. And I think I’ve gotten it right now, but I was very interested in a presidential campaign at a young age and I should have started down ballot because I think ‘all politics is local’ is a bit out of date … but local elections can still be about local issues, thank goodness, and I should have started out down the totem pole, so to speak.” Roday started out in D.C., but he said he could have learned more by moving to work on a campaign right after college. “You just learn so much more when you’re in it versus when you’re in D.C. trying to learn about it.”

Unconventional wisdom: “It does tie to one of my regrets, it’s to pick up and go. It doesn’t start in D.C.,” he said. “A lot of the great political starts are actually outside of D.C. and not inside D.C., and I do think it makes you a better operative. And probably pay it forward too. It is absolutely a consistent theme: You have no idea who will be your boss, a competitor but someone you want to have a respectful relationship with, an ally, whether that’s on another client or perhaps they’re helping you get business, you’re helping them get business. So always pay it forward.”

Coming up

It may have escaped notice given its low-key nature in This Town, but prom season ends Saturday with the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the Washington Hilton. Biden is expected to attend, and comedian Roy Wood Jr. of The Daily Show, who our White House correspondent saw during a taping of fellow former WHCA comedian Stephen Colbert’s CBS show last year, is hosting.

Photo finish

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team.

Recent Stories

At Aspen conference, a call to prioritize stopping gun violence

Appeals court rules preventive care task force unconstitutional

Key players return to Congressional Softball Game, this time at the microphone

Bannon asks Supreme Court to keep him out of prison

Her family saw the horrors of the Holocaust. Now Rep. Becca Balint seeks to ‘hold this space’

Supreme Court clarifies when a gun law is constitutional