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Democrats continue to dominate list of Senate’s most vulnerable

Menendez indictment puts him at top of the list, but many states could flip red

The criminal indictment against Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., led to calls for his resignation and opposition from key state Democratic Party leaders.
The criminal indictment against Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., led to calls for his resignation and opposition from key state Democratic Party leaders. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Corrected 7:35 p.m. | Six months ago, Sen. Bob Menendez didn’t make Roll Call’s list of most vulnerable Senate incumbents, but that was before the New Jersey Democrat was indicted on federal bribery and extortion charges and prosecutors released pictures of gold bars and stacks of cash found in his home. 

While Menendez has vigorously denied the allegations, there have been mounting calls for him to resign from members of his own party. A poll released last month by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that 70 percent of his constituents want him to step aside.

New Jersey is a blue state and Menendez’s departure from the chamber would be more likely to happen in a Democratic primary, and the Garden State is not one of the places Republicans are looking right now for the two seats they need to take the majority next year. 

Instead, the GOP has pinned its hopes on defeating three Democrats from states where then-President Donald Trump easily beat Joe Biden in 2020: West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, Montana’s Jon Tester and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown. Republicans will aim to tie the three incumbents to Biden, who remains deeply unpopular in all three states when matched with Trump.

And those are not the only options for the GOP. Indeed this top 10 list includes only two Republicans, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida.

Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema have not disclosed whether they intend to run in 2024. Manchin, who has flirted with running for president as a third-party candidate, told reporters he’ll have an announcement by the end of the year.

Sinema, a Democrat-turned-independent, faces competition on two fronts: Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego and Republican Kari Lake, the party’s 2022 gubernatorial nominee. Her difficult path to another term puts her ahead of Manchin, who was No. 1 on this list six months ago.

One other change since May is that Sen. Mitt Romney, who was No. 10, dropped off when he announced he won’t seek reelection. Ruby-red Utah is unlikely to be competitive for Democrats.

The Senate battleground will also feature races that aren’t listed here because they are open seats.

Indeed, the most expensive Senate contest next year probably won’t be one of these, it will likely be the California race. Several candidates including three top Democrats — Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — and former baseball great Steve Garvey, a Republican, are battling it out for the seat that was left open by the death of Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Sen. Laphonza Butler, who was appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom after Feinstein’s death, will not run for a full term.

Another key Senate battleground will be Michigan. On the Democratic side, Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the most widely known contender to succeed Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who is retiring. Republicans also are headed to a crowded primary that includes Peter Meijer, a one-term Republican congressman who voted to impeach Trump, former Rep. Mike Rogers and several others.

1. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

Menendez, who also has been accused of failing to register as a foreign agent for Egypt, insists he’s innocent but has lost key support in the Garden State as his approval ratings have plummeted. In addition to most of the state’s Democratic officials calling on him to resign, county chairs who determine which candidate is on “the line,” which gives preferential placement to candidates on the primary ballot, could keep him from being renominated — if he even runs. Rep. Andy Kim already launched a primary challenge and more candidates, such as first lady Tammy Murphy, could also launch their own bids.

2. Kyrsen Sinema, I-Ariz.

The Arizona Senate contest is perhaps the least predictable in the country, especially with Sinema not yet revealing whether she will run. She moved ahead of Manchin on this list because if she does run, it would likely be on a third ballot line facing both Gallego and Kari Lake, the former gubernatorial candidate. A poll conducted late last month by Cygnal and obtained by Roll Call showed essentially a dead heat between Gallego and Lake with Sinema a distant third at 15 percent. She raised just $826,000 in the third quarter, but had $10.8 million on hand on Sept. 30.

3. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.

Manchin, the last remaining Democrat to hold statewide office in Republican-dominated West Virginia, also has teased several scenarios: retiring, running for president on a third party ticket, seeking reelection to the Senate as an independent or staying within the Democratic fold. Two Republicans are vying to face him: Rep. Alex X. Mooney and Jim Justice, the state’s popular governor. Manchin raised $715,000 in the third quarter and had $11.3 million in his account. Justice raised $613,000 and closed the quarter with $1.2 million. Mooney raised $314,000 and had $1.6 million on hand.

Republicans are targeting the three-term Democrat as a Biden ally whose views on government spending, immigration and taxes are out of step with those of most Montanans. Despite the state’s deep-red politics, the GOP’s efforts could be complicated by a divisive primary that pits businessman and former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy against Rep. Matt Rosendale, who narrowly lost to Tester in 2018 and has not formally entered the race. At the end of the third quarter, Tester had $13 million on hand to Sheehy’s $1.1 million and Rosendale’s $1.7 million.

5. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio

Among embattled Senate Democrats, Brown was the third quarter’s undisputed fundraising champ, bringing in $5.8 million and ending with $11.2 million in the bank. That’s more than any of his GOP challengers: state Sen. Matt Dolan, businessman Bernie Moreno and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, each of whom have lent their campaigns money. Democrats are hoping a bitter, three-way primary will leave the Republican nominee bruised heading into the general election. Brown is a fighter who has continued to win in a state that is increasingly Republican, but he’ll have to navigate around the headwinds of the presidential election, which is likely to exert a strong influence on down-ballot races.

6. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

Casey, a three-term senator whose father was a popular governor, has high name ID in Pennsylvania, which will be a presidential battleground state. He had $7.4 million on hand at the end of the third quarter. His likely Republican opponent, David McCormick, narrowly lost a bid for the Senate nomination last year, but has consolidated GOP support in the state and appears set to avoid a primary. Republicans are bullish that McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO who last year lent his campaign $14 million, will be able to compete with Casey in this purple state. Both parties have signaled they’ll try to make China policy a focal point of the campaign. 

7. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.

Rosen is seeking her second term in perpetually competitive Nevada, where she is likely to face former Army Capt. Sam Brown, a Purple Heart recipient who is the preferred candidate of national Republicans this cycle. Brown faces a contested primary. A recent National Republican Senatorial Committee poll that the Nevada Independent reviewed last week showed Rosen ahead by about 5 points. She is likely to be helped by less infighting in the state Democratic Party and the coordinated get-out-the-vote effort that comes along with a presidential year. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly won reelection last year, even as the then-incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak lost reelection.

Baldwin is preparing for a close contest in Wisconsin, where GOP Sen. Ron Johnson won reelection by 1 point last year. The Badger State is also expected to be a presidential battlefield. But Republicans have yet to recruit a top-tier candidate into the race, leaving Baldwin less vulnerable, for now, than her fellow Democrats in purple states. Two businessmen, Eric Hovde and Scott Mayer, are both still considering challenging Baldwin. Both would be able to at least partially self-fund their campaigns. Baldwin had $6.9 million on hand at the end of September.

9. Ted Cruz, R-Texas

Rep. Colin Allred is hoping to do what Beto O’Rourke six years ago could not: unseat Cruz and prove that Texas has become a purple state. Allred, a Dallas-area Democrat who was an NFL linebacker and served in the Obama administration, outraised Cruz in the third quarter, bringing in $4.7 million to Cruz’s $3.1 million. He has criticized Cruz for traveling to Cancun after an ice storm struck the state in 2021 and for spending more time podcasting than serving his constituents. Cruz has painted Allred as a liberal whose views are out of step with the Lone Star State. Allred has a primary opponent, Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez.

10. Rick Scott, R-Fla.

Florida’s junior senator has already been running television ads and loaned his campaign $4 million as of the end of September. Democrats are coalescing behind former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is targeting Scott for a plan he circulated last year that would have required Congress to reauthorize federal programs including Social Security and Medicare every five years. Scott, however, later revised his plan to exempt those programs. While Republicans won major races in Florida last year by big margins, Scott narrowly flipped the seat in 2018, so Democrats are hopeful they can go on offense here.

This report was corrected to reflect that Sen. Butler will serve until a special election in November 2024 for the final weeks of Feinstein’s term, which ends in January 2025.

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