Corrected 8:27 p.m. | The Democratic Senate majority remains extremely vulnerable and the battleground of Senate seats has shifted slightly, with race rating changes in three states.
In Maryland, former Gov. Larry Hogan’s candidacy shook up the race from a one-party contest between Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks in the May 14 Democratic primary to a two-step process in which Democrats can no longer ignore the general election.
Hogan’s candidacy qualifies as a splash, but his path to victory in November is still difficult. Even though he left office in early 2023 as a popular two-term governor, voters often make different calculations in federal races when control of the Senate is on the line. Republicans haven’t won a federal statewide race in Maryland in more than 30 years, and President Joe Biden is likely to carry Maryland by at least 30 points. That’s very difficult top-of-the-ticket pressure for any candidate to withstand.
But Hogan’s candidacy ensures that Democrats will need to spend more time, money, energy and attention defending the seat than they would have without him in the race. Inside Elections changed the rating of the Maryland Senate race from Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic.
In Michigan, the open seat combined with Biden’s potential struggles at the top of the ticket improve Republican chances of winning. With slumping job approval ratings, Biden has been trailing former President Donald Trump in limited head-to-head ballot tests. And dissatisfaction among the sizable Arab-American population with his handling of the war in Gaza could make it more difficult for Biden to rebound. Biden won Michigan by less than 3 points in 2020 and doesn’t have much room for error to win the state again.
Unlike Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Democrats don’t have an incumbent in Michigan because Sen. Debbie Stabenow decided not to seek reelection. Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the front-runner in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary race with actor Hill Harper. But Slotkin doesn’t have an established statewide brand, unlike her potential future colleagues, that could help her overperform the top of the ticket by a significant margin.
Republicans don’t have a candidate with proven statewide strength either, and they are sorting through a primary situation. GOP strategists believe former Rep. Mike Rogers would be the strongest candidate, but he hasn’t been on a ballot in a decade and is transitioning from post-Congress work in the private sector and as a CNN commentator. Former Rep. Peter Meijer, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and 2018 Senate candidate Sandy Pensler are all in the race as well. In addition, former Rep. Justin Amash, who left the GOP conference while he was in the House to become a Libertarian, has formed an exploratory committee to run in the primary.
If Biden continues to struggle at the top of the ticket, then this becomes a better opportunity for the GOP, even if they don’t have the perfect candidate and a competitive primary. Inside Elections changed the rating of the race from Lean Democratic to Tilt Democratic.
In New Jersey, it’s clear that Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez will not be the Democratic nominee, increasing Democratic chances of holding on to the seat. Along those lines, Inside Elections changed the rating of the race from Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic.
With Menendez battling an indictment accusing him of bribery and aiding foreign governments, as well as uncertainty about whether he would run for reelection to prove his innocence, it was clear that the race was no longer just a walk in Asbury Park. Nominating Menendez would have given Republicans a chance at winning a seat they wouldn’t normally have any business expecting to win.
But Menendez’s support has plummeted, and if he decides to run again he would lose to either Rep. Andy Kim or first lady Tammy Murphy in the June 4 primary. While Murphy has most of the New Jersey political machine lined up behind her, Kim scored a key victory over the weekend with the endorsement of the Monmouth County party and ballot line that goes along with it. But with either Kim or Murphy, national Democrats won’t have to pay attention to New Jersey in November.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.
The date of the Maryland primary is corrected in this report.