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Are these streaks made to be broken?

One-party dominance could be tested in Maryland, Michigan, Washington and Texas

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican now vying for U.S. Senate, greets fans outside Camden Yards before the Baltimore Orioles' opening game of the season on March 28.
Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican now vying for U.S. Senate, greets fans outside Camden Yards before the Baltimore Orioles' opening game of the season on March 28. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Not only are Republicans trying to regain control of the Senate, but they’re also trying to break a couple of decadeslong losing streaks along the way.  

With riper takeover opportunities in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio, Republicans don’t have to win Maryland and Michigan to gain the two seats they need for a majority, but victories in those two reach states would likely add to the majority and be a morale booster for the GOP. 

Republicans are also trying to break a long losing streak in the Pacific Northwest, having not had a GOP governor in Oregon or Washington since the 1980s.

Here’s a look at the races ahead and how long the parties’ streaks have been.

Maryland Senate (44 years)

Republicans pulled off the recruiting coup of the cycle when former Gov. Larry Hogan announced his run for the Senate just before the filing deadline in Maryland. His decision took a race from the Solid Democratic rating category and turned it into a race that Democrats will have to spend time and money defending. Yet, even though Hogan is the best possible candidate for Republicans, winning won’t be easy. 

Republicans haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in Maryland since Charles “Mac” Mathias won a third term in 1980 — a span of 44 years. But Hogan’s challenge is even more difficult because Maryland is a different place politically. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter won the Old Line State at the top of the ticket, but by just 3 points over Ronald Reagan, while Barbra Streisand and Kenny Rogers were topping the Billboard charts and “The Empire Strikes Back” was the highest-grossing movie of the year. 

Mathias received 66 percent of the vote and outperformed his party’s presidential nominee, but he still had more help from the top of the ticket than Hogan will enjoy. Donald Trump lost Maryland by more than 30 points (65 to 32 percent) in 2020, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll do dramatically better this November. 

Practically, Republicans’ losing streak in Maryland is closer to 54 years. The last nonincumbent Republican to win a Senate race was Rep. J. Glenn Beall Jr., who in 1970 defeated Democratic Sen. Joseph Tydings, the man who defeated Beall’s father in 1964. (The younger Beall lost reelection to Democrat Paul Sarbanes in 1976.) 

This cycle, the seat is open because Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is not seeking a fourth term. Hogan was leading in recent polls as Democrats navigate a competitive primary between Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. But the dynamic of the race will likely change once Democratic voters start to consolidate around their nominee after the May 14 primary. And many Democratic voters who voted for Hogan previously — he won the statehouse by 4 points in 2014 and 12 points in 2018 — will likely vote Democratic in a federal race, with control of the Senate at stake, particularly if Trump is poised to be back in the White House.

The Maryland Senate race is currently rated Likely Democratic by Inside Elections.

Washington governor (44 years)

Washington hasn’t elected a Republican governor since John Spellman in 1980, when wide receiver (and future Oklahoma congressman) Steve Largent caught six touchdowns for the Seattle Seahawks, who were in just their fifth season as a franchise.  

Spellman defeated state senator (and future congressman) Jim McDermott 57 to 43 percent. But, similarly to Maryland, Washington was a different place four decades ago. Ronald Reagan won Washington with 49.7 percent at the top of the ticket in 1980. Reagan also won the Evergreen State four years later, but that’s the last time a Republican has won Washington in a presidential election. Spellman lost reelection, and Republicans haven’t won since. 

Republicans have come close during their 44-year losing streak. In 2004, Democrat Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi 48.873 to 48.868 percent, a margin of 129 votes out of more than 1.7 million cast. Gregoire won a 2008 rematch by 6 points, but Republicans are still salty about the initial contest. 

This cycle, Republicans are resting their streak-breaking dreams on former Rep. Dave Reichert, who represented a competitive congressional district after getting elected in 2004 and is familiar with tough races. He didn’t run for reelection in 2018. 

Reichert is likely to face state Attorney General Bob Ferguson in November, but he needs his profile as the former King County sheriff who helped catch the “Green River Killer” in 2001 to transcend partisan politics. Reichert also needs independent voters and soft Democrats to be open to voting for a Republican in a state race rather than a federal contest, similar to the way Hogan won twice in Maryland. 

But it won’t be easy, considering Joe Biden won Washington 58 percent to 39 percent in 2020. Republicans haven’t won the state’s Electoral College votes since Reagan’s reelection, and Trump is likely to fall far short again in 2024, even if he wins the race nationwide. 

The Washington gubernatorial race is currently rated Likely Democratic by Inside Elections.

Texas Senate (36 years)

Democratic nominee Colin Allred was 5 years old the last time a Democrat won a U.S. Senate race in Texas.

It’s been 36 years since Sen. Lloyd Bentsen won reelection to a fourth term in 1988. Now with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz sitting in the seat, Allred is really trying to break a 54-year losing streak that goes back to 1970, when the last nonincumbent Democrat was elected to the Senate from Texas. 

But Texas was a slightly different place back then. Bentsen’s initial victory came after Democrats carried Texas in three consecutive presidential contests. John F. Kennedy topped Richard Nixon by 2 points in 1960, President Lyndon B. Johnson won his home state easily in 1964 and Hubert Humphrey narrowly won it in 1968, 41 to 40 percent, with George Wallace receiving 19 percent.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke came within 2.5 points of breaking the Democratic losing streak in 2018 when he lost to Cruz, 51 percent to 48 percent. But the same national attention that ignited O’Rourke’s fundraising might have cost him among Texas voters still skeptical of putting Democrats in charge.

A House incumbent, as O’Rourke was, Allred is having similar fundraising success without being defined as a liberal cause célèbre. The Baylor football star turned Berkeley-educated attorney raised $28 million for this race through the end of March and has experience winning competitive races in the North Dallas suburbs. O’Rourke raised and spent a total of $80 million six years ago, and he came from a Democratic El Paso-based district. 

Biden lost Texas by just 5.6 points in 2020, but Allred likely needs him to come closer this year to minimize the number of Trump voters he would need to cross over and vote for a Democrat for the Senate. That’s possible, but seems unlikely in Biden’s current political condition. 

The Texas Senate race is rated Likely Republican by Inside Elections. 

Michigan Senate (30 years)

It took one of the best Republican cycles of a generation to elect a Republican to the Senate from Michigan, and the GOP hasn’t been able to pull it off since. 

In 1994, legendary Detroit Red Wings center Steve Yzerman was skating in his prime. Cecil Fielder, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker held down the Tigers’ infield. Barry Sanders ran for more than 1,800 yards for the Lions. And Republican Spencer Abraham was elected to the Senate. It was a brief stint, and he lost reelection in 2000 to Democrat Debbie Stabenow. Now Stabenow is not running for reelection and Republicans are trying to win the open seat.

Current Rep. John James came close to snapping the losing streak in 2020, when he lost to Democratic Sen. Gary Peters by 2 points, 50 to 48 percent. After two difficult races (James also lost to Stabenow by 6 points in 2018), James might have missed his best opportunity to win. 

Biden won Michigan narrowly over Trump in 2020, but he’s struggling to recreate his victory. The unpopular president is at risk of losing support among Black and Arab American voters, casting doubt on his ability to win again. That pressure at the top of the ticket will put pressure on Rep. Elissa Slotkin, the likely Democratic nominee, to win crossover voters in order to win. 

Republicans won’t have a nominee until the Aug. 6 primary, but former Rep. Mike Rogers looks like the early favorite. His fundraising has been underwhelming, but he should be credible enough to win if Trump has a strong showing at the top of the ballot.

The Michigan Senate race is rated Toss-up by Inside Elections.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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