I appreciate all the kind comments and constructive feedback on my first addition to this series. I do, though, intend to make one change, which will become more relevant later on in this post. For Texas Governor, I’m going to save William McRaven for later, and suggest…
Mark Cuban: Being filthy rich is no impediment in Texas politics, where populism isn’t quite so…populist. So, why not pick Mark Cuban to run against Tea Party darling Greg Abbott in 2018? Cuban has been expertly trolling Donald Trump, brought an NBA championship to Dallas, and can frame himself as a job creator. Sure, Cuban’s a jackass, but given that we’ve entered the age of inexperienced billionaires with reality shows being viable candidates, for
better or worse- let’s roll with it. I’m more comfortable putting him in Texas’s historically not very powerful governorship, and he can open the door for future Democratic wins and carve out a path to victory in a tough state.
So…with that change, let’s move to the Senate in 2018. It sucks. Because Democrats did well in the 2000, 2006, and 2012 elections for this batch of seats, there aren’t very many truly competitive opportunities to flip red seats blue. To the contrary, the Democrats are mostly playing defense, with tough races in states that went to Donald Trump by wide margins: Indiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, and other unfriendly territories- on top of races in shaky states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I repeat- this set of races sucks. Team Blue will be lucky if they can cut down the net losses to maybe two or three.
I’m also proceeding with the assumption that there will be some retirements. I tentatively project that Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tom Carper of Delaware, possibly Bill Nelson of Florida, and Orrin Hatch of Utah will forgo another run. (All but Hatch are Democrats.) I will therefore treat these as open seats.
There’s no need to cover the Democrats seeking re-election in any depth: they simply need to win. Given the benefits of incumbency, the probable unpopularity of Donald Trump, and the usual midterm doldrums for the party in the White House, I’m not terribly worried. Barring unforeseen developments, things cautiously look good for:
- Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota- and someone who should be on any short list for vice-president in 2020)
- Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
- Maria Cantwell (Washington)
- Martin Heinrich (New Mexico)
- Bob Casey, Jr. (Pennsylvania)
- Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)
- Sherrod Brown (Ohio- and just the kind of populist that can win Ohio)
- Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)
- Tim Kaine (Virginia- oh, what a great V.P. he would have made…)
- Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island)
- Mazie Hirono (Hawaii)
- Kirsten Gillibrand (my fantastic senator and possibly presidential timber…)
In the “danger zone”- states that went for Trump by more than ten points- we have:
- Jon Tester (Montana)- a great, gruff candidate that’s true to his roots. I think he’ll win a third term, but he’s smart enough to not take it for granted.
- Joe Manchin (West Virginia)- he’s already hedging his bets by voting for some Trump nominees. But Manchin’s already figured out how to win handily in a state that’s trended red at supersonic speed. I think he’s fine too.
- Joe Donnelly (Indiana)- he got lucky by drawing a ridiculous Tea Party opponent Eric “even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” Mourdouck. The fact that Evan Bayh lost a race here in 2016 should worry him deeply.
- Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota)- the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Peace Garden State, Heitkamp’s in a tough spot. A decade ago, North Dakota’s entire congressional delegation was moderate, bet-hedging Democrats like her. But the oil boom- and the inevitable oil bust that followed- changed the calculus drastically. As Alaska, Oklahoma, and Texas can tell you, nothing kills progressivism quite as quickly as oil.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the projected open seats currently held by Democrats. Here are my endorsements:
California: Dianne Feinstein will be 85 when the 2018 midterms roll around, putting her in Strom Thurmond territory for legislative geriatrics. She’s had a long, and mostly praiseworthy, career; as President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she told the world about Harvey Milk’s assassination, and was vetted as a running mate by Walter Mondale back in 1984. California has a long bench of politicians hungry for one of the state’s rare openings for higher office. My hope is that it will go to Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. Garcetti’s done a great job in L.A. and was reportedly one of the people Hillary Clinton looked at as a potential running mate. He’s helped make L.A. more environmentally friendly for bikers and commuters, nurtured a construction boom, and has a Cory Booker-ish adeptness at using social media.
Connecticut: Now, of course, this is only in the scenario that I’m imagining on this blog. You may remember that last time, I suggested that Chris Murphy run for governor in 2012 to clear out the stank of Dan Malloy’s unpopular administration. If that somehow happens, and this seat becomes open, I would happily endorse Carolyn Miles. Miles is the CEO of Fairfield-based Save the Children, one of the world’s most important charities. She’s helped get nutritious food, education, and medical care to countless children both at home and abroad.Recently, People magazine named her among the 25 Women Changing the World.
Delaware: Tom Carper just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who deserves a fourth-term- a moderate-ish corporate-friendly Democrat from a safe blue state. Assuming Carper, who will be 71, calls it quits, his replacement already represents Delaware in the Congress. I’m talking about Lisa Blunt Rochester, recently elected to Delaware’s at-large district. She is resolute in her support of refugees and a staunch critic of Donald Trump’s treatment of women. If elected, she would be only the third African-American woman to serve in the Senate.
Florida: Bill Nelson may very well run for re-election, but he’s now well into his seventies, and the astronaut-turned-senator may avoid another race that always seems close and contested. If that’s what happens, I’d suggest Stephanie Murphy, who was just elected to Florida’s Orlando-based 7th district. She took out an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district, no small accomplishment in 2016, when Trump carried Florida. Murphy has a fascinating biography, including a harrowing childhood escape from Vietnam and rescue by the U.S. Navy. A national security specialist, she’d be a great addition to the Senate.
Maryland: Cardin will be 75 when this midterms roll around, and after two terms in the Senate, he may want to hang it up. Although an institution in Chesapeake politics, his vote against the Iran deal will not endear him to a party base mobilized by the 2016 primaries and a hotly contested Senate primary race. Maryland has become one of the most Democratic states in the country over the last few decades, and it’s probable that whoever gets nominated by that party will succeed Cardin. It’s only fair that it should go to Donna Edwards, who lost said Senate primary to Chris Van Hollen last year. If elected, Edwards will join the ranks of the Senate’s most redoubtable progressives. She brings grassroots chops as a community activist and is strongly against the Citizens United decision.
Missouri: I love Claire McCaskill- feisty, forthright, and sensible. But with her health scare last year, she may want to avoid a third term in the Senate, and pass things off to a Democratic successor in a year with favorable tailwinds. That being the case, Jason Kander surely deserves another shot at the Senate. Kander ran 15 points ahead of Hillary Clinton in Missouri, losing to powerful incumbent Roy Blunt by only 3 points. The Secretary of State of Missouri- who assembled and dissembled a rifle during one television ad- had a bright future and can help rebuild the Show-Me State’s moribund Democratic Party.
New Jersey: Bob Menendez is a crook. Even if he does run for the Senate again ,he deserves a hearty primary challenge. Either way you slice it, I strongly recommend Steve Fulop. He’ll be only 41 when 2018 runs around, and he’s already carved out a terrific career as Jersey City’s mayor. Under his leadership, he’s revived the city’s parks, bolstered it’s artistic community, and oversaw a $15 minimum wage for all city employees- in addition to his masterful handling of Hurricane Sandy.
Vermont: Bernie is showing no signs of slowing down, but he will be 77 in 2018, and might want to oversee his revolution in a different capacity. His approval rating is one of the highest in the country, and no doubt, he’ll want to hand off his seat to someone of a similar disposition to himself. I’d recommend his chief of staff, Michaeleen Crowell. Her public visibility has only increased during a primary campaign that exceeded everyone’s expectations- and even played Hillary during Bernie’s debate prep. She shares much of her boss’s commitment to social democracy while being much more of a serious policy wonk. Although it’s one of the most leftist states in the country, Vermont has never been represented by a woman in Congress- Crowell would be the first.
What about playing offense then- seats that are currently played by Republicans? Unfortunately, only one and a half- Nevada and Arizona- look even remotely realistic. But I think every seat should be in play, so here are my picks.
Arizona: Flecks of reasonableness and a certain anti-Trump demeanor have characterized Jeff Flake’s first term in the Senate. But Arizona is slowly tilting blue- Romney won the state by 9 points, while Trump won by only 3.5. In such an environment, we need a heavy hitter, and I strongly recommend that Democrats recruit Mark Kelly. Kelly has been an astronaut, and has been in the news recently as scientists compare his body’s readings with his twin brother’s, who recently spent an entire year in space. Of course, he was most visible as the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who survived a near-fatal assassination attempt. Since then, Kelly has surfaced as her caretaker, an author, a public speaker, and a strong advocate for sensible gun laws- while still owning firearms himself. He’d be a terrific candidate and a good way to inaugurate a more Democratic era in Arizona.
Mississippi: “Hey, you for eight years, ran the naaaaavy, so here’s my number, so call me Mabus.” Roger Wicker has this seat more or less locked up, but Ray Mabus would be a very formidable candidate in bad circumstances. He was the last Democratic governor of Mississippi, spent eight years as Secretary of the Navy, and was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia for part of the Clinton administration. But he’s in a tough spot, given that 1) Mississippi has virtually no white Democrats outside of the Ole Miss campus, and 2) Nostradamus actually made some prophecies about a mysterious guy named Mabus. Eerie.
Nebraska: When this batch of seats was up in 2012, Nebraska was the only one that switched from blue to red, when Deb Fischer beat out former senator Bob Kerrey for Ben Nelson’s open seat. Nobody knows yet whether Fischer is running, and whether or not she does, this will be a tough race for Democrats. Nevertheless, Kate Sullivan would be my pick. She’s one of the only Democrats in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature to not hail from either Omaha or Lincoln, and it’s crucial that the party expand beyond the state’s only two real metros.
Nevada: This is the only ostensibly solid pickup opportunity for Democrats on the map, and even that is far from a sure thing. Republican Dean Heller won a close race against a flawed Democratic candidate in 2012. In 2018, he will have all the benefits of incumbency, but his profile isn’t high enough to render him unbeatable. Ruben Kihuen would be a formidable opponent, however. He won Nevada’s swing-y 4th district in 2016- and was one of the few congressional candidates to successfully take out an incumbent that year. That augers well for Kihuen, and at 36, he has a long career ahead of him.
Tennessee: Bob Corker is up for re-election, and he’s likely to cruise into another term. Tennessee is, of course, solidly Republican, and Corker is the chair of the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. But what happens if, say, Rex Tillerson’s conflicts of interest with Russia become burdensome and Corker replaces him as Secretary of State? Then the seat could potentially become competitive. In that case, Megan Barry, the first female mayor of Nashville, could make a serious run. She’s an enthusiastic booster for her city and her state, and is pointedly good at criticizing Trump while remaining authentically Tennessean. Even in the best of circumstances, this is a long shot, but Barry is the best choice.
Texas: The last thing Ted Cruz expects is a serious challenge for re-election in 2018. I’d love for the aforementioned William McRaven to take him on. Cruz’s irresponsibility and callousness need to face their consequences. He nearly sent us off the fiscal cliff, and endorsed Donald Trump after he threatened to reveal incriminating information about his wife and implied that his father took part in the JFK assassination. Compare Cruz’s sanctimonious and joyless strict constitutionalism with McRaven’s real sense of accomplishment and sacrifice- as you may know from the last installment, McRaven was the admiral who oversaw Operation Neptune Spear that took out Osama bin Laden. Even in Texas, this race shouldn’t be close.
Utah: Is Orrin Hatch running for an 8th term? Or isn’t he? Either way, this seat probably won’t be competitive. The only question will be whether someone reasonable like Jon Huntsman runs or someone unreasonable like Jason Chaffetz. The best we can do, I think, is former congressman Jim Matheson– for years, the only Democrat to represent Utah in Washington. Realistically, Utah’s fourth congressional district race ought to be more competitive.
Wyoming: Another long shot among long shots. John Barrasso is running for another term, and there really is no bench to challenge him. Pete Gossar would probably be the best choice. He is a former University of Wyoming football hero and currently the head of the state’s board of education. Incidentally, his brother is an arch-conservative congressman from Arizona who boycotted Pope Francis’s address to Congress because he was afraid he might talk about climate change.
And that’s where we are. Again, the 2018 midterms look like a dumpster fire for Democrats in 2018, even if everything goes their way. They are simply defending too many competitive seats, and there aren’t many pickup opportunities to be had. But I think these choices, if nominated, could cut down on losses, make gains where possible, embolden a grassroots army, and lay the groundwork for an effective challenge to President Trump. For my next post, I intend to look at candidates for the House in 2018, exploring swing districts in four regions: the Northeast, the Midwest and Prairie, the South, and the West.