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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Feb. 24, 2024

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Democrats still dominate list of Senate’s most vulnerable


WASHINGTON — 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 said Thursday he has chosen not run for reelection. Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema has not disclosed whether she intend to run in 2024.

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.

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.

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.

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.