The Republican Senate majority is in jeopardy when 2016 kicks into high gear. Everyone knows it. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) are some of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents this cycle. All three hail from states that aren’t necessarily bastions of Republican power, especially Kirk who will probably be shown the exit by 2017. In New Hampshire, the 2010 electorate that ushered her into office has changed, making her re-election chances dubious, especially if Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan decides to run against her. So, as you would expect, Republicans are spending early in the hopes of keeping the majority–and some are using the Iran deal as the first salvo (via Roll Call):
More than a year out from Election Day 2016, Republican incumbents and GOP-aligned outside groups have shelled out at least $13.3 million to boost their re-election prospects and attack potential Democratic challengers in Senate contests across the map. That’s seven times more than the $1.9 million Republicans spent by this point last cycle — when the GOP was looking to win the Senate majority for the first time since 2006.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., brushed off the notion that early spending is a sign Republicans are worried about holding the majority.
“What a ridiculous question! We’re doing great!” Wicker told CQ Roll Call in July. “I would think it would be more of an indication that we’re trying to take care of business and be strategic.”
But Democrats say early spending to try and improve incumbents’ favorability among voters is a sign Republicans are worried about next year.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) could still face a difficult re-election bid, though his position in the recent string of polls from the Keystone State have him leading his Democratic challenger, former Rep. Joe Sestak. We’ll see how Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s former chief of staff, Katie McGinty, fares as she decided to toss her hat into the race in July. Democrats have been looking for other candidates than Sestak, who feel he can’t win statewide–and one who still reaps anger from his own party for challenging then-incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010. For now, Toomey is in decent shape, but Pennsylvania is always shaky. Allegheny County and the collar counties around Philadelphia (Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery) decide elections in the state, and they’re not necessarily receptive to Tea Party politics, especially when you factor in voter turnout during a presidential year.
As Roll Call mentioned, “he [Toomey] will likely have to convince many Democratic voters to split their ticket to vote for him.” With the political landscape becoming more partisan (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), it might be harder to pull that off.
Republicans are defending 24 seats this cycle. If they lose five*, then we’ll see Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) come 2017.
*Roll Call noted that it could be four if Democrats win the White House.