The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2018

The most interesting Senate race in 2018 might have nothing to do with whether Republicans or Democrats control the c...

Posted: Jan 3, 2018 1:13 PM
Updated: Jan 3, 2018 1:13 PM

The most interesting Senate race in 2018 might have nothing to do with whether Republicans or Democrats control the chamber after this year's midterm elections.

The decision Tuesday by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah to retire teed up Mitt Romney -- the 2012 Republican presidential nominee turned leading intra-party critic of President Donald Trump -- to run for a job that would give him major influence over the remainder of Trump's presidency.

Right now, Democrats -- or independents who caucus with them -- are defending 25 seats this year

Republicans are defending just eight

But Hatch is a Republican. Romney is a Republican. And if Romney is stopped, it'll be because another Republican won the nomination in Utah. It'll be a fascinating state to watch -- but it won't tip the partisan balance of the Senate.

For that, look to two of Utah's neighbors: Nevada and Arizona.

If a blue wave is building ahead of this year's midterm elections, it will crash there first. The two states are the prime pickup opportunities for Democrats on 2018's map, and their recipe for winning the Senate includes victories in those two races plus holding all of their own seats.

Right now, Democrats -- or independents who caucus with them -- are defending 25 seats this year, while Republicans are defending just eight. The GOP has a 51-49 advantage at the moment.

Here's a look at the 10 Senate seats most likely to switch party hands in this year's midterms, as of January 2018:

1. Nevada

Incumbent: Republican Sen. Dean Heller

There's no easy way out of the box Heller is in.

Danny Tarkanian, who's lost all five of his races in Nevada -- but won four of his five primaries -- is challenging Heller from the right, charging that he's insufficiently supportive of Trump.

Rep. Jacky Rosen, meanwhile, lies ahead in the general election, ready to seize on a favorable environment for Democrats in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and where Heller barely won -- and did it with less than 50% of the vote -- in 2012.

Heller's gymnastics on health care helped earn him the top spot in our initial rankings. He's still there as the calendar flips to 2018.

2. Arizona

Open seat (Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month let slip what was already a poorly kept secret: Rep. Martha McSally is poised to enter the Republican primary here.

It'll become fight in the GOP civil war of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon vs. McConnell, with Bannon aligning conservative outsider forces behind state Sen. Kelli Ward -- a candidate many Republicans in Washington and Arizona see as a sure-fire general election loser.

If McSally prevails, as a former fighter pilot and strong fundraiser running in a red-leaning state, she'd have a real chance.

But Arizona is moving to the left -- it and Georgia are turning blue as rapidly as Ohio and Iowa are becoming red -- and Democrats landed their top target in Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Strong minority turnout and an anti-Trump sentiment among college-educated suburban white voters make this a prime pickup opportunity.

One factor that could change that math: The health of Sen. John McCain, who has a brain tumor.

3. Missouri

Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill

This is the state where the Steve Bannon vs. Mitch McConnell civil war is on hold and things are largely going according to plan for Republicans.

McCaskill is one of five Democratic senators up for re-election in a state Trump won by double digits in 2016. Unlike the special election in Alabama and contests in several other states -- including Nevada and Arizona -- Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, and McConnell, the Senate majority leader, are both backing Attorney General Josh Hawley here. McConnell pointed to Hawley at a news conference a month ago as the type of candidate he believes "can actually win."

This race will be expensive and brutal. Expect Democrats to cast Hawley, who just won his job a year ago, as a ladder-climber.

4. Indiana

Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly

Republicans point to two main reasons they can pick off this seat:

1. Donnelly is an accidental senator of sorts, winning only after tea partier Richard Mourdock ousted Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary before collapsing in the general election in 2012.

2. Republican Todd Young shellacked Evan Bayh by 12 points here just a year ago -- and Trump won Indiana even more handily.

But there are a few important differences. Most importantly: None of the three Republicans running this cycle -- Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita and state Rep. Mike Braun -- is as talented, or baggage-free, as Young. (In particular, Messer faces residency questions, and people who work for Rokita have accused him of creating a toxic environment.)

Donnelly has kept a low profile and isn't particularly well-defined, but the "Mexico Joe" label that followed an Associated Press report that he profited from a family business's move to outsource jobs to Mexico still stings.

5. West Virginia

Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin

Manchin's early flirtations with Trump -- which included conversations about a Cabinet post -- may help insulate him in a state the President carried with 69% of the vote in 2016.

But Trump is showing signs he's willing to wield his popularity against the popular former governor, casting him as unserious about bipartisan cooperation.

"He talks. But he doesn't do anything. He doesn't do," Trump told The New York Times recently.

6. North Dakota

Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

Trump met Tuesday with Rep. Kevin Cramer, who it's safe to assume is now very likely to run against Heitkamp in this heavily Republican state. Getting him into the race would solve the GOP's biggest problem here -- figuring out who their candidate will be. Former state Sen. Tom Campbell is also running.

In a neutral political environment, the math suggests this seat would be an easy pickup for the GOP: Trump won North Dakota by an eye-popping 36 points in 2016, and Heitkamp won her seat by less than 1 point in 2012.

But this year's crop of Democratic incumbents features several candidates -- Heitkamp, Manchin and Montana's Jon Tester stand out -- with strong individual brands at home that have allowed them to defy their state's partisan makeup. And the nearly $4 million Heitkamp has in the bank goes a long way in North Dakota.

7. Ohio

Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown

Brown's populist brand of politics is in some ways -- trade, in particular -- similar to Trump's. That could be a good thing for Brown, since Trump won Ohio by 9 points last year.

Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel lost to Brown in 2012, and losing candidates' repeat efforts seldom lead to better results.

Like Missouri, the question here is whether Ohio's rightward trend will prevail in 2018, or this race will instead swing with what appears to be a favorable national environment for Democrats. As of right now, the 2017 results in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama suggest the latter. Brown will need that to be the case.

8. Florida

Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson

Wake me up when Republican Gov. Rick Scott makes up his mind.

If Scott's in, his proven ability to win close races in Florida and self-fund in an extraordinarily expensive state would send Florida up this list in a hurry.

Not only that, he could force Democrats to spend heavily on their effort to retain Nelson's seat -- which could limit the party's ability to go after long shots like Tennessee.

Scott lunched with Trump on New Year's Eve. But on Tuesday he punted when reporters in Jacksonville asked him about a Senate run, noting he has 390 days left in Tallahassee.

9. Montana

Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Jon Tester

Republicans missed on their top recruiting targets here. And now, state auditor Matt Rosendale and businessman Troy Downing are headed toward what could be an expensive and nasty primary.

That's all good news for Tester, whose populist, down-to-earth brand -- bolstered by the fact that he still runs a farm -- allowed him to win in 2006 and 2012 despite Montana's history of voting for Republican presidential nominees (Trump won by 21 points here).

10. Minnesota

Incumbent as of midday Tuesday: Democratic Sen. Tina Smith

Minnesota is ground zero in the 2018 midterms: The governor's office, as many as five House seats and not one but two Senate seats are up for grabs: Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar's and this one, vacated by Al Franken.

Smith, Minnesota's lieutenant governor, was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to replace Franken.

The Republican field is still taking shape. But an open seat in a state that's moving to the right over time looks, for now, like a slightly more appealing target for Republicans than neighboring Wisconsin, which just missed this list.

Elsewhere on the map:

In Wisconsin, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin will wait and see who emerges from a packed Republican primary. One to watch: state Sen. Leah Vukmir, a talk radio darling in a state where conservative talk radio really matters.

Democrats got their dream recruit in former Gov. Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, where they hope to pick off retiring Sen. Bob Corker's seat. But is Bredesen still the force he was 15 years ago, or is he this cycle's Evan Bayh?

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Mendendez's corruption trial ended in a mistrial, but the fact that he faced the charges at all makes his fate worth watching.

Republicans would love to put Democratic Sen. Bob Casey's seat in Pennsylvania in play, and they have a Trump ally in Rep. Lou Barletta to try it.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope Rep. Beto O'Rourke can catch fire in Texas against Sen. Ted Cruz if the national environment swings even more in the party's favor.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 147382

Reported Deaths: 3763
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto973199
Hinds9668197
Harrison6898109
Jackson6178119
Rankin5319100
Lee487695
Madison4666106
Forrest371386
Jones346788
Lauderdale3355144
Lafayette317549
Washington3122107
Lamar283449
Oktibbeha240861
Bolivar240184
Lowndes229763
Neshoba2177115
Panola215849
Marshall209650
Leflore201490
Pontotoc196128
Monroe191477
Sunflower190555
Lincoln186865
Warren172657
Tate165451
Union163925
Pike160658
Copiah159540
Yazoo152039
Scott150729
Coahoma148743
Itawamba148234
Pearl River146567
Alcorn146327
Simpson145153
Prentiss141230
Adams137949
Grenada137745
Leake131943
Holmes126561
Tippah123030
George122324
Covington119737
Winston119124
Wayne116223
Hancock115939
Marion111646
Attala109833
Tishomingo106542
Chickasaw104132
Newton103629
Tallahatchie96327
Clarke88853
Clay87127
Jasper81222
Walthall75328
Stone73114
Calhoun72913
Montgomery72125
Carroll70614
Lawrence70314
Yalobusha70027
Noxubee69717
Smith69616
Perry65426
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57616
Jefferson Davis55017
Humphreys52918
Amite51814
Benton48717
Quitman4816
Webster42114
Kemper41918
Wilkinson38722
Jefferson34211
Franklin3265
Choctaw3117
Sharkey30717
Issaquena1124
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 239318

Reported Deaths: 3532
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31391491
Mobile19562361
Tuscaloosa12813154
Madison12741146
Montgomery12198235
Shelby1000577
Baldwin847398
Lee764466
Morgan634348
Calhoun6112115
Marshall607954
Etowah606565
Houston517038
DeKalb474736
Cullman428038
Limestone413744
St. Clair409055
Elmore400762
Lauderdale393653
Walker3588108
Talladega343453
Jackson307624
Colbert301941
Blount285539
Autauga268641
Franklin247833
Coffee239715
Dale230354
Dallas224531
Russell22053
Chilton219638
Covington216833
Escambia197431
Chambers173749
Tallapoosa173391
Pike157514
Clarke156319
Marion136535
Winston129923
Lawrence124836
Geneva12028
Pickens119418
Marengo119124
Barbour117010
Bibb116217
Butler114441
Randolph100921
Cherokee100824
Hale94531
Clay90223
Washington90219
Fayette87316
Henry8496
Lowndes79129
Monroe78111
Cleburne75714
Macon72321
Crenshaw70730
Bullock69119
Conecuh68314
Perry6756
Lamar6508
Wilcox63118
Sumter57122
Choctaw41913
Greene41418
Coosa3374
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 59°
Oxford
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 59°
Starkville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 61°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather