With Franken's resignation, the Senate landscape shifts again

As the calendar nears 2018, the battle for control of the Senate is shifting in all sorts of unexpected ways -- chang...

Posted: Dec 7, 2017 4:37 PM
Updated: Dec 7, 2017 4:37 PM

As the calendar nears 2018, the battle for control of the Senate is shifting in all sorts of unexpected ways -- changes driven primarily by bad behavior but also a national political environment heavily colored by President Donald Trump's widespread unpopularity.

Consider this series of recent developments:

  • In next week's Alabama special election, Democrat Doug Jones has a fighting chance to score a major upset over Roy Moore due in large part to allegations made against the Republican by a number of women that he pursued relationship with them when they were teenagers and he was in his mid-30s.
  • The resignation of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, on Thursday creates a special election to fill his seat in 2018 -- a race where Republicans will have at least a fighting chance of a pickup, depending on how candidate recruitment shakes out.
  • Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has decided he is going to run for the seat being left behind by the retirement of Republican Sen. Bob Corker next fall. Bredesen, who spent eight years as mayor of Nashville before serving two terms as governor, is widely seen as the best possible Democratic candidate and makes the state potentially competitive for his party.

These three moments don't all work in one party's favor. A Jones win coupled with Bredesen's candidacy would clearly give Democrats momentum. The Franken resignation takes a seat that wouldn't even be on the map in 2018 -- his term isn't up until 2020 -- and makes it a problem that Democrats have to deal with in a year when they are already defending more seats than Republicans.

This series of events lands in what has already been a very unpredictable Senate election cycle. On its face, 2018 should be a banner year for Senate Republicans, with just nine seats to defend and 25 Democratic seats (not counting the now-open Minnesota seat) to target. Of those 23 Democratic seats, almost half -- 10 -- were carried by President Trump in 2016 including five (Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia) where Trump won by double digits.

It hasn't turned out that way -- yet! -- for Republicans as Trump's unpopularity has created a national political environment where Democratic candidates are coming out of the woodwork to run while top-tier Republicans are more hesitant to do so.

In Montana and North Dakota, two strongly Republican states represented by Democrats, Republicans have yet to land an "A"-type candidate. In Indiana and West Virginia, there are crowded primaries on the Republican side that will likely be nasty and expensive even before a dime is spent on the Democratic incumbents.

And Steve Bannon-backed primary challengers are making life difficult for Republican incumbents, chasing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake into retirement and leading Nevada Sen. Dean Heller to brag that he "helped write" a tax bill that's widely unpopular.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott -- who Republicans hope will run against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next year -- put the heartburn Trump is causing even his staunchest allies in perspective when asked at a Republican Governors Association meeting last month whether Trump will help or hurt GOP candidates in the midterms. "We'll see what happens in 2018," Scott said.

Would he want Trump to campaign for him in Florida? "I don't know if I'm going to be a candidate. We'll worry about that next year," Scott said. Can Trump help Republicans on the ballot next year? "You'd have to ask them."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The 2018 cycle started with Democrats expecting to play defense across the board. There were just too many seats to defend, and only two pickup opportunities (Arizona and Nevada) when they need to add three seats -- and hold onto all of their own -- to take control of the Senate.

If you asked Republicans at the start of the 2017 whether it was more likely that they would lose their majority or wind up with 60 seats at the end of 2018, they would have chosen the latter option every single time.

Now, the Senate majority looks in play -- even if Republicans still retain an edge due to the sheer number of Democratic seats in play and where those seats are.

If Jones wins next Tuesday in Alabama or Bredesen can turn Tennessee competitive -- and Trump stays unpopular -- the stakes get a lot higher. Add in Minnesota and the playing field is even bigger and less predictable.

It's not immediately clear whom that heightened unpredictability benefits. But Democrats surely never expected to be even sniffing at talk of regaining the Senate majority come 2019. And, for now, that's a possibility you wouldn't get laughed out of the room for bringing up.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 443562

Reported Deaths: 5918
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin921721468
Ramsey39534730
Dakota32680325
Anoka30733358
Washington19904223
Stearns17728184
St. Louis13503239
Scott1185394
Wright11519102
Olmsted1031671
Sherburne813664
Carver689336
Clay646678
Rice597866
Kandiyohi551571
Blue Earth536333
Crow Wing478173
Otter Tail451362
Chisago447932
Benton416085
Winona384546
Douglas371566
Nobles366346
Mower360127
Goodhue342857
Polk327056
McLeod322244
Morrison309343
Beltrami307446
Lyon299035
Itasca281543
Becker280638
Isanti280640
Carlton278042
Steele27019
Pine264413
Freeborn238720
Todd230529
Nicollet222636
Brown212634
Mille Lacs212145
Le Sueur207615
Cass204723
Meeker198233
Waseca188015
Martin168826
Wabasha16802
Roseau165216
Hubbard147638
Redwood138827
Renville136339
Houston133613
Dodge13244
Chippewa130732
Cottonwood125618
Fillmore12135
Wadena118214
Rock109412
Sibley10767
Aitkin106733
Watonwan10598
Faribault103814
Kanabec96818
Pennington96715
Pipestone93423
Yellow Medicine92614
Murray8625
Jackson85010
Swift83017
Pope7355
Marshall70115
Stevens6968
Clearwater68314
Lac qui Parle65416
Lake62615
Wilkin6219
Koochiching58410
Unassigned49468
Lincoln4811
Big Stone4523
Grant4257
Norman4218
Mahnomen4077
Kittson36819
Red Lake3154
Traverse2443
Lake of the Woods1771
Cook1130

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 302245

Reported Deaths: 4203
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk45206441
Linn17616270
Scott15300161
Black Hawk13616228
Woodbury12927175
Johnson1198649
Dubuque11275148
Pottawattamie8896112
Dallas879569
Story860433
Webster467269
Cerro Gordo461966
Sioux453151
Clinton447161
Warren436237
Marshall425161
Buena Vista391129
Muscatine384375
Des Moines379140
Plymouth348667
Wapello340097
Jasper317855
Lee312528
Marion300452
Jones269149
Henry262630
Carroll252833
Bremer241648
Crawford227822
Boone215316
Washington213831
Benton207943
Mahaska190636
Jackson190531
Tama185357
Dickinson183526
Delaware171836
Kossuth170141
Clay165519
Wright162324
Fayette159022
Buchanan157820
Hamilton157728
Harrison153862
Hardin153729
Winneshiek153019
Clayton150448
Cedar150019
Butler146123
Page143515
Floyd137436
Cherokee137325
Mills135516
Lyon133332
Poweshiek131424
Hancock128524
Allamakee126327
Iowa122522
Calhoun12189
Grundy119422
Jefferson119123
Winnebago118029
Madison11789
Mitchell115034
Louisa114129
Cass112141
Chickasaw110511
Sac110115
Emmet109931
Appanoose109038
Union108122
Humboldt104219
Guthrie102124
Shelby101126
Franklin100918
Unassigned9180
Palo Alto9009
Keokuk84225
Montgomery84022
Howard82119
Monroe80418
Clarke7757
Pocahontas77211
Ida73730
Greene6867
Davis68421
Adair68220
Lucas6458
Osceola6349
Monona62916
Worth5943
Taylor5909
Fremont5025
Van Buren49412
Decatur4784
Ringgold4269
Wayne41421
Audubon4118
Adams2933
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