The Top Five Most Vulnerable GOP Senate Seats
Kirk will almost certainly square off with Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who is expected to easily win the Democratic primary in Illinois on Tuesday, March 15. While Illinois might not go as strongly for a Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 as in Obama’s two runs, and African American turnout may be down from those races, it is still a solid Democratic state and there is almost no doubt that the Democratic nominee will win the state, probably by 10 points or more. That is a steep uphill climb for Kirk, who won his seat by only 2% in 2010. While Kirk has won some sympathy for his battle back from a stroke, Duckworth lost both her legs in the Iraq war, and the disability factor probably provides no advantage to either candidate.
Wisconsin has had some close presidential contests (2000 and 2004), and some big wins for Obama in his two campaigns. Republican Governor Scott Walker has also won several contests. For Johnson to survive, he will almost certainly need a competitive race for the state’s Electoral College votes.
A mainstream Republican candidate with midwestern roots, such as John Kasich, would likely run better than other Republicans in the two states and in other industrial battleground states (Ohio, Pennsylvania), improving the chances for both Kirk and Johnson to survive.
Given the large Hispanic population in Illinois, Marco Rubio might have run well for a Republican (Rubio suspended his campaign on Tuesday night). On the other hand, Ted Cruz seems to have little appeal beyond his conservative base in either state. Donald Trump is the ultimate wild card, with appeal to non-college educated blue collar voters, both Republicans and Democrats, but he is also a very problematic candidate for many other Republicans.
Two other GOP-held seats are regarded as toss-ups. One is Marco Rubio’s old seat in Florida, and the other is Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. Ayotte will face off against the twice-elected Governor Maggie Hassan, probably the only Democrat who could mount a real challenge to Ayotte. Hassan has high approval ratings in the state. Polls to date consistently show a narrow lead for Ayotte.
Just as with the Jeanne Shaheen-Scott Brown matchup in 2014, this race will probably be close throughout with perhaps a small edge to the incumbent. New Hampshire has been a competitive state in recent presidential cycles, and if the Republican nominee ran very poorly overall (e.g. Trump), it would do some damage down-ballot here as well. Groups favoring Republicans are already raising money to support the endangered Republican senators trying to protect them regardless of the damage at the top.