Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Four Competitive Senate Races in Western Swing States

Before the end of February, four U.S. Senate seats had come into play in western swing states – three with retirements (Kyl, Ensign and Bingaman) giving the Republicans a fresh start. Among the twelve states in the West, five are presidential battlegrounds and all, but Colorado, will have serious U.S. Senate contests.

• In Arizona, Sen. Jon Kyl just announced his retirement. Although Republicans have the advantage, with the right Democratic candidate and a far-right Republican primary winner, the race should be competitive.
• Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester will have a serious battle with the state’s only Republican congressman. Tester’s centrist philosophy is probably a good fit for the state, but he irritates New York and D.C. liberals and some special interests who may not offer him much support.
• Scandal plagued Sen. John Ensign has resigned, giving Republicans a fresh start. But, a bitter primary could leave a wounded Republican nominee. Democrats now have a stronger chance if they can find a top candidate.
• The retirement of popular and low-key Sen. Jeff Bingaman gives the Republicans an opportunity to mount a competitive campaign in New Mexico. Bingaman had been seen as a shoe-in.

The presidential race will be the dominant 2012 election with Obama looking to win three of the five swing western states and at least being competitive in the other two – New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada are at the top of the President’s list; Arizona and Montana are next. The four senate seats are in the middle and most competitive tier of western states.

The other senate races should re-elect incumbents or members of the same party – Wyoming (John Barrasso, R) and California (Diane Feinstein, D). Only Utah might be interesting due to Sen. Orrin Hatch having to navigate the Tea Party in a very constricted primary system. While Hatch is conservative by any indicator, he has been in the Senate a long time. Last spring, the Utah Tea Party refused to re-nominate Republican Sen. Bob Bennett.

Washington State will likely have a governor’s race due to Democrat Chris Gregoire not running again. Democrats hold the advantage. But the capstone state this year may be Montana because not only of a competitive U.S. Senate race, but Democrats must find a replacement for term-limited Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Already four Republicans have indicated they want to run. Democrats have a couple of political candidates, but advantage is Republicans.

See articles:
Los Angeles Times: Winning the West, Montana style
Real Clear Politics: Ensign will not seek re-election in 2012
Politico: Nevada Republicans see gain in losing John Ensign
Washington Post: The Fix: Heather Wilson’s primary prospects

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