Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

National Mood Isn't Always Visible on the Ground

Any Senate contest in the Nutmeg State is difficult for the GOP, and Dodd is a formidable foe, even with his depressed poll numbers. Still, this Senate contest wasn’t expected to be worth watching, so Dodd’s electoral problems are a welcome windfall for Republicans.

In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is more likely than not to jump into the Senate race.

Normally, the governor’s office in almost any state is seen as a refuge from the partisanship of Capitol Hill. But the Sunshine State faces the same fiscal problems that other states do, and the next governor will have to make unpopular decisions. That might make the Senate look relatively appealing to Crist.

In any case, Democratic recruiting for the state’s Senate race has, at least so far, not been all that intimidating, leaving Republicans feeling better about their prospects of retaining retiring Sen. Mel Martinez’s open seat.

Ohio looks to be another dogfight, but the race took an unfortunate turn for Democrats when both Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner decided to seek the Democratic nomination. The primary could enhance the chances of former Rep. Rob Portman, the likely GOP Senate nominee.

While recent developments have caused Democrats a few problems, the party has reason to feel increasingly confident about its chances of taking open Senate seats in Missouri and New Hampshire.

The prospect of a bitter GOP primary in Missouri between Rep. Roy Blunt and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman — with the winner facing Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) — is making GOP strategists nervous. Blunt has the backing of most insiders, but given his years in the House leadership and the problems that his son, Matt, had as governor, the conservative Steelman’s “outsider” message of reform might resonate.

Democratic prospects in Kentucky also are bright now, as GOP efforts to ease Sen. Jim Bunning (R) out of the race have backfired. With Democrats likely to nominate either Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo or state Attorney General Jack Conway for the Senate contest, GOP prospects of retaining the Bunning seat are not good.

In North Carolina, state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) seems genuinely interested in challenging Sen. Richard Burr (R). Burr should run a far better race than then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) ran last cycle, and the midterm electorate should not be as favorable for Cooper as it was for now-Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). Still, a Burr-Cooper contest would be a titanic struggle, giving Senate Democrats another serious opportunity.

Finally, the Pennsylvania Senate race looks messier each day. Conservative Pat Toomey now seems likely to repeat his 2004 primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (R), and Specter’s chances of surviving this time are worse than they were six years ago, when he won renomination with 50.8 percent.

Specter’s chances for winning a primary would be improved, of course, in a multicandidate race, and conservative, anti-abortion activist Peg Luksik said last week that she’s getting into the GOP contest. Any votes she gets almost certainly would be anti-Specter voters peeled away from Toomey.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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