That is especially true in New Mexico, where Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) announced Friday that he will retire at the end of his fifth term rather than seek re-election, opening yet another Democratic seat ripe for the GOP’s picking. Roll Call Politics shifted its ranking of this seat from Safe Democratic to Tossup.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Minority Whip, said a week earlier that he will leave at the conclusion of his third term, but the seat at this point looks to be a safer bet for the GOP. Roll Call Politics rates that seat Leans Republican.
After the first month of the cycle, Democrats have $2.65 million in cash on hand while carrying $8.8 million in debt. Republicans are on similar financial footing as of the end of January, with $432,000 in the bank and $6.5 million in debt.
While both committees are climbing out of the red, Republicans are cruising early in the cycle on a series of strong recruits with fundraising chops. Former Sen. George Allen (Va.), Rep. Denny Rehberg (Mont.) and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning all give the GOP legitimate shots at those Democratic seats.
That streak continued when Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) immediately announced he would run for Kyl’s seat, giving the GOP an instant top-tier candidate in Republican-leaning Arizona.
“It speaks volumes about the state of the two political parties that as strong Republican candidates step forward in key races, Senate Democrats in important battleground states are stepping aside,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said Friday in the wake of Bingaman’s retirement announcement.
While it is still early in the cycle, Bingaman’s retirement puts the Democrats’ hold on the Senate in an even more tenuous position than it was already. With a 53-47 majority, there are now enough open and competitive seats for Republicans to at least make the Senate an even split.
Along with New Mexico and North Dakota, where Sen. Kent Conrad is retiring, Democrats are looking for candidates to defend an open seat in Virginia, with Sen. Jim Webb announcing his retirement a couple of weeks ago.
Democrats actually improved their standing in Connecticut with the retirement announcement of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) in January. They will be favored there, as well as in neighboring New York, where Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is running for a full term, but the party will have a challenge to the north against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
One Democratic source said the early retirements are part of a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee strategy to push Senators to announce their intentions sooner rather than later, avoiding a scenario the party faced in Indiana last cycle when Sen. Evan Bayh (D) waited until the deadline to retire.
“The timing of these aren’t incidental,” the source said.
That leaves questions surrounding Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka (Hawaii) and Herb Kohl (Wis.), who each have signaled they want to seek another term. But Akaka, 86, and Kohl, 76, remain retirement possibilities. Republicans have made it clear that they would aggressively target both states.
The Democrats will also have tough holds in states such as Florida, Missouri and Ohio — all have incumbents running and each receive plenty of attention in presidential election cycles.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.