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Who is the most vulnerable senator seeking re-election next year?
Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss might have won the distinction because of his vulnerability to a conservative primary challenger, but he has already announced he won’t seek another term.
The same goes for West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller and South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson, both of whom would have had difficult races but have announced that they will retire at the end of their current terms.
As I wrote in a recent Rothenblog post, Collins has high job performance ratings and no threatening Democrat in sight, while McConnell could draw a well-funded opponent and starts off with mediocre polling numbers. But President Barack Obama’s weak standing in the Bluegrass State, as well as Kentucky’s strong Republican bent in federal races, gives the Senate minority leader a clear advantage to start.
Sen. Max Baucus, who was first elected to the House in 1974 and then to the Senate four years later, could find himself with a serious challenge. But the Montana Democrat begins with an advantage, especially after fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s re-election victory last year.
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich barely won in 2008 on the basis of absentee votes and veteran incumbent Ted Stevens’ conviction on corruption charges for making false statements on financial disclosure forms (a conviction that was later vacated), and his state’s preference for Republicans obviously puts him at risk. But seniority and personal relationships matter in Alaska, and that could help the Democratic senator.
Like Begich, North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan won primarily because of the Democratic wave of 2008, though the weakness of incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole surely played a role in the challenger’s victory. But what had been a fairly reliably Republican state has become more competitive recently, as evidenced by Mitt Romney’s narrow victory in the state in November.
But unlike Baucus or Begich, Hagan already has a potentially formidable Republican challenger circling her; state Speaker Thom Tillis is mulling a Senate bid.
Baucus, Begich or Hagan could well end up in serious trouble next year, but for now the distinction of most vulnerable incumbent senator surely boils down to either Arkansas’ Mark Pryor or Louisiana’s Mary L. Landrieu.
Pryor and Landrieu both represent Southern states that have been realigning over the past few cycles. Both come from well-established political families and each has demonstrated political savvy.
Pryor was elected in 2002 and re-elected six years later, while Landrieu was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and was re-elected in both 2002 and 2008.