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2024 U.S. Senate races: Ouch! Democrats have A LOT of defending to do

By Lee Cleveland - February 6, 2023

The 2024 races will be one of the most important election cycles in recent history due to America’s political divisiveness and implications for control of the Senate.

There will be 33 U.S. Senate seats contested and the result could drastically alter political power in Washington.

Currently, there are 51 Members who caucus with Democrats (three are independents) and 49 who caucus with Republicans. Can Democrats pick up seats in the Senate?

Things aren’t looking good for 2024.

Unless something in the political landscape changes in the next 21 months, it’s unlikely Democrats will make gains in the Senate in 2024. In fact, they’ll have to perform well to just maintain control.


Nearly all of the Republican-controlled seats that will be contested are considered “Safe Republican” while a bunch of contested Democrat seats could be conceivably flipped.

Odds are slim that Democrats will pick up a seat or two so their goal should be to maintain.

Below are the Senate seats that’ll be contested in 2024. As you can see, there are not a lot of Republican vulnerabilities. In fact, if I was a Democratic campaign consultant, there would be NOTHING for me to “confidentially” target at this moment.

That stated, Republican strategists have a smorgasbord of opportunity. Look for them to directly target Arizona, Montana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, and West Virginia. And look for them to secondarily hone in on Virginia, New Jersey, Maine, and Wisconsin.

Hence, there’s a fair chance Republican candidates will be live dogs in 10 races where Democrats will be defending seats.

If Democrats can’t flip any seats and President Biden is re-elected, the threshold for control would still be 50 so Democrats could afford to lose just one of those 9 seats.

However, should Republicans gain the White House in the same scenario, the threshold for control would be 51 and Democrats would have to win all 9 of those races to maintain control of the Senate.

So, can Democrats flip a seat or two?

The fact that seats in Texas and Florida might be Democrats’ best hope to flip tells you all you need to know.

Ted Cruz of Texas, who won re-election by just 2.6 percent in 2018, might be somewhat vulnerable as he’s gone full MAGA, sucking up to Trump and the other extremists. Moreover, Texas is getting less red by the year. However, toppling Cruz won’t be easy. And while it’s possible, it’s not likely.

And then there’s Sen. Rick Scott of Florida who has found himself at the center of multiple dramas since 2020, ranging from his rollout of a policy agenda that was panned by many in his party to his quarrel with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the quality of the GOP’s Senate candidates.

I thought Democrats had a great chance to flip Scott’s seat until the 2022 races in Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis crushed Charlie Christ by nearly 20 points in the Florida Gubernatorial race. And while incumbent Marco Rubio was expected to beat Val Demings, the former’s 16-point margin of victory said a lot.

Wins by DeSantis and Rubio weren’t surprising, but their dominance was. And it forces one to wonder if a Democrat can win a statewide race in the Sunshine State; even against a weak candidate like Scott.

* Where Democrats are at least somewhat vulnerable
StateIncumbentParty in ControlSummary
* ArizonaKyrsten SinemaIndependentToss-up; Unpopular incumbent running;
CaliforniaDianne FeinsteinDemocraticSolid Democrat; Feinstein won’t run again; Look for popular Democrat Adam Schiff to win easily.
ConnecticutChris MurphyDemocraticSolid Democrat
DelawareTom CarperDemocraticSolid Democrat
FloridaRick ScottRepublicanLikely Republican; Weak incumbent running again, but it’s FL
HawaiiMazie HironoDemocraticSolid Democrat
IndianaMike BraunRepublicanLikely Democrat; Incumbent retiring to run for governor of Indiana
* MaineAngus KingIndependentLeans Democrat; Incumbent running again; State leans left but a strong Republican moderate is a threat to pull off the upset
MarylandBen CardinDemocraticSolid Democrat
MassachusettsElizabeth WarrenDemocraticSolid Democrat
* MichiganDebbie StabenowDemocraticToss-up; Incumbent not running for re-election; Democrats have been winning here but have struggled
MinnesotaAmy KlobucharDemocraticLikely Democrat; Popular Incumbent running again
MississippiRoger WickerRepublicanSolid Republican; Incumbent running again
MissouriJosh HawleyRepublicanLikely Republican
MontanaJon TesterDemocraticToss-up; Incumbent’s intent unknown; Democrats defending in a very red state
NebraskaDeb FischerRepublicanSolid Republican; Incumbent running
* NevadaJacky RosenDemocraticToss-up; Incumbent running again; The 2022 race for the NV’s other seat was extremely close; Republicans have a chance here
New JerseyBob MenendezDemocraticLeans Democrat; Incumbent running; Republican was very competitive in 2021 Gov race
New MexicoMartin HeinrichDemocraticLikely Democrat; the Incumbent running again
New YorkKirsten GillibrandDemocraticSolid Democrat; Incumbent running again
North DakotaKevin CramerRepublicanLikely Republican; Incumbent’s intent unknown
* OhioSherrod BrownDemocraticToss-up; Incumbent running again; OH has become very red over the years. Republicans will probably be favored here if their candidate is likable
* PennsylvaniaBob Casey Jr.DemocraticLeans Democrat; Incumbent running; Trump won here in 2016 and was very competitive in 2020; Previous Sen race in 2022 was competitive; No guarantees for Democrats
Rhode IslandSheldon WhitehouseDemocraticSolid Democrat; Incumbent’s intent unknown
TennesseeMarsha BlackburnRepublicanSolid Republican; Incumbent’s intent unknown
TexasTed CruzRepublicanLikely Republican; Vulnerable incumbent running again but Republicans tend to pull it out in TX
UtahMitt RomneyRepublicanSolid Republican; Incumbent’s intent unknown
VermontBernie SandersIndependentSolid Democrat if Sanders runs again / Likely Democrat if Sanders retires
* VirginiaTim KaineDemocraticLikely Democrat; the Incumbent running; However, the state elected a Republican gov in 2021; No guarantees for Democrats
WashingtonMaria CantwellDemocraticStrong Democrat; Incumbent running
* West VirginiaJoe ManchinDemocraticLeans Republican; Incumbent’s intent unknown; This will be an easy flip for Republicans if Manchin doesn’t run again. And even if he does, Republicans remain a big threat here
* WisconsinTammy BaldwinDemocraticToss-up/Leans Democrat; Incumbent running; MAGA Sen Ron Johnson won here in 2022; Race is a borderline toss-up
WyomingJohn BarrassoRepublicanStrong Republican; Incumbent’s intent unknown

Democrats’ biggest challenges (4)

Though Sen. Joe Manchin has not officially announced his plans, the reality is that any Democrat, even one as successful as Manchin, faces a daunting challenge in West Virginia. Gov. Jim Justice (R) would pose the biggest Republican threat Manchin has faced in his 12-year Senate career.

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jon Tester (D-MT) are in strongly Republican states and benefitted by facing flawed opponents in 2018. Under certain circumstances, both men will be beatable in 2024.

In Arizona, there’s a good possibility we’ll see a true 3-way race between incumbent independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat Rep Gallego, and failed gubernatorial Republican candidate Kari Lake or failed Senate candidate Blake Masters. Look for Sinema to be replaced because she’s too conservative for Democrats and not conservative enough for Republicans. That stated it’s my belief she won’t run.

The ultimate question: Can true Democrat Ruben Gallego win over enough moderates in Arizona to hold that seat for Democrats?

Secondary challenges

  • With Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) retiring, Democrats won’t have the luxury of incumbency in the left-leaning swing state of Michigan.

  • Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) are in states that are marginally Democrat and well-capable of electing a Republican.

Democrats have to pitch a near shutout to retain the Senate and their chances of picking up a seat are slim. If Republicans can win the toss-ups and make gains in leaning-Democratic races, the GOP could build a strong majority.

However, if more MAGA extremists continue to win primaries Democrats’ chances to retain the U.S. Senate surge.

Democrats overcame a rocky environment in 2022 because they forced voters to be candidate-centered instead of party-centered in races where a lot of the MAGA candidates were suspect. They might have to do the same in 2024 if they plan on retaining Senate control.


Tags: 2024, us senate