Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Evaluating Cook Political Report's Ratings of Senate Candidates

I decided to take a look at how the Cook Political Report is currently handicapping the 2022 U.S. Senate races.  Cook puts the seats that are up in seven categories:

Solid D
Likely D
Lean D
Toss Up
Lean R
Likely R
Solid R

Next year, 34 U.S. Senate seats are up.  Of those, 14 are currently held by a Democrat.  Cook puts 9 of those races in the "Solid D" category.  I can't quibble with any of the rankings.  I would note that Senator Chuck Schumer might face a strong opponent on the left in the primary.  But regardless of who wins that contest, Democrats are almost certain to easily win the Empire State in the general election.

Cook lists four Democratic seats as "Lean D."  (None are listed in the "Likely D" category.)  They are Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.  

The Arizona and Georgia races should be the best shot for Republicans. But it looks like both states are going to feature competitive primaries with the Trumpiest candidate the likely winner.  In Georgia, former President Trump has already endorsed former football star Herschel Walker who is saddled with considerable baggage.  That gives the Democrats the edge in those states.  

Republicans might have the best chance for wins in more Democratic Nevada and New Hampshire.   In Nevada, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt has already announced he's running and has been endorsed by Trump.  In New Hampshire, current Republican Governor Chris Sununu is considering running as is former Senator Kelly Ayotte, who narrowly lost to Hassan in 2016.  Both would be strong opponents against a relatively weak incumbent.

As far as the Republican seats go, Cook lists 15 as "Solid R."  I do have a big gripe with one of them.  Senator Grassley of Iowa just announced he's running again.  At election time, Grassley will be 89 years old.  Age has been an obstacle for President Biden, and he's 11 years younger.  Iowa can be a competitive state, especially in an off-year election.  Former Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer has already announced she's running on the Democratic side.  Finkenauer has a history of running and winning against Republican incumbents.  Grassley's seat should be moved over two categories to Lean R.  It is likely to be very competitive.

Cook doesn't list any Republican seats in the "Likely R" category.  Into the "Lean R" category, Cook places Florida Senator Marco Rubio and the open seat seat in Ohio.  Given how the Ohio primary is going, which seems a race to see who can be the most extreme, I would agree with the "Lean R" classification of the race in that state.  Given Rubio's strength in South Florida, where Democrats need to win big, I think his race is less competitive than Cook projects.  I would make that race "Likely R."

Cook lists three Republican seats as tossups - the open Senate seats in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and the seat held by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.  '

In North Carolina, Trump endorsed Congressman Ted Budd who is facing off in the GOP primary against former Governor Pat McCrory.  I think the seat should be labeled as a Lean R state though a fight between Budd and McCrory could well prove Cook is right in calling it a Toss Up state.

I don't buy Pennsylvania is a tossup.  Democrats have two strong candidates while Republicans are struggling to find a viable candidate to replace the popular Pat Toomey.  Pennsylvania, with the exception of 2016, tends to go Democratic statewide.  It's a Lean D state, maybe even a Likely D state once it is more clear who survives the primary.

If Johnson announces he's running for re-election in Wisconsin, I'd put that state in the Lean D category.  Maybe even Likely D.   With his embrace of conspiracy theories, Johnson has marginalized himself too much in a competitive state.  Wisconsin Republicans would be far better off with a different nominee, even though that person will start off with far less name ID.   Only if  Johnson bows out do I agree the Wisconsin seat is a tossup.

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