A Scott Brown comeback? Not on our Friday Line.

December 14, 2012

Republicans are understandably giddy that they have scuttled the nomination of Susan Rice as the next secretary of state.

Not only did they win the first big political battle of the lame duck session, but they also likely have a pickup opportunity if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), as many expect, gets the nod at the State Department.

But if Republicans think Sen. Scott Brown, Kerry's GOP counterpart in Massachusetts, will waltz back into the Senate a few months after losing his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, they've got another think coming.


Outgoing Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

Brown sounds like a guy girding for a shot at redemption. And there is reason to believe he would perform better in a special election in mid-2013.

After all, it's not a presidential year anymore (lower turnout is more conducive to upsets), and Warren turned out to be a good -- and very, very well-funded -- candidate. In addition, Democrats would almost surely face a crowded primary in the special election, while Brown would not.


But it's hard to call Brown anything close to a favorite. After all, this is Massachusetts, and the environment from his 2010 special election (held during the heat of the health care battle) will be very hard to replicate -- lackluster opponent, mobilized conservatives, etc.

In fact, the environment today and the American people themselves are much more favorably disposed toward the Democratic Party and President Obama.

In addition, while Brown remains in good standing with voters even after his loss, some polls show he isn't quite as popular as he once was. And for a Republican in Massachusetts, you need to be pretty damn popular to win.

As far as the GOP is concerned, a special election for Kerry's seat is nothing but good. After all, being an underdog is better than having no shot. But Brown would almost definitely start the race as an underdog

....

With Kerry's nomination still in the theoretical phase, we are not putting Massachusetts on our Friday Line at this point. But, below, we rank the 10 upcoming 2014 Senate races that we consider the most likely to switch control this cycle.

As usual, No. 1 is the most likely to flip.

To the line!

10. Colorado (Democratic-controlled): Voters were split about Sen. Mark Udall's (D) job performance in a recent survey from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling, suggesting that with the right recruit, the GOP might be able to snatch away his seat. But the GOP bench in Colorado appears thin, and the new head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. The last thing Bennet will want on his watch is to cough up a seat in his home state, so expect Udall 's race to receive a lot of attention from national Democrats. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Kentucky (Republican-controlled): The Democratic bench in Kentucky is thin (and popular Gov. Steve Beshear has already said no), which is why a lot of talk recently has centered on actress Ashley Judd. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) just got his first official Democratic challenger, but it's a man who lost a congressional race by 35 points, meaning Democrats need to do better. The question is whether they can come up with someone with a real shot of defeating the GOP Senate leader. A PPP poll this week showed McConnell leading all comers, despite some poor approval ratings -- a number the McConnell camp disputes. (Previous ranking: 10)

8. Minnesota (D): Sen. Al Franken (D) is actually pretty popular in Minnesota, with a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune poll showing his approval rating at 52 percent and his disapproval at just 40 percent. He has smartly insulated himself by separating himself some from his past as a liberal provocateur. But you have to believe that Republicans will be gunning for this one after one of the closest losses in Senate history in 2008. A close analog: Conservative groups drowned the Ohio Senate race with money this year, thanks to Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) liberal record. Of course, Brown won, anyways. (Previous ranking: 7)

7. Montana (D): For almost all of Democrat Max Baucus's six terms in the Senate, political observers — like The Fix — have been writing that he is a little too liberal for the state of Montana and that it would eventually catch up with him. And yet here Baucus is, still in the Senate after more than 30 years. Looking toward 2014, it's true that Obama won just 42 percent of the vote in the Last Best Place (GREAT nickname). But it’s also true that Sen. Jon Tester (D) managed to win reelection against a serious Republican challenger -- Rep. Denny Rehberg -- and that there is now no obvious threat to Baucus on the GOP side. Because of the state’s Republican tilt, we are keeping the race on the Line, but count us skeptical that Republicans can find a serious candidate. (Previous ranking: 5)

6. Louisiana (D): The conventional wisdom seems to be settling around the idea that Rep. Bill Cassidy will emerge as the GOP frontrunner to face Sen. Mary Landrieu (D). But Cassidy is unlikely to have a free run, and Rep. Jeff Landry’s (R) loss last weekend in a runoff with Rep. Charles Boustany (R) has some talking about Landry as a potential tea party alternative to Cassidy. (Previous ranking: 4)

5. Arkansas (D): Sen. Mark Pryor (D) didn’t even draw a Republican opponent in 2008 and was reelected with a stunning 80 percent of the vote. Republicans won’t let that happen again in a state where Obama won just 37 percent of the vote last month. Pryor caught a break when Rep. Tim Griffin (R) announced he wouldn’t run for Senate in 2014, but Rep. Steve Womack and Rep.-elect Tom Cotton are mentioned. Assuming Republicans find a credible candidate, this is a problem spot for Democrats. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. North Carolina (D): Voters were split about Sen. Kay Hagan's (D) job performance in a PPP poll this week -- not ideal ground for the Democrat, especially in a state where the GOP had a very productive 2012 cycle and which Mitt Romney won. The same poll showed that Rep. Virginia Foxx tops Republicans' wish list for the race, but we expect others to step forward. Much of the potential Republican field is unknown to voters, suggesting a crowded primary might be in the works. That said, Hagan remains among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in 2014.  (Previous ranking: 3)

3. West Virginia (D): Republicans finally got their dream candidate when Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced late last month that she would seek the seat held by Jay Rockefeller (D). If Capito can get through a Republican primary — and that remains an “if”, given that conservative groups have expressed their dissatisfaction with her record in Congress — she would pose a major problem for the five-term incumbent. Rockefeller has been decidedly non-committal about whether he will seek another term; if he doesn’t, this seat becomes even harder for Democrats to hold. (Previous ranking: N/A)

2. Alaska (D): The Last Frontier was one of the few places in the country to give Obama a higher percentage of the vote this year than it did four years ago, moving from a 38 percent Obama state in 2008 to a 41 percent Obama state this year. Part of that might have been because former governor Sarah Palin was on the ballot with Sen. John McCain four years ago, but it’s still something of a good sign for Sen. Mark Begich (D). On the GOP side, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is the first Republican (of what is expected to be many) to dip his toe in the water. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. South Dakota (D): Former governor Mike Rounds (R) made it official a couple weeks back, moving from the exploratory phase to launching a full-fledged campaign for Sen. Tim Johnson’s (D) seat. In the meantime, Johnson equivocated on whether he would seek reelection, and his son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, is being floated as a potential Democratic ballot replacement, along with former congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Tim Johnson sure sounds like a guy who won’t run again; Democrats would prefer that he decide sooner rather than later, whatever his verdict. (Previous ranking: 1)

Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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