As it is for red states across the country, the theme in the Cornhusker State is the battle between the outsiders and the insiders in the Republican party. In both the Senate and Governor’s races, Nebraskan Republicans hold the decided advantage and therefore conservative issues and rivalries will play an outsized role in choosing who will occupy these offices come 2015. Here’s the situation:
Governor: Incumbent Republican Gov. Dave Heineman is term limited and there’s quite a few people running on the GOP side to replace him. The obvious front-runner is Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning. Of course, he was also the favorite in the 2012 Senate race and he ended up losing the primary to State Senator and now US Senator Deb Fischer (R). An opponent who could pull off a similar upset is former TD Ameritrade COO Pete Ricketts, who has support from outside GOP heavyweights like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. While there are a few other candidates running (most notably Auditor Mike Foley), it seems like Ricketts has established himself as the anti-establishment candidate. And though polls currently show Bruning in the lead, it is likely that Ricketts will gain ground as he racks up conservative endorsements. As for the Democrats, they’re stuck with Chuck Hassebrook, the executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs and a former University of Nebraska Regent. Given the state and the political climate, it would really take an idiot for the Republicans to loose this governorship, so this race is Safe Republican.
Senate: Senator Mike Johanns (R) is retiring and there are four GOPers vying for the opportunity to succeed him. The main candidates are former Nebraska Treasurer Shane Osborn, Midland University President Ben Sasse, Pinnacle Bank President Sid Dinsdale, and attorney Bart McLeay. Right now, it looks like a two man race between Osborn, the establishment candidate, and Sasse, the grassroots favorite. Polls currently show Osborn with a decent lead but Sasse has been gaining ground over the past few months and he has won key endorsements from Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, radio host Mark Levin, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks. Meanwhile, Osborn has been shoring up his in-state support and he has received endorsements from many state senators and as well as conservative activists like Steve Forbes and Phyllis Schlafy. Meanwhile, the Democrats are stuck with a few no-names and it doesn’t appear that they are making a serious effort to take this seat. So regardless of who wins the GOP primary, this race is Safe Republican.
Arkansas is the land of the Clintons and for years Democrats have dominated both in the United States Congress and the state capital of Little Rock. However, the long-term trend in the Natural State, as with the rest of the South, has been decisively towards the GOP. Before the 2010 election Democrats held both houses of the Arkansas state legislature, both Senate seats, and 75% of the House seats. Since then they are down to one Senator, zero houses of state legislature, and zero seats in the House of Representatives. This year the GOP has the chance to complete its sweep as it contests both the final Arkansas Democrat in the US Senate and the governorship.
Governor: Popular Democratic Governor Mike Bebee is term limited and there’s a barn-burner of a race to replace him. The Democrats look set to nominate former Rep. Mike Ross to be their nominee while the former head of the DEA and the 2006 gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson is the front runner on the Republican side. Hutchinson lost badly to Bebee back in 2006, but this is a very different environment and this time he won’t have to run against an incumbent. Polls have Ross and Hutchinson in a dead-heat and right now this race is a Toss-Up.
Senate: Despite being the son of a popular Senator and Governor, current Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor is a Democrat in a deep red state during a bad time to be a Democrat and bottom line: he’s in trouble. The Republicans have recruited a top-notch candidate in Rep. Tom Cotton, an Iraq War veteran and a competent politician to boot. Polls have shown Pryor struggling to break out of the low forties and he’s currently treading water in a swim-or-die campaign while Cotton has the wind at his sails. And while Pryor has the fundraising advantage, Cotton can rely on groups like Americans for Prosperity bring in the heavy artillery in the form of TV ads and voter mobilization. Given all these factors, this race can be rated as Leans Republican.
AR-02: Two-term Rep. Tim Griffin (R) is retiring and there is a trio of Republicans looking to succeed him. State Rep. Anne Clemmer is the only elected official in the race and she’s joined by former Bush aide French Hill and Colonel Conrad Reynolds. The only Democrat in the race is former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, who’s running as a conservative Democrat (as he has to in order to have a chance at winning this red district). If Clemmer or Hill wins the GOP primary, then this race looks pretty safe for the Republicans. But Colonel Reynolds is a bit of a wildcard (I don’t ever recall seeing a candidate emphasize his military rank as much as he does) and it is possible he could blow this one. But for now, this race is Likely Republican.
AR-04: This seat is being vacated by Rep. Tom Cotton as he makes a run for the US Senate. The GOP primary field is split between the establishment candidate, Arkansas House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, and outsider businessman Tommy Moll. Meanwhile, the Democrats have former FEMA Director James Lee Witt who, like his counterpart in the 2nd District, is running as a conservative Democrat in hostile territory. If Westerman gets the nod this race is all but over, but even an unproven candidate like Moll would be the favorite to win in November. This race is Likely Republican.
The big theme for 2014 in the Magnolia State is the battle between the conservative grassroots and the the establishment of the Republican Party. And in a bastion of conservatism like Mississippi, that’s where the Tea Party has its best chance to get its people into office.
Senate: Incumbent Senator Thad Cochran (R) has been in the office for more than 35 year, but hasn’t stopped State Senator Chris McDaniel from launching a primary challenge from the right. And as we learned from 2010 (remember Bob Bennett?) and 2012 (remember Dick Lugar?). the advantage of incumbency does not ensure immunity from the ire of the conservative base of the Republican Party. That being said, Cochran is a in a decent position for 2014 and he has the strong backing of the Mississippi political establishment, including former Governor Haley Barbour. The most recent polling has him well ahead of McDaniel and right now, Cochran is still the favorite for reelection. But as a word of caution, primary day is still almost three months away and if organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund flood the state with outside cash, then it could pose problems for Cochran. But no matter who wins the Republican primary, the GOP is expected to retain this seat in the reddest of red states. This race is Safe Republican.
MS-04: Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) is on the conservative Club for Growth’s hit list that targets what it calls RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). But his main challenger, the bow-tied Tavish Kelly, has been outraised by Palazzo by almost 50 to 1 so far this cycle and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be much of a threat. Another candidate running in the GOP primary is former Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor, someone who is not likely to get the endorsements of conservative groups any time soon. All in all, it is hard to see anyone beating Palazzo this year and even if someone does, the GOP has a lock on this seat. This race is Safe Republican.