Recruiting now for 2016 Senate races
The GOP seeks strong nominees in Colorado and Nevada to offset other expected losses.
The latest battle for control of the Senate won’t end until November 2016, but decisions made this year in several key states could go a long way toward deciding the outcome.
In contests where open seats can bewon or a vulnerable incumbent toppled, this is when parties focus on a single issue: recruiting candidates.
Currently, Republicans are searching for candidates in two states — Colorado and Nevada — where they have hopes of picking up seats.
Democrats lost control of the Senate in last year’s midterm election but have an edge in regaining control in 2016. They’re set to defend 10 seats this time around compared with 24 for Republicans.
Seven of the seats Republicans must defend are in states that President Obama won twice. In a presidential election year, in which turnout will be larger and include more minorities and young people, who tilt Democratic, several of those races will probably be difficult for the GOP.
To offset potential losses in blue states— GOP incumbents in Illinois and Wisconsin are particularly vulnerable — Republicans hope to pick up Democratic seats in Colorado, where they defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Udall in 2014, and Nevada, where Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will be retiring.
But recruitment problems could limit those efforts.
In Colorado, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman’s recent announcement that he will not challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has left Republicans scrambling.
Coffman, who hails from a diverse suburban Denver district and has won statewide office in the past, is a strong fundraiser and wellknown within the state party. Now Republicans must consider several lowerprofile and untested candidates.
The list includes state Sen. Ellen Roberts, who represents a rural swath of southwestern Colorado, and Coffman’s wife, Cynthia, the state’s attorney general.
In 2014, Cynthia Coffman was the top Republican vote-getter of any candidate in Colorado, but many of the state’s top strategists believe she will run for governor in 2018.
Roberts could be astrong pick for a state that has never elected a female senator, but her support of abortion rights would be a hurdle to overcome in a GOP primary.
“The big question is: Can she make it out of a primary where there will certainly be really conservative candidates who hammer her on the issue?” said Eric Sondermann, a Denver-based political analyst.
Roberts said in an interview that if she decides to run, the theme for her candidacy would resemble a slogan used by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky: a “different kind of Republican.”
“We as a party need to find solutions and bring people together,” Roberts said, describing herself as “modestly libertarian.”
In Nevada, where Reid has held his seat since 1987, Democrats have coalesced around his protege, former state Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
Many Republicans had hoped that Gov. Brian Sandoval, who won reelection last year, would run for the seat. But Sandoval said last week hewould not do so.
Republican officials have been trying to persuade Rep. Joe Heck, a retired general, to enter the race, although he has said he will not run.
Florida Republicans will look to defend the seat of Sen. Marco Rubio as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination. The race, whichis ranked a “pure toss-up” by the nonpartisan Rothenberg& Gonzales Political Report, is shaping up to have competitive prima--
ries on both sides.
Rep. Patrick Murphy represents a South Florida district and has been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The endorsement, however, hasn’t deterred a challenge from Rep. Alan Grayson, who is notorious for making controversial comments.
On the GOP side, state Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who is of Cuban and Jewish descent, is the favorite of establishment Republicans. He’s set to be challenged by tea party favorite Rep. Ron DeSantis, whose district is in the northern part of the state.
“I firmly believe— firmly — that a Floridian will be the Republican nominee for president,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida GOP strategist who is working for LopezCantera. In addition to Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is seeking the nomination.
“That only helps the Republican Senate candidate in Florida, because it bumps up Republican turnout,” Wilson said.
In Wisconsin, the decision by former Sen. Russ Feingold to seek a rematch with Sen. Ron Johnson, who beat him in 2010, has created a race that both sides will watch closely.
Johnson is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, and almost certainly will have a harder road in a presidential election year.
“This is one of the premier races,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, editor of the Rothenberg& Gonzales Political Report. “And one where both sides have their top recruit.”
DEMOCRAT Russ Feingold is ready for a rematch after losing hisWisconsin seat to Johnson in 2010.
REPUBLICAN Ron Johnson ofWisconsin, one of the most conservative senators, is seen as vulnerable.