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Several Senate Dems emerge as most likely to retire in 2024, boosting GOP Senate hopes

By Sarah May on
 January 9, 2023

The recent news from Michigan that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) would not seek re-election in 2024 has, as The Hill reports, not only sparked frenzied speculation about who might run to replace her but has also spurred talk of other potential retirements on her side of the aisle which could hand control of the upper chamber to the GOP.

In the words of Republican strategist John Sellek, Stabenow's retirement unleashed a “political earthquake,” as Axios noted, and all eyes are now on a group of senators who may choose to follow her lead and upset the body's current balance of power.

Stabenow's goodbye

The Hill reported last week that “[i]nspired by a new generation of leaders,” she has “decided to pass the torch in the U.S. Senate” and would depart her seat for good when her current term ends on Jan. 3, 2025.

Republican strategist John Sellek characterized Stabenow's move as having initiated a “political earthquake” that “probably spawned a thousand meetings” within hours, as Axios noted, and it did not take long for pundits to begin compiling rosters of possible candidates for the vacancy, Democrat and Republican.

The flurry of activity that followed Stabenow's announcement underscores the very real possibility that Republicans could pick up the seat, and the names of several potential GOP hopefuls have already emerged.

Including on that list are newly elected Rep. John James, who lost a prior Senate bid back in 2018 and former Rep. Peter Meier, whose congressional re-election hopes were dashed by his loss in a primary contest just last year, as Politico noted.

Other possible contenders on the Republican side include failed 2022 gubernatorial candidates Tudor Dixon, Perry Johnson, and Kevin Rinke as well as Reps. Lisa McClain and Bill Huizenga.

Tough map for Dems

As The Hill points out, despite their success in retaining control of the Senate in November, Democrats could be plagued by a spate of retirements, they have the unenviable task in 2024 of defending double the number of seats as Republicans, and some key races will be in particularly competitive jurisdictions such as Nevada, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight conducted a review of the Democrats' future Senate landscape last month and highlighted what he believes to be the Senate seats most susceptible to becoming Republican pickups in the next several cycles.

In Silver's estimation, 2024's Democratic Senate vulnerabilities include the seats currently held by West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Jon Tester of Montana, and Sherrod Brown in Ohio.

Other lawmakers who Silver suspects could be in for challenging races next November include Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and Democrats Bob Casey (PA), Bob Menendez (NJ), and Virginia's Tim Kaine.

Adding to the nebulous nature of the Democrats' Senate prospects in 2024 is the fact that thus far, neither Manchin nor Tester have announced whether they even plan to stand for re-election, Casey recently went public with a cancer diagnosis, and Stabenow's decision to stand down was only just revealed.

Lopsided prospects

In contrast to the relatively voluminous opportunities for Republicans to pick up Senate seats from Democrats in 2024, Silver notes that reverse scenario is nowhere near as rosy.

Silver suggests that there are no races in which a switch in favor of Democrats is extremely likely, and he posits that there is only a moderately fair chance that Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and/or Florida Sen. Rick Scott could be unseated.

As a result of Silver's analysis, he hypothesizes that 2024 could result in a gain of roughly three Senate seats for Senate Republicans, though that margin could increase, depending on the presidential political landscape closer to Election Day.

Though Democrats were buoyed by their stronger-than-expected showing in the midterm elections and their success in retaining control of the Senate, Silver says that the tough slog facing the party to win seats in the upper chamber in 2024 makes holding power there any time in the near future a real challenge.

There has also been speculation that, given the daunting scenarios outlined above, Democrats may turn their attention to other political operations, which could include increased advocacy for strategic retirements in the federal judiciary to ensure the appointment of ideologically compatible jurists while the party still holds sway.

It may not be until there is greater clarity on the 2024 presidential field that the true state of play in the upper chamber will start to become clear, but at this relatively early stage, Democrats appear to have an uphill battle on their hands when it comes to wielding long-term power in the Senate.