In Senate race showdowns, tough odds for Democrats fuel Republican hopes

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Republicans’ best chance of keeping control of one chamber in Congress most likely lies in the Senate.

Despite only holding a two-seat majority, their opposition is arguably in a tougher spot. Republicans are defending eight seats in 2018, while Democrats are defending 24 plus the two independents who caucus with them.

And in those states where Democrats are playing defense, President Donald Trump carried 10 of them in the 2016 election.

There are some red seats where the Democrats have both hope and strong candidates: Arizona and Tennessee. Additionally, in Arizona and Mississippi, the Democrats could find luck on their side if the internecine battles between the ultra-conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party result in a more extreme GOP candidate on the ballot in November, improving Democratic chances for a win.

But don’t forget the likely Democratic difficulties in holding states including West Virginia and Indiana, where Vice President Mike Pence is promising to be extensively involved.

Pence has already attacked West Virginia Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin and will be expected to campaign heavily in his home state of Indiana.

Policy issues tend to play bigger in Senate races than House races so expect immigration reform, border security, tax reform, and the government shutdown to pop up over the next 10 months.

Here are the Senate races to watch.

Tennessee's Sen. Bob Corker is retiring and the race to replace him is on

BY CHRISTOPHER DONATO

THE PLAYERS

Rep. Marsha Blackburn

Republican

Currently representing Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District

Age: 65 (June 6, 1952)

Stephen Fincher

Republican

Former Representative for Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District (2011-2017)

Age: 44 (February 7, 1973)

Rolando Toyos

Republican

Physician and eye doctor, son of immigrant parents (father from Cuba, mother from Dominican Republic), invented a thus-far unpatented treatment for dry eye, and is the team eye doctor for the Memphis Grizzlies. His wife is also an eye doctor. They have three teenage daughters. Age: N/A

Aaron Pettigrew

Republican

Truck driver for Big G express. Right now his campaign is a one-man-show; if you call him, he’ll likely be driving his truck.

Age: 42 (June 23, 1975)

Steven Hughes

Republican

Employment: N/A

Age: N/A

Larry Crim

Republican

This is his first time running as a Republican; In 2010 he ran for the Tennessee House of Representatives, rand for US Senate in 2012 and 2014, and in 2016 ran to represent Tennessee’s 9th district in the US House as a Democrat.

Employment: N/A

Age: 62 (September 28, 1955)

Phil Bredesen

Democrat

Former Mayor of Nashville (1991-1999), former Governor of Tennessee (2003-2011). Swept every county in the state in his 2006 re-election bid

Age: 74 (November 21, 1943)

THE STAKES

PHOTO: President Donald Trump holds up an executive order after signing it at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.Mark Humphrey/AP
President Donald Trump holds up an executive order after signing it at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.

When Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., announced he would not seek re-election seven candidates -- six Republicans and one Democrat -- jumped in the race and to replace him.

Corker’s retirement announcement has left the GOP defending a deep-red seat, which hasn’t been held by a Democrat since 1995. There’s a crowded field of Republicans vying for the Senate seat: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Larry Crim, Fmr. Rep. Stephen Fincher, Steven Hughes, Aaron Pettigrew, and Dr. Rolando Toyos,

Democrats got their top recruit in coaxing former Gov. Phil Bredesen off the sidelines.

The race to replace Corker is important for Republicans; they need to keep it red as protection against losing a majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats are looking to become the majority party in the Senate and are looking to ride a wave of momentum after deep-red state Alabama elected a Democrat to the Senate in a strongly contested special election in December 2017.

KEY DATES

Candidate filing deadline: Feb. 15

Primary: Aug. 2

Election: Nov. 6

A senator stepping down in a critical border state leads to a fiesty Republican primary

By MEGHAN KENEALLY

THE PLAYERS

Kelli Ward

Republican

An osteopathic physician and ran an unsuccessful bid against Sen. John McCain in 2016

Age: 49 (Jan. 25, 1969)

Joe Arpaio

Republican

A controversial figure who touted himself as America’s Toughest Sheriff

Age: 85 (June 14, 1932)

Martha McSally

Republican

A current congresswoman from a district along the border, who was the first female Air Force fighter pilot.

Age: 51, (March 22, 1966)

Craig Brittain

Republican

He previously volunteered for his now-opponent Ward and also used to run a revenge porn website.

Age: 33 (Nov. 9. 1984)

Christian ‘C.J.’ Diegel

Republican

A certified financial planner and former Air Force special operations intelligence officer.

Age: 39 (Sept. 27, 1978)

Michelle Griffin

Republican

A doctor who calls for changes in healthcare, English as the national language, and improvements in veteran’s care.

Age: N/A

Kyrsten Sinema

Democrat

A current congresswoman who has a relatively moderate voting record and already made history by becoming the first bisexual member of Congress.

Age: 41 (July 12, 1976)

Deedra Abboud

Democrat

A Muslim-American attorney who is originally from Arkansas but who has lived in Arizona for 20 years.

Age: 46 (Nov. 11, 1971)

Chris Russell

Democrat

A lawyer who is driven by outrage over the lack of bipartisan work to solve problems.

Age: 49 (May 19, 1968)

Eve Reyes-Aguirre

Green Party

An indigenous woman and mother of four, she’s venturing into politics for the first time.

Age: 42 (Sept. 8, 1975)

Doug Marks

Libertarian

He ran an unsuccessful congressional race in Illinois before successful running for city council, and is now trying again in his new home state.

Age: N/A

THE STAKES

PHOTO: Sheriff Joe Arpaio attends a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Oct. 4, 2016, in Prescott Valley, Ariz.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Sheriff Joe Arpaio attends a rally by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Oct. 4, 2016, in Prescott Valley, Ariz.

A lively cast of characters and the center seat to the debate over immigration policy will keep the Arizona Senate race bustling through November.

Sen. Jeff Flake’s decision not to seek re-election opened up the seat — and Republican field, allowing the warring factions of the party to vie for the spot. The Democrats, led by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, are hoping that their opponents' infighting could lead them to help make the state a deeper shade of purple than it already is.

The Republican primary will not only be a competition of differing ideas on the border wall and immigration, but also show the competition between the candidates as they tout their respective ties to President Donald Trump. Kelli Ward, who unsuccessfully went up against Sen. John McCain in his 2016 re-election, had an early lead in the race that was helped by the backing of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and financial support from conservative fundraiser Rebekah Mercer.

But two key opponents could threaten her hold on her base.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio threw his name in the race in January, months after being pardoned by Trump, and ex-fighter pilot Rep. Martha McSally flew into the competition touting her tendency for tough talk. While these three candidates are vying for the more conservative voters in the state, there are four others who will be nipping at their heels until the Aug. 28 primary.

KEY DATES

Candidate filing deadline is May 30

The primary is on Tuesday Aug. 28.

The general election is on Nov. 6.

Heller faces uphill battle in re-election bid in blue-tinted Nevada

BY MARIAM KHAN

THE PLAYERS

Dean Heller

Republican – Incumbent

Senior United States Senator of Nevada, running for his second term, former Nevada Congressman and former Nevada Secretary of State

Age: 57 (born May 10, 1960)

Danny Tarkanian

Republican

Businessman and son of former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, running for the Senate for the second time

Age: 56 (December 18, 1961)

Sarah Gazala

Republican

Special education teacher, mother of a veteran

Age: 45 (December 16, 1972)

Jacky Rosen

Democrat

Represents Nevada’s 3rd District, won election in 2016, former computer programmer and software developer

Age: 60 (August 2, 1957)

Jesse Sbaih

Democrat

Small business owner, attorney, immigrant

Age: 41 (March 5, 1976)

Bobby Mahendra

Democrat

Accountant, describes himself as “non-establishment, fiscally conservative, socially liberal”

Age: N/A

THE STAKES

PHOTO: Sen. Dean Heller is pictured during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas. Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP
Sen. Dean Heller is pictured during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Sen. Dean Heller is perhaps the most vulnerable Republican running for re-election. The race is taking place in the blue-tinted state Hillary Clinton won during the 2016 presidential race, and the race looks to be a key pickup opportunity for Democrats in the upcoming election cycle.

Heller’s position as one of the key holdouts during the Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this past summer earned him the wrath of not only his GOP colleagues in Congress, but that of President Donald Trump.

Heller stood steadfast in his disapproval of the GOP health care bill, citing concerns over proposed deep cuts to Medicaid. But after a brief run of televised attacks against him by a pro-Trump group, Heller made a dramatic reversal and voted in support of a scaled-down health care bill that ultimately failed to clear the Senate.

The political about-face has given Democrats more fuel to oust the senator.

Enter Jacky Rosen, a Democrat and current congresswoman who represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. Rosen has made no secret of her strategy of calling out Heller for moving in line with Trump’s agenda and policies.

Heller is facing a tough primary challenge from the conservative wing in businessman Danny Tarkanian, the son of former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and a Trump superfan. Tarkanian is no stranger to politics – he’s run for office several times in the state and this will be his second time running for the Senate.

KEY DATES

March 16, 2018: Candidate filing deadline

June 12, 2018: Primary

November 6, 2018: General election

In Trump-Friendly West Virginia, a fierce battle to flip a Democrat Senate seat

By MERIDITH MCGRAW

THE PLAYERS

Joseph “Joe” Manchin, III

Democrat

Current U.S. Senator from West Virginia

From: Fairmont, WV

Age: 70 (August 24, 1947)

Paula Jean Swearengin

Democrat

Social and environmental activist

From: Coal City, WV

Age: N/A

Don Blankenship

Republican

Former Chairman and CEO of coal company Massey Energy Company

From: Sprigg, WV

Age: 67 (March 14, 1950)

Bo Copley

Republican

Coal miner

From: Delbarton, WV

Age: 41 (December 10, 1976)

Evan Jenkins

Republican

Current U.S. Congressman from West Virginia

From: Huntington, WV

Age: 57 (September 12, 1960)

Patrick Morrisey

Republican

Current Attorney General of West Virginia

From: Harpers Ferry, WV

Age: 50 (December 21, 1967)

Thomas “Tom” Willis

Republican

Co-owner of Glen Ferris Inn hotel and restaurant

From: Martinsburg, WV

Age: N/A

THE STAKES

PHOTO: President Donald Trump holds up a Trump Digs Coal sign as he arrives to speak during a Make America Great Again Rally at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W. Va., Aug. 3, 2017.Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
President Donald Trump holds up a "Trump Digs Coal" sign as he arrives to speak during a Make America Great Again Rally at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W. Va., Aug. 3, 2017.

West Virginia is the heart of Trump Country. In 2016, the Mountain state overwhelmingly checked the box for Republican Donald Trump in the polling booth, rejecting Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, by 42 points — the largest margin in the state’s history. Trump’s populist message and promise to revitalize the coal industry captured the attention of voters across Appalachia who have watched unemployment rates rise as industries decline.

Now, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda will be put to the test as incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Manchin faces a field of Republicans eager to turn the state red.

Manchin, a social conservative and moderate in an era of hyper-partisan politics on Capitol Hill, has secured a reputation in Washington for reaching across the aisle and for frequently visiting the White House to seek out bipartisan deals.

And while back in West Virginia Manchin remains popular, the large pool of Republicans — and money — eager to take on his seat shows just how competitive the state has become. Manchin faces a Democratic primary opponent in Paula Jean Swearengin, an environmental activist and progressive in the vein of Bernie Sanders.

On the Republican side a fierce primary battle is brewing over who can spark the same enthusiasm Donald Trump found across the Rust Belt. Among those hoping to represent West Virginia in Washington are a coal baron, a small businessman, a sitting congressman, the current state attorney general, and a coal miner.

Democrats are hoping for a vicious fight between Congressman Evan Jenkins and current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Since entering the race, Jenkins has hit Morrisey for his ties to the lobbying industry and Steve Bannon, while Morrisey has called Jenkins a “liberal” for once being a Democrat.

And then there’s Don Blankenship, the former coal baron who spent a year in prison for violating mine safety laws who is hoping to redeem his reputation in the state while as he takes on Manchin. Also vying for a spot on the ticket are Tom Willis, a small business owner and National Guardsman, and Bo Copley, a coal miner who gained national attention in 2016 when he tearfully told Hillary Clinton about fearing for his family’s future after losing his job in the coal industry.

KEY DATES

May 8, 2018: Primary election November 6, 2018: General election

Mississippi braces for possible Republican civil war in Senate race

By NIA PHILLIPS

THE PLAYERS

Sen. Roger Wicker

Republican

Current U.S. Senator

Age: 66 (July 5 1951)

The filing deadline for candidate in Mississippi March 1, 2018.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel

Republican

Mississippi State Senator, lawyer, 2014 U.S. Senate GOP Candidate

Age: 46 (Feb. 28, 1971)

State Rep. David Baria

Democrat

Age: 56 (Dec. 4, 1962)

Jensen Bohren

Democrat

Age: 34 (Mar. 31 1983)

THE STAKES

PHOTO: Last minute voters rush to cast their ballots on Election Day at the Christ United Methodist Church precinct in north Jackson, Miss., Nov. 8, 2016.Rogelio V. Solis/AP, FILE
Last minute voters rush to cast their ballots on Election Day at the Christ United Methodist Church precinct in north Jackson, Miss., Nov. 8, 2016.

Republicans in the state of Mississippi have controlled Senate seats for over 35 years and this year’s midterm election looks to be no different. But the big question is what kind of Republican the state is likely to send to Washington.

Fighting for re-election, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, hopes this year's primary won't be a repeat of the GOP civil war the party experienced four years ago. Speculation is rampant that State Sen. Chris McDaniel will enter the race. In the nation's poorest state, this move could signify the resurgence of the far-right.

McDaniel, a lawyer and a former conservative talk show host, sent shockwaves through the Republican Party after only narrowly losing to long-time Sen. Thad Cochran. If the lawmaker does decide to run again, he will likely rely on his social media presence, appealing to the same base that helped Donald Trump into the White House. One big question for McDaniel will be whether the early endorsement from political outsider Steve Bannon will help or hurt his candidacy in the wake of the former White House chief strategist’s falling out with the president.

Democrats have yet to announce a competitor, but likely frontrunner looks to be State Rep. David Baria. The lawyer and state House minority leader confirming to ABC News he is considering to run, and only has only a few weeks to decide before the March 1st filing deadline.

In the wings is self-described progressive and “Berniecrat,” Jensen Bohren, who told ABC News his mission is to “fight against he currently established system that minimizes [those] people of lesser means.”

Additionally, both parties will keep an eye on Cochran as questions persist about the 80-year-old’s health. If the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman leaves his seat this year, Mississippi could also be facing a special election in the seat Cochran has held since 1978.

KEY DATES

FILING DEADLINE: March 1, 2018

PRIMARY: June 5, 2018

In Vice President Mike Pence's home state of Indiana, a showdown over a senate seat

BY ALISA WIERSEMA

THE PLAYERS

Sen. Joe Donnelly

Democrat

Incumbent Senator

Age: 62 (September 29, 1955)

Mike Braun

Republican

Business Owner

Age: N/A

Rep. Luke Messer

Republican

Congressman

Age: 48 (Feb 27, 1969)

Rep. Todd Rokita

Republican

Congressman

Age: 47 (Feb. 9, 1970)

THE STAKES

PHOTO: Joe Donnelly, incumbent candidate for U.S. senate in Indiana, is seen here.Courtesy of the Campaign
Joe Donnelly, incumbent candidate for U.S. senate in Indiana, is seen here.

This year’s Indiana Senate race is sure to feature showdowns in the primary and general election cycles, putting Vice President Mike Pence’s home state in the spotlight for battles within his own party, as well as across the aisle.

The matchup is set in a state President Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016 — meaning incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly is looking at a tough race against a slew of Republicans eager to take his seat.

Indiana businessman Mike Braun launched into the field with the first ads of the election cycle. Candidates on the right also include House Representatives Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, who are duking it out in an intra-party war marked with personal jabs.

Such heated exchanges set the stage well ahead of this year’s midterm cycle, meaning whichever Republican candidate comes out on top will have already fought hard just to get the party’s nomination.

As for the incumbent, Sen. Joe Donnelly will have to fight a bitter battle to defend his seat at home and on a national level. While Donnelly aligns with Republicans on issues like abortion, he has a target on his back for voting against tax reform that was painted on by the president himself during a tax event last fall in Indianapolis.

“If Senator Donnelly doesn't approve it, because you know, he's on the other side, we will come here. We will campaign against him like you wouldn't believe,” President Trump said at the time.

KEY DATES

Filing deadline: Feb 9, 2018

Primary: May 8, 2018

18 For 18’ is ABC News’ powerhouse political coverage of the 2018 midterm elections. Coverage kicks off Sunday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” featuring a report on the 2018 midterms and the special House of Representatives election taking place next month in Pennsylvania. Coverage continues on “Nightline” on Monday. To stay up to date, visit ABCNews.com and the ABC News app, and follow our midterm elections alerts.

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