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Politico’s James Hohmann Handicaps All 14 Competitive Senate Races Of 2014

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HH: Joined now in studio by Politico’s own happy warrior, James Hohmann. He’s covering the Senate races throughout the United States. There are fourteen competitive Senate races that may go either way. All fourteen are held by Democrats. We have two segments and fourteen minutes to get through them, Hohmann, so enough of what you do for Politico. Let’s start with the races. Alaska?

JH: Mark Begich, vulnerable.

HH: Okay, try again.

JH: Mark Begich, vulnerable. He beat Ted Stevens by less than five thousand votes right after he’d been wrongfully convicted of a couple of felonies in ’08. There’s a three-way Republican primary. Dan Sullivan, the attorney general appointed, state attorney general appointed by Sarah Palin, raised like $1.3 million dollars, very close with Rob Portman, very exciting numbers. He seems to be kind of clearing that field.

HH: Yeah, Meade Treadwell was supposed to be stronger, but he kind of got blown away in the fundraising.

JH: Right, he still is outpolling Sullivan consistently as the lieutenant governor.

HH: As the lieutenant governor.

JH: Against Sullivan in the primary, and against Begich, but Republicans feel like their best shot is Sullivan, a first time candidate, but he hasn’t made any mistakes thus far.

HH: All right, then we go from there to Arkansas. Tom Cotton, everyone on this show knows.

JH: Friend of the show.

HH: Yeah. Mark Pryor is in big trouble.

JH: Yeah, the race still is kind of close, but it’s one of those races where it’s close, but Tom Cotton should be able to win that.

HH: Do you see the Democrats cutting the strings on Pryor like they did previously in Arkansas?

JH: They feel like they have a path to victory. They think that there’s already been $2 million dollars in negative ads run against Pryor, and he’s still kind of running neck and neck. And they also think that a lot of people still don’t know Cotton, that he’s largely undefined. So they have not cut bait on Pryor, yet. That could happen closer to the election when you have to make those tough calls.

HH: Did you see the 1:44 standing ovation for a Ranger?

JH: Yeah.

HH: Now truly, a hero whose been wounded, and Tom, thank God, wasn’t wounded.

JH: Yeah.

HH: But he served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s a Ranger. Rangers lead the way.

JH: Right.

HH: Kind of a message in that ovation, wasn’t there?

JH: Yeah, and the challenge for Pryor is trying to define Tom Cotton as someone who’s not a great military…

HH: Not a Ranger.

JH: Exactly. The key for them is to define him as this ambitious young guy who can’t wait his turn. He’s only been in the House for less than two years, and too conservative. That’s their argument, that they’ve been hammering him for…

HH: I don’t think they’re going to try and prove he didn’t earn his parachute wings, though.

JH: Exactly. No, that won’t be what they do.

HH: That would be tough.

JH: They will attack him for voting against the farm bill. He has conservative reasons for doing so. But in Arkansas, they’re trying to turn that into a liability.

HH: Pryor voted in favor of cutting the military COLA.

JH: Right.

HH: Cotton voted against it.

JH: Right.

HH: And I heard from David Drucker just now, the House is trying to figure out how to undo that piece of stupidity. That’s got to hurt Pryor as well, Arkansas is a pretty pro-military state.

JH: Absolutely.

HH: All right, let’s got to Colorado next on the alphabetical list.

JH: So Mark Udall should be vulnerable. His numbers, you know, are below 50%. So far, Republicans have not sort of coalesced behind anyone. Ken Buck is still sort of seen as the Republican frontrunner to win the nomination in that state, ran a bad campaign in 2010, got hammered. The Republicans kind of turned on him in the final weeks. Amy Stephens, vulnerable, she’s a former state legislator. She’s vulnerable on Amycare.

HH: Amycare, the state exchange.

JH: She came up with the exchange. And then you have Own Hill…

HH: Air Force Academy

JH: …impressive, likable guy. He was, supported some of the marijuana decriminalization, so that makes him appealing to a certain part of the base, but other parts, unappealing.

HH: And so that’s a fascinating primary in a fascinating state.

JH: Yeah.

HH: I mean, I know Amy well.

JH: I know we’re talking about the Senate here, but…

HH: Yeah.

JH: John Hickenlooper, who I think still wants to be able to run for president as a Democrat at some point, the governor…

HH: Yeah.

JH: …won in 2010, great year for Republicans. He prevailed. He is looking more and more vulnerable. When you talk to Republicans about the governors’ races…

HH: Yeah.

JH: He’s someone that I think he actually might be more vulnerable than the Senator, Mark Udall.

HH: Yeah, and there’s some great candidates. Greg Brophy’s a friend of the show, as is the secretary of states, as are a number of people. And they’re all pretty excited about taking on Hick. All right, we go from there to Iowa, about which I know almost nothing on the Republican side. They’ve got some no name Democrat Congressman running.

JH: Bruce Braley.

HH: And of course, it elects Grassley, so it’s possible.

JH: Yeah, it’s, this is for Tom Harkin’s seat, ultra-liberal. Iowa, Wisconsin have these Senate delegations that are, you just have very conservative, very liberal representation. It should be a Republican pickup if it’s a good Republican year.

HH: Right.

JH: Because Bruce Braley is relatively unknown. It’s a scattered field. If no one clears 35% in the primary, it’ll be decided at a convention. Bob Vander Plaats, big social conservative voice in that state, is considering getting in. He probably won’t. The D.C. establishment types believe that the two best options for them are Mark Jacobs, former energy executive who has the ability to self-fund, could put in $10, 20 million dollars of his own money, or Joni Ernst. She’s a state senator, very close friend of the governor, and best friends with the lieutenant governor, Kim Reynolds. So she’s been helping her a lot behind the scenes.

HH: And Branstad’s running again, right?

JH: And so Branstad is running again. Democrats don’t have a good candidate against Branstad. So he’s going to be very strong at the top of the ticket, and his coattails could actually help whoever the ultimate nominee is.

HH: Does he have a favorite?

JH: Ernst is his favorite.

HH: Okay.

JH: So he hasn’t formally endorsed, but he’s working behind the scenes to help her. And then there’s a couple of other impressive candidates, but Republicans don’t think that they can ultimately win, Matt Whittaker, former U.S. attorney. He’s kind of been running hard. David Young, who was Chuck Grassley’s former chief of staff was in the race, but he wasn’t getting traction, so he is now running for the House trying to succeed Tom Latham, who’s one of John Boehner’s best friends, who’s retiring.

HH: All right, now an interesting race to take us into the break is Louisiana. And I say it’s interesting only because this race really won’t matter until December.

JH: Right.

HH: This will be like the tail that will be, it happened once before where every dollar in America floods into the Bayou State, because it’s got the funny jungle primary, and then you don’t really decide things until December, right?

JH: Right. So Bill Cassidy is a Republican Congressman. He’s running, but there are some people in the base who are a little bit uneasy with him. He was a big supporter of some of the health care exchanges. His hands are a little dirty on that. So he has two or three Republicans who are nipping at his heels, and there’s not a Republican primary. They’re going to continue to be criticizing him on health care issues through November. But he ultimately is going to be the Republican, and it’s very possible that Republicans will pick up five seats, and control of the Senate will come down to a run off in Louisiana in December. And it’ll be Cassidy against Mary Landrieu, the Democrat, third term.

HH: You know, that, you imagine how many touches…

JH: She’s never won with more than 52% of the vote.

HH: Every voter, the number of touches on every voter in that situation will be extraordinary, as will the fraud.

JH: Right.

HH: It’s Louisiana. People will get houses out of that deal.

JH: Something that’s kind of the, it’s below the radar right now, but this Saturday, actually, a Democratic primary for the New Orleans Mayor’s race, and Mary Landrieu’s brother, Mitch, is the mayor of New Orleans. He’s getting attacked from basically his left by two different candidates. He’s going to end up prevailing.

HH: Is Ray Nagin back?

JH: He’s supporting the other guy.

HH: Well, that’s too bad. I want Ray Nagin back.

JH: And so, but they’re using that as a test run to practice getting Democrats to turn out, getting African-Americans to turn out, because it really is a turnout game. Huge African-American population in that state, overwhelmingly Democratic, and then the Republican votes all come from outside of New Orleans. And that’s why the Democrats actually see this Saturday’s vote as this key test run.

HH: So fine tuning of their fraud machine.

JH: Of their machine.

HH: You didn’t say it. I said it. All right, Michigan. We have time for Michigan, because Michigan is 30 seconds worth. Terri Lynn Land looks good.

JH: Terri Lynn Land is leading in the polls, former secretary of state, Republican, member of the national committee. She’s running against Gary Peters, like Bruce Braley, kind of a no name, generic Democrat.

HH: Bland, gray…

JH: So he represents the Detroit suburbs. She comes from the right part of the state, Western Michigan. She’s from Grand Rapids. She has money, she’s poured in a couple of million of her own at this point. She’s been kind of, she’s run a cautious campaign.

HH: Can she talk to the Yoopers? Can she shoot ducks?

JH: I think she can.

HH: She can shoot ducks?

JH: She can shoot ducks, and so it’s kind of that classic Western-Eastern Michigan divide.

HH: Terri Lynn Land. I can’t wait to talk to her on air. I’ve never talked to her. I just can’t wait to ask her Yooper stuff. She probably knows nothing about football.

— – – –

HH: All right, we are in your home state, Minnesota.

JH: Al Franken barely won in a recount in 2008. Impressive Republican candidate, Mike McFadden, private equity guy, able to raise a lot of money, raised about a million dollars this past quarter. Franken also able to raise a lot of money. It’s one of those races where he has tried to keep this as much as possible about Al Franken, who has been a rubber stamp for Obama, voted for everything, unabashed liberal.

HH: It would have to be 1980. He would be the John Culver of 1980.

JH: And so in a very good Republican year, McFadden will probably run a mistake-free campaign. He’s going to get attacked as a Romney-like guy, a private equity, lots of business investments. But if it’s a referendum on Al Franken in a good Republican year without a Democrat at the presidential level, he could win that race.

HH: Most interesting race in America, Montana.

JH: So Max Baucus, who said he doesn’t know much about China, is going to get confirmed as ambassador.

HH: Right.

JH: He’s going to go. John Walsh is going to get appointed to fill the remainder of his term.

HH: He’s a fake.

JH: He’s the lieutenant governor.

HH: He fakes his resume.

JH: So he was the head of the Montana National Guard. He was reprimanded by the Army. He’s taken some hits for that the last couple of weeks. He’s going to get that seat, so he’ll be able to raise a lot of money He’ll kind of pick and choose some issues to criticize the President on.

HH: They’re really going to put him in even though he’s a flawed, terribly compromised candidate?

JH: They are. He was not their first choice. Brian Schweitzer, the former Democratic governor…

HH: Yeah.

JH: who also was flawed…

HH: But Steve Daines is awfully good.

JH: So Steve Daines coasted to his seat in the House in 2012, successful business guy, still not that known. He’s never really taken a lot of hits, because he didn’t really have a strong Democrat in 2012, and all of the focus was on that Jon Tester Democratic Senate race.

HH: Yeah.

JH: And so he should be able to win that seat. A lot of Republicans already kind of see it as a gimme, but he’s going to have a real fight, because it’s hard to beat incumbents…

HH: Yeah.

JH: …even if you only have the incumbency for a little bit.

HH: Even if you’re bleeding from scandal.

JH: Right.

HH: Okay, New Hampshire.

JH: Scott Brown, some days he’s 80% I’m getting in. Some days, he’s 20% on getting in. No one really knows what he’s going to do, including himself. He thinks he has until April to decide. The primary’s not until September. Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat, been around for forever, also a party line vote.

HH: If Brown gets in, does he win?

JH: In a good Republican year, yeah, which it is right now.

HH: You’re discounting a Mark Steyn boomlet.

JH: That would, if Brown runs, it’s a race to the end, and it will be a four point race either way. If he doesn’t, it’s over.

HH: North Carolina looks like it’s tilted decisively GOP. What do you think?

JH: First, you have to get through the primary. Thom Tillis raised three quarters of a million dollars. He’s facing these two guys. Assuming he wins the primary, it’s going to be a knife fight until the end. Both sides agree it’s going to be decided by two points.

HH: Yeah, but it looks good for the GOP.

JH: Yeah, at this point, it should be the easiest, after Mark Pryor in Arkansas, the easiest Democratic incumbent to beat is Kay Hagan.

HH: And then we go to Oregon, which is one of those outliers we won’t know until late, but if there’s a really great tailwind for Republicans, Merkley could go down.

JH: Yeah, so Jeff Merkley beat Gordon Smith barely in 2008. Republicans got a good recruit. Monica Wehby, neurosurgeon

HH: Neurosurgeon…

JH: Former doctor of the year, has the right kind of profile to be able to win in Oregon. But you have to run a mistake-free campaign, and you just have to be able to have enough money to hammer Merkley for supporting all the ACA and all the other problems.

HH: The two Republican gimmes are South Dakota and West Virginia, agreed?

JH: So Mike Rounds, popular former governor in South Dakota, Democrats haven’t gotten someone good. They got a liberal former Tom Daschle staffer, and in West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito is now officially, we can say, avoided a contentious Republican primary. A lot of conservatives a little uneasy with her, but she’s not going to have a primary.

HH: Senator Capito.

JH: And so she will be the next Senator.

HH: And that leaves us with one race with one minute – Virginia. And I love this race, because Ed Gillespie is a wonderful guy. I sent him a check, and people should know, full disclosure, fully funded. I maxed out to Ed Gillespie, because I think he’d make a great Senator. He’s a great man, good man, great family.

JH: Yeah.

HH: Going to be a knife fight.

JH: It will be, so Mark Warner’s still personally popular. A lot of Republicans think it’s a mile wide and an inch deep. You know, he left office as governor of Virginia very popular. He thought about running for president in 2008. He thought he was going to have a cakewalk until Gillespie got in. Now he knows it’s going to be a race. I actually spent two days following him around last week to the reddest parts of Virginia. I went to Lynchburg, and I was going to watch him give the convocation at Liberty University, which would have been interesting to see…

HH: Mark Warner?

JH: Mark Warner, but it got cancelled because of that blizzard, and so he ended up…

HH: God did not want him to talk at Liberty University.

JH: (laughing) So but he knows he has a race. The fact, if you’re a Democrat…

HH: And you’re going to Liberty…

JH: And you’re going to Liberty, you know you have a race.

HH: Do they even let him go to coal country since he wants to basically shutter the mines and throw unemployment…

JH: Well, he went out there, and so his, the CQ rating says he’s 97% Obama support. He supported Obamacare, he helped write Dodd-Frank, et cetera, et cetera. But he kind of has this profile in Virginia as this guy who works across the aisle, Gang of Six, et cetera. So Gillespie’s challenge is define him as a rubber stamp for the President.

HH: Interesting. Hohmann, we made it through fourteen, and we got all fourteen. Well done. I’m going to ask Duane to transcribe that so people know their scorecards in 2014. James Hohmann from Politico, thank you.

JH: Thanks, Hugh.

HH: Follow James @jameshohmann and you will know all you need to know about the Senate races in 2014.

End of interview.

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