February 3, 2023

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Senate Democrats returned to Washington this week to exercise their newly expanded majority, but the specter of possible retirements among their ranks is already raising concerns about their prospects in the next election.

Democrats will defend a sprawling 23 Senate seat map in 2024, and three of their incumbents are in states President Donald Trump won in 2020 – Ohio, West Virginia and Montana. They are also defending seats in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) plans to run for re-election, he says, but Democrats are holding their breath awaiting the decision of Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III ( DW.Va.). whether they will remain in red states for re-election campaigns, where they have shown surprising staying power. The tension comes as national Democrats face questions about whether they will back newly independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema if she runs for re-election in Arizona or rolls back her support their likely Democratic challenger, Rep. Ruben Gallego, who announced his run earlier this week.

“I fervently and fervently hope they will run,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who added he encouraged Manchin and Tester to stay put. “There is no question that they are in a difficult political environment in really challenging states.”

Both men said this week they are still weighing their decisions.

“To be honest, people want me to be home,” said Tester, adding that he will make the decision in the first half of the year. “But they also want me to be here. So we’re going to find out.”

One factor Democrats are aware of is that Tester’s long commute to his farm in Montana weighs on him. “You don’t win elections alone, you have to have a family that is firmly behind you,” said Tester.

Manchin said Monday he had no timeline for his decision. “I don’t get pushed in West Virginia,” he said.

Democrats attribute part of their surprising midterm success last year to their Senate incumbents running for re-election, while many Republicans chose to withdraw. In 2022, Republican senators in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina withdrew, resulting in more competitive races than Republicans wanted and the Democrats’ only catch-up during a mid-election year that has historically tended to benefit the party sitting in the power was.

“It’s their choice what they want to do, but I would love for all of our incumbents to stand for re-election, and I look forward to seeing that they are re-elected,” said Senator Gary Peters (D- Mich.), the chairman of the Democratic Senators’ Campaign Committee. “If our incumbents run, we will hold the majority.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) announced her resignation earlier this month, setting up a potentially crowded Democratic primary to replace her and putting the seat within reach for Republicans.

Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-Va.) announcement last week that he would seek re-election was met with a sigh of relief by Democrats, who said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) , the House’s No. 2 Democrat, worried he might retire. “I’m so glad he’s on board, he’s a great senator,” he said.

Ten of the senators running with Democrats up for re-election in two years are in their 70s, including 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (California), who told CNN she will decide whether to run for office again will in the coming months. Senator Bernie Sanders, an 81-year-old Independent, said he would make an announcement about his future at “the appropriate time.”

Among Democrats, Sen. Tammy Baldwin has not officially announced her plans, but told a local news station in December that she was “generally expected” to run again in Wisconsin. In Nevada, Senator Jacky Rosen is also said to make another bid. In Pennsylvania, however, Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., who is battling prostate cancer, said he was solely focused on that before making a final decision in 2024. “I just want to get through this,” he said on Monday.

The 2024 Senate card is a GOP dream. But the candidate strength is unclear.

Sen. Ben Cardin, 79, said he was undecided about running again in Maryland, while a spokesman for Sen. Angus King, a 78-year-old independent who works with Democrats, answered a query about running with a for re-election Link to a local news item saying he is preparing a campaign operation.

Brown said he didn’t think a herd of Democrats would be heading for the exits even if Manchin or Tester chose not to run. “What happened to Republicans last time was a small domino effect – [former senators] Toomey and Portman and North Carolina and Missouri,” he said. “I don’t think there will be that this time, I’m not worried about that at all.”

New Republican Campaign Committee chair Sen. Steve Daines (Mont.) said he believes even if Tester doesn’t resign, Republicans will have a strong race against him.

“There will be a real contrast if he decides to run again,” he said, citing inflation, energy and the Second Amendment. National Republicans believe Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.), who defeated the Tester in 2018, and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) are eyeing the seat, though neither has announced their intention to run for it.

Though the Republicans have far fewer incumbents up for re-election, Senator Mitt Romney (Utah) is one of them and said Monday he has not yet decided to run for his seat. Romney, 75, could face a tough GOP primary given his public breaks with Trump. Senator Mike Braun’s resignation could also lead to a chaotic Republican primary in red state Indiana, where Rep. Jim Banks has announced he will run for the seat and more established former Gov. Mitch Daniels is considering stepping in over objections by conservative critics, including Donald Trump Jr.

Perhaps the most chaotic situation Democrats will face in 2024 is handling the Arizona race, where Sinema, who is independent but partisan with them, is up for re-election but already faces a challenge from Democrat Gallego . If Sinema decides to run again, it would spark a three-way race that would likely give a boost to a Republican candidate. She is a key vote for the slim majority of Democrats to confirm President Biden’s nominees and other issues.

Peters said it was too early to discuss whether the national party apparatus would support Sinema and had not spoken to her about whether she planned to run again.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) called Sinema an “excellent” senator but was close to committing to her support. “She’s done a lot of good here, but it’s way too early,” he said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to be enjoying the drama, praising Sinema and saying he looks forward to reading as Democrats answer questions about supporting her.

“It’s a big dilemma for the majority of Senate Democrats to decide whether to support them or someone who’s running on the Democratic ticket,” he told reporters with a smile. “I’m pretty sure you asked a lot of questions along those lines just before we got out of here. I look forward to reading what responses, if any, you received.”

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