The conventional wisdom is that the Democratic prospects for the U.S. Senate in 2024 are unrelentingly bleak. And on paper, this assumption is hard to deny.
After all, Democrats and Democratic-aligned independents are defending 23 of the 34 seats up this cycle. And the 11 GOP-controlled seats are all located in states that Donald Trump carried in 2020, while Joe Biden came within single-digit margins in only two of them. Democrats were also sure to lose West Virginia even before Sen. Joe Manchin announced his retirement in November. Even worse, Democrats face a tough task holding two states that Trump decisively carried, Montana and Ohio.
However, before losing all hope, bear this in mind: There is a very real chance that the Democrats could hold their losses to a single seat, meaning that control of the chamber would depend on the outcome of the presidential race. And there is a nonzero chance the Democrats could hold serve.
In this preview of the 2024 battle for the U.S. Senate, we’ll look at the seven races most likely to determine control of the chamber. We’ll also dive into some long-shot prospects for both parties before finishing by looking at the balance of the field and pointing out a handful of races that hold some intrigue even if they’re unlikely to flip.
THE BIG SEVEN
These are the top seats to watch, in alphabetical order. For example: No, I don’t think Michigan is more likely to flip than Montana.
Arizona has arguably become the swing state, with its governor’s mansion and electoral votes very narrowly going to Democrats in recent elections. And when it comes to the Senate, there is the lingering question of whether Kyrsten Sinema, the incumbent Democrat-turned-independent who still caucuses with her old party for the purposes of committee assignments, seeks a second term. Polling has consistently shown Sinema in third place against the presumed Democratic nominee, Rep. Ruben Gallego, and the leading Republican hopeful, former news anchor and governor wannabe Kari Lake.
Gallego, who undoubtedly benefited from his early announcement, seems to have locked the Democratic field. For Republicans, early attention has mostly focused on a candidate best known for taking an L in incredibly inelegant fashion during the 2022 cycle. After spending much of 2023 calling herself the “lawful governor” of Arizona, Lake made a wholly unsurprising announcement in October: that she would run for Senate, with Trump’s endorsement.
The only other notable Republican in the race is Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who resembles in spirit (if not in body) a younger Joe Arpaio. However, while Lamb hits all the appropriate far-right vibes for Republican primary voters, he has two problems working against him: He’s struggled to build up a large campaign war chest, and Lake’s ownership of the MAGA lane is pretty undeniable.
Longtime Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced in early January that she would not seek a fifth term, but Democrats should be somewhat optimistic here since Michigan was one of their success stories of the 2022 cycle. And like in Arizona, Michigan’s Democratic primary features a heavyweight candidate who has quite possibly eliminated the odds of a competitive primary.
Third-term Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who hails from the Lansing area and has a knack for winning in difficult races, announced her bid in late February. Months later, actor Hill Harper also announced his candidacy, but his campaign has been hamstrung by a number of issues. Perhaps most seriously, his financial disclosure forms claimed he was without an income, which is curious for a candidate who gave his own campaign almost half a million dollars. Slotkin is the bettor’s favorite, but Harper will probably have enough resources to make her work a little bit in the August primary.
On the GOP side, there are a quartet of notable candidates. Two years ago, national Republicans were high on James Craig, the former chief of police in Detroit, when he tried to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But Craig went on to run a chaotic operation even before his candidacy imploded when his nominating papers were disqualified for fraudulent signatures.
The national party establishment is pulling for Mike Rogers, a former U.S. House stalwart who once served as the chair of the Intelligence Committee. Rogers already met the most important prerequisite for a Republican nomination, shedding any honor and credibility he may have had from his careers in both the House and the FBI by sucking up to Donald Trump and decrying the prosecution of the GOP’s master.
Meanwhile, Peter Meijer, the 35-year-old former congressman best known for being one of the few Republican votes to impeach Trump in 2021, announced his own bid in November. His Senate kickoff led to an unusual and embarrassing moment where the official social media account for the Michigan GOP trashed Meijer in a post, which the party later repudiated and blamed on “an overzealous intern.” A top official from the National Republican Senatorial Committee likewise predicted, “Peter Meijer isn’t viable in a primary election, and there’s worry that if Meijer were nominated, the base would not be enthused in the general election.”
Finally, wealthy businessman Sandy Pensler launched his own campaign at the start of December. Pensler spent $5 million of his own money on his 2018 quest for this seat only to lose 55-45 to Trump’s choice, now-Rep. John James.
Democrats got arguably their best news of the 2024 cycle to date in mid-February, when veteran Democratic Sen. Jon Tester announced that he would seek a fourth term. Democrats are not guaranteed to keep this seat even with Tester on the ballot, but it is safe to say that they would not have been able to even consider holding it without him.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines, who happens to be Montana’s junior senator, successfully recruited Tim Sheehy, a wealthy veteran and business owner with no background in elective politics. Sheehy is running on the “political outsider/drain the swamp” playbook, which is complicated by the fact that the company he owns appears to be awash in government largesse.
To the extent that there is intrigue on the GOP side, it lies with Tester’s 2018 opponent, now-Rep. Matt Rosendale. The hard-right congressman, who lost to Tester 50-47, is still mulling a rematch months after Sheehy entered the race. Interestingly, despite the national buzz for Sheehy, the GOP leadership in the Montana state legislature preemptively endorsed a prospective Rosendale candidacy. If this primary happens, it could go sideways quickly, which Tester’s team would presumably find delightful.
Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen is up for a second term in one of the few competitive states that seems to have inched slightly to the right over the past decade. Trump ran slightly better in Nevada in 2020 than 2016 even as he lost ground nationally; the GOP was able to flip the state’s governorship in 2022, though it lost that year’s Senate contest.
The NRSC has rallied behind Sam Brown, a retired Army captain wounded in Afghanistan over a decade ago. Brown ran for the Silver State’s other Senate seat in 2022 only to lose the Republican primary to former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who went on to narrowly lose to Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto. Brown, whose great uncle is Cincinnati Bengals’ owner Mike Brown, has already raised north of a million dollars for his new effort.
A few other Republicans are in, but they’ve struggled to gain traction. The most notable is Jim Marchant, an election denier who is best known for losing 2022’s secretary of state race. Also in is Jeffrey Ross Gunter, who had a turbulent tenure as Trump’s ambassador to Iceland.
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has proven to be exceedingly tough to beat in this red-trending state, but Republicans are hoping he can’t win enough crossover support in 2024 with Trump likely leading the GOP ticket.
Three prominent Republicans have jumped into the fray, all of whom were part of the 2022 election cycle. The lone winner from that group was Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who was easily reelected last year. His Senate bid, however, is off to a bit of a rocky start amid staff turnover and his struggles to toe the MAGA line.
State Sen. Matt Dolan ran for Ohio’s other Senate seat last year and won third place in the primary, with 23%, as a MAGA-skeptic alternative to the eventual winner, J.D. Vance. Dolan, who is a Cleveland Guardians part-owner, spent over $10 million of his own money last time, and he’s once again pouring millions into this race.
The third candidate to watch is wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno, who dropped out of last year’s Senate race before the primary. Moreno seems confident that he will win the coveted Trump endorsement in the race, especially given the fact that Dolan rather pointedly did not seek Trump’s approval in 2022: Moreno has already run ads with audio of Trump praising him.
Democrats had a strong 2022 cycle in the Keystone State, but that hardly guarantees anything for 2024 given how close the state has been in past presidential years. Sen. Bob Casey underwent surgery for prostate cancer in mid-February and is expected to fully recover. To silence any talk of a health-related retirement, Casey announced in early April that he would be seeking his fourth term.
Wealthy businessman (and allegedly irregular resident of Pennsylvania) Dave McCormick announced, and he has no intraparty opposition in sight. So, not unlike Wisconsin, which we’ll cover next, we have a popular Democratic incumbent against a free-spending Republican businessman.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin currently has no serious Republican opposition in this swing state, but there are increasingly loud whispers that wealthy Madison businessman Eric Hovde may be gearing up to make a run.
Hovde, last seen in the political realm running a credible 2012 Senate campaign that saw him lose the GOP primary by just 3 percentage points to former Gov. Tommy Thompson (who, as it happens, would go on to a 51-46 defeat at the hands of none other than Tammy Baldwin). “If Eric gets in the race, we’d be behind Eric Hovde,” Daines recently said.
A second rich guy, Scott Mayer, has attracted less buzz, but he said in late November that he was interested in running even if he had to get past Hovde. Democrats, for their part, would almost certainly prefer Trumpite and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke has acted like a candidate for months, but D.C. Republicans say they’re skeptical he’ll actually run.
Based on 2022 results, both of the states below seem like very remote prospects for Democrats. But candidate quality matters, and to be honest, these are the only two GOP-held seats in the country that could charitably be described as anything other than safe.
Make no mistake—there was simply no state in which Democrats more underperformed in 2022 than Florida. Among the swingiest of swing states for much of the past generation, Democrats were annihilated in the Sunshine State in last year’s midterms. But incumbent Sen. Rick Scott is a uniquely awful candidate who very publicly promoted the uniquely awful idea of “sunsetting” all federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare, until even broad incriminations within his own party drove him to “amend” his proposal.
One key obstacle for Democrats is the fact that the party’s bench was diminished badly in the 2022 rout. As a result, Senate Democrats successfully recruited Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who won a single term in the House representing South Florida in 2018. Her presence might help Democrats claw back to respectability in Miami-Dade County, where the Democrats have had two lousy cycles in a row. Also in the running is wealthy businessman Stanley Campbell, the brother of 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell.
Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, but one of the state’s rising stars has committed to a 2024 bid against the odious Sen. Ted Cruz. Third-term Rep. Colin Allred, an NFL linebacker-turned-civil rights lawyer, has certainly excited Democratic donors and activists, and he raised nearly $5 million in just the third quarter of 2023. The Democratic field also includes state Sen. Roland Gutierrez and several other candidates, but none have attracted nearly as much attention as Allred.
OTHER RACES TO WATCH
Below is a list of races to keep an eye on, even though all are likely to remain with their current party:
No, the GOP has virtually no chance to flip this seat, but the state’s top-two primary rules mean we could be in for an expensive general election between two Democrats. All the candidates will compete on the same ballot in March, and the two contenders with the most votes, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election.
With the passing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and the news that her replacement in the Senate, Sen. Laphonza Butler, will not seek run, the stage is set for a battle among three heavy hitters from the U.S. House who had declared for the seat before Feinstein’s passing: Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff. One quirk is that Republicans in this deep-blue state actually managed to convince a semi-interesting candidate into the field—former Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Steve Garvey—but it remains to be seen if he can sneak into the second round.
Republicans also will likely try to make some noise in Minnesota, a state where Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar won with ease in 2018. While Klobuchar is low on the target list, North Star State Republicans have come close to winning some key races over the past decade. No notable Republicans have stepped up yet to take on Klobuchar, however.
Missouri’s status as a bellwether state is long gone, of course. But Sen. Josh Hawley has become a lightning rod for Democrats, given his brazen support for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and just generally being an asshole on multiple levels. Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, who got quite a bit of buzz last cycle in his losing primary bid for the other Senate seat, already raised close to $4 million through September.
After an excellent off-year cycle in 2021, where they reclaimed the state House of Delegates and propelled conservative Glenn Youngkin to the governor’s office, Republicans in Virginia have designs on veteran incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Navy veteran Hung Cao has entered the Republican primary. Cao held incumbent Rep. Jennifer Wexton to a 6 point win in 2022, in Northern Virginia U.S. House seat that Biden took by 18 points, and he’s outraised all other potential suitors. While it likely won’t be a blowout win for Democrats, Republicans must feel significantly less optimistic after losing control of the legislature in this year’s elections.