2016 United States Senate Elections

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) speaks at a news conference July 25, 2013
Senator Kelly Ayotte. Allison Shelley/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Republicans had a huge year in the 2010 elections following the rebellion by conservatives over President Obama's big government push. As a result, Republicans have a big task ahead of them in defending many competitive seats. The Democrats faced a similar situation in 2014 after having more than 20 seats to defend thanks to the success of the party in 2008. In that cycle, many toss-up and red-state Democrats faced re-election for the first time since casting a ballots for Obamacare, and lost.

Will Republicans avoid the same fate?

(Senate seats are up for election every six years, with approximately 1/3 of the seats up every two years.)

Safe Republican Seats Up for Re-election

The GOP should have 24 seats to defend out of the overall 34 seats up for election. Luckily, 18 of those seats will start in the likely Republican column. While many of these seats were held by Democrats before 2010, they were still red seats at heart and Obamacare helped end the myth of the blue dog Democrats. The likely safe seats include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. While Iowa is the one state on this list twice won by President Obama, popular US Senator Chuck Grassley should have little trouble winning re-election. With the right recruit, Democrats can be competitive in any number of these seats, but they start off in the safe zone for the GOP.

(See a complete breakdown of all 24 Republican seats up for re-election.)

Big Races for Republican Incumbents

These are the six seats that Democrats will likely target in 2016 as many of them featured some surprising and unexpected results in 2010. Democrats will be hoping to ride the coat-tails of a possible Hillary Clinton Presidential run to propel big victories in the states.

  • Florida - Marco Rubio is running for President. He has opted not to try to simultaneously run for the Presidency and the US Senate, and current state laws would have prevented him from doing so. The field is wide open on the both the Republican and Democratic sides.
  • Illinois - Moderate Mark Kirk won a close election (2 points) over close Obama friend Alexi Giannoulias in 2010. Illinois is a fairly blue state, but Kirk has had plenty of success there. Democrats have rallied around congresswoman Tammy Duckworth who will provide a very stiff challenge.
  • New Hampshire - Kelly Ayotte had a blowout, 24-point victory in 2010. She will probably be a strong bet for re-election and at least one early poll showed her in a strong position even against one of the states top Democrats. The Democrats have recruited Governor Maggie Hassan to challenge Ayotte.
  • Ohio - The good news for Republicans is they had huge victories in three of the five most competitive seats for 2016. Ohio follows Florida and New Hampshire as a state where the incumbent will be coming off big double-digit victories. Here, Rob Portman cruised to a 57-39% victory over his Democratic opponent in 2010. The Democrats have rallied around former Governor Ted Strickland and polls have showed a tight race.
  • Pennsylvania - Like Illinois, Pennsylvania will be a big question mark. Pat Toomey had a 2-point victory in 2010 and will need to rely on his work over the previous six years to improve that. A strong Presidential run by a Democrat could give the potential challenger significant coat-tails in this race.
  • Wisconsin - The big surprise of 2010 was Ron Johnson's 52-47 victory over progressive US Senator Russ Feingold. Johnson has proven an odd state to handicap given it's support for both President Obama and constitutional conservative Scott Walker as Governor. Russ Feingold has decided to try and win his seat back, and early polls show he might be able to do it.

Safe Democratic Seats Up for Re-election

The Democrats should only have 10 seats up for election in 2016. Luckily for them, most of these will be safe.

After all, these Democrats are the lucky few who survived the tea party sweeps in 2010. The early safe bets are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Most of these seats should survive incumbent retirements as well. (See all 10 Democratic Senate seats up or re-election in 2016)

Big Races for Democratic Incumbents

  • Colorado - This is one of the seats that got away from Republicans in 2010 and it will be one of two real shots at a pick-up in 2016. A large field has yet to be whittled down.
  • Nevada - Democrats went all in to save US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Reid will be nearing 80 years old in 2016 and has opted to retire. Republican Congressman Joe Heck will make the open seat immediately competitive.
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Hawkins, Marcus. "2016 United States Senate Elections." ThoughtCo, Feb. 29, 2016, thoughtco.com/united-states-senate-elections-3303234. Hawkins, Marcus. (2016, February 29). 2016 United States Senate Elections. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/united-states-senate-elections-3303234 Hawkins, Marcus. "2016 United States Senate Elections." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/united-states-senate-elections-3303234 (accessed November 18, 2017).