May 2016 Senate Update

May 17th, 2016

U.S. Senate – May 2016 Update

Republicans currently hold 54 seats and must defend 11 of the 13 most competitive seats up for election, creating a major challenge to holding the Senate. Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, and New Hampshire are Republican seats characterized as Tossup or Tilt Democrat. Democrats are defending two vulnerable seats, Colorado and Nevada, though only Nevada is considered a Tossup.

The table below summarizes and aggregates ratings for the 13 most competitive Senate races of 2016. It utilizes the four most recognized, nonpartisan political newsletters to paint a complete picture of each race.

Senate May 2016 Chart


The competitive Colorado Republican Primary race has devolved into a series of lawsuits as candidates jockey to stay on the ballot. Four candidates are officially on the ballot. Darryl Glenn made the ballot at the State Convention, Jack Graham gained access through petition signatures, Jon Keyser and Robert Blaha both made the ballot through petition signatures after arguing in court. Ryan Frazier’s name will appear on the ballot unofficially. He was deemed to have insufficient petition signatures, but his name will be printed on the ballot while he appeals his case to the State Supreme Court. If Frazier does not win his appeal, any votes cast for him will be invalid.

While Republicans fight to appear on the ballot, incumbent Michael Bennet continues to run positive ads touting his work in the Senate. This race is rated Lean Democrat.


Quinnipiac polling released May 11th showed the Florida Senate primary to be a complete tossup. The candidates were largely unknown, and head-to-head match-ups showed the Democrat’s preferred candidate, Patrick Murphy, running even or slightly ahead of the Republicans. Alan Grayson tied with all five Republican candidates. Grayson became the center of controversy after Harry Reid called on him to drop out of the race over ethics violations. Reid later reportedly told Grayson, “I want you to lose.” The late August 30th primary should give these candidates plenty of time to change the race moving forward. This race is rated Tossup.

New Hampshire

Kelly Ayotte’s Senate seat continues to be a top target for Democrats. A Dartmouth College poll released May 4th showed Ayotte leading Maggie Hassan 37 percent to 35 percent with 28 percent of voters still unsure. The poll also showed that Ayotte’s favorability numbers have fallen since 2015. Ayotte polled at 35 percent favorable versus 30 percent unfavorable. Hassan’s favorability numbers were slightly better, with 41 percent viewing her favorably and 20 percent viewing her unfavorably. In a bid to pick up the seat, the Democratic Senate Majority PAC has already reserved at least $4.2 million in fall ad time in addition to the $1.6 million the group has already spent. This seat is rated Tossup.


The Nevada seat left open by Harry Reid’s retirement is the best chance for a Republican pickup in the Senate. The Senate Majority PAC is investing heavily against likely Republican nominee Joe Heck by reserving $6.7 million in ad time this fall, while the Chamber of Commerce has already begun running ads to support Heck. Sharron Angle, the controversial Tea Party Republican who lost to Harry Reid in 2010, is continuing her primary run, though she is well behind Heck in fundraising. At the end of the first quarter, Angle reported $16,000 cash on hand while Heck reported $3.8 million. Former Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto is the presumptive Democratic nominee. This race is rated Tossup.


A May 11th Quinnipiac poll showed Rob Portman and Ted Strickland statistically tied, with Portman at 42 percent and Strickland at 43 percent. Portman’s favorables outweighed his unfavorable numbers with 35 percent viewing him favorably and 22 percent viewing him unfavorably. Forty-two percent did not have enough information to make a decision, which could give Portman room to grow before November. This race is rated Tilt Republican.


National Democrats got their wish with Katie McGinty’s primary victory. McGinty beat runner-up Joe Sestak by 10.2 percentage points. The general election has kicked off with a flurry of ads. Toomey’s first general election ad accuses McGinty of using her public career to enrich herself. Ads against Toomey have so far focused on his Wall Street ties. A Quinnipiac poll released May 11th showed Toomey and McGinty virtually tied, at 45 to 44 percent, respectively. This race is rated Tilt Republican.


Though the primary is not until August, the general election is already underway in Wisconsin. Neither candidate is contested in his party’s primary election. Freedom Partners went up with an ad accusing Feingold of failing to take action on problems at a Wisconsin VA center. Polling consistently shows Feingold with a modest lead over Johnson, making Wisconsin the Democrat’s second best hope for a pickup, behind Illinois. This race is rated Tilt Democrat.