2016 retirements could complicate Dems' comeback plans

2016 retirements could complicate Dems' comeback plans
© Getty Images

Democrats hope to take back control of the Senate in 2016, but their plans could be complicated by potential retirements.

The two Democratic senators most likely to retire are Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerTrump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Questions and answers about the Electoral College challenges MORE (D-Calif.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Democrats vote to provide 0 unemployment benefits into September Senate GOP gets short-lived win on unemployment fight McConnell makes failed bid to adjourn Senate after hours-long delay MORE (D-W.Va.), who represent both sides of the party’s ideological spectrum. 


Boxer, whose fourth term expires at the end of 2016, has a paltry $149,000 in her campaign account, less than almost every other senator facing election next year.

As the nation’s most populous state, California is expensive to cover with advertising. If Boxer decides to run for reelection, she would face a major fundraising task although she has proven herself capable in the past.

Boxer, 74, is undecided whether to serve another six years in the Senate. Her decision may rest on whether Democrats look likely to pick up the three to four seats — or five if Republicans win the White House — they need to regain the majority. 

“I'm going to decide way ahead, so after this election, and then early next cycle, I'll make that decision," Boxer told the Associated Press in September.

She reported $3.6 million in her campaign account at the end of September 2008, two years before she last ran for reelection.  

Manchin is eyeing a return to the governor’s mansion, and his fundraising report filed with the Federal Election Commission shows he is already starting to lay the groundwork.  

He doled out nearly $100,000 from his Senate campaign account in the third quarter of this year to dozens of local officials facing reelection. He also gave $9,300 to West Virginia’s Democratic state executive committee.

Manchin has made no secret of his impatience with legislative gridlock in the Senate and earlier this month voted to oust Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden turns focus to next priority with infrastructure talks How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster Who is the Senate parliamentarian and why is she important? MORE (D-Nev.) as Senate Democratic leader.

“I’ve never been in a less productive time in my life than I am right now, in the United States Senate,” Manchin confessed in July.

Manchin had $1.5 million in his campaign war chest at the end of September but he is seriously mulling a bid for governor.

"There is definitely that consideration," he told The Intelligencer & Wheeling News-Register after the midterm elections. "If I don't see the opportunities to really help my country and my state, and things just stay the same and we continue to hear the rhetoric, if it's the same-old same-old, it's not a place I'd desire to be.

Democrats would be hard-pressed to defend an open seat in West Virginia, where President Obama is deeply unpopular. Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito easily won the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller for five terms. 

Two of the Senate Democratic caucus’s most senior members, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), 74, and Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiFormer Md. senator Paul Sarbanes dies at 87 Foreign policy congressional committees need to call more women experts Lobbying World MORE (D-Md.), 78, also face reelection.

Leahy told a Vermont television station after the presidential election that he planned to run for an eighth term in 2016. He reported $1.3 million in cash on hand at the end of September.

Mikulski is working to consolidate Maryland’s shell-shocked Democratic Party to prepare for her own race in two years.

She convened a meeting of the state party leaders, who are reeling over their stunning loss in the governor’s race, to Annapolis earlier this month to discuss “victory in 2016.”

The Center Maryland reported that Mikulski, who is the only statewide official facing reelection in 2016, wants to appoint a loyalist as state party chair to smooth her campaign operation. She has $863,000 in cash on hand.

Reid, who turns 75 in a week, is another potential retirement. Some members of the Democratic caucus, such as Manchin and Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Tim Kaine (Va.), are agitating for a new leader.

The Nevadan has vowed to run for a sixth term next cycle and has begun to mobilize his fabled political operation in the state. He had $1.5 million in cash on hand at the end of September.

Republicans, however, are skeptical whether Reid will stick to his pledge, knowing that he would instantly become a lame-duck leader once he announces his retirement.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the newly elected chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, earlier this month predicted Reid would retire. He would face a tough race if Republicans recruit their dream candidate, popular two-term Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who cruised to re-election this month with 70 percent of the vote.

Republicans have a few potential retirements on their side of the aisle.

Five-term Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFormer Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra MORE (R-Ariz.), 78, hinted last year that this would be his final stint in Congress but he appears to have changed his mind since then.

After telling The Wrap in September of 2013 that this is “probably” his last term, he now says he is leaning toward running for reelection. He has made a concerted effort to raise money and meet with supporters back home to blunt a primary challenge.

“I’m doing all the things necessary to do so,” McCain told The Hill in September. “A good fundraising quarter. A lot of meetings and talking to a lot of people in the state, the usual preparations in the state.”

One major incentive for staying in the Senate is he is poised to take over the chairmanship of the powerful Armed Services Committee in January.

He raised $258,000 in the third quarter and finished with $1.5 million in cash on hand.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is 81 years old but he told a public television station in Iowa last year that he plans to run for reelection in 2016. He says his home state would be hurt if it lost two senior senators in two years. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) retires next month after five terms in the upper chamber; Republican Joni Ernst captured his seat. Grassley has $1.7 million in his re-election fund.

Republicans could lose Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who announced in January that he would run for governor in 2015, if his bid is successful.

His retirement could create an opening for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) to make a bid for her old job if she loses a runoff on Dec. 6. Recent polls show her trailing Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) by double digits and she suffered a setback last week when the Senate rejected her bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

Republicans may also have to find replacements for Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) or Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who both face reelection in 2016, depending on whether they run for president and how well they do.

Paul has to navigate a Kentucky law that prohibits a candidate’s name for appearing on the ballot for more than one office. Republicans had hoped to change it but failed to win enough seats in the statehouse.

Paul, who had $2.9 million cash on hand at the end of September, could challenge the statute in court. Or he could buy himself more time by not appearing as a candidate in the Kentucky presidential primary or persuading party leaders to turn the Kentucky primary into a caucus without proper ballots.  

Rubio, with $3.2 million in his war chest, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in April that he would not run simultaneously for the Senate and the presidency.

“When you choose to do something as big as [running for president] you really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy,” he said