The Club for Growth is ringing the starting bell for the 2016 campaign by endorsing six incumbent Republican senators who are up for re-election in two years. The move came a mere eight days after Republicans took back the Senate in the 2014 mid-term elections.
The 2016 electoral map is not favorable for Senate Republicans, who could see their current 53-46 advantage (with Louisiana to be determined in a December runoff) at risk as 24 Republican seats are up for re-election, as opposed to only 10 Democratic seats.
If Democrats hold their 10 seats and take as few as 3 of the 24 contested Republican seats, they could take back the Senate if incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) holds on in the runoff and Democrats take the White House back in 2016. Even if Landrieu loses and Republicans take back the White House, Democrats need a net gain of only 5 seats to regain their majority in the Senate.
On the list of those endorsed by the Club are conservative Republican Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Tim Scott (R-SC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).
“The Club’s PAC will immediately begin bundling contributions from Club members directly to their campaign accounts, a process that has raised millions of dollars for Senate candidates across the country several election cycles in a row,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. “The pro-growth class of 2010 has done excellent work in the United States Senate. Our members want to make sure they stay there for another six years.”
Chocola noted that the Club has endorsed all six in previous elections, and “[t]hey all have outstanding pro-growth records, earning higher than 90% lifetime scores on the Club for Growth’s key vote scorecard.”
Overall 2014 was a bad year for conservative PACs that backed Tea Party challengers to moderate establishment incumbents in Republican primaries. But the Club for Growth, which was highly selective in its endorsements, had a good track record, as 3 of its 4 endorsed Senate candidates won: Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Ben Sasse in Nebraska, and Dan Sullivan in Alaska.
The only Club endorsed candidate who lost–Chris McDaniel in Mississippi–did so under the most unusual circumstances. Though McDaniel had more votes than incumbent Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) in the hotly contested June 3 primary, he failed to win the primary as his vote total was under 50%. Three weeks later Cochran narrowly defeated McDaniel in the runoff, aided by huge financial support from groups aligned with the Republican establishment and controversial tactics that demonized the Tea Party and encouraged African-American Democrats to vote in the Republican runoff.
Equally notable is that there are four prominent incumbent Republican senators up for re-election in 2016 that the Club chose not to endorse yet. They include Republican establishment moderate Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Richard Burr (R-NC), all of whom are expected to face competitive races.
Unlike the six endorsed candidates, none of these four have lifetime voting scorecards from the Club above 90%. Indeed, in 2013 they had fairly unremarkable ratings from the Club. Ayotte’s rating was 79%, Portman’s was 71%, Burr’s was 67%, and Kirk’s, whose lifetime rating is a dismal 55%, was 74%.
If Republicans are to hold their majority in the Senate after the 2016 elections, all six of the incumbents endorsed by the Club on Wednesday are going to need to hold on to their seats. If a single one of these incumbents are defeated, the Republican margin of error would diminish rapidly.