Senate Overview: Retirements and Primaries Matter for Majority

Nathan L. Gonzales April 17, 2015 · 3:04 PM EDT

A year and a half before Election Day, the battle for the Senate is well underway.

GOP strategists are spending the first part of the cycle encouraging their incumbents to run for re-election while Democratic strategists are recruiting challengers to vulnerable Republican senators running for re-election in competitive states.

In the first three months of the year, four senators announced their retirements: California Democrat Barbara Boxer, Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, and Indiana Republican Dan Coats. A fifth senator, Florida Republican Marco Rubio, is giving up his seat to run for president.

At this point, only Coats’ retirement has the potential to expand the field of competitive races. Republicans are unlikely to seriously challenge in California and Maryland, except under extraordinary circumstances. Reid and Rubio were vulnerable incumbents as the cycle began, so Nevada and Florida were already among the Senate battlegrounds. But depending on the national political environment and the party nominees, Indiana could become a serious headache for Republicans. 

If history is a guide, there should be at least another couple of retirements. Over the last 35 years, an average of seven senators retired each election cycle. Republicans likely…

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