BURGESS EVERETT and KEVIN ROBILLARD – The issues that will animate 2016 general election races won’t crystallize for months, after voters pick presidential nominees. Today, both parties are focused on getting the right candidates, raising loads of money and, for Republicans, hoping their presidential standard-bearer is someone with purple-state appeal.
“In 2012, one reason that we weren’t successful in picking up the majority … was the top of the ticket was a drag,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said of Mitt Romney. “I’m hoping to reverse that.”
Democrats have five incumbents at the top of their target list – GOP Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire – as well as open seats in Nevada and Florida.
From there, they’re hoping to put longer-shot states in play.
In Arkansas, they believe they have a strong candidate in former U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge to take on Republican Sen. John Boozman. In Arizona, they’re optimistic that Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick can give Republican Sen. John McCain a tough challenge.
But Democrats have whiffed so far in North Carolina, failing to land a strong challenger to take on Republican Sen. Richard Burr. And in Indiana, Democratic former Rep. Baron Hill has failed to impress D.C. insiders.
For now, Iowa, Alaska and Georgia are, glaringly, off the board entirely, safely in the GOP column.