At the Races: Escape Hatch

2018 is here, and more senior Republicans are heading for the exits

The Senate is losing a longtime member — and a songwriter. Utah GOP Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is known for his compositions. His song “Souls Along the Way,” written about the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy and Kennedy’s wife, was included on the “Ocean’s Twelve” movie soundtrack. Hatch and Kennedy worked together on major health care legislation, and the pair were good friends. (Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly file photo)

You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter. (If you didn’t get it in your inbox, *subscribe here.*) We want to hear what you think. Send us your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman.This week … 2018 has arrived! Three Republicans announced their retirement, two Senate Democrats arrived and Steve Bannon put some conservative candidates in a tight spot.

Starting Gate

Hatch Heads for the Exit: Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch ended months of speculation Tuesday by announcing he was retiring after seven terms in the Senate. That opens the door for former presidential nominee/Massachusetts governor/Trump critic/skillful ironer Mitt Romney to run for Hatch’s seat. So is he running? It’s widely believed he will, but Romney has yet to officially say so. He did casually change his location on Twitter from Massachusetts to Utah following Hatch’s announcement. #WeSeeWhatYouDidThere.

According to Senate guru (and Hatch music fan) Niels Lesniewski, Hatch’s exit could cause a shakeup on Senate committees if Republicans hold onto the chamber this fall. 

*BOOKMARK* Mississippi GOP Rep. Gregg Harper announced Thursday he won’t seek a sixth term in November. Who else is departing Congress? Keep track here.

A Sprint to November: Tina Smith just got here and she has only 10 months to keep her new job as Minnesota’s junior senator. She’s getting help from EMILY’s List, which endorsed her Thursday, and is working with Minnesota-based Grassroots Solutions to get her campaign team in place.

Even though she’s never run on a ticket by herself, her DFL supporters think her experience as a political operative and relationship-builder puts her in a strong position. (There’s a reason former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak nicknamed her the “velvet hammer.”)

 But Republicans aren’t so sure. “It would make a difference if she were going to be a campaign manager. But she’s a candidate. It’s very different,” former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman said. 

How to Dougie: Smith isn’t the only new senator. Democrat Doug Jones was also sworn in Tuesdayformer Vice President Joe Biden by his side, after his historic win in deep-red Alabama. (Biden was a welcome return to the mock swearing-in ceremony, where he always made a mark.) Jones, the sixth Senate Democrat to represent a state President Donald Trump won by double digits, now faces the red-state Democrat’s dilemma

Watch more about the political challenges both new senators will face in our three-minute video.

Bye-Bye Bannon: Trump slammed former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon Wednesday, saying the Breitbart News executive had “lost his mind.” That was in response to Bannon criticizing Trump and his family in an upcoming book. It created an awkward situation for House and Senate candidates who sought out — and touted — Bannon’s support to prove they were the most pro-Trump candidates in the race. Griffin Connolly rounds up how some of these candidates are now putting distance between themselves and Bannon. 

A Little Cheesy? Wisconsin Republicans, led by Sen. Ron Johnson, are hoping to quiet a potentially divisive GOP Senate primary. Candidates will have to sign a “unity pledge” saying they’ll support the nominee if they want to access party resources and state convention delegates. Find out what both GOP candidates in the race had to say.

The Count: 4

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Bill Shuster announced his retirement Tuesday, becoming the fourth term-limited committee chairman to take the exit ramp/prepare for departure/board the train home. (He’s the Transportation Committee chairman … in case that wasn’t clear.) But Shuster did say in November he was running again; who knows what changed his mind? Republicans in the 9th District are now eyeing the open seat, which is not expected to flip.

Nathan’s Notes

Pinch-hitting in Nathan’s Notes this week is Stuart Rothenberg, back in the pages of Roll Call to write about the 2018 midterms. Stu breaks down the GOP House seats that might look safe on the surface but could actually flip. “I would certainly keep an eye on Trump districts that went for Barack Obama twice,” he writes.

Candidate Confessions

Just when you thought you had seen the last of the Alabama Senate race, Roy Moore’s campaign manager Rich Hobson announced Wednesday he’s launching a primary challenge against Alabama GOP Rep. Martha Roby. Hobson’s not concerned the sexual misconduct allegations that rocked Moore’s campaign will hurt his own bid. (Moore did win 10 of the 15 counties in the 2nd District.) His announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise — AL.com found out in November that Hobson had reserved 10 website domain names including hobsonforcongress.org.

Reader’s Race

GOP Rep. Leonard Lance is running for a sixth term in New Jersey’s 7th District, where several Democrats are hoping to take him on this year. Tom Malinowski, an assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama, announced Thursday he raised $525,000 in the fourth quarter (he entered the race in October). He has $440,000 in cash on hand. Lance had only $463,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter.

Early last year, Lance was the first Republican since Trump took office to hold a town hall in a district Hillary Clinton won. The soft-spoken congressman wasn’t shy about pointing out where he differed from Trump, and he hasn’t been afraid to buck his party in 2017. He voted against the health care and tax bills. Even so, the Congressional Leadership Fund has an office in his district. With the highest median household income in the state, the 7th is just the kind of well-educated suburban (and horse country) district Democrats think can help them win the majority.

For next week, let us know which race you want to know more about: Pennsylvania’s 17th or Indiana’s 6th districts.

Is anybody out there? 

Talk to us. It’s easy. Reply to this email and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. As always, send us any race you think we should pay more attention to and we’ll look into it.

Photo Finish

Smile! Then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy snaps a picture of Hatch in 2002 with a digital camera he asked to see from a news photographer in the well. (Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly)
Smile! Then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy snaps a picture of Hatch in 2002 with a digital camera he asked to see from a news photographer in the well. (Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly file photo)

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