December 5, 2023

Senator Joe Manchin‘s decision not to run for reelection has taken West Virginia off the table for Democrats, so as the party seeks a path to hold its slim majority in the chamber, top Democrats are focusing their efforts on two GOP seats.

Manchin, a rare Democrat in the solidly red state of West Virginia, dealt a blow to his own party this month when he announced he wouldn’t seek another term, opening door for Republicans to pick up a seat in 2024.

Faced with disappointing news, Democrats are turning their attention to Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida in hopes of flipping their seats while holding ones they hold in swing states like Montana and Ohio. Newsweek reached out to Cruz and Scott via email for comment.

“The 2024 Senate map was always going to be tough for Democrats and Manchin resigning makes it harder,” Democratic pollster Carly Cooperman told Newsweek. “Texas and Florida are the two opportunities Democrats have for picking up seats next cycle, but both of those races will be tough.”

Joe Manchin Vulnerable Republicans
Left: Senator Rick Scott talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on March 22, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Right: Senator Ted Cruz speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on September 27, 2023. Democrats are eyeing Scott’s and Cruz’s seats in the 2024 election.
Chip Somodevilla/Anna Moneymaker

“Both states are expensive,” political consultant Jay Townsend told Newsweek. “The [Democratic Senate Campaign Committee] will be looking for ways to damage both Cruz and Scott with an early wave of nasty ads, and then decide later whether either are worth the massive cost of trying to win them.”

Senator Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the DSCC, admitted Sunday that West Virginia was a tough state in which Manchin was well-positioned. Rather than trying to find a candidate who could keep the state blue, Peters told CNN‘s Inside Politics Sunday that he’d recruit Democratic challengers in Texas and Florida to defeat the Republicans he described as not strong in their states.

“We’re going to have a very strong challenger coming out of the primaries of those two states. And we’ll be able to raise resources,” Peters said. “Certainly donors around the country have very strong opinions about those two individuals. And we believe we’ll have the resources to make the kind of contrast necessary to win those states.”

Peters credited Manchin’s victories to his long career and brand in the state, and emphasized the importance of focusing on other Democratic incumbents who have also created similar distinct brands in their home states.

Townsend said the money that the DSCC would typically pours into Manchin’s reelection campaign would be reallocated to protecting the seats in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Michigan.

“The key for the Democrats is not to pick up a new seat but to hold on to the ones they have in red and purple states,” Democratic strategist Michael Gordon told Newsweek. “The two potentially vulnerable senators are Jon Tester in Montana and Sherrod Brown in Ohio. They have done well in their respective states but could fall if the Republicans catch a wave next year.”

In 2020, former President Donald Trump carried Montana by more than 16 points and Ohio by about 8 points.

Gordon said the other Senate wild card will be the Arizona seat held by Kyrsten Sinema, who switched her party affiliation from Democrat to independent last December. He said if Representative Ruben Gallego, a progressive Democrat mounting a challenge against Sinema, is able to win, he would put Arizona on more solid Democratic footing. However, he is also facing a difficult challenge on the right from Republican Kari Lake.

“With West Virginia turning red, Democrats need to win all of the seats they are defending next year—and [Joe] Biden needs to win the presidency in order for them to maintain the majority,” Cooperman said. “Democrats have the advantage of incumbency, and Republicans will likely have some divisive primaries that could further help Democratic incumbents.”

Gordon said that while there are no obvious pickups in the Senate next year, there could be good news for Democrats given their recent track record of outperforming expectations in last year’s midterms and this year’s elections in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin—thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court‘s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“If that trend continues, they should hold on to all of their seats where they have incumbents,” he said.