Democrats may get infuriated by their red-state senators — but they'll shut up to stay in power
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (left) of West Virginia and Jon Tester (right) of Montana might sometimes upset party colleagues, but they're critical to Democrats retaining the Senate during Election 2024. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Jon Tester (MT) joined Republican senators this week in blocking a Labor Department rule that allowed money managers to give greater importance to the environment when making investment decisions.

This bipartisan gambit was an affront to President Joe Biden and the Democrats’ commitment to greener investments through consideration of environmental, social and governance factors. The senators’ statements about their own party’s president were jarring.

Manchin said, “It is irresponsible of the Biden Administration to jeopardize retirement savings for more than 150 million Americans for purely political purposes,” the Hill reported.

From Tester: “It undermines retirement accounts for working Montanans and is wrong for my state.”

In another time, this sort of defection might have brought howls of protest from fellow Democrats. Just two years ago, Manchin and then-Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema were roundly condemned for blocking their party’s effort to end the filibuster on key issues.

But this week, Democrats largely refrained from calling out their colleagues. The absence of intramural ado underscores how the prospect of Democrats losing control of the Senate — and all of Congress — has changed them.

Democrats, with their bare-bones Senate majority, face a daunting election map in 2024. Republicans are only defending only 11 of the 34 seats on the ballot. The deep-red states of West Virginia and Montana — represented by Tester and Manchin — loom as the two most vulnerable Democratic seats. The only other Democratic seat held in a red state is in Ohio, where a Sen. Sherrod Brown — a more traditional liberal — could face a tough reelection challenge.

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Tester announced his reelection bid on February 22. But Manchin, the Democrats’ most vulnerable target, hasn’t committed to running again. He has even teased the idea of running for president — but not as a Democrat.

While Democrats find themselves in peril, Brian Rosenwald, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told Raw Story it’s too early for them to panic.

“So much in many states depends on the presidential race, and right now Joe Biden is the favorite to be reelected,” Rosenwald, a national expert on elections, says. “If you look at the history of this country, we’re loath to fire presidents.”

President Joe Biden meets with U.S. senators at the White House in June 2021, including Montana Democrat Jon Tester (back left), West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin (back right) and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema, a former Democrat now an independent. (front right). Win McNamee/Getty Images

Rosenwald said the outlook wasn’t as bad as the election map math might suggest — in part because of the power of incumbency. He also said he doesn’t see a “red wave” in the offing. But he added that Democrats would struggle to find seats to flip among the 11 Republicans on the ballot.

The Cook Political Report rates 10 of the GOP seats as “solid Republican,” with just one seat — held by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida — considered “likely Republican.”

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On the Democratic side, 15 seats — including those occupied by left-leaning independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) — are rated “Solid D.”

Of the remaining eight, Cook Political Report scores five as “Likely D,” including Tester’s Montana seat. Others in the “likely” column include Sens. Bob Casey, (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Michigan’s open seat.

That leaves three “tossups”: the seats held by Manchin in West Virginia and Brown in Ohio, along with Arizona, where independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema faces re-election after leaving the Democratic Party (while still caucusing with it).

Rosenwald regards Arizona, which could host a general election with three viable candidates, as thoroughly unpredictable, at least for now.

Rosenwald sees Casey as having “virtually no jeopardy because he has a unique amount of popularity and the Republicans’ ceiling is so low in Pennsylvania.” He also agrees that the Democrats should be favored in Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada — almost not as unbeatable.

As for Manchin, Tester and Casey, Rosenwald had a different outlook.

“I think Manchin is probably toast,” he said. “But if you told me Tester and Brown won, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, I’d call either of them a favorite, except for the fact that Trump can bring out voters in Montana that no one else brings out.”

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On the Republican side, Rosenwald concurs that nine Republican seats are solid red, and that Scott is likely – but not a lock – to win reelection in Florida.

And he added this about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on March 2, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland. Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Cruz is the least likable politician on the Planet Earth right now,” Rosenwald observed. “So, although it’s not likely he’ll lose, his re-election is not certain. In a different year, he would lose because no one likes him, beyond partisan politics.”

And Rosenwald had one more observation that might provide some solace to Democrats: The presence of a House Republican majority will spare them some of the intra-party anguish of 2022.

“I don’t think the Senate is going to do a lot of voting on issues in 2023 and 2024,” Rosenwald said. “In 2021 and 2022, it made sense to make those guys take tough votes, because there was a chance of passing things. But now, anything liberal the Senate passes has a zero prayer of passing the House now.

“They do need to protect Brown, Tester and Manchin. So, my guess is the Senate spends a lot of time confirming judges, holding hearings and then passing compromise appropriations bills and (hopefully) bipartisan deals with the House to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government open. Anything else they vote on will be broad bipartisan legislation that probably bubbles up from committees and the rank and file.”

“If anything,” Rosenwald said, “I could see [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer giving votes to stuff that would bolster Tester, Manchin and Brown.”