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An early look at the 2024 campaigns for Senate

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Whether you've caught your breath or not, as soon as one election season ends, another one begins. And that means 2024 Senate races are already underway. The latest development - today Arizona Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego launched his bid with an ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

RUBEN GALLEGO: I will be challenging Kyrsten Sinema for the United States Senate, and I need all of your support.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: Sinema left the Democratic Party in December and is now an independent. She has not announced whether she'll run for reelection. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis is here for a very early look at the Senate landscape. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: To start in Arizona, is Gallego's announcement a direct response to Sinema leaving the Democratic Party?

DAVIS: You know, Gallego had been pretty public that he was considering a primary challenge even before she had made her decision. So it is likely that his campaign is going to run to her left. She has seen a lot of opposition from the progressive movement, from progressive activists, especially for her moderate voting record in the Senate. But Arizona is a purple state, and 2024 is going to overlap with the presidential race in those dynamics.

It's a state Republicans absolutely can win in, but the party hasn't had a great track record. They have been fielding far-right candidates like they did with Blake Masters in the Senate race and Kari Lake in the governor's race, who both lost. But no Republicans have announced yet for the Senate race. If Sinema ultimately does decide to run, it could create this situation where a candidate could win with just a plurality of the vote. And in Arizona, that's particularly fascinating. I mean, this is a state that right now is almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents. So there's really no built-in party advantage there.

SHAPIRO: To zoom out for a moment, every couple of years, one-third of the Senate is up for reelection. What does this particular mix of states and Senators foreshadow for what to expect next year?

DAVIS: Well, control of the Senate is absolutely going to be up for grabs. Democrats currently hold it with a narrow 51-49 majority, and Republicans start this election season in a pretty good position by simple math. You know, Democrats are defending control of 23 states, while Republicans will have to defend just 10. There are a number of Democratic-held seats in red states - Ohio, Montana, West Virginia - which will, you know, pretty likely vote Republican on the presidential level and give a possible down-ballot advantage to candidates there. There's also several Democratic-held seats in purple states like Arizona, as we mentioned. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin - also going to be presidential swing states - so likely very competitive and very expensive places to run. And the bad news for Democrats here is that on the other side, the Republican-held seats up next year - they don't really have a lot of opportunities for them. These are very red states like Wyoming, Mississippi, North Dakota, places where the Democratic Party just doesn't really have a viable shot at flipping control.

SHAPIRO: Is it unusual for candidates to be making moves this early when the dust only settled on the midterms a few weeks ago?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, you know, in the modern era, there's really a lot of pressure - and I think this is true in both parties - that candidates and especially incumbents make up their minds and announce very early. Senate races are increasingly expensive, especially if you're trying to run in a big state like California or Texas. Open-seat races are even more expensive. So the more notice party leaders and campaign operations get is welcome. I think it's safe to say most senators will probably make up their minds by the end of the summer at the absolute latest.

And we're already seeing movement. Republican Senator Mike Braun in Indiana has announced he's leaving. He's going to run for governor. Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow is retiring in Michigan. There's also retirement watch. One of the Senators people are watching for what they do is Dianne Feinstein in California. She'll be 91 years old if she decides to run for reelection in 2024. And already, some Democrats are announcing they will run there regardless of what she does. Also watching Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia - these are states that, you know, they could win. But if they decide to retire, Republicans would be very favored. But at least one of those red-state Democrats, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, gave Democrats a sigh of relief today. He announced he's hiring a campaign manager, which is a pretty good signal he plans to run for a fourth term.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR political correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.