Democrats are defending seven senate seats in states Mitt Romney won in 2012. With Obamacare in full meltdown mode, can Republicans win the six seats needed to take control of the upper chamber in 2014? Townhall.com Senior Political Editor and Fox News Contributor Guy Benson investigates for the January issue of Townhall Magazine.
Democrats have controlled the United States Senate since 2007. During this current stretch, their operating majority has ranged from as small as a 51-49 edge, to a 60-40 veto- proof majority.
With the election of New Jersey’s Corey Booker to the upper chamber in October, the Democratic advantage now sits at 55-45; if the GOP wants to oust Harry Reid as majority leader, they’ll need to net six seats in the 2014 midterm elections.
On paper, this is an attainable goal. Democrats are facing a much more challenging map to defend, and nearly every single one of the Republican-held seats up for grabs is considered to be safe.
But don’t expect the GOP to start measuring the drapes in Reid’s office just yet. Netting six Senate seats is a tall task, nearly everything needs to break the right way to pull it off.
Plus, the party has failed to live up to expectations in the very recent past. Republicans were initially expected to make a strong run at a Senate majority heading into the 2012 cycle, when the political terrain appeared to be similarly favorable. They ended up losing two seats.
But the political climate has shifted dramatically since President Obama’s re-election. His approval numbers are poor, his signature healthcare law experienced a nightmarish roll-out, and vulnerable Democrats are rushing away from, rather than cozying up to, his brand. They know his agenda is covered with their fingerprints. The D.C. distancing game is on.
Despite the heavy lift, a clear path exists to a Republican Senate majority: GOP candidates must lock down a minimum of three open red state seats being vacated by Democratic incumbents, then pick off several endangered incumbents. Let’s review the dynamics of the races that will determine the Senate’s balance of power starting in January 2015.
TOP TIER OPEN SEATS
MONTANA: Sen. Max Baucus, a 36-year incumbent and a chief author of Obamacare, has decided not to face voters in November. He’s slammed the so-called Affordable Care Act’s launch as a “huge trainwreck,” and is heading for the exits.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) hoped that popular former-Gov. Brian Schweitzer would run for the seat, but he declined to do so in a July announcement. Stuck without a marquee candidate, Democrats will seek to defeat the likely Republican nominee, current statewide Congressman Steve Daines, who won his House seat in 2012.
Daines announced his intention to run for Baucus’ seat in early November.
He’ll be opposed by the state’s Democratic Lt. Gov. John Walsh. A senior GOP source says early internal polling shows Walsh trailing Daines by double digits, calling the Democrat’s bid as a “long shot candidacy at this point.”
SOUTH DAKOTA: Obama lost this great plains state by 18 points in 2012, and now that longtime incumbent Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson is retiring, Republicans see it as ripe for the picking.
The opportunity for a pick up became even juicier when two well-known potential DSCC recruits chose not to run: Brendan Johnson, the senator’s son, and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a former Congresswoman who was ousted by Republican Kristi Noem in 2010.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s (NRSC) top pick to run for this seat is former-Gov. Mike Rounds, who enjoys broad name recognition in the state and strong favorability ratings. The probable Democratic nominee will be Rick Weiland, a liberal activist and former staffer to Sen. Tom Daschle. Weiland has run for Congress twice, failing in each attempt. An October poll showed Rounds leading this hypothetical match-up by 15 points.
WEST VIRGINIA: A late September survey of West Virginia voters by Democratic pollster PPP revealed that roughly half of the state supports impeaching Obama, and that was before Obamacare’s woes and broken promises began to dominate headlines. This environment is toxic for Democrats.
“We feel really confident about this race,” says a source familiar with NRSC strategy, citing likely nominee Shelley Moore Capito’s robust name recognition, fundraising efforts and popularity. Capito was elected to the House of Representatives in 2000 and has retained her position ever since. Odds are she’ll face West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who finished third in her party’s 2010 gubernatorial primary. Numerous polls already show Capito with a wide lead.
Of these three contests, my Republican source exudes confidence. “They seem as good as they possibly can for us right now, knock on wood,” he adds, in a nod to 2012’s collapse.
TOP TIER VULNERABLE INCUMBENTS
ALASKA: Sen. Mark Begich was first elected in 2008. He’s sometimes referred to as an “accidental senator” because he was narrowly elected eight days after then-incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted on federal corruption charges. The charges and conviction were later tossed out after a Justice Department investigation discovered evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct.
Begich, like every Senate Democrat, voted for Obamacare, and has since opposed various measures to repeal and delay the law. His stance began to change in October after Obamacare’s HealthCare.gov website failed and millions of Americans found out Obama lied when he promised they could keep their current insurance plans.
“Begich talks like a moderate Republican in Alaska, but votes with Obama 93 percent of the time,” says the GOP official. Re- publican primary voters will choose among several candidates to challenge the Democrat. At the top of the list are sitting Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Afghanistan war veteran Dan Sullivan. The party’s failed 2010 nominee, Joe Miller, has also filed papers to run.
ARKANSAS: “Mark Pryor is the most vulnerable senator running for re-election in either party.” That’s the blunt assessment from my well-placed GOP source.
The Arkansas Democrat ran unopposed in 2008. Those days are long gone. Pryor will face an aggressive 2014 challenge from Iraq war veteran Rep. Tom Cotton, who holds two degrees from Harvard. Obamacare is sure to be a central is- sue in the race; Pryor voted for the unpopular law, while Cotton is a staunch opponent. The president is deeply unpopular in the state, a reality that helped the GOP to seize both houses of the Arkansas legislature in 2012. Democrats had previously held the state senate since reconstruction.
Republicans point out that the incumbent’s polling position is extraordinarily weak, especially at this early stage. “He’s in worse shape than [former senator] Blanche Lincoln was at this stage,” explains my GOP source. He notes that Lincoln eventually outspent Republican challenger John Boozman by a five- to-one margin in 2010, then lost by 20 points.
LOUISIANA: Continued at link:http://townhall.com/tipsheet/conncarroll/2014/01/01/bye-bye-harry-n1765841