Monday, March 11, 2013

Can Republicans Win the Senate in 2014?

It is never too early to look ahead to 2014, especially after a disappointing 2012. But we all understand the political landscape can change on the drop of a dime. 2012 was a good example of that. Many projected that the Republicans could win 3 to 5 seats and win control of the senate. As we know that did not happen, in fact, Democrats gained two seats mainly due to Republican blunders. Todd Akin was a shoo-in in Missouri, but his dumb comments about rape bailed out a victory for the incompetent incumbent Claire McCaskill. The same thing happened in Indiana when Richard Mourdock made controversial comments and lost to Joe Donnelly. Meanwhile, Scott Brown lost in Massachusetts to Elizabeth Warren despite her lifetime lie about being a Native American. In 2012, the Democrats won 24 Senate races to only 8 for Republicans (two independents also won races and they caucus with Democrats). In all, only 4 states switched Party control in 2012 – Nebraska (Republicans), Maine (Independent), and Massachusetts and Indiana (Democrats). With the Maine independent caucusing with Democrats this yielded a net gain of 2 seats for Democrats who had to defend 23 of the 34 seats up for grabs.

The road in 2014 will be a steep one, the GOP will need to gain 6 seats to win control of the senate – this is a huge undertaken. There are a few things in the Republicans advantage; first Democrats are defending 21 of the 35 seats up for grabs making them more vulnerable. Secondly, the Party in power of the White House usually loses on average 6 seats during their 6th year in office. Third, turnout will more than likely favorite Republicans in 2014 – or at least will not be the 6 point advantage Democrats held in 2012.

Tom Harkin’s retirement announcement is the latest early break for Republicans in their long-shot bid to seize control of the Senate in 2014. The move puts Iowa in play and came on the heels of Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s retirement in West Virginia, which gave Republicans a likely pick-up. Another possible Democratic retirement in a red state looms in South Dakota, where Sen. Tim Johnson is expected to decide soon whether to pursue a third term. And a new poll shows Republican Scott Brown — who’s mulling whether to run for Senate this year or governor in 2014 — up by double digits in a potential race for Democrat John Kerry’s seat. However, even if Brown wins back a seat in Massachusetts, he will have to face reelection again in 2014. And it is no easy undertaking for a Republican to win in Massachusetts. One factor favoring Democrats in 2014 is that they have plenty of advanced warning of potential retirements. Over a year and a half should be plenty of time to plan a strategy to hold the Senate.

Democratic strategists highlight their incumbents who appear likely to run again in red states where retirements could have proved devastating, including Montana’s Max Baucus, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Alaska’s Mark Begich and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan. It is important to keep in mind; only three Democratic incumbent senators have lost re-election bids since the turn of the century. So even though these candidates would be vulnerable running in red states, they will probably be favorites to win re-election.

Hence, the Republicans will need the following to happen in 2014 to win the senate – First, they need to win the West Virginia, Iowa, and South Dakota (if Johnson retires) open seats. Then they will need to win 3 other seats while successfully defending the 14 seats they currently hold. Montana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, and Massachusetts are the best chances for Republicans to defeat a Democrat incumbent. Republicans may also try to target Colorado Senator, Mark Udall – but so far the Republicans are struggling to find a strong candidate to run against him.

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