Friday, April 12, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: So Far, But Only So Far, Breaking To The Right

What a difference a cycle makes.

In 2010, everything broke to the right in U.S. house, senate and gubernatorial
races. In 2012, the breaks, especially n the U.S. senate and the presidential race
went to the left.

So far, looking toward 2014, the “breaks” seem to be going right in the U.S.
senate races, to the left in gubernatorial races, and of course, there is no
presidential race.

Republicans have governors in 30 of the 50 states. Almost all (about 5 races)
close contests in 2014 involve GOP incumbents or those currently-held by
retiring GOP incumbents. Democrats will very likely win pick-ups, but the
number so far is uncertain.

Republicans currently control the U.S. house by a clear margin. They had an
even larger margin in 2012, but had a net loss of nine seats that year. Prospects
for 2014 seem to favor the Republicans once again, not just from their natural
advantage from the 2010 redistricting, but from continued unpopularity and
problems from liberal legislation passed 2009-11 when Democrats controlled
both houses of Congress. President Obama has set his sights on winning back
the U.S. house, however, and there are vulnerable GOP congresspersons this
cycle, but  so far, early indications are that Republicans might actually pick up
a net of 3-6 seats in 2014.

The true battlegrounds, as I have pointed out previously, will be in various U.S.
senate contests in 2014. Democrats control 20 of the 35 seats up for election in
this cycle, and most of the 15 seats now held by Republicans are in conservative
states. About 10-12 of the Democratic-held seats are, or could become,
competitive. Republicans need to win six seats for control.

Retirements so far have favored the GOP.  South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson,
West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, Michigan Senator, Carl Levin, and Iowa
Senator Tom Harkin, each senior Democrats who would have been likely to
win re-e-election, have retired and might be replaced by Republicans. Senator
Daniel Inoye from Hawaii died in office and was replaced by appointment,
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts resigned to become secretary of state, and
was also replaced with an appointment. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey
is retiring, but all three of these seats so far seem to be retained by Democrats.

The two retiring Republicans,Senator Mike Johans  of Nebraska and Senator
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia are likely to be replaced by fellow Republicans.
GOP Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina resigned, and was replaced by
Republican Tim Scott who will also likely be elected in 2014.

The only Republican incumbent running for re-election who might now have a
problem in 2014 is Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few moderate conservatives
in the senate. However, she remains popular in her state, and unless she retires (as
did fellow GOP moderate Olympia Snowe in 2012) this seat should remain on the
GOP side. GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might have had a contest
in his re-election, but the Watergate-style taping of his private conversations by a
Democratic Party group in Kentucky has probably ended any mystery about this race.

In addition to the competitive races enabled by Democratic retirees previously
mentioned, a number of potential close contests and pick-ups remain. Democratic
incumbents Kay Hagen in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor
in Arkansas, Mike Begich in Alaska, Max Baucus in Montana, and Al Franken in
Minnesota could face serious challengers, although in the case of Senator Franken,
no formidable GOP opponent has yet appeared (and probably won’t). Incumbent
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire could also face a serious
race as the election approaches. Although Democratic replacements in New Jersey
and Massachusetts seem relatively safe now because both are Democratic states,
surprises there might happen as election day nears.

Nor is it impossible that conservative groups won’t again challenge incumbent GOP
senators who are certain to win, but who might not be “pure” enough. Senator
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee could face such a challenge, and if the challenge
were successful, a Democrat might win this seat. Another burden for Republicans
is their recent tendency to nominate inexperienced and notoriously inarticulate
candidates who transforms easy wins into losses.

At the outset of the 2006 cycle, Republicans felt confident they could keep control
of the senate. In 2010, Democrats thought they were likely to keep control of the
house. In 2012, Republicans felt sure they would at least pick up senate seats if not
win back control. All these expectations were unfulfilled. Recent political history
demonstrates that nothing can be taken for granted, and past electoral patterns
cannot be presumed operative in 2014.

By election day, 2014, the consequences of Obamacare will have become much
clearer, the effect of continued deficits much more defined, and the outcome of
prolonged unemployment, if it is still with us, unavoidable. If there is an economic
turnaround, Democrats will do better than now expected. If there is not, some now
“safe” Democrats will lose.

Already the hot breath of the “off-year” national elections can be felt behind the
rhetoric in the political marketplace like a whisper becoming louder and louder.

There will be a few more retirements, a few more surprises, and perhaps not a few
new faces in the days ahead. In only a few months, the next cycle will be right in
front of us, and the whispers will become noisy voices everywhere.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

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