Thursday, August 8, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate Races In 2014: Take-over or Take-down?

Since it will very likely dominate the electoral drama
next year, the “war” for control of the U.S. senate has
an obvious and persisting fascination for the small band
of political pundits writing about the always changing
environment of power in America, not to mention for the
power brokers  in Washington, DC.

Electoral “waves” that occurred in 2006 and 2010,
each midterm elections with no presidential contest, have
produced notable imbalances in the party identification
of the number of seats at stake.  Thus in 2008 and 2012
there many more Democrat-controlled seats at stake, and
in 2016, there will be many more Republican-controlled
seats at play. The senate elections of 2014 resemble 2010
and 2012 in that there are many more incumbent Democratic
seat up than Republican.

In 2012, however, the GOP failed notably to make gains in
spite of their advantage, primarily because they fielded weak
or controversial candidates in at least five races they had
been expected to win. In 2010, Republicans did make gains,
but lost at least three races they would have won with better

All this is by now very well known by party leaders, party
operatives, and the White House itself which has a very
large stake in the outcome, that is, in preserving their

Indeed, if the expected continued control of the U.S. house
of representatives by the conservative party is joined by a
take-back control of the U.S. senate by the GOP, it would
reduce a by-then already lame duck president to almost no
control of the agenda of government, routine rejection of
his appointments (including to the U.S. supreme court) and
little say about his second-term legacy.

With 20 Democratic incumbents seats up and only 14 GOP
seats, once again a significant “paper” advantage goes to
the Republicans in 2014.

The trend since the beginning of 2013 has been heavily
favoring the conservative party, but a similar trend seemed
to have appeared in 2011, and the result, at the end, was a
disaster. Currently, the senate is 54-46 in favor of the
Democrats, but by election day, 2014, that will almost
certainly be 55-45 (after Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a
Democrat, wins election this year.)

Instead of triumphal optimism, as was evident in 2011,
GOP leaders and strategists are far more cautious about
2014 results in 2013. In fact, two of the fourteen GOP seats
up next year are now much more vulnerable than they were
only a few months ago. Senate minority leader Mitch
McConnell now faces a serious contest in Kentucky (he is
now trailing in the polls), and the candidacy of Georgia
icon Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter in the 2014 race casts
at least some doubt about a hitherto easy GOP win in the
open seat.

On the other hand, the vulnerability of Democratic
incumbent seats continues to increase. GOP takeovers now
seem likely in Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia and
Arkansas. Incumbent Democrats in Alaska, North Carolina,
and Louisiana are very vulnerable. Republicans, if they can
recruit good candidates, have good prospects in Iowa and
Michigan. (There is a chance, especially if 2014 develops into
a “wave” election, for the GOP to pick up seats in New
Hampshire, Minnesota and Delaware, but as of now, and
lacking formidable challengers, Republicans are unlikely to
win in those states.)

As became obvious in the 2012 cycle, Democrats will play
very “hard ball” to keep control of the U.S. Senate. That year,
for example, they went so far as to boost the weakest GOP
candidate in the Missouri Republican senate primary and
helped him win. His extreme views then enabled the
Democratic incumbent, an almost sure loser, to win
re-election. Having succeeded in this tactic, Democrats can
be expected to play this card again in 2014.

Feeding into this environment, Republicans are currently
divided on the issue of immigration reform, and conservative
sub-groups are threatening to mount primary challenges to
otherwise safe incumbent GOP senators. As happened in
Delaware in 2010 and Indiana in 2012, this could lead to
unexpected Republican defeats in 2014, and make the
potential for a Republican take-over of the U.S. senate
virtually impossible.

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

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