It’s shaping up to be an unpleasant 2014 for Democrats in the U.S. Senate.
The President’s party already faced a difficult midterm election map when former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer ignored the pleas of national Democrats and decided to sit out the race. Saturday’s announcement that Schweitzer wouldn’t run to replace retiring Max Baucus virtually guarantees an easy pickup for Republicans and puts them substantially closer to a takeover of the upper chamber.
Lets do the numbers: Democrats currently control 54 seats in the Senate, counting two independents that reliably vote with them, while Republicans have 46 seats. After October’s New Jersey special election, which Newark Mayor Cory Booker will likely win, that margin will almost certainly revert to 55-45.
With Vice President Biden serving as the tie-breaking vote, Republicans need a net swing of six seats to regain the majority in 2014.
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That sounds like a lot, but it isn’t as hard as it appears. Democratic seats in South Dakota and West Virginia held by Senator Tim Johnson and Senator Jay Rockefeller appear certain to swing to the GOP. Republicans need to win three of four remaining competitive states with vulnerable incumbents — Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska — to take the Senate. President Barack Obama lost all four states in 2012.
National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Brad Dayspring called Schweitzer’s decision a “sea-change moment” for Republicans, putting victory in sight. Republicans have yet to identify candidates in the four target states, and both the 2010 and 2012 cycles proved that Republican primaries can be self-defeating to the party’s general election chances. Democrats are preparing to pounce on every Republican verbal misfire, much as they did with Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock last year.
Though their individual poll numbers are lacking, the Democratic incumbents have all reported strong fundraising totals. (And in head-to-head match-ups, Democrats still lead against more unknown Republican challengers.) Democrats admit they have a tough map to defend, but believe their incumbents can more than withstand the Republican challengers as they fight to expand the map into Kentucky and Georgia.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell will face Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, though he is heavily favored. Democrats are hoping to entice Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, into the race to replace retiring Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss.
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“Their math is very difficult,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Matt Canter of Republicans. “Not only do they have to beat three to four incumbents, but they also have to hold Georgia and Kentucky. So we’re very excited about 2014.”
Even the confidence with which many top Democrats have spoken of retaining the Senate has waned in recent days. On Tuesday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid backed off a threat to utilize the so-called nuclear option to curtail the filibuster after weeks of escalating rhetoric. One reason may have been that Democrats knew they could soon find themselves in the minority instead of the majority, and thus becoming the victim, instead of the beneficiary, of Reid’s threatened reforms.
National Republicans, for their part, are setting their sights on New Hampshire, where they hope former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown jumps across state lines and runs, as well as Iowa. And while Senator Mike Enzi’s announcement that he will seek re-election next year has set up a primary fight in Wyoming with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney, Republicans are certain to hold the seat.
“The fact that Democrats are choosing to divert money away from endangered incumbents like Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan and Mark Begich to long-shot, novice candidates like Alison Lundergan Grimes shows just how panicked they are about losing Chuck Schumer’s majority,” said Dayspring.