Forecasts for the 2014 senatorial elections increasingly favor the Republican Party. The trend toward the GOP is likely driven by a combination of factors including the economy where President Obama’s approval has fallen to 35 percent in an August 15 Gallup poll. The problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act are also a drag on Democratic candidates. Rasmussen reports that only 41 percent of likely voters now have a favorable view of the health care law while 53 percent view it unfavorably. The Obama Administration’s scandals, particularly the IRS scandal and NSA wiretapping, have also hurt Democrats. A Fox News poll from early August showed that largely majorities of Americans believe that all of the Obama scandals should be taken seriously and investigated.
Rasmussen’s generic congressional ballot for August 12 shows 39 percent for both Democrats and Republicans, but the prior week showed the GOP with 41 percent to 38 percent for the Democrats. The two parties have spent much of the past four months in a statistical tie.
Over the summer, the Cook Political Report moved four races into the GOP column. One Democrat seat (Mark Pryor of Arkansas) moved from the Democratic column to tossup. No races were changed from likely Republican victories to Democrats.
In 2014, there are 15 Republican seats and 20 Democratic seats up for election. Republicans currently control 46 seats in the Senate. That number will probably drop to 45 in October since the Democratic candidate, Corey Booker, is expected to dominate New Jersey’s special election to replace the deceased Frank Lautenberg. This means that the GOP will likely need to win six seats to take control of the Senate next year.
So far there are seven announced Senate retirements for 2014. Five of these (Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia) are Democrats. This means that the Republicans only have to defend two open seats in Georgia and Nebraska, where Saxby Chambliss and Mike Johanns are retiring. Of the Democrat open seats, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia voted Republican in 2012, making them likely pickups for the GOP.
There are four other tossup races. All of these are seats that are currently held by the Democrats. Most observers consider Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), Alaska (Mark Begich), and North Carolina (Kay Hagan) to be in play. All four states voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
A statistical edge is not a sure thing. Republicans had a similar edge in 2012 and lost two seats in the final analysis. The Republican losses were largely due to missteps by candidates such as Todd Aiken in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Republican chances will hinge on the selection of viable candidates in next year’s primaries.
Democratic victories in 2012 were also due the party’s technological edge in identifying potential voters and urging them to the polls. The effect of IRS suppression of conservative groups leading up to the 2012 also cannot be discounted. These advantages may be hard to repeat in 2014.
At this point there are ten Senate races to watch for 2014:
Alaska: Mark Begich (D) was elected to the Senate in 2008, winning largely due incumbent Ted Stevens conviction for failing to properly report gifts just prior to the election. (The conviction was later overturned.) Alaska is a reliable Republican state in presidential elections and in a 2010 Senate election the two Republican candidates split 75 percent of the vote according to the N.Y. Times. Joe Miller, who won the 2012 Republican primary, but lost to Lisa Murkowski in the general election, is a likely challenger, as is Sarah Palin.
Georgia: Republican senator Saxby Chambliss, in office since 2003, is retiring. Georgia is a deep red state with a growing Republican delegation to Congress. Michelle Nunn, daughter of longtime Democratic senator Sam Nunn, is the Democratic frontrunner. Several prominent Republicans including congressmen Paul Broun and Gingrey and former gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel have announced for the seat. While the Republican candidate is favored in the race, many pundits believe that a growing minority population and a weak Republican candidate might make Georgia the best chance for the Democrats to pick up a Republican seat.
Iowa: Tom Harkin (D), senator since 1985 is retiring. Iowa has trended toward the Democratic presidential candidates in the past 20 years with the exception of 2004 when the state went for George W. Bush. Congressman Bruce Baley is the likely Democratic nominee, but there is no clear frontrunner among the GOP candidates. Baley is the favorite, but if 2014 is a bad year for Democrats a strong Republican candidate could pull off an upset.
Louisiana: Mary Landrieu has been a Democratic senator since 1997. Louisiana has voted Republican since 2000. Congressman Bill Cassidy is the Republican frontrunner.
Michigan: Carl Levin (D), senator since 1979, is retiring. Michigan is reliably Democratic in presidential elections, but elected a Republican governor in 2011. The economy in this Rust Belt state, including the bankruptcy of Detroit, may make it questionable for the Democrats. Congressman Rick Snyder is the likely Democratic candidate, but there is no clear frontrunner among the Republicans.
Montana: Max Baucus (D), senator since 1978 is retiring. Montana has voted reliably Republican in presidential elections since 2000. Cook currently rates Montana as leaning Republican. Former governor Brian Schweitzer announced in July that he would not run, leaving the Democrats without a viable candidate. There is no clear frontrunner from either party.
North Carolina: Kay Hagan is another member of the Democratic class of 2009. North Carolina has been swing state in recent presidential elections, but went for Mitt Romney by two percent in 2012. Thom Tillis, the likely GOP challenger, is off to weak start due to controversial fundraising tactics.
South Dakota: The retiring Tim Johnson has been a Democratic senator since 1997. South Dakota has voted for Republican presidents for his entire tenure. Rick Weiland (D) and former governor Mike Rounds (R) are the early frontrunners.
West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring, has been the Democratic senator since 1985. The state has voted Republican in presidential elections since 2000. In the 2012 senate elections there, popular former governor Joe Manchin (D) won 60 percent of the vote. The early GOP frontrunner is congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito. As yet there is no strong Democratic candidate.
Originally published as Elections Examiner