Senate Landscape Portends Close Battle For Control
At this point in 2011, I was fairly convinced a 50-50 tie in the Senate would result.
Massachusetts, I surmised, would go the Democrats way but Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota would fall, thereby creating a 50-50 split. The Democrats did pick up Massachusetts, but, defying most odds, held everything but Nebraska. And Olympia Snowe’s retirement in Maine gave Democrats the means to pick up an additional seat, though the man who won it, Angus King, was technically elected as an Independent.
Fast forward two years. The Democrats again are playing serious defense. Following the likely election of Cory Booker in New Jersey this October, 21 Democratic seats will be on the line in ’14, including those of many first-termers helped over the finish line by Obama’s coattails or bizarre circumstances.
Furthermore, Democratic hopes are compunded by a number of retirements, including a handful in fairly red states. Republicans, meanwhile, are playing defense in seats that in most cases are not simply light red but beat red.
Still, with what come October will be a 55-45 deficit, Republicans need nearly every highly endangered seat to go their way while holding all of their own. The latter, while plausible given the political geography, may not be as easy as it seems.
While some analysts are thinking the GOP has little room for error, the same may be equally true for Democrats. The party currently controls the upper chamber 55-45 but has all but ceded 2 seats – South Dakota and West Virginia, to the Republicans, and appear to be on the verge of doing the same in Montana.
In South Dakota, ex-Governor Mike Rounds was considered the frontrunner the moment Democratic Senator Tim Johnson announced his retirement. The decision of ex-Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin not to challenge him cemented that. Rounds had to worry about a challenge for a time from the state’s At Large Congresswoman, Kristie Noem, but she passed. He still faces lower tier challengers who could tie him down but is heavily favored.
In West Virginia, Harry Reid insists a top name candidate will come forward soon. But few seem to know who that will be. Many hope for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, but the interest she’s displayed has been minimal, if that.
Some would like to think of Tennant as another Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, but Capito is neither a stranger to tough races nor likely to make mistakes. And West Virginia gave Obama a far lower percentage than North Dakota.
Waiting in the wings is GOP
Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito who, despite grumblings from the right as to her own conservatism, seems well positioned to capture the nomination.
If South Dakota is an all but certain GOP pickup, this one is just behind.
Headed in that direction — albeit not there yet, is Montana. Democrats tried hard to coax popular ex-Governor Brian Schweitzer into the race but, he declined. So did two other highly touted Democrats. Jon Tester proved last year that a first-class, local oriented campaign can carry the party to victory, and the party realizes they need a big name to compete in a “red” state. But they’ve so far failed to coax anyone.
Meanwhile, Republicans have been on overdrive to convince freshman Republican Congressman Steve Daines to give up a seemingly safe seat to make the run, and after months of resisting, he seems to finally be open. Democrats believe they can make hey over Daines’ voting record and Montana has been open to unconventional candidates (Conrad Burns) but, until they have a body — and likely after, it seems like the Republicans seat to lose.
The Democrats next challenge is their vulnerable incumbents, and this is where, in all probability, their biggest challenge awaits.
In Alaska, Mark Begich struggled to beat Ted Stevens a week following his conviction, and this time, he may be going against a cadre of ambitious and well known Republicans.
The man most expect Begich to face is Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell. An intyeresting footnote is that he grew up in Connecticut and attended Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Treadwell as the GOP nominee doesn’t thrill Democrats, but he may not be the man the fear most. Dan Sullivan is the State’s Natural Resources Commissioner and he is expected to announce his bid for the seat when he returns from deployment in September..
Joe Miller, who with Sarah Palin’s support actually unseated Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary she subsequently won an equally improbable win as a write-in), is gearing up to run again but, even if Treadwell and Sullivan divide the vote, it’s not clear enough Republicans will want to throw away the seat by opting for Miller.
Most small state Senators excel at retail politics, a must for overcoming often hostile partisan leans (the Dakotas). Begich claims that will help him whether Alaska’s GOP lean. And that lean has diminished somewhat (Mitt Romney’s 55% was actually the lowest for a GOP presidential candidate in the state in years), and Begich felt comfortable enough to back marriage equality. But by opposing the background check legislation for guns, he has striven to strike a balance.
Will it pay off? Begich has a long road ahead but he just may have what it takes to put his seat — and perhaps Senate Democrats, over the top.
Until recently, there has been much disagreement as to which Democratic Senator is more vulnerable: Mary Landrieu or Mark Pryor. While both face grueling odds to a new term and a win by either would astound supporters,
Over the past decade, Democrats in Arkansas have lost arguably more ground than any other state. In 2004, John Kerry took 46%. By 2008,Obama won just 39%, which had dwindled to just 36% last year. And in the Democratic primary, Obama gave up 42% to an attorney. Both houses of the legislature have fallen to the GOP and the party has reversed the 5-1 edge in the Congressional delegation that the Democrats held as recently as 2010. For Democrats, Mark Pryor is literally the last man standing. And now, Tom Cotton, one of the rising stars, wants to take him out. It may well happen, but it won’t be easy.
Pryor has opposed his party on gun control and is pro-life. But he has voted for ObamaCare and other aspects of his agenda that maay not play well here. And he has a well known name. But his senior colleague, Blanche Lincoln, drew just 38% in her 2010 bid for a third term.
Pryor acknowledges the President is unpopular. His own rapport with voters has enabled him to build trust. He’ll need all of that. But even without head-to-heads, his own re-elects are dangerous: under 40%. And that can be just as dangerous as actual matchups.Survival may be possible but unless he can find ways to paint Cotton as outside the mainstream, it may be too steep a hill to overcome.
If Pryor has been distancing himself, Landrieu ha been going full throttle the other way. And that has puzzled some.
Congressman Bill Cassidy has done a surprising job of unifying the GOP field, including clearing opposition of members of his party who view him as not sufficiently conservative.
Obama is toxic in Louisiana but Landrieu has fought tirelessly for the state’s interest on Appropriations and the natural gas industry. And Republican Governor Bobby Jindal’s popularity is at an all-time low, further aiding Landrieu’s attempts to contrast.
The black population took a hit after Katrina and even in the most favorable circumstances for Democrats (2008), Landrieu has never been able to avoid 52%. So the question remains whether there are enough votes — white or black, for her to win.
The only other Democratic seat Democrats who will be hard pressed to keep is North Carolina but, Kay Hagan has reason to be optimistic. Obama’s loss of the state belies the fact that he still took 48%, and Hagan has tried to cultivate a centrist image. But her real ace in the hole is the deeply unpopular Legislature. And her opponent seems likely to be Thom Tillis, Speaker of that unpopular body.
The saving grace for the Democrats is that a number of seats they thought they’d be fighting to hold — Colorado, Minnesota, and New Hampshire, for now seem firmly planted in the Democrats direction. And Iowa, where Tom Harkin’s retirement improves the odds for a GOP takeover, seems inclined for the moment to stick with Congressman Bruce Braley, though that one could break late.
Democrats would sorely need breathing room by putting at least one Republican seat in play. At the moment, they have done so in two states — Kentucky and Georgia. But that’s a long way from flipping it.
McConnell’s hefty war chest and Kentucky’s heavy Republican lean are two factors that cannot be ignored. Having said that, Democrats have virtually everything else on their side starting with the fact that McConnell’s poll ratings are among the lowest of all 100 Senators.
The outsider theme may very much be in play. Allison Lundergam-Grimes, 35, is folksy
McConnell recognized the seriousness of his problems with the right when he made Jesse Benton, Rand Paul’s campaign manager, his own. That got off to a rocky start when Benton said Both sides previewed their themes with a little red meat at the Fanny Farm picnic. McConnell said “Over the next 15 months, we are going to decide what kind of America we want … Barack Obama’s vision for America or Kentucky’s.” Grimes attacked Washington’s dysfunction and McConnell’s 30 years.
Without the national factors, the race may start out even. When the environment is weighed in, McConnell has to be favored. This may be a reverse Harry Reid scenario where the opponent that was nominated proved unlectable. But unlike Angle, who has a legislator compiled years of tempestous statements, Grimes has little record to attack, having been Secretary of the Commonwealth for just two years.
Onto Georgia. Michelle Nunn, daughter of the former Senator, took up Democratic entreaties to entere the Georgia race and, despite many undecided voters, she has posted narrow leads against many of her would-be rivals. The top Republican candidates initially appeared to be former Gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel and 11-term Savannah area Congressman Jack kingston. . Leading the pack is suburban Atlanta Congressman Phil Gingrey and Democrats hope he can show he’s not ready for prime time (he partially defended Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment). While Georgia is changing, a non-Presidential year may not be the time for that to go fully into fruition. Democrats hope an unelectable candidate, namely Athens area Congressman Paul Broun, can win the nomination but that is far from certain
If Democrats fall short,it could serve as a dry-run for 2016 when Johnny Isackson may retire and turnout dynamics will favor them.