Democrats Favored to Retain Senate in 2014

2012 was supposed to be the year the Republicans regained the Senate.  Just a year ago, with the retirements of Democratic Senators in Hawaii, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin, and potentially vulnerable Democratic Senators in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, Republicans were seen as the favorites to gain the four seats they needed to win back control of the Senate. Some pundits were even suggesting, as far back as two years ago, that Republicans were a lock to win the Senate in 2012.

Then, things happened.

Olympia Snowe retired in Maine. Republicans failed to recruit  top-quality candidates against Senators Bob Casey, Debbie Stabenow, and Joe Manchin. Republican candidates underwhelmed in states like Hawaii. Democrats scored major recruitment victories in all of the open seats they had to defend, as well as in Indiana and Massachusetts. Oh, and Republicans nominated candidates who stuck their feet in their mouth (Todd Akin, Pete Hoekstra, Richard Mourdock, and who could forget George Allen?).

Now, instead of being in the minority and facing near-impossible odds of gaining back the majority,  Democrats will enter the 2014 campaign with an even bigger majority then they had in 2012. Instead of looking to expand a majority, Republicans now must face an even steeper climb en route to a majority in 2014. They need to gain six seats - a feat which is rare outside of wave elections. Only 8 of the last 35 elections saw a swing of 6+ seats in the Senate: 1946, 1948, 1958, 1980, 1994, 2006, 2008, and 2010.

No doubt, the Republicans have a chance. In the wave election that was 2008, Democrats gained eight seats; only a handful of vulnerable Republican-held seats stayed in Republican hands. Those Senators elected in 2008 will now have to face re-election in 2014. If Republicans win every Senate seat in every state that Romney won in 2012, they will win the six seats they need. Put another way, Democrats need to win two seats in states that Romney won. Plus, historical precedent tells us that midterm elections are, in general, bad for the party that holds the White House.

There are a number of other factors which could affect things. In 2014, all of the Affordable Care Act will be in effect, and support for it will likely grow. Also, will the economy continue to rebound? Will each party do what they need to do in terms of recruitment? To what degree will OFA be more involved in 2014 than they were in 2010? The effort and resources that are put into various states will also depend, in part, on competitive races for Governor and Congress in those states; as I will explain in a later post, states like Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and New Mexico might have some hotter-than-Hades races for Governor. Oh, and how many Republicans will come down with Foot-in-Mouth Disease?

I have taken the seats each Party will defend in 2014, and I have divided them into two groups: "Safe" and "Maybe." I use the word "maybe" because it is too early to tell whether there will be any significant chance of these seats flipping to the other party. Some of them will end up as toss-ups by November 2014; others will turn out to be duds. Counting the seats I list here as "safe," Republicans can count on 42 seats in the 114th Congress, while Democrats can count on 40. That would leave 18 seats that could go either way - but don't expect all of those seats to actually be very competitive. As the next year unfolds, it will be clear which seats will be hotly contested, and which ones will be safe.

Republican "safe" seats:
Alabama - Jeff Sessions - 1997
Jeff Sessions has had a relatively easy time getting elected and re-elected. That won't change.

Georgia - Saxby Chambliss - 2003
The primary here could be interesting, as Karen Handel may challenge Chambliss, who has renounced Grover Norquist's tax pledge. Still, Democrats' best hope is for the Republican nominee to be caught in a major scandal. And even then, said nominee may fare as well as David Vitter in Louisiana.

Idaho - Jim Risch - 2009
There's a joke about Idaho: "There's only one thing in Idaho: potatoes!" Actually, there are two things: potatoes and Republicans.

Mississippi - Thad Cochran - 1979
Cochran is the most senior Republican whose seat is up in 2014. Even if he does retire, expect the real battle to be in the Republican primary

Nebraska - Mike Johanns - 2009
Johanns is a popular former Governor who served in the Bush Administration.

Oklahoma - Jim Inhofe - 1994
This is Oklahoma. Enough said.

South Carolina - Lindsey Graham - 2003
Graham has made a name for himself as a Senator.

Tennessee - Lamar Alexander - 2003
Alexander is very popular, as is the Republican Party in Tennessee.

Texas - John Cornyn - 2003
Republicans do well statewide in Texas. Perhaps by 2020, Democrats will make a play for this seat and/or for the state's 38 electoral votes. But we're not there yet.

Wyoming - Mike Enzi - 1997
Even if Enzi retires, Republicans shouldn't have any trouble with this seat. Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) could make things interesting, but it's doubtful he would run.

Republican "Maybe" seats:
Kansas - Pat Roberts - 1997
Expect Roberts to be a lock if he runs for re-election. Otherwise, Democrats have two candidates who could make things interesting: Former governors Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson.

Kentucky - Mitch McConnell - 1985
McConnell, who squeaked into a fifth term in 2008, will be 72 in 2014, making it an uncertainty whether he will run again. Even if he does, Democrats may want to put up a serious challenge to him, if for no other reason than to avenge his actions during the Obama era. Word is that Ashlkey Judd is weighing a challenge to McConnell. Even if she doesn't, Rep. John Yarmuth, recently defeated Rep. Ben Chandler, and Gov. Steve Beshear would all be formidable contenders for Democrats in a state which, despite its Republican lean in presidential contests, has elected Democrats statewide.

Maine - Susan Collins - 1997
If Collins runs again - and if the Tea Party doesn't do to her what they did to Dick Lugar this year - she is a very good bet to win. Despite a wave election and a relatively strong challenge from Tom Allen, Democrats were unable to defeat Collins in 2008. If Collins follows Olympia Snowe into retirement, the Democrats have a golden opportunity here. Representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree (the latter of whom ran against Collins in 2002 and succeeded Allen in 2008), along with former Governor John Baldacci, could have an excellent chance of winning this seat for Team Blue. They may also be interested in knocking off that state's conservative governor, Paul LePage (who himself could run for Senate, especially if Collins retires).

Democratic "safe" seats:
Delaware - Chris Coons - 2010
Coons was elected in 2010 to fill the remaining four years of Joe Biden's term. Expect Coons to cruise to re-election, just like Biden and Tom Carper.

Illinois - Dick Durbin - 1997
Senate Majority Whip Durbin was elected in 1996 and has yet to face a credible challenger in this Democratic-leaning state.

Minnesota - Al Franken - 2009
First-term Sen. Amy Klobuchar didn't garner significant opposition in 2012; there's little reason to think the better-known Franken will have a tougher race in 2014 than did Klobuchar in 2012.

Oregon - Jeff Merkley - 2009
Make no mistake: Oregon is a blue state. Obama won it handily twice, and Democrats have held the governorship since before I was born. Don't expect a high-profile challenge to Merkley; relative to other US Senate races, this certainly won't be low-hanging fruit for national Republicans. Moreover, the Republican bench here is thinner than a supermodel.

Rhode Island - Jack Reed - 1997
Jack Reed is a popular Senator who may be in line to succeed Carl Levin as Armed Services Chair if Levin retires. Reed was considered by some to be a potential running mate for Obama in 2008.

Democratic "maybe" seats:
Alaska - Mark Begich - 2009
Begich was elected in 2008 on the back of three things: A Democratic wave; Presidential turn-out; and discontent with incumbent Senator ted Stevens. Those latter two factors (and probably the third) won't benefit Begich this time. That makes him one of the incumbents most likely to face a tough challenge.

Arkansas - Mark Pryor - 2003
The son of another former Senator, Mark Pryor has been rather popular in Arkansas. In 2008, he didn't even garner a challenge. 2014 could be different for Pryor, now the only Democrat in the Arkansas congressional delegation. In 2010, Republicans knocked off Sen. Blanche Lincoln; they will hope to do the same with Pryor. Still, Pryor's popularity will give him better odds.

Colorado - Mark Udall - 2009
Udall is part of a very well known political family. The elections of Udall and his cousin, Tom, in 2008 were not foregone conclusions, especially since they were Republican-held seat. Still, Democrats have done rather well in Colorado in recent years. Not only did Obama win the state twice, but Democrats have won every Senate and gubernatorial race since 2004 - including hotly contested races for Governor and US Senate in 2010, of all years. Of the Democrats who could be vulnerable, the Udalls are probably most likely to hold on to their seats for another term.

Iowa - Tom Harkin - 1985
Both Harkin and the state's other Senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, have been fuxtures in Iowa politics since before I was born. Harkin won close races in 1984, 1990, 1996, and 2002, but he got more than 62% in 2008. If Harkin, then 75, runs again, he will be the prohibitive favorite. If he retires, however, expect a wide open race. Potential Democratic candidates include Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; US Representatives Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley, each of whom have often done better in their districts than other Democrats; and Leonard Boswell, whose 'lucky streak' of winning close-fought races came to an end this year. Republican contenders could include Representatives Tom Latham and Steve King. Expect a lot of visits from 2016 contenders to this state.

Louisiana - Mary Landrieu - 1997
The Landrieu family is quite popular. Still, Landrieu hasn't had an easy time of it in her previous races. Republicans have a deep bench from which they can draw a challenger to Landrieu.

Massachusetts - John Kerry - 1985
If Kerry is still in the Senate (he is named as a possible Secretary of State or Defense in Obama's second term), and if he runs for a sixth term in 2014, he should be a lock. If Kerry joins the Administration or retires, Republicans will be clamoring for Scott Brown to get back in. If he does, he will be quite formidable. Even so, the state's entire Congressional delegation is Democratic, as is Gov. Deval Patrick (who some mention as a possibility for President in 2016).

Michigan - Carl Levin - 1979
What can I say about Levin? He's funny, he's dedicated, and I look up to him. Unfortunately, he will be 80 in 2014, so he may retire. If he does, Democrats have some possibilities, most notably Rep. Gary Peters. Other contenders include former Rep. Mark Schauer, outgoing Rep. Hansen Clarke (who may run for Peters's House seat if Peters himself runs for Senate), Rep.-elect Dan Kildee, and state Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer. All of these individuals' names have also been bandied about as candidates for Governor in 2014. Furthermore, Democrats will hold a combined 24-8 majority of seats on statewide education boards (State Board of Ed, U-M Regent, etc). Of those individuals, Regent-elect Mark Bernstein is perhaps best known across the state. Republicans have a deeper bench, which might include Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, Attorney General Bill Schuette (who ran for the same seat in 1990), and Reps. Dan Benishek, Bill Huizenga, Justin Amash, and Tim Walberg.

Montana - Max Baucus - 1979
Democrats are coming off a banner year here. Other than losses in the Presidential and US House races, Democrats swept the other statewide contests in Montana. If Baucus retires, expect a wide-open race that could go either way. Sen. Jon Tester won a hard-fought re-electon race in 2012; expect outgoing Rep. Denny Rehberg, who lost to Tester, to have another go at it. Other candidates may include former US Rep. Rick Hill, who lost the 2012 governor's race in a heartbreaker; Rep.-elect Steve Daines; and former Governors Marc Racicot and Judy Martz. Brian Schweitzer, the populist Democrat who is stepping aside, may run if Baucus retires. Other candidates may include Auditor Monica Lindeen; Superintendent Denise Juneau; and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch.

New Hampshire - Jeanne Shaheen - 2009
New Hampshire is the only state whose entire Congressional delegation is female. Shaheen was the first Democrat to win a Senate race in New Hampshire since John Durkin's two-vote win in 1974. The state was won by Clinton twice, Bush in 2000, Kerry in 2004, and Obama twice. Democrats have won eight of the last nine governor's races in New Hampshire. In 2012, Democrats won both of New Hampshire's competitive congressional races. Either of the state's now-ousted members of Congress, Frank Guinta and Jeb Bradley, could make a run for Senate in 2014, though they may be interested in winning back their House seats. John Sununu, who beat Shaheen in 2002 and lost to her in 2008, might also want this seat back.

New Jersey - Frank Lautenberg - 2003
Lautenberg was first elected in 1982, retired in 2002, and came back in 2002 to replace scandal-plagued Robert Toricelli on the 2002 ballot. Don't be surprised if Lautenberg re-retires. Overall, New Jersey is a Democratic-leaning state; Democrats have won the state's Presidential electoral votes in each election since 1992, and not since 1972 have Republicans won a Senate race here. Still, this is the home of Chris Christie, and the state's House delegation in 2013-2014 will include six Democrats and six Republicans, any of who could run if Lautenberg retires.

New Mexico - Tom Udall - 2009
Udall is the other of the two Udall cousins who were elected in 2008. The state Tom Udall succeeded longtime Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, and just four years later, Democrats held the state's other US Senate seat, as Martin Heinrich easily won the right to succeed Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Given that Udall is now an incumbent, and given the state's growing Latino population, Republicans may not want to put too much effort into this race. Still, it is worth watching, since Bush won New Mexico in 2004 and Gov. Susana Martinez is a Republican.

North Carolina - Kay Hagan - 2009
Hagan won one of the most high-profile races in North Carolina in 2008, defeating Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Since the well-known Dole was unable to defeat a lesser-known Hagan in 2008, Hagan may be in good shape in 2014. Still, the state has a Republican lean. Romney won the state; the other Senator, Richard Burr, is a Republican; and they just elected their first Republican governor in 20 years.

South Dakota - Tim Johnson - 1997
Johnson famously survived a health scare in 2006 - a massive brain hemorrhage which left many Democrats on edge just weeks after Democrats won back control of the Senate in the 2006 elections. Johnson recovered and won 62% of the vote in 2008. Johnson will turn 68 just before his term expires, making it possible that he will decline a fourth term. Gov. Mike Rounds has already announced that he will run for this seat, but Johnson hasn't announced a decision. Regardless, this is poised to be one of the higher-profile races in 2014. Democrats' best hope may be Johnson, but if he retires, former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin could also make it a race.

Virginia - Mark Warner - 2009
Virginia has shifted Democratic in the past several years, starting with Warner's 2001 election as governor of Virginia and continuing with Tim Kaine's election as Governor in 2005; the elections of Jim Webb, Warner, and Kaine to the US Senate in 2006, 2008, and 2012, respectively; and Obama's wins in 2008 and 2012. Governor Bob McDonnell is known to have higher ambitions, many expected him to be on Romney's vice-presidential shortlist. Still, the popular Warner is in good shape in this state, and he would start the 2014 campaign as a favorite.

West Virginia - Jay Rockefeller - 1985
Rockefeller has enjoyed relatively easy wins in his races, winning more than 60% of the vote. With the entrance of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito on the Republican side, and with Rockefeller's retirement a distinct possibility, that might change. Capito could capitalize on anti-Obama sentiment in West Virginia. It is worth remembering, however, that even as Republicans have been doing better in Presidential elections here, Democrats have dominated statewide races. winning the governorship in six of the last seven elections. The last time a Republican represented West Virginia in the Senate was 1958. Given this, it is possible that Capito may be the Tom Allen of 2014, Allen having been a Congressman from a small state who, despite his popularity, couldn't make much of a race against the popular incumbent.

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