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November 8, 2016
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2014 Election News

Looking ahead to next November 4th and the midterm elections in the U.S. Senate, one thing is clear.  This should be a good year for Republicans.  Despite turmoil, both perceived and real, within GOP ranks, the red team is structurally and historically well-positioned to enjoy substantial gains in the upper chamber in 2014.  Several factors contribute to a political landscape that bodes well for the current minority party in the Senate.

Democratic seats up for re-election outnumber Republican seats 21-14
Six years ago, a national blue wave swept Barack Obama into the White House and clobbered the Republican contingent in the Senate.  Five GOP incumbents were defeated and three open GOP seats also changed hands.  All told, Democrats catapulted from an effective 51-49 advantage - attained by knocking off 6 Republicans two years earlier - to a near-filibuster proof 59-41 majority.  In politics, however, success does not always beget success, and a challenging side-effect to winning nearly everything in sight in 2006 and 2008 is the fact that seats won must be defended.

Two years ago, after a massive red wave in 2010 nearly regained the majority for the GOP, Democrats weathered that challenge well and even added two seats to the fold.  But that was a much different climate than the one we see approaching next year.  With President Obama no longer enjoying a solid re-election bid - nor the approval of most Americans - Democrats will be hard-pressed to duplicate their performance last time around.  As a result, the sheer abundance of Senate opportunities has Republican strategists salivating.  But that's not all they have going for them.

Democrats must defend more open Senate seats
Since 1982, over 85% of Senate incumbents running for office have been re-elected.  By contrast, less than 2/3 of the open Senate seats during that same period were retained by the incumbent party.  Holding an open seat has long been more difficult than winning re-election.  Barring any future retirements, Democrats hold a dubious 5-2 advantage in Senate open seats next year.  Moreover, all five open Democratic seats are currently rated competitive by one or more of the nationally recognized political pundits I follow.  On the other hand, just one Republican open seat (GA - Chambliss) is rated competitive by the same.

Red states dominate competitive Senate races
As if the preponderance of Democratically-held seats, both open and filled, weren't enough, the blue team must also counter a playing field that is more hostile than not.  Charlie Cook, who publishes the wonderful Cook Political Report website, has a telling chart gauging the 2014 Senate landscape with regard to the 2012 presidential election outcome.  (You'll need to subscribe to see the chart - which I highly recommend to every serious political enthusiast.  The treasure trove of information there is enormous and insightful.)

Of the 14 Republican seats up next year, just one, Susan Collins' seat in Maine, will be held in a state won by President Obama.  The other 13 are in states Mitt Romney won by at least 5 points, and nine of those are in states he won by 15 points or more.  On the Democratic slate are two seats in states decided by 5 points or less (NC and VA), two seats won by Romney by 5 to 15 points and four in states Romney took by 15 or more points.  That means Democrats must defend seven seats in red states while Republicans defend just one from a blue state.

Finally, 2nd-term midterms are historically bad for incumbent presidents
Over the years, second midterm elections have cut into the numbers of the party of the president.  Since the 1950 mid-term elections during Harry Truman's second term, the party of the White House has lost an average of almost 6 seats in the Senate.  That's including 1998 when a 55-45 Republican majority failed to add to its advantage during the last term of Bill Clinton.  All else being equal - which we have seen it is not - the GOP would expect to gain ground in President Obama's second term.  Combine the historical track record with the present landscape, and Republicans have reason for optimism, current intra-party difficulties notwithstanding.

So what does all this mean for the make-up of the Senate in 2015?  Are Republicans poised to finally regain the majority they lost in 2006?  Of course, only time will tell.  To be sure, if the GOP fails to realize at least some improvement in their Senate numbers, it will be a golden opportunity squandered.  But whether they have the goods to claim the net six seat gain needed for control is debatable, if not doubtful.  One year out, The Blogging Caesar sees a good night coming for Senate Republicans next November, but perhaps not good enough to claim the majority.  I'll put the over/under at a 4-seat GOP gain as things stand right now.

Tomorrow:  The 2014 House Elections Preview

posted by Scott Elliott at 9:00pm 11/06/13 :: link
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