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November 4, 2014
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2014 Senate Races

In a climate that favors Republicans, Democrats look to two states for opportunities to mitigate GOP gains in the Senate in 2014.  Only Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and the open seat here in Georgia are considered even remotely vulnerable among the fourteen Senate seats Republicans must try to hold.  Three factors give Democrats hope that they can get a rare victory in a southern state Senate race - Saxby Chambliss' retirement, a crowded, possibly contentious GOP primary field, and Democrat Michelle Nunn's candidacy.

Three congressmen, Paul Broun (CD-10), Phil Gingrey (CD-11) and Jack Kingston (CD-1), are running for the Republican nomination in the 2014 Georgia Senate Race.  Five others have also entered the race including David Perdue, a cousin of former Governor Sonny Perdue.  Third quarter 2013 FEC reports show three candidates - Kingston, Gingrey and Perdue - have over $1 mlliion on hand, and two more - Broun and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel have over $300,000.  The abundance of money portends a heated battle for the GOP nomination that could and probably will help the Democratic nominee make this a fight in the general election.

Michelle Nunn looks to be that nominee.  Her name value here provides instant recognition (she's the daughter of former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn), and Georgia Democrats are encouraged by her first-tier candidacy.  Since jumping into the race back in July, Nunn has already raised $1.7 million and has nearly $1.4 million on hand.  Several others have declared on the Democratic side, including a former Georgia state Senator, but none is expected to give Nunn a legitimate challenge in the primary.

Once the primaries are settled, we should see an interesting and competitive general election campaign.  Considering Chambliss' narrow 3-point victory here in 2008, one might be tempted to give Nunn even-money odds to capture the seat now that Chambliss is retiring.  But 2008 was a strong Democratic year with President-to-be Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.  On the flipside, take a look at 2010's Georgia Senate race, a 20-point rout by Republican Johnny Isakson, and one might want to write off any chance of a Democratic victory.  2014 will be unlike either 2008 or 2010.  Instead, with at least a moderate GOP wind blowing, the Republican nominee - despite primary bruises - should be able to claim a close but comfortable win.

Preliminary projection: Mod GOP Hold

posted by Scott Elliott at 10:54am 11/22/13 :: link
Aided in no small measure by the Tea Party, Republicans enjoyed a dominating election cycle in 2010, picking up 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats and 6 statehouses.  It was an historic election, but not a perfect one.  The GOP failed to regain the majority in the Senate though many thought the opportunities were there to accomplish that gargantuan feat.  One such missed opportunity was Vice-President Joe Biden's seat in Delaware - and the Tea Party was largely to blame.

With popular Republican Congressman Mike Castle set to run, Chris Coons was never considered much more than a sacrificial lamb for a state Democrat party who knew their chances of keeping Biden's seat were minimal at best.  Then the Tea Party swept in and helped the GOP nominate Christine O’Donnell instead.  The candidate and campaign that followed were both sad and comical at once and gifted the Democrats one less lost Senate seat.  Coons went on to win with 57% of the vote.

I'm not going to discuss whether conservatives would have been better off with another liberal Republican (Castle) in the Senate.  That discussion is beyond the scope of this preview, and I neither applaud nor condemn in this space the Tea Party for its part in O'Donnell's disastrous nomination.  However, the truth about the 2014 Delaware Senate Election remains.  Delaware is a deep blue state in which the GOP boasts little vote-getting capability in statewide elections.  As a result, incumbent Democrat Coons - not Republican Castle - will enjoy an easy path to re-election.

Preliminary projection:  Solid DEM Hold

posted by Scott Elliott at 2:29pm 11/20/13 :: link
The Rocky Mountain State is transitioning.  After the 2002 elections, Colorado was a reddish-purple battleground state with a Republican governor, two Republican senators and five Republican representatives out of seven.  George W. Bush had won the state two years earlier by almost 8 points, even while losing the national popular vote to Al Gore.  Two years later, that margin would be reduced by half - despite Bush's 2.5% victory in the national vote.  In the 2008, Barack Obama took home Colorado's electoral votes for the Democrats for the first time since Bill Clinton in 1992.  He would win here again in 2012.

In the meantime, Democrats were picking up the statehouse, both Senate seats and netting one more House seat.  The gain in the House would have been greater save for two seats the GOP reclaimed in the red tsunami year of 2010.  Colorado remains a battleground state, to be sure, but it boasts a much bluer shade of purple these days, a fact which suits Colorado's senior senator, Democrat Mark Udall, just fine.  He's up for re-election in the 2014 Colorado Senate Election.

Udall won this seat in 2008 after five terms in the House of Representatives.  Though Colorado's battleground status denies him the prospect of a cake walk to a second term, he begins this cycle with the clear upper hand.  Several Republicans, including three Colorado state legislators and Ken Buck, the 2010 GOP Senate nominee, have decided to run against him.  But none appears, at least at the moment, to be the kind of first-tier candidate to seriously threaten the incumbent.

Preliminary projection: Mod DEM Hold

posted by Scott Elliott at 3:47pm 11/18/13 :: link
Like the Alaska senate election I looked at earlier today, the 2014 Arkansas senate race features a vulnerable Democratic incumbent named Mark seeking re-election in a very Republican state.  But there are plenty of differences as well.

First, the incumbent, Democrat Mark Pryor, did not face a difficult election bid in 2008 as Alaska Senator Mark Begich did.  In fact, Pryor didn't even draw a GOP opponent in his first re-election bid six years ago, an ironic peculiarity in a state that voted for McCain in 2008 by 20% over Obama and for Romney by 24% in 2012.  Second, Arkansas Republicans are not facing a contentious primary battle.  Republican Congressman Tom Cotton, a freshman in the House, enjoys friendly relations with both the Tea Party and the GOP establishment, somewhat of a rarity in today's conservative circles.  Perhaps as a result of his universal acceptability within the party, Cotton's path to the nomination is clear.

With Cotton already the GOP nominee-apparent, we can preview this race strictly from the general election perspective.  Pryor's re-election six years ago with nearly 80% of the vote by no means affords him another easy go of it this cycle.  Arkansas has been moving abruptly to the right in recent elections and the 2014 elections here should be another step in that direction.  In Cotton, Pryor will draw a very conservative opponent who would be less formidable in a less crimson state.  The incumbent, in his own right, however, has shown himself to be one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate.

Unfortunately, while trying to navigate the conservative waters of Arkansas as a Democrat, he nevertheless has votes on his record that Republicans will use against him during the 2014 Arkansas senate campaign.  Votes for health care reform, the stimulus package, TARP funds, raising the debt ceiling, as well as reform to financial services and immigration, do not sit well with most Arkansans and could be his demise come next November.

On the other hand, Cotton is conservative enough that Democrats will try to peg him as too conservative for Arkansas.  That task might have been easier a couple decades ago.  Until recently, the Natural State, as Arkansas is known, resisted the rightward transformation of its southern state brethren that began as far back as the 1970's.  However, it caught up over the last 10 years - and in a big way.

Since 1992, Arkansas has moved more to the right in presidential elections than any other state.  The following table shows just how drastic the shift has been.

Arkansas Presidential Results, 1992-2012
Year Republican Democrat Result
1992 Bush Sr. Clinton Clinton +17.73
1996 Dole Clinton Clinton +16.94
2000 Bush Jr. Gore Bush Jr. +5.45
2004 Bush Jr. Gore Bush Jr. +9.76
2008 McCain Obama McCain +19.86
2012 Romney Obama Romney +23.69
To be sure, former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton's presence on the ballot in 1992 and 1996 skewed the earlier movement somewhat, but it is clear the trend has not been solely due to his retirement.  This reddening political climate is what Pryor faces as he tries to win a third term in the Senate.  My hunch, one year out, is that his quest will come up just short.

Preliminary projection:  Weak GOP Gain

posted by Scott Elliott at 5:07pm 11/14/13 :: link
First-term Senator Mark Begich, former Democratic Mayor of Anchorage, won election to the Senate six years ago against embattled Republican incumbent Ted Stevens.  He received just 48% of the vote that year and likely would not have beaten a scandal-free GOP opponent.  That said, Begich has done a good job of engineering a moderate voting record in this very red state, and while he is quite vulnerable in his first re-election bid, the outcome of the 2014 Alaska senate race may hinge on who Republicans choose to run against him.

Two men are currently favored to contend for that privilege.  Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 Senate candidate Joe Miller are both running.  If you recall, Miller burst onto the scene in 2010 by riding a Tea Party wave to the Republican nomination, defeating sitting Senator Lisa Murkowski.  Unbowed, Murkowski exacted revenge by running, and winning, with a well-funded write-in campaign.  Now, four years later, Miller is competing again, and his staunch Tea Party stances on taxes and the size of government, among other conservative issues, will once again play well in the Alaska senate GOP primary.

However, Lt. Gov. Treadwell hopes Alaskan Republicans will view him as the better choice to challenge Begich.  In 2010, Treadwell teamed up with Governor Sean Parnell after his Republican primary victory, and the pair went on to win the 2010 general election by over 20 percentage points.  This time around, Treadwell looks to earn a ticket to Washington.  His brand of conservatism may not be as staunch as Miller's, but neither does it come in as controversial a persona.

The Alaska Senate Election, 2014 edition, will start out with a slight advantage for Begich if Miller triumphs in the primary.  A Treadwell nomination, on the other hand, will land this race squarely in the toss-up category.  Either way, in a state that gave President Obama just 43% of the vote in 2012 and saw two Republican candidates (Murkowski and Miller) get 75% of the vote in the 2010 Senate race, Begich's designation as one of the most vulnerable senators this cycle is well-deserved.

There is a 500-lb gorilla in the room with this race.  That is, of course, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's potential run for this Senate seat.  Although I don't expect her to go for it, a Palin campaign would shake things up drastically.  We'll need to revisit this preview should she enter.

Preliminary projection: Weak DEM Hold

posted by Scott Elliott at 10:44am 11/14/13 :: link
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions took 63% of the Alabama vote last time he was up for re-election.  President Obama took just 39% of it in 2012.  When it comes to the outcome of the 2014 senate election in Alabama, that's "'nuff said."  As we've seen already, there will be plenty of competitive races in the Senate this cycle.  The battle for the Heart of Dixie won't be one of them.

Even if Democrats were to entice an Alabama heavyweight such as Bobby Bright, a former congressman and Montgomery mayor, or House Minority Leader Craig Ford to run, Sessions' victory here would not be threatened.  And since it is unlikely that either man will jump in the race, Sessions should enjoy a massive landslide on his way to a fourth term.

Preliminary projection:  Solid GOP Hold

posted by Scott Elliott at 7:26pm 11/12/13 :: link
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

Filed under:  2014 Senate Races 
posted by Scott Elliott at 9:00pm 11/06/13 :: link
Projection Scorecard
Senate
Democrats
52   -1
Republicans
46   +1
Independents
2
House
Republicans
234
Democrats
201
Governors
Republicans
29
Democrats
21
These numbers are preliminary and reflect only races previewed here on EP.
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Special Thanks To:
Charlie Cook, Cook Political
Dave Leip, U.S. Election Atlas
David Wissing, The Hedgehog Report
Larry Sabato, Crystal Ball
Richard & Tony, The Green Papers
The folks at RealClearPolitics
The Rothenberg Political Report
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