It is fourteen months until the 2014 midterm elections. Most of the primaries have already crystallized, and in many races SuperPACs and other groups have begun spending money. So, without further ado, here are the 34 senate races that we will be looking at. Font size corresponds to relative importance. An important thing to realize is that the last time these seats were last up was in 2008, when a democratic wave swept the nation and led to a Democratic supermajority in the senate. So Democrats will mostly be playing defense next year.
The overarching theme of the election will probably be Democrats in vulnerable states such as Montana, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska asserting independence from the White House and from congressional Democratic leaders. Crossover voting will be essential for these “Red-state Democrats” to win. As such, they will be attempting to localize the races, make them about local issues that voters would be more comfortable entrusting to a Democrat. By contrast, Republicans will attempt full nationalization.
The second overarching theme will be the struggle between Establishment Republicans and Republicans whose base of support is the Tea Party. While both factions are very conservative, the Establishment wing tends to support compromise with the Democrats and President Obama. By contrast, tea partiers pursue a hard line approach. An example of an Establishment Republican would be Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, while a Tea Partier would be Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Democrats are most likely to lose between 2 and 4 seats. In order to keep control of the senate they must limit their losses to 5 seats or less.
Alabama Alaska Arkansas Colorado Delaware Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Montana Nebraska New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico North Carolina Oklahoma Oregon South Carolina South Carolina (Seat 2) South Dakota Tennessee Texas Virginia West Virginia Wyoming
I guess I’ll start with half the competitive races and finish some other time. So here goes:
Alaska- This was a classic 2008 wave pickup for the democrats. Mark Begich unseated incumbent Ted Stevens after Ted Stevens was indicted on corruption charges. Most likely Begich will be facing Anchorage mayor Mead Treadwell. From what I’ve seen, Treadwell is basically your standard GOP politician; he’s not the type to make a career-ending gaffe. Then again, that may not be so much of an advantage in the primary.
There are a couple other people running in the primary; chief among them Joe Miller, the guy so extreme he lost to a write-in candidate named MURKOWSKI. He probably has no chance of winning the primary, so we will probably be looking at a Begich-Treadwell match in the general election.
Alaska has a very strong libertarian streak, consistent with much of the west. Alaskans are for the most part tolerant of same-sex marriage, so it makes sense that both Begich and Murkowski came out in favor of same-sex marriage legalization earlier this year. However, they tend to be quite conservative on energy and economic issues. Begich is overall moderate to conservative on these issues, so he is overall a pretty good fit for the state. Alaska also tends to have a strong incumbency bias.
Optimistic Democratic scenario: Begich rides on his moderate stances and incumbency and comfortably beats Treadwell in the general.
Likely scenario: Begich has some trouble winning in a fairly red state. It’s a toss-up to the end, with a slight advantage to Begich based on incumbency.
Optimistic Republican scenario: Begich’s moderate credentials fail to win over enough republicans. He loses narrowly to Treadwell, perhaps by two to three percent.
Arkansas- Arkansas is currently home to one of my least favorite Democratic senators- Mark Pryor. He is very wishy-washy on the issues, and acts like a moderate hero on many votes. On top of which, he cannot articulate his views well, so he ends up angering both Democrats and Republicans. However, Arkansas is still willing to elect conservative Democrats, and Pryor has a lot of good will from his father, former governor David Pryor.
Pryor has drawn a fairly strong opponent in Representative Tom Cotton. Cotton seems able to unite both the establishment and tea party Republicans behind him. However, on many issues he seems hardline, and he has a checkered past, including some comments perceived as sexist.
All indications point to this race being a tossup, and both sides will be spending heavily on their respective candidates. Cotton will attempt to tie Pryor to Obama, who is insanely unpopular in Arkansas, while Pryor will paint Cotton as extremist. A wild card will be whether former president Bill Clinton will heavily campaign for Pryor.
Optimistic Democrat scenario: Pryor consolidates Clinton democrat support, and Cotton is sidelined by a gaffe on a sensitive issue. Pryor wins by a moderate amount.
Likely scenario: Pryor will see some defections of Clinton Democrats to Cotton, and Cotton manages to keep his mouth out of the papers. Pure toss-up.
Optimistic Republican scenario: Anti-Obama fervor sweeps Pryor away. Toss-up/lean R, and a Republican pickup.
Georgia- Current two-term senator Saxby Chambliss is retiring, and a this seat represents a rare possibility of a pickup for the Democrats, with the loss of incumbency advantage for the Republicans. Currently the Democratic candidate looks like it will be Michelle Nunn, daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, a beloved former Georgia senator. The GOP field currently looks like a clown car, a colloquial term for a crowded primary where no one appears to have an advantage. Among the candidates are Representatives Paul Broun (famous for saying that evolution and the big bang theory were lies “straight from the pit of hell”) and Phil Gingrey (who claimed Missouri candidate Todd Akin was right when he said that the female body can shut itself down in the case of “legitimate rape”). Also in are Representative Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.
Just the specter of Broun or Gingrey winning the primary is a boon for Democrats, since polls show that they are very unpopular in Gwinnett County, a key suburb of Atlanta that has been trending Democratic. Unfortunately, Georgia is a deeply polarized state, and an anti-Obama atmosphere could cause either to win an election. If either Handel or Gingrey wins, the Republican will be favored.
Optimistic Democratic scenario: Nunn rides on her father’s popularity and suburban dislike of either a Broun or Gingrey candidacy, and wins a narrow victory.
Likely scenario: A Broun or Gingrey candidacy results in a competitive race, though the Republican base of support in rural Georgia boosts their support, resulting in a toss-up race.
Optimistic Republican scenario: Either Kingston or Handel wins the nomination, and the Republican base remains intact, resulting in a mid single-digit win for the Republican.
That’s it for now, I will cover Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, and Louisiana in about a week.