2014 Elections Preview: The Battle for the Senate

Monday, May 12, 2014
By: RJC Congressional Affairs Director Noah Silverman

Democrats did very well in 2008’s Senate elections – expanding their Senate margin of control from 2 (51-49) to 10 (60-40). As a result, they must defend more terrain in 2014.

Democrats are clear underdogs in races to replace retiring incumbents in West Virginia and South Dakota where Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito and former Governor Mike Rounds have emerged as prohibitive front-runners.

In Montana, Democrats tried to give their preferred candidate John Walsh a leg up by engineering the early departure of the retiring Democrat incumbent Max Baucus so that Walsh could be appointed to fill the vacancy and run as an incumbent. But presumptive Republican nominee Congressman Steve Daines, who represents the whole state in the House as At-large Representative, still runs well ahead of Walsh.

Democrats also face stiff challenges retaining incumbents in four other ‘red-state’ seats: Alaska (Mark Begich), Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu) and North Carolina (Kay Hagan).

Under the leadership of Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has worked hard to expand the playing field into “purple states.” As a result, Democrats now find that they are in dead-heat races in three seats they’d considered safe: the open seats in Iowa and Michigan where long-time incumbents Tom Harkin and Carl Levin are retiring – and the Colorado seat held by incumbent Mark Udall, who faces a vigorous challenge from Congressman Cory Gardner.

Republicans believe that they may also be able to surprise a few more ‘purple state’ incumbents in Minne- sota, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia if they end up with the right candidate and headwinds from Obamacare, failed foreign policies and a sluggish economic recovery continue to frustrate the President and his party.

With so few opportunities to go on offense, Democrats hope to steal victories by unseating Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and promoting Michelle Nunn as a centrist in the mold of her father Sam Nunn in the Georgia open-seat contest that will determine Republican Saxby Chambliss’s successor.

The Senate is currently comprised of 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. With a Democrat Vice President, Republicans will need a net gain of six seats to take control.

In most of the hotly contested states, the Democrats’ Senate leader, Harry Reid, is very unpopular. Senator Moran and his team at the NRSC believe that they stand to gain from making the elections a referendum on Reid’s increasingly erratic and autocratic methods of operating – as well as on the President’s unpopular signature achievements.

This article appeared in the March-April 2014 issue of the RJC Bulletin, our bi-monthly newsletter for contributing RJC members who are current in their dues. To receive the Bulletin, please make your membership contribution or renew your membership here.