As the 2014 Senate elections draw closer, it’s clear that, thanks partially to the Tea Party and partially to other factors, Republicans’ dreams of retaking the Senate next year are pure moonshine, just like I have said previously. (Note to all readers: take seriously what I write. I am seldom wrong.)
Many Republicans and even many independent analysts delude themselves that Republicans can pick-up at least 6 Senate seats from supposedly “vulnerable” Democratic incumbents running in “red” states. But as we shall see, those seats aren’t so red, those Democratic incumbents aren’t so vulnerable, and defeating an incumbent – or even wrestling a Senate seat from a retiring Senator’s party – is very hard and seldom happens.
In the last 14 years (i.e. in the Senate elections since and including those of 2000), incumbent Senators running for reelection won in more than 80% of cases. That means an incumbent Senator has an least least 80% chance of winning reelection. But even if an incumbent retires, his party has an almost 66% chance of retaining his seat: in the 47 “open seat” Senate elections since 2000, not counting those triggered by death or resignation, the retiring Senator’s party held the seat in 30 elections, i.e. almost 66%.
In 2014, all election predictors will likely be proven wrong, except one: incumbents usually win.
It’s clear that the only Senate seats Republicans have a realistic chance of picking up are those in WV, SD, MT, AK, AR, and MI. While that is 6 seats in total – the GOP is highly unlikely to win all of them, and can win them only if it nominates the right candidates AND they overtake their Democratic rivals AND of the state of the country (including the economy and Obama’s popularity) are bad in 2014. And Republicans may very well lose a seat in Georgia.
Let’s look at each state which is, or at least was, realistically in play.
In Iowa, a grand opportunity to win a seat which retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D) plans to vacate has been squandered. Rep. Tom Latham, a good and electable conservative who represents most of Iowa’s 99 counties, has decided against getting into a primary fight with fellow Republican Steve King, who has never represented anything beyond his deeply-red district. King is an extremist social conservative and a firebreather in the mold of Todd Akin (whom he defended last year). Polls show that he would quite literally be trashed by the Democratic nominee-in-waiting Bruce Brayley.
In Georgia, Republicans have likewise chased out staunch, but electable conservative Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Who are the leading Republican contenders to replace him? Two firebreathers: Rep. Phil Gingrey, who defended Todd Akin last year, and Rep. Paul Broun, who says that the evolution theory and Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell”. Remember: Claire McCaskill was projected by polls to lose the 2012 MO Senate election miserably… until Todd Akin won the GOP primary and opened his mouth about abortion. Republicans’ only hope of retaining this seat is blocking Gingrey and Broun from winning the GOP nomination and praying that Max Cleland does not run or win the Dem nomination, because if he does, he’ll win easily.
In North Carolina, the incumbent Senator, Kay Hagan, while not being well-known and not having a high job approval rating, still leads all potential Republican challengers by a margin of at least 10 pp. Moreover, there are so many potential GOP candidates there that NC Republicans may get into a nasty primary fight, which would only benefit Hagan. In any event, Hagan is virtually guaranteed reelection with that kind of lead over all potential GOP challengers.
In Louisiana, likewise, incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu has a 9 pp lead over all potential GOP challengers, and has outraised the best-funded of them, Rep. Bill Cassidy, by $500,000. And Landrieu is the incumbent Senator, for goodness sake! This seat is SAFELY DEMOCRATIC.
In Michigan, incumbent Sen. Carl Levin has just announced he’s retiring. But whether Republicans can snatch this seat depends on whom they nominate. If it’s someone popular, such as Rep. Mike Rogers (the chairman of the House Intel Committee) or a Romney family member, they have a realistic chance (Rogers trails the virtually certain Dem nominee, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, by only 3 pp). If it’s a libertarian nut like Rep. Justin Amash, who has never won anything beyond his gerrymandered district, another winnable seat will be thrown away.
In Arkansas, incumbent Senator Mark Pryor won 80% of the vote during his last election, in 2008. That was a very Democratic year, and Republicans might still find a credible challenger for him – like conservative Rep. Tom Cotton – but Pryor is an incumbent, and that alone gives him a huge headstart. Besides, some potential Republican candidates have already refused to challenge Pryor.
In New Hampshire, incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen has only $300,000 cash on hand, but leads a “Generic Republican” and former Sen. John Sununu by wide margins, and Republicans don’t have a deep bench in NH, so this seat is SAFELY DEMOCRATIC.
In Montana, incumbent Senator Max Baucus is likely to lose to fellow Democrat Brian Schweitzer, who himself will be an even stronger general election candidate than Baucus would be – and the only Republican who can defeat Schweitzer is Marc Racicot. Even Racicot leads Schweitzer in polls by only 1 pp, and he hasn’t even said yet whether he’s going to run.
In Alaska, Republicans theoretically have a deep bench, but the best potential candidate – Gov. Sean Parnell – has instead decided to run for reelection in 2014. Still, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell might still defeat incumbent Sen. Mark Begich – if he closes the current 4 pp gap in the polls, outraises Begich, and does not face a primary rival.
The only seats Republicans currently have a realistic chance of winning in 2014 are those in WV and SD, currently held by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Tim Johnson, who has not yet announced what he’ll do.
But two seats are not even close to enough to retake the Senate. Republicans need six.
That is why, as I have said, retaking the Senate in 2014 is pure moonshine.