Once again, the Republican Party finds itself in the unique position of taking control of the United States Senate. Of course, we said that in 2010 and again in 2012 when things looked even brighter than the 2010 GOP wave that gained control of the House. In 2012, there was an actual backslide in the minimal gains from 2010. The Republican Party somehow managed to lose quite winnable races in at least seven contests- Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin. The losses in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota were particularly egregious. It never ceases to amaze me the propensity for GOP candidates to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot by doubling down on their conservative credentials. Everyone knew that Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were staunch conservatives before their silly comments about rape in the context of abortion- a touchy subject without introducing rape into the mix. While it may be true that the comments were largely taken out of context and that they were in response to “gotcha” questions from an all-too-enabling liberal media, one would think that a candidate for the Senate would have the brain function to avoid these minefields more deftly. A “no comment” would have been better.
Each race every year has its own dynamics and 2014 will be no different. Some are specific to the state or region. For example, to read some conservative websites, Susan Collins should be taken out and tarred and feathered for her conservative record, or lack thereof. That brings me to another point. Because some conservative outlet like the Club for Growth or the American Conservative Union gives a person less than perfect scores (or even the NRA) why should this hold sway with voters? No one appointed these groups guardians of conservatism in America. Collins, a Republican, is a perfect fit for a blue state. Sometimes, you have to take the good with the “bad,” whatever “bad” is. Do I dismiss Collins because she believes in background checks for gun ownership, but she voted against Obamacare, TARP, etc. (not really sure of her actual votes, but that is not the point)? Hence, running a more staunchly conservative against a so-called moderate incumbent Republican can be a recipe for perpetual minority status in the Senate for years to come. In such a scenario, we will continuously wring our hands and ask ourselves why this happened.
If ideological purity is what the Republicans are striving for, then they may be doomed to that perpetual minority status in the Senate. The Senate is more select than the House first because there are less of them, second they run statewide, and third their powers are greater in many areas and they are more deliberative. That is the whole reason behind the six-year term instead of the continuous campaigning of House members. Additionally, the House focus is the congressional district and neighboring districts may have different needs and wants. Thus, the House is more local than the Senate. Of course, it makes perfect sense to run the most conservative candidate in the most conservative of conservative states like Nebraska or Oklahoma. It also makes perfect sense to run the most conservative candidate against an incumbent liberal Democrat in a deeply blue state like Vermont or Illinois. That is why a Joe Walsh-Dick Durbin match-up in Illinois will result in a Durbin victory, but it will be fun to watch that campaign and hopefully Walsh can ding up Durbin a little bit in the process. But, that strategy makes no sense in a open race involving a Democratic seat in a blue or purple state. Thus, the candidacies of a Mark Kirk or Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski (in Alaska) make better sense. Sure, from an ideological standpoint, none of them are the ideal conservative in the Ted Cruz/Tim Scott mold, but Kirk and Collins won and in Alaska Joe Miller was an unmitigated disaster.
As far as the Republican incumbents go, there is no reason to believe that any of those who are running in 2014 will not win reelection. This includes the ideological gamut from Tim Scott through Lamar Alexander to Susan Collins. Likewise, among the two or possibly three Republican vacancies- Georgia, Nebraska, and possibly Mississippi- the GOP candidate should also win. The only state here to watch would be Georgia and that depends on who emerges from the crowded GOP primary, how much damage is done in that primary campaign, and who emerges for the Democrats.
Among the Democratic seats held by incumbents, I believe the Republicans can knock off three- Mark Begich in Alaska, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, and either Mary Landrieu in Louisiana or Mark Pryor in Arkansas, but not both. If they do knock off both, then the Republicans happened upon some successful formula for electoral success that needs to be patented and bottled. To do so would be the cherry at the top of the sundae. So among these races, the GOP should capture three seats.
Capturing three seats simply weakens Harry Reid and the Democrats which would be a small, symbolic victory. Instead, the potential to capture control of the Senate lies in the vacant seats. Assuming Brian Schweitzer does NOT run in Montana, I believe the GOP wins Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota. If that happens and the above happens, the GOP captures the Senate. Yet, there they have very realistic chances in Iowa, assuming they ever find a candidate to coalesce around, and Michigan. Since I published the entry on the Midwest races, Terri Lynn Land has declared their candidacy in Michigan after being seriously recruited by the GOP. Who knows what the dynamics in Massachusetts will be in 2014, especially after the 2013 special election and Democratic infighting. And lest we forget, one can expect some Democratic infighting between Frank Pallone and Cory Booker in New Jersey whose case becomes even more complicated now that Frank Lautenberg has passed away. Regardless, at a minimum, it looks as if the Republicans have a very good chance to pick up the requisite six seats to render Harry “Put Me to Sleep” Reid minority leader. It would be interesting, assuming this happens, what Mr. Reid and company think about filibuster reform then.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the people who have read and commented on this series. At some points, my analysis was described as “pessimistic.” Actually, it is not, but it is guardedly optimistic that the Republican Party will gain control of the Senate in 2014.