Assessing the 2014 Senate Races- Part 2: The Northeast and South
Starting in the Northeast, let’s dispatch with the easy states. Democratic incumbent Jack Reed is safe for reelection in Rhode Island. In polling against hypothetical opponents, he comes in with no less than 60% of the vote. This will be a cakewalk for Reed. Prediction: Democratic retention.
Every so often, we hear of the possibility of a challenge from the right against the likes of Susan Collins or the now-retired Olympia Snowe in Maine. Yet, Collins is still in office and likely will be in 2015. In a poll of Maine Republicans, unlike other states, they noted they do not prefer a more conservative candidate. The race has yet to flesh out on the Democratic side, but in hypothetical match ups, Collins kills her possible opponents every time out. Prediction: Republican retention
And in Delaware, Chris Coons will run again for a full term on the Democratic side. Like Rhode Island, no Republican has stepped forward and one of the only three with any major name recognition in the state- Mike Castle- has ruled out a run. That leaves Tom Kovach and Christine O’Donnell. In a liberal state like Delaware, it is hard to see a Republican winning at this time. Prediction: Democratic retention
In New Jersey, Corey Booker will be back to run for the full 6-year term of Frank Lautenberg. Even before Lautenberg’s death, Booker was likely going to run which riled up some Democrats in Jersey. In the 2013 special election, Republican Steve Lonegan ended up with a respectable showing, but nowhere near winning. He has ruled out a 2014 run. Perhaps the only Republican with enough name recognition in the state and somewhat of a reputation is Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. However, Booker is the Democratic golden boy in Jersey and should win a 6-year term in 2014. Prediction: Democratic retention
In Massachusetts, Ed Markey won a special election to replace John Kerry who moved on to screwing up international relations. Along the way, Markey ruffled some feathers in the Bay State. Like Booker in Jersey, that should be behind him now. Still, it will be interesting to see if he draws a primary challenger. Polling by a variety of sources indicates that Markey is somewhat vulnerable and in a hypothetical match up against Scott Brown, for example, he only leads by a single point. The fact that former governor William Weld, should he run, only trails by 6 points should give Republicans at least some hope here. However, we are talking Massachusetts and a Republican victory would be an unexpected upset. Prediction: Democratic retention in a race that may just be closer than most would suspect.
In neighboring New Hampshire, Scott Brown also figures into that race as he would be eligible to run here if he so chooses. Incumbent Democrat Jean Shaheen has been wriggling to position herself away from Obamacare somewhat. You can hide only for so long. The fact is that Obamacare has hit a small population state like New Hampshire hard and everything is local in the Granite State. That spells trouble for Shaheen. With the right GOP candidate, she can be knocked off. However, that candidate has not really emerged yet. This is one to watch as 2014 wears on, but at this point…Prediction: Democratic retention.
Finally, there is West Virginia where Jay Rockefeller is retiring opening up a Democratic seat. Even before his announcement, Shelly Moore Capito announced her intentions to run. West Virginia is perhaps one of the most hostile states to Obama and has been towards Democrats in recent national elections. The Democrats thought they had their person in Natalie Tennant, a bigwig in West Virginia Democratic politics. Upon her announcement, she polled within two points of Capito. However since then, she has drifted back and Capito would defeat her by 8-10 points in a general election. Capito will draw some primary opposition and some have been coming at her from the right. Another poll of West Virginia Republicans, however, showed that they do not prefer a more conservative candidate in large droves. With that in mind…. Prediction: Republican pick-up.
And now on to the South. In Alabama, Jeff Sessions has yet to draw a primary opponent or a Democratic opponent. Given the dearth of Democratic talent in Alabama, he may just run unopposed. Even if he does run opposed, he is assured victory. Prediction: Republican retention.
Neighboring Mississippi is an interesting case as incumbent Republican Thad Cochran has yet to announce his intentions. Chris McDaniel HAS announced his candidacy. Here is the conundrum: Cochran would easily win reelection against any Democratic opponent. McDaniel, should he win or Cochran announces his retirement, would likely draw former Congressman Travis Childers into the race for the Democrats and he has some cross-over appeal. A McDaniel-Childers race would be close, but this writer believes Mississippi is red enough to send a Republican back to the Senate. Prediction: Republican retention, though the face may be different.
Mark Warner seems a shoo-in for reelection in Virginia. Thus far, no viable Republican has stepped forward, although I believe Ken Cuccinelli would be a good foe. Provided they stick to the real issues, it may even be close. However, with Warner one has to consider that there are bigger things ahead for him down the line in 2016 or 2020. And with approval ratings above 50%, he seems likely to win which may be enough to scare away any potential big name Republican. Prediction: Democratic retention
In Texas, John Cornyn will first have to survive a crowded primary that includes a bona fide Texas Tea Party activist. The most troublesome would have been Erick Wyatt, but he recently dropped out. Still, given Cornyn’s war chest, he will likely prevail in a primary. It should be noted that in a poll of Texas Republicans, 49% of respondents said they would prefer someone more conservative so there is a chance for a primary challenger to at least push Cornyn very hard. On the Democratic side, they are left with B-list actors which sort of negates their idea of turning Texas blue any time soon. Prediction: Republican retention
In South Carolina, we will have two races. Tim Scott seems a likely winner as he has no primary opposition and token Democratic opposition. Thus, he will win a full 6-year term. Incidentally, he is one of the most consistently conservative Senators. The other race involves Lindsey Graham. I am aware that many are salivating at the prospects of him losing a primary to someone more conservative and several opponents are lining up for a primary fight. South Carolina Republicans are very conservative and this should not bode well for Graham. But, thus far no one has really pulled out and presented a threat. Assuming Graham prevails, South Carolinians will bite the bullet and send him back to the Senate. Hence… Prediction: Two Republican retentions
Mark Pryor will have the fight of his political life in Arkansas. Although he currently leads in the polls against the likely Republican opponent, Tom Cotton, it is not by much. Like West Virginia, Arkansas has been drifting increasingly into the GOP column of late. The intriguing thing about Cotton is that he appeals to all segments of the GOP and if anyone can unite the Tea Party and the establishment, it is Cotton. Pryor, despite his recent re-positioning, has the albatross of Obamacare around his neck. Prediction: Republican pick up
What a difference a few months, a crashed Obamacare website and some polls makes in North Carolina. Three months ago, Hagan was crushing all hypothetical opponents. Today, she is barely leading Thom Tillis and trails Greg Bannon. Thank you Obamacare! Hagan has not been exactly eloquent in her feelings towards an unpopular law. The problem for the GOP here is getting out of the primary unscathed and united. For my money, I believe Bannon would make the better candidate as Tillis carries some ethical baggage into the race. Also, initial polling shows Bannon as the only GOP candidate beating Hagan. And the purported “blueness” of North Carolina based on the 2008 presidential vote was way overblown. If Tillis, Hagan wins. If Bannon…. Prediction: Republican pick up
Mary Landrieu was riding a wave of approval in April at 57%. Then along came Obamacare and her record on and defense of it. Today, her approval rating has dropped to 47%. That still puts her in reelection territory, but if trends are any indication, there is trouble brewing in Louisiana for the Democrats. As it stands now according to the most recent polls, she leads potential GOP opponent Rob Maness (a relative unknown) by 6 points and Congressman Bill Cassidy by 2-4 points- certainly within catching distance. The issues in Louisiana are energy and health care. On health care, Landrieu has made enough statements to create a great political attack ad. She also does not think Washington has a spending problem…seriously…she said that on the floor of the Senate. Unless Republicans shoot themselves in the feet here, Landrieu is in trouble. Expect her to bring out the “war on women/ turning back the clock on civil rights” meme to try to motivate her base in Louisiana. Based upon not shooting oneself in the foot, Prediction: Republican pick up.
In Tennessee, Lamar Alexander- one of the alleged poster boys of the GOP Establishment- will face three primary opponents including Tea Party activists Brenda Lenard and Joe Carr. A close watch on this primary will be in order, although one expects Alexander to prevail. He would then take on either Terry Adams or Larry Crimm in the general election. Crimm has run before and lost, so one suspects Tennessee Democrats will opt for Terry Adams to use the “Washington outsider” line of attack. Unlike Texas or South Carolina, 45% of Republicans polled in Tennessee prefer Alexander to a more conservative candidate. That should be enough to push him over the primary finish line and then a general election victory. Prediction: Republican retention
Then there is Kentucky where many readers here are salivating at the chance to take down Mitch McConnell. Thus far, his main primary opponent is Matt Bevin. But, he has yet to make a major dent in McConnell’s standing, but the season is still youngand there is enough to criticize McConnell. It may just be that Kentucky Republicans are going with a known entity especially considering that the Democratic opponent is Alison Lunder Grimes, the state secretary of state. In hypothetical match-ups this far out, the polls have been all over the place with one consistent fact- they are close in a Grimes-McConnell match up. In a Bevin-Grimes match up, she appears to prevail. Of course, it is a long way from Election Day 2014. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: As Minority leader in the Senate, McConnell sucks. He would likely be even “suckier” as a Majority Leader. In any case, this will be the fight of his life in both the primary and general elctions. Prediction: Really a toss up, but I think Kentucky is just red enough to send a Republican to the Senate. So… Republican retention
Finally there is Georgia where Saxby Chambliss’ retirement has created a political domino effect with three Congressmen running. All those seats are safely Republican. The problem is that the Democrats have recruited Michelle Nunn and the Nunn name resonates with Georgia voters. The Peach State is changing and may as soon as 2016 or 2020 be in play for the Democrats. That is why the GOP has got to get it right in 2014. The four GOP front runners are Karen Handel, Jack Kingston, Paul Broun, and Phil Gingrey. Gingrey is tied with Nunn while Handel and Kingston trail by 2 points and Broun by 5 points. The primary will likely produce a run-off given the names involved. This is a tough one to predict on the GOP side as the polls have been all over the place with no clear leader. Regardless, one fully expects this to be a very close general election race and being a political neophyte, expect Nunn to make some errors along the way that can exploited. Prediction: Republican retention in a very close and expensive race.
To conclude, the GOP picks up seats in West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas and possibly North Carolina and New Hampshire. New Hampshire would be icing on the cake. In addition to the three states from the Midwest and West, the GOP should gain control of the Senate in 2014. Thank you Barack Obama for Obamacare and thank you Harry Reid for the partial “nuclear option.” You have both made the task easier for Republicans come November 4, 2014.