On July 13, former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer announced he wasn’t running in the ’14 senate race. To some, Schweitzer could’ve been the first legitimate Democratic heavyweight for the 2014 cycle. He garnered 65% of the vote in his 2008 re-election campaign – and probably would’ve won the election. Mr. Schweitzer claimed that he never considered running for the open seat. As Charles S. Johnson of the Missoulian reported on July 14:
‘I’m a doer,” Schweitzer said… I’m used to being in charge of things, getting things done,” Schweitzer said. “Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate is a place where things die…He added, I love Montana. I like my life in Montana right now. I’ve had eight years of public service.’
Additionally, Schweitzer declared, “I don’t want a job where I have to wear a suit and my dog [Jag] isn’t welcome.” Then again, the former governor did have skeletons in the closet. Brad Dayspring, NRSC Communications Director, stated:
‘Just two days ago, Senate Democrats were quoted promising Brian Schweitzer tremendous resources to get in the race. We did our homework and there was a lot of rust under Schweitzer’s hood – a LOT of rust. Just as important though is that Schweitzer looked at the race and realized he couldn’t win in light of how unpopular the Democrat agenda of higher taxes, bankrupting spending, and the ObamaCare train wreck is in Montana these days. Republicans will have a great candidate to ensure the Treasure State equal representation in the Senate.’
Nevertheless, Democrats have yet to find solid candidates in any of their races for next year. Alison Lundergan Grimes, who I’ll describe as a tentative one due to her possible access to the Clinton machine, rolled out her bid with no earned media, no website, and a campaign banner from her 2011 run for Secretary of State – which could be a violation of federal campaign finance laws. This could be indicative of Grimes not wanting to run against McConnell. After all, ten other Kentucky Democrats have already abstained from the venture. Grimes possibly could’ve been dragooned to challenge the Republican incumbent. If so, it’s a sign of desperation that’s only been exacerbated by Schweitzer’s decision not to run.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post even noted how this abstention from Schweitzer was a “gift” to Republicans.
Nationally, Montana becomes the third problematic open seat for the party. In West Virginia, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) is a clear favorite, as Democrats have yet to persuade a serious candidate to run. In South Dakota, the two leading potential Democratic candidates took a pass while popular former governor Mike Rounds dodged a serious Republican primary challenge.
If you give Republicans those three open seats — they are favored at the moment, but the election remains 16 months away — they then need three more for the majority. Those pickups would almost certainly come from four seats, all of which are held by Democratic incumbents running for reelection — in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.
Of the quartet of targeted Democratic senators, Arkansas’s Mark Pryor looks to be the most vulnerable — particularly if freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R) decides to run. While Pryor is a known commodity in the Natural State, the fact that Obama won just 37 percent of the vote there in 2012 is a massive hurdle for any Democrat.
Alaska and Louisiana are not much friendlier for Democrats; Obama took 41 percent in each of those states. But a contentious Republican primary seems to be shaping up in Alaska for the right to take on Sen. Mark Begich (D), and in Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has proved she knows how to win close races, claiming reelection victories in 2002 and 2008 with 52 percent of the vote or less. In North Carolina, where Obama won in 2008 and took 48 percent in 2012, the landscape is more level for Democrats, although freshman Sen. Kay Hagan (D) is regarded by both parties as endangered.
Guy Cecil, Executive Director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, aptly noted that only three Democratic incumbents have been defeated in the last decade. However, from senate races held between 2000-2013, the Democratic incumbents knocked off were Max Cleland (D-Georgia), Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), Jean Carnahan (D- Missouri), and Russ Feingold (D- Wisconsin). Granted, Jean Carnahan’s incumbent status could be disputed since she was appointed to serve her husband’s term after he died in a plane crash during his 2000 campaign. Jean’s husband,Mel, was the former Governor of Missouri.
Nevertheless, she, along with Cleland and Daschle, were senators from states won by Romney in 2012. Wisconsin may have gone to Obama, but the state is tilting rightward. Republicans in America’s Dairyland control both houses of the state legislature, the governor’s mansion, and constitute the majority of the congressional delegation.
So, Democrats may find solace in the incumbent label to keep them safe, but it doesn’t negate the fact that virtually of their incumbents that lost hailed from red states. States that Mitt Romney won in 2012. Yet, it’s all on Republicans. Only they can mess this board game up.