The Fix’s top 10 Senate races of 2014

September 20, 2013

Welcome to the calm before the storm.

A little more than a year out from the 2014 midterm elections, both Senate Democrats and Republicans believe the majority is within their grasp. And across the map, things have held pretty steady in recent weeks, with not a lot of movement in our ranking of the top 10 races.

Odds are that things will remain pretty static for a while. Why? Because many of the recruiting and retirement questions that were responsible for reordering the races this year have been answered. The match-ups are growing clearer. And barring unexpected news, it's clear which races will decide which party is celebrating next November, and which one is shaking its collective head.

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Below is out latest rundown of the top 10 races. South Dakota replaces West Virginia in the top spot following Secretary of State Natalie Tennant breathing a little life into Democrats' chances in the Mountain State. As always, No. 1 is most likely to flip.

To the Line!

10. Georgia (Republican-controlled) and Michigan (Democratic-controlled) (tie): We’re putting Michigan back into a tie with Georgia at No. 10 because Republicans have, for the time being, avoided a serious primary. Decisions by Rep. Justin Amash and Oakland County judge Kim Small not to run mean former secretary of state Terri Lynn Land still has a clear path to the GOP nomination. (Previous rankings: 10 and N/A)

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa). (Charlie Neibergall, File/Associated Press)
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa). (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

9. Iowa (D): Call it the "tale of two fields" campaign. On the Democratic side, the party has lined up squarely behind Rep. Bruce Braley, who continues to stockpile resources ahead of the general election. On the Republican side, it's anyone's guess who among a crowded field of aspirants will win the nomination. Conservative activist and failed gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats and retired energy company chief executive Mark Jacobs might join the field that already includes state Sen. Joni Ernst; David Young, a former chief of staff to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa); former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker; and former conservative radio host Sam Clovis. (Previous ranking: 9)

8. North Carolina (D): State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) had a rough start to his campaign, but he got a dose of good news last week when it was announced that Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) would host a fundraiser for him — a fundraiser that will be attended by two other GOP senators. It's not an official endorsement from Burr, but it is a step forward for a guy who's still trying to avoid a primary. State Senate President Phil Berger (R), meanwhile, will announce his intentions Monday. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) awaits in the general election. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. Kentucky (R): Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) has a full plate to deal with: a capable Democratic contender, a primary challenger who isn't letting up, and a Senate Republican Conference to lead through tough debates that will bring McConnell criticism from one side or the other no matter what positions he stakes out. Still, McConnell's penchant for playing strong offense in campaigns means he's going to put up a serious fight in this one, leading us to believe it will be one of the most interesting races to watch. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Alaska (D): State Department of Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan resigned last week and is expected to soon enter the GOP primary, joining Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 nominee Joe Miller. Sullivan's resignation also happened to come on the same day that Treadwell officially launched his campaign. Treadwell later said that Sullivan's candidacy would help Miller, and we tend to agree. The fact is that, the more crowded the GOP primary is, the better chance the unpopular Miller has to win. And if he somehow nabs the GOP nomination again, Sen. Mark Begich (D) will quickly become a favorite for reelection. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Louisiana (D): Two bits of news in this race: First, a poll commissioned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee last month showed Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) leading Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) 45-41. Second, this week it was revealed that Cassidy once contributed to Landrieu's campaign, in 2002. Such things generally aren't game-changers, but Democrats can throw it back in his face whenever he criticizes Landrieu. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Arkansas (D): The recent debate over Syria created an interesting dynamic in this race: Sen. Mark Pryor (D), going against President Obama, said he would oppose military action. Rep. Tom Cotton (R), an Iraq war veteran, said he would support it, going against the grain of many in his own party. For Pryor, finding distance from Obama (who is unpopular in Arkansas) and localizing the campaign is going to have to be a mantra for survival. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Montana (D): Democrats need to find a candidate to have a fighting chance here. Their task didn't get any easier when potential recruit and Lt. Gov. John Walsh publicly "liked" a racy Facebook page. (Those close to him say it was unintentional.) Meanwhile, over on the Republican side, the big question remains whether Rep. Steve Daines will run. The bottom line is that Montana remains one of the GOP's best pickup opportunities of the cycle. But recall that Democrats scored an unlikely 2012 victory here. Republicans better hope that whomever they nominate learned a thing or two about what not to do from watching then-Rep. Denny Rehberg lose last year. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. West Virginia (D): Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) announced this week that she will run for retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller's (D) seat — a big break for Democrats, who were running out of options when it came to recruiting. Tennant has a solid profile and has won two statewide races. But she ran a disappointing third in the 2011 governor's race, and this remains a red state at the federal level. She'll need to run strong and hope Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) stumbles. (Previous ranking: 1)

Former South Dakota governor Mike Rounds (R). (Chet BrokawAssociated Press)
Former South Dakota governor Mike Rounds (R). (Chet Brokaw/Associated Press)

1. South Dakota (D): Because of Tennant, South Dakota moves back to the top as the race most likely to flip party control. Former governor Mike Rounds remains (R) in solid shape, Democrat Rick Weiland remains big-time underdog, and the state has a pretty very conservative lean. That tells you about all you need to know. (Previous ranking: 2)

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Aaron Blake | September 20, 2013