Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect figure for the number of people who have enrolled for health-care insurance via HealthCare.gov.
Our long wait for a packed election year — okay, it was just a 365-day wait — will be over in less than 48 hours when we ring in 2014 and, with it, 36 gubernatorial races, 35 Senate races and dozens of potentially competitive House contests.
So, with the remaining few hours we have left in 2013, let’s make some fearless predictions about politics in 2014. (Note: Fearless does not mean foolproof. We occasionally swing and miss, so if you are on the wrong end of one of these predictions, take that caveat as some solace.)
● The Senate majority will come down to North Carolina and Louisiana. If you assume that Republicans have takeovers in South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana strongly in hand (and, at the moment, they do) and that Arkansas and Alaska are going to be very tough holds for Democrats based on the underlying demographics of the two states, then the GOP stands at a five-seat pickup. Republicans need six to retake the Senate majority, which means that they must find a way to unseat Mary Landrieu (La.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) or both.
Try this one for a delicious possibility: Republicans gain five seats on election night while no one gets 50 percent in the open primary in Louisiana on that same night. That would mean the top two vote-getters — Landrieu and probably Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) would advance to a runoff Dec. 6. That means there would be a month-long race that would decide control of the Senate for the next two years. Yes, that could happen.
●Republicans will hold the House. Democrats insist that no one knows what the electoral landscape will look like in a year’s time — and they’re right. But the past and the present argue against their picking up the 17 seats they need to win back the House majority. First, the past: In midterm elections during a president’s second term — some call it the “six-year itch” election — since 1912, the party that holds the White House has lost an average of 29 seats in the House. Democrats probably won’t lose anywhere near that many, but it would take a historic election for them to make the sort of gains they need to win the House. Now, the present: The chamber’s 435 seats have been redistricted within an inch of their partisan lives, making it very difficult — even in a wave election — for them to switch parties. (Just 77 of the 435 members who won in 2012 did so with less than 55 percent of the vote.) A narrow playing field works against Democrats.
●Obamacare will be the issue of 2014. The Obama administration unveiled new enrollment numbers Sunday, showing that 1.1 million people have signed up for insurance plans via HealthCare.gov since Oct. 1.
Those numbers are a vast improvement from the fumbles of the rollout of the Web site and may well mitigate some of the near-term issues that the White House and Democrats more generally have experienced in relation to the Affordable Care Act. But no matter how successful the law looks by November, you can be certain that Republicans will center their campaigns on opposition to the law. There are two reasons for this:
First, a midterm election is in large part about turning out your base — and no issue revs up the Republican base like health care. Eighty-eight percent of Republicans disapprove of how President Obama has handled the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, with 77 percent (!) “strongly” disapproving, in a December Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Second, the fact that Obama’s statement that “if you like your insurance, you can keep it” wound up not being true is a Republican admaker’s dream. Ending Spending, a conservative outside group, has put out ads attacking Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) over her support for the health-care law, using Obama’s words against her. “If you like your senator, you can keep her,” the narrator intones. “If not, you know what to do.” Ouch. There will be thousands more ads just like that one before the election cycle is over.