Republicans, albeit somewhat early, are increasingly confident about their 2014 prospects. This is not unreasonable given 10 factors:
1. In the House, Democratic retirements have given the GOP openings in North Carolina’s 7th, Utah’s 4th, New York’s 21st and Maine’s 2nd districts. By contrast in the Virginia 10th, where Frank Wolf is retiring, state Del. Barbara Comstock (R-Fairfax) is off to a strong start and has cleared the field of far-right opponents, allowing her to run a center-right campaign that won’t put off independents and Democrats.
2. Progress on immigration and the passage of a budget will help the GOP defuse the Democrats’ accusations they are intransigent and anti-immigrant.
3. Obamacare continues to be a festering wound for Democrats. A program that at best only shuffles people from insurance they liked to the exchanges and may require a significant bailout of insurance companies is ripe for attack. As libertarian Megan McArdle put it, “The law is unpopular, not only with voters, but also apparently with the consumers who are supposed to buy insurance. The political forces that were supposed to guarantee its survival look weaker by the day. The Barack Obama administration is in emergency mode, pasting over political problems with administrative fixes of dubious legality, just to ensure the law’s bare survival — which is now their incredibly low bar for ‘success.’ Although the fixes may solve the short-term political problems, however, they destabilize the markets, which also need to work to ensure the law’s survival. The president is destroying his own law in order to save it.”
4. None of the far-right extremists backed by outfits such as the Senate Conservatives Fund has caught on, leaving mainstream Republicans (e.g. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas) in good shape to hold the GOP seats.
5. Meanwhile, unlike 2010 and 2012, the ranks of GOP challengers to Senate incumbents are being filled with smart, capable candidates who can pick up previously held Democratic seats where incumbents are retiring (e.g. Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia) and bang the nail in the coffin of weak Senate incumbents such as Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. Larry Sabato has moved North Carolina and Louisiana to “toss up” and Arkansas to “lean Republican” while New Hampshire moves from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic” with the probable entry of Scott Brown.
6. The Senate map is continually expanding for the GOP, putting in play seats in Iowa, Virginia, Michigan and Colorado, which previously were thought to be easy holds for Democrats.
7. The president’s approval ratings stink, making him an undesirable campaigner for Dems in red and purple states and a weight around the necks of most every Democrat on the ballot.
8. Sen. Harry Reid’s filibuster stunt removed the irritant of “obstruction” on presidential nominees. Republicans have adopted a “throw me in the briar patch” mind-set, looking to turn the tables and/or expand filibuster “reform” if the Democrats go into the Senate minority.
9. Despite some economic rebound, an overwhelming percentage of Americans still feel as if they are in a recession. It is tough to argue with voters who are resistant to being told they should appreciate the swell job Democrats have done on the economy. Moreover, more voters now hold Obama responsible for the economic doldrums.
10. Democrats are down in the dumps. Without Obama at the top of the ticket and a single figure to vilify (as they did to Mitt Romney in 2012), turnout is problematic for Democrats. Meanwhile, Republican are increasingly optimistic that they have the Democrats on the run. They understand all too well that a big win in 2014 would deal a blow to Obama’s second-term agenda (to the extent he has one) and lay the ground for a 2016 victory.