To the dismay of Democrats, the playing field for control of the Senate has expanded beyond what even Republicans imagined would be possible. Let’s consider the total picture, and which seats are now in play.
While they won’t admit it, Democrats have all but lost Senate seats in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. Republicans recruited top candidates, and the Democrats are unlikely to spend significant money. That is in large part because there is a very good possibility they will also lose Arkansas (where incumbent Mark Pryor trails in recent polling), North Carolina (same there for Kay Hagan) and Alaska (where Dan Sullivan now seems the most capable opponent.) So stop there. If only these races go as expected and the Republicans lose no seats, then the GOP wins the Senate. It is very easy to imagine this occurring. And we haven’t yet mentioned the imperiled Mary Landrieu, who is trying to survive the association with the party of Obamacare and opposition to domestic energy production).
Take then the next level of races. Michigan is now, as one GOP operative put it, a “coin toss.” In Colorado (where mainstream Republican Cory Gardner has cleared out the primary field) and Iowa (where the trial lawyer Democrat Bruce Braley has gotten crosswise with farmers) the Democrats have hit the skids. (We’re up to 10 races in play.)
But wait. The GOP now has highly credible candidates in New Hampshire (Scott Brown) and Virginia (Ed Gillespie). They are each more than ten points behind, but both sides expect these races to close significantly. That’s twelve.
It once seemed improbably that Democrat Al Franken would be in trouble in deep blue Minnesota. It’s still a long-shot for Republicans. However, it’s not as long as it used to be. A GOP poll shows, “Only 41 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Sen. Franken, while 45 percent had an unfavorable view of him. Only 44 percent approve of the job he is doing. 54% of respondents disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, and only 38% approve. Only 40% of respondents think Al Franken deserves re-election.” It’s not likely to go to the GOP, but it’s not nutty to think it might. And in the same category, you have a highly competent female Republican doctor Monica Wehby running against Jeff Merkley in Oregon. So if you squint, the number gets to 14.
As for turf the GOP is defending, Minority (currently) Leader Mitch McConnell is way ahead of tea party crank Matt Bevin. And he’s now the hero of the First Amendment, having once more championed an assault on anti-speech campaign laws. Is Kentucky pining to send a Hollywood-backed, socially liberal Democrat to the Senate or the guy who is likely to be majority leader? Put McConnell in the safe column for now.
So the Democrats’ pick-up opportunity seems to be in Georgia. Pause. Georgia. With President Obama on the ballot and a heavy African-American turnout the Democrats still lost the state in 2012 by nearly 8 points. Yes, the “Nunn” name is solid among those voters old enough to remember Democratic candidate Michelle’s father, the former senator (who retired in 1997), but the Republicans look likely to pick a mainstream nominee. Is Georgia yearning for a Democrat to go to Washington to defend Obamacare? Not so much. (In her first ad, Nunn’s grabbing footage material of her with Bush 41, while the rest of her party still likes to trash Bush 43.)
Is the GOP going to pick up 14 seats? Almost certainly not. But think about it: If Republicans win less than half of those, they get the Senate majority. Put differently, the Dems have to win at least eight. Could some of these races go downhill for the GOP? Sure, but you have to think there are a whole lot that won’t.