The Intersection: May 2014

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2014 Elections– Senate Dems Fighting to Defend Lots of Red Turf

It is hard to imagine, especially given the brutally long, cold winter we just seemingly got past, but Election Day and that late fall chill that comes with it is a mere 179 days away.

This year there are some interesting gubernatorial races and there are always enough (20 to 30) competitive U.S. House seats to keep scores of political consultants well-paid, but ultimately the House is highly unlikely to change hands to Democratic control.

That leaves the U.S. Senate where journalists, the pundit class, shoe-leather lobbyists, public affairs professionals and political nerds alike will be training their eyes on the ten or twelve key races right up until and potentially late into the night of, November 4.

The Democrats currently hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate which means Republicans need a net gain of 6 seats to take control of the world’s most deliberative body (others have alternate descriptions of the Senate but those are better left unsaid as this is a family newsletter).

Six seats may sound like a lot in one election cycle, but most observers already consider three seats — those in South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana, all currently held by Democrat Senators,  as all but locks to switch over to Republican hands come November.

And nationally, President Obama and Democrats are struggling with independent voters with whom the very control of the Senate may rest.

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that Democrats continue to approve of President Obama (76% approve), but independents (only 37% approve) did not.  And while 60 percent of Democrats said the economy was either “fairly good” or “very good,” only 33% of independents felt the same way.  In that same survey, when independents were asked whether each Party has “the same priorities for the country as you have,” 35% of respondents said the Republican Party does, while only 30% agreed that the Democratic Party does.

According to the Rothenberg Report …

“ … the last time independents looked that much like Republicans was during the 2010 midterm cycle, and they behaved like Republicans. That year, independents voted for Republican House candidates by a whopping 56 percent to 37 percent — a GOP advantage of 19 points.”

The math is even more encouraging for Republican prospects of taking control of the Senate when one considers that in 2012, during his solid reelection victory, President Obama didn’t reach 42% of the vote in six key states  — Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

That leaves the GOP with the manageable challenge of picking up 3 seats, in addition to the 3 mentioned previously, out of a field of 7 competitive races (five of which are currently held by Democrats and two by Republicans).

First, Republicans must defend the turf of two competitive Senate seats that are currently in Republican hands.

Georgia (open seat):  Michelle Nunn (D) vs. Field.  Among the field of Republican candidates, most foresee a runoff between Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue.  Nunn is a recognized and respected name in Georgia and she is raising a lot of money (she raised an impressive $2.4MM in the 1st quarter), but Georgia remains a very red state (President Obama received 45% in the Peach State during his 2012 reelection) and she is still considered an underdog at this point.  – Lean GOP

Kentucky: Incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (expected to win primary) vs. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).  Grimes has successfully been elected statewide and, by all accounts, is a strong candidate.  She is also raising money as her campaign brought in a very impressive $2.7MM in the 1st Quarter, actually besting Senator McConnell. That said, McConnell is a Kentucky institution, has a strong team around him, will be able to raise plenty of his own money and is used to (even enjoys?) these tough campaigns. Senator McConnell won his last race here in 2008 with 53% of the vote, while President Obama got 38% in the Blue Grass State during his 2012 reelection.  – Lean GOP

Now, here’s a quick look at the top 5 seats held by Democrats that Republicans have an opportunity to pick up, each with a (very early) handicap of each race.

Alaska: Incumbent Senator Mark Begich (D) vs. Dan Sullivan (R).  Sullivan is gaining momentum and traction and has outraised Begich in two consecutive quarters.  Senator Begich won his last race here in 2008 with 48% of the vote, while President Obama got 41% in the Last Frontier during his 2012 reelection.  Given Sullivan’s momentum and the electorate of Alaska (deep red), this will be a tough one for Begich to hold onto.  If the Republicans take control of the Senate in November, expect Alaska to be one of the first dominoes to fall. – Lean GOP

Arkansas: Incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) vs. Rep. Tom Cotton (R).  Cotton is one of the GOP’s strongest recruits this cycle.  He is an Army veteran who served a tour in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a Harvard Law School graduate and his conservative record fits this deeply red state.  (President Obama got 37% in the Razorback State in 2012).  Cotton also outraised Senator Pryor last quarter.  Senator Pryor won his last race here in 2008 with 80% of the vote but was essentially unopposed.  Blanche Lincoln was the last Democratic senator to run for reelection in Arkansas, and lost by 20 points.  They’ll try, but this will be a tough one for the Democrats to hold. – Lean GOP

Louisiana: Incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu (D) vs. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R):  Congressman Cassidy, the leading Republican running against Landrieu had his best fundraising quarter yet, but Landrieu still outpaced him.   Senator Landrieu won her last race here in 2008 with 52% of the vote, while President Obama got 41% in the “Sportsman’s Paradise” in 2012. Landrieu has been elected three times and that experience and her name will serve her well.  But Louisiana is a very red state and Cassidy will be well-funded and strongly supported.  Much like North Carolina, this race will be among the 3 or 4 hottest in the country and could determine control of the Senate.  – Toss Up

Michigan: Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) vs. Rep. Gary Peters (D).  Each had very comparable first quarter fundraising totals in Michigan, which is good news for the underdog Land.  Land has been elected to statewide office twice but this is at the least a solid light blue state as President Obama earned 54% of the vote in the Wolverine State during his 2012 reelection.  – Lean DEM

North Carolina: Incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D) vs. Thom Tillis (R). Tillis won the May 6 primary against seven other candidates earning the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Hagan in November.  As the Republicans battled it out, Senator Hagan raised $2.8MM during the first quarter.  Senator Hagan won her last race here in 2008 with 53% of the vote, while President Obama got 48% in the Tar Heel State in 2012.  Senator Hagan has name identification, the power of incumbency on her side and will have the strong support of national Democrats.  But the GOP believes they have recruited a strong candidate of their own who will have no shortage of financial or grassroots support.  This promises to be among the 3 or 4 most closely watched races in the country and could very well determine Senate control.  –  Toss Up

No matter where one sits on the political spectrum or why they may be watching this year’s election, there will be no shortage of interesting and important races this November.