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How Democrats Could Maintain Senate Control

McClatchy Tribune News Service Memo Pad Politics

How Democrats Could Maintain Senate Control


By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — A few weeks ago I wrote Senate Republicans would gain at least seven seats, even though the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings showed a likely Republican gain of five to eight seats.

That expectation was based on national survey results showing the president extremely unpopular and voters unhappy with the direction of the country, as well as state polling that showed Democratic incumbents well below the critical 50 percent threshold in ballot tests against their GOP opponents.

My admission shouldn’t have been all that startling. After all, Mitt Romney carried seven states where Democrats are defending Senate seats, and in this era of declining ticket-splitting, it wouldn’t be surprising for anti-Obama voters to vote against the Senate nominees of the president’s party.

Indeed, midterm electoral history would suggest Democrats have an uphill battle to hold onto the Senate.

But, as I pointed out in the column, with only three Democratic Senate seats in the bag for GOP — South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana — Republicans can’t yet be certain they will net the six Senate seats they need for a majority in the next Congress.

So what could/would cause me to change my expectations over the next month? How could Democrats alter the election’s trajectory?

First, Democrats still may be able to localize elections in a few states — the most likely prospects are North Carolina and Alaska, which were carried by Romney, and two swing states won by President Barack Obama, Iowa and Colorado. Doing so would inoculate the Democratic nominees (three incumbents and one open seat hopeful) from Obama’s near-toxic political standing.

Democrats certainly have lowered the boom on North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Colorado’s Cory Gardner, and it isn’t unreasonable to believe that they can hold all four seats by discrediting the GOP nominees.

But, as I previously noted, plenty of Republicans who lost in 2006 and Democrats who lost in 2010 tried that strategy — unsuccessfully. So while it isn’t impossible to localize a race, the broad national mood and the states in play combine to make that a tough task. And the president’s recent assertion that while he isn’t on the ballot next month his policies are only makes localizing more difficult for Democrats.

Second, Democrats may be able to register and turn out additional voters, who could change the arithmetic of the election.

I have been assuming a 2014 electorate that looks more like the last midterm electorate than either of the past two presidential electorates. The 2010 electorate was much older and whiter than the 2008 and 2012 electorates, and there is no reason to believe that Democrats won’t suffer again from this year’s midterm electorate.

But Democrats are making an effort to register African-American voters in a number of states, mobilize Democratic voters in Alaska’s remote villages, and turn out both younger voters and reliable Democratic voters who in the past sat out midterm elections. If they can change the electorate, they can change their chances of holding on to a handful of states that I am expecting them to lose.

As I wrote in mid-April, it’s hard to quantify the effectiveness of the Democrats’ ground game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a significant impact in November. Still, given the president’s problems and signs of lower Democratic enthusiasm, it’s difficult to imagine widespread sufficient Democratic turnout gains.

Third, the Democrats’ money advantage could help limit GOP gains to five seats or fewer, keeping the Senate in Democratic hands for the president’s final two years.

“We have been waiting for our big donors to come into (competitive) races, but I’m starting to think that they aren’t going to come,” said one worried Republican consultant to me recently.

The veteran insider fears the party’s hype about winning the Senate in 2010 and 2012 had turned major GOP donors into skeptics about 2014 as well.

Campaigns and outside groups generally seem to be awash in money these days, but some GOP insiders are particularly worried about Democratic spending in North Carolina making it easier for Democrats to squeeze out a narrow victory.

Finally, news is always a wild card. Some event could raise questions about the Republican Party, change the election’s narrative or cause the country, or at least Democrats, to rally around the president. The beheadings by ISIS and the president’s decision to bomb the group’s forces in Iraq and Syria may help Obama’s numbers inch up, but any electoral impact would likely be negligible.

Obviously, a significant improvement in the president’s job approval ratings could change the national dynamic and improve the chances of a few endangered Democratic senators and Senate candidates.

Every election involves some tension between national and state forces. National factors look quite strong to me now, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have a different view in three weeks.

At this point, however, with Election Day fast approaching, I remain where I was a month ago. I still don’t like where many Democratic Senate nominees are now positioned.

Photo: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. TZToronto October 7, 2014

    The bottom line is that it makes no sense to vote for Republicans in the hope that they’ll gain a Senate majority. Unless they have enough votes to override a Presidential veto, a dual majority, Senate and House, for the GOP will accomplish nothing. Of course, a majority in the Senate will almost inevitably result in an attempt to impeach President Obama for . . . something, but impeachment will be a non-starter in the Senate since Republicans will not have enough votes to convict. (Will a Republican Senate majority leader want to vote on conviction knowing that the vote fail?) So assume that literally nothing will get done if Congress is controlled by the Republicans. On the other hand, nothing will get done even if the Democrats retain a majority in the Senate. We can only hope that enough people will get sufficiently fed up with GOP obstructionism that they’ll vote overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2016–but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

    1. Faraday_Cat October 7, 2014

      I think that if Republicans take the Senate, and as long as Obama clearly states his reason(s) for any veto of bills coming to his desk (which we know will be extreme and/or have poison pills), the chances of a sweep in 2016 go way up…because at that point, the Republicans will have to own nothing (or worse, bad things) happening between 2014 and 2016.

    2. kenndeb October 8, 2014

      Isn’t it better to obstruct than to allow an agenda bent on the destruction of America?

      1. TZToronto October 8, 2014

        Well, let’s see. What is this destructive agenda of which you speak? Perhaps it’s the ACA, which now gives previously uninsured people the health care they thought they’d never have? Perhaps it’s bringing the DJA to a new historic high after the calamitous drop at the end of Bush II’s stint at the helm. Maybe it’s that horrible 5.9% unemployment rate. Maybe it’s saving the U.S. automobile industry from total collapse. Oh, I know. It’s promoting Sharia law! Somehow I missed that since I don’t watch Fox News. . . . No, it’s Republican obstructionism that’s kept President Obama from doing an even better job than he has. The main thing I’m not so happy with is that President Obama’s Justice Department hasn’t tried to prosecute the fat cats (and their underlings) who created the Great Recession. These folks should be rotting in prison.

        1. kenndeb October 9, 2014

          Aren’t you Canadian? What business is it of yours what happens in a country that you are not part of?

          1. TZToronto October 9, 2014


          2. kenndeb October 9, 2014

            In that case, I apologize. You have every right to be as brainwashed by the liberals as much as you want. I always hate to see someone half a world away commenting on how we do things here, It really is none of their business.

          3. TZToronto October 9, 2014

            I do my best to take part in the brainwashing, but yours seems to be inaccessible.

          4. kenndeb October 9, 2014

            LOL. Now that is funny. Touché.

  2. Nathan Jessup October 8, 2014

    Certainly, today’s liberalism is impelled by the same forces as its marxist, socialist, and communist ancestors.

  3. Whatmeworry October 8, 2014

    In the waning days of Oct the Dem’s can still salvage victory by impeaching Obama

  4. Gavrila Derzhavin October 14, 2014

    For all intents and purposes, today’s liberalism is a primitive, empty, counter-Christian religion.


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