Don’t Get Too Caught Up In The Trump, Carson ‘Panic’

Don’t Get Too Caught Up In The Trump, Carson ‘Panic’

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The panic is palpable from the media and too many GOP “insiders.”

The Republican Party is going to nominate Donald Trump or Ben Carson for president, guaranteeing Barry Goldwater-style losses in the 2016 elections and threatening the Republic. Or, as The Washington Post put it on Page 1 of its Nov. 13 issue, “GOP preps panic button,” and “Party elites see doom if Trump or Carson win.”

Granted, Trump and Carson continue to do well in the polls, and Republican voters are so frustrated and angry, including with their own political leaders, that they now seem more inclined than ever to throw out the old rulebook, which places a premium on political experience, knowledge of the issues and a thoughtful, measured, mature approach if someone wants to be seen as a serious contender for president.

But before you do anything, take a deep breath. Voters have not thrown out the rulebook yet, and they may very well not do it in February or later in the nominating process.

As I have noted in the past, it’s easy to tell pollsters that you support this or that candidate in the summer or fall of an off-year. You aren’t really making a decision. You merely are telling pollsters which candidates you like at that moment — and liking what someone says or stands for six months, or even two months, before Iowa is not the same thing as deciding what you will do the night of the caucuses.

At this point in the 2008 cycle, 10 weeks before the Republican Iowa caucuses, John McCain was comfortably ahead of the GOP field according to polling back then, with Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and a strengthening Mike Huckabee fighting it out for second place. But Giuliani, Thompson and Huckabee were all in the low double-digits, while McCain was in the mid-20s to mid-30s in polling. Huckabee ended up winning by 9 points.

Ten weeks before the 2012 Iowa GOP caucuses, Herman Cain was battling with Mitt Romney for the lead in polls. A month later, Cain was toast and Newt Gingrich had a big lead in the race. Ultimately, a candidate who was in the low single digits 10 weeks before the Iowa caucuses won them (Rick Santorum).

Yes, I find it more than a little odd that Republicans have such a favorable view of both Carson and Trump at this point in the race — Carson had a 71 percent favorable rating and Trump a 69 percent favorable rating in a Nov. 4-8 ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted by Langer Research.

But Trump’s unfavorable rating is relatively high as well (29 percent, compared with 18 percent for Carson), and most Iowans have not started to firm up their decisions about who they will support when the caucuses actually roll around on Feb. 1, still 2 1/2 months away.

Just as important, let’s remember who won the last two Iowa caucuses: Santorum in 2012 and Huckabee in 2008. So even if Carson or, less likely, Trump were to finish first in Iowa, it would not necessarily mean that he was headed to Cleveland to be the GOP nominee. Remember, Ronald Reagan lost the Iowa Republican caucuses in 1980.

As we all know, 25 percent of the vote can win the Iowa caucuses, but the eventual nominee will need to rally at least half of Republicans around his or her candidacy.

Of course, this time could be different. We always say that. And, of course, it’s possible that 2016 is 1964.

But don’t get too caught up in all of the hype about Trump and Carson, as even too many in the media are doing. Of course, the over-the-top stories in the media are understandable. After all, “GOP preps panic button” is a heck of a lot more compelling headline than “It’s still 10 weeks till Iowa,” isn’t it?

Trump’s latest eruption, at the end of last week, may have been amusing to some and solidified his reputation as a tough-talker, but it isn’t likely to help his long-term prospects in the Republican race.

As I wrote in a reassessment of Trump in early September, he has remained a factor in the Republican race. But it is still more likely than not that when Republican caucus-goers really get down to picking a candidate, Trump’s increasingly outlandish comments will make him look less presidential and less appealing.

©2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump speaks as rival candidate Dr. Ben Carson (R) looks on at the debate held by Fox Business Network for the top 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Does Voter Anger Explain The Success Of Presidential Outsiders?

Does Voter Anger Explain The Success Of Presidential Outsiders?

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Those of us who report on and analyze politics for a living have been talking ad nauseam about voters’ frustration and anger.

It’s the hot topic that presumably explains Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders, as well as the problems that political veterans like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have encountered.

But voter dissatisfaction isn’t new. The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll to show more respondents saying things are headed in the right direction rather than on the wrong track was conducted in January 2004, more than a decade ago.

In fact, voters’ dissatisfaction with the direction of the country probably explains why we had “change” elections in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2014, with the incumbent president’s party punished by voters.

Not surprisingly given the electorate’s mood, pro-change and anti-establishment candidates have enjoyed some success, albeit sometimes brief, over the past dozen years, including Howard Dean, Herman Cain and dozens of tea party-backed congressional candidates.

But many establishment candidates have also won. John McCain and Mitt Romney were backed by the GOP establishment in 2008 and 2012, and Barack Obama was an incumbent who faced no challenge in his bid for re-nomination.

The long, choppy recovery that began after the 2008 recession and developing foreign policy and national security challenges undoubtedly have contributed to the public’s sour mood, as has the journalistic narrative for years about partisanship and gridlock in Washington, D.C.

So if the public has soured on politics, politicians and Washington, D.C., for a number of years now, why have Americans suddenly turned to the current crop of outsiders?

After all, the current poll numbers aren’t close to being records. We’ve seen moments of greater dissatisfaction. An Oct. 17-20, 2008, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found only 12 percent of respondents saying the country was headed in the right direction, compared with 78 percent who said wrong track. The right direction numbers also reached the teens in the second half of 2011 (19 percent in August and November, and 17 percent in October), and October 2013 (14 percent), during the government shutdown.

Of course, the sheer length of time that the public has been unhappy could well have created such frustration and such a high level of exasperation with officeholders that some voters have turned to more extreme solutions, even a willingness to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

There is a new level of frustration in both parties, though Republicans and Democrats place the blame in different places, of course.

For Democrats, the inability of politicians to deal with immigration reform and economic inequality, combined with the rise of the tea party and GOP control of the House and Senate, has produced a sense that the country is headed off on the wrong track.

For Republicans, the Obama presidency has been a nightmare, especially given judicial decisions on same-sex marriage and health care reform.

But while some Democrats are flirting with an outsider like Sanders, the Democratic Party has not yet experienced the Trump-Carson-Carly Fiorina anti-establishment wave that the GOP has. (Democrats have not even had their Herman Cain moment yet.)

Much more of the frustration and anger is on the Republican side, which shouldn’t be surprising given Barack Obama’s historic presidency and everything that has happened over the past 6 years, from gays in the military and same-sex marriage to the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal, administration policy in Syria and the president’s steps to address global climate change.

Brad Todd, a partner in the GOP consulting firm OnMessage, Inc., believes that the 2014 elections were a turning point for many rank-and-file Republicans — raising expectations that have not been met and creating fertile ground for outsiders and anti-establishment candidates.

He notes that Republican congressional candidates campaigned in 2014 on stopping the president, repealing his agenda and changing the country’s direction.

“After ’14 when we took over the Senate, Republican voters decided we had plenty of power and believed that we could put points on the board. But they don’t see us winning now, and they don’t see Obama losing,” Todd said.

As a result, many conservatives now believe that the current GOP leadership is as much of an impediment to change as is Obama — witness their reaction to Speaker John Boehner’s decision to leave Congress.

In addition to the explanation, suggests a veteran Democratic insider, the early presence of a Bush (Jeb) and a Clinton (Hillary) in the race may well have also driven home to grass-roots elements of both parties just how little has changed since the early 1990s, leading to frustration with the status quo.

“The presence of Bush and Clinton in the race may have helped create a hunger for something different — something very different,” commented the Democrat.

The growing activism on the political right has caught the attention of those on the left, who increasingly believe that the tea party offers progressives a model for becoming more relevant.

Finally, the success of outsiders this time can be explained by their particular qualities. Few true outsiders (e.g., Cain, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes) have run in the recent past, and those politicians who have run as outsiders (e.g., Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul) have lacked broad appeal.

But Trump is a celebrity who knows how to manipulate the media, and Fiorina is a terrific debater who has become relevant because of her performance in the campaign. And Carson is a black neurosurgeon whose professional resume and personal style are rare in Republican politics.

This is a different Republican Party with a field that is very different than in the past. Seven years of Obama have created more frustration than ever, but the last 18 months have radicalized some in the GOP grass roots. That change in mood, as well as the makeup of the two party fields, helps explain why this is such a different presidential race than in the past.

Photo: Change has been circuling the air for nearly a decade, but each time it takes different forms. Atlantian5/Flickr

Does Scott Walker Have What It Takes To Win In 2016?

Does Scott Walker Have What It Takes To Win In 2016?

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is widely viewed as a top-tier hopeful for the GOP presidential nomination. But it’s less clear he has the right profile to knock off the likely Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Walker’s strength in the nomination race comes from his positioning in the Republican Party.

The governor’s proposal limiting public sector employees’ benefits and collective bargaining rights — and his eventual victory over their unions — gave him an important credential with Republican voters of all stripes, and the combination of a conservative agenda and a less militant style makes him one of the few GOP hopefuls with potentially broad appeal within the party.

Walker, who has said he will make his announcement after the state passes a budget, wouldn’t start off as the favorite of most tea party conservatives or libertarians or establishment types, but he may well be able to attract some support from each of those constituencies. More importantly, as candidates drop out along the way, he has the potential ability to reel in those Republicans looking for an acceptable (even appealing) second or third choice.

Since he has never run for president before, we don’t yet know how Walker will handle the media scrutiny or perform in debates. But he should be competitive in fundraising, and his political team is experienced. Early polling certainly suggests he starts off as one of the favorites in the Republican race.

But while the two-term governor of Wisconsin definitely has a path to the nomination, the road after that is less certain.

Obviously, winning the nomination in a crowded race — and defeating top-tier candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — would give Walker added stature and prove his ability as a campaigner. But it would not resolve all doubts about his prospects in the fall election.

The big question is whether the Wisconsin Republican could renovate the party’s current image as a party of older whites (and particularly older white men), enabling him to attract non-whites and younger voters who have grown to feel unwanted by, and uncomfortable in, the GOP.

Walker won’t be 49 years old until six days before Election Day 2016, which would make him the youngest Republican nominee since Richard M. Nixon in 1960. His age contrast with Clinton, who will turn 69 fewer than two weeks before the election, could make him look even younger.

That certainly is a plus for the governor. But it may not be enough to attract 18- to 29-year-old voters.

The Wisconsin governor is a mainstream conservative whose views on major issues are completely in sync with his party. That won’t have great appeal to voters, including younger ones, who didn’t support the past two Republican nominees.

In other respects, it is also difficult to see Walker’s profile as having appeal to voters who didn’t warm up to Mitt Romney or John McCain. That is, the Wisconsin Republican doesn’t exactly run counter to type when Republican presidential nominees are considered.

Demographically, Walker is the quintessential white-bread candidate in the field — a straight arrow from the Upper Midwest whose father was a minister and whose family roots are in the United Kingdom and central Europe. He should do well with white voters, but that is no longer automatically a route to victory in a presidential race.

Romney won 59 percent of white voters in 2012 but lost the election, and it is difficult to believe Walker can grow that percentage against Clinton in 2016. The only Republican to do better among white voters than Romney was Ronald Reagan in his 1984 re-election (66 percent). In 2004, George W. Bush won 58 percent of white voters.

On the surface, at least, Walker doesn’t have particular appeal to Hispanics or Asians, two groups that are increasingly important in the electorate. Nor has he shown marked strength among African-Americans.

Walker drew 10 percent of black voters in Wisconsin in his 2014 re-election race, not significantly above McCain’s 9 percent showing against Barack Obama in Wisconsin in 2008 or Romney’s 6 percent showing in the state in 2012. And Walker wasn’t running against an African-American opponent.

Of course, if Walker can make the general election into a referendum on Obama’s failings or demonize Clinton the way Democrats did Romney, then the Wisconsin Republican certainly could narrowly win the general election. As a governor from the upper Midwest, he has plenty of assets in a national contest. At this early point, it would be ridiculous to dismiss Walker’s chances of winning the White House next year.

But it is also true that Wisconsin’s chief executive will have to overcome unfavorable demographic changes in the electorates of eight or 10 key states in order to win 270 electoral votes. And it is far from certain that he can do that given his background and positions, as well as his party’s current image among some key demographic groups.

(c)2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo via Wikicommons

How To Fix An Unfair Presidential Debate System

How To Fix An Unfair Presidential Debate System

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Fox News and CNN, which will broadcast the first two GOP presidential debates, have decided on a system for excluding candidates that could result in Donald Trump participating in those debates but current or former senators and governors being excluded.

Nice going, guys.

I certainly agree having a debate with 16 candidates is simply unwatchable, and there is no easy way to make the early debates fair to the candidates while at the same time more watchable and informative for viewers. But Fox and CNN have both dropped the ball as they try to avoid making tough decisions.

At the first debate on August sixth in Cleveland, Fox will limit participation to candidates who “place in the top ten in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event.” Fox apparently will “provide additional coverage and air time on August sixth to the candidates who do not place in the top ten.”

CNN has chosen a similar-but-not-identical approach that is also based on polling leading up to the debate. It will hold two separate forums, one for the top-tier hopefuls and a second for the also-rans.

Fox and CNN, along with the Republican National Committee, can (and surely will) argue they are not excluding candidates from the first debate, the public is. And I’m sure they will say that with a straight face.

Even debate veterans privately admit ten participants are too many. Most of the early GOP debates last time, from August to November 2011, included only eight candidates, and that was bad enough.

But ten is a nice round number, and it allows Fox and CNN to claim they have found a reasonable balance between having too many hopefuls and arbitrarily excluding some. It’s a classic cover-your-behind strategy.

But limiting the field to ten participants means as many as six hopefuls could be excluded from the meaningful debates. Sure, CNN will have a loser’s bracket, but much like the NIT basketball tournament, nobody will care. Being the best of the losers isn’t exactly a winning outcome.

The two networks could end up excluding the only woman in the Republican field (businesswoman Carly Fiorina), the only African-American in the field (Ben Carson), or the only other candidate of color in the race (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal). For a party that needs to remake its image, excluding candidates who are not white men is a novel strategy.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul would all appear to have guaranteed slots in the debate. That leaves room for five others. Who could be excluded?

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is the last Republican to have won the Iowa caucuses, but he could be excluded. The same goes for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won those caucuses in 2008.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is about to announce his candidacy, but he doesn’t yet have a campaign. He could be on the outside looking in, even though he is a sitting senator from the second primary state. Not only that, but Graham has become one of his party’s leading voices on national security issues. Oh well, who cares about those issues anyway?

Ohio Governor John Kasich appears poised to enter the race, but also has no real campaign yet. He may not be able to ramp up quickly enough to make the top ten cut. But the first debate is in Cleveland, which, the last time I looked, is still in Ohio. And Ohio remains one of the key states in 2016. Oh, what the heck, he’s only the governor.

The rest of the field includes former Texas Governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former New York Governor George Pataki and the aforementioned Trump.

Right now, Trump would make the cutoff, and because of his celebrity status he might very well meet the criteria later this year when the first two debate fields are set. Yet, I think we all know Trump is a carnival barker, not a credible contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Clearly, any effort to limit the field will generate complaints and criticism. But any approach that limits the field so early in the race, at least five months before the first contest involving voters, seems inherently unfair. And using national polls to select participants in early debates seems odd when the first few actual tests of strength involve small, retail politics states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

After all, we are talking about the first debate or the first couple of debates, not the fifth. Each candidate can rightly argue he or she deserves to be in the first few debates, since those televised events will be the first time many Republican voters will have the opportunity to evaluate and compare the candidates.

The obvious answer is to divide the field in half, randomly assigning individual hopefuls to one of the two debates. Of course, not everyone will like the group he or she is in, and the makeup of each group would determine the particular dynamic of that debate.

After a couple of debates, the hosts of additional debates will have just cause to limit the number of debaters. But doing so in the first couple of debates is inherently unfair and could end up damaging the party’s image. You’d think that that would be something the RNC would want to avoid.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Can Democrats Win The Senate In 2016?

Can Democrats Win The Senate In 2016?

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — For Republicans, the fight for control of the Senate in 2016 is all about playing defense.

Unlike 2014 (and 2018), the Senate races of 2016 offer few, if any, opportunities for the GOP as the election cycle begins. The map strongly favors Democrats and suggests the possibility of considerable Democratic gains.

Republicans hope to recruit strong challengers to Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, but the other eight Democratic senators up next year come from states so reliably Democratic that Republicans don’t have any real hope of making them competitive.

On the other hand, Republicans are defending 24 seats, including seven that gave their electoral votes twice to President Barack Obama, and another two (Indiana and North Carolina) that were carried by Obama in 2008, but not 2012.

Some of the GOP seats that went for Obama twice are prime Democratic opportunities — Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example — while others remain only mouthwatering possibilities for now. How they will develop will depend on the quality of Democratic recruiting and other factors.

Democrats will need to net five seats to win a Senate majority in 2016, but they could win control by adding only four seats (getting to 50) if the party holds the White House for the third straight election.

Based solely on fundamentals, three Republicans in the “bluest” states of the cycle start out at the greatest risk: Mark S. Kirk in Illinois, Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.

All three states voted for the Democrat in at least each of the past six presidential contests (Wisconsin went Democratic in the past seven). They are also large, populous and expensive states for campaigns.

Size and population are important because candidates have a hard time localizing races in those kinds of states. A hopeful simply can’t meet a lot of voters and has to rely on statewide, or in the case of the presidential race, national, messaging.

Kirk and Toomey squeaked by their Democratic opponents in 2010, a remarkable Republican year, while Johnson had a somewhat easier time defeating veteran Sen. Russ Feingold. But it’s unlikely any of the Republicans would have won in anything approaching a neutral political environment.

Even if those three Republican senators lose, Democrats would need at least one more victory, and possibly two. That won’t be easy.

The next group of vulnerable Senate Republicans includes Marco Rubio in Florida, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Rob Portman in Ohio, all of whom hail from swing states. Obama carried their states twice, though his margins in Florida and Ohio were razor-thin.

Obama’s performance in New Hampshire in 2008 and 2012 was almost identical to his performance in Pennsylvania, but the Granite State is much smaller, and retail campaigning is easier there. Just as noteworthy, while Toomey squeaked by his Democratic open-seat opponent in 2010, Ayotte annihilated her Democratic opponent in her open-seat race.

Three other Republican seats should be on everyone’s radar, though they aren’t nearly as competitive as the six already mentioned.

Recent presidential and Senate races confirm North Carolina has become competitive, so Sen. Richard M. Burr bears watching. And Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who will turn 83 before his next re-election, and John McCain of Arizona, who will turn 80 in September of 2016, can’t be ignored.

One huge unknown about 2016 involves the presidential race.

There have been a few cases where a strong presidential victory by the non-incumbent party also swept in a large number of senators from the incoming president’s party. The two most obvious recent examples are 1980 (Ronald Reagan) and 2008 (Obama), when “change” elections filtered down to House and Senate races.

But there are plenty of other cases where a presidential victory didn’t result in notable Senate gains. Republican George W. Bush won the White House (though not the popular vote), but Democrats added four Senate seats in 2000. Democrat Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 (in a three-way race), but Democrats gained no Senate seats. (All data from Brookings’ Vital Statistics on Congress, tables 2-3 and 2-4.)

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter won the White House running as a messenger of change, but neither party gained Senate seats that year. And in one of the more remarkable outcomes, Republican Richard M. Nixon was re-elected in a landslide in 1972, but Democrats added two Senate seats.

In the single case over the past 60 years when one party held the White House for three consecutive elections, the GOP in 1988, Democrats gained one Senate seat.

Large net Senate swings (of five seats or more) obviously depend on the partisan makeup of each class, but it is also clear that they are more likely to occur during midterm elections (for example, 2014, 2010, 2006, 1994, 1986 and 1958) than in presidential years.

Presidential year dynamics differ from midterm dynamics in one important way: Unlike midterm elections in states with Senate races, voters in presidential cycles have two votes — one for the president and one for the Senate. That gives them the freedom to make two very different statements.

In 2012, six states selected a senator from one party and a presidential nominee from another: Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and West Virginia.

In 2008, seven states voted for one party’s presidential nominee but the other party’s Senate nominee: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

This cycle, the Senate map, historical turnout patterns in presidential years (which favor Democrats) and the division within the GOP create enough good opportunities for Democrats to win at least three and as many as six seats.

But parties don’t always take advantage of opportunities, and Democrats will have to work hard to flip the Senate in a presidential year.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Mary Landrieu’s Loss And The End Of Ticket Splitting

Mary Landrieu’s Loss And The End Of Ticket Splitting

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s defeat in the Dec. 6 runoff certainly was no surprise. If anything, it seemed inevitable since the evening of Nov. 4, when it became clear a Republican rout was underway and Democrats would lose control of the Senate.

But the veteran Democrat’s defeat is another reminder we have entered a period of parliamentary elections, where the parties stand for starkly different ideological agendas and where ticket-splitting, which follows from individual evaluations apart from party, is relatively rare.

In the end, the “Landrieu brand” in Louisiana did not matter any more than the Pryor brand mattered in Arkansas or the Begich brand mattered in Alaska. Party labels mattered far more than the individual names of the candidates. Voters in all three states saw the incumbents’ Democratic label, and that made their decisions easy.

I wrote about this dynamic in a column in March 2011, but I wasn’t entirely sure whether the trend, which I called “increasingly partisan nature of American voting,” would continue. It has.

The new reality of congressional campaigns doesn’t mean candidates can’t ever swim against the national tide. Some will, because each election cycle, and each race, is different. But political reporters and handicappers must now evaluate individual contests within the context of our increasingly ideological politics.

The defeat of more pragmatic Democrats — particularly in the South, but nationally as well — makes parliamentary voting more likely in the years ahead, just as the disappearance of more liberal Republicans has. The more each party is seen as representing an uncompromising ideology and certain constituencies, the more straight-ticket voting we will see.

The Democratic Party has become defined as the party of Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Al Franken of Minnesota, just as the GOP has become defined as the party of Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Because of this, partisan voters in blue states will be increasingly hesitant to elect Republicans to the Senate, just as partisan voters in red states will be more and more reluctant to send Democrats to the Senate.

Of course, both parties still have a handful of more moderate senators — North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Maine Republican Susan Collins are obvious examples — as well as more pragmatic ideologues (for example, New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell).

But increasingly, the parties have followed ideological agendas that more often than not define their members. The growth of ideological media, both on cable television and the Internet, has added to this political polarization.

The change in our parties and our politics created particular problems for Landrieu this time, since she always based her re-election strategy on turning out liberal African-Americans and getting enough support from moderates and whites in the business community. As my colleague Nathan Gonzales noted at the end of September and again two days after the elections, Landrieu has had a terrible time with whites, and particularly white men, this cycle.

But if the Louisiana senator’s defeat demonstrated a long-term trend over which she had little or no control, the campaign also was a poster child of what is wrong with today’s campaigns.

Over the past few cycles, the party committees and many campaigns have embraced the notion of the permanent campaign. Campaigns begin the day after elections and campaign rhetoric and messaging that once built slowly over time now lasts for at least a year and a half. Everything and anything is campaign fodder, no matter how little impact it may have on the voters and no matter how ridiculous the rhetoric.

The Landrieu campaign, along with help from the Louisiana Democratic Party, was perhaps the best example of this. I am still not convinced that the folks in Landrieu’s press operation weren’t paid by the number of releases they sent out.

The press releases clearly had little impact on voters. Nobody cared about newspaper endorsements in the race or about what an Indiana Democratic senator thought about Landrieu’s performance in the Senate. The November elections and last week’s balloting make that abundantly clear.

Yet, I’m not optimistic that other campaigns will take the hint and substitute quality for sheer quantity.

Most of the things that campaigns do have little or no effect on the outcomes of their races. I only wish that most campaigns — and all journalists — would remember that.
(Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. Read more on the Rothenblog,

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

Analysis: Lessons For Democratic Strategists From 2014

Analysis: Lessons For Democratic Strategists From 2014

By Stuart Rothenberg,CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — You could feel it from day one of this cycle. Senate Democratic strategists knew they were smarter than their Republican adversaries. They’d out-think them and out-work them.

Incumbent Democratic senators who run good campaigns rarely lose, I was reminded. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to his seat, won a tough race in 2010. So did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. And Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill did the same in 2012.

This cycle, vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states such as Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana had great political names and deep connections to the voters. They knew how to win, just like Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana did two years ago. (Of course, Heitkamp and Donnelly won in a presidential year, with its different dynamic.)

How many times did I hear or read that Sen. Mark Pryor was no Blanche Lincoln? That comment was meant to highlight Pryor’s political strengths, but also to throw Lincoln (who lost re-election in 2010) under the bus so party strategists didn’t have to look at why she lost and how hostile the Arkansas terrain has become for any Democrat.

“They have their own brands,” I heard repeatedly about Pryor and Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska and Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana from Democratic operatives and journalists.

But, Bennet, Reid, and McCaskill were victorious because the GOP nominated horrible candidates against them, not because the Democratic candidates had such untouchable brands, Democratic strategists had unique insights, or party operatives knew how to win tough races.

To some Democratic strategists, their candidates weren’t only smarter and better connected to voters. Their campaigns also knew how to identify their voters and turn them out. Democrats were miles ahead of the GOP when it came to “field,” the party’s highly touted ground-game.

I can’t count the number of times I heard or read about the vaunted Democratic field operation, whether in Little Rock or the most isolated areas of Alaska. Even I came to think it might matter.

I was told, for example, Democrats were registering and would boost turnout among African-Americans in Arkansas, which would change the arithmetic in that race and improve Pryor’s prospects.

I wondered why black voters who didn’t turn out for the first African-American president in history were going to flood to the polls for Pryor, or how Pryor would do well enough with whites for the party’s field program to matter. But Democratic Senate operatives had their charts and graphs to show how Pryor could survive the midterm.

As it turned out, African-Americans constituted 12 percent of the Arkansas electorate in 2014 according to the exit poll, the same percentage they constituted in 2008 and 1 point more than they constituted in 2010. (There was no exit poll in Arkansas in 2012.)

But while Democrats did a decent job turning out black voters this year, Pryor received virtually the same percentage of white voters as Lincoln did in 2010 (31 percent) and Obama did in 2008 (30 percent). Not surprisingly, Lincoln’s 2010 statewide performance, 37 percent, wasn’t much worse than Pryor’s 2014 showing or Obama’s 2008 statewide showing (both 39 percent).

And then there was the subject of Republican polling. Democrats seemed shocked that a thinking person would give any weight to GOP polling, which, they noted quite correctly, was seriously amiss in 2012. But Republicans took steps this cycle to correct their errors, and GOP polling often was more accurate than Democratic polling during the 2010 midterms.

At various times throughout the cycle I heard observers — sometimes Democrats, sometimes Republicans, often journalists — announce prematurely one of the GOP’s top-tier Senate challengers was toast, a victim of his or her own weakness or the Democrat’s brilliant campaign.

I heard it about Alaska, where Begich allegedly had localized his race successfully and would win re-election even in a Republican wave, and about North Carolina, where Democrats had defined and destroyed challenger Thom Tillis.

And, of course, there was Arkansas, where Republican Tom Cotton was, so boring, so serious and so charisma-challenged that he couldn’t possibly beat Pryor, who understood how to campaign in the South.

Interestingly, all of this smugness wasn’t apparent on the House Democratic side. Those folks seemed more realistic about their prospects from the start, possibly because House races are more susceptible to a partisan wave and the party was already in the minority.

It will be interesting to see whether Senate Democratic strategists sound more realistic during the 2015-16 cycle than they did over the past two years, as well as how Republicans operate when they don’t have the wind at their backs and a favorable map.

Republicans would be making a mistake to think that they have all the answers and have caught up with Democrats in all aspects of campaigning.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

Obama’s Midterm Loss Record Could Make History

Obama’s Midterm Loss Record Could Make History

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call

President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: have two horrible, terrible, awful midterm elections in a row.

In fact, Obama is likely to have the worst midterm numbers of any two-term president going back to Democrat Harry S. Truman.

Truman lost a total of 83 House seats during his two midterms (55 seats in 1946 and 28 seats in 1950), while Republican Dwight Eisenhower lost a combined 66 House seats in the 1954 and 1958 midterms.

Obama had one midterm where his party lost 63 House seats, and Democrats are expected to lose another 5 to possibly 12 House seats (or more), taking the sitting president’s total midterm House losses to the 68 seat to 75 seat range.

Most recent presidents have one disastrous midterm and another midterm that was not terrible.

The GOP lost 30 House seats in George W. Bush’s second midterm, but gained 8 seats in his first midterm for a net loss of 22 seats. The party lost 26 seats in Ronald Reagan’s first midterm, but a mere 5 seats in his second midterm for a net loss of 31 seats.

Democrats got shellacked in 1994, losing 54 seats in Bill Clinton’s first midterm, but the party gained 5 House seats in 1998 for a net Clinton loss of 49 House seats. (The figures don’t include special elections during a president’s term.)

Looking at Senate losses, Republicans lost a net of 5 seats in George W. Bush’s two midterms, while Republicans lost a net of 7 seats during Ronald Reagan’s two midterms and Democrats lost a net of 8 seats during Bill Clinton’s two midterms. (Again, these numbers do not reflect party switches or special elections.)

Democrats have a chance to tie the number of Senate losses that Republicans suffered during the midterms of Eisenhower, when the GOP lost a net of 13 Senate seats (12 in 1958 and only one in 1954).

Democrats lost 6 Senate seats in 2010 and seem likely to lose from 5 to as many as 10 seats next week. That would add up to Obama midterm Senate losses of from 11 seats to as many as 16 seats.

Democrats will likely not exceed the number of Senate losses they incurred during the two Truman midterms, in 1946 and 1950, when the party lost a remarkable net of 17 seats.

Are the Democrats’ losses due to the increasingly partisan nature of our elections and the makeup of the past two Senate classes, or is the president at least partially to blame because he failed to show leadership on key issues and never successfully moved to the political center?

The answer, most obviously, is, “Yes.”

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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For Mark Pryor, This Is Not His Father’s Arkansas

For Mark Pryor, This Is Not His Father’s Arkansas

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — I have been thinking for months about how politics has changed over the past decade, but those changes struck home in a very obvious way while I was reading a recent Washington Post article written by the very able Philip Rucker.

“Senator’s parents hit trail to preserve Ark. dynasty” was a front page piece that noted the efforts of former governor and former senator David Pryor and his wife, Barbara, to help their son, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, win re-election next month.

David Pryor won three races for Congress, two elections for governor and three Senate contests (losing only a Senate primary in 1972) between 1966 and 1990. He rarely had a tough race, and he was held in high regard by many Arkansans, even those who didn’t vote for him.

Rucker’s piece shows that many greeted the former governor warmly, but it also demonstrates how politics has evolved, and how that change has altered the way voters evaluate candidates for Congress.

“We’re campaigning for Mark because everybody likes mamas and daddies,” said the senator’s mother to one voter, according to Rucker.

Well, yes, people understand why parents support their children, and nobody is going to blame the vulnerable senator or his parents for stumping for him. But David and Barbara Pryor aren’t likely to get many votes for their son. Not this year, at least.

Partisanship and ideology are linked more closely now than they were 50 or 60 years ago. Back then, the two parties didn’t stand for opposing ideologies. They each included liberal, moderate and conservative members of Congress and attracted voters from across the ideological spectrum.

Democratic voters sent liberals like Hubert Humphrey, conservatives like Richard Russell and, somewhat later, moderates like David Pryor and Sam Nunn to the Senate. Republicans could dispatch conservatives Barry Goldwater and Karl Mundt to Capitol Hill at the same time that other Republicans were sending moderates and liberals like Chuck Percy and John Lindsay.

That’s no longer the case, and it’s a large part of the reason why a gentleman like David Pryor, who had an impressive political career, has such little influence on Arkansas voters these days.

The increased importance of ideology also has affected campaigning.

A couple of months ago, I received an email from an old friend who also happens to be one of the best reporters, and most astute political observers, on this or any planet. He noted repeatedly what a bad candidate Arkansas Republican Rep. Tom Cotton is. Others also have remarked that Pryor is great at pressing the flesh, while Cotton clearly lacks that skill.

Cotton, who is a narrow but clear favorite against Mark Pryor next month, is not a back-slapping, joke-telling good old boy. He is a serious, Harvard and Harvard Law School-educated Iraq veteran who served with the 101st Airborne.

But while there are times and places when a hearty handshake, a good old boy slap on the back and a couple of anecdotes and jokes still can be decisive, those skills don’t necessarily matter as much now as they once did. (Personality can still matter, of course, as Republican Senate challenger Cory Gardner of Colorado has demonstrated. But that’s better left for another column.)

I never bought into the criticism of Cotton, which spread throughout the political circles of D.C., because I figured his resume — including his party and his opposition to President Barack Obama — far outweighed his stylistic weakness this cycle.

There was a time, of course, when Deep South Democratic senators like Fritz Hollings or Howell Heflin used their flair for storytelling and populism to win re-election. But they too would have electoral trouble if they had to defend votes for Obamacare.

Arkansas voters now see the candidates through the prisms of partisanship and ideology, and that is very bad news for a moderate Democrat in Arkansas and with Obama in the White House. Of course, Mark Pryor would be in much better shape politically this year if an unpopular George W. Bush were still in the Oval Office rather than an unpopular liberal Democrat.

You don’t think party matters that much? Why don’t you ask former Iowa GOP Rep. Jim Leach, former Maryland GOP Rep. Connie Morella or former Connecticut Republican Rep. Chris Shays? Or maybe you want to talk about it with former Idaho Democratic Rep. Walter Minnick or former Texas Democratic Reps. Charlie Stenholm or Chet Edwards.

All of those former members were liked back home, thoughtful and well-connected to their district’s voters, and all lost because they were members of the wrong political party and because their national party’s ideology trumped their individual political brands.

I am not arguing that a good family name has no value. Being a Kennedy in New England, a Bush in Texas or a Pryor in Arkansas undoubtedly is an asset, sometimes a huge one.

Florida’s 2nd District, where Democratic challenger Gwen Graham is running, is so evenly divided that her father’s reputation may help her fall over the finish line slightly ahead of incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Southerland II. (For now, that race is too close to call.)

But when a state or congressional district has switched from blue to red or red to blue, a pleasing personality, a firm handshake, a slap on the back, a good family name and even a record of good constituency service and political moderation usually isn’t enough to save a beleaguered incumbent in a bad year.

I could be wrong, of course, but at least that’s where I’ve been putting my money since December, when we moved this race to tilting toward Cotton.

Screenshot: Mark Pryor/YouTube

Republicans Are In Big Trouble If They Can’t Win The Senate

Republicans Are In Big Trouble If They Can’t Win The Senate

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call

If next month produces a big Republican year, with the GOP gaining control of the Senate and expanding its majority in the House, it will say little or nothing about 2016, when a presidential electorate and a very different Senate class combine to create the makings of a substantially good Democratic year.

But if the GOP fails to capture the Senate this year, 2016 could turn into an unmitigated disaster for the party. And for that reason, Republicans are under extremely heavy pressure to take back the Senate in November. Four years ago, a Republican wave swept across much of the country (but not the West Coast), handing over control of the House and giving the GOP six more Senate seats.But the fact that the party kicked away a handful of Senate seats — in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada — was disappointing and discouraging to GOP contributors who thought the party had a chance to win back the Senate.

Two years later, Republicans entered the cycle needing to net four Senate seats (three if President Barack Obama failed to win a second term) and filled with optimism about reclaiming the Senate. As spring approached, the map looked good for the GOP and dangerous for Democrats.

After all, Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson and North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad were retiring, and given each of their state’s fundamentals and the president’s weak standing, both appeared to be likely Republican takeovers. And in Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill was easy pickings, as long as the GOP didn’t nominate some knucklehead.

Even before Memorial Day arrived, Republicans seemed to have at least three other good takeover opportunities, in Montana against Sen. Jon Tester, and in open seats in Wisconsin and Virginia.

Yes, two GOP incumbents were at risk, in Massachusetts and Nevada, but Senate control looked promising for the party.

But when November rolled around, Democrats not only kept control of the Senate, they actually gained two more seats, making it that much more difficult for the GOP to take over the chamber this cycle. And many Republican donors who deluded themselves into believing Mitt Romney had a strong chance to win the White House and that GOP control of the Senate was within reach felt deflated and misled.

That defeat clearly impacted potential Republican donors in 2013 and this year.

This cycle, Democratic fundraising has surpassed the GOP’s. Through the end of September, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had raised $127 million to the NRSC’s $97 million, a difference of $30 million. By the end of August, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee out raised the National Republican Congressional Committee $146.4 million to $113.8 million, a margin of about $33 million.

All of this has happened during a cycle when the president’s job approval numbers have dipped, a Republican takeover of the Senate looks to be better than even money and the House is certain to stay in Republican hands for the president’s final two years.

That combination should encourage Republicans to write campaign checks, not sit on their wallets.

One can only imagine how another disappointing election would affect the Republican grass roots, GOP contributors and corporate America.

As one Republican strategist admitted to me recently, if his party fails to take back the Senate next month it will only lead observers to conclude Democratic campaign operatives are far superior to the GOP’s, and Republicans don’t have a chance of winning the White House in 2016.

It isn’t hard to imagine what that would do to the party leading up to the 2016 presidential contest.

Current conditions are so favorable for the GOP — including the president’s poor poll numbers, the states with Senate races, the lower turnout of Democratic groups in midterm elections, the quality of this cycle’s Republican Senate recruits and the daily dose of negative news that should help the party not holding the White House — that Republican Senate gains of fewer than six seats would be a punch to the party’s solar plexus.

If Republicans don’t net those six Senate seats this cycle, they are going to find themselves trying to explain to disgruntled, disappointed donors and voters why and how they will do better in a more difficult political environment.

And they are not likely to have a very good answer.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

How Democrats Could Maintain Senate Control

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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Rothenberg Analysis: Senate GOP Gains At Least Seven Seats

Rothenberg Analysis: Senate GOP Gains At Least Seven Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — While the current Rothenberg Political Report ratings don’t show it, I am now expecting a substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats.

But I wouldn’t be shocked by a larger gain.

Rothenberg Political Report ratings reflect both where a race stands and, more importantly, where it is likely headed on Election Day. Since early polls rarely reflect the eventual November environment, either in terms of the candidates’ name recognition and resources or of the election’s dynamic, there is often a gap between how I categorize each race (my ratings) and what I privately assume will happen in November.

That gap closes as Election Day approaches, of course, since polling should reflect changes in name identification, candidate, and party spending, and voter attitudes as November approaches.

Right now, for example, the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call Senate ratings suggest Republican gains in the mid-single digits. My newsletter has the most likely outcome of the midterms at Republican gains of five to eight seats, with the GOP slightly more likely than not to net the six seats it needs to win Senate control.

Of the seven Mitt Romney Democratic seats up this cycle, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia are gone, and Arkansas and Louisiana look difficult to hold. Alaska and North Carolina, on the other hand, remain very competitive, and Democrats rightly point out that they have a chance to hold both seats.

But I’ve witnessed 17 general elections from my perch in D.C., including eight midterms, and I sometimes develop a sense of where the cycle is going before survey data lead me there. Since my expectations constitute little more than an informed guess, I generally keep them to myself.

This year is different. I am sharing them with you.

After looking at recent national, state, and congressional survey data and comparing this election cycle to previous ones, I am currently expecting a sizable Republican Senate wave.

The combination of an unpopular president and a midterm election (indeed, a second midterm) can produce disastrous results for the president’s party. President Barack Obama’s numbers could rally, of course, and that would change my expectations in the blink of an eye. But as long as his approval sits in the 40-percent range (the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll), the signs are ominous for Democrats.

The generic congressional ballot currently is about even among registered voters. If that doesn’t change, it is likely to translate into a Republican advantage of a few points among “likely” voters. And recent elections when Republicans have even a small advantage have resulted in significant GOP years.

The map, which has always been the single biggest reason why Republicans will gain Senate seats, continues to give Republicans plenty of opportunities and Democrats relatively few (though the Kansas developments change that slightly). In an anti-Obama election, most of those Democratic opportunities will evaporate.

Given the president’s standing, the public’s disappointment with the direction of the country, the makeup of the midterm electorate and the ’14 Senate map, I expect a strong breeze at the back of the GOP this year.

And if there is a strong breeze, most of the races now regarded as competitive will fall one way — toward Republicans. That doesn’t happen all of the time, of course, but it’s far from unusual.

In 2006, for example, Democrats won three of the four closest Senate contests, in Missouri, Montana, and Virginia. Only Tennessee went Republican, and it wouldn’t have been close if Democrats had not had a strong wind at their backs nationally.

In 1986 — like 2006, a second midterm election — all six of the closest Senate contests were won by Democrats, including three (Colorado, California, and North Dakota) where the Democrats drew less than 50 percent of the vote.

Democratic incumbents Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina all would be headed for re-election in a “good” Democratic year, such as President George W. Bush’s second midterm, when voters were unhappy with a Republican president and Democrats constituted the alternative.

But if history is any guide, at least two of them, and quite possibly all four, will lose this year — even with all the huffing and puffing from journalists over how brilliant their campaigns have been and how weak the GOP challengers are.

Although there are exceptions, state-level polls generally show Pryor, Landrieu, Begich, and Hagan stuck in the mid-40s against their Republican opponents. Sometimes the Democrat is ahead by a point or two, and sometimes he or she is even or a point behind. But that doesn’t really matter. Either way, all are in precarious positions, particularly given the national atmosphere against their party.

Right now, this cycle looks much like 2010, when Democrats with reasonable profiles got crushed in Republican-leaning and swing states. Rep. Brad Ellsworth lost his Senate bid by 18 points in Indiana, Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost re-election by 21 in Arkansas, and Rep. Paul Hodes lost his Senate race by more than 23 in New Hampshire. The much-ballyhooed Robin Carnahan of Missouri lost her Senate bid by almost 14 points, while Wisconsin incumbent Russ Feingold lost by 5 points.

None of them could overcome the national dynamic favoring the GOP.

To be sure, Pryor is much better off now than Lincoln was at this point in 2010, and Republican challengers have not “put away” any Senate races. But any Democratic incumbent sitting in the mid-40s in a very Republican state probably can’t expect to get the benefit of the doubt from voters. And that puts Democratic Senate seats in swing states like Iowa and Colorado at great risk too, especially if the GOP “breeze” that I am expecting actually appears.

With the president looking weaker and the news getting worse, Democratic candidates in difficult and competitive districts are likely to have a truly burdensome albatross around their necks.

That is why, at least right now, I expect 2014 to be a big Senate year for the GOP — even if my current ratings don’t quite show it.

Rothenberg is a nonpartisan political analyst/handicapper who has been a Roll Call columnist for more than 20 years.

AFP Photo/Michael Mathes

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