Republicans can regain a majority in the U.S. Senate in the 2014 general election and even Virginia Democrat Mark Warner is vulnerable, said strategist Grover Norquist in an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which ended its three-day run on March 8 in suburban Washington, D.C.
Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and author of Leave Us Alone: America's New Governing Majority, told the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner that he was encouraged by the CPAC turnout of more than 11,000 participants, including “a majority of people under 25,” which he characterized as “extremely, extremely healthy.”
In contrast to past years, he said, “the whining is down to a dull roar.” In terms of content – speeches and panel discussions – “we've really covered a whole host of broad center-right issues.”
Overall, Norquist said, "I'm pleased, I'm happy. It's going well. People are excited. We've got all these Senate races and the candidates are being highlighted, so it's good stuff.”
With regard to the prospects of the Republican Party taking control of the U.S. Senate this year, Norquist is optimistic.
Gaining a GOP majority is “more likely than not,” he said.
Republicans “need to pick up six for control. There are seven that look very, very good.”
The likely pick-ups are in “overwhelmingly Republican states with weak” Democrats holding those Senate seats, and there are “competent Republicans running."
Seven probable pick-ups
Norquist ticked off the names of the seven states: “Alaska, South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas.”
In each of those seven, he said, there is “a fine candidate who's been nominated or will be nominated” and in “each of them, the Democrat is not as strong as they might like.”
All those states, he added, were won by Mitt Romney in 2012 with a margin of more than ten percent, and they have all been trending Republican “where our guys are pulling ahead.”
In addition to those likely seven pickups, Norquist continued, “you have a series of states like Michigan, where all polls have the Republican candidate ahead.”
He also mentioned New Hampshire, “where the Republicans have a real shot” and Iowa, “where you have to decide who the Republican [nominee] is but they all poll OK against” the Democrats' candidate.
In Iowa, he averred, “I suppose it's possible to nominate the guy who could lose” but in Colorado, “we have a weak Democrat and a [Republican] congressman who wasn't going to get in” has now entered the race, “clearing the field – so Colorado is in play with every reason to think we could win that one.”
Worrisome Georgia and Kentucky
There are two Republican-held seats to worry about, however.
First is Georgia, “because if you nominate the wrong guy, you could lose that, but there's a runoff, so I don't think they will nominate the wrong guy.”
The other is Kentucky, “where some people think [Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell should have passed a bunch of laws with 45 Republicans because they haven't learned to count.”
Instead, “they think it's because he's a liberal that he hasn't been able to beat the guy [Majority Leader Harry Reid] with 55 votes with [McConnell's] 45 votes. There are many things, perhaps, to criticize Mitch McConnell on. Not being able to win votes in the U.S. Senate with 45 [Republicans] is not one of those things you can fairly whine about.”
Still, Norquist cautioned, McConnell has “been damaged by his challenger in the primary. I'd keep an eye on that seat but I think Republicans should be able to take the Senate.”
Virginia's vulnerable Warner
Even in Virginia, where popular former Governor Mark Warner is seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate this year, Norquist sees reason for Republicans to be hopeful.
Warner is vulnerable, he said, basing his assessment on having spoken with the incumbent Senator at a recent event in Washington.
“I ran into Mark Warner at a party the other day and, he said, [he] wasn't in Davos” for the annual global economics conference because Republican challenger Ed Gillespie is running for office.
“'So I'm here,'” Norquist quoted Senator Warner.
Gillespie, who has three rivals for the GOP nomination (Tony DeTora, Shak Hill, and Chuck Moss) “is a competent candidate,” he explained. “He can raise money. He's uniting the party.”
Norquist concluded that, “with any sort of a good Republican year,” Virginia has “a Senate seat that Gillespie could win and Mark Warner could lose.”