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How the 2014 Senate elections are shaping up

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The 2014 midterm elections are less than a year away, and the U.S. Senate elections are gearing up. Currently, Democrats control the Senate 53-45, along with two Independent Senators, neither of whom are up for re-election, but both caucus with the Democrats. Democrats have twenty-one seats up for election, while Republicans have fourteen. Five Democrats and two Republicans are retiring. Ten of the Democrats running for re-election are first-term incumbents, elected in 2008 or in special elections to fill vacancies, while only one Republican Senator running for election is doing so for the first time as an incumbent.

Generally, elections are more competitive if it is an open seat election, or if it is a candidate’s first time running as the incumbent. To claim a majority, Republicans need to have a net gain of six seats, assuming both Independent Senators vote Democratic.

SAFE REPUBLICAN

ALABAMA – Jeff Sessions (R) is running for a fourth term. He won election in 1996 with 52% of the vote, 2002 with 58%, and 2008, a heavily Democratic year, with 63%.

IDAHO – Jim Risch (R) is running for re-election to a second term, winning in 2008 with 58% of the vote.

KANSAS – Pat Roberts (R) is running for a fourth term.

MAINE – Susan Collins (R) is seeking re-election to a fourth term.

OKLAHOMA – Jim Inhofe (R) is running for a fourth term.

SOUTH CAROLINA – South Carolina has both Senators up for re-election in 2014 – Lindsey Graham (R) and Tim Scott (R). Graham is running for a third term, having won in 2008 with 58% of the vote, while Scott was appointed in 2013 to fill out the rest of Jim DeMint’s term.

TENNESSEE – Lamar Alexander (R) is running for a third term. Barring anything unexpected, he should win with 60% of the vote.

TEXAS – John Cornyn (R) is running for a third term.

LIKELY REPUBLICAN

MISSISSIPPI – Thad Cochran (R) is running for a seventh term. While history would suggest a seventh-term candidate be a sure-thing, Cochran recently had a relatively slim 6-point lead over his Republican challenger, and 55% of respondents polled wanted someone more conservative, compared to 35% who wanted Cochran. Most polls show him with a 10-15 point lead over Democratic challengers, except Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D), who was within the margin of error. Whether this was just an anomaly, or whether it shows cracks in Cochran’s re-election hopes, is yet to be seen.

MONTANA – Max Baucus (D) has chosen to retire, meaning Republicans have a great chance to steal a seat they’ve been looking at for some time. While the nominees are yet to be chosen, many polls show the Republican candidates leading by upwards of 15 percentage points. Steve Daines (R) is often given the largest margins of victory, and had a ten-point lead over the prospective Democratic candidates. Should he get the nomination, Montana would likely be a Republican pick-up, one of six necessary to win a majority.

NEBRASKA – First-term Senator Mike Johanns (R) is not running for re-election, leaving this an open-seat election. Since it is an open seat election, we’ll put it in the likely Republican slot.

WEST VIRGINIA – Although West Virginia is a pretty heavily Republican state, they seem to like Democratic Senators, having both Joe Manchin (D) and Jay Rockefeller (D). The latter is retiring after serving five terms in office, having first won election in 1984. This opens the door to a Republican Senator. Polls show some of the prospective races in the margin of error, even giving the Democratic candidate an edge, while others give the Republican candidates a 15-point margin. Most speculators are writing West Virginia off as a Republican steal, but the lack of a clear nominee means this is still a state that can remain under Democratic control. Should Republicans win, it would be their second net pick-up, bringing them to a 51-47 deficit.

WYOMING – Mike Enzie (R) is running for a fourth term, and should win with about 60% of the vote.

LEANS REPUBLICAN

SOUTH DAKOTA – This one is a bit odd, too, and shows what a difference an open seat election can make. Incumbent Tim Johnson (D) has elected for retirement, making this an open seat election. He won in 2008 with 63% of the vote, suggesting there is no way this would be a competitive race. However, polls show a tight race between the possible candidates to replace Johnson. Most estimates show South Dakota in the safe or likely Republican category. The only way it is truly likely/safe Republican is if former South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds wins the Republican nomination, as most polls show him beating Democratic Senate hopeful Rick Weiland by 15-20 points. The other candidates, however, poll pretty close to Weiland. Should Rounds, or another Republican, win election here, it would be the third Republican pick-up, and bring the Senate to a 50-48 split in favor of the Democrats.

SAFE DEMOCRATIC

DELAWARE – Chris Coons (D) won office in a 2010 special election, crushing TEA-party candidate favorite Christine O’Donnell.

ILLINOIS – Dick Durbin (D) is running for a fourth term.

MINNESOTA – This one is a bit odd, because Al Franken (D) barely won office in 2008, a year that Democrats did very well in, and is running for the first time as the incumbent. History would suggest he be vulnerable. However, all the polls show him with a very strong lead among all the Republican challengers.

NEW MEXICO – Tom Udall (D) is running for the first time as the incumbent, after being elected in 2008. However, he won election the last time around with 61% of the vote. That alone would suggest he is safe in 2014.

RHODE ISLAND – Jack Reed (D) is running for a fourth term. Not much of a contest here, he should win with 60-70% of the vote.

VIRGINIA – Mark Warner (D) is running for a second term, and leads Republican challengers by roughly 15-points.

LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

COLORADO – Mark Udall (D) is seeking re-election to a second term. Polls are about fifty-fifty between showing Udall with a strong lead or a moderate lead. The polls are still close enough that the race could be competitive, especially since Udall is a first-term incumbent, but the state has been trending Democratic, and none of the Republican opponents particularly stand out over the others.

HAWAII – Brian Schatz (D) is running for a first full term, having been appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie to finish the rest of Daniel Inouye’s term following his death. Schatz’s most challenging opponent might not be a Republican candidate, but instead Democratic challenger Colleen Hanabusa, who serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. Early polling showed Hanabusa with a strong lead, but Schatz has closed in and is within the margin of error, if not a slight lead.

IOWA – While many consider this race a tossup since Democrat Tom Harkin has announced his retirement, Democrat Bruce Braley has led his possible Republican opponents in head-to-head matchups, often by safe margins. The big factor is upwards of 20% of respondents have listed themselves as undecided, so they would have to swing pretty heavily for the Republican candidate for this race to become a tossup. Should the Republicans lose a seat or two of their own, Iowa will become a much more important race, and possibly a missed opportunity to bring the Senate closer to tied.

MASSACHUSETTS – Ed Markey (D) was propelled to office in 2013, to fill John Kerry’s seat upon his appointment to be Secretary of State. Former Republican Senator Scott Brown polls close to Markey, should he decide to run, while other Republicans have a slim or next-to-nothing chance at winning.

MICHIGAN – Six-term Senator Carl Levin (D) is retiring, making this a race to watch. While the candidates are not chosen yet, polls show the top Republican and Democratic candidates very close, swapping positions as the months go by. This election would be somewhere between leans Democratic and tossup. The times the Republican candidate leads, it is typically within the margin of error, while the Democratic candidate is sometimes able to gain a 5-point lead. But with an open seat election, this race should be competitive.

NEW HAMPSHIRE – Jeanne Shaheen (D) is running for a second term, after winning 52-45 in 2008. Most polls show Shaheen with a safe lead, but what makes this race only a ‘likely Democratic’ victory is the possibility of Scott Brown running for the seat. The polls show the race still leaning for Shaheen, should Brown run, but without him, it is a likely Democratic win, if not a safe Democratic election.

NEW JERSEY – Former Newark mayor Cory Booker (D) is running for his first full term in office. It’s too early to predict who the Republican nominee will be, but Booker is an incumbent coming up for election for the first time. He’s popular enough that he should win, but since the Republican nominee isn’t close to being known yet, this race will fall in the ‘likely Democratic’ category.

OREGON – Jeff Merkley (D) was elected in 2008 by a surprisingly close 49-46% margin, in a heavily Democratic year. History would suggest Republicans have a good shot at defeating him this go around, but polls have shown him with a pretty comfortable lead over possible Republican challengers. That makes this one a bit tough to judge. It could be safe/likely Democratic, if you go by the current polls. It could be leans Democratic, because of the close 2008 contest, or it could be a tossup. The race will probably be decided simply by which side is more enthusiastic about getting out the vote, since it is a midterm election. If Republicans are more encouraged to vote than Democrats are, this could be a tossup or leans Democratic race. If Democrats are fired up, it will turn into a rout. But only going off that tight 2008 election, this should be a race Republicans are paying more attention to, because maybe Oregon is less of a blue state than they thought.

LEANS DEMOCRATIC

ALASKA – Mark Begich (D) is a first-term incumbent. Some polls show Begich with a lead over his potential challengers, while others are within the margin of error. If the Republicans were to pick-up six seats, Alaska would really need to be one of the ones they capture. Without it, Democrats will probably retain their majority.

LOUISIANA – Mary Landrieu (D) is a Senator the Republicans tried hard to defeat in 2008. Republican Bill Cassidy fares the best in polls against her, but Landrieu usually has a moderate lead. If it looks like Republicans might lose Kentucky or Georgia, you might see them invest more heavily in trying to swing Louisiana to their side, and pouring more money into this race. This is still a leans Democratic race, but should the Republicans take over the Senate, they may have to find a way to win here to do it.

TOSSUP

ARKANSAS – Mark Pryor (D) is a third-term incumbent, but challenger Tom Cotton (R) has led or been very close to Pryor in polls this year.

GEORGIA – Saxby Chambliss (R) has announced his retirement, meaning Georgia will have an open seat election. Polls show the various candidates very close, with the Democratic candidates tending to be a point or two ahead. Georgia could very well go for the Democrats, making it that much harder for the GOP to claim a Senator majority or get the Senate back to par. A loss here would devastate Republican hopes of taking over the Senate, because it’d mean they’d have to win not one, but two additional seats (i.e. Colorado and Michigan) from the Democrats to have a net gain. Holding Georgia is crucial to the GOP hopes of getting a more friendly Senate.

KENTUCKY – Democrats nationally are focusing on Kentucky. Incumbent Mitch McConnell (R) is the Senate Minority Leader, running for a sixth term. Defeating him would seal bragging rights, of sorts, for knocking out a key Republican leader. Most polls pit Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes against McConnell, and the two are neck-and-neck. For the most part, McConnell’s problem is high unfavorability in Kentucky, but polls have shown him with a large lead over Republican challengers. Should Republicans lose both Kentucky and Georgia, their potential victories in West Virginia and Montana would be offset, meaning they’d be right back where they started, and no closer to gaining a Senate tie, much less a majority.

NORTH CAROLINA – Kay Hagan (D) was elected in 2008, 53-44%, but polls have tightened up greatly in recent months, with a few of Hagan’s Republican opponents taking a slim lead. There is still no clear nominee yet, so Hagan at least has the position of being able to prepare for the general election while her opponents fight amongst themselves. Because of that, this might be a leans Democratic race, even though the polls are basically even, right down the middle. The main question is whether Republicans rally behind the nominee, and whether they can match Hagan’s funding and campaign organization. If they are able to do that, this state is a complete toss-up.

All in all, the Republicans have a difficult challenge in taking a Senate majority, or even getting a tie. To tie (assuming both Independents vote Democratic), they need to get a 50-48 majority meaning they need to hold every seat up for re-election, while winning five others. This means they would have to hold Georgia and Kentucky, and win, say, West Virginia, Montana, North Carolina, Arkansas and Alaska. Should they lose Georgia or Kentucky, it’d mean they’d have to win Louisiana, Oregon and/or Iowa. If they were to do all that, that would only get a tie in the Senate. To get a majority, they’d have to additionally win Michigan, Colorado, or another leans/likely Democratic state.

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