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Republicans likely to win slim Senate majority despite McConnell losing

McConnell likely to win his primary against Matt Bevin but could lose in November
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In Nebraska, Republican senate nominee Ben Sasse leads by 17 percent over Democrat nominee David Domina, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released yesterday. Sasse, a conservative Republican supported by all the major national TEA party and conservative organizations, won the primary in Nebaska this past Tuesday and appears to be likely to be elected the state's junior senator in November. Rasmussen Reports have him leading 51 percent to Domina at 34 percent in that senate race.

In the meantime, the senate seat in Kentucky is now in play, as the Real Clear Politics average of polls gives Mitch McConnell only a one point lead over Democrat nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes in the race for the Kentucky senate seat. McConnell first ran in 1984 for this senate seat, and by the end of 2014 he will have served 30 years as senator. McConnell was reelected with just 53 percent of the vote in 2008, and is likely to be more vulnerable in 2014.

If McConnell loses the general election, it would help the Democrats retain a majority of the senate after the 2014 elections despite seat lost in other states. There are 36 seats up for election in 2014. Among the other 64 seats not up for election in 2014, Democrats hold 34 of them while Republicans hold 30. 25 of the seats up for election are considered likely or safe for either party, which includes 16 seats currently held by Republicans and 10 seats currently held by Democrats. With those seats added, Democrats will have 44 seats (including the two independents that caucus with the Democrats) and Republicans will have 46 seats. The remaining 10 seats will decide which party controls the senate after the 2014 elections.

Despite losing the Kentucky seat of McConnell, overall the GOP appears at this time to be likely to gain seven seats net and have a 51-seat majority next year in the senate. Below are projections of the 10 seats that will likely decide the which party wins the majority.

The safe or likely seats are as follows:

Republicans: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, both Oklahoma seats, both South Carolina seats, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. In South Dakota, the retirement of Tim Johnson makes that seat a likely Republican gain.

Democrats: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Adding those seats gives the Democrats 42 seats and the two Independents that caucus with them (total 44 seats) while the Republicans would have 46 total seats. The remaining 10, covered below, will decide which party will hold a majority in the senate after the 2014 election. Democrats need to win at least six of those 10 to hold a majority of the senate with Vice President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote, or otherwise they need to win seven of the 10 seats to hold a 51 seat majority.

Alaska: Incumbent Senator Mark Begich is running for reelection and could race 2010 nominee Joe Miller appears to be the likely GOP nominee. Begich should be a strong candidate but a united (rather than divided like four years ago with Lisa Murkowski running as a write-in) GOP behind the eventual Republican nominee would give him a fair shot at defeating Begich. For now, this one leans Republican.

Arkansas: While this state has turned heavily Republican in the last decade, incumbent Senator Mark Pryor seems to be in good shape for reelection. The GOP nominee will be Rep. Tom Cotton. Pryor has already started a strong negative campaign against Cotton and it appears to the working. The polls show this race close, and as of now it leans Republican.

Colorado: Incumbent Senator Mark Udall is favored for reelection but he is likely to be challenged by Republican Cory Gardner. Gardner could mount a strong challenge to Udall, but as of now this race leans Democrat.

Iowa: Senator Tom Harkin is retiring, leaving an open race for this seat. Democrats are likely to nominate Rep. Bruce Braley while Republicans will have a wide open primary battle. This seat leans Democrat.

Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in trouble. He's losing support from the base, but he's likely to defeat challenge from TEA party candidate Matt Bevin, and likely Democrat nominee, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes already leads in some polls over McConnell. For many voters, McConnell has been in Washington too long. This race now leans Democrat.

Louisiana: Senator Mary Landrieu faces a very challenging reelection effort in a state that has turned heavily Republican. Republicans appear to have a contested primary between Rep. Bill Cassidy and retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness. Polls show Cassidy more likely to make the runoff and defeat Landrieu in a close race. This race leans Republican.

Michigan: Incumbent Senator Carl Levin is retiring, leaving Rep. Gary Peters as the likely Democratic nominee to run against Republican Terri Lynn Land. This seat leans Democrat.

Montana: Senator Max Baucus is retiring. Ex-Governor Brian Schweitzer will not be running for the seat, he has chosen to stay in Montana rather than go to Washington D.C. This race will be Democrat John Walsh running against Republican Steve Daines. As of now, this one leans Republican.

North Carolina: Senatior Kay Hagan is one of the most vulnerable incumbents for 2014, but the Republicans have a long list of potential candidates at this point. Thom Tillis won the GOP primary a little more than one week ago, and will face off against Kay Hagan in November. This race leans Republican.

New Hampshire: The voters in this state had elected Democratic majorities in both house of the state legislature in 2008 and turned both over to the Republicans in 2010. Democrats made substantial gains in 2012 while President Obama carried the state. While Republicans could make a come-back in 2014 much like they did in 2010, Senator Jeanne Shaheen seems to have sufficient popularity to win reelection. Republican candidates for the September primary appear to be Karen Testerman and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Brown seems to the heavy favorite to win the primary, and probably lose in November to Shaheen. As of now, this one leans Democrat.

Among those ten seats, as projected above, Democrats would win five of them while Republicans would win five. In total, this would leave the senate projected with 49 Democrats (including the two Independents that caucus with them), 51 Republicans.

The Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana senate races in 2014 could decide which party controls the senate after the election. If the GOP wins all three, they would have a shot at a 50 seats and in need of winning just one more to obtain a majority.

But the GOP could still fail to win the majority. Remember, most predictions in 2012 had the GOP winning the Montana and North Dakota seats, and Democrats pulled off upsets to win them both. In 2014, the races in Montana and South Dakota repeat that result, which would give Democrats two more seats and a shot at holding the majority with 51 seats. But those upsets were part of the voting turnout momentum that helped drive the 2012 results, and in this mid-term election in 2014, where low turnout is very possible, it is unlikely that such a pair of upsets will happen again.

Republicans are likely to come out of the 2014 election with 51 seats, the slimmest possible majority they could have, despite losing the seat of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

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