Some may be rolling their eyes at the thought of talking about the 2014 elections already. I can sympathize. Lawmakers should be focused on solving problems for the next two years and anything can happen between now and November of 2014.
Having said that, as I wrote my last piece identifying the 10 most bipartisan senators of the 113th Congress, I couldn’t help but peek into the next midterm elections. In taking both the 2010 and 2012 elections into consideration, I have laid out the most practical, realistic path for Republicans to take back a majority in the Senate in 2014. None of these elections are a given; on the contrary, I lay out the necessary steps Republicans must take if this strategy is to become a reality.
Below is a map of all the Senate seats that will be up for election:
The Democrats currently hold a 55-45 Senate majority, so Republicans would need a six- seat swing to gain a majority. It’s not impossible. During the last midterm elections in 2010, the GOP picked up a net six senate seats. Although that was in large part due to the Tea Party wave, I believe the GOP can attain this goal again in 2014 through careful calculation, fresh campaign strategies, and by nominating the right candidates in the right states.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D) will be running for his third term (he ran unopposed in 2008). Although he’s an Evangelical Christian with a somewhat moderate voting record, it didn’t help his Democratic colleague – Blanche Lincoln – from losing re-election in 2010. Republican John Boozman maintained a comfortable lead in the polls all year long, despite being outraised in campaign financing 8:1. Obamacare is still a very unpopular piece of legislation in Arkansas and it will be used against Pryor just as it was used against Lincoln. Lt. Governor Mark Darr (R) has already declared his candidacy for this race and Rep. Steve Womack (R) is also considering it.
Three-term incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) was re-elected with 52% of the vote in 2008 and has already begun to fundraise for her intended re-election bid for a fourth term. Her long-term incumbent status definitely helps along with her slightly moderate voting record, but Republicans are enjoying statewide popularity on the coattails of Gov. Bobby Jindal (who declined to run in this race). All the GOP congressmen of Louisiana will be competing with each other for this nomination but every day that goes by before the primary, they trail Landrieu in fundraising. It won’t be easy defeating her, but not impossible either.
3. NORTH CAROLINA
Sen. Kay Hagan (D) rode Obama’s original wave into office in 2008 to defeat incumbent Elizabeth Dole, but North Carolina swung Republican in 2012. The votes are definitely there and it looks to be a crowded field on the GOP primary side in 2014. They’ve already started polling for this race and the fact that every poll has Hagan below 50% this early on is definitely a good sign for Republicans. This almost looks like a 2012 Missouri or Indiana Senate race – the GOP can easily win this as long as they don’t nominate a nut in the primary that screws up a sure win.
4. SOUTH DAKOTA
Three-term incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson (D) hasn’t even decided if he’s going to run for a fourth term yet, but two-term Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has already announced his intention to run and has spoken with fellow South Dakota Sen. John Thune (R) about the logistics of traveling back and forth to Capitol Hill. If Johnson steps down it will definitely make things easier for Rounds, but analyzing Johnson’s voting record shows it to be remarkably liberal for a red state like South Dakota. Johnson narrowly held off Thune in his 2002 re-election bid by only 1% but easily won his third term behind Obama in 2008.
Alaska is not as red of a state as Republicans think it is, despite voting for Gov. Sarah Palin. They learned that lesson in 2010 when Tea Party-favorite Joe Miller failed to beat incumbent Lisa Murkowski’s write-in candidacy. Miller has been quiet ever since, but there is speculation he might try once more for the senate seat held by Mark Begich (D) in 2014. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) is also looking into it. Begich narrowly beat 40-year-incumbent Ted Stevens (R) for the seat in 2008 by less than 2% of the vote. Stevens had had filed to run again in the 2014 election, but he was killed in a plane crash on August 9, 2010.
Certainly not impossible, especially if current Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) decides to run for it. McDonnell is currently in his last year at the governor’s mansion and Virginia constitutional law limits governors to only one term. If McDonnell does challenge Mark Warner (D) for his Senate seat, it would mark the third straight Senate election between two former governors of Virginia. It won’t be easy though, Warner is polling very strong against any potential challenger today. Many residents’ jobs in that state are dependent on federal spending, so it’s not easy for any fiscally responsible Republicans to win there. But McDonnell still gives the GOP their best chance in this race. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) is looking to succeed McDonnell as governor and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) is probably too polarizing to win a statewide election.
These six Senate races are the lowest hanging fruit for the GOP. Although Romney carried all of them in 2012 (with the exception of Virginia), that doesn’t necessarily guarantee any Republican victories. It didn’t help GOP Senate candidates in Missouri, Indiana, Montana and North Dakota. It’s evident why candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost. In Montana, Libertarian candidate Dan Cox shaved off enough votes to prevent Republican nominee Denny Rehberg from winning. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Heidi Heitkamp (D) was able to beat Rick Berg (R) in North Dakota by less than 3,000 votes.
I think part of the reason is the GOP’s public image problem. Far too many Americans believe (or have been told to believe) that the Republican Party “doesn’t care about the poor, minorities, women, etc.” This is something I’ve written extensively about in previous articles. Republican candidates in red states and blue states alike need to start reaching out more aggressively to conservative women, Latinos, African-Americans, etc. Romney won a majority of males, whites, independents, middle class voters, and married women. In the past, that was always enough to form a 51% majority. Today, it’s not.
The GOP has maxed out the white conservative vote – Romney won more whites than any Republican candidate since 1988. There are far too many conservative women and minorities who are voting Democrat simply because they haven’t been reached out to. To the Obama campaign’s credit, the Democrats never stopped campaigning after 2008. They kept all their campaign offices open – especially in the swing states – and spent the last four years developing relationships, building trust, and keeping their message out there 24/7 with key demographics in targeted communities.
That’s all it took for the Democrats to win in 2012. It wasn’t a validation of progressive ideology. Exit polls show 51% of Americans still prefer smaller government with fewer services vs. 43% who prefer larger government. But Republicans have to start campaigning in our neighborhoods now. Not six weeks before an election, now.
Finally, Republicans must also diversify their base with free-market principled, constitutionally-limited government conservatives who enforce the separation of church and state if nothing, because they need enough primary voters to be nominating the right candidates to carry the right message in the rights states, especially in Senate elections. They don’t need any more Christine O’Donnells and Sharron Angles or Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks, especially in states where Republicans shouldn’t be losing elections.