GOP chances in the Senate in 2014—real opportunities!

| February 8 2013
John Walker

GOP Looks to Senate Victories in 2014

Exactly two years ago at the beginning of the 2012 election cycle, Republicans eagerly anticipated the opportunity to win a majority in the United State Senate. The effort failed badly, but now Republicans have another chance to gain Senate seats or even secure a majority.

Republicans had the wind at their backs in the 2012 Senate contests. There were more Democrats up for reelection than Republicans. The enthusiasm of 2010 was still in the air. Seven Democrats created open contests when they retired. And the entire Democratic Senate caucus was vulnerable to backlash over deficits, the mounting federal debt, and Obamacare.

At first the Republican effort went well. All they needed was a net gain of four seats to secure the majority. Fundraising was vigorous; political observers across the spectrum predicted a possible or even likely Republican takeover.

Now, immediately after the disappointments of 2012, Republicans will get a rare second and consecutive chance to improve their lot in the Senate. Once again, the math is on their side. Republicans will defend 12 incumbents; Democrats will defend 18. Retirements have created open elections in three states – – Iowa, Georgia, and West Virginia.

Already the battle lines have been drawn for 2014. President Obama has been quick off the starting line of his second term with a blueprint for vigorous liberalism. He longs to capture a Democratic majority in the House and maintain or increase his party’s edge in the Senate. This would give him the final two years of his second term to cement his emerging legacy.

Republicans have a sharp response: Not So Fast, Mr. President. They know that the next two years are littered with political landmines for the president and his party. Most dangerous of all is the uncertain prospect that the president will show any leadership in the effort to combat the nation’s growing fiscal crisis.

Then there is the stagnant economy marked by stubborn unemployment and anemic growth. Added to the mix is the advent of Obamacare with the full force of its bureaucracy, expense, and taxes.

Republicans now need a net gain of six seats to gain a Senate majority in 2014. It is a steep climb, but not an impossible task. Many factors give the GOP more than a conventional leg up.

Of the 12 Republican senators defending their seats in 2014, only one hails from a state that Barack Obama carried in 2012 – – Susan Collins of Maine. The rest represent deep red states. Even Collins would probably win, given her widespread popularity in Maine.

A number of Democrats up for reelection face trouble. They represent red states and the prospects of strong Republican contenders. These include Begich in Alaska, Pryor in Arkansas, Landrieu in Louisiana, and Hagan in North Carolina.

Of the three senators who already have announced retirement and created open seats – – Saxby in Georgia, Harkin in Iowa, and Rockefeller in West Virginia – – Georgia is solidly Republican. The GOP has a better than even chance to pick up the seat in West Virginia.

Other retirements may be forthcoming. Carl Levin of Michigan and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey may bow out, but these are blue states with little likelihood of Republican gains. Tim Johnson of South Dakota could retire for health reasons, opening up the prospect of a GOP victory in another red state.

The real donnybrook of the 2014 Senate races will occur in Minnesota. Al Franken, the retired comic who snuck into the Senate by a margin of 312 votes after a bitter and protracted recount, will draw national attention for the next two years. Democrats always have the edge in Minnesota, but an attractive candidate with strong financing could send Franken back to the comedy clubs.

Almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Republicans in the 2012 Senate races. Of the seven open seats created by retiring Democrats, the Democrats lost only one race – – Bob Kerrey in Nebraska. Republican candidates with excellent chances in Missouri and Indiana imploded with self-inflicted verbal wounds. Without Flake in Arizona, Cruz in Texas, and Fischer in Nebraska, the Democrats would have done even better than their two seat gain.

The GOP needs to grasp the chance for Senate victories in 2014. They should follow the most important rule of elective politics – – good candidates with adequate funding almost always win. These candidates need to be principled conservatives with the maturity and discipline to think before they speak.

The Republican opportunity in 2014 is urgent. In 2016, in the midst of the turbulence of a presidential campaign year, Republicans will defend 24 Senate seats; Democrats will defend 10. It’s time to get to work.

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