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INDIANAPOLIS — As we approach a mid-term election year, like it or not, it’s appropriate to start looking ahead to the 2014 elections.
Besides, everyone seems sick of this Congress anyway. Why not start pondering what the next one might look like?
The question at hand is whether Republicans have a realistic opportunity to take control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans currently control 46 seats, though that number is expected to drop to 45 after a special election in New Jersey later this year, which would require a net gain of six seats for Republicans to take control of the upper chamber.
Historically and mathematically, this is possible. Republicans gained seven seats in 2010.
There are seven Democratic senators representing states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. These are the first places to look for Republican pick-up opportunities. Can Republicans win six of the seven?
In West Virginia, Democrat Jay Rockefeller is retiring and Republicans have their dream candidate in Shelley Moore Capito. Capito is a member of the U.S. House, a skilled campaigner and a diligent policy maker.
In the House, she represents Charleston and the increasingly Republican eastern panhandle. Democrats have struggled to find a candidate willing to take Capito on, but seem close to coaxing Secretary of State Natalie Tennant into the race. Today, Capito is the betting favorite.
Democrats also have a retirement in South Dakota where Sen. Tim Johnson is stepping down. Republicans will have a primary, but former Gov. Mike Rounds is considered the front-runner today.
Democrats failed to recruit either of their top potential candidates into the race and may still be fishing for a candidate here. Rounds should be heavily favored to win the seat, but lacking a strong Democratic opponent, any Republican should fare well in South Dakota.
In Montana, where Democrat Max Baucus is retiring, Democrats have yet to settle on a candidate but have fared well here in recent Senate elections. They’ve fared very well actually. Montanans have only sent one Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1952. But that could change with Montana’s lone congressman Republican Steve Daines likely to enter the race. Democrats unsuccessfully tried to lure former Gov. Brian Schweitzer into the race.
Keep an eye on Montana, it seems unfathomable Democrats would let this one slip away without a fight.
Republicans next best opportunity is in Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor seems destined to face off against Republican Congressman Tom Cotton.
Pryor has been a reliable Democratic vote in increasingly not-Democratic Arkansas. Cotton, 36, is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and a Harvard grad. Elected to the House in 2012, Cotton is that rarest of rare Republican candidates, one embraced by both the establishment and tea party wings of the party. Republicans are optimistic about Cotton’s chances.
If the GOP were to sweep West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Arkansas (and not lose any seats), they’d need to win two of three races in Louisiana,
North Carolina and Alaska to win the majority.
Freshman Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska was elected by a narrow margin in 2008 and is a top GOP target in 2014. Republicans appear headed for a primary between 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.
It’s hard to imagine Miller defeating Begich after his disastrous 2010 campaign that he eventually lost to Lisa Murkowski, who won as a write-in candidate after losing to Miller in the primary. Republicans believe either Treadwell or Sullivan could defeat Begich.
In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu always seems vulnerable and always survives. But Congressman Bill Cassidy would be her toughest opponent to date and Republicans are on a winning streak in Louisiana. It’s no sure thing, but this might be the year Landrieu finally gets beat.
Republicans have almost more candidates than you can count in North Carolina, where Sen. Key Hagan is facing her first re-election bid. While Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia are trending Republican, you can make the case that North Carolina is moving away from the GOP. President Obama carried it in 2008, and Romney carried it in 2012. This might be the race everyone is watching while we wait for ballots to be counted in Alaska on Election Night 2014.
If Republicans hold the open seat in Georgia and Mitch McConnell’s seat in Kentucky, they’ll need to win six of these seven seats in “red” states to take control of the Senate.
It’s doable, but they’ll have to run the table and not repeat the mistakes of Republican candidates in 2010 and 2012.
Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at Cam@limestone-strategies.com.
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