The number of possibly endangered Democrats this cycle continues to grow. If one looks at the presidential map and Senate seats up for reelection in 2014 one will see that Democrats will be defending 7 seats in states Romney won. Republicans will be defending a mere one seat in states Obama won (and that Senator looks like a shoe-in for reelection).
Republicans have already come out of the gate with a roaring start this cycle. In South Dakota, former GOP Governor Mike Rounds is exploring a bid against Tim Johnson (D). In West Virginia, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito announced she is running against Jay Rockefeller (D). In other states such as Montana, Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina and Louisiana the GOP has a talented pool of candidates to draw from in each race.
Besides the implications this has for the results of the 2014 election it could also impact the fiscal cliff talks. A number of variables are at play in these talks; Medicare and Social Security Reform, cutting spending, raising tax rates or limiting deductions for high earners (250K and above), comprehensive tax reform and raising the debt ceiling. Endangered Democrats may be more inclined to tow the conservative line in the debate.
Minus Rockfeller and Johnson, who have not faced tough races in years and are liberal for their states, Senators such as Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landreiu (AR), Mark Begich (AL), Max Baucus (MT) and Kay Hagan (NC) may be willing to side with the GOP on certain spending cuts. Siding with the President and liberal majority in the caucus on tax hikes and fewer to no spending cuts until at least next year may endear them to the left but it will not do them any favors in their reelection bids in red states. However, these Democrats may be less willing to entertain changing Social Security and Medicare as their states as a whole tend to be older than other states.
Republicans have yet to really try to woo these Senators to their side. To be fair GOP options on how to do this are limited. Ultimately it comes down to how badly many of these Democratic Senators want to be reelected. Some Senators may feel they are secure in their seats regardless of the GOP lean of their states. In Louisiana for example the Landreiu name has been involved in state politics for 40 years. Kay Hagan in North Carolina has yet to see a viable challenger emerge. Mark Begich has been friendly to his state’s oil and natural gas interests and moderate to fiscally conservative since 2006. Mark Pryor has been fairly popular in his state but he had a first-row seat to watch his former fellow state caucusmate, Blanche Lincoln, be defeated easily in 2010. Lastly, Max Baucus has built a successful independent brand in Montana and may feel safe from a GOP challenge.
Democrats as a whole, like Republicans, hardly seem united on the fiscal cliff talks. Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) has called for higher taxes on only those who earn a million or more. Senator Dick Durbin (IL) has said that Social Security and Medicare reforms need to be on the table but only after the Lame Duck session. Meanwhile numerous House and Senate Republicans have backed off their previous anti-tax pledges. The most notable of these defections are John McCain (AZ), Paul Ryan (WI) and Peter King (NY).
Endangered Democrats may hold the key for the GOP getting their way, or most of their way, in the fiscal talks. These Democrats could also guide the conversation in the direction that they want. Either way, as the President bloviates and does nothing but PR stunts, it will be up to Congress to again find a way to deal with the impending fiscal cliff. Hopefully they do, with a good balance of spending cuts and revenue increases. Still, the jury is out on whether they will find a compromise or not. These endangered Democratic Senators could be the key to finding that compromise.