Brian Schweitzer’s decision not to run for the open Senate seat in Montana deals another blow to Democrats in a race they were hopeful to win. Even if one considers the unique variables at play in the race: Schweitzer’s testy relations with Montana Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus and the legislature, his supposed ties to a shady black money group, and an opposition rap sheet a mile wide the decision actually shocked state Democrats. Schweitzer had actually filed for the seat and hired campaign consultants, indicating interest in the run.
It is impossible to know exactly why Schweitzer did not run. But it highlights the struggle Democrats are facing in 2014. Of the seven Romney states Democrats are attempting to hold this cycle in the Senate, three Senators have retired (Max Baucus, MT, Jay Rockefeller, WV and Tim Johnson, SD). In all three of these states Democrats have now had to settle for a virtual, or literal, nobody. In both WV and now MT, no Democrats have announced to hold the seats for the party. In South Dakota, Democrats have had to settle for a liberal, Rick Weiland, far out of step with the state’s voters ideologically.
In the four other states Democrats are defending with incumbents, AL, LA, NC and AR, polls have shown the incumbents vulnerable. Admittedly, the GOP only has a high-profile candidate announced in LA and AK (and the establishment’s faces a primary in AK), it looks likely the GOP will get freshman Congressman Tom Cotton to run in Arkansas. In the still open Montana seat the GOP is waiting on freshman Steve Daines. And in North Carolina, the GOP is sure to have plenty of candidates but the party appears hopeful Congresswoman Renee Ellmers will run against Kay Hagan.
Democratic struggles with recruiting in red states stands in stark contrast to their recruiting success in blue to purple open seats. In Iowa, the party netted Congressman Bruce Braley running for Tom Harkin’s seat. In Michigan, the party has as its standard-bearer Congressman Gary Peters. In both states the GOP has struggled to find a strong recruit to rally behind. In other possible competitive seats where Democrats could be on the defensive, Minnesota and Colorado, GOP recruiting has been poor.
Still, the GOP road to the majority in the Senate runs through states where Romney won by double digits (except North Carolina). So even if Democrats won every race outside of the states Romney won in 2012 the GOP would have a fairly strong 52-48 majority in the upper chamber. Now, in the past two elections the GOP has shown a penchant to self-destruct with weak candidates in NV, CO, DE, IN, and MO. But the party appears to be learning lessons from this and the party base seems to be rallying around establishment candidates in WV, SD, and LA. Tom Cotton in AR and Steve Daines in MT are conservatives but they definitely do not lean towards the Tea Party wing of the party.
The GOP base may have even more incentive to vote this cycle as a check on Obama and his second term agenda. This agenda has included such policy proposals such as cap-and-trade light, immigration reform, gay marriage legalization among other efforts. All these efforts are against the core beliefs of the modern GOP base. This does not mean the GOP is a shoe-in to win the Senate, though they should. As strong as the brands of Pryor and Landrieu are in their respective states they have voted for Healthcare Reform and deficit spending many of their constituents oppose. Combine this with a President who is reeling from scandals and just brought Healthcare Reform back into the current political debate with his delay of the Business Individual Mandate and the GOP should be set to take the Senate.
The GOP does need to hold open Senate seats in Georgia and Nebraska. Nebraska looks safe for the GOP but a muddled primary in Georgia combined with a changing general electorate might allow Democrats to win. Congressman John Barrow declined to run statewide and Democrats are practically begging Michelle Nun to run for the seat. If she does her path to the nomination could be clear compared to a divided and possibly bitter GOP primary. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could be in danger because of Democrats recruiting Secretary of State Alison Lundergan. However, Lundergan has never run for such a polarizing federal office and her roll-out has been less than stellar.
Regardless, Democrats face struggles heading into 2014. Schweitzer’s decision highlights that.