Privately Democratic strategists and experts are coming around to the realization that Democrats are likely to lose the Senate. Of course, to appease their partisan masters they argue this is only a possible scenario even if Obamacare woes continue. Democrats saving grace may be that there are currently only a small number of Senate seats the GOP is competing for. These states include the seven states Romney won in 2012 that have Democratic incumbents. Three of them are open seat races (WV, SD and MT) and four of them have Democratic incumbents (LA, AR, AK and NC).
Each of these seven states has its own dynamics and the voters in each state are unique. For example, while Montana has voted GOP for President since 1964 Republicans have lost 19 of the state’s last 22 races for Senate yet have held the at-large House seat (basically a mini-Senate race) in 11 straight elections. West Virginia has voted GOP for President since 2000 yet still has a Democratic governor, state legislature and two Democratic Senators. Louisiana and Arkansas have taken hard right turns in recent years. In 2008 Mark Pryor won reelection unopposed and Landrieu won against an underwhelming opponent with 53% of the vote. In 2008 Arkansas also had a Democratic legislature and a federal delegation of 5D/1R. Today, those numbers are reversed (1D/5R) and Pryor is the lone Democratic in the state’s federal delegation. The state legislature is also controlled by the GOP and the Governor’s race is leaning rightward. Landrieu has seen her state reelect a GOP Governor, elect a dominant GP majority in the legislature and knock out a long-time Blue Dog Congressmen in 2010.
As for Alaska and North Carolina Democrats can console themselves with the facts that Alaska is a truly unique state politically. While the state has a strong GOP tradition that tradition has been more energy/business friendly. Begich’s narrow victory in 2008 courting business interests and minorities offers him a path to victory in 2014. In North Carolina, once a GOP stronghold the state now has a distinctly purplish tinge as evidenced by Hagan’s and Obama’s wins in 2008. Yet, in 2012 the state elected three new GOP Congressmen, a GOP Governor and Romney won the state by 2%.
Democrats always knew these races would be tough to win. But Democrats also anticipated better recruiting in open seat races. For example in Montana Democrats expected to former Governor Brian Schweitzer to run for the seat but he declined. Democrats have had to settle for Lt. Governor Jon Walsh, an attractive veteran but not a seasoned politico like potential GOP nominee, freshman Congressman Steve Daines. In South Dakota, Democrats have a candidate that is far more liberal than the state and is hostile to energy interests while in West Virginia Democrats have an attractive candidate, SofS Natalie Tennant, but is also untested in partisan races.
In the four races where Democrats have incumbents the GOP has not struggled with recruiting. In Louisiana the GOP recruited Congressman Bill Cassidy. In Arkansas the GOP recruited freshman Congressman Tom Cotton and in Alaska the GOP has two strong contenders in Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. Only in North Carolina has the GOP struggled to find a top-tier candidate. Yet this may not matter if polls are accurate in the state.
Obamacare has taken a toll on Democrats that no other scandal originating from this White House has. The NSA wiretapping of people’s phones and emails, IRS auditing of Tea Party groups, Benghazi and spying on foreign leaders only registered as a minor bump in public views of the Democratic Party and White House. But Obamacare is a whole another story. Specifically relating to the White House, on October 1st when the exchange and website debuted the President had a 50.6% approval rating in the RCP compilation of polls. At the time of this writing, November 26, only 41% approve and 55% disapprove. Also, perhaps more importantly, for the first time ever a majority of people now do not trust the President according to a recent NBC/WSJ survey.
Endangered Democratic incumbents have suffered as a result. In North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana the polls have narrowed significantly and all three Democratic Senators have underwater approval ratings. There is no polling data out of Alaska. Before Obamacare rolled out Republican candidates led in West Virginia and South Dakota. The most recent poll out of Montana gives Steve Daines a huge lead over Walsh due to Obamacare.
Even more worrisome has been a string of new polling data out of Michigan, Iowa and Colorado. Michigan and Iowa feature Democratic open seat races once thought to be solidly in the Democrat’s camp. In Michigan Democrats recruited Congressman Gary Peters while Republicans settled for former SofS Terri Lynn. In Iowa Republicans have a crowded field to face off against Democratic contender Congressman Bruce Braley. Colorado features popular freshman Democratic Senator Tom Udall running against an underwhelming GOP field. Until recently these races all looked to be safely in the Democratic camp and ensuring the GOP path to the majority was extremely narrow.
New polls argue differently. Specifically, a Harper (R) survey finds that in Iowa Braley has narrow leads ranging from 3-6 points against his possible GOP opponents. In Colorado, Quinnipiac finds that Udall leads by 3-9 points against his possible opponents. Lastly, in Michigan, a bipartisan survey finds Peters leading Lynn by a mere 37%-36%. A number of other races in Minnesota and New Hampshire could also be competitive but scant polling has been done on these races to date.
Democrats contend they have strong candidates in Kentucky and Georgia giving the party a chance to pick off a GOP seat. Even so, in Kentucky Mitch McConnell is a formidable contender and his challenger, SofS Allison Grimes, is untested in federal races. In Georgia, while a fractured GOP field gives non-profit executive Michelle Nunn (a political dynasty in the state) a chance the political environment and midterm electorate favor whoever makes it out of the GOP primary.
Democrats have not succumbed to this reality. They continue to hold out hope Obamacare can be fixed and the public will focus on other issues such as social and local issues as the midterm nears. However, Republicans are unlikely to let this happen, especially in key Senate races, and Obamacare has numerous issues that will continue to plague the party well into next year (ie. the business mandate and exchanges being unaffordable due to sick and elderly getting on and young and healthy doing the opposite). Further, health premiums will continue to climb and more policy cancellations are expected. Democrats should start planning for 2016 where the Senate landscape is more favorable (2010 GOP gains will be up for reelection) and the White House will once again be open for a new occupant.