2014 Senate Predictions
Republicans appear to be poised to win control of the Senate next week, but there are still enough close races where the Democratic and independent candidates have a chance of winning that a takeover remains uncertain. A lack of Democratic enthusiasm, weak presidential approval ratings, and a more Republican-friendly electorate all make a Republican Senate majority more likely than not. However, Republicans have underperformed in Senate races in the last two elections and could do the same thing again. The wild cards this year are Kansas and South Dakota, where independent candidates have a chance to upset the incumbent or play a spoiler role, and which party they will ultimately align with could depend on how all of the other races turn out. Here are my predictions for the Senate races this year.
Colorado: Largely thanks to his own missteps, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has taken what should have been a reasonably secure seat and turned it into an extra Republican pick-up. By running a campaign strangely preoccupied with social issues, Udall has managed to fritter away the advantages of his famous Western political family name and his mostly admirable record on foreign policy and civil liberties. That has helped to give his opponent, Cory Cardner, a small but consistent lead in the polls. Udall made a serious mistake in approaching a midterm election as if the electorate would be the same as the one that Obama faced in 2012, and that is one important reason why he is losing this race. Result: Republican pick-up.
North Carolina: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has managed to stay just ahead of North Carolina House speaker Thom Tillis, and she seems to be benefiting from a backlash against Tillis’ record in the state legislature. My guess is that Hagan will be able to eke out a narrow win, but if there is a surprise on Tuesday night this might be where it happens. Result: Democratic hold.
Georgia: The race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is one of the more interesting and notable contests this year, pitting Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, against David Perdue. Changing demographics in Georgia and a competent campaign by Nunn (with the added benefit of the connection to her father) have made what has normally been a very safe Republican seat a toss-up. Nunn has used Perdue’s recent remarks boasting of his pride in outsourcing to great effect, and if Georgia votes for Nunn next week it will have a lot to do with the Republican candidate’s tone-deafness on economic issues. The hitch in this race is that Georgia requires the winner to receive more than 50% of the vote, so there will probably have to be a run-off in January, and that is more likely to hurt Nunn’s chances of becoming senator. Result: Nunn wins next week, but loses in January, so Republican hold.
Arkansas: Sen. Mark Pryor was staying even with Rep. Tom Cotton over the summer, and in some polls even held the lead for a short time, but gradually the sheer unpopularity of the president and Pryor’s own missteps have managed to give the decidedly uncharismatic Cotton a significant and growing lead. Despite his underwhelming campaign performance, Cotton will be going to the Senate to add another member to the chamber’s already large group of extremely aggressive foreign policy hawks. Result: Republican pick-up.
Iowa: Republican Joni Ernst has taken a small lead in the polls, and seems likely to retain that lead going into next week. Democrats really have no excuse losing this seat, and along with Colorado this is their biggest blown opportunity this year. Result: Republican pick-up.
New Hampshire: Incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is facing a tough challenge from the peripatetic Republican Scott Brown, who recently migrated to New Hampshire in the hopes of finding a more favorable electorate. Brown has closed the gap in recent weeks, but Shaheen remains narrowly ahead and should manage to hang on for the win. Result: Democratic hold.
Montana & West Virginia: The Republican candidates have been running away with these races all year, and they have always been guaranteed losses for the Democrats. Results: 2 Republican pick-ups.
Alaska: Sen. Mark Begich has done his best to separate himself from Obama as much as any Democratic candidate can, but it is likely not going to be enough to keep him in office. He has consistently trailed Dan Sullivan for the last several weeks, and I assume he will be voted out. Result: Republican pick-up.
Louisiana: Incumbent Mary Landrieu may come out ahead in the jungle primary next week, but won’t win the run-off. Result: Republican pick-up.
South Dakota: The more curious of the two potential wild cards this year, the South Dakota race is a three-way contest between Gov. Mike Rounds, Democrat Rick Weiland, and independent (and former Republican Senator) Larry Pressler. Rounds has been dogged by a scandal connected to a visa program that was expanded on Rounds’ watch, and that has caused Democrats to start throwing money at the race in the hope that they can steal away a seat that everyone had written off as an easy Republican pick-up. In spite of the scandal, however, Rounds retains the overall lead in the race, and he only needs a plurality to win, and that is what he is likely to get. Result: Republican pick-up.
Kansas: The other wild card is the race between incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and independent businessman Greg Orman. Following the decision by the Democratic candidate to bow out of the race and the court decision that removed Taylor’s name from the ballot, Orman is in a good position to exploit dissatisfaction with Roberts and with the state Republican Party. Roberts has rallied a bit in the final weeks of the campaign, but he continues to poll in the low 40s, which is terrible for an incumbent. Orman will end up coming up with the win, and then will have to decide which party he will caucus with. While Democrats have been pinning their hopes for retaining the majority on an Orman victory, it is always possible that Orman will choose to help Republicans take over the chamber instead. If the other races turn out as I expect (eight Republican pick-ups and no losses), Orman will likely join the winning team and caucus with the GOP. Result: Orman wins and gives Republicans a majority of 53.