Senate, House Democrats face tough election fundamentals in 2014

Democrats could be in for a tough election cycle in 2014,  defending a number of red-state Senate seats and facing a tough path to take back control of the House.

The smoke is still clearing from the 2012 election landscape, but both parties are already looking to the future. 

Democrats will once again be defending many more Senate seats than the GOP, with 20 senators up compared to 13 for Republicans. Six of those Democrats hail from red states, while seven come from swing states. Republicans will need to pick up six seats to retake control of the upper chamber. 

On the House side, Republican gerrymanders in a number of states will continue to minimize Democratic chances at winning seats.

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The party also has the problem of relying on a “boom-bust” coalition of young and minority voters who often show up in presidential years, only to stay at home during midterm elections. Getting those voters to the polls could once again cause problems for Democrats.

Democrats managed to actually pick up Senate seats in 2012 despite playing more defense, and many of their seats will be defended by battle-tested veteran campaigners. But 2014’s election slate could prove even tougher than 2012, depending on GOP recruitment, retirements and what the political atmosphere is like in two years.

They are defending seats in the Republican states of Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, and also have seats up in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia. Republicans' only blue-state seat is in Maine, and if Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP women push Trump on VP pick Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll Senate Dem takes on drugmaker: ‘It’s time to slaughter some hogs’ MORE (R-Maine) runs for reelection, she's likely in good shape.

Sens. Mark PryorMark PryorEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood Ex-Sen. Landrieu joins law and lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (D-La.), who have both said they’re running for reelection, are likely to face tough races in their conservative and Republican-trending states. Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Dem ex-lawmakers defend Schumer on Iran MORE (D-Alaska), who has been fundraising furiously, is also likely to face a strong challenge. Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusWyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny The chaotic fight for ObamaCare MORE (D-Mont.) is expected to run again, and could face a tough general-election race — assuming he wins his primary; former Gov. Brian Schweitzer is rumored to be interested in challenging him.

Democratic Sen. Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonOn Wall Street, Dem shake-up puts party at crossroads Regulators fret over FOIA reform bill Senators push back against using guarantee fees to offset spending MORE (S.D.) has not said whether he’ll run again, though he’s recovered well from a 2008 brain aneurysm. Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has already formed an exploratory committee for the seat.

Sen. Kay HaganKay Hagan10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016 Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect' Washington's lobby firms riding high MORE (D-N.C.), who is running for reelection, has already ramped up fundraising efforts for what could be a tough race in that swing state.

Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.), who is 76, is a top retirement possibility, and his June speech blasting the coal industry for opposing an Environmental Protection Agency rule was read by many as a sign that he has no plans on running again. Sens. Carl LevinCarl LevinCarl, Sander Levin rebuke Sanders for tax comments on Panama trade deal Supreme Court: Eye on the prize Congress got it wrong on unjustified corporate tax loopholes MORE (D-Mich.) and Tom HarkinTom HarkinDo candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? The Hill's 12:30 Report Mark Mellman: Parsing the primary processes MORE (D-Iowa) are considered retirement possibilities, and if they retire, those seats could be in jeopardy for Democrats.

Freshman Democratic Sens. Mark UdallMark UdallEnergy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Two vulnerable senators lack challengers for 2016 MORE (Colo.), Al FrankenAl FrankenSenate passes resolution honoring Prince Senators aim to bolster active shooter training Minnesota senators praise Prince on Senate floor MORE (Minn.), Jean Shaheen (N.H.) and Tom UdallTom UdallSurprise resignation threatens to hobble privacy watchdog Dem bill cracks down on payday lenders Menendez wants vote on ambassador to Mexico MORE (N.M.) could also face tough races.

Another possible headache for Democrats: If Sen. John KerryJohn KerryWhy Obama's 'cold peace' with Iran will turn hot Pennsylvania Senate rivals use Trump, Clinton as ammunition Senate confirms Obama's long-stalled ambassador to Mexico MORE (D-Mass.) winds up replacing Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFor Clinton, there's really only one choice for veep Pennsylvania Senate rivals use Trump, Clinton as ammunition Cory Booker is Clinton secret weapon MORE as secretary of State, defeated Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) could run for Kerry’s seat.

On the House side, while Democrats will have some opportunities at districts they missed out on in California and elsewhere, heavily gerrymandered GOP maps in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and North Carolina will continue to limit their opportunities.

Democrats tend to live in more urban areas, concentrating their votes into fewer congressional districts, and legally required “majority-minority” districts further pack Democrats into a few districts and make nearby districts more safely Republican.

According to a recent study by the Center for Voting and Democracy, Democrats start off with 166 safe districts while Republicans start off with 195. There are only 74 true swing districts where the presidential candidates won between 46 and 54 percent of the popular vote, down from 89 before redistricting.

That means the GOP needs to win less than one-third of competitive House seats to stay in control — something that shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish, barring a huge Democratic wave. In a politically neutral year Democrats are likely to have around 203 seats, a number that’s only slightly higher than the number they’ll have once the remaining 2012 races are called.

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