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.

ADVERTISEMENT
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 CollinsSwing-state Republicans play up efforts for gun control laws Reid knocks GOP on gun 'terror loophole' after attacks GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-Maine) runs for reelection, she's likely in good shape.

Sens. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (D-Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuLouisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator La. Senate contender books seven-figure ad buy Crowded field muddies polling in Louisiana Senate race 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 BegichRyan's victory trumps justice reform opponents There is great responsibility being in the minority Senate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect MORE (D-Alaska), who has been fundraising furiously, is also likely to face a strong challenge. Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusChina moves to lift ban on US beef Overnight Healthcare: Zika fight stalls government funding talks | Census finds big drop in uninsured | Mental health bill faces wait Glover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft 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 JohnsonBank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit Former GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting Housing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform 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 HaganPhoto finish predicted for Trump, Clinton in North Carolina Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? Clinton's lead in NC elevates Senate race 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 LevinThe Fed and a return to banking simplicity What Our presidential candidates can learn from Elmo Zumwalt Will there be a 50-50 Senate next year? MORE (D-Mich.) and Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa) are considered retirement possibilities, and if they retire, those seats could be in jeopardy for Democrats.

Freshman Democratic Sens. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (Colo.), Al FrankenAl FrankenSenators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to block Saudi arms sale | ISIS may have fired chemical agent in Iraq | Trump, Gary Johnson tied among military voters Human rights groups cheer Saudi arms sale vote despite failure MORE (Minn.), Jean Shaheen (N.H.) and Tom UdallTom UdallTensions rise over judicial nominees Dem senator wants to change nomination rules amid Garland fight Dem senators back Navajo lawsuit against EPA MORE (N.M.) could also face tough races.

Another possible headache for Democrats: If Sen. John KerryJohn KerryTime for Action on Bahrain When wise men attack: Why Gates is wrong about Clinton, Libya Internal memo: Refugee program vulnerable to fraud MORE (D-Mass.) winds up replacing Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPost piles on: ‘Beyond debate’ Trump is unfit for office Clinton, Netanyahu have ‘in-depth’ conversation about US-Israeli ties NYT lays out argument against Trump for president 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.