Democrats confident they'll hold Senate despite Montana setback

The head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm is pushing back against perceptions the party is at increasing risk of losing its majority in 2014.

Despite losing a top Senate prospect in Montana and having vulnerable red-state incumbents saddled with President Obama's sinking approval ratings, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Executive Director Guy Cecil says the "lay of the land" favors the party in 2014.

In a memo Wednesday, Cecil pointed to recent candidate recruitment successes in Kentucky and Georgia as cause for optimism.

"Like 2012, Democrats inherited a difficult map this cycle, but over the last seven months we have seen increasing signs that we can hold our majority despite the circumstances," he writes.

"Of course it remains very early for both parties, but right now, the lay of the land favors Democrats keeping the majority in 2014."

The top DSCC staffer argues Democrats have put Kentucky and Georgia "in play" after landing top recruits — Alison Lundergan Grimes and Michelle Nunn, respectively — in recent weeks.

He also expressed confidence in the Democratic incumbents the party is defending in North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska.

But the memo breezes over Democrats' scramble to find a strong recruit in Montana after former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) announced he wouldn't run for the Senate.

That decision turned a race thought to be leaning toward the Democrats into one that looks like a likely GOP pickup, a major setback for Democrats in their battle to hold onto the Senate.

The GOP needs to hold their own seats and will likley need to pick up six more to control the Senate in 2015.

“They're trying to push back on the growing perception that Republicans' path to six has gotten easier, and they're trying to capitalize on events in Georgia and Kentucky,” said Cook Political Report Senate Editor Jennifer Duffy.

Duffy argues the shift in Montana toward the GOP is a much bigger development, because Democrats were expected to land candidates in Georgia and Kentucky.

“We expected them to put Georgia and Kentucky in play. I don't feel like the map has changed there,” she said.

“Republicans could still expand their playing field. Democrats have nowhere else to go. There aren't really any other Republican seats that they can put on the board.”

Beyond Montana, Republicans are currently favored in South Dakota and West Virginia. They must also upset three of four vulnerable Democrats, in North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska.

That’s a tall order, Cecil argues.

“Remember that only three Democratic incumbents have lost reelection in the last decade, and now Republicans need to defeat three in one year,” he writes. “That's difficult for a party that has proven particularly good at losing Senate races the last five years."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) rejected Cecil's analysis. 

"Those who are explaining are losing, and Democrats are doing a lot of explaining," said NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring.

"Democrats are flailing after screwing up recruiting in three red states and now diverting money away from endangered incumbents to long shot races in Kentucky and Georgia.”

Updated at 4:30 p.m.