Mood turns somber for Democrats in 2014 contest for Senate control

President Obama talked earlier this year of a Democratic takeover of the House, but instead his party is now in danger of losing the Senate.

The latest blow to their hopes of keeping the upper chamber came from former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D),who opted out of a race to replace retiring Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusClients’ Cohen ties become PR liability Green Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana Business groups worried about Trump's China tariffs plan MORE (D-Mont.)

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Schweitzer’s decision deflated the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s annual retreat on Martha’s Vineyard, where many senators heard the news.

“People were very upset,” said a Democratic donor who was there.

That party seems likely to lose seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, where it cannot find find strong candidates.

The GOP will probably need to capture six Democratic seats in 2014 to grab the majority, as Newark mayor Cory Booker is well positioned to win the seat held by interim Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-N.J.) in a special election. Democrats hold a 54 to 46 advantage, counting two independents who caucus with them.

But they must also defend four vulnerable incumbents and the seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinDem Senator open to bid from the left in 2020 Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Trump should require federal contractors to follow the law MORE (D) in Iowa, a swing state.

Sens. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE and Mark BegichMark Peter BegichFormer Alaska senator jumps into governor race Overnight Energy: Trump directs Perry to stop coal plant closures | EPA spent ,560 on customized pens | EPA viewed postcard to Pruitt as a threat Perez creates advisory team for DNC transition MORE, Democrats from Arkansas and Alaska, where Obama lost badly in 2012, are in greatest danger. Sens. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuLandrieu dynasty faces a pause in Louisiana Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Project Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns MORE (D-La.), a three-term survivor perpetually on the GOP target list, and Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Politics is purple in North Carolina MORE (D-N.C.), who had a solid lead in a recent Public Policy Polling survey, will also have competitive races.

Pryor is seen as the most vulnerable, though Begich is a close second.

The Arkansan has taken hits from the right and the left this year as the anti-tax group Club For Growth and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, have aired attack ads against him. A late-June poll commissioned by the Senate Conservatives Fund showed him in a dead heat with freshman Rep. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonWhite House warns Congress against trying to block ZTE deal With caveats, Republicans praise Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un GOP senator: Trump sitting down with Kim not ‘pretty’ but ‘necessary’ to stop nuclear threat MORE (R-Ark.).

Senate Republicans, left dispirited after a net loss of two seats in 2012, now feel a gust of optimism.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranFormer USA Gymnastics CEO pleads Fifth at hearing GOP, Trump at odds on pardon power Lawmakers request meeting with Amtrak CEO over funding for route MORE (R-Kan.) says his colleagues are becoming more energetic as they see the rising possibility of a GOP Senate majority in 2015.

“That lends itself to people working harder, that lends itself to people contributing more,” Moran said.

Republicans have history on their side. The president’s party has lost Senate seats in almost every midterm election of his second term going back to 1938. The exception is 1998, when neither party picked up a seat in the middle of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBill Clinton hits Trump administration policy separating immigrant families in Father's Day tweet Trump's strategy for North Korea and beyond James Comey's higher disloyalty to America MORE’s second term.

Democrats will have to defend 21 seats while Republicans must worry about only 13. The most vulnerable Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress had a good couple of weeks — now let's keep it going McCarthy: 'The Mueller investigation has got to stop' McConnell: Mueller 'ought to wrap it up' MORE (Ky.). He has weak approval numbers but has amassed nearly $10 million with which to fund his campaign. He also has experience on his side; his opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes, is only 34 years old.

Midterm turnout is expected to be lower, older and whiter than in last year’s presidential election, which should favor Republicans.

Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Democrats are slightly favored to hold their majority because Republicans could be hurt again by choosing candidates who perform poorly in general elections.

“I would give Democrats a very slight edge today. The primary process hasn’t played out,” she said.

Republicans know recruiting is important.

“The difference between 2010 and 2012 is, I think, the quality of the candidates,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell: Mueller 'ought to wrap it up' Senate rejects effort to boost Congress's national security oversight Graham jokes about Corker: GOP would have to be organized to be a cult MORE (Texas), who chaired the NRSC in the last two election cycles. “The lesson learned here is we need to try to recruit good candidates and if you don’t have good candidates, you’re not likely to win.”

Republicans picked up six seats in 2010.

Conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund helped Tea-Party favored candidates in primaries in the past two election cycles but the playing field will be more even next year. American Crossroads, a Republican super PAC linked to Karl Rove, will back candidates it sees as having a better chance to win in general elections.

Democrats scored a victory in Iowa earlier this year by recruiting their top prospect, Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyOPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer MORE (D), who has proven his ability to win tight races in Iowa’s competitive 1st district.

Cary Covington, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said, “there’s a sense this is Braley’s race to lose”.

“What Braley has going for him is Iowa voters like split party control” of the Senate seats, he said.

A slew of Republicans have declared their candidacies, including Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPruitt’s new problem with the GOP: Ethanol Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Dems see midterm advantage in new ObamaCare fight Senate Judiciary urges response to sexual harassment in federal courts MORE’s (R-Iowa) former chief of staff, but none of them are well known.

The most prominent are former U.S. attorney and Iowa football player Matt Whitaker, David Young, the former Grassley staffer, radio talk show host Sam Clovis, and Joni Ernst, a military veteran and state senator.

The primaries will do much to decide which party controls of the Senate. There are 15 months to go until Election Day and predictions and polls will fluctuate.

“At this time in my cycle, I was done, I was history. Everyone in this town had written me off,” said Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report — Can the economy help Republicans buck political history in 2018? Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms Dems say Obama return from sidelines is overdue MORE (D-Mo.), who was expected to lose last year until former Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) campaign against her imploded when he made awkward comments about rape and pregnancy.