GOP Senate chances good

Having blown five likely Senate wins on bad candidates and worse consulting, it is best not to count chickens before they hatch, but the prospects for Republican gains in the Senate in 2014 are brightening. And there is a solid shot at regaining control.

Two seats seem poised to fall into Republican laps. In West Virginia, the retirement of Democratic Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE leaves a void that Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoGOP senator: We're worried about Trump in swing states Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief proposes chain of command reforms Senate GOP bill would halt Gitmo transfers MORE seems likely to fill. Moore Capito is the daughter of longtime West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore (a former client), who remained popular even after his conviction and imprisonment on corruption charges. It’s hard to see any Democrat beating her.

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The retirement of South Dakota’s 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 also creates a vacancy in a heavily Republican state. Republican candidates are likely to be either former Gov. Mike Rounds or at-large Rep. Kristi Noem. The Democratic nominee will probably be Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the three-term at-large former congresswoman Noem beat in 2010. Before Johnson retired, Public Policy Polling had Rounds 11 points ahead of him and 5 up on Sandlin. Noem was 4 points ahead of Johnson and 1 behind Sandlin. We all need to remember how at-large Congressman Rick Berg managed to mess up his shot at the Senate in North Dakota last year, costing the Republicans an expected pickup; we can’t take anything for granted, but South Dakota looks good for the GOP at this time.

In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent 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 is not retiring — not voluntarily anyway — but Basswood Research has him running 8 points behind newly elected Republican Rep. Tom CottonTom CottonSenators roll out changes to criminal justice bill Senate Dems block spending bill over Iran amendment — again GOP blasts Obama for slow economic growth MORE. Pryor’s job approval is dead even, at 36-36. As Arkansas has shifted from 3:1 Democratic to 4:0 Republican in its congressional delegation over the past two cycles, and after former Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln was trounced in 2010, Pryor’s incumbency rests uneasy.

Beyond those three seats, Republicans are hungrily eyeing Sen. 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’s vacancy in Iowa, and have legitimate shots at Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Louisiana, Montana and North Carolina — red states all.

Republicans should hang on to all their vacancies, but Republican Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll Senate Dem takes on drugmaker: ‘It’s time to slaughter some hogs’ GOP blocks slate of Obama judicial nominees MORE of Maine could be endangered as she seeks another term.

The lessons of 2010 and 2012 loom large. The Republican Party threw away five likely Senate wins — in Nevada, Delaware, and Colorado in 2010 and in Indiana and Missouri in 2012. In each case, a strong Tea Party conservative beat a mainstream Republican in the primaries and then blew the general election — in Indiana, Missouri and Delaware by asinine comments, and in Nevada and Colorado by incompetent campaigns.

But remember that, without the Tea Party, we would never have won 68 seats in the House in 2010. So we shouldn’t reject all Tea Party insurgents, but rather be more sensible in our choice of candidates. 

To win, Republicans must end the Democratic hegemony among Latino voters. The GOP performance on immigration reform will tell the story. 

And Republicans must stop saying stupid things about abortion. In the narrow sense, we must make sure that we defeat in primaries any candidate who favors a ban on abortion in the case of rape. Such a nominee would be too far to the right to be elected in any of these swing states.

In a larger sense, Republican nominees should move away from the legal front on abortion and toward the practical way to vindicate a pro-life agenda. After 40 years of Roe under Republican courts, let’s all realize that it is not about to be overturned under President Obama. Let’s instead emphasize our determination to reduce the number of abortions by birth control, abstinence education, counseling, adoption incentives and parental notification and consent. We have lowered the number of abortions from 1.4 million to 800,000 in the past two decades. We should set a goal of getting it under 500,000 — a goal both mainstream liberals and conservatives can unite to accomplish.

The prospects are bright for 2014 if we can heed the admonition of the cartoon character Pogo: “we have met the enemy and he is us!”


Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.