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2014 looks familiar

Republicans had every reason to salivate over the 2012 Senate map. Only 10 GOP incumbents were up for reelection — most of them in red states — while Democrats were on defense in swing and red states like Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio. 

Yet, when the dust settled, Republicans had somehow managed to lose a net two seats. The GOP’s crazy wing cost the party seats in Indiana and Missouri (where the nation’s most unpopular Democratic incumbent was reelected), while establishment Republicans came up short pretty much everywhere except Nebraska. 

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On paper, 2014 looks as good for Republicans as 2012 appeared to be. 

Of the 35 seats being challenged next year, just 14 are held by Republicans. Except for Maine, which has an entrenched and popular Republican incumbent, every one of those GOP seats is in red territory. Meanwhile, Democrats must defend incumbents in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and South Dakota, and defend open seats in Iowa, New Jersey and West Virginia. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to start picking out the curtains for the majority leader’s office.

Yet the early signs aren’t positive for the GOP. Polling last week showed that Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina all begin the cycle with modest leads. They will face bruising reelection fights, no doubt, but they are in far better shape than Missouri’s Claire McCaskill was two years ago.  

Republican leaders may have recruited Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, their preferred candidate for the open West Virginia seat, but the party continues to have difficulty winning statewide offices in the Mountain State. Of the six state-level executive offices and the two U.S. Senate seats, seven are held by Democrats. Moreover, Capito almost certainly will face a primary instigated by the GOP’s fringe, led by the Club for Growth. 

Conservative insurgents have already notched their first success down in Georgia. Ten years after getting elected by smearing war hero Max Cleland, the prospect of a bruising primary has chased Sen. Saxby Chambliss into early retirement. Having learned nothing from their Indiana debacle in 2012, conservatives are hell-bent on electing the most extreme right-wingers they can find, in a state that is no longer as conservative as they think it is. 

The early polling out of Kentucky (and there’s been lots of it) surprisingly shows McConnell in rougher shape than anyone could imagine, leading actress and activist Ashley Judd by between 4 and 9 points (depending on the poll). Meanwhile, Tea Party groups in the state are working toward a primary challenge to punish the Senate Republican leader for ... well, who the heck knows anymore? Somehow, McConnell offended them through some random violation of conservative orthodoxy, which goes to show that no one is ever conservative enough for the Republican right.

Republicans have to be praying that the unhinged Rep. Steve King doesn’t contest the open seat in Iowa, thus costing them a shot at a pickup, and that Sen. Susan Collins doesn’t retire in Maine, a seat they’d be hard-pressed to hold without Collins’s personal appeal. 

Ultimately, the GOP’s Senate troubles all come back to the party’s fundamental challenge: resolving its civil war. Because as long as Karl Rove, Haley Barbour, the Tea Party and the Club for Growth are trashing one another, any fight to take control of the Senate will be a sideshow at best.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)