Senate battle, now and then

Amain storyline in the 2012 congressional elections is the battle for control of the Senate. There is much riding on the result. 

One Senate win could prevent or bolster the dismantling of President Obama’s healthcare law. The majority party will control the Senate floor, as well as committee hearings. Both are effective tools against the president of an opposing party.

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But while the Senate results of November do have huge implications, their ripple effect in 2014 has been underestimated.

This November, there are 23 Democrats defending their seats and only 10 Republicans. In 2014, Democrats face another difficult map, having to defend 20 to the GOP’s 13. The disparity is attributable to the successful years Democrats enjoyed in 2006 and 2008. 

The quickest way for either party to lose seats is for incumbent members from swing states to retire. There are at least a couple Democrats up in 2014 (Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jay Rockefeller of W.Va.) who have indicated, through words and/or actions, that this term could be their last.

Should Democrats retain their majority come November, it will be harder for on-the-fence Democratic senators to retire during the next Congress. But if Republicans capture control of the upper chamber, that decision might be a lot easier, because the road back to the majority would look long and arduous.

In 2004, one of the key reasons for GOP gains in the Senate was because that handful of Democrats from red-leaning states retired. Two years later, Senate Democratic leaders successfully leaned on their colleagues to run for reelection and took advantage of a major shift in the political winds to make Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) majority leader.

Most of the Democrats up in 2014 are expected to run again, or have already announced they will, including Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Al Franken (Minn.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Tim Johnson (S.D.).

The GOP’s presumed top targets that year will include Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). 

Republicans who are in cycle in 2014 include Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), John Cornyn (Texas), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). All four are good bets to get reelected. 

History shows that the winner of the 2014 election will likely be the loser this fall. If Obama wins a second term, it is highly likely his party will suffer losses in the midterm. Likewise, should Mitt Romney triumph, Democrats would probably pick up House seats and hold their own in the Senate.