Democrats could be in for a tough election cycle in 2014, defending a number of red-state Senate seats and facing a tough path to take back control of the House.
The smoke is still clearing from the 2012 election landscape, but both parties are already looking to the future.
Democrats will once again be defending many more Senate seats than the GOP, with 20 senators up compared to 13 for Republicans. Six of those Democrats hail from red states, while seven come from swing states. Republicans will need to pick up six seats to retake control of the upper chamber.
On the House side, Republican gerrymanders in a number of states will continue to minimize Democratic chances at winning seats.
The party also has the problem of relying on a “boom-bust” coalition of young and minority voters who often show up in presidential years, only to stay at home during midterm elections. Getting those voters to the polls could once again cause problems for Democrats.
Democrats managed to actually pick up Senate seats in 2012 despite playing more defense, and many of their seats will be defended by battle-tested veteran campaigners. But 2014’s election slate could prove even tougher than 2012, depending on GOP recruitment, retirements and what the political atmosphere is like in two years.
They are defending seats in the Republican states of Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, and also have seats up in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia. Republicans' only blue-state seat is in Maine, and if Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase MORE (R-Maine) runs for reelection, she's likely in good shape.
Sens. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE (D-Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (D-La.), who have both said they’re running for reelection, are likely to face tough races in their conservative and Republican-trending states. Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (D-Alaska), who has been fundraising furiously, is also likely to face a strong challenge. Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBiden nominates Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.) is expected to run again, and could face a tough general-election race — assuming he wins his primary; former Gov. Brian Schweitzer is rumored to be interested in challenging him.
Democratic Sen. Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonCornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel Trump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan MORE (S.D.) has not said whether he’ll run again, though he’s recovered well from a 2008 brain aneurysm. Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has already formed an exploratory committee for the seat.
Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE (D-N.C.), who is running for reelection, has already ramped up fundraising efforts for what could be a tough race in that swing state.
Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerHumorless politics a sad sign of our times Bottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease MORE (D-W.Va.), who is 76, is a top retirement possibility, and his June speech blasting the coal industry for opposing an Environmental Protection Agency rule was read by many as a sign that he has no plans on running again. Sens. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm dead at 85 MORE (D-Mich.) and Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa) are considered retirement possibilities, and if they retire, those seats could be in jeopardy for Democrats.
Freshman Democratic Sens. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (Colo.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' Andrew Cuomo and the death of shame MORE (Minn.), Jean Shaheen (N.H.) and Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (N.M.) could also face tough races.
Another possible headache for Democrats: If Sen. John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Kerry: 'We can't get where we need to go' in climate fight if China isn't joining in MORE (D-Mass.) winds up replacing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE as secretary of State, defeated Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) could run for Kerry’s seat.
On the House side, while Democrats will have some opportunities at districts they missed out on in California and elsewhere, heavily gerrymandered GOP maps in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and North Carolina will continue to limit their opportunities.
Democrats tend to live in more urban areas, concentrating their votes into fewer congressional districts, and legally required “majority-minority” districts further pack Democrats into a few districts and make nearby districts more safely Republican.
According to a recent study by the Center for Voting and Democracy, Democrats start off with 166 safe districts while Republicans start off with 195. There are only 74 true swing districts where the presidential candidates won between 46 and 54 percent of the popular vote, down from 89 before redistricting.
That means the GOP needs to win less than one-third of competitive House seats to stay in control — something that shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish, barring a huge Democratic wave. In a politically neutral year Democrats are likely to have around 203 seats, a number that’s only slightly higher than the number they’ll have once the remaining 2012 races are called.