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Democrats should be worried

Democrats should be worried; their Senate control is standing on thin ice that is beginning to crack.

Currently, the Democrats have 55 seats (including two independents), and the Republicans have 45. To gain control, Republicans will need to pick up six seats. This is to avoid a tie, which would be broken by Vice President Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

Due to the retirement of three incumbent Democrats, Republicans are strongly favored to pick up seats in Montana,West Virginia and South Dakota. All three are extremely red states, and the Republicans are safely ahead in all three races. Although the South Dakota race has the potential to tighten some, the GOP is still strongly favored. An upset Democrat win in any of these states would signal a catastrophic failure for the Republicans.

Democrat troubles are further deepened by the continued reddening of the South, where three incumbent Democrats (Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina) are fighting for their political lives against very conservative opponents. Hagan is in the strongest shape of the three – her race is a tossup – while Pryor and Landrieu are currently considered underdogs. Additionally, time is running out for Democrat upsets in Kentucky and Georgia, where the polling averages show Republicans maintaining their leads. Additionally, the possibility that the Georgia and/or Louisiana races could go into over-time in the form of runoffs, which would most likely be very Republican-friendly results, exists as well.


As if winning in the conservative South did not present a big enough problem, Democrats are also forced to defend three red/purple state seats in Iowa, Arkansas and Colorado. Republicans have surged recently in Iowa and Colorado, pulling both races into the tossup category. Democrat Mark Begich has thus far managed to hold onto a modest lead in ruby-red Alaska, but the state’s notorious difficulty to accurately poll means that, unless either Begich or Dan Sullivan (R) absolutely collapses, we will not know the result in this tossup race until the morning after election night.

Despite having been dealt an incredibly difficult hand, Democrats have managed to keep the playing field manageable. Despite an incumbent Democrat retiring in Michigan, Republicans have thus far proven unable to capitalize on winning the seat. Oregon, once touted as a dark-horse GOP pickup opportunity, now polls solidly blue. Despite closer-than-expected recent polls in Illinois, New Jersey and Minnesota, GOP prospects in those states are virtually nonexistent. Scott Brown, the GOP’s moderate hero from 2010, has failed to make much traction yet in the New Hampshire senate race. While he could still win, a GOP upset in New Hampshire remains very unlikely.

The most fascinating development in the 2014 Senate races, however, occurred just a few days ago. The race in Kansas, recently considered safely Republican, has been thrust into the national spotlight as an eleventh-hour Democrat pickup opportunity. Incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R) – badly damaged from a primary election and nursing very poor approval ratings – was maintaining roughly a five-point lead over Chad Taylor (D) and Independent candidate Greg Orman. On September third, Taylor dropped out of the race, setting the stage for a two-way race between Roberts and Orman. It is too early to tell how the race in Kansas will shape up; early polling suggests that Orman would start with a double-digit lead over Roberts but that Kansas seat has been in Republican hands since the 1940s. The fundamentals favor Roberts while the early polling favors Orman.

There is no way to determine how Taylor’s exit will impact the race until some time passes. It is not even clear whether Orman would vote with Democrats or Republicans, should he be elected. Still, the early indicators are not good for Republicans.  Reaching 51 seats was already a difficult enough task without having to defend Kansas, which would be the partisan equivalent of Democrats’ having to defend a solid-blue state like Massachusetts. If Pat Roberts is defeated and Orman sides with the Democrats, gaining a Senate majority will be extremely difficult for the GOP.

Overall, the big picture is probably “advantage GOP” – but narrowly. A very small shift in a few states could deny the Republicans a majority or bury the Democrats in an electoral wipeout.

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