Hey, everyone, and welcome to my first diary. Building a party requires a great deal of forward planning, both to pinpoint winnable races and expand the playing field for the future. Here, I want to take a look at how the Democrats can build a lasting supermajority in the U.S. Senate over the next three cycles. The typical analysis for the upcoming 2014 elections says that we will face a challenge retaining a simple majority in the Senate, as the Republicans have a decent shot at picking off the 6 net seats they need to regain control. I think their chances of getting to six are pretty slim, but still possible, which is why looking ahead to the much more favorable 2016 and 2018 playing fields is so important. While the focus of this series will be on offense, defense will come into play too, as holding the seats we currently have will be just as important as winning new ones.
I'm also going to try to keep analysis on 2014 contests short, because I know most people who would be interested in reading this post have had 2014 analysis so drilled into their heads that repeating it here isn't necessary.
2 Republicans. There will be a few states on this list that can be written off immediately, and Alabama is one of them. The state has become so red, and so lacks Democratic up-and-comers, that it will be at least a decade before we even have a shot at a Senate seat, barring scandal.
1 Democrat, 1 Republican. Democratic Senator Mark Begich is one of the most vulnerable Senators going into 2014, and retaining his seat probably means the Democrats maintained their majority in the 2014 elections. Begich would benefit from Tea Partier Joe Miller winning the Republican primary, but stands a shot at being reelected against anyone.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is up in 2016, and knocking her off will probably be impossible. She won by way of write-in in 2010, and while political opinions can change very quickly in Alaska, there's really no one on the horizon capable of defeating her. A capable candidate's time would be better spent running against Don Young, the state's corrupt House member. As you read on, you'll see that this post is on the ambitious side, but trying to defeat Murkowski (one of the most moderate Republicans in the Senate) just isn't worth the investment.
2 Republicans. Jeff Flake was elected to his first term by a surprisingly narrow 3% in 2012, while John McCain has been in the Senate since the 80s. McCain is up in 2016, and may retire, while Flake is up in 2018.
McCain is probably safe if he runs again, but demographic changes in the state and the fact that it will be a Presidential year may make him vulnerable (but probably not). If he retires, this is a major pickup opportunity for us. Former Representative Gabby Giffords, her husband Mark Kelly and 2012 nominee Richard Carmona would all make excellent candidates.
Flake will probably be slightly safer in 2018 than a McCain successor in 2016, but he would still be quite vulnerable to a Democratic challenge. Any of the above three candidates would give Flake a run for his money, and a new rising star could emerge in the next 5 years. Freshman Representative Kyrsten Sinema would energize the left and be a great Senator, for instance (though her electability could be questionable, considering her irreligiosity and bisexuality in a state that would still be somewhat culturally conservative).
Overall, Arizona represents a golden opportunity for Democrats in this decade, and it should be a top priority.
1 Democrat, 1 Republican. Democratic Senator Mark Pryor is the most likely Senator to lose his seat this year, and the matchup is already set against freshman Representative Tom Cotton. If Pryor holds on, the Democrats will have done very, very well in 2014.
Arkansas' Republican Senator is freshman John Boozman, who beat Senator Blanche Lincoln by a whopping 21 points in 2010. Arkansas does have some rising Democratic stars in its ranks, but it continues to trend Republican on the federal level. Current Governor Mike Beebe, who will leave office in a year, is probably the only Democrat who could really give Boozman a legitimate challenge in 2016. However, Beebe is quite old at this point, and may not be interested in running.
2 Democrats. California is a solidly Democratic state, and while it is prone to the occasional celebrity candidacy (Clint Eastwood for Senate?), its hard to see us losing either of the seats anytime soon. Both Feinstein and Boxer are getting up there in age, and both may retire rather than run again in 2018 and 2016, respectively. Competition would be fierce to replace them, and the Republicans would stand little chance against whoever wins the primaries.
2 Democrats. We hold both of these seats, but they are far from safe. This post is more focused on offense than defense, but part of the path to a supermajority is retaining the seats we already hold. Mark Udall is up for reelection this year, and is generally considered safe; however, I worry that this will become one of those surprisingly competitive races.
Michael Bennet will be up in 2016, and while his win against the flawed Republican nominee in 2010 was refreshing, he too will be vulnerable given middling approval ratings. Colorado is a state trending blue, and holding onto both Senate seats is crucial for the Democratic Party's future.
2 Democrats. Connecticut is a deep blue state, but it has had a tendency to elect moderate Republicans in the past. Both Senators are currently freshman, up in 2016 and 2018. Richard Blumenthal, up in 2016, is a popular statewide figure who should have little trouble being reelected regardless of national conditions. Chris Murphy is less tested, and stumbled in what should have been an easy election against the (admittedly well financed) WWE CEO Linda McMahon. We'll see if the Connecticut Republicans produce any rising stars by the time that election comes around.
2 Democrats. These are two of our safest Senate seats. Chris Coons is up this year, and the only threat he faces is a primary challenge from AG Beau Biden, the son of the Vice President. Either way, this seat will stay safely in Democratic hands. Senator Tom Carper, up in 2016, is a popular former Governor who will hold the seat for as long as he likes.
1 Democrat, 1 Republican. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson was reelected with relative ease in 2012, and will be 76 in 2018. He may retire, and the election is too far off to say whether or not he will and whether there will be a strong Democratic nominee. Two possibilities are looked at below. Florida is a key swing state, which isn't really trending either way, and keeping this seat in Democratic hands is important.
Freshman Senator Marco Rubio, who got quite a bit of Presidential speculation in the first half of 2013, will be up for reelection in 2016. Whether he runs here again or vacates the seat to run for President, this is a prime pickup opportunity. Florida has several rising Democratic stars, including Alex Sink (the state CFO who came very close to becoming Governor in 2010, despite the massive Republican wave) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (the DNC Chairwoman). Either woman would be a great candidate here, whether against Rubio or someone else. Whoever doesn't run could succeed Bill Nelson in 2018.
2 Republicans. Georgia is a state Democrats have had their eyes on for quite awhile, with an increasing African American population and influx of migrants from the liberal Northeast.
Democrats will make a strong play here in 2014, with Jason Carter (Jimmy Carter's grandson) running for Governor, and Michelle Nunn (daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn) running for the Senate. A divisive primary for retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss' seat has Democrats confident that they can pick off the Senate seat this year. Of course, this is still a Republican state, so Nunn has her work cut out for her. If she and Carter pull of victories, it will be a good sign for our future prospects here, and in the New South more broadly.
Johnny Isakson, the state's other Senator, will be up in 2016. He may retire or choose to run again. There isn't much of a Democratic bench in Georgia, so it's questionable who would run here. If Nunn loses in 2014, she may try again, as a Presidential year would be a better environment. Conventional wisdom is that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed wants to run for Governor in 2018, but a Carter victory in 2014 could complicate that, forcing him to run here. Either would be great candidates in this uphill race.
Like Arizona, Georgia presents a golden opportunity for Democrats, albeit a less likely one. As far as states with 2 Republican Senators go, these are our two best opportunities to totally flip control.
2 Democrats. Hawaii is a deep blue state, as demonstrated by our easy victory in 2012 against Republican's golden candidate. While the 2014 primary will get nasty, we have nothing to worry about here in the 2014 special election, 2016 or 2018.
2 Republicans. Like Alabama at the beginning of this post, this is a state we can write off until the next decade at least.
After looking at the first 12 states, here's where we're at: 13 of the seats are held by Democrats, and 11 by Republicans. This year, 2 of the Democratic incumbents are very vulnerable, while 1 may be vulnerable. 1 Republican-held seat, where the incumbent is retiring, may be vulnerable.
In 2016, one of our seats may be vulnerable, while three of their seats may be vulnerable and one will definitely be vulnerable. In 2018, one of our seats may be vulnerable, while one of theirs (they only hold one) will definitely be vulnerable.
So, it looks like we could have as much as a 6 seat pickup from this group of states, while potentially losing up to 5 (but more likely 2 at most). The fact is, we have a shot at holding all but 5 of these 24 seats after the 2018 elections if we really have our act together.