I'll come right out and say it: Below will contain at least one thing on which you disagree. I'm both an optimist and a pessimist when it comes to certain Senate races. If I'm optimistic, I'll tell you why. If I'm pessimistic, I'll tell you why. So let's just debate the facts and our interpretations of them, eh?
Since November 2012, I've been predicting a moderate-sized Democratic wave election (think 2006). The Senate ratings map reflects this, mostly in nudging "likely" seats into "safe" seats or "lean" seats into "likely" seats. However, unlike many people, I place a stronger weight on the individual candidates and the individual races than on Presidential approval or generic congressional ballot, at least for Senate races. They have historically been mano a mano contests, and while national effects can't be ignored, they also don't generally rule the roost.
My analysis is also predicated on another assumption: that midterm turnout is not necessarily bad for us. See the midterm previous to last, in which we took both houses of Congress. In fact, midterm turnout is likely to be to our advantage in some races, as presidential coattails can actually be harmful in deeply conservative states.
Let me take a second to explain a few things:
First off, I don't do "toss-up" ratings. I think they're wishy-washy and pointless. A race will always tilt a certain way, even if it's just a tiny tilt. Usually if a race is neck and neck I'll go into the state fundamentals, fundraising totals, trendlines, or what-have-you a little more in-depth.
"Safe" is a chance of victory north of 95%. The person favored is extremely unlikely to lose barring dead girl live boy scenarios.
"Likely" is a chance of victory between 70% and 95%.
"Lean" is a chance of victory between 60% and 70%.
"Tilt" is a chance of victory between 50% and 60%.
"Race to Watch" is a special "adjective" classification that can be attached to a race rated as anything. It can mean one of three things. First, that the situation could and likely will change rapidly. While a race may appear as "Safe" or "Likely" or whatever right now, it is likely to change spots based on new information, i.e. polling, fundraising numbers, or others. Second, that the situation is unstable or unknown, such as the eventual nominee for one or both parties. Third, that the situation is well-known, but that the margin of defeat or victory holds omens for other interesting races, or is interesting for some other reason. I'll be sure to explain why it's a Race to Watch.
A few times you'll see a pattern of three dots. One thing they drilled into us when teaching us technical writing is to CREATE WHITE SPACE. Lengthy, wordy diaries often fall prey to people who stop by, look inside, and see nothing but a Wall o' Text. I hope the formatting tricks I made were enough to increase readability so that this Wall o' Text scenario doesn't happen. Any feedback on formatting would be just as appreciated as on the ratings themselves.
Not only will I be doing a ratings analysis, but also a scenarios analysis that will go from the Republicans' best case scenario to the Democrats' best case scenario and everything in between.
All this having been said, let's get down to business.
Alaska (D), Tilt-D (RACE TO WATCH): Senator Mark Begich is running against three Republican hopefuls: LT-Gov Mead Treadwell; former Attorney General and current
raper of Alaska's natural beauty Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Dan Sullivan; and Joe Miller, Tea Party loser who got gutted in 2010 by Lisa Murkowski, who was turfed out in the primary yet still won by write-in candidacy. Treadwell, the establishment favorite, is running a surprisingly weak campaign, and is pulling in anemic levels of fundraising. Sullivan is beating the hell out of his opponents in fundraising, but his lower name-rec may cause problems in the general. Joe Miller is also pulling in poor fundraising totals, and his name-rec, while high, isn't the kind of name-rec you want to have: He was the first person to lose a Senate race to a write-in candidate since 1954.
Begich won an extremely narrow victory against a crooked Ted Stevens in one of the best environments Democrats have had since FDR. Alaska is no cakewalk for a Democrat, but Begich has a name brand, incumbency, and a two-to-one fundraising advantage over his opponents going for him. He's also outpolling all his Republican challengers. Begich has been defining himself as an independent voice suitable to Alaska, and he stands a solid chance of winning. However, he's stuck in the mid-to-low 40s in most polls, and he is facing a pair of fairly strong A-listers. The ideal case is Begich facing Tea Party crazy Joe Miller in the general, as Begich would surely cream him.
That said, Alaska is a Race to Watch because Joe Miller has been making noises about a possible independent run a la Murkowski. If he does so, this seat instantly flips to Likely-Democrat, as he will be taking far more votes from Sullivan or Treadwell than from Begich. Miller has a very vociferous core group of supporters who will vote for him in the general if he wants them to. This, of course, is the true ideal case, as this election is going to be close no matter what, and is very likely to be within the margin of whatever vote share Miller would get.
Arkansas (D), Lean-R: Senator Mark Pryor is in serious trouble this cycle. Arkansas has turned far right of late, likely as a reaction to the
scary black dude Obama presidency. Pryor is a skilled politician, but has made a couple errors lately with regard to the minimum wage and other issues, and his campaign doesn't appear to be well-ran. The reasons are quite well known: Arkansas Republicans didn't bother to field a candidate in 2008, so Pryor hasn't faced a real challenge in twelve years.
He's being challenged by freshman Congressman Tom Cotton, an A-list candidate whose record isn't long enough to really attack. He's raising a decent amount of money, but hasn't kept up with Pryor's fundraising, as he's been outraised 2:1 so far. Nevertheless, polling has shown Cotton running a little ahead of Pryor. Given that Pryor's poll numbers have been anemic and stuck in the low-40s, there's reason to think that Arkansas has just plain given up on Democrats. Its entire congressional delegation is Republican now, and it seems reasonably likely that its Senate delegation will be too.
That said, some things must be kept in mind before we write Pryor off. First, 2014 will be a better atmosphere for Arkansas Democrats than 2012 and especially 2010. This is because of the "reverse coattails" effect, where the deeply despised Obama is no longer at the top of the ballot and depressing the Demosaur population. Second, Arkansas Democrats are trying to mount a comeback, with popular former Congressman Mike Ross (who survived the murderous 2010 cycle with hardly a scratch) running for governor to replace Mike Beebe. Recent actions on Medicaid expansion by the Republican-controlled legislature will likely bolster Democratic turnout in November. Plus, two fairly decent candidates are making serious plays for AR-04 and AR-02, the two main competitive districts in the state. The Big Dog is connected to one of them, and we'll likely be seeing a great deal of Monsieur Clinton in the coming months.
Side note: This race is going to be very interesting for a lot of reasons. If Pryor pulls it off, and we pick up one or both of AR-02 and AR-04, I can say with confidence that a certain wife of a certain former President will likely be making a play for the state's electoral votes in 2016. Given that a certain John Boozman will be up for reelection at that time, that could mean the 2016 Arkansas Senate race will be competitive.
Colorado (D), Lean-D (RACE TO WATCH): Mark Udall is a first-term Senator who won a strong victory in 2008 against an A-lister. He's a relatively inoffensive incumbent, and the Udalls are very good politicians. Udall has also raised a large sum of money for reelection.
While writing this diary, it came to my attention that previous lunatic Ken Buck dropped out of the race, allowing Cory Gardner, an A-list Congressman from CO-04, to take his place. However, Gardner hails from the deeply Republican part of Colorado bordering Kansas and Nebraska, which would've been any Republican's base of support in a statewide election. He's also entering the fray very late in the game, and it'll be difficult to compete with Udall monetarily. The only poll on the race was taken mid-year 2013, showing Udall up 10%. I'm not willing to put this back to Likely-D (its previous spot) until further polling shows the race to be unchanged by Gardner's entry.
Georgia (R-Open), Tilt-D (RACE TO WATCH): This is likely the most optimistic view of GA-Sen that you'll see on DKos Elections, or likely anywhere. Michelle Nunn, daughter of respected former Senator Sam Nunn, is making a bid for retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss' seat. Michelle Nunn is unopposed in the primary except by Some Dudes, and will coast to the nomination without a scratch. Meanwhile, she's been using her father's connections skillfully, raising beaucoup buckos and receiving several very big endorsements, notably from former Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN) and John Warner (R-VA) who were friends with Sam Nunn in a bygone era of peace and comity in the chamber. The big donors in Georgia who traditionally pumped money into Republican candidacies are instead pumping that money into Nunn's coffers.
On the other hand, several Republicans in Georgia, sensing what they thought was a safe open seat, went full-on clown car. The race features three congressmen, one former Secretary of State, and one cousin of a popular former
The Congressmen are Paul Broun, Jack Kingston, and Phil Gingrey. Both Broun and Gingrey are some of the battiest batshits who ever shat a bat. It is entirely conceivable that, due to the Georgia electoral system requiring runoffs for candidates who do not achieve 50%+1, we could see a Broun vs Gingrey runoff battle. Evolution, magic vaginas, the satanic Big Bang, it'd all be in play. Kingston does not appear to be getting any traction in his bid, despite being the more appealing and "moderate" candidate. Karen Handel, the former SecState, also doesn't appear to be gaining ground. It seems very likely, then, that it'll be Broun or Gingrey against Nunn in November. This is the best result we could possibly hope for.
Nunn has led in all the polls taken so far, often taking around 45% of the vote. The chance for Broun or Gingrey pulling an Akin is huge. Georgia is becoming more and more friendly to Democrats. The D's have gone all-in on Georgia this cycle, as we're also running State Senator Jason Carter, the son of still-beloved former president Jimmy Carter, as our nominee against Gov Nathan Deal, a fairly corrupt and reasonably unpopular Republican. The combination of a Nunn and a Carter on the ticket will doubtlessly see some serious anticipation among the Demosaur crowd.
Note: I'm keeping this at Tilt-D because that's where the race is at now. Nunn is an extremely strong candidate facing a cadre of extremely weak and damaged candidates. The powers that be are lining up behind her, she's raising tons of money, and name brands are still a Thing here in the South. The only reason why this isn't Lean-D is the fact that Nunn will need to clear 50%+1 in order to avoid a runoff, where she would be in a world of trouble: Minority turnout dropped precipitously in the 2008 GA Senate race, and it would do so again. Minorities will still be Nunn's base of support, and, well, you can't win if your base doesn't bother to show up.
Iowa (D-Open), Likely-D: Democrat Bruce Braley, Congressman from IA-01, is facing a series of nobodies for the open seat being vacated by Tom Harkin. Braley has led all the polls, has a fundraising advantage, won't be tied down in a primary, has represented a quarter of the state for a long time, and appears likely to cruise to victory. Still, it's Iowa, and Iowa is a swing state. We won't have to worry about minority turnout dropping off in the midterm, as Iowa is lily-white and our base of support is therefore among them. But there are a lot of Republicans in Iowa, and a bad environment could spell trouble for Braley down the road.
Kentucky (R), Tilt-D: Oh, Kentucky. I have to confess that I couldn't wait to write about this race since I started writing this diary, just because this contest is going to be so much fun. Senate Minority Leader and all-round jerk Mitch McConnell has been steadily eroding his own base of support for decades now, squashing one political enemy after another rather than building a base of support after defeating them. Consequently, McConnell is now less popular than Barack Obama in a state Obama lost by nearly 25% in 2012. McConnell is facing a primary challenge from Matt Bevin, a nobody from another state who nevertheless has a prodigious amount of cash to sling around. Bevin has recently outed himself as a liberal in the eyes of his Tea Party supporters, and thus seems unlikely to dethrone McConnell in the primary, but he will nevertheless force McConnell to spend some of his own war chest guarding his right flank.
On the other hand, Democrats have Secretary of State and all-round badass Alison Lundergan Grimes, henceforth known as ALG. ALG is the daughter of Jerry Lundergan, a political boss with strong connections to the Big Dog, and she has been exploiting his contacts and supporters expertly. ALG has been staking out moderate positions on social issues, and populist, pro-coal, pro-union positions on economic issues. She gave a full-throated endorsement to the $10.10 minimum wage, which will play well in eastern Kentucky, a community of Demosaurs.
In ALG, KY Dems have finally found McConnell's kryptonite. McConnell's modus operandi is to go full-on negative at the first sign of trouble. Yet doing so casts him as a bully against a young, attractive woman who is known statewide. McConnell's team has had to rewrite its own playbook. It doesn't help that McConnell's team is managed by a known political enemy, and I frankly wouldn't put sabotage beyond him.
McConnell has been in the Senate since 1984, and everyone who bothers to vote already knows who he is. There's nowhere for McConnell's vast sums of money to go. He can't use it to promote himself; everyone knows him too well by now. He can't spend it on negative ads; it'd backfire, given that ALG always has a witty rejoindre up her sleeve. What else is left for his money? But ALG has been competing with McConnell's fundraising almost neck and neck, and has consequently had great success with highlighting all of his negatives while countering McConnell's negative ads with positives of her own. Polling has shown her neck and neck with McConnell, and McConnell remains stuck in the low-40s - he's pretty much a dead-man walking for any 5-term incumbent Senator.
The fact is, McConnell is in the same boat that Pryor is in, except that voters are far more entrenched in their position on him than Arkansas voters are on Pryor. Like in Arkansas, it's the challenger's race to win right now. Based on polling, fundraising, and the circumstances of the race, I'd say it comes down to the wires, but the next senator from Kentucky will likely be Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Note: This race will move to Lean-D in a few months if McConnell's numbers stay in the low-40s.
Louisiana (D), Lean-D: Senator Landrieu is in the same boat as Nunn, Pryor, and Begich: Someone with a famous last name running in a conservative state. Landrieu has been around since 1996, and she is clearly a political genius, as she has won increasingly large margins of victory in each of her three Senate campaigns, even avoiding a runoff in 2008 despite
the scary black dude Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. Max Baucus was recently exiled to China in exchange for granting us a competitive seat in Montana, and possibly to allow Mary Landrieu to chair the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources - a tremendously powerful position that will keep the oil tycoons on her side.
Republicans have crowned 6th District Congressman Bill Cassidy as their likely nominee this cycle. Cassidy's 6th District is in the deeply conservative part of Louisiana (aka the part outside New Orleans), so it's not like he's familiar to the swing voters he needs to win to take out Landrieu. He's not a particularly offensive fellow, and I place him at only Yellow on the Akin Alert scale.
Regardless, Landrieu has led every legitimate (non-conservative) poll, and prior to the Obamacare rollout she was hovering near 50%. I suspect this may rebound over time. As alluded earlier, she is raising tremendous amounts of money, far outstripping Cassidy's fundraising levels. Between fundraising and polling, I don't expect this race to be as competitive as most think. Of all the "endangered" Democrats this cycle (Hagan, Begich, Pryor, and Landrieu), Landrieu is in by far the best position to win reelection. I'll be surprised if Landrieu loses to Cassidy. I expect to be able to move this to Likely-D sometime around August, if the polling rebounds as expected.
Mississippi (R), Likely-R (RACE TO WATCH): Mississippi is one of the most conservative states in the union. Democrats are generally not considered competitive here on the state level, and only miracle candidates like Gene Taylor or Travis Childers have had any recent successes at competing in non-VRA districts for Congress. The incumbent here is Thad Cochran, an old-school Republican from the Nixon era who was winning elections as a Republican in MS at a time when MS Republicans were significantly less common than the American White-Tailed Unicorn. This is a man who practically founded the state party. In 1978, he became its first Republican senator since Reconstruction, and was its only Republican senator until 1988. He has always been a pretty good egg at ensuring that his state gets the federal help it needs to survive, and he is an extremely well-respected figure in MS.
... Except among the far right. As we all know, the ones who go to the polls in Republican primaries are often precisely the wrong people you want picking your nominee. It happened in 2010 with Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, it happened in 2012 with Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, and it seems likely to happen again in 2014. Chris McDaniel, a neo-confederate lunatic, is running against Cochran in the primary - and seems very likely to win. Cochran's political skills have atrophied after decades without a legitimate challenge, and he has made comments suggesting he is wholly unaware of the existence of the Tea Party contingent that is widespread in his state. McDaniel has received several Tea Party endorsements, and polling has shown Cochran losing to Republican Jesus by 20%, and is polling roughly neck-and-neck with the decidedly unknown McDaniel.
Our side managed to snag Travis Childers, formerly the representative for MS-01, to run against McDaniel/Cochran. Childers is about the best get that our party could've gotten. He's a demosaur who won three elections in one of the reddest parts of the country, one of which was a special election, another of which was a runoff to said special election, and the last of which was the 2008 race. While he was turfed out comfortably in 2010, that doesn't necessarily diminish his appeal to the crucial white demographic that will decide the next senator of Mississippi.
The path to victory for Childers hinges on several key things. First, Cochran absolutely must lose the primary. Childers vs Cochran means that Childers will lose by a very large margin - the seat will go straight to safe-R in that case. But Childers vs. McDaniel is very winnable. The key statistic that Childers needs is 25%. That's roughly the percentage of white voters that one needs to be competitive as a Democrat in MS.
Second, Cochran needs to do the same thing Dick Lugar did in 2012 after being primaried out by Mourdock: Not endorse the challenger. The subtle fuck-you will be enough of a whistle from Cochran to vote for Childers. It's rare for endorsements to matter, but this is definitely one of those instances. As mentioned, Cochran has a tremendous amount of goodwill built up in the state among Demosaurs and moderate Republicans who traditionally vote Republican at the federal level, but who have historically been open to Democratic candidates statewide. Cochran pulling a Lugar will be noticed by this crucial demographic.
And last, McDaniel needs to pull an Akin. Not just something involving abortion, which is about as popular in MS as gangrene, but something involving neoconfederacy or some other piece of lunacy. He seems like a loose enough cannon that we will likely get the opportunity to hammer him hard.
If these things happen, we're competitive, and the next senator from MS could end up being a Democrat. Should that happen, I recommend avoiding DC until the mess is cleaned up from all the Villagers' heads exploding.
Montana (D), Lean-R (RACE TO WATCH): As mentioned previously, Max Baucus, the retiring incumbent, was exiled to China in order to give LT-Gov John Walsh, former state adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, a chance at the seat as an incumbent. The benefits of such a move are debatable, but the general consensus is that it can't hurt, and will likely help. Walsh is a strong candidate on paper, being connected to the current governor, and his military record is also a plus. Walsh is staking out a moderate, pro-gun profile, which is key in a rural state like Montana. He's encountering a primary challenge from Brian Schweitzer's former LT-Gov, a former Republican-turned-Democrat by the name of John Bohlinger. Bohlinger is raising a very small amount of money, and the party is lining up behind Walsh. The primary shouldn't see any surprises.
On the other end is Steve Daines, Montana's incumbent representative to Congress. Daines has only been in the House since being elected to Denny Rehberg's seat in 2012, and so his record is almost as sparse as Walsh's. Nevertheless, Daines has staked out something of a "moderate" record, voting for things like the Violence Against Women Act. (Side note: I almost lost my lunch having to type out the fact that voting for the VAWA makes one a moderate rather than a human.) That said, he did vote for the shutdown, and Walsh will surely make him regret it in this moderate state.
The sparse polling so far has shown a blowout for Daines. He has massively outraised Walsh (nearly 4:1 as of the first of the year), and has clearly been planning this for a while. He is very much the favorite to win the seat at this point, and the race would be at Likely-R if it weren't for the recent appointment of Walsh to the US Senate. Walsh is still largely unknown - despite being a statewide official, he was not directly elected to LT-Gov, and so his name has only been seen next to current governor Steve Bullock's, and even then only once. I await further polling of the race and further campaign finance reports to see whether the playing field has changed.
Note: Incumbency is certainly going to draw a lot of money from people/corporations who are seeking to ingratiate themselves to someone who is going to be more senior than the entire class of 2014 freshmen, whoever they may be. This could even the odds somewhat.
New Hampshire (D), Likely-D: Popular incumbent Jeanne Shaheen is running for a second term this cycle, and doesn't appear to be facing more than token opposition. Unpopular former senator Bob Smith (R-
FL -NH) has returned from the morass of oblivion, and will be squashed like a bug if he's the nominee.
Scott Brown has also been teasing the political sphere with a potential run, and we all hope he will: His blatant carpetbagging will not play well with New Hampshire voters who are traditionally leery of the Massachusetts fellows. That said, Brown has pulled off miracles before, and just in case he reads DK Elections, I've rated this race as only Likely-D. I'd also like to give him a shout out to run, run run! Make sure to get lots of money from the Kochs and other billionaires so it won't go towards truly competitive races. If you do, I'll even drop it to Lean-D for you so you can build a "momentum" narrative. Deal?
North Carolina (D), Tilt-D: This one's a tough race to call. Kay Hagan is a first term incumbent who is riding on low approval ratings right now. North Carolina is a swing state, but it still leans towards Republicans overall. She's been under fire from the Americans for Their Own Prosperity, who are dumping enormous sums of money into hammering Hagan for her Obamacare vote. This appears to be succeeding, as prior to the ads, Hagan was sporting a much higher favorability rating and was polling at or near 50% against her challengers.
Speaking of her challengers, they are legion, and none have emerged as the clear frontrunner. However, the establishment has been rallying behind Speaker of the NC House Thom Tillis, whose connection with the deeply unpopular NC legislature is sure to become an issue if he wins the nomination. Indeed, Tillis being fairly likely to win the nomination is why this race is not Tilt- or even Lean-R. He is a poor candidate and I suspect Hagan would win against him.
Hagan is massively outraising all her opponents, and has taken in almost ten million dollars so far - and that was as of Jan 1st. She's also staying competitive in the polls, although being in the low-40s as an incumbent is never a good sign. However, as mentioned, the Americans for Their Own Prosperity are dumping epic amounts of money into the race, and this is likely going to reduce Hagan's chances of victory.
Note: The Libertarians are also running a couple candidates, and they will likely take a non-insignificant share of the votes in this close contest.
West Virginia (D-Open), Likely-R: Jay Rockefeller, long-time incumbent and generally a pretty awesome economic liberal, decided to retire from West Virginia politics and left this seat open. After some convincing, SecState Natalie Tennant decided to make a run for his seat. Tennant is likely our best shot at the seat - hypothetical polling even showed Rockefeller losing.
Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, who has represented WV-02 since 2000 and previously served in the WV House for four years, decided to make a run for the seat. Capito is an incredibly strong candidate, broadly popular with both conservatives and moderates. A hypothetical poll even asked Republican primary voters to choose between Capito and
Republican Jesus Someone More Conservative. She won 2:1.
Capito has had huge leads in all the polls and all the fundraising, and is broadly popular with both moderates and conservatives. She is without a doubt the Republicans' best candidate for this seat. Tennant is also probably our best candidate in this Republican-trending state. She won a blowout victory in 2010 statewide. However, she's not very well-known, and this race could still change. There haven't been very many legitimate polls of the state. The last one was conducted by Clarity Campaigns, a new, untested polling outfit, which showed Tennant down by 6%. Previous to that, PPP did a poll in September that showed Tennant down by 14%. I'd love to see further polling, but in the meantime I'll keep this at Likely-R.
Republican safe seats:
Alabama: We didn't even field a candidate against Jeff Sessions (R), so I think I'll put this down as tossup/tilt-D (just kidding).
Idaho: Jim Risch is running in one of the most deeply conservative and ancestrally Republican states in the nation. Idahoans would vote against Jesus if he had a D next to his name. He could have a pile of dead girls and live boys in his closet and still not be vulnerable.
Kansas (RACE TO WATCH): While Kansas is not by any means "deeply conservative", it is one of the most ancestrally Republican states in America at the federal level. A recent poll by PPP put the scandal-ridden Pat Roberts at 48% of the vote to 32% for a decent Democrat. Roberts' main challenge will come from his Tea Party primary challenger. Even if the Tea Party challenger wins, this state will probably not be competitive. That said, there is a path to victory for Chad Taylor, the Democrat, but it's a true long-shot.
Two things need to happen for this state to become competitive. First, Roberts probably needs to lose his primary battle to Tom Wolf, the Yet Another Batshit Crazy Person from the Medical Field who's running as a Tea Party challenger. Roberts is in danger in the primary over growing revelations of his disconnect from the voters, but is inoffensive enough not to have a particularly hard time cruising to reelection in the general. Wolf, however, is well into Akin levels of crazy. It's already been revealed that he likes to post pictures of his patients' skeletons on Facebook just to laugh at them. What else can we expect from this fellow?
Second, there needs to be a mutiny against the Tea Party. We are already seeing this in the Kansas gubernatorial battle. Sam Brownback is facing Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis for his seat, and is encountering one hell of a pushback against the coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats who ran the state prior to Brownback's Tea-flavored revolution in 2010 that turfed many of them out of office. Chad Taylor must hitch himself to this mutiny and ride Davis' coattails to an upset victory against a damaged opponent. While the chances of this happening are relatively remote right now, it's likely enough that I'll keep this in the Race To Watch category because things may very well change. If we start seeing Roberts in serious danger of losing the primary, this can drop to Likely-R. If polling starts to show Taylor in the mid-40s, we can drop to Lean-R. But this is a longshot no matter what happens. Nevertheless, it's good that we have a strong candidate for this race.
Oklahoma (A and B): Don't count on any upsets here. Oklahoma is another blood-red state that wouldn't give Democrats a second look. The Oklahoma Panhandle is probably the most conservative part of America, and its influence is strong on statewide candidates. Don't expect Jim Inhofe or Coburns' replacement nominee to be vulnerable. The real action is in the primary for OK-B.
Texas: Professional Batshit Lunatic Steve Stockman had the potential for turning this seat into an IN-Sen 2012 scenario where a longtime incumbent got turfed out in the primary only for the state to reject the nominee and elect a Democrat. Texas is a much more polarized state than Indiana, but given Stockman's obvious mental illness, a good candidate could have taken him down by a narrow margin. Sadly, Stockman did not win the Republican nomination, and even more sadly, shady dentist David Alameel won the Democratic nomination. Alameel has lots of money, but he won't get any traction against John Cornyn. However, if he wisely invests that money in GOTV/voter registration operations, he could help Wendy Davis against Greg Abbot in the Texas gubernatorial election.
Nebraska: Last cycle, we had an excellent candidate running against a crazy Tea Partier who was at best a second-tier candidate. We lost overwhelmingly. Nebraska is dead to us outside of NE-02.
Wyoming: This seat is so safely Republican that I almost forgot to mention it. Even Dave Freudenthal, a popular Democrat who is a former governor, gets crushed in the polls by incumbent Mike Enzi. Liz Cheney tried to make a go at Enzi's seat in the primary, and subsequently committed seppuku. Even so, Freudenthal was losing badly in the polls to her too. It's just not a state in which we can compete.
Tennessee: TN is another arch-conservative state with an incumbent Republican, Lamar Alexander, who isn't particularly offensive or scandal-ridden. Alexander is fighting a primary battle against a guy who, on paper, is a decent get for the Tea Party; however, TN will not be competitive for us, and it appears that Alexander will cruise to another term without issue.
South Carolina (A and B): The real action for senate seat A is in the primary, where relatively moderate Lindsey Graham is fighting for his life against a stream of Tea Party folks. No matter who wins, though, the seat is theirs. And the only way we could've made SC-B competitive is to run an old-school southern white Democrat against Tim Scott, and hope that the obvious dogwhistle doesn't offend too many black Democrats in the state. A part of me wants a Senate seat, but another part realizes that there are just some lines you can't cross just for victory, and one of those lines is appealing to racial divisions in perhaps the most racist state in the country. Luckily I don't have to deal with this moral dilemma, as it seems our nominee will be another African American. Tim Scott, with the R next to his name, will therefore have an easy time of it.
Maine: It's a shame, but barring an unfortunate and deadly/debilitating accident for Susan Collins, this seat is safe for her. Bellows, while a decent second tier candidate, will be crushed. There isn't a single Democrat in the state who could give her a run for her money. In fact, the only way we will win the seat is if Republicans turf her out in the primary. This isn't entirely unreasonable, as Collins is actually more popular with Democrats (and D-leaning indies, of whom there are legion) than with Republicans, but they don't currently have a candidate capable of doing so.
South Dakota (D-Open) (RACE TO WATCH): Incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson decided to retire, leaving us with the lackluster Rick Weiland, who doesn't seem to realize he's running in one of the most conservative states in the country. Weiland is facing popular former governor Mike Rounds, and is losing in the polls by double digit margins. Former Senator, and Republican-turned-semi-liberal, Larry Pressler is running as an independent. Had he ran as a Democrat, this race might have become competitive, as Pressler would likely have annihilated Weiland in the primary. Regardless, Rounds looks safe for victory.
However, the race may prove interesting as the 2014 version of the Culture of Corruption spreads to another round of Republicans. Not only do we see Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and others facing scandals, Rounds and his cadre of South Dakota Republicans are embroiled in something known as the "EB-5" scandal. I'm not entirely sure what's going on here, and it doesn't appear to have greatly affected Rounds' popularity, but scandals have a way of growing, and a tarnished Rounds could be beatable. Sadly, I think even a scandal-ridden Rounds will cruise to victory solely on the fact that Weiland is a poor candidate and Pressler is likely to steal more votes from him than from Rounds.
Democratic Safe Seats:
Hawaii: Hawaii is pretty much the most Democratic state in the country. Last election, the Republicans got their top-tier candidate in Linda Lingle, who was the former governor of Hawaii, and ran her against Mazie Hirono in an open-seat senate race. Hirono gutted Lingle by over 25%. Needless to say, all the action in this state is in the Democratic primary, where Congresswoman Coleen Hanabusa is challenging appointed Senator Brian Schatz for the nomination. Polls in the state are about as reliable as astrology (and I'm convinced this is how the polling is done in the state), so don't expect to know who the clear favorite is until the day after the primary. Regardless, whoever wins the primary should just adopt the monicker of Senator right away, because the Republicans don't stand a chance here.
Oregon: Oregon is an interesting state. It is the most electorally polarized state in the nation - it has the most liberal liberals and the most conservative conservatives. Yet there are more liberals than conservatives, and so Oregon stays pretty blue at the federal level. We haven't seen polling in the state since 2012, but Jeff Merkley is nevertheless in a good position. Local Republicans appear to be excited about Yet Another Batshit Crazy Person from the Medical Field running for office, a lady by the name of Monica Wehby who works as a pediatric neurosurgeon. She hasn't held political office before, but it shouldn't matter: Merkley is pretty safe.
New Mexico: NM has turned solid blue in the past few election cycles thanks to the same kind of demographic doom that is creeping up on Republicans in Texas, Georgia, and Arizona, and which has already locked them out of California. Tom Udall is a popular incumbent running in a state where it's good to be blue. The only person who could've made the seat competitive was Susana Martinez, who is instead seeking reelection to the governor's office. (Side note: She'll win.)
Minnesota: Republicans have some B-listers running against incumbent Democrat Al Franken, but every single poll taken in the state has shown him leading all the opposition and hovering around the magic 50% mark. The Independence Party is being helpful and running a candidate of their own, just in case we need the spoiler. There's no reason to suspect Franken is in any danger whatsoever.
Virginia: Enormously popular incumbent Democrat Mark Warner is running for another term. Ed Gillespie, the Republicans' answer to Terry McAuliffe, feels the need to make a suicide run. The Villagers are going nuts over their good friend's run for office, but it's fools gold. He'll likely spend a great deal of money, but we'll win Alabama before they win Virginia. (Hint: We don't have a candidate for Alabama.)
Rhode Island: No one appears to have declared against Jack Reed, and it wouldn't matter anyway. Rhode Island used to flirt with Republicans like Lincoln Chafee, but those days are long gone.
Massachusetts: We all know the tale of Scott Brown by now. Those days are over. Ed Markey defeated a Brown-like candidate in the special last year by 10%, and he'll match or exceed that margin this year. Side note: It looks like Fox's resident psychiatrist (who, of course, doesn't do any real psychiatry for fear of friendly fire and self-diagnosis), Keith Ablow, is considering a run. Please proceed.
Illinois: Dick Durbin is a popular incumbent in a fairly deep-blue region of the country. Polling has shown him at or above 50%, and he's running against nobodies. He's not in any trouble. Pat Quinn, however... god speed to him.
Delaware: Mike Castle, the last truly good Republican, decided not to run against Coons after the disaster in 2010 when Delaware Republicans threw away a perfectly good candidate who'd likely have won the seat in favor of, well, a witch. Coons will sail to victory as a result.
New Jersey: Cory Booker's running for a full term this time, and he appears safe. He won a large victory last year in the special, and, of course, this is NJ we're talking about. He's facing a cadre of Republican Some Dudes, all of whom will be disappointed.
Michigan: Congressman Gary Peters is running to replace retiring Senator Carl Levin. Peters is one of the fairly rare white congresscritters to hold a VRA-made, majority-minority district. This shows his appeal to a crucial voting demographic in Michigan.
Terry Lynn Land, the former SecState of Michigan, is running on the Republican side. It is strange, but while Land was clearly among the best possible choices for Republicans this cycle, they were mysteriously unwilling to back her at first. I and many others suspect there are skeletons in her closet waiting to come out.
Recent polls have shown Land to be competitive, but I feel that Michigan is fool's gold for Republicans at the federal level. If you recall, polls from the same outfits showed Romney competitive in this state. He was nevertheless blown out by nearly 10% in 2012. Land and Peters are running roughly equivalent in fundraising, but nearly half of Land's sum is composed of self-funding. This is a Safe-D seat, but it's a soft-Safe, meaning that there's still a miniscule chance that Peters could be beaten in a truly wonderful year for the Republicans.
Now I'll look at seven scenarios of increasingly good results for us, starting with the worst possible electoral results.
Rep Best Case
Here's the absolute best case for the Republicans: They flip all the lean and the likely Dem seats. They come out of the election looking like Democrats do now, with a 55/45, five-seat majority that they'd be hard-pressed to keep in 2016. A year like this would make 2010 look like a picnic. Something seriously bad would have to happen for this to occur, and I don't think it's a credible possibility under the current lines of battle.
Here's what 2010 would look like if it happened in 2014. Republicans take most of the tilt-D and lean-D seats, knocking off all the red state incumbents and taking all the red state democratic open seats. McConnell keeps his seat, and hello Senator Anti-Evolution from the great state of Georgia. Should Republicans nominate someone worthy in Iowa, I imagine it would also flip under this kind of scenario. They come out with a two-seat, 52-48 majority that would almost definitely revert back to the Democrats in 2016.
Here's a scenario that's a bit like 2002: Good for them, but not awesome. They take the tilt-D seats, and Hagan and Pryor go the way of the dodo. They keep both KY and GA, and force both Begich and Landrieu into a serious fight. But I think that, provided the tilt isn't too strong, they'll hold the line and keep us at a bare-minimum 50/50 senate split, with good ol' Joe Biden being our tie-breaker. Don't expect this scenario to give us a great deal of power - Manchin and other red state dems will freak out and start bucking the party at every opportunity.
Imagine this as a slightly worse 2012. We keep all the seats I expect to keep, we lose the seats I expect to lose, and nothing surprising happens. If you feel strongly that a neutral year will not result in us taking KY and GA, then feel free to move them to the Tilt-R column. In my scenario, we walk out with a 53/47 majority. In the less optimistic scenario, we keep a 51/49 majority. Either should be enough to keep the red state dems from freaking out too badly, and we'll maintain the level of power that we have now.
Tilt Dem Year
This is a slightly better 2012, getting close to 2006. Not only do we keep all the incumbent seats, but we only lose SD and WV for our open seats. In this scenario, Pryor would hang on by the hair of his chinny-chin chin with the libertarian candidate acting as a spoiler; Thom Tillis implodes due to the North Carolina legislature fiasco as I suspect he will; and John Walsh successfully ties Steve Daines to the unpopular congress and ekes out a narrow win, likely very similar to Jon Tester's surprise win in 2012. To make up for the losses, we take KY and GA. The balance of power stays the same at 55/45.
Here's somewhere between 2006 and 2008. Nothing much has changed from the tilt-D year, except that Capito is thwarted by Tennant in West Virginia, probably by playing on the fact that the state hasn't elected a Republican to the senate since the 50s. This would be an extraordinarily narrow win, and would probably require something like a backlash against the coal industry following a large chemical spill that contaminates drinking water for several hundred thousand people. In this scenario, we actually gain a seat, and we'd be mopping up the exploded brains of the Villagers for weeks after such an election.
Dem Best Case
Here's a wave on par with 2008, maybe even a little better. We keep all our incumbent seats, and we only lose SD out of our open seats in red states. But here's where it gets interesting: We take Kansas and Mississippi due to Tea Party nominee implosions, a la Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill in 2012. In this scenario, we make a three-seat Senate gain with a 58/42 balance of power, prepping us for an almost-guaranteed filibuster-proof majority in time for HRC's election in 2016. Not only would it portend the utter destruction of the Tea Party as a force within the Republican Party, but the resulting backlash against conservatism would probably punt the Republicans well to the left of their current politics.
I actually see this as the best case scenario for the Republicans too. If something like this doesn't happen soon, the Tea Party will entrench themselves, maybe even forming a third party that would take votes directly from the Republican base and ensure Democratic competitiveness in places where Democrats haven't been competitive in decades. If they want to be competitive in 2016, modern conservatism needs to die a painful and quick death. I think losing one or both of Mississippi and Kansas to Tea Party extremists would cause that. These are among the most Republican states in the country. A Democratic senator from these states would be like Republican senators being elected in California and Vermont. It'll be bad-tasting medicine for the Republicans to lose the election so badly, but it'd ensure their survival into the next few decades. And no, I'm not concern trolling them, because I happen to believe that the Democrats need Republicans just to define themselves. To be even more cheesy: We'd be lost without them.
Anyway, this concludes my first ratings diary. Pick it apart - I not only accept negative feedback, but relish it, as it makes me both more informed and more able to conduct future analyses. If you have comments on the political horserace analysis, I'd love to hear them. If you have comments on the formatting of this diary, I'd also love to hear them. Just please be respectful!