In 2012, Republicans took a map almost as good as this year's and ended up losing two seats. Democrats are unlikely to repeat that miracle this year, particularly with mid-term liberal base turnout, but losing the Senate? Not if Republicans have anything to say about it!
Last night Republicans took one Democratic-held seat off the table, and put one of their own in play.
Iowa polling has shown Republicans within striking distance, trailing Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce Braley anywhere between three and 13 points (depending on who you believe). But if they really wanted to compete, they wouldn't have nominated someone to the right of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock: Joni Ernst.
The state senator, who repeatedly described herself on the trail as a “mother, soldier, and a conservative,” zigged to the right in order to appeal to primary voters, pledging to abolish the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. While Ernst received attention for calling the shootings in Santa Barbara, California, an “unfortunate accident” in a recent debate, she may have done more damage by opposing the Farm Bill and attacking the Clean Water Act in an agricultural state. Further, Ernst has shown herself to be prone to gaffes, including insisting to the Des Moines Register that Saddam Hussein actually possessed WMDs prior to the Iraq War.There's more, including calling for the privatization of Social Security. But of all her assorted craziness, none is likely more damaging than her opposition of the farm bill. In Iowa. The Tea Party crowd is excited they got their new Sarah Palin. But this isn't Alaska.
Then there's Mississippi, which shouldn't even be in the same universe of any competitive Senate race. It is Mississippi, after all. Yet ultra conservatives have gone after an ultra conservative for not being ultra conservative enough, and the end result is carnage. More below the fold.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran would win re-election in a cakewalk. But a safe, if uninspiring incumbent apparently offends Tea Party sensibilities, and they enthusiastically supported the challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel. And last night, the best of all worlds (for Democrats) happened: Not only did McDaniels win, but he failed to hit the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. So they get to spend the next three weeks beating the shit out of each other, and spending tons of money doing so.
Odds are that McDaniels wins the runoff. Not only are his supporters more motivated in what should be an insanely low-turnout election, but Democrats can't vote in the runoff, and Cochran's campaign worked to get Democrats to support him in the closing week of the race. Even if only a handful turned out for him in the end, they might've been the only reason Cochran avoided outright defeat. But again, that does him no good in the runoff.
So what does that mean for our chances in the general? It means that conservadem and former Rep. Travis Childers has a fighting chance. How much? Who knows? Polling has been scarce. A PPP poll last November had Childers trailing by just 41-38. A Rasmussen poll in March had McDaniels leading 47-35 (but it's Ras, so, you know...). On the other hand, the obvious parallel is Indiana's Senate race in 2012, where the teabaggers knocked off incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar and turned a safe seat into what eventually became a Democratic pickup. Mississippi would be a long-shot during the best of circumstances, but the more Republicans have to defend, the better it is for Democrats everywhere else. A McDaniels victory and runoff now means Republicans have to sweat Mississippi, and that's something they certainly didn't need at this time.
Within the past two weeks, private Democratic polling has shown that the party’s nominee, former Rep. Travis Childers, would start a general election statistically tied with McDaniel. A race against Cochran, who is well-liked by independents and many Democrats, would be difficult to the point of futility."Statistically tied" is party code for "behind, but within the MoE." Republicans are not liking this one bit.