Political Animal


January 11, 2013 10:13 AM Another Rocky Senate Landscape For Democrats

By Ed Kilgore

The announcement by West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller that he will not run for a sixth term in 2014 should draw attention to a basic political fact: having survived and even thrived in Senate races despite a terrible landscape in 2012, it doesn’t get any easier in the next cycle.

Here’s how I described the situation in a recent analysis for The Democratic Strategist:

As in 2012, the Senate landscape is unfavorable to Democrats, who must defend 20 seats as compared to 13 for Republicans. Worse yet, seven of those 20 seats will be in states carried by Mitt Romney, while only one GOP seat is in a state (Maine) carried by Obama (the incumbent there, Susan Collins, won 62% of the vote in 2008 even as Obama was winning 58% in the state). And the Democratic Senate Class that’s up in 2014 is a bit long in the tooth (Frank Lautenberg will be 88; Carl Levin 78; Jay Rockefeller 75; Max Baucus and Tom Harkin 72; Tim Johnson is only in his sixties, but has a history of health problems), so retirements are likely.

And lest anyone blithely assume Democrats will over-perform in Senate races in 2014 because they did last year, remember that the midterm electorate is fundamentally different and much less favorable to the Donkey Party than the one that voted last November.

It gets massively better for Democrats in 2016, when they will have to defend only 10 of 34 Senate seats up that year, and the presidential electorate returns to the polls. And perhaps the silver lining of the overall advantages Republicans will enjoy in the midterms is that another good year for the GOP could very likely convince conservatives that all the “reforms” in their mechanics and message they talked about after November 6 are no longer necessary, and that their core ideology continues to be a fine fit for America.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • low-tech cyclist on January 11, 2013 10:25 AM:

    I remember looking at the 2012 and 2014 Senate classes as the 2010 midterms approached. We were very, very lucky with how things worked out in 2012, because the playing field was tilted way against us, and we still came out ahead.

    But 2014 makes 2012 look like a picnic. Other than possibly Maine, we simply DO NOT have any pickup opportunities: the other 12 seats in this class held by the GOP are in deep red states: deep South, northern Rockies, and Plains states like Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

    So we're almost entirely playing defense this time. We'd lose seats even if 2014 magically morphed into a Presidential year. And since that's not gonna happen, it's going to be a fight just to maintain a slender Senate majority, even if by next November, 60% of Americans think the ACA is the greatest thing since sliced bread. (Let's hope.)

  • c u n d gulag on January 11, 2013 10:33 AM:

    On the negative side, it looks like President Obama may have to keep his 'Veto Pen' handy at all times.

    On the plus side, in 2016, unless Duval Patrick ends up our nominee, the next Democratic Presidential candidate will be a white man or woman, and we'll see how THAT plays out in Appalachia, and the West - especially if it's Hillary.

    So, optimistically, all President Obama will have to do, is hold down the fort for a couple of years, since reinforcements will hopefully be coming to help the Democratic causes.

    Of, course, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio may have something to say about that.
    Maybe even Paul Ryan, but I think he showed himself not to be some savant budget wonk, but an sociopathic @$$hole.

  • T2 on January 11, 2013 10:34 AM:

    I may be out on a limb here, but I think the GOP definitely believe that their "ideology" is just what America needs to set things straight. What they need is a guy who doesn't seem like a robot or lunatic to front for them. That's where they perceive the problem, not their ideology.

  • JMG on January 11, 2013 10:39 AM:

    Gosh, Ed, if I tried to predict who'd win the 2014 Super Bowl, I'd be ridiculed and rightly so. Events will determine if it's a Republican or Democratic year in 2014. I remember how Monica Lewinsky was going to sweep the Republicans to massive victory in 1998. Didn't happen. I remember that at this time in 2009, the Dems were considered huge favorites to hold the House. That didn't happen, either.

  • Ron Byers on January 11, 2013 10:45 AM:

    Boy if this post and the early comments reflect the thinking of the National Democratic Party, we are well and totally screwed. It seems the good old boys want to take 2014 off. I don't. I want to contest every seat as hard as we can. I don't buy the nonsense that Ed has been pushing on the a couple of times the last two days. In fact I find the last couple of negative posts to be counter productive. Telling us we can't win creates a self fulfilling prophecy. I am realistic, but I want to win in 2014, not engage in another loosing year of duck and cover.

  • Peter C on January 11, 2013 10:48 AM:

    I think we'd be better to focus on a 50-state strategy and strengthening our candidate-development process. Yes, there will be elections on unfavorable turf, but their candidates are zealots and idiots who are tied to a distasteful ideology. We can win with qualified articulate candidates and our core beliefs and values. But Senatorial candidates must be developed and nurtured, and part of that is cycling them into important posts within the Administrative branch. In this context, filibuster reform is key. If we have a system where every change of job within the Administration requires concessions, we will have problems growing candidates who can compete in adverse conditions.

  • Aaron Morrow on January 11, 2013 11:12 AM:

    The last time a Democratic President had a second mid-term election was 1998.

    The last time a President's party had a successful second mid-term election? 1998.

    Where increased mid-term GOTV efforts are less likely to work, we can always pull a Missouri and spend money to support a tea bagger like John Raese.

  • merrinc on January 11, 2013 11:15 AM:

    This is one of the many reasons I'm an independent rather than a registered Dem despite the fact that 99% of the candidates I support are Democrats. The incessant gloom and doom, infighting, and always, always, ALWAYS trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is tiresome and discouraging. Buck up and get ready to fight, people. When is holding a majority ever easy?

    Also, let's not forget the ability of the Tea Party and other assorted RWNJs to make it easier for us. The right has learned NOTHING from the last election. Seems likely they'll continue to mount successful primary challenges and put forth candidates like Sharron Angle and Todd Akin who are unacceptable to the majority of voters.

    Or we can just give up now and sit around and whine until 2016.

  • gratuitous on January 11, 2013 1:23 PM:

    Yes, the sheer numbers in the Senate for 2014 are daunting, and should cause concern for any Democratic observer. Here's my lunatic, demented take on the 2014 mid-terms, for what it's worth: If the Democrats govern like, well, Democrats between now and Election Day 2014, they will energize their base and demoralize the whackadoo Republicans.

    Make government work for more people, rather than being the exclusive province of the overrich, and see whether or not the hoi polloi want to participate in the process.

    I know, absolutely crazy. I'll stop talking now.

  • low-tech cyclist on January 11, 2013 1:54 PM:

    Ron and JMG - I think it's important to be honest about what the terrain for 2014 looks like. The fact is, we had a really GREAT year in 2008, but the flip side of that is that, having won just about every winnable Senate seat that year, there's not anything left on the shelf for 2014.

    What we should DO about that is a whole 'nother story, and I think it starts with learning the lessons of 2009, when we more activist types kinda sat back and watched, partly because that's what Obama told us to do while he played the inside game. So first lesson is, we don't do that this time.

    But however you read it, we've got a battle on our hands in 2014. And it's already started, so let's get into it.