Political Animal


April 01, 2013 9:50 AM Midterm Senate Gloom

By Ed Kilgore

There’s not much news today, as one might expect on Easter Monday/7th Day of Passover, with Congress in recess. But over the weekend, Jonathan Bernstein penned a real buzz-kill for progressives in a forecast of 2014 Senate races. He didn’t even have to get into the history lessons about second-term midterms as a death trap for parties controlling the White House; the micro-landscape is bad enough:

The two most likely seats to flip are both held by retiring Democrats — South Dakota and West Virginia. One can make a pretty good argument that at least the five next most likely to flip are also currently in the Democratic column. It would be surprising, at this point, if Democrats could manage to break even, even if the national tide does wind up helping them.
The best-case scenario for the Democrats right now is probably salvaging one of the seats in either South Dakota or West Virginia, and then having GOP recruiting failures doom them in the other vulnerable Democratic seats. And somehow managing to pick off one of the longshot Democratic opportunities. That’s a break-even outcome. Realistically it’s hard to see anything better.
On the other hand, it’s not hard at all to picture Republicans picking up six, seven, or even more seats — and taking back a Senate majority. But more likely is probably a 2-5 seat Republican gain, allowing Democrats to keep their Senate majority but by only a slim margin.

Bernstein goes on to say every Senator matters, and I agree up to a point. But in terms of being able to govern the country, the most important goal for Senate Democrats in 2014 is to keep themselves in contention to win 60 seats in the much more favorable landscape of 2016. Harry Reid could change all that with unilateral filibuster reform, making majorities well under 60 meaningful as they were for most of the country’s history. But nobody’s holding their breaths for that to happen.

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.


  • Ron Byers on April 01, 2013 10:01 AM:

    Four more years of senatorial deadlock. Goodie.

    What are Democratic chances in the house?

  • T2 on April 01, 2013 10:17 AM:

    On the other hand, if Bernstein's take is right and the Crazies get a Senate majority, the 60 vote threshold will look pretty good. That is, up to the point the new TeaParty majority changes the filibuster rules.......on or about their second day in the majority. You see, they aren't as weak-kneed as Reid.

  • Peter C on April 01, 2013 10:38 AM:

    The Senate is not the problem; @Ron is right, we need to work on the House.

    I think to cry "Woe are we! We can't get a 60-vote supermajority!" is silly. We shouldn't need a 60-vote supermajority. What we need is filibuster reform. If we get it, a 52 seat majority is plenty powerful.

    These sorts of "we're doomed!" messages are not helpful; they keep us from fighting for what we can get by assuming we can get nothing without a perfect situation.

    We don't need a 60-vote supermajority; we need a new Senate majority leader.

  • Gandalf on April 01, 2013 10:46 AM:

    As a country in order to go forward in a way that will be beneficial to the overwhelming majority of americans we need to follow the California path and get a large enough majority in both the house and the senate.

  • somethingblue on April 01, 2013 11:19 AM:

    Since Democrats are always telling us that it takes sixty votes to do anything in the Senate, I'm not sure why we're supposed to care if they lose their majority.

  • joanneinDenver on April 01, 2013 11:26 AM:

    I told you so.

    And what are Democrats doing? Enough old time Democratic senators are just throwing in the towel, giving the Republicans a great chance. What is the strategy? What worked in 2010? oh.

  • c u n d gulag on April 01, 2013 11:53 AM:

    Never underestimate the Cro-Magnon's in the Tea Party.

    They'll want to prove that THEIR version of Conservatism should rule, and to spit in Karl Rove's eye, they'll run loons against some fairly electable Republicans, or move them so far to the right, that they feel they need to say stupider and stupider things, just to win their state's primary.

    This time, I refuse to get pessimistic until it's time to do so.
    The Tea Partiers will feel that to win in '14, they'll REALLY need let their freak fly!

  • jjm on April 01, 2013 12:29 PM:

    I'm with c u n d gulag on this one.

  • smartalek on April 01, 2013 1:16 PM:

    T2 answered the question at 10:17am, three comments above yours.
    If your comment was sarcasm, please accept my apologies; I've always been somewhat irony-deficient, and never more so than on April Me Day.

  • danimal on April 01, 2013 2:31 PM:

    This 2013 take looks an awful lot like the 2011 take on the 2012 Senate election. You know, the one that said it would be virtually impossible for the Dems to hold on to the Senate? Remind me, which party won more Senate seats in 2012.

    Gloom and doom are no substitute for enthusiasm and dogged determination.

  • N.Wells on April 01, 2013 5:14 PM:

    I dislike the mindset that accompanies these "micro-analyses". Contest-by-contest analyses only work because Democrats have consistently refused to try to make Republican craziness and extremism the basis of a national repudiation of the Republican party. In 2008, the voters worked that one out on their own, but really, if Dems had put a decent effort into decrying Republicans across the board and doing to "conservative" what the conservatives have done to "liberal" we could have had entirely different outcomes in every national election from 2000 on. Few parties have deserved political extinction as much as the Republicans, or worked so hard to earn it. Getting the Silent Majority to pay attention and do something about shouldn't be difficult, but evidently it requires more concerted and prolonged effort than the Dems have been putting forth.