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January 23, 2014 9:38 AM Senate Boomerang

By Ed Kilgore

If you are in the mood for some serious electoral math today, check out Sean Trende’s analyses of the 2014 and 2016 Senate landscapes at RealClearPolitics.

Trende’s 2014 piece is very bullish about major GOP Senate gains, but only if the president’s job approval ratings stay mired at current levels. If, say, an improving economy and fading concerns about Obamacare provide Obama with a slow upward drift in approval ratings to around 50%, all bets are off:

If the president’s job approval is still around 43 percent in November — lower than it was on Election Day in 2010 — the question would probably not be whether the Democrats will hold the Senate, but whether Republicans can win 54 or 55 seats. Given the numbers right now, that should not be unthinkable.
But there’s a flip side to this. If Obama’s job approval does bounce back — which is exactly what happened in 2012 — there’s a reasonable chance that Republicans could walk away from this cycle with just a handful of pickups.

That would mean, says Trende, a boomerang election in 2016 where Democrats are very likely to maintain or regain control of the Senate even if Republicans win the White House. Indeed, he rates the probability of Democratic control after 2016 at 86% even if Republicans get to 51 seats this year and the GOP presidential candidate wins. That’s how bad the 2016 Senate landscape is for Republicans.

So the “trifecta” control of the federal government on which so many conservative plans depend looks pretty remote until at least 2018. And things could go pretty dramatically the other way in 2016 if GOPers underperform this year:

[I]f Republicans gain only a [Senate] seat or two, a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in 2016 is at least plausible. If Republicans break even or lose seats — and remember, no one thought that Republican losses were plausible at this point in 2012 — a filibuster-proof Democratic majority might even be likely in 2016. A year good enough to net Democrats six or more Senate seats would probably given them control of the House as well, giving them an unlikely trifecta for the second time in eight years.

That’s a nice dream for Democrats to warm themselves with on a cold winter night. But it all begins with damage mitigation this year.

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.

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