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March 09, 2014 11:40 AM The 2014 midterm elections: is it time for the Democrats to hit the panic button yet?

By Kathleen Geier

Could the 2014 elections shaping up to be a bigger loss for Democrats than we thought? There’s been speculation to that effect, but I’m not so sure.

No one ever thought the 2014 elections would be easy. During midterm elections, the party that holds the White House almost always loses seats. Moreover, as Ed Kilgore has written, Democrats in midterm elections face the additional disadvantage of an electorate than trends older and whiter than during presidential elections.

The other problem for Democrats this year is that Republicans may be — may be — getting their act together. The Republican establishment appears to be doing its best to regain control of the party from the lunatic fringe Tea Party types. To that end, they’re trying to run more moderate candidates and project a more mainstream image. Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy observes that many of the right’s most perfervid freaks — Pam Geller, John Derbyshire, Allen West, and the like — went missing at the CPAC conference this time (they’d been mainstays of the conference during previous years).

And today’s New York Times includes this interesting story about how aggressively Republican leaders are moving to shut down far right Senate candidates. “The goal is to deny them any Senate primary victories, cut into their fund-raising and diminish them as a future force in Republican politics,” says the article. Previous stories reported that Republican candidates were being provided with special training sessions to teach them how to talk about about women — presumably to avoid the “legitimate rape” comments and other similar pearls of wisdom that dropped from the mouths of those charming Republican “rape philosopher” candidates last election cycle.

The G.O.P. does seem to be on its best behavior, all right. President Obama, for one, sounds concerned. According to this story today in The Hill, he’s been telling Democratic groups that he’s worried that Democratic candidates could get, in his words, “walloped.” “It’s happened before and it could happen again,” he said, referring to the 2010 midterm elections.

Democrats shouldn’t be complacent, but I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button yet, either. For one thing, there is still an awful lot of conflict among the Republicans, and some of it is getting nasty. For example, Mitch McConnell says of the Tea Party challenges, “I think we are going to crush them everywhere” — language that doesn’t exactly sound statesmanlike, especially given that he’s the senate minority leader. He’s also been running attack ads against one of the activist groups that runs right-wing candidates. The activists in the piece attack McConnell in turn, labeling him as “the essence of the problem in D.C.” They say they plan to continue to challenging establishment Republicans, even “at the risk of losing seats.”

Perhaps even more important than divisions among the Republicans, another factor trending in the Democrats’ favor are the fundamentals. The economy seems to be improving, and the most recent jobs numbers were better than expected. According to the most recent political science forecasting models, which tend to be accurate, the Democrats are likely to lose only a modest number of seats. That can change of course, but as of now, it doesn’t look like the Democrats will fare significantly worse than can be expected for party whose president holds the White House during mid-year elections.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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