National Journal

Off to the Races
Majority status in the Senate could swerve back and forth over the next few elections.

By Charlie Cook
March 31, 2014

By a quirk of fate, we may be in for some pretty turbulent Senate elections, not only this November but in 2016 and 2018 as well. Majority status could resemble a rubber band as much as anything else. It is entirely plausible that the Senate will tip back into GOP hands in 2014, return to Democrats in 2016, and then flip again to Republicans in 2018. It’s all about how many—and which—seats on each side are up and exposed to losses, not to mention whether it is a presidential or midterm election. Obviously other factors could come into play, chiefly the political environment over the next four years, but also what the presidential tickets will look like in 2016, who will be in the White House come 2018, and how that person is doing.

As regular readers of this column know, Senate Democrats face a grueling challenge this year, defending 21 seats to Republicans’ 15. If they don’t lose any of their own seats, Republicans could win a Senate majority just by winning in states that Mitt Romney carried by 14 points or more—landslide states if there ever were any. This is a midterm election, meaning that the electorate will likely be older, whiter, more conservative, and more Republican than in a presidential year. Finally, Democrats are playing defense in a tough political environment, with President Obama’s job approval, as well as his signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, both underwater, suffering from higher rates of disapproval than approval in the polls. Thus, Democrats have a perfect storm on their hands in trying to defend their majority this year.

Obviously, things can change over the next seven months, but aside from the three open Democratic seats that the GOP is already favored to pick up (Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia), every other likely Democratic nominee in a competitive general-election situation has a floor vote in favor of Obamacare to defend. (Every Democratic member of the Senate voted for it, as did Reps. Bruce Braley and Gary Peters, the likely nominees for the party in Iowa and Michigan, respectively.) It’s a good bet that the ACA is underwater in the polls in every state with a competitive Senate race.

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