Senate Control in 2014 Increasingly Looks Like a Tossup

by
July 16, 2013

This weekend’s announcement by the former governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, that he would not seek that state’s Democratic nomination for Senate represents the latest in a series of favorable developments for Republicans as they seek control of the chamber.

The G.O.P.’s task will not be easy: the party holds 46 seats in the Senate, and the number will very probably be cut to 45 after a special election in New Jersey later this year. That means that they would need to win a net of six contests from Democrats in order to control 51 seats and overcome Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s tiebreaking vote. Two years ago at this time, Republicans faced what seemed to be a promising environment and could have won the Senate by gaining a net of three seats from Democrats and winning the presidency. Instead, Mitt Romney lost to President Obama, and the G.O.P. lost a net of two Senate seats.

But Montana along with West Virginia and South Dakota — two other red states where an incumbent Democrat has retired and where the Democrats have not identified a strong candidate to replace them – gives Republicans a running start. Republicans could then win three more seats from among red states like Louisiana and Arkansas, where vulnerable Democratic incumbents are on the ballot, or they could take aim at two purple states, Iowa and Michigan, where Democrats have retired. More opportunities could also come into play if the national environment becomes more favorable to Republicans (such as because of a further slide in Mr. Obama’s approval ratings). Meanwhile, while Kentucky and Georgia are possibly vulnerable, Republicans have few seats of their own to defend; unlike in 2012, they can focus almost entirely on playing offense.

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