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GOP rightly poised to win Senate in 2014

By Paul DaSilva
On March 30, 2014

With President Barack Obama's job approval ratings continuously in the low 40 percent range, and support for his signature healthcare overhaul at all-time lows, Senate Democrats up for reelection have imposed on them the burden of defending unpopular president with unpopular policies. Many of these Democrats have sought to distance themselves from their party leader, asking him not to campaign for them directly. And they have adopted a slogan: "mend it, don't end it"-referring to their goal of correcting individual provisions of Obamacare rather than repealing it.
This dynamic, coupled with the historical propensity for minority parties to excel during midterm years may just be enough for Republicans to earn the six seats they need in the Senate, and achieve a majority. And election forecasters, including Nate Silver, the editor of FiveThirtyEight.com who predicted the 2012 election with precision, have indicated that the GOP is right on the cusp of doing exactly that.
Henceforth, I will provide you with a synopsis of the 2014 election landscape, along with some thoughts on whom I consider most likely to win.
Right off the bat, the Republicans should be able to secure three of these six seats they will need. In these states, long-time Democratic incumbents are retiring, namely Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia, Tim Johnson in South Dakota and Max Baucus in Montana. Mitt Romney won these states by 27 percent, 18 percent and 13.5 percent respectively, and the President has become even more unpopular since the 2012 election, holding approval ratings in the mid-thirties or lower. Current polls have the Republican candidate up in double digits, and all three GOP candidates are very solid choices to put up against any Democratic opponent. If Republicans lose any of these three seats, they almost certainly will fail to win the Senate.
So after taking those three seats, Republicans will need three more.
Their best chance as of today is any combination of Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Michigan. Sen. Mark Pryor's seat in Arkansas appears to be the most vulnerable for Democrats, since first, Pryor's approval ratings have tanked in recent months to the low thirties; second, the GOP has an excellent candidate in Tom Cotton; third, Obama's approval rating in the state is at a paltry 32 percent; and forth Romney won in a landslide in 2012, by 24 points. Pryor will have an exceedingly difficult task in convincing Arkansas voters that he and Obama have dissimilar positions on core policy, since it is only natural for voters to view the relationship between the President and his majority senators as inextricable. Moreover, I don't see how Republicans earn a majority without defeating Pryor. So we can now count this as four earned seats.
The remaining states will be only marginally more competitive, with polls currently indicating either a slight Democratic advantage (Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska and Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina), or a slight Republican advantage (Rep. Bill Cassidy over Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land over Rep. Gary Peters in Michigan's open election). If the GOP is in fact the victor in the forenamed Senate elections, they will only have to win two of these seats, which is an entirely plausible task, especially considering Romney had won each of these states in the general election, with the exception of Michigan.
The most salient question is will the electorate be more reminiscent to 2010, where the Tea Party inspired fervor in the GOP's base and thus produced a robust turnout, while many Democratic voters exhibited apathy two years after the epochal election of Obama; or will the electorate be closer to 2012, where the impressive get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats surprised many political observers, and resulted in the reelection of the President? This time around, given the national unpopularity of the President, and the disgust of many on the left over the botched healthcare rollout, it appears that the former may be the more likely scenario.
Of course, things can change before the elections in November, which can alter the landscape. Republicans can repeat mistakes of the past and nominate a poor candidate; though this seems to (hopefully) not be the case this time, since Tea Party groups are showing more prudence in their endorsements. Or a colossal event may occur that could abruptly improve Obama's approval ratings. The U.S. could get into war with Russia, for example.
But outside of these two confounding variables, the Republican Party will pick up several seats in the Senate at the very least, and very well could earn a majority. If this is the case, which I am here predicting, Obama will be further reduced to a sub-lame duck status, or he will radically have to change his legislative approach, and take up some Republican policy ideas, in a Bill Clinton-like fashion.
It's early still. But the momentum appears to be going only one way.
 


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