WASHINGTON - To hold the Senate next year, Democrats need a bit of luck and a lot of help from Republican primary voters. Although 33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats will be contested next year, only a handful of those races will be competitive because many take place in states or districts won last year by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
WASHINGTON — To hold the Senate next year, Democrats need a bit of luck and a lot of help from Republican primary voters.
Although 33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats will be contested next year, only a handful of those races will be competitive because many take place in states or districts won last year by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In addition, Democrats must overcome historical tradition that an incumbent president’s party loses seats in the off-year elections during his sixth year in office.
And finally, President Barack Obama’s popularity with voters remains problematic. The economy has grown at a mild rate while a fresh spate of polls shows that Obama’s signature legislative achievement — the 2010 health-care law — is toxic with Republican voters.
Yet Republicans squandered those same advantages during the past two elections when their favored candidates in Nevada, Delaware, Indiana, Colorado and Missouri were plowed under by tea party candidates. The primary winners proved to be either too conservative or politically clumsy to win the general election.
If Republican primary voters next year reject establishment candidates for archconservatives in Georgia, Montana and Alaska, and the economy continues to rebound, then once again a chance for the Republicans to control the Senate for the first time since 2006 will elude their grasp.
“There is nothing more important than everybody working putting the economy back on track and putting people back to work,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant in Boston. “If the White House and Democrats can stick to that message and run the kind of grass-roots campaigns they have done since 2008, and the Republicans have self-inflicted wounds by nominating far-right candidates, then I like the Dem chances a lot.”
To Republicans, that type of talk is wishful thinking. They point out that the retirement of Democrats Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Max Baucus of Montana and Tim Johnson of South Dakota have made those states prime targets for Republicans.
They note that when former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana opted not to run for the Senate, he deprived the Democrats of their strongest statewide candidate.
In a memo distributed to reporters, Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee wrote that “Montana now joins West Virginia and South Dakota as the third red state where Democrats have not only failed to land their top candidates, but to recruit a candidate capable of winning a general election matchup.”
In the House, most analysts believe that less than two dozen seats across the country will be competitive.
“There is no visible path for the Democrats reclaiming the House at this point,” said David Wasserman, a congressional analysts for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.
Even though Ohio does not have a U.S. Senate race next year, the election’s outcome will be crucial to the future of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Portman, whose ability to raise campaign cash is legendary, is the chief fundraiser for the NRSC.
“We are in a situation where, over the last few elections, the Democrats have out-fundraised and outspent Republicans by 15 to 20 percent,” Portman said. “So we are hoping to be able to close that gap and have adequate resources available for our good candidates.”
Senate Democrats currently control 53 seats. Independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine caucus with the Democrats.
To maintain their grip on the Senate, Democratic incumbents Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska must win in states won by Romney. By contrast, the most endangered Republican — Mitch McConnell — seeks re-election in Kentucky, a state Romney overwhelmingly won.
Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the NRSC, said that Democrats “are stuck defending extremely unpopular incumbents in North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska. By midfall, Democrats will be defending 15 to 17 seats and are already behind the eight ball in four of them.”
Control of the Senate could depend on whether Hagan can prevail in North Carolina, which Obama carried in 2008 but Romney won by two points last year. In the reckoning of political strategists, North Carolina has become a “purple” state rather than being solidly “red” Republican.
But Hagan has raised more than $4 million while Republicans have yet to rally behind a candidate.
“The bottom line is, while the Republicans have failed to expand the map in any blue or purple state, the Democrats have candidates in almost every state who have managed to avoid primaries and will have more money,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In the House, Boehner’s aides say he is working overtime to maintain his grasp of the speaker’s office. Just this year, Boehner has held more than 100 events in 16 states helping House Republicans raise $30 million for next year’s contests.
Because Republicans across the country have carved out so many reliable GOP congressional districts, Wasserman said the “only seriously in-danger Republican in the entire House” is Rep. Gary Miller of California.
In Ohio, Wasserman said the only competitive House race involves freshman Republican David Joyce of Russell Township. But Wasserman said Ohio Republicans have drawn the congressional districts with such care that it will be difficult for Boehner to lose one of his GOP colleagues.
“Ohio can easily elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats because the Democrats are so concentrated near Columbus and Cleveland,” Wasserman said. “Ohio is a microcosm of the House Democrats’ problems.”