Donald Lambro

"His approval on the issue, now 35 percent, is down seven percentage points, and his ratings on taxes and the federal budget deficit are each down five points," the polling service reported.

Here in Washington, the 2014 election focus is on whether the Democrats can keep control of the Senate in such a gloomy economic climate. Right now, the race is a tossup, maybe with an edge to Republicans if Obama's job polls continue to fall and the economy shows little or no signs of improvement.

Right now, Democrats control the Senate with a 54 to 46 seat majority, but Republicans will likely lose this year's special election race in New Jersey, making the division 55-45. Thus, Republicans will need a six-seat gain to take the Senate.

Democrats start out on the defensive, because they will have 20 seats up for election next year, versus 15 for the Republicans. Some of the Democrats' vulnerable seats are in states that were easily carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, but it's hard to find any GOP seat that's in danger next year.

"Republicans don't have any seats that currently look like goners. In contrast, Democrats have three -- the open seats in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia," writes longtime election handicapper Charlie Cook.

Veteran election tracker Stuart Rothenberg flatly says the "Republicans are likely to gain between three to six seats in 2014."

But Cook has a word of caution, noting two potentially offsetting factors that "could make the Democrats' task more difficult."

"First, the six most-competitive [Senate] contests are in states of varying shades of red" that Romney carried by mostly hefty margins. Alaska, by 14 points; Arkansas, 24 points; and Louisiana, 17 points -- "making them tough states for Democrats these days."

Romney also won in other key Senate race states -- in Georgia, for example, by 8 points, in Kentucky by a huge 23 points, but in North Carolina, by only 2 points.

Thus, Cook points out, while the GOP is being pounded for some "image problems nationally, it is far better off in these six states."

Throw in another major factor in next year's Senate sweepstakes: the special interest voter groups that turned out for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Minorities, unmarried women, and younger voters "are far less likely to turn out in a midterm election," Cook says.

Here's the bottom line, he says. "While Republicans have a narrow path to the majority, the seats they must win are in friendly states, and turnout will work in their favor because this is a midterm election."

There's another big warning here, though. Republicans, especially tea party voters, must pick their nominees with care. In 2010, the GOP lost a slam dunk Delaware Senate race when it chose a mediocre candidate who said she had once dabbled in witchcraft, and then ran a campaign ad in which she insisted "I'm not a witch."

Last year, two GOP Senate candidates were on a path to expected victories in Indiana and Missouri, until they made unfortunate remarks about rape pregnancies.

With the U.S. economy poised to turn the Senate over to the GOP, this is no time for bush league politics.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.



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