The Senate, often thought of as the softer, slower, less-exciting body of the legislative branch, is in the spotlight this year. The Republicans in the House are expected to retain the majority and pick up seats.
The Democratic Senate might very well become a Republican-led Senate this fall. President Obama is not up for reelection, but his approval/ disapproval ratings will have an effect on those running on the Democratic ticket.
The numbers are encouraging: Based on Real Clear Politics rankings, there are 40 safe (or not up) Democratic seats, 41 safe (or not up) Republican seats, five seats that are likely to go or lean Democratic, five that are likely to go or lean Republican and nine seats that are in the toss-up category. Of those nine seats, only two -- Kentucky and Georgia -- are currently held by Republicans; the other states are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina.
As an aside, the Oregon primary was held this week, with Dr. Monica Wehby winning. The latest poll has her beating incumbent Jeff Merkley by 4 points. Stay tuned to this exciting race.
This week, the two states that have Republicans in play also held primaries. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fought off challenger and tea party candidate Matt Bevin, coming out on top 60 percent to 35 percent. McConnell will run against Alison Lundergan Grimes. Recent polls show them in a dead heat, which would be interesting except that McConnell faced a tough primary, and his numbers will begin to rise.
In Georgia, the Republican field was crowded with three sitting congressmen who left their safe seats to run statewide (Jack Kingston, Phil Gingrey and Paul Braun), a political newcomer, David Perdue, who shares the same last name as his cousin, (former Gov. Sonny Perdue), and Karen Handel, who was in a runoff in 2010 against the current governor, Nathan Deal.
The race garnered national attention from outside groups, which ran ads both for and against candidates on both sides of the tickets. According to Opensecrets.org, more than $3.6 million in outside money was spent in the Senate race. Almost $1 million was spent in support of Jack Kingston, with $500,000 spent against him. Gingrey's opposition spent almost $1.2 million, and he had no outside money in support. Perdue had $500,000 spent in support and none spent against him.
As for monies raised by candidates, as of April 30, Kingston raised $5.6 million (55 percent from large donors), spent $4.3 million and had $1.3 cash on hand. Perdue contributed almost $3 million to his campaign, raised another $1.7 million and had $467,000 cash on hand.
At the end of the primary, two were left standing for the runoff that is to be held on July 22: Perdue with 30 percent of the vote and Kingston at 26 percent. RedState editor, Erick Erickson, who had backed Handel, has already endorsed Kingston. It will be interesting to see who will line up behind each candidate, how much more money Perdue will contribute to his own campaign, whether he will be able to persuade others to contribute, too, and how Georgia voters will react to a candidate who gave $2 to his campaign for every $1 raised.
Kingston has displayed a better capacity to raise campaign money as well as excite external groups, while Perdue has self-funded the majority of his campaign and made a few verbal gaffes.
The winner of the run-off will meet Michelle Nunn, the Democratic nominee in November and daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn. Incumbent Gov. Deal, who handily won his primary, will be facing off against Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. With a Nunn and Carter on the November ballot, it might feel like the '70s to those of us in Georgia.
The response to McConnell winning the Kentucky primary over tea party challenger Bevin provides insight into the process of unification after a hard-fought primary. RedState's Erickson, who had endorsed Bevin, not only contributed to McConnell's campaign after the primary but tweeted a photo of his donation. The Senate Conservatives Fund also endorsed McConnell. "We thank Matt Bevin for standing up for conservative principles and giving voters a choice in this race," the group said in a statement. "Now it's time for Republicans to unite for victory in November."
No matter what the events of the next few weeks in Georgia hold, rest assured that, at the end of the runoff, the response will be the same in the Peach State as it has been in Kentucky: it's time to unify for victory in November.