Next year's Senate landscape has long been regarded as treacherous terrain for Democrats. In 2008, Barack Obama's blue wave swept many Democrats into office, including more than a few from red and purple states. That year's Senate class will soon be up for re-election in a non-presidential year -- which means a smaller, more informed, more Republican electorate, and no help at the top of the ticket. As Dan reported over the weekend, Democrats' top recruit to run for Max Baucus' soon-to-be-vacant seat (former Gov. Brian Schweitzer) has begged off. Instead, the party will likely nominate either a failed 2010 Congressional candidate, or the president of an organization devoted to abortion. This development has many political handicappers sliding the Montana race into the "leans GOP" column, alongside two other contests for open seats in red states. Republicans are favored to win in West Virginia, where Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring, as well as South Dakota, where Tim Johnson is stepping down.
If they carry the day in those three races, Republicans would be halfway home to securing a Senate majority. The GOP's most direct path to netting the requisite six seats to supplant Harry Reid as majority leader involves knocking off some endangered Southern Democratic incumbents. At the top of the list are Arkansas' Mark Pryor and North Carolina's Kay Hagan. One tier down sit Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Alaska's Mark Begich. Beyond that, Republicans have more distant shots at picking off incumbents in places like Colorado and New Hampshire, or winning open seats in Iowa or Michigan. Meanwhile, almost every single Republican-held seat is considered fairly safe in 2014. Democrats believe their most promising chances to spring upsets lie in Georgia and Kentucky, but events haven't been kind to the DSCC thus far. Their prized recruit in Georgia chose not to run, and Mitch McConnell's opponent -- whom national Democrats wooed heavily -- suffered an inauspicious campaign roll-out, then basically fell off the grid. Guess where she finally turned up?
In her first major appearance before national party leaders, Saturday on Martha's Vineyard, Grimes wowed Democratic senators, Senate candidates and donors alike at the party's annual private summer fundraising retreat. Each year the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee invites top donors to schmooze with senators, especially those up for reelection, and inspect the merchandise of challengers who will take on Republican incumbents. Grimes spoke to the group Saturday morning and brought the jaded and normally undemonstrative crowd to its feet in wild applause, said one top donor.
Nothing plays in Kentucky quite like a liberal Democrat electrifying a room full of partisan donors on Martha's Vineyard. The Harry Reid/Chuck Schumer crowd may be pretty stoked over the president's war on coal and the "wonderful" new healthcare law -- but Kentucky voters aren't great fans of this president, nor of his policies. In short, Democrats will almost exclusively be playing defense across the board next year, and Republicans have a clear path to regain control of Congress' upper chamber. But as recent misfires have taught us, feasible GOP wins on paper don't necessarily translate into actual outcomes. See: Colorado, Delaware and Nevada in 2010, and Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota in 2012.