In the months after every Presidential election, we go through the same mindless process of declaring long-term supremacy of one party over the other. And so it goes in the aftermath of the 2012 Presidential election, with all the expert commentators writing the Republican Party's obituary and with overly cocky Democrats buying into way more of the bullshit than they should. Every indication points to 2014 being as terrible of a climate for Democrats as 2010 was, particularly in the Senate where a half-dozen highly vulnerable red-state seats are poised to fall entirely into the GOP's hands in an unfavorable political climate. Making matters worse is that at the forefront of policy discussions are gun control and illegal immigration, both of which put these red state Democrats even further on defense. On top of that, expect the economy to continue its anemic growth amidst entirely flat or declining growth for the Joe Sixpack voters for whom America quit working quite some time ago. And the biggest wild card of all is implementation of ObamaCare, where the early indications are not promising for political success. If it continues to be the clusterfuck we've seen so far, we have another 2010 on our hands in the midterms.
With all this in mind, I'll take a cursory overview of next year's Senate contests to see if my current thoughts prove too bullish, too bearish, or right on target....
Alabama--The Democrats will surprise the world by regaining the political narrative in Alabama and upsetting three-term GOP incumbent Jeff Sessions. Er, wait...no they won't. Sessions will win in a 30-point landslide. Safe GOP.
Alaska--Early polls are worth nothing in Alaska as we've seen how wrong they are every election cycle, always overstating Democratic support. With that said, it's undoubtedly some relief to accidental Democratic Senator Mark Begich that he leads against hypothetical opponents in his bid for a second term, but here's a seat where a little advertising heat from the GOP and its allies is likely to make a world of difference, especially given that Begich has proven to be a surprisingly boilerplate Democrat outside of energy issues, with a long list of votes that will be used against him. On the other hand, Begich does not appear to be in such a position that he's a certain dead man walking. If Joe Miller wins the Republican primary, I suspect Begich gets a second term. But against any mainstream opponent in the political climate we're wading into, Begich is probably the underdog. Leans GOP (+1 GOP)
Arkansas--Two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor's situation strikes me as similar to that of Mark Begich in Alaska. While things are not yet so bad that it's impossible for him to win, I suspect it's odds-against. It was clear immediately after the 2008 election that Blanche Lincoln was gonna lose in the next midterm, but Pryor's grasp on his state's electorate was always a little stronger than Lincoln's, which is the only thing that may keep him in the game there next year with Arkansas lurching radically towards tea-flavored Republicanism. Still, the national Democratic priority list of gun control, gay marriage, and immigration reform puts Pryor in such a difficult situation that he'll have a tougher time than ever trying to explain to constituents why they should keep him around. Freshman Congressman Tom Cotton is said to be a frontrunner for the GOP nomination, and if Cotton runs, I suspect he wins. Leans GOP (+2 GOP)
Colorado--From two highly vulnerable Democrats named Mark to a third potentially vulnerable Democrat named Mark....that being freshman Mark Udall. Democrats are on such an extended winning streak in Colorado that it's easy to overlook Udall as potentially vulnerable but I hope he's watching his back because the state is still pretty evenly divided and a defensive political climate could prove damaging. Purple district Congressional Republican Mike Coffman from suburban Denver would seem to be the strongest challenger from a shallow GOP bench in Colorado. Right now, Udall has a clear advantage, but it's an advantage that could easily slip away with a few bad breaks. Leans Democrat.
Delaware--Another accidental Democratic Senator, Chris Coons, will run for his first full term next year. While it's doubtful that he'll get lucky enough to run against Christine O'Donnell again next year, he shouldn't have to. Delaware is moving leftward and there are no obvious candidates the GOP could run against Coons after losing just about every statewide election in the past two decades. Likely Democrat.
Georgia--It's a shame this seat, vacated by retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss, couldn't come up in a Presidential year where minority turnout has made Georgia competitive more quickly than I'd have anticipated. But given that the seat will be open in a midterm year with a political climate that looks challenging, it seems likely that whatever Tea Party nutjob the party runs will be a definite favorite, capable of weathering whatever negative press comes their way much like Governor Nathan Deal did in the 2010 campaign. Democrats have a handful of credible candidates they could run while far-right Congressmen Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey are best positioned to be the Republicans' emissaries. Democrats have an outside chance if the GOP runs Broun, but the perfect storm necessary for a Democrat to win a Georgia Senate seat seems very unlikely to materialize in a year like 2014. Likely GOP.
Hawaii--Incumbent Democrat Brian Schatz, appointed after the death of Dan Inouye, may end up having a significant primary challenge on his hand from any number of ambitious Hawaii Democrats, and a primary would probably present him with his most serious threat, but there's an outside possibility former GOP Governor Linda Lingle could be persuaded to throw her hat in the ring again after her hopeless 2012 bid with native son Obama at the top of the ticket. There's no guarantee Lingle would make this race any more competitive than she did in 2012, but at the very least it should be an outside concern for Democrats in a doomsday environment. Likely Democrat.
Idaho--Freshman Republican Jim Risch won in a landslide in the worst political climate for Republicans in my lifetime, so he'll have no problem at all winning a second term in the political climate of 2014. Safe GOP.
Illinois--Very hard to imagine any scenario where three-term Democratic incumbent Dick Durbin receives a serious challenge in 2014. Illinois proved in 2010 that in a perfect storm scenario, Republicans can eke out victories there, but the odds of Illinois turning out Durbin for a second Republican Senator would require another scandal of Blagojevich-level scope that seems highly unlikely. Safe Democrat.
Iowa--There's still plenty of time for things to wrong, but thus far the aftermath of the retirement announcement from veteran Democrat Tom Harkin has produced everything going right for Democrats. Their strongest candidate, Congressman Bruce Braley, immediately threw his hat in the ring while the strongest Republican, Congressman Tom Latham, deferred. Now the frontrunner for the GOP nomination is right-wing Congressman Steve King, who polls horrifically in statewide matchups and it's hard to imagine him winning even in the most untenable political environment. Again, the race has not taken full form yet, but Democrats like what they're seeing so far in regards to holding it. Leans Democrat.
Kansas--Republicans don't lose in Kansas, and veteran Senator Pat Roberts will extend that streak with another landslide next year. Safe GOP.
Kentucky--The car wreck of an Ashley Judd candidacy has thankfully been avoided, meaning Kentucky Democrats may be in a better position to avoid a downballot bloodbath, but there still only inches closer to their endgame of taking out Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The talk is that Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is considering a run, and she has the potential to be a formidable candidate, but probably not next year and definitely not in Kentucky. No matter how much Kentucky voters dislike and are sick of Mitch McConnell at this point, they dislike and are sick of Obama much more. In the end, I'd be surprised if this was even close as I predict a double-digit McConnell win. Likely GOP.
Louisiana--Three-term Democrat Mary Landrieu is an enigma in that she's the most liberal Senator to ever come out of red-and-getting-redder Louisiana, but she's also the state's most popular politician. It appears she's letting it go to her head though as she's been voting with her party quite a bit even this year, despite her apparent plans to run for a fourth term next year. In her previous three runs, she's managed small margins of victory even in neutral-to-positive political environments. I don't suspect 2014 will be a neutral climate for her and it's very unlikely that it will be positive. And now Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy, her toughest possible opponent at least on paper, has thrown his hat in the ring. If the election were held tomorrow, I suspect Landrieu would hang on. But the election isn't tomorrow, and I think 2014 will be the year Landrieu can't hang on any longer. Leans GOP (+3 GOP)
Maine--Maine may be a left-leaning state, but unlike some other left-leaning New England states, they don't seem to care whether hanging onto their "moderate" Republican Senators results in GOP Senate leadership becoming a majority. Three-term incumbent Susan Collins won by 20 points against a top-tier Democratic challenger in the strong Democratic year of 2008, so the chances of taking her out in 2014 is very low. It's not out of the question she may decide to retire as Olympia Snowe did last year, but as of now all signs point to her planning to run again. And if she runs again, she wins. Leans GOP.
Massachusetts--Before I can speculate on who wins John Kerry's old Senate seat in 2014, a special election will decide who wins it in 2013. The frontrunner is clearly Democratic Congressman Ed Markey, but the last Massachusetts Senate special election frontrunner didn't fare so well, so caution is definitely in order before making a call. Former Senator Scott Brown is not running, but at least on paper, Republican Gabriel Gomez looks like somebody worth taking notice of. Odds are that Markey wins both the special election and a full term next year though. Likely Democrat.
Michigan--Here's the nation's most wide-open Senate race following the retirement of long-time Democratic incumbent Carl Levin. Both sides have a decent bench of credible candidates and there's no clear frontrunner right now so I can only make a call based on conditions on the ground and the political climate. Even this is challenging, however, since the last midterm election in Michigan was a Republican blowout, even in the immediate aftermath of the Democrats rescuing the auto industry with virtually no Republican help. Democrats still win more often than not, however, so I will give the narrowest advantage to Democrats just based on the fundamentals. Leans Democrat.
Minnesota--After his incredibly narrow win in 2008, freshman Democrat Al Franken seemed poised to be one of the most vulnerable Democrats of 2014, but at least so far it isn't shaping up that way. The top-tier of Republican challengers have either ruled out a challenge against him or are biding their time before making a decision, and delayed decisions to run create serious fund-raising obstacles in the current all-about-the-money climate. With that said, if the political climate is as bad as it was in 2010, any Republican could probably beat Franken. And whichever Republican does run strikes me as being at least a little more electable than Minnesota's 2012 GOP candidate Kurt Bills. It's advantage Franken to be sure, but he's not yet a slam-dunk. Leans Democrat.
Mississippi--Veteran Republican Thad Cochran seems like a candidate for retirement heading into 2014. He's always been very popular in the state and would win by his usual 25-point margin if he runs again, but if he retires he'll inevitably be succeeded by another Republican who will most likely win by just a little bit less. And if Cochran retires, it's a safe bet his successor will be more conservative as Cochran is about as moderate and congenial of a Republican as can be expected from Mississippi. Safe GOP.
Montana--It's pretty obvious to me that long-time Democratic incumbent Max Baucus' goose is cooked. While everything currently points to him running for re-election next year, my money is on him deciding against it when polls continue to show his standing failing to improve. And I expect the seat has to be a tempting target for Republican Denny Rehberg, who lost narrowly to Jon Tester last year but would probably love to take out the even bigger target up next year similar to how John Thune returned from his 2002 loss to snuff out Tom Daschle in South Dakota. The wild card for the Democrats here is if former Governor Brian Schweitzer can be coaxed into running. He could win, even against Rehberg, if he decided to run, but that strikes me as a longshot, so my inclination is to bet that either Rehberg or "generic Republican" wins. Leans GOP (+4 GOP)
Nebraska--Following the surprise retirement of one-term Republican Mike Johanns, Nebraska has another open seat to fill next year. In a similar situation last year, Democrats were somehow able to convince their strongest candidate, former Senator Bob Kerrey to run for his old seat. And even in a much better political environment, Kerrey still lost by 16 points. That bodes very poorly for Democrats having any chance at all in 2014 as Nebraska just seems to be gone for them at every level. Safe GOP.
New Hampshire--Given the volatile political climate of New Hampshire which seems to have a wave election one way or the other every two years, freshman Democrat Jeanne Shaheen has always been in that "potentially vulnerable" category, although she has yet to get an announced challenger to my knowledge. News just last week could make things more interesting, however, as former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has indicated some interest in switching states and running for Senate there. With much of NH sharing Massachusetts media markets, it would be a masterstroke for Republicans if they pulled this off. Assuming that Brown is still a longshot though, I've seen nothing yet to indicate this race is anything but Shaheen's to lose. Leans Democrat.
New Jersey--As it stands now, Cory Booker appears poised to be the Democratic candidate to fill the senior of the retiring Frank Lautenberg. Aside from Chris Christie who is very unlikely to make a Senate run, the GOP has a nearly nonexistent bench in New Jersey capable of seriously challenging Booker, so it would really require a political earthquake for Republicans to be competitive here. Likely Democrat.
New Mexico--The political climate has changed a lot in New Mexico over the last decade, and almost entirely to the Democrats' advantage. Even if things return to a 2010 posture, it's hard to imagine any Republican not named Susanna Martinez capable of toppling Democratic incumbent Tom Udall. Likely Democrat.
North Carolina--The one endangered Democratic incumbent I'm leaning towards having a re-election advantage is freshman Democrat Kay Hagan. The race should be close either way, but I think what may end up helping Hagan is that the Republicans who, through gerrymandering, have taken complete ownership of North Carolina's state government has proven more outside the mainstream to North Carolina voters than Obama. Hagan's voting record is indicative of the balancing act required of a North Carolina Democrat, maintaining the support of the liberal base while trying to hold on to just enough conservative-leaning Old Southers to eke out a victory. A worsening political environment could still finish her off, but as of now I think Hagan is better positioned for narrow victory than narrow defeat. Leans Democrat.
Oklahoma--James Inhofe will probably run for another term and if he does, he will win easily in hard-right Oklahoma. Or if Inhofe decides to retire, his Republican replacement will win easily. Whoever has the (R) next to his or her name will win by more than 20 points. Safe GOP.
Oregon--Freshman Democrat Jeff Merkley looks like he would be pretty vulnerable on paper, but his state has become such a wasteland for Republicans in the last 10 years that it's very hard to think of a GOP challenger that could take him on, with the obvious exception of former Senator Gordon Smith who seems like a longshot for a comeback. Barring fantastic candidate recruitment by the Republicans or a massive partisan tide, Merkley is gonna be hard to beat. Likely Democrat.
Rhode Island--Every indication is that Democratic incumbent Jack Reed plans to run for another term. If he does, he'll win and if he doesn't, another Democrat will win. I see no path to victory for any Republican running for federal office in Rhode Island. Safe Democrat.
South Carolina--Two things seem pretty certain to me in the two Senate races up next year in South Carolina. First, Republicans will win both of them. And second, newly appointed African American Republican Tim Scott will be one of the two Republican winners. A bigger question is whether two-term GOP incumbent Lindsey Graham will be able to survive a primary challenge following his years of deviations from Tea Party orthodoxy in a state where it's almost impossible for a Republican to be too conservative. It ultimately doesn't matter in terms of partisan scorekeeping, but I'm leaning towards Graham being taken out by one of the state's fringe-right Republican Congressmen or even by a Some Dude Tea Party challenger. Safe Republican for both seats.
South Dakota--Barring unforeseen developments, former Republican Governor Mike Rounds is gonna win this open seat vacated by retiring Democrat Tim Johnson. Now it's entirely possible that such unforeseen developments could arise, including a Tea Party primary challenge against the "moderate" Rounds or simply that Rounds is another Tommy Thompson on the campaign trail. Tim Johnson's son Brendan is one of the few Democrats even being mentioned for the blue side, along with former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin who seems like a longshot to run. Right now though, South Dakota looks the furthest gone of all the seats currently held by Democrats. Likely GOP. (+5 GOP)
Tennessee--Every indication is that center-right Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander plans to run for a third term. Expect another crushing 2-1 victory if he does, but even if he doesn't, a 20-point Republican victory seems inevitable in the Tea Party Nation that is 21st century Tennessee. Safe GOP.
Texas--For the next year, the biggest concern two-term Republican incumbent John Cornyn has is not letting his Tea Party nutjob colleague Ted Cruz get too far to his right and thus inspiring a Tea Party challenge against Cornyn. I'm betting against it though and predict another easy victory for Cornyn. Safe GOP.
Virginia--Freshman Democrat Mark Warner has always been inexplicably popular even in conservative corners of Virginia and it's helping him sustain commanding polls leads against hypothetical Republican challengers heading into 2014. His strongest potential challenger would be Governor Bob McDonnell, but given McDonnell's obvious Presidential ambitions, it's unlikely he'd want to dirty his hands with a Senate record. With that in mind, it would take on helluva a rotten political environment to make Warner vulnerable. Likely Democrat.
West Virginia--Long-time GOP Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito has been biding her time for more than a decade, cautiously awaiting a political climate in which she thought she could wrestle a Senate seat from a popular Democrat. That opportunity finally came in 2014 as she was one of the first to announce she was gonna challenge veteran Democrat Jay Rockefeller....until the epically vulnerable Rockefeller surprised nobody when he decided not to run for re-election. Now Democrats have a very large bench in West Virginia so this thing isn't over, but the political tide is running so fiercely against them in the Obama era that it's hard to imagine the center-right Capito won't be the new face of West Virginia politics in another 18 months. Likely GOP (+6 GOP)
Wyoming--I'm assuming long-time Republican incumbent Mike Enzi runs for another term. Either way, whoever has the (R) next to their name wins in a landslide. Safe GOP.
My current tally has the Republicans gaining six seats, which would mean a 51-49 GOP majority. Obviously it's too early to give any predictive merit to that assessment but with South Dakota and West Virginia very close to being gone already, it's an ominous sign for Democrats of how easy it will be for them to lose their majority. Given that most of the contested races seem to go the same way in a wave election, Democrats desperately need to avoid a wave election this year of all years. Right now I think their best hope at holding their majority is for Republicans to forfeit more seats by running Todd Akin-Christine O'Donnell-type candidates. As always, time will tell.