Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

3 Key Factors Each Party Is Banking On for a Senate Majority

The Senate playing field is starting to solidify, and the fight for the majority looks like it will be decided in about a dozen states. But even though the fields of candidates are still taking shape in some of those contests, both Republicans and Democrats are banking on some macro-factors that will affect races at the micro-level.

Democrats are counting on three trends to boost their effort next year:

1. History will repeat itself in GOP primaries. This isn’t all that big of a stretch considering Republicans handed five Senate seats to the Democrats over the past two election cycles because weak GOP nominees have thrown races away. This cycle, GOP primaries in Kentucky, Alaska, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina could affect the party’s prospects next November.

Of course, just because it has happened in the past, doesn’t mean it will happen again. And some of this cycle’s GOP primaries are in states that Republicans probably won’t need to win to get to the majority, including Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

2. Democrats will be able to boost turnout to presidential levels or beyond. This is a big question mark. Democrats are looking to mobilize young voters and minority voters next year to lessen the impact of a traditional midterm electorate that is older and white and usually benefits Republicans.

But while Democrats would love to get to 2012 turnout levels with key constituencies in North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas, the party plans to go beyond presidential levels in Georgia by targeting nearly a half-million African-American voters in the Atlanta area who didn’t vote last year. If they didn’t come out for President Barack Obama, why will they come out for Michelle Nunn?

3. Democratic incumbents don’t lose. Three Democratic senators have lost re-election in the past decade. Republicans will need to defeat at least three Democratic senators next year to have any shot of winning back a Senate majority. Some of that strong track record has to do with the strength of incumbents and their campaigns. But some vulnerable Democrats chose to retire rather than risk a loss.

As usual, Democratic incumbents will raise plenty of money, hire experienced campaign managers and surround themselves with top-tier consulting teams. But the four most vulnerable Democratic senators (Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Mary L. Landrieu and Kay Hagan) all represent states that President Barack Obama lost in 2012. And they could face broader electoral problems that are beyond their control. It’s not out of the question that Republicans could knock off three or four senators.

Republicans are counting on three trends boosting their effort next year:

1. History won’t repeat itself in GOP primaries. See above. With the exception of Georgia, Republicans aren’t in imminent danger of nominating unelectable candidates. But as Stuart Rothenberg wrote recently, the cycle could still take a turn for the worse for the GOP, and damaged candidates who look like primary pretenders now could evolve into contenders later. And as Democratic strategists point out, even when establishment favorites survive, the primary could cause them to say things that will be used against them in the general election.

2. Obamacare will be toxic. Republicans are convinced that Obamacare is so incredibly unpopular that it will help the party take the Senate and hold the House. This week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee released an ad against Landrieu using Obamacare and paid for some billboards against Hagan. Earlier this month, the Club for Growth aired a television ad against Pryor and mentioned Obamacare first.

If the elections are a simple referendum on Obamacare, Republicans should do well in enough GOP-leaning seats to put the majority in reach. But if Democrats effectively portray Republicans as obstructionists who are unwilling to compromise but willing to shut down the government, that could take Republicans from playing offense to defense on the health care issue.

3. The red map will benefit the GOP. Democrats are defending nine of the 11 Senate races that constitute the current playing field, including seven of the most competitive states. Mitt Romney carried all but two states in the 2012 presidential election. So Republicans start in a great position. But the GOP also had a favorable map last year and ended up losing two seats.

Republicans could also fall back onto the typical midterm dynamic. Over the past 75 years, the president’s party has lost Senate seats in 14 midterm elections with an average of six seats. (The president’s party has gained seats in four elections over that time with an average of one seat. And in 1998 there was no net change.) But it is worth noting that unlike the House, Senate gains and losses are more dramatically affected by the mix of Senate seats up in a particular cycle.

  • Burn_the_Witch

    How would a Republican-controlled Senate substantially differentiate itself from the current Senate?

    • moderate Guy

      It will be pro-America for a change.

    • Jesse4

      It would be twice as worthless as the current one.

    • View From The Left

      there will be a focus on transvaginal ultrasounds, abortion restrictions, and limiting the rights of workers, voters, gays and others that the GOP doesn’t like.

      • JustData

        That would be an improvement over a Senate that just passed a bill that drives up unemployment and drives down wages. S.744 is backed by all the Dems and the President; that bill deliberately increases the return on capital investment (makes the rich richer) and decreases the return on labor (makes working Americans poorer) – so it’s the Dems who are working to widen the income/wealth gap.

        We need millions of more jobs, jobs that pay a living wage or better. S.744, according to the CBO, does the opposite and sends us farther in the wrong direction and the negative effects continue for 10-20 years: (CBO, Economic Impact, 44346): “Average wages would be slightly lower than under current law through 2024″ and also “the rate of return on capital would be higher under the legislation than under current law throughout the next two decades” (p.3). Driving down wages hurts American workers and their families while driving up the return on capital investment makes the rich richer. The Repubs will do a lot less damage than the Dems are deliberately and intentionally trying to do to our workers and families, our tax base and the infrastructure/schools funded by the tax base, and our future.

      • ErnieFairchild1

        Well THIS gay would prefer the Republicans to the Socialists. The next step is getting Conservatives to control the party. Then a massive education campaign on the futility of turning to socialism, and we’re in business.

    • Aaron_Burr

      Assuming the Republicans hold the House of Representatives, too, lots of legislation that has passed in the House then been bottled up by Harry Reid will make it to the floor. Will force the Democrats to filibuster for a change. And stuff that is budget related can be passed without filibuster. Then Obama will actually have to either sign or veto stuff, not just hide behind Dirty Harry and his obstruction.

      • roadwalker

        Which if it is a bill like repealng Obamacare, he will veto. And nothing will get done. As it is not getting done now.

        What do you care if Obama has to break out the veto pen? He’s constitutionally barred by the 22nd amendment from running for another term anyway.

    • andrewp111

      The Congress could speak with one voice and force Obama to veto legislation. It would change the nature of the playing field substantially, and make his last 2 years truly lame.

    • Porter Browning

      It wouldn’t. They would just lick the a$$ of the chamber of commerce a little more thoroughly.

    • JustData

      The current Senate just passed a bill that drives UP unemployment and drives Down wages because, as the CBO states in the report on S.744 (Economic Impact 44346): “Average wages would be slightly lower than under current law through 2024″ and also that “the rate of return on capital would be higher under the legislation than under current law throughout the next two decades” (p.3). The President and the Dems are working hard to flood the labor market instead of working to protect Americans who work for a living and their families. The return on capital is higher after amnesty and that makes the rich richer. The Dems are undermining American workers by flooding the labor market to make it favorable to employers (at the expense of American workers) for at least a generation.

      The Dems are intentionally flooding the labor market and therefore deliberately driving wages down and unemployment higher. We need JOBS, and especially jobs that pay at least a living wage or more. We can’t have a robust middle class without a lot more jobs that pay middle class wages and the Dems are trying to drive us in the wrong direction. Not only does the bill not improve the employment situation for Americans, it makes everything worse – except for helping the investment bankers, wall streeters and CEOs. The Repub controlled Senate wouldn’t pass a massive amnesty that damages the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

      • jmm

        Wait till them get Amnesty thru we’ll all be working for four dollars and hour. But all the people that voted for him both times deserves it.

    • jmm

      It could slow Obama care down hopefully, keep him from stepping all over the Constitution, get rid of his regulations and hopefully get the economy started. Cut food stamp abuses, cut 99 week unemployment, and keep him from bailing out the Unions!

  • JadedFan

    6th year midterms have been especially unkind to the president’s party. And for all the talk of ‘coalitions of the ascendent’ and how repupublicans are doooomed, doomed I tell ‘ya, to never win another election because of demographic changes, that theory totally ignores the blowout in 2010 that should not have happened if that theory were true. And totally ignores how predictable the elections have been for a generation now. Democrats held the previous two presidential cycles, Republicans the two before that, democrats the two before that, republicans the three before that. I see zero reason to believe that this 6th year midterm will be any kinder than the previous ones since the civil war that gave on average 7 senate and 37 house seats to the party out of power. The president is at almost 40% popularity and would have certain lost in 2012 if his favorable ratings had been this low then. That always translates to his party, and I see no rebound in a significant way in a little over a year. Obamacare is looking to be the disaster in rolling out everyone feared. Maybe someday it will be a net positive for Democrats, maybe not, but definitely not for a long long time, maybe a decade or more.

    That history also makes me question the whole Hillary coronation in 2016 thing. Given how the bloom goes off the rose for parties every couple of election cycles on average, a handicapper would be nuts to not have republicans the slight favorite right now. I could see many scenerios where this could play out. What if Republicans nominate their own woman in Haley? What if Obamacare is the disaster everyone has been predicting, but even worse the WH keeps deferring the pain piecemeal into 2015 to fall right into Hillary’s lap. And a hundred other things that can not be predicted.

    • andrewp111

      6th year midterms are often bad for presidents, but how often do presidents get clobbered in both their 2nd and 6th year midterms? Usually 2 term presidents get hammered in one of their midterms, not in both. What if Obama took most of the losses he is vulnerable for in his first Midterm? What if there really isn’t much left to lose?

      I expect a status-quo result next year with very high turnout on both sides.

  • Porter Browning

    And what about gun control?

    I will not vote for an anti-gun candidate.

    On the other hand I won’t vote for a pro-NSA candidate.

    I don’t think I’ll vote at all. There is nobody to vote for. Bring on the revolution.

  • Patricia Leath

    Face it! A vote for a Republican Daffy Duck is extremely important. We have to get rid of Reid and all the Democratic swine.

    • roadwalker

      Yeah, you do that, Patricia.

      No discussion of issues, just pure antagonism.

  • Steve851

    The GOP has no chance of taking the Senate. It is in danger of losing both Kentucky and Georgia. It has picked a neocon in Arkansas, making the Dem incumbent more desirable. I would vote for anyone to get rid of Graham in SC, even a progressive.

    • Detroit

      Not so…

      The rising stars among the GOP are the newly elected conservatives who first got elected in (2010 or 2012) that are now serving in the state legislatures of red and purple states. Hopefully, these conservatives will primary RINOs out of office or defeat newly elected Democrats in the House or the old bulls in the Senate.

  • valwayne

    The voters should know in 2014 that a vote for any democrat is a vote for Obama, a vote for Obamacare, a vote for the most corrupt Federal Government in our nation’s history, a vote for Obama massive, secret, spy program, a vote for the worst UNEMPLOYMENT and Growth since the Great Depression. Every Senator up for election this year voted for Obamacare. Every single one was there and is always there to vote for anything Obama wants. Obama also wants to gut the 2nd amendment and ban all gun ownership in the U.S. He said he won’t give up. Every democrat after 2014 will vote with Obama if or when he needs their vote. Voters must remember that. A vote for any democrat in 2014 is a vote for Obama and/or Nancy Pelosi.

  • MeJane

    It would be wonderful if the Republicans that currently hold office would stay true to the principles of the party and stop being liberal lite, or want to be liked by liberals, or pander to the Hispanic voter by supporting Amnesty!!! If I wanted to vote for a liberal I wouldn’t go for the lite version. We want candidates who contrast to the opposition, not ones that are the lower tier of the opposition.

  • Liberty: Minimized Coercion

    It is impossible to judge another person’s merit correctly unless we fully understand, among other things, their knowledge, talents, intellect, and ability to persist on tough tasks.

  • Socialism is Organized Evil

    Imposing “equality” and “fairness” through centralized control that treats each of us unequally, is one of the moral frauds of collectivism.

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