In the years in between Congressional elections, punditry over each party’s bid to control the U.S. House and Senate tends to die down. But with the announced retirement of one Senate Democrat who hails from a largely red state, political forecasters are reviving the 2012 election-season talk that predicts a GOP takeover when the 2014 elections roll around.
Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.C.) announced Tuesday he won’t run again when his Senate seat comes open in 2014. That brings to 21 the total number of Senate seats currently held by Democrats that will come up in the 2014 election cycle. Five of those 21 will be available because Democratic incumbents like Johnson retired.
That’s double trouble for the Democratic Party, because retiring Democrats from Republican-leaning States often take with them a measure of moderate, crossover rapport that dries up as younger and, often, more liberal candidates come on board. Johnson’s retirement marks the second instance of a Democrat — one representing a State that voted Republican in the 2012 Presidential race — stepping away from the Senate after his current term.
In contrast with the Democrats’ bid to retain 21 seats in 2014, Republicans must retain only 14.
Right now, there are 53 Democrats in the Senate and 45 Republicans. Two more independent Senators caucus with the Democrats. That means the GOP must gain at least six seats to form a simple majority. There might be other political eras when those kinds of numbers would present a tremendous challenge to GOP leaders. But in the lame-duck days of President Barack Obama, Republicans are already sharpening their knives.
“It’s murderous in 2014,” said The Washington Post of Democrats’ chances, back before the 2012 elections had even taken place.
The Obama voter-backlash factor could be decisive on a national scale this time, expanding far beyond the 2010 and 2012 backlash witnessed in conservative regions, where polls saw an abundance of straight-ticket GOP voting. Voters everywhere will finally be getting their first real taste of Obamacare — a big wild card that could strongly affect public opinion going into the 2014 season. And in order to retain some good will among even Democratic voters in all but a handful of predominantly urban states, the President would have to swerve course dramatically, between now and next year, on hard-line gun control, civil liberties, spending and White House transparency.
“The playing field and weather conditions are great for us,” a GOP spokesman told The Hill Tuesday. “Now we have to go out and execute.”