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Apr 15 2014

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Looking at the Senate – 2014

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A Storm is a Brewing...

A Storm is a Brewing…

With a little more than six months before the midterm elections, the stars appear to be aligning for the GOP.

President Obama’s composite approval is at a dismal 43 percent. POTUS’s singular accomplishment – Obamacare – is wreaking havoc on average Americans across the country. Five years after the recession ended, Americans still struggle to make ends meet amid anemic growth and  a hollowed-out work force. Trust in government has been sorely tested by NSA spying revelations and the rank politicization of the IRS.

Worse, the President’s response to all of this has vacillated between indifference and an unbecoming victimization, as if somehow he was a spectator to the calamities that have arisen, instead of their architect.

The midterms will be a reckoning.

On the other side of the aisle, the GOP is benefiting not only from an issue-friendly environment, but the learned lessons of 2010 and 2012 when opportunities to take the Senate failed on the backs of poorly qualified and provocative Tea Party-supported candidates. This year’s crop of GOP contenders are qualified, skilled, mainstream conservatives more than capable of taking on their Democratic opponents and competing for votes. The money will be there for these candidates to get out the message.

The GOP needs to net six seats to take back the Senate.

Those pick ups are there for the asking among the six states where President Obama lost in both 2008 and 2012; Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia. You can add North Carolina, which the President lost in 2012, to that mix of highly vulnerable seats.

But that’s just the baseline.  The GOP has expanded the field beyond “red” states to field capable challengers in swing states and even “blue” states.

In Colorado, Democratic incumbent Mark Udall has seen his approval ratings plummet along with those of President Obama (42 percent in CO).  Republican Congressman Cory Gardner is challenging Udall, and the most recent polling shows a one point race, amazing at this stage of the campaign with an incumbent in the race.

In New Hampshire, previously invulnerable Senator Jeanne Shaheen will likely face popular, former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown in November, who will bring star power and significant cash to contest the NH seat.

In Iowa, the open Democratic seat left by retiring Senator Tom Harkin has the leading GOP primary candidate, Mark Jacobs, within three to six points of likely Democratic nominee, Congressman Bruce Braley.

In Virginia, popular Democratic incumbent (and former governor) Mark Warner has drawn a capable mainstream conservative opponent in former White House aide and RNC Chair Ed Gillespie.  Current polling have Warner with a commanding 15-20 point lead over Gillespie, but that formidable lead may be less than it appears.

Virginia has become a true swing state, voting for President Obama twice, but electing a Republican governor by 18 points only a year after Obama’s first victory.  Perhaps more important to Warner looking at this November, in last year’s gubernatorial election, right-wing firebrand Ken Cuccinelli came back from a double-digit polling gap to very nearly beat (now governor) Terry McAuliffe. Cuccinelli pulled this off arguing against Obamacare. Had a government shutdown not occurred during the final weeks of the campaign, Cuccinelli may very well have won.  That sentiment is still there, and Warner actually voted for Obamacare.  He will have to defend the vote.

Keep your eye on Michigan.

Yes, Michigan.

Experienced, former Republican Secretary of State for Michigan, Terri Lynn Land has made it a pick ’em race with Democratic Congressman Gary Peters to take the seat of retiring Democrat, Carl Levin. Peters, swept into the House with the Obama wave, voted for Obamacare. The hard-hitting ads that Land is running, telling the stories of Michiganders who lost their health coverage under Obamacare, are simply devastating.

And then there is the outlier – Oregon.

Yes, this goes against all conventional wisdom. President Obama increased his margin of victory in Oregon from 57 to 58 percent between 2008 and 2012, just as the President was seeing smaller margins of victory across most of the other states he won.  Oregon is so liberal that even Hollywood parodies  the culture in “Portlandia.”  It would appear that GOP would have no chance. But that may not be the case.

Incumbent Senator Jeff Merkley won only 49 percent of the vote in 2008, where POTUS out-performed Merkley by 8 points. Today, Obama’s approval rating in Oregon is at 45 percent, dangerous territory for an incumbent Senator running for reelection.

Then there are these two facts: 1) Merkley voted for Obamacare. 2) the Oregon Obamacare Exchange collapsed spectacularly amid a technological calamity on par with the national rollout of Obamacare, causing angst and consternation among the state’s population. 3) the leading Republican candidate to run against Merkley is a first-time candidate, a doctor. If this is the nominee, Obamacare will matter and there will be no oxygen for a “war on women” campaign. Right now,  Merkley leads his potential GOP opponents by only single digits in an overwhelmingly liberal state. Most importantly, in all polls, Merkley is under 50 percent – the red line that defines a vulnerable candidate from a safe one.

Merkley is at risk.

As we look at the next six months strategically, consider the following, national polling opinions:

– 62 percent of Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track.

– By a 55-40 percent margin, Americans disapprove of Obamacare.

– By a 52-42 percent margin, Americans believe they pay too much in taxes.

– By a 56-39 percent margin, Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the economy.

– By a 58-39 percent margin, Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of healthcare.

– By a 56-35 percent margin, Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of immigration.

– By a 55-39 percent margin, Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of foreign policy.

Strikingly, these are not polling blips, but actual trends; downward trends.

The results speak to a broad and deep discontent among our fellow citizens. Elections are the only tangible means to channel approval or discontent.  If these trends hold through November, it will not simply be the historical  “six-year itch” that moves against Democrats, but rather something along the lines of a populist voter tsunami.

Nothing in politics appears possible until it happens. However, if voter discontent remains as strong as it is now, the Democrats could conceivably lose an eye-popping 14 seats in November (I boldly include Al Franken here) with the GOP losing none.  It would be a 59-41 Republican Senate chamber in January 2015, and would represent an unprecedented rebuke to President Obama and Democratic governance.

For now, that kind of majority is on the periphery.  Republican control of the Senate, however, is increasingly looking like the GOP’s to lose.

In the meantime, nothing should be taken for granted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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