(Providence, Rhode Island) – It’s that time of year when we have a political hodgepodge to deal with. I thought it might be fun, too, to take a look at the ballot just eleven months from now - a ballot that could change the shape of the United States Senate. But first, let’s get in the holiday spirit:
“It’s a Christmas Tree!” – The smallest state has had the biggest December political controversy the past two years. Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee insisted on lighting a “holiday tree” his first two years in office. That ignited a firestorm of protests and even alternative Christmas tree lightings inside the State House. The controversy made national news and generated a lot of unflattering headlines. This year, the Governor – who was quietly out of state - asked the Secretary of State to light the state’s "Christmas tree." The controversy was doused, but was the damage already done? Earlier this year, the former Republican Chafee, who was elected as an independent – switched to Democrat. Three months later, he declined to run for reelection. The “holiday tree” controversy did him no favors.
“Election 2014” – While Governor (and former U.S. Senator) Chafee chose not to run again, plenty of his old Senate colleagues are on the ballot, and control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance. Right now, Democrats (with two independents) hold a 55 to 45 majority over Republicans; but the Obamacare website meltdown, which is still dominating the headlines, is sure to be a major factor in the outcome of the battle for the Senate. Democrats are also defending more Senate seats than Republicans, and that makes the odds of their losing control even higher. Let’s run down some of the most interesting races.
“Two-Timing Senator?” – A lot of Republicans are pinning some of their hopes on former Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown, who may cross the border and run for Senate from New Hampshire against incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Brown owns a home in the Granite State and spends a lot of time there, but still may be accused of being a carpetbagger. Still, Shaheen barely won last time and is dropping in popularity, in part due to the Obamacare mess. I bet Brown jumps in. I’m not sure how often someone has been elected to the Senate from two different states, but former U.S. Senator James Shields was elected from Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri. He’s the only three-timer.
“The Name Game” – In politics, a famous name can sometimes be a blessing or sometimes a curse. It never hurts to be a Kennedy, Bush or Rockefeller. On the other hand, sometimes the public grows weary. In Louisiana, Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu is vulnerable and is being targeted by Republicans. It’s a solid red state so the GOP has a chance. Landrieu’s dad and brother both served as Mayor of New Orleans. The latest Southern Media Opinion Research poll has Landrieu ahead of two challengers, but with only 41 percent of the vote. She’s beatable.
“The Name Game, Part II” – In Arkansas, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Pryor is vulnerable, too. He is the son of former U.S. Senator and Governor David Pryor. Like Louisiana, Arkansas has grown more conservative over the years, and is a solidly red state in Presidential elections. I am always skeptical of internal party polls, as they are often self-serving; but a Republican poll shows that U.S. Representative Tim Cotton (R-AR) leads Democrat Pryor 45 to 41 percent. If so, that race is going to be a close one.
“The Southern Strategy” – One of the trends you will see over the next year is the Republicans' Southern strategy. They are trying to take back Democrat seats in states that strongly lean Republican most of the time, such as Louisiana and Arkansas. Add to that list North Carolina, where incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is vulnerable. Three recent polls had Hagen slightly ahead of various potential Republican challengers, but a Public Policy Poll has Republican Dr. Greg Brannon leading Hagan by one point. For now, North Carolina is just too close to call.
“The Name Game, Part III” – Colorado used to be a traditionally Republican state, but that has changed in recent election cycles. Color it purple, perhaps. In any case, Democratic Senator Mark Udall is up for reelection, and polls indicate it’s a dead heat with potential Republican challengers. Udall is the son of former Congressman and Presidential candidate Mo Udall and the first cousin of U.S. Senator Tim Udall (D-NM), son of former Interior Secretary Stuart Udall. Although the name recognition and the money that goes with it are strong, polls show potential Republican challengers within just a few points of Udall.
“The Bottom Line” – Republicans need to pick up six seats to take control of the Senate. There are open seats in Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and West Virginia. Races in North Dakota and Alaska will also be competitive. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is vulnerable for reelection. So, a Senate GOP takeover is not a done deal, and will need a lot of stars to align. It should be a fascinating year!
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