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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jay Rockefeller's Retirement Gives Hope To Senate GOP For A Possible Seat Pick-Up

By Susan Duclos

The makeup of the U.S. Senate for 2013 is 53 Democrats, two Independents who caucus with the Democrats and 45 Republicans. To take control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans will need to gain six seats in the 2014 midterms. Among the senators up for election in 2014, there are currently 20 Democrats and 13 Republicans. There are also two special elections for Hawaii and a second seat in South Carolina.

The 13 Republican Senate seats are in deeply red states with the exception of Maine who went to Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, but that Senate seat is held by Susan Collins and if she doesn't retire, it should be easy to hold the seat.

There some pick-up opportunities for Republicans with the 20 Democratically held Senate seats though, some of which are in states that are moving toward the right, although Republicans can easily blow those opportunity if they pick unelectable candidates as they did in 2010 and 2012.

With that said, West Virginia is one of the Democratically held seats in a state that has seen an sharp tilt to the right, with 62 percent of the state voting for Mitt Romney against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, with Obama only receiving 35 percent of the vote.

As the Wall Street Journal reminds readers, the Democratic presidential primary, a formality in most of the country, proved an embarrassment for Obama when 41 percent of the vote went to a felon serving time in Texas.

More from Wall Street Journal on why West Virginia may be a prime pick-up opportunity for the Senate GOP:

West Virginia's economy relies heavily on coal and natural gas at a time when the Obama administration has stepped up regulations on the fossil-fuel industry, a primary reason why Mountain State voters are increasingly hostile to the president.

"West Virginia has never had a diverse economy and is largely dependent on natural resources and the subsidiary businesses that support coal and natural gas," said Mary Beth Beller, associate professor and chairman of the political science department at Marshall University in southwestern West Virginia. "There is a natural hostility [by voters] to national leaders that want to improve regulation and environmental efforts, which would likely lead to higher prices for natural resources."

It is also one of the most fiercely pro-gun states at a time when Washington is looking at tightening gun-control laws following the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. And the West Virginia electorate is socially conservative and largely white, while much of the rest of the country is growing more diverse.

For all these reasons, Democrats could struggle to retain a seat the party has controlled nearly continuously for more than 60 years, with Mr. Rockefeller's tenure covering the past three decades.
"At the federal level, West Virginia has become an increasingly Republican state," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "[President Bill] Clinton was the last Democrat to carry it in a presidential race. This provides Republicans a real opportunity in an open-seat Senate contest, particularly since they have a very strong candidate in Rep. Shelley Moore Capito."

In no way is the West Virgina Senate seat held by Rockefeller now a slam dunk for Republicans in 2014, neither is turning over six Senate seats from Democrat to Republican for the GOP to take control of the Senate, going to be a walk in the park.

It is doable though. There are valid reasons for Republicans to be hopeful.

Historically, during the second term for a president, his party lost Senate seats during the midterm elections, going back to 1938, the only exception being Bill Clinton where not a Democratic Senate seat was gained or lost in the midterms during his second term.

Roosevelt lost six Senate seats in the 1938 midterms and nine in 1942.
Truman lost 12 Senate seats the during the first midterms elections in 1946, then lost six in 1950.
Eisenhower lost one Senate seat during the first midterm elections in 1954, then lost 13 in 1958.
Reagan gained one Senate seat during the first midterm elections in 1982, then lost eight in 1986.
Clinton lost eight  Senate seats during the first midterm elections in 1994, then 0 in 1998.
George W. Bush gained two Senate seats during the first midterm elections, then lost six in 2006.
Obama lost six Senate seats during the first midterm elections and 2014 will be determined then.

Data obtained from The American Presidency Project.

Then we have the "drop-off" between presidential elections and midterms and the demographics of those that traditionally show up at the polls during midterms, despite a much lower turnout overall:

It’s no mystery why Democrats generally perform better in presidential years while Republicans tend to excel in midterm cycles: Lower midterm turnouts tend to skew the electorate toward older, white and/or more affluent voters. Given the growing cleavage in recent decades between partisan preferences of white and non-white voters, cyclic differences in racial composition are particularly important.

Then there are specific issues that will be at play during the midterms, where public perception influences voter's choice.

For example, the whole fiscal cliff debate, where Republicans and Democrats very publicly battled on taxes. While Republicans were perceived to lose the battle because taxes were raised, not only on the affluent, but on 77 percent of the general populace of workers who saw the payroll tax holiday end, the general perception was that Republicans fought for tax cuts and Democrats fought for tax hikes.

Democrats won, taxes were hiked and now American workers are complaining about the loss of income they are seeing in their paychecks and Democratic supporters are complaining the most bitterly, saying this wasn't what they voted for when they cast their vote for Obama.

Another issue that will be considered a hot button voting issue is the gun control vs Second Amendment debate raging across the country. Many Democratic Senators in states that are very pro-Second Amendment states will undoubtedly get caught in the party line divisions where a vote for any kind of gun control will be highly unpopular to their Second Amendment supporters.

Via The Hill:

A number of Democrats from conservative, heavily rural states are up for reelection in 2014, and most have avoided discussing specifics on issues such as renewing a ban on assault weapons or limiting the size of ammunition clips during the renewed national focus on gun violence.

Some examples:

Democrats are defending Senate seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and South Dakota — all GOP-leaning states where the NRA has a huge membership and most politicians of both parties oppose gun-control legislation. While some NRA-backed Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) have publicly called for a conversation on gun control following the shootings, both just won reelection, making it much easier to take a political risk.

They may be able to avoid the discussion, but they cannot avoid voting should any unpopular bill be put to a vote.  Even if they buck the party and vote against gun bans, should any actually pass, public perception will again play a big part in voters punishing theDemocratic party as a whole, since gun control is definitely being pushed by liberals and onservatives are very publicly against it.

The 2014 midterms are the perfect opportunity for Republicans to take control of the Senate and make Barack Obama's last two years, nothing but lame duck years.

Again, this can only happen if Republicans do not shoot themselves in the foot by picking bad, unelectable candidates.