Control of the U.S. Senate

The amount of progress we make at the federal level over the next four years will be largely determined by control of the U.S. Congress.  We’ve written previously about a path to recapturing control of the House of Representatives by focusing on districts impacted by the demographic revolution. Today we take a look at the state of play in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

At this somewhat early stage, it’s more likely than not that the Dems will still hold control of the upper chamber come January 2015. Here’s why.

There are currently 53 Democratic Senators, 45 Republicans, and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats for purposes of control of the body. So, effectively, the split is 55 – 45. And since Joe Biden, as VP, breaks ties, the Republicans need a net gain of six seats to wrest control of the Senate from Harry Reid.

In 2014 there are 35 seats in play (the one-third that come up every two years, plus two special elections where the appointed Senators from Hawaii and South Carolina must face the voters). Of those 35 seats that are up this year, 21 are held by Democrats and 14 by Republicans. Reporters eager to predict the apocalypse have highlighted the larger number of seats that Democrats must defend, but those numbers don’t tell the real story.

Most analysts agree that there are eight competitive Senate races next year. Those states are where the real battles will take place, and Republicans would have to win seven of the eight. Dems just need to defend two in order to stay in charge. All eight seats are currently held by Democrats, but in four of eight, the incumbent is retiring, setting up a more vulnerable electoral scenario.

Candidate recruitment will be largely determinative. If the Republicans can’t recruit and fund competitive candidates in all eight races, it will be a tough challenge for them. And if they keep nominating pro-rape candidates, their path will again be steep, even in more conservative states such as Arkansas and West Virginia. Thus far, recruitment has gone well for the Dems in Iowa with Congressman Bruce Braley off to a strong start in a race where the Obama machine was formidable, and the Republicans have yet to identify a strong candidate. And in Montana, popular former Governor Brian Schweitzer is looking at the race and would give Dems a formidable candidate.

Not on the list of competitive races but worth watching is Kentucky where Mitch McConnell is up for re-election, and popular Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes could give McConnell a run for his (considerable) money. If Grimes steals the seat from McConnell, the Republicans are definitely doomed in the Senate.

There are two races PAC+ is looking closely at for larger strategic reasons. First is in New Jersey where Cory Booker is running for U.S. Senate, and we think Cory is well-positioned to serve as the next vehicle for the “Obama coalition” across the country now that Obama has run his last race. Plus, elevation to the Senate would make Booker the highest-ranking Black elected official in the country, after Obama.

The other intriguing race is in Georgia where the incumbent Republican Saxby Chamblis is retiring, thereby creating an opening in a state that is 45% people of color and where Obama got nearly 46% of the vote without even contesting the state. Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, is looking carefully at the race and if she gets in, things could get very interesting.

Nunn could galvanize support from women across the country (two years before a potential Hillary run for President), helping her raise the resources to mount a competitive race. Most importantly from a strategic standpoint, a competitive Georgia statewide race could provide invaluable hands-on training to hundreds of activists and operatives who could then provide the infrastructure for contesting the Presidential race in 2016 and the Governor’s race in 2018. For example, PAC+ Board member Stacy Abrams recruited a team of 75 young organizers to work in last year’s races, and that network could be deployed, expanded, and further developed by working on Nunn’s campaign. This is a race to watch.

While we should take nothing for granted, Democratic prospects in the Senate look promising, and there are also a couple exciting strategic races that can help pave the way towards the national political realignment we seek.

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