Six years after the historic election of Barack Obama, we are living through a revolution in American politics, and the elections taking place in less than 35 days are a key moment in that ongoing revolution. Obama’s election in 2008 announced the arrival of a new demographic majority in American politics, comprised of People of Color and Progressive Whites.
As we saw in 2010, however, when the New Majority stays home, we lose. If we make the right investments in 2014 – targeted, grassroots voter engagement, elevating progressive leaders, and focusing our energy on key races – we will hold the Senate and make progress in the House and in representation at the statewide level. Here’s what it’s going to take.
Eyes on the Senate
The Senate will be the difference between split control of Congress and a Republican monopoly, and it will all come down to a few key races. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate. GOP takeover of open Democratic seats looks to be a lock in South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia, so the question is whether Republicans will be able to pick up an additional three seats. There are eleven seats now widely considered to be competitive – eight vulnerable Democrat-held seats and three Republican seats that could flip for the Democrats and stave off GOP takeover.
Competitive Senate Seats in 2014
State Incumbent New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen (D, incumbent), Scott Brown (R) Iowa (open seat) Bruce Braley (D), Joni Ernst (R) Colorado Mark Udall (D, Incumbent), Cory Gardner (R) Michigan (open seat) Gary Peters (D), Terri Lynn Land (R) Alaska Mark Begich (D, Incumbent), Dan Sullivan (R) North Carolina Kay Hagan (D, Incumbent), Thom Tillis (R) Louisiana Mary Landrieu (D, Incumbent), Bill Cassidy (R) Arkansas Mark Pryor (D, Incumbent), Tom Cotton (R) Georgia (open seat) David Perdue (R), Michelle Nunn (D) Kentucky Mitch McConnell (R, Incumbent), Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) Kansas Pat Roberts (R, Incumbent), Greg Orman (I)
Analysts and predictors are calling the Senate battle incredibly close, with Democrats gaining ground. A few months ago, the Washington Post put Republican odds at 80%. In mid-September, they flipped their prediction and gave the Democrats a very tight edge with 51% odds of keeping the Senate. Around the same tie, Nate Silver put Republican odds of taking over the Senate at 55%, down from 64% earlier in the summer. The New York Times has categorized the Senate battle as a “tossup,” with Republican odds at 51%. The fact that the odds are so close, and that they are moving in our favor, is a good sign for Democrats in November, especially considering the tens of millions of dollars that the Koch Brothers and other conservative donors have spent to fund massive attack ad campaigns against the Democrats.
The odds are changing because of gaining momentum in Colorado, North Carolina, and Iowa, where it is looking more likely that Democrats will hold their seats in important swing states. Another major change came in Kansas, which was thought to be a Republican shoe-in a couple of weeks ago. The choice of a Democrat candidate to drop out of the race in Kansas seriously imperils GOP incumbent Pat Roberts, who is vulnerable to an independent candidate who may likely caucus with the Democrats.
To turn these odds decisively in our favor, we need to invest in turning out New Majority voters, particularly in states like North Carolina, Louisiana, Colorado, and Georgia, where Black and Latino voters represent a large share of the electorate and have the power to be a deciding force on Election Day.
Georgia Holds the Key
Of all the races to watch, Georgia is the single most strategic race for the Democrats.
On an immediate level, Georgia is our best chance for picking up a seat to hold the Senate (as mentioned above, Kansas is also promising, but the Independent has not firmly committed to caucus with the Dems). Polling in the race between Michelle Nunn and GOP opponent David Perdue is showing a close race, with varying polls giving a narrow advantage to either side. When the polls are averaged, they show Nunn trailing Perdue by about 4 points, a margin of under just 97,000 votes. Most encouraging is that there is a major voter registration and mobilization effort targeting voters of color. House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project has registered 85,000 voters far, and they will come close to registering 100,000. In addition, there are nearly 800,000 voters of color who turned out at the polls in 2008, but not for the midterms in 2010. If we can increase the turnout of these reliably Democratic voters, we can flip a Senate seat for the Democrats.
Georgia is strategic in the medium and long-term because it is the Southern state most ready to flip from Red to Blue (North Carolina had had that honor until a Koch acolyte dumped millions into the state and set back in-state progressive gains). A midterm victory would lay the groundwork for a Democratic transformation in Georgia. If Nunn wins in November, national Democrats will see that Georgia is worth major investment come 2016, in a state where the last Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia was named Clinton (1992). The work being done to rally for Nunn is already providing vital training and on-the-ground infrastructure that will benefit the state’s next Democratic candidate for commander-in-chief, as well as paving the way for a Democrat to take the Governor’s Mansion in 2018 if Jason Carter does not win this year. A series of statewide victories – or even serious showings - would buoy the efforts to flip the state legislature by 2020, allowing for a fair redistricting that would take seats the Republicans secured through gerrymandering. If we can win in Georgia, we prove that progressives can win in the South, and blaze the trail for states like North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Arizona to turn blue within the decade. From where we stand today, there is a clear path to a progressive future in Georgia and throughout the South, but we have to make the right investments now, and that means turning out voters of color over the next six weeks.
Don’t Forget the House
Winning the House may be out of our reach in 2014, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about it. Currently, Democrats are 19 seats shy of a majority in the House, and there are 80 races that have been rated as competitive by at least one major news outlet or analyst. Twenty-five Republicans are retiring from their seats this year, compared to 16 Democrats. Open seats are typically more vulnerable, so we have an opportunity to flip a few of these seats for the Democrats. If Democrats could achieve a net gain of even 4 seats in the House, we would cut the margin down to just 15 seats, bringing a majority closer to striking distance in 2016. If we can take back the House in 2016, Democrats can run the table with progressive legislation in 2017. After all, Democratic control of the House and Senate in 2009 led to passage of major legislation relating to healthcare, financial reform, wage equality, and other progressive issues. Instead of neglecting focus on the House, we should be keeping our sights set on securing a Democratic majority in both houses by 2017.
The Stakes for 2014
If we can hold the Senate, make progress in the House, and elevate progressive leaders in strategic states, we can take huge steps toward generating lasting political power for the progressive New American Majority. We all need to dig in and do what is in our power to maximize this moment to further progressive interests and foster justice and equality in both the short term and the long haul.