Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

6 Reasons Senate Republicans Should Be Optimistic — and Concerned About Election Day

senate races 2014

In 2014 Senate races, Republicans are optimistic they can defeat Braley, above, and pick up a seat in Iowa. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With 100 days to go until Election Day, Senate Republicans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about winning the majority — but they also have grounds for concern.

After coming up short in 2010 and 2012, the GOP is unquestionably well positioned to finish the job this time. Republicans need to match their November 2010 score of six seats to take the majority, and the party has multiple paths to the finish line.

That’s thanks to a successful recruitment push that didn’t conclude until late February, and a playing field naturally tilted in the GOP’s direction — seven Democrat-held seats are in states President Barack Obama lost in 2012, six of those by double digits.

But, as optimistic as Republican operatives are heading into the final stretch, the GOP has reasons to restrain its confidence. With tens of millions of dollars of advertising already spent by outside groups on both sides, just one Democratic incumbent is, at this point, a solid underdog for re-election.

Reasons for Republicans to Be Optimistic

They’ve got a three-seat head start. As things stand today, Republicans are solid favorites to pick up the Democrat-held open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia, and to defeat appointed Sen. John Walsh in Montana — particularly after plagiarism revelations last week. That means they need three more out of a plethora of options including seats in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska and Colorado.

And in just the past month, the open seat in Iowa has progressed into a Tossup race, in part because of missteps by Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley. That’s a wide playing field encompassing several states the president lost in 2012, and it’s one that will force well-funded national Democrats to spread their money around to more states.

They’re in a favorable environment. Obama won’t appear on a single ballot in November, but he remains a motivating factor for voters on both sides — especially Republicans. A Pew Research Center survey released last week found Obama with a 44 percent job approval rating overall and lower marks for his handling of specific issues such as the economy and foreign policy.

The poll also found Republicans were both more enthusiastic than in past elections and more likely to vote than Democrats. That matters, particularly in states the president performed poorly in 2012 and where the Affordable Care Act could prove to be a formidable issue. The onus is on Democrats to rally their base.

The GOP survived the primaries. Over the past two months, Republicans dodged nomination bullets in Mississippi, Georgia and Iowa, where Joni Ernst’s primary victory kept the party from going to an unpredictable nominating convention for a tantalizingly vulnerable open seat. Earlier this year, the National Republican Senatorial Committee scored a big victory in Colorado by swapping out Ken Buck, who lost in 2010, for the more potent candidate in Rep. Cory Gardner.

That is a change in fortune for the GOP from recent cycles. In 2012, Rep. Todd Akin’s nomination in Missouri and Sen. Richard G. Lugar’s primary defeat in Indiana directly contributed to a disappointing cycle for Republicans. Rather than win back the Senate, the party actually lost two seats. It  faced a similar issue of flawed candidates emerging from primaries in 2010 — but not this year, as Republicans tout a formidable team of candidates.

Reasons for Republicans to Be Concerned

It’s hard to beat incumbents — especially Democrats. Republicans will likely need to defeat at least three Democratic incumbents to pick up six seats, and the party simply has a weak track record of doing that. A grand total of 14 incumbents have been defeated in general elections over the past five election cycles, which includes three straight wave cycles from 2006 to 2010. Of those, just three were Democrats, dating back to then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota in 2004.

Republicans are favored to win the open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia, and they have an even chance in Iowa. But in Michigan, home to the only other Democrat-held open seat, four polls conducted in the past month have found Republican Terri Lynn Land down by significant single-digit margins. So figuring out the calculus to take out sitting senators is imperative.

Democrats are raising a lot of money. While 2014 continues to look like a strong year for Republicans overall, there is no sign of apathy among Democratic donors. The party’s fundraising spigot is on full blast, with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraising the NRSC by $25 million through June, and incumbents filing another strong quarter of receipts this month. Senate Majority PAC has also proved to be a force on the airwaves and promises to continue that into the fall.

Candidate money will soon become even more valuable, as the campaigns — which get better airtime rates than outside groups — will represent a greater percentage of the overall media spending. Two of the top Democratic fundraisers are Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky and Michelle Nunn of Georgia, who represent the party’s only two pickup opportunities.

The Republican brand isn’t so hot either. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in June found just 38 percent of voters with at least a somewhat positive view of the Democratic Party. That’s low, except when compared with the Republican Party, which just 29 percent see at least somewhat positively.

Republicans are counting on their recruits from the House — which isn’t exactly popular either — to take down some of the Democrats’ most endangered incumbents. That includes Gardner in Colorado and Reps. Tom Cotton in Arkansas and Bill Cassidy in Louisiana. In 2012, just one of the five House Republicans with legitimate shots at the Senate was elected.

While Republicans say questions over the competence of the president is a more compelling case, Democrats think they win those seats if the races are about the two candidates and their records.



Fight for the Senate Still Very Much Up in the Air

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Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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  • ID-2

    What is notable about the favorable ratings are that only Democrats approve of their party. Republicans weaker rating is due to the fact more Independents approve of their party but fewer Republicans (compared to Democrats for their party) approve of their partisan choice.

  • @uss_fallujah

    Why only go back to 2004 in counting incumbent Senators defeated? I’d think going 6 cycles to 2002 to would be even more instuctive, though adding Max Cleland and Jean Carnahan to the list of Dems who have lost (and only adding Tim Hutchison for the GOP) would have muddied the narrative. I do think that only 7 of 17 incumbent since 2002 being Dems makes for a good case for optimism among Dems though…

  • Rob_Chapman

    The GOP is far less popular than Obama.

    If the GOP persist in running against Obama, they will lose.

    IF the GOP show that the individual senate candidates have something to offer as Shelley Capito has done in WV, they will be able to defeat even strong Democratic challengers like Ms. Tenent.

    Braley is running even in Iowa a Great Plains state which should be part of the GOP coalition. This is an indication of how weak the GOP brand has become.

  • andrewp111

    I can’t help but have a nagging feeling that the GOP will come up short on Election Day. They won’t be able to net 6. This is because the Democratic turnout machine will go into overdrive, and thousands of vans will be driving Black and Poor voters to the polls – which didn’t happen in 2010, but did in 2012. The Democrats certainly have the money to do a record breaking turnout effort, and they will do so.

  • Jesus Burgos

    Don’t be scared ask God to take away your fears and volunteer at your local congressman or Governors campaign and register people to vote in a republican headquarters

  • Rick Roberts

    Yes, we will.

  • victorvictor

    More Kool-Aid Rob ?
    We have plenty.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Dem POTUS ratings in the low forties, a red map, the largest class of state level incumbent Republicans since the twenties and the GOP is struggling…

    I would say you are the one drinking the spiked Kool-Aid, Victor.

  • conservative hispanic

    And they have control of a lot of the machinery. “It’s not who votes, it’s who counts the votes.” Still, with 3 seats in the bag (MT,SD,WV), it’ll be very difficult for even a massive GOTV operation to bring apathetic demonrat voters in all the other battleground states (AK,AR,LA,IA,NC,MI,CO) to the polls.

  • teapartyidiots

    I think they’ll pick up 4. The aforementioned 3 plus Iowa or Colorado.

  • Bradford Tiernan

    LOL, the reason the GOP ratings are lower (If you break down the polls) is because people like me who would NEVER vote for a left winger, don’t like the GOP either – HOWEVER, I will still vote for them in opposition to the statist democrats.

    Polls show the GOP with very low ratings, but those same polls show that many of the people who don’t like the GOP dislike the democrats even more. Their anger towards Obama and the Democrats will equate to a vote for the GOP. And those same polls show that :)

    I cant wait until November 4th to watch Obama and the dems spin the loss of the Senate – PARTY TIME!

  • Lance Sjogren

    If running against Obama is a bad strategy, you had better tell that to the Democrats, who are telling Obama to stay out of their states so as not to lose the election for them.

  • Lance Sjogren

    Yes. I am one who loathes both political parties. The Democrats have become a party of stark raving lunatics, and the establishment wing of the Republican Party is little more than a lapdog of the Democratic Party.

  • strathead

    Isn’t it ironic that the Democrats scream about people like the Koch Brothers buying elections while the other hand is bringing in more money that the GOP.

  • strathead

    Me too! I am a strong supporter of the fiscal policies of the Tea Party. As long as they don’t get taken over by the evangelical wing of the GOP I will continue to support them. I won’t vote for a moderate or big spender, period. I will hold my nose and vote for a social conservative if I truly believe they are interested in cutting the size and scope of the Federal Government, but only if…

  • tpaine1

    And the “never mentioned” fact by the MSM that the Koch Brothers also donated $330,000 to the DEMOCRATS!!

  • tpaine1

    Old news. Obama’s NEW favorability – given his outstanding performance at our southern border – is at 38%.
    Suddenly dawning on union membership this guy is NOT your friend.

  • James Weeks

    All the R’s have to do is win the races in deep red states and they will be fine, a 3 seat head start is a huge advantage. That being said the R’s need to do more than just win this year they need a cushion for 2016 when the maps flips.

  • Larry Boston

    If you ask God, I am pretty sure he’ll tell you to stop worrying about politics and worry more about your eternal soul.

  • Larry Boston

    Yeah, if you cannot take the Senate given this, then you are pretty pathetic.

  • Larry Boston

    And the right wing is bat sh|t crazy.

  • Larry Boston

    Now this is a person voting his own pocketbook. That’s the way it should be. And he detests Bible thumping social conservatives too. This is what a Republican is supposed to be. Then you lie to evangelicals, tell them you will do something about abortion, and ignore them the next day. Then lie to poor stupid and often racist whites, telling them that lowering taxes for the wealthy will result in more white jobs.

  • Larry Boston

    I cannot see them getting to anything more than 52 this year. Sure, if they swept all the close races, they could get to 54, but that would be difficult. I predict they will get to 51.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    > better tell that to the Democrats, who are telling Obama to
    > stay out of their states so as not to lose the election for them.

    Um, is this supposed to be some breathtakingly new development…?
    It’s hardly a secret Democrats in red states or the handful of Republicans in blue states usually have to distance themselves from their national party.

  • valwayne

    Every single Democratic Senator LIED to us about Obamacare, telling us that we could keep our plan, and our doctors, and save money. All LIES, and they knew they were all lies. And they didn’t even bother to read the stupid nightmare of a bill before they voted to cram it down our throats. Even worse than Obamacare folks is that they have backed Obama 100%. Every time Obama and Nancy Pelosi needed their votes to try and gut the 2nd amendment, to gut our military, to raise taxes, the kill jobs by blocking energy development and the Keystone Pipeline they were there with Obama, Reid, and Pelosi. If you vote for Sen Landieu, or Begich, or Hagan or Udall, or Pryor, you don’t get them, you get Obama, Reid, and Pelosi. A vote for any Democrat Senator in Nov is a vote for Harry Reid to control the Senate for Obama, and the nightmare decline of our nation will go on and on. Come Nov folks if you are tired of the misery and decline forced on our nation by Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi you have to vote to kick every lying, job killing democrat on the ballot to the gutter. If we don’t we will all end up in the Gutter with a fistful of Obamastamps thrown at us while our country continues to sink.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    My guess is the GOP will get to 50. I.e. three open seats in red states, the usual one Dem incumbent loss per election cycle, plus another GOP pickup since 2014 is supposedly a good Republican year. To me, the Republican party seems simply too internally divided, too unpopular, too incompetent to defeat that crucial third Dem incumbent (while simultaneously winning the crucial KY, GA races). After all, the Repubs only managed to beat Blanche Lincoln and Russ Feingold in 2010 while the other incumbents survived. 1994 was similar in this respect.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    No, I just talked to God. He said he wanted you hard lefties to get stomped like bugs in the dust.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    …and the dead will vote, too.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    I’ll bet the over with you, for as much as you want to lay down .


    Senator Boehner has been a huge disappointment and a source of so many problems in the senate. He has single handedly caused the misery of more than three million unemployed families still without an unemployment extension since late last December. While these families waited patiently for an extension bill to be passed, the senator worked feverously to kill the bill by delaying the vote until it became almost impossible to pass. Instead of fighting for the unemployed, Mr.. Boehner fought for the Koch Brothers Oil pipeline bill to be passed. Clearly, the republican party represents the wealthy, and powerful in our country, not the common man. There are Still three million unemployed families in financial ruin due to the republican party’s total failure to help these needy families. They are without conscience and compassion.

  • strathead

    You really are a complete moron! You use the same despicable stereotyping that those “racist whites” you deride use.

  • teapartyidiots

    They have been taken over by the evangelical loons.

  • teapartyidiots

    Um….Boehner isn’t a Senator, he’s Speaker of the House.

  • Nathan Durhing

    With an emphasis on “incompetent.” They truly are the party of stupid. Unbelievable that they cannot come up with any new ideas or approaches to excite the middle class with stagnant incomes and lost wealth. On the wrong side of of immigration for citizens, workers, and their own party. Afraid to fundamentally change our big government. Foolishly iItching for a return to the Cold War. So many opportunities for these buffoons and they can’t see the forest for the trees.

  • Nathan Durhing

    I’m registered as unaffiliated (independent) and vote in every election. I have not voted for a Democrat in over 30 years. Yet, the Republicans make it more and more difficult for me to vote at all. The only third-party candidates that have even “left the gate” in my time, George Wallace and Ross Perot didn’t even come close, and Nixon and Clinton were elected.

  • Nathan Durhing

    I think the response would be that President Obama has had longer than it took us to win WWII to turn the economy around and create more jobs. Reagan turned a horrible economy around in his first term, but Obama’s economic policies have had the opposite effect. Most of the jobs created on Obama’s watch are part time service jobs that Americans like you won’t do, or are high-tech jobs that you can’t do. Both of those types of jobs are going to illegal immigrants and H1b visa holders. Actually, the oil industry is the bright spot. Creating good paying middle class jobs. You see, the idea is not to keep paying you for doing nothing, it is to create jobs that pay a living wage.

  • Guest

    I think the writer missed reason #7 in favor of Republicans: Health Insurance Increases are about to start coming out. IF they are 5% or less, that favors Democrats but it appears there will be a lot of double digit rate increases, which begs the question of whether ObamaCare is going to say the Average Joe any money.

  • dldunn

    I think the writer misses Reason #7: Health Insurance Premium Increases. Many insurers are talking about double digit rate increases this year. IF premiums only go up by 5% over 2014, I think that favors Democrats. But in states where rates go up by more than 10% that reinforces the Republican’s theme that ObamaCare was not a particularly good deal.


    Whatever happened to the more than three million unemployed families without an unemployment extension since late last December? We’re STILL here, and have not gone away. Although both political parties have chosen to walk away, We’re still here struggling and falling deeper into poverty and financial ruin. While the republicans fought ferociously in the senate for the Koch Brother’s oil pipeline bill to be passed, and congress approving billions of Aid dollars for the Ukraine, and more billions for the illegal migrant problem, we Americans are still here without help, and without compassion from our so called elected officials. Both political parties have utterly FAILED these unemployed families, who once believed in the system, and had contributed to it throughout the years from their paychecks. We have now become ignored, and forgotten, and no longer “newsworthy enough” to make a difference to their political agenda and image. The coming elections will bring many surprises for these so called “public servants”. The voters will not forget.

  • xian

    that would not make them lower but equal, so your explanation does not hold water.

  • xian

    premiums are going up by an average of 4.5% in California

  • xian

    Senator Boehner?

  • Wizz Key

    Since liberty was not designed, but discovered, its benefits were mostly unknown until recognized and studied.

  • katherine valentine

    can the dems beat the reps will some one who know please answer I want to know and how close is it?

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