At the moment, the geniuses who handicap political races are unanimous that the U.S. Senate in the next biennium will be very closely divided. Dems currently control by 54-46 (although, if you factor in the temporary, Repub-appointed seat warmer serving in place of the recently deceased Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, whose seat will in all likelihood change back to Democratic control in an October special election, it’s likely to be 55-45 heading into 2014).
The handicappers all believe that 2014 shapes up as a year when Repubs seem highly likely to make gains. Because the vice president will still be Democrat Joe Biden in the biennium ahead, Repubs need a net gain of six to get to 51 and take control. Six is a lot, although certainly not unprecedented. Charlie Cook, summarizing the overall race for control of the Senate this morning, concludes that Repubs have a path, but a narrow one, to 51, based on several built-in advantages. Dems have more seats up this cycle, voter turnout in midterms is always lower than in presidential years and Repubs tend to do better in low-turnout years, and most of the key Senate races are set in states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012.
Until the last couple of days, the conventional wisdom was that — while Dems had at least four vulnerable incumbent senators (Begich of Alaska, Pryor of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana and Hagan of North Carolina) — the Repubs were generally deemed to have no really vulnerable incumbents.
This week, two polls have suggested that one Repub incumbent may be vulnerable, and that is the chief Repub of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. The polls actually have McConnell’s challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes,with a statistically insignificant lead over McConnell. McConnell also faces a primary challenge from Tea Party-oriented businessman Matt Bevin.
If, as I sometimes believe, some of the 2014 races will be run as referenda on the dysfunction of Washington, McConnell could become an interesting target. I note that in her campaign rollout, Grimes referred to McConnell as the “guardian of gridlock,” and added: “There is a disease of dysfunction in Washington, and after almost 30 years, Senator McConnell is at the center of it.”
I wouldn’t get any bets down against McConnell, but at the moment his is not a safe Republican seat. Cook rates the race “lean Republican.”