Republicans face a tall order of ousting incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina and keeping a seat in Kentucky
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com
This year, 13 of the 14 Southern states — all save Florida — will have a Senate election. And a look at the map shows that the GOP needs to make a Shermanesque march across the South to have any hope of taking the Senate.
Barring any unforseen upsets, we can take nine of the 15 Southern races off the board — Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and two in Oklahoma.
In all of those states except Virginia and Georgia, Republican incuments are running again and are likely to win. One of the GOP-held seats in Oklahoma is open but unlikely to turn blue.
In Virginia, Democrat Mark Warner is running and favored, although the entry into the race of former Bush aide and GOP bigwig Ed Gillespie could make it interesting. The seat in Georgia is open, but, given the Peach State’s Republican proclivities, the party’s nominee would be in the driver’s seat.
That leaves five Southern races that will be pivotal — Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. Democrats hold four of those seats; Republicans, only Kentucky.
If Republicans sweep all five of those seats, they will make a net gain of four seats. That would be enough to take control of the Senate if, as expected, the GOP takes away open Democratic seats in Montana and South Dakota.
But that also means that there is little room for error. Nearly all of the Southern dominoes have to fall the right way. And that’s easier said than done.
Louisiana is perhaps the weakest link for Republicans, who have been trying, and failing, to get Mary Landrieu out of the Senate for the past 18 years. She has proven herself to be the tabby cat of Louisiana politics — and of her nine lives, only three are spent.
North Carolina is also no slam dunk for the GOP, which is trying to defeat freshman Senator Kay Hagan. This is a state, after all, that Barack Obama carried in 2008 and almost carried in 2012, and the place where John Edwards won a Senate seat not that long ago.
In Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor is in the political fight of his life against U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton. Yet, Pryor holds one of the most storied names in Arkansas political history. And this, remember, is the Land of Clinton, where Democrats still hold most of the statewide offices.
In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a brutal primary fight with Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin, with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes waiting in the wings.
Smart money is still on McConnell, mainly because he has a mountain of money and is running in a state Obama lost by more than 20 points. But there is no question he faces a battle for survival.
At the end of the day, Republicans are likely to some of these Southern seats, maybe even most of them. But a complete sweep would seem to be a stretch.
So if they want to take back the Senate, Republicans may need to expand the map.
The best prospects for that are races in Michigan and Iowa, where Democratic incumbents are retiring, and New Hampshire, where one-time GOP star Scott Brown may cross the border from Masschusetts to take on Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Another possibility is Alaska, where Republicans have high hopes of ousting Democatic Senator Mark Begich.
Virgnia is another possibility, although Democrats could potentially also make Georgia competitive.
Any way you slice it, though, the South is where Senate control will be won or lost — and where the GOP will need the run of a lifetime in 2014.