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Analysis: 2014 is a year of missed opportunity for Southern Democrats

Democrats across the region making little headway in overcoming Republican hegemony

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

This year, 10 GOP-held U.S. Senate seats are up for election across the South. Democrats mounted serious challenges to just two of them.

This year, seven Republican-held Southern governorships are on the ballot. Democrats mounted serious challenges in just two of those races as well.CFP Facebook Mugshot

Heading into this election, Republicans hold 108 of the 151 U.S. House seats in the South. Democrats put just six of them in play and could very well come away without gaining a single seat, while at least four of their own seats are in serious jeopardy.

With the exception of Georgia, where Democrats are making surprisingly strong runs for both U.S. Senator and governor, 2014 has been a year of miscues and might-have-beens for the party of Jackson.

For example, at the beginning of the year, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had shaky job approval numbers and looked like she might be vulnerable. Now, she’s poised to roll to re-election on Tuesday, which could put her in the national conversation in 2016.

Down in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott’s rocky tenure in Tallahassee gave Democrats a golden opportunity, which they may have squandered by giving their nomination to the deeply flawed Charlie Crist.

A year ago in Texas, State Senator Wendy Davis was the darling of liberals everywhere, poised to lead Lone Star Democrats to the promised land after 20 years in the wilderness. Her inept campaign for governor has left those hopes in tatters, although it could be argued that a candidate best known for a full-throttled defense of abortion wasn’t that viable in a place like Texas to begin with.

In Florida earlier this year, Democrats failed to wrest the 13th District U.S. House seat — which Barack Obama carried twice — from Republicans during a special election, which left them with no chance to win it in the fall.

Florida 13 is one of three Republican-held House seats in the South that Obama carried in 2012. The GOP is poised to carry all three on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, there are five Democrat-held Southern House seats that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. Republicans are making strong runs in all five.

So moribund is the Democratic Party in Alabama that it didn’t even field a candidate to run against Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions. And in both Oklahoma and South Carolina, where both Senate seats are up this year, Democrats couldn’t muster a serious challenge in any of those four races.

Senate seats are likely to flip from Democratic to Republican hands in both West Virginia and Arkansas, with Democrat-held seats in both North Carolina and Louisiana in jeopardy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be beating back a Democratic challenge in Kentucky.

That leaves Georgia as the only bright spot for Democrats. Michelle Nunn has combined innate political talent with a strong campaign to make herself competitive in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since 1996.

However, if she can’t polish off David Perdue on Tuesday, the race will head to a January runoff — and runoffs can be nasty, brutish and unpredictable.

So here is the state of play, heading into Tuesday:

  • Republicans hold 20 of the 28 Southern Senate seats. That number will almost certainly rise.
  • Republicans hold 10 of 14 governorships. Given that the GOP will likely make a pick-up in Arkansas, the best Democrats can hope for is to go from four to five, if they take out incumbents in both Georgia and Florida — a tall order..
  • The GOP holds 108 of the 151 House seats. Odds are the Republican margin will increase slightly.

All in all, Republican hegemony is alive and well across the Southland.


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