Republicans Appear In Position To Take Senate Control

By David Lightman

McClatchy Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — Voters hate Washington, and they’ll get their chance to shake things up in November’s midterm elections.

The big question is whether the Republicans can win control of the Senate while holding the House of Representatives, which would give them control of the entire Congress for the remaining two years of Barack Obama’s presidency and set the stage for the 2016 elections.

At stake this fall are 36 of the Senate’s 100 seats, all 435 House seats and 36 governorships.

Republicans start with a decided edge:

—The most vulnerable Democrats are in states Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won two years ago.

—Republicans are already strong favorites to win Democratic-held seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

—The GOP’s strongest candidates survived primary challengers from tea party loyalists, who have often been volatile and potentially losing general election candidates in the past.

—Obama’s flagging poll numbers are making him a drag on Democrats. Voters, by a 41 to 32 percent plurality, say Obama makes them more likely to vote for a Republican, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll this month. Forty percent approved of how Obama was doing his job, the second worst showing of his presidency.

“Republicans are going to have a good election night. We just don’t know how good it’s going to be,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats for a Senate majority. Independent analysts predict Republicans gains of four to eight seats.

Battleground-state Democrats continue to make good poll showings, since the Republican brand also is tarnished.

“The public is wary of both parties,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, as last fall’s partial government shutdown continues to hurt the Republicans’ image.

Republicans are likely to retain their House majority, but they don’t appear to be in a position to make a net gain in governorships.

Most closely watched will be Wisconsin, where Republican Scott Walker’s 2016 presidential hopes would end with a November loss. Polls show Walker, under fire because of aides’ fundraising tactics, in a virtual tie with Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke.

If there’s to be a big change, it’ll happen in the Senate, but even that’s no certainty.

“This is a Republican year, but it’s more a tilt than a wave,” said Sabato.


Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, the Republican, are locked in a clash of the status quos, Washington vs. Raleigh.

Hagan has to be careful not to appear too close to Obama without severing the tie.

Before the president’s speech in Charlotte to the American Legion last Tuesday, she protested that the administration “has not yet done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans and implement real and permanent reforms.”

But when Obama arrived at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, she greeted him warmly — a photo Republicans gleefully publicized.


Sen. Mark Begich’s website features a press release headlined “Begich Tough on Obama,” detailing how the Alaska Democrat has stood up to the president.

Republican Dan Sullivan counters that Begich is a steady Obama loyalist. He opposed the administration on key votes only 2.9 percent of the time, according to a Congressional Quarterly study. This is a hard race to handicap; in a small state such as Alaska, personality often matters as much as philosophy.


Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has tried distancing herself from Obama, but can’t stray too far. African-Americans made up 29 percent of the electorate in her race six years ago and went for her 96 to 1 percent.

Her biggest challenge could be winning outright Nov. 4. If no one tops 50 percent, the top two finishers will compete in a Dec. 6 runoff. Republican Bill Cassidy, a three-term congressman, is running about even with Landrieu. Trailing is conservative Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel.


Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted against Obama’s preferred positions 10.3 percent of the time last year, more than any other Senate Democrat. Still, Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican freshman, is slamming Pryor for supporting Obama 90 percent of the time.

Pryor also needs to keep Democrats in line, and in a new ad, touts his support for the 2010 health-care law, which Republicans loathe. The 30-second spot features Pryor’s father, David, a very popular former Arkansas governor and senator.


Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat, is deadlocked with Republican State Sen. Joni Ernst in a contest for the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin.

Gaffes have plagued Braley, notably a dispute with a neighbor about chickens and a reference to veteran Sen. Charles Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school,” an insult both to farmers and the popular Republican.

Ernst, barely known a few months ago, surged into contention with a down-to-earth style. In one ad, she boasts, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I come to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”


Colorado Republicans got a boost this year when Rep. Cory Gardner, a personable conservative, challenged Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat.

Turnout in the Hispanic community, perhaps eager to show support for Obama’s efforts to revamp immigration laws, could decide this race. Obama rolled up a 3-to-1 margin in 2012 among Colorado Hispanic voters, who made up 14 percent of the state’s vote.


Former Sen. Scott Brown, who represented Massachusetts in the Senate until losing in 2012, is in a virtual dead heat with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, largely because of Obama’s plunging popularity.

Shaheen remains the favorite. She can pin the carpetbagger label on Brown and has been a savvy political organizer for decades.


Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who rarely has an easy re-election, is slightly ahead of Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in most polls.

This race is likely to go to the wire, as voters endure one of the costliest ad blitzes in Senate election history. Ousting McConnell, whose wily ways and hardball tactics have infuriated Democrats for years, is a huge Democratic priority.


Georgia could prove an annoyance for Republicans. Democrats have had little recent statewide success.

Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, is by some accounts running ahead of Republican businessman David Perdue. Keys to victory here could be African-American turnout and whether Nunn can build a strong margin among women.


Three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, survived a tea party primary challenge in August, but with 48 percent of the vote. Complicating the fall political equation is independent Greg Orman, who is making a strong pitch to centrists.

“You can’t dismiss Orman,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “He’s got the money and he’s got the message. People are looking for someone who’s not Washington.”


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