A Touch of Optimism: Senate Elections in 2014 – Updated

What do we do now?

We lost. So what? I’m done with post-mortems. We can point fingers and lay blame all day long (and every once in a great while, actually be constructive while doing it), but the bottom line is this: we lost given the hand we were dealt.

Losing the presidency isn’t the end of the world. In fact, if we are wise, we can use this loss to restore our country to sound principles of balanced and accountable government.

Do conservatives really need the presidency to restore America to prosperous values? It would help, sure, but the answer is no. And the reason is because the founders knew that too much value placed upon a single office would result in a tyrannical abuse of power.

Perhaps we’ve already begun to see this. Democrats accused Bush 43 of abusing the executive office, and Republicans have done the same to Obama.

2014 offers a solution. A solution to the abuse of authority, and a solution to gridlock.

The solution is for Republicans to win control of the Senate.

One of the great geniuses of the Constitution is the offsetting of elections. There was great debate over the terms of Representatives, Senators, and the President. (Virginia, for example, voted in favor of the original plan of having an executive with seven-year terms; and Edmund Randolph — a Virginia delegate — proposed a plan in which Representatives were chosen every three years, and the senate and executive would serve quam diu bene se gesserit, i.e., for life, as long as no crime is committed.)

And despite changes in the electoral process, it has also ensured that senators and representatives can not perpetually ride the coat-tails of a popular executive. Every member of the House — if he desires more than one term — must run for election while the president is not 50% of the time. Every member of the senate — if he desires more than one term — must also run for election while the president is not 50% of the time.

2008 was a banner year for Democrats. With Barack Obama so enchanting the media and the American public, he was able to bring with him to Washington twenty senators — out of thirty-three running — nine of them being fresh flips, with a bonus tenth in the form of Arlen Specter.

Guess what?

That same class of senators is running for reelection in 2014. With Barack Obama’s coattails at the drycleaners.

Out of the twenty Democratic senators elected in 2008, eight of those senators won by fewer than 15 points. Out of the twenty Democratic senators elected in 2008, six of those senators’ states voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

By a hasty calculation, I can see ten, and theoretically as many as thirteen, of these Democratic seats being in play in 2014 — meaning, in an absolute best-case scenario — Republicans could gain a 58-40-2 RDI majority. (I have put the table of in-play races below. Please feel free to excoriate me in the comments if I am wrong.)

If Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives in 2014 — hardly a daunting task — they will then control both houses of the legislature, and the President will have no one to back him up, and will be forced to govern on someone else’s terms besides his own, and the legislature will be able properly to check and balance the executive authority and determine his agenda for him.

How this can be done, I’ll leave to people more knowledgeable than I (although I probably could have out-predicted Karl Rove this last time ’round…). But my assessment is it is pointless to claim that a single ideology in specifics is universally preferable to another. Do not condemn North Carolina for choosing a candidate aligned with Tea Party principles. Do not condemn New Hampshire for seeing a moderate approach as the best path for victory. And most of all, do not condemn Virginia for whatever reason!

Whoever the candidate, they should recognize that an intrusive executive must be stopped.

Update: A previous version of this post wrongly referred to senators running for election in non-presidential years 66% of the time. This has been corrected to 50% of the time. Math is hard.

As a bonus update, however, I will note that in 2016, the class of Republican gains made in 2010 will be up for reelection. If we get the right candidate in 2016 — without Barack Obama’s star power — we could see a VERY red map indeed…

2014 Senate Election:

State Incumbent Voted R in 2012 In Play D% in 2008
R% in 2008
Margin of Victory Notes
Alaska Mark Begich X X 48 47 1 This should be a shoe-in for Republicans.
Arkansas Mark Pryor X X 80 21* 59 AR voted for Romney in 2012 60.5% to Obama’s 36.9%. Mark Pryor, who ran unopposed in ’08, could be in trouble. *21% is for Green Party candidate.
North Carolina Kay Hagan X X 52 44 8 This one’s almost assuredly a shoe-in for Republicans.
Colorado Mark Udall X 53 43 10 Colorado’s a swing state… Depends on the candidate.
Louisiana Mary Landrieu X 52 46 6 Landrieu won despite an Obama loss in 2008. She is vulnerable, but comparatively popular.
Minnesota Al Franken X 42 42 0 The epitome of close races in 2008. Norm Coleman had incumbancy advantage in ’08; Franken was pushed by Obama. This race depends on the candidate.
New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen X 52 45 7 New Hampshire’s a swing state… Depends on the candidate.
New Jersey Frank Lautenberg X 56 42 14 It’s possible. Someone like Christie (Christie himself?) could pull an upset, especially if Lautenberg retires
Oregon Jeff Merkley X 49 46 3 Anything can happen in Oregon. Especially if disgruntled California conservatives continue their flee northward.
Virginia Mark Warner X 65 34 31 Depends totally on Warner’s gubernatorial plans, in my opinion.
Montana Max Baucus X 73 27 46 Baucus is popular in MT. Don’t see this one going for Rs, but they did prefer Romney over Obama by 13.5%
South Dakota Tim Johnson X 63 37 26 Romney received nearly 58% support in 2012, but this may not be enough to defeat the popular Johnson.
West Virginia Jay Rockefeller X 64 36 28 Hard to say on this one. What Obama does on Coal, and how Rockefeller reacts will determine how vulnerable WV is.
Alabama Jeff Sessions 37 63 26 Not In Play
Delaware Chris Coons 56.6 40 16.6 Not In Play
Georgia Saxby Chambliss 43 57 14 Not In Play
Idaho Jim Risch 34 58 24 Not In Play
Illinois Richard Durbin 68 29 39 Not In Play
Iowa Tom Harkin 63 37 26 Not In Play
Kansas Pat Roberts 36 60 24 Not In Play
Kentucky Mitch McConnell 47 53 6 Not In Play
Maine Susan Collins 39 61 22 Not In Play
Massachusetts John Kerry 66 31 35 Not In Play
Michigan Carl Levin 63 34 29 Not In Play
Mississippi Thad Cochran 39 61 22 Not In Play
Nebraska Mike Johanns 40 58 18 Not In Play
New Mexico Tom Udall 61 39 22 Not In Play
Oklahoma Jim Inhofe 39 57 18 Not In Play
Rhode Island Jack Reed 73 27 46 Not In Play
South Carolina Lindsey Graham 42 58 16 Not In Play
Tennessee Lamar Alexander 32 65 33 Not In Play
Texas John Cornyn 55 43 12 Not In Play
Wyoming Mike Enzi 24 76 52 Not In Play