The fight for control of the US Senate will dominate political headlines in 2014. That chamber, where Democrats face a tough struggle to retain their control, is the biggest prize on the ballot in November. Most areas of the country, however, won’t see competitive races. In others, though, contests up and down the ballot could have long lasting consequences. Here are six states to watch this year.
Over a decade ago, wealthy progressives poured millions into the Centennial State in a generally successful attempt to turn the state blue. In recent years, Democrats have controlled all levels of state government. They may have overreached in 2013, however. A push for radical gun control has already cost the Democrats two state Senate seats, imperiling their majority. The unpopular legislation has also made the race for Governor and US Senate competitive, something that no one would have predicted just months ago.
Gov. Hickenlooper, who aggressively pushed the new gun control restrictions, polls now in the mid-40s and leads potential Republican challengers by just single digits. Freshman Sen. Mark Udall also polls in the mid-40s and his lead against possible challengers is just outside the margin of error. Both Democrats are upside-down, with more voters disapproving of their performance than approving. While both are still favorites in November, neither were on anyone’s list of competitive races last year.
Democrats also face a fight to retain their majorities in the state legislature. A shift of one seat would give the GOP control of the state Senate. A gain of five seats would give the party control of the state House. Democrats have already lost two state Senators, including the Majority Leader, through recall elections sparked by the gun control law. A third, who was set to be ousted in a recall, stepped down to help the party keep control of the chamber.
GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, who faces a competitive reelection battle, may be a beneficiary of this shift in the Colorado electorate. If current trends continue, his expected tough fight may disappear.
Even more than ObamaCare, the Democrats embrace of gun control in this swing state has put them on the other side of most voters. The issue, in fact, may upend years of progressive groundwork. Winning a few elections doesn’t necessarily mean voters have embraced a complete ideology.
A perennial swing state and host of the first caucus for the Presidential nominating contest, Iowa is a closely watched barometer of national politics. A largely rural state, it has some suburban and urban elements. Its politics can also be very mixed. Its two current Senators, Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, represent the polar opposites of the political spectrum. Few senators are more conservative than Grassley and few more liberal than Harkin, yet both are extremely popular.
Harkin’s retirement at the end of his term has set up competitive races across the ballot this Fall. Gov. Terry Branstead, who returned to office in 2010 and is the longest serving governor in state history, is a clear favorite for reelection this year. The low-key moderate Republican is a perfect fit for the state’s electorate and he leads his potential rivals by double-digits. The race will narrow over the coming months.
Democrats have settled on Rep. Bruce Braley for Harkin’s Senate seat. Republicans have a multi-candidate field for their nominee. Even though he is better known, Braley polls in the low-40s and leads his possible opponents by the low single digits. President Obama, who won the state convincingly both his elections, only has a 38% approval rating in the Hawkeye State. Almost 60% of Iowa voters disapprove. This is certainly acting like an anchor on Democrats in the state.
Obama’s low approval numbers may give Republicans an edge in three potentially competitive House races in the state. GOP Rep. Tom Latham surprised political observers by announcing his retirement, just a year after defeating then-Rep. Leonard Boswell in 2012. Latham’s seat is evenly split between the parties and is rated a toss-up by Cook’s Political Report. A number of Republicans are considering a run. Staci Appel, a former state Senator, is the favorite to win the Democrat primary, but is likely too liberal for the district.
Braley’s former House seat, the 1st District, could be competitive if Republicans have a strong showing in November. The district leans Democrat, but a possible Branstead landslide in the governor’s race could give Republicans a shot at winning the seat. GOP Rep. Steve King, who represents a swing district that leans Republican, is a top target of left-wing activists. In 2012, however, he chalked up a convincing win against a very well-funded and well-known opponent, the wife of a former popular Governor. He should be considered the favorite in November.
Control of the state legislature is also in play this fall. The Democrats hold just a 3-seat majority in the state Senate, while Republicans hold a 6-seat majority in the state House. Control of the chambers has changed repeatedly over the last several years. A political wave in either direction could easily give one party control of both chambers.
2014 will be the first election since the Wolverine State became a “right to work” state. The reform, in a state which is home to the UAW, was a crushing blow for labor unions. The move came after Republicans swept control of the Governor’s mansion and state legislature in 2010. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, the first Republican in almost a decade to lead the state, faces a competitive reelection, although he has a slight edge.
After taking control of the legislature in 2010, Republicans used redistricting to solidify their majority. Control of either chamber will not be seriously contested.
Dem Sen. Carl Levin’s retirement, however, sets up a very competitive race in this open Senate seat. Democrat back-bencher Rep. Gary Peters is the likely Democrat nominee for the seat. Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. The contest between the two is within the margin of error. Recent polling has shown President Obama is a drag on Democrats in the state. If his polling numbers remain underwater, Republicans could gain the edge in a state few expected to be competitive.
There are potentially four GOP House seats that could be competitive in November. Each seat, however, leans Republican, according to the Cook Political Report, so, in a midterm election the Republican incumbents are favored. The more interesting race to watch, however, is the August primary for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional district. Incumbent GOP Rep. Justin Amash is a strong conservative who has drawn a challenge from the GOP establishment. Both national and state business interests have vowed to devote resources to defeating the freshman fiscal conservative. The race is on the front-lines of the GOP establishment’s self-declared “war” on the “tea party.”
Few states experienced a more dramatic shift in voter sentiment between 2008 and 2010 than Illinois. The home state of President Obama, he won the state in a landslide in 2008 and helped Democrats make gains across the ballot in the Land of Lincoln. In 2010, though, Republicans won four congressional seats and captured Obama’s former Senate seat. The sole bright-spot for Democrats that year was the race for Governor, where Democrat Pat Quinn eked out a win over the Republicans. That outcome had long-lasting consequences as it gave Democrats complete control of redistricting.
In 2012, Democrats reversed their losses in 2010, picking up four congressional seats. Republicans lost an additional seat through redistricting, as the state lost a seat.
In 2014, Gov. Quinn is running for reelection and faces a host of potential Republican rivals. Since winning reelection, Quinn ushered through the legislature a large tax increase. The state’s finances are still in shambles and its debt has been downgraded. Republicans have an real opportunity to reclaim an office they haven’t held for a decade.
In addition, up to six congressional seats could be competitive this Fall. One seat, held by Dem Rep. Bill Enyhart, is a toss-up district. Another four lean Democrat but could be in play if Illinois again breaks like it did in 2010. GOP Rep. Rodney Davis holds a toss-up seat in central Illinois. If the electorate votes like it did in 2012, he could have a close race. If it is more like 2010, he’ll post a solid win.
The Sunshine State could provide an early glimpse of which way the political winds are blowing in 2014. In March, voters in the state’s 13th Congressional district will vote in a special election to fill the term of GOP Rep. Bill Young, who died in office at the end of 2013. President Obama narrowly won the competitive district in 2012. The Democrat nominee, Alex Sink, lost a race for Governor in 2010, but has high name recognition and strong fundraising ability. Republicans have a competitive primary next week to pick their nominee, but whomever emerges will be the underdog. A narrow win, or a loss, by Sink could be a sign of Republican momentum going into November.
Four other Congressional races could be competitive in November. Two are held by Democrats and two by Republicans. Florida voters will also vote on Governor this Fall. GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who first won election in the Republican wave of 2010 is running for reelection. He has had low favorability ratings throughout his term, but has enormous personal wealth to devote to the race. The Democrat nominee is Charlie Crist, former GOP Governor of the state. Crist ran for the Senate in 2010, but withdrew and changed his political affiliation to Independent after polls consistently showed him losing the GOP nomination to Marco Rubio. Crist has shifted his political allegiance again and now says he is a Democrat. These political transformations may blunt any advantage he would otherwise have in the race.
The state stopped being a barometer of the nation’s politics years ago. Once dominant politically, the Republican party is largely a regional or local force in the state. Democrats have a lock on the legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown is the presumptive favorite to win reelection.
Up to 11 congressional seats, however, could be competitive this Fall. Eight are held by Democrats, who could be vulnerable if a Republican wave like 2010 emerges. Three are held by Republicans, one of whom represents a Democrat-leaning seat. If the election breaks closer to something like 2008 or 2012, these could be captured by the Democrats.