What to Watch in the Senate Mid-Terms

The AP is using Labor Day to kick off “a two-month sprint toward Election Day” by pointing out five key points in both the House and Senate mid-terms elections.

As for the Senate, Kentucky is certainly one key and some may find this information surprising, while others will say it’s predictable. An old line more establishment GOP remains unpopular, so much so that Mitch McConnell is fighting for his political life in a year when he should win in a walk given Obama’s weak numbers, including in Kentucky where Romney beat Obama in 2012 by 22 points.

If there’s any politician in Kentucky as unpopular as Obama, it’s Sen. Mitch McConnell. The Senate’s Republican leader wants to be the majority leader, but first he must defeat Kentucky’s secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The race reflects everything about the national tug of war.

In terms of overall strategy, Republicans are relying on tying Democrats to an unpopular White House, while Democrats are left with their standard, the GOP is a bunch of Tea Party extremists shtick. The problem for Democrats is that many key races are in states where that argument may not track the way it does in deep blue states. 

Democrats are stuck defending 7 states in which Romney beat Obama in 2012 and have incumbents retiring in Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota. Add in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, where Obama is broadly unpopular, and you can begin to see a path for the GOP to take control of the Senate in the fall.

Republicans want to make the president an albatross for every Democrat, none more so than those in conservative states. Begich, Landrieu, Pryor and Hagan face ads attacking them as “the deciding vote” on the Affordable Care Act. 

Other Democratic candidates are cast as “rubber stamps” for Obama and his “liberal agenda.” Democrats are trying to link Republicans to the House GOP caucus and its tea party influences.

In short, as the AP points out, the GOP wants to make 2014 a national referendum on Obama, while vulnerable Democrats are trying to win by claiming to be the home (state) team. And there are are those pesky third parties which could result in someone playing the spoiler. That factor would seem to be a bigger worry for Republicans, than Democrats this November given the way current races and states break down. 

After hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on television advertising, consultants and voter turnout operations, Senate control could come down to third-party candidates. Libertarian Sean Haugh isn’t going to win North Carolina’s Senate seat, but he might attract just enough conservatives to give Hagan a winning margin over Tillis. Haugh ran in 2002 and won more than 33,000 votes, or 1.45 percent. In Alaska, the Libertarian and Alaskan Independence nominees will be on the ballot with Begich and Republican Dan Sullivan. Libertarians also have a nominee in Georgia, where Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn are battling for an open seat.