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If Democrats are concerned about the lopsided Senate playing field this cycle, just wait until 2014.
An early scan of next cycle’s Senate landscape paints a favorable picture for the GOP, which will defend 13 seats to Democrats’ 20. There is a noticeable dearth of competitive Republican seats, while several Democrats will be automatic targets based on geography.
“Three years out, it’s hard not to see this as being a wipeout for Senate Democrats,” said Republican strategist Michael Meyers of Target Point. “Not having a single pickup opportunity just makes your map so tough to try to control.”
Eight first-term Democrats up for re-election in 2014 won their first races in a uniquely positive climate for the party, with President Barack Obama helping candidates with his coattails across the country. In turn, the waves of 2006 and 2008 have now led to difficult situations for Democrats in a far less favorable environment for the party.
“Some of them barely got through last time in probably the best atmosphere they’re going to ever have,” Meyers said.
Add in potential retirements and incumbents routinely in precarious re-elections, and Democrats are facing another tough cycle. From Alaska to North Carolina, South Dakota to Arkansas and New Hampshire to Louisiana, there is a potential for the dominoes to fall in the right direction for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The same was true heading into 2012, with Democrats defending 23 seats, including in competitive states such as Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota — just to name the most vulnerable. While Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee leadership feels better about this cycle than it did a year ago, Republicans believe they have a strong chance to win control of the Senate with almost half of the Democratic-held seats in play.
As for 2014, Democrats argue that they elected candidates in 2008 who fit their states and that there are in fact opportunities for expanding the traditional playing field. Martha McKenna, a former DSCC political director who is running the independent expenditure program for the committee this cycle, noted that Democrats had late-breaking opportunities for offense in 2008 in states such as Kentucky and Georgia. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent almost $21 million to survive his 2008 challenge, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) spent $13 million and was forced into a runoff.
There is also a belief within GOP circles in Georgia that Chambliss could be vulnerable in a primary.
“What’s changed since 2008 is the power of the tea party in a Republican primary,” McKenna said. “That could be incredibly destabilizing and provide us with opportunity.” While there is certainly room for improvement for Democrats in 2014, the early imbalance of competitive states is equally as stark as in the current cycle.