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In Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich (D) defeated former Sen. Ted Stevens (R) one week after Stevens was found guilty of corruption charges in federal court — a ruling that was thrown out five months later. Begich, then mayor of Anchorage, won by fewer than 4,000 votes.
Alaska Republicans for now are focusing on winning the nonpartisan Anchorage mayoral race in April, but they are looking forward to a second run against Begich, who became the first Alaska Democrat to win a Senate seat in 34 years.
Among the other Democrats with the potential for a competitive challenge are Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Al Franken (Minn.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
“One interesting thing to watch will be how the 2012 result impacts the 2014 political environment,” Republican strategist Dan Judy of North Star Opinion Research said. “Since midterms are typically, although not always, bad for the party holding the presidency, an Obama loss might not be the worst thing for vulnerable Democrats in 2014.”
But Democratic strategist Steve Murphy argued that if the economy continues improving, the traditional thinking could change. “Conventional wisdom is the [president’s] second-term midterm is the ninth level of political hell for the party in power,” Murphy said. “But the economy could put the lie to that assumption.”
Some of the states likely to have a race in 2014 are hosting a competitive Senate contest right now, so it’s a little early to talk seriously about potential candidates in most states.
However, Republicans in Virginia can already picture a battle between Warner and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), if McDonnell doesn’t become the next vice president. It would be the third-straight Virginia Senate race featuring two former governors. Warner has put himself in a strong position financially, raising $490,000 in the fourth quarter and beginning 2012 with more than $2.9 million in the bank.
In South Dakota, Gov. Mike Rounds (R) said last week he is giving “serious thought” to running against Johnson and spoke with Sen. John Thune (R) about the logistics of traveling back and forth to Capitol Hill, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Retirements are a reality every cycle for both parties, but just as in 2012, Democrats would likely be affected more adversely than Republicans in 2014. The seats of Johnson, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who raised just more than $5,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011, and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who raised $46,000, would be vulnerable if they decided to retire. Even Illinois could be competitive if Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D) opted against returning in 2015.
Rockefeller spokesman Vincent Morris said the Democrat “loves his work in the Senate and intends to run again when the time comes.”
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who will be 90 by the time Election Day 2014 rolls around, is “absolutely planning on running again,” a Democrat familiar with the Senator’s thinking said. Any retirement rumors are based solely on his age because Lautenberg has “done nothing to let anybody else know that anything else is a possibility,” the source said.