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Senate's Democratic Class of '08 Faces New Challenges

First-term Democratic senators from competitive states are key to party keeping majority

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Hagan, who hails from one of the two states the president lost in 2012, is one of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election this cycle.

The class of senators swept into office riding Barack Obama’s coattails in 2008 — giving Democrats a supermajority in the process — now stands to be the party’s majority firewall when it faces voters in 2014.

Once the building blocks to a supermajority, the first-term class of 2008 Democratic senators now finds itself as the cornerstone of a five-seat majority in danger of crumbling. First elected on the same ticket as President Barack Obama, their next fight carries inherent risks and disadvantages.

This cycle, there are more than enough seats in play for Senate Democrats to lose the majority. But party aides remain confident in their eight first-term Democrats up for re-election — all of whom won GOP seats six years ago.

Some in the class, such as Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan — the only two from states that the president lost in 2012 — are more vulnerable than others.

But all of them are no longer running with an Obama wind at their backs — or against an unpopular war in Iraq and outgoing President George W. Bush.

With the benefit of a wave cycle, this class defeated five Republican incumbents and picked up three other GOP-held open seats. Today, Democratic strategists described this particular group of senators as in remarkably good shape for 2014.

“They’re each in their own way dragon slayers because of the kind of people they defeated,” said Martha McKenna, political director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2008. “It’s not to say that these aren’t going to be tough races, but I think each of these people have been working just as hard as senators as they worked in their campaigns.”

Along with Begich and Hagan, the class includes Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Mark Warner of Virginia.

The eight boast similar traits, even if their politics differ. Notably, they have mostly kept their heads down and mouths shut in the Senate.

But they do not enter the 2014 cycle on equal footing. Along with their personalities, their success will be based in part on what they’ve done over the course of their terms and how closely they match the ideological center of their respective states.

“Obviously, running in a midterm will be tougher for Democrat incumbents than running in the blustery political tailwind they enjoyed in 2008,” said Scott Bensing, executive director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2008. “They are now running in an Obama economy ... and don’t have the luxury of running against George W. Bush, which sadly was all most Democrat Senate candidates needed in 2006 and 2008.”

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