But that’s exactly how things looked two years before the 2012 elections, when Democrats surprised many with victories in Missouri and North Dakota on their way to picking up two seats. So the challenge for the GOP and incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran of Kansas is to capitalize on their opportunities.
That and how voters feel about President Barack Obama in 2014 could determine how the parties fare at the ballot box less than two years from now. Democrats won their current majority in 2006, in the second midterm election under President George W. Bush.
Republicans are hoping Obama’s second midterm is similarly kind to them, if not equal to the president’s 2010 midterm shellacking, when the GOP won seven seats (and control of the House) despite beginning the cycle as the underdog.
Click here to view a PDF chart of how the 33 states with Senate elections in 2014 voted in the last presidential election and the state's last three Senate elections.
Alaska: Mark Begich, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $682,000
Still, Begich likely starts the cycle as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, and there’s no shortage of Republicans licking their chops at the chance to grab this Senate seat. Before Begich, no Democrat had been elected to the Senate from Alaska since 1968.
GOP insiders in the state said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller are making calls and lining up support for potential Senate bids. (After defeating Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary, Miller lost to her in the general election after she chose to run as a write-in candidate.) Former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan are also viewed as potential Begich challengers, and Gov. Sean Parnell might be interested as well. “It is far from a finished field,” GOP consultant Art Hackney said.
Arkansas: Mark Pryor, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,791,000
Democratic operatives in Razorback country don’t expect Pryor to face a primary, giving him room to stake out positions in opposition to Obama, something that would probably be politically prudent. But there’s no question Obama is an albatross for Pryor, as he was for Democrat Blanche Lincoln, who was defeated in 2010 by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
Pryor has some real advantages, too, starting with his comfortable war chest and historically strong personal brand that dates back to his father, former Arkansas Gov. and Democratic Sen. David Pryor.
Freshman Republican Rep. Tim Griffin has been talked about as a potential Senate candidate since he was first elected in 2010. GOP Rep. Steve Womack and Rep.-elect Tom Cotton are also seen as potential contenders to take on Pryor.
Louisiana: Mary L. Landrieu, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,614,000
But the senator comes to the starting line of the cycle with some distinct advantages, too. She has a brand in the state, given her previous runs for statewide office and her father’s tenure as mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s. (Her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is the city’s current mayor.)
And despite voting in favor of the health care overhaul, which is almost certain to haunt her on the campaign trail, Landrieu can reasonably argue that she fights for her state, even if it means bucking the White House or the Democratic Party.
GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy is seen in Louisiana GOP circles as best-suited to challenge and beat the incumbent. He’s viewed as the “consensus candidate,” one Louisiana Republican operative said.
But an X factor could be Republican Rep. Jeff Landry, who is seen as a possible contender as well.
The tea-party-backed lawmaker is locked in a runoff election battle with Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. that will be held Dec. 8.
North Carolina: Kay Hagan, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,303,000
State Speaker Thom Tillis, lawyer and former Ambassador to Denmark Jim Cain and four-term Rep. Patrick T. McHenry are all top-tier potential challenger candidates.
Other names being floated among GOP insiders are Rep. Renee Ellmers, Rep.-elect George E.B. Holding, Raleigh lawyer Kieran Shanahan and state Sen. Philip Berger. As an aside, the Republican National Committee is scheduled to hold its winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C.
South Dakota: Tim Johnson, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,222,000
Last week, the Banking chairman declined to talk about his future in an interview with the Mitchell, S.D., Daily Republic. He said: “I’m not done with the lame-duck session yet. There’s plenty of time. Sometime next year.”
The candidacy of former Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, might push Johnson to make a decision soon. Rounds announced before Election Day this year that he had launched an exploratory committee to challenge Johnson, and he could launch his bid as early as Thursday.
Johnson is the best candidate to hold this seat, but Democrats have private concerns about his health. In 2006, he suffered bleeding in the brain that put him on leave from the chamber for more than a year.
If Johnson doesn’t run, look for Democrats to recruit former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for the seat. She recently moved back to the state.
If Rounds declines a bid, Rep. Kristi Noem becomes the GOP’s top candidate. She has accrued several hundred thousand dollars from her House campaigns that could boost her.
West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $704,000
He stormed his way to re-election in 2008, winning by nearly 30 points. But West Virginia has been trending Republican on the presidential front, and after shying away in the past, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito pulled the trigger and announced this week that she would run for Senate.
National Republicans say Capito is the obvious and best choice to win the general election. But the Club for Growth and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., immediately indicated that she did not have their backing.
National Republicans responded privately with groans, fearing she may not get through a Republican primary. That prospect has upset many Republicans — on K Street, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. GOP operatives say that with her, the seat is winnable.
But if a weak candidate along the lines of Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock or Missouri Rep. Todd Akin were to beat out Capito in a primary, strategists worry any chance to take the seat could slip away like they have seen occur in five states during the previous two cycles.
Republican Rep. David B. McKinley has not ruled out running for the nomination.
Minnesota: Al Franken, D Sept. 30 Cash on hand: $1,059,000
There’s no shortage of Republicans who could run, including three House members: Reps. John Kline, Erik Paulsen or Michele Bachmann. And look for an outsider, perhaps a wealthy Twin Cities businessman, to consider the race.
But this also means there’s a high likelihood of a contentious primary, which would prove devastating for the GOP in this race. So far, at least one of those House members isn’t ruling out a bid. “Mr. Kline is leaving all options on the table for 2014,” spokesman Troy Young said. A Paulsen aide did not return an email seeking comment.
Franken enters his re-election in a stronger position than his first bid. The former “Saturday Night Live” comedian has proved himself as a serious legislator. He contributed a key part of the health care law, and he’s stayed far away from the national spotlight (and D.C. reporters) to focus only on Minnesota.
Franken is also helped by his home state, which has trended blue in recent cycles. His home-state colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, won re-election this month by an astronomical margin. Even when Republicans dominated the 2010 elections, Minnesota elected a Democrat to the governor’s office.
Montana: Max Baucus, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $3,106,000
First elected in 1978, Baucus is the longest-serving senator in Montana history. He is also chairman of the Finance Committee, a powerful post, which put him at the heart of the health care debate that some believe could put him in jeopardy.
Baucus’ most potent Republican opponents would likely be Rep.-elect Steve Daines, former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, who lost in the 2012 gubernatorial primary, state Attorney General-elect Tim Fox and Rep. Denny Rehberg.
Rehberg, who lost to Tester this month by 4 points, also lost his challenge to Baucus in 1996. He was elected to the House in 2000.
The biggest question going forward in Montana is what outgoing Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer will do next. Republicans would love for him to challenge Baucus in the primary, keeping the incumbent from saving his resources for the general, but the governor is unlikely to do so.
New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $338,000
Democrats scoff at any sort of GOP confidence going into the Granite State. Their party swept the state’s two House seats and held the governorship in 2012, and as a result, Democratic operatives are exceedingly bullish on Shaheen’s prospects. Still, her cash-on-hand sum is relatively weak for an incumbent, especially one in the Boston media market, which has been overwhelmed in recent cycles.
The most obvious Republican challenger is former Sen. John E. Sununu, who lost to Shaheen in 2008. If that race materialized, it would be their third contest and a battle of statewide political brands. Sununu won in the strong Republican year of 2002. Shaheen won the day in the Democratic wave of 2008. A Senate race in a neutral year — if that’s how 2014 unfolds — would be a new dynamic in their storied history against each other. Sununu’s intentions remain unclear, but his name comes up in nearly every conversation as the most viable contender — both among Republicans and Democrats.
Other potential GOP contenders are outgoing Rep. Frank Guinta and former Rep. Jeb Bradley.
Colorado: Mark Udall, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,110,000
But the DNA of Colorado is a swing state, and midterm races are typically difficult for the president’s party, especially during a second term. Republicans fell just short of ousting Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in 2010. Therefore, the GOP is optimistic and several names have already surfaced. The Republican who strikes the most fear in the hearts of Colorado Democrats is Rep. Cory Gardner.
Other possible challengers include 2008 Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, former Rep. Bob Beauprez and state Attorney General John Suthers.
Iowa: Tom Harkin, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $2,745,000
Regarding whether Harkin plans to seek re-election, spokeswoman Kate Cyrul Frischmann said in an email, “Sen. Harkin is focused on the pressing issues of the day.”
If the chairman of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions declines another bid, the race will be a free-for-all on both sides. Look for Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley to jump into the race. He’s been eyeing a statewide bid for several years.
Rep. Steve King, a conservative firebrand in the House, made some noise about challenging Harkin earlier this month. But Gov. Terry E. Branstad quickly poured cold water on King’s aspirations, telling reporters, “In terms of him winning statewide, I think that would be a tough uphill climb.”
King would be tough to beat in a primary, but his general election prospects are less strong. Like many Republicans, Branstad touted Rep. Tom Latham as a “formidable candidate” instead. No wonder: Latham has represented 56 of the state’s 99 counties in his congressional career. He’s lost only three counties in the past decade.
But there’s little sign that Latham is interested. As one of Speaker John A. Boehner’s best friends, Latham has a plum deal in his current chamber on the House Appropriations Committee.
If neither member runs, there’s no shortage of potential GOP candidates — such as state Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, to name a few.
New Jersey: Frank R. Lautenberg, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $203,000
Lautenberg has given no indication as to whether he will retire. Earlier this year, his camp indicated it was all systems go for re-election. Ambitious Democrats have angled for his seat for years, but many are gun shy about challenging him after he trounced Rep. Robert E. Andrews in the 2008 Democratic primary.
But what has Democrats especially nervous is the senator’s age — he would be in his 90s at the beginning of the 114th Congress in 2015 — and the fact that there is a Republican governor who appears well positioned for re-election in 2013. If Lautenberg were to die in office, Gov. Chris Christie, if he’s re-elected, would be able to appoint a Republican to succeed him.
Speculation abounds over which Democrats might run against him or run to succeed him should he opt for retirement. The top contender is Newark Mayor Cory Booker. But others on the radar include Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. and state Sen. Barbara Buono.
GOP sources in New Jersey say they are focused on the 2013 gubernatorial race and are reluctant to discuss candidates. But one obvious Republican is state Sen. Joe Kyrillos. He ran a long-shot but competent campaign against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in 2012. Sources say he completed his objective: increasing name identification.
Virginia: Mark Warner, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $3,283,000
The incumbent’s approval ratings continue to hover around 60 percent, and his friend, Democratic former Gov. Tim Kaine, will be joining him in the Senate next year after defeating former Republican Gov. George Allen by 6 points.
Warner’s greatest competition would come from Gov. Bob McDonnell, the most popular Republican in the state. That hypothetical contest would be the state’s third straight Senate race to feature two former governors.
However, Republicans in Virginia are skeptical that McDonnell, who was a finalist to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, would jeopardize his promising political career against Warner. Absent that, it’s hard to see how anyone can defeat Warner, should he decide to seek re-election. Warner announced this month that he considered but ultimately decided against running for governor again next year.
Georgia: Saxby Chambliss, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,399,000
Conservatives “don’t feel he’s as conservative as the base is,” Virginia Galloway, state director for Americans for Prosperity Georgia, told CQ Roll Call earlier this month. “Sometimes when he sees himself being a statesman, conservatives see him as being a sellout.”
Potential primary challengers for Chambliss include Reps. Tom Price, Paul Broun and Tom Graves.
If Chambliss loses a primary and the GOP nominates a weaker candidate, Democrats might have a shot — if quite long — at winning the seat. But they’d need a candidate who could both bring out the base of the party in urban areas such as Atlanta and get some crossover votes, too. A top contender would be Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, but he seems disinclined to run.
Kentucky: Mitch McConnell, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $6,794,000
Whoever decides to take on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — and there is likely to be a candidate from both the left and the right — will face the wrath of his well-oiled Kentucky political machine. As the Senate’s top Republican, McConnell has a big target on his back. But he also has a campaign apparatus already humming in gear, with almost $7 million in the bank at the end of September.
Also in September, McConnell announced that Jesse Benton would be his campaign manager. Benton has deep ties to the tea party movement in Kentucky and around the country, having led Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s White House bid and managed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s general election campaign in 2010. McConnell and Rand Paul have bonded, with the minority leader often quietly signing off on the senator’s controversial procedural motions on the Senate floor, while working with him on local Kentucky issues.
The conventional wisdom in the Bluegrass State is that the hiring of Benton is likely to help reduce the threat of a strong primary challenge. But some Kentucky grass-roots conservative activists are still hoping to recruit a candidate to take on McConnell.
On the other side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee would love to make as much trouble for McConnell as the GOP made for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2010. Actress Ashley Judd’s name has been floated as a possible Democratic challenger, but Kentucky operatives are split on how realistic a Judd candidacy might be. A stronger candidate, insiders said, would be Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. But she, along with other statewide elected officials, might decide to pursue their political ambitions elsewhere.
Among elected Democratic officials, “anybody who is strong is looking at [the] ’15 governor’s race instead of going up against McConnell,” a Kentucky Democratic operative said. “It’s difficult.”
“She’s got good chops,” a longtime Republican observer of Kentucky politics said of Lundergan Grimes. But the observer wondered whether the young politician was ready for a prime-time race. “Running against Mitch McConnell — you [don’t] want to run with the bulls if you’ve never held a red cape in your life.”
The question early in the 2014 Kentucky Senate race: For the chance to take down McConnell — who has real vulnerabilities — who is willing to risk getting gored?
Delaware: Chris Coons, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $709,000
This time around, Coons should cruise. The strength of moderate former Rep. Mike Castle was the only reason the seat was considered competitive in 2010. Strange things have happened in Delaware’s recent past, but for now there are no strong Republicans available to run against Coons.
The News Journal newspaper floated this week the possibility of state Attorney General Beau Biden taking on Coons in the primary, as well as a rematch with O’Donnell.
Illinois: Richard J. Durbin, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $2,419,000
Durbin told Crain’s Chicago Business, “I’m planning to run for re-election, but I haven’t made a final decision.”
Added John Michael Gonzalez, a Democratic strategist who has worked in Illinois: “Reporters need to stop wasting ink on the asterisk next to Durbin’s name — he’s running.”
A GOP primary will be much less attractive if Durbin is the ultimate opponent. There’s no shortage of contenders after several House Republicans lost re-election this month. But the best of the bunch won’t want to take on a semi-quixotic bid against Durbin.
That said, if Durbin is not the ballot, many of those recently defeated House members would jump at an open Senate seat, including outgoing Reps. Bobby Schilling, Robert Dold and Joe Walsh. Between interviews with CQ Roll Call and other public comments, no one in the trio has ruled out a Senate bid in 2014.
Finally, there’s talk Durbin could be in the running for a Cabinet position, perhaps as Transportation secretary. That would give Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, the opportunity to appoint a senator, who would immediately become the odds-on favorite to win a full term in 2014. If that’s the case, look for Quinn to pick a political ally or Democrat who could aid the governor with his own 2014 re-election.
Massachusetts: John Kerry, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,351,000
Michigan: Carl Levin, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $286,000
If Levin runs again, he’s almost guaranteed victory. If he declines, look for Democratic Rep. Gary Peters to run. A shrewd campaigner, Peters won two terms in a competitive seat. After Republicans eliminated his district in their redraw of the congressional map, Peters ran against one of his colleagues in a nearby Detroit district and won. Today, he’s in a better position than ever to run statewide.
Meanwhile, Republicans are doing some candidate soul-searching in Michigan. Several of the Republicans in the Michigan delegation could run for Senate, including Rep. Mike Rogers or Candice S. Miller. But after former Rep. Peter Hoekstra’s abysmal loss to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Republicans say they need to look elsewhere for new recruits more in the mold of Gov. Rick Snyder, a former businessman.
New Mexico: Tom Udall, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $294,000
The 6-point margin was far closer than Udall’s 22-point drubbing of Republican Rep. Steve Pearce in 2008, but the state’s demographics and recent electoral history continue to indicate that it is moving away from the Republicans. New Mexico had one of the closest margins in the 2004 presidential election, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who won in 2010, remains popular. But President Barack Obama has won the state twice, by 10 points this cycle.
It is still unknown who is seriously considering stepping forward this time; Lt. Gov. John Sanchez briefly ran for the GOP nomination this year and could choose to launch another bid. But absent Martinez deciding to take him on rather than seek re-election — which is highly unlikely — Udall starts out as a heavy favorite.
Oregon: Jeff Merkley, D Sept. 30 cash on hand: $496,000
Republicans haven’t had much recent success in federal elections in the state outside of GOP Rep. Greg Walden’s district. Merkley’s colleague, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, won by 18 points in the strong Republican year of 2010, and Republicans were unable to take advantage of David Wu’s resignation from the 1st District in 2011.
GOP insiders said some prominent members of the business community, including Rick Miller, owner of senior health care company Avamere, are considering bids. Walden will be busy chairing the National Republican Congressional Committee, so a Senate bid is out for him.
Rhode Island: Jack Reed, D Sept. 30 cash on Hand: $1,975,000
The state of the GOP in Rhode Island is not healthy. If a Republican wants to be competitive in Rhode Island, he or she would need a strong personal brand that could trump the party’s negative image. No such candidate is apparent this early in the cycle.
Alabama: Jeff Sessions, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $2,834,000
Idaho: Jim Risch, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $246,000
Kansas: Pat Roberts, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $831,000
In the general election, Roberts is a safe bet. The Democratic bench here has been weak since the president appointed former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services four years ago.
But local Republicans warn that Roberts could be vulnerable in a primary, citing his vote to confirm Sebelius as one reason for conservative consternation. The most-frequently named potential challenger? Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who garnered national attention for filing lawsuits over illegal immigration throughout the country.
If Roberts changes his mind about re-election, there’s no shortage of potential GOP successors. The Sunflower State’s congressional delegation is filled with four Republicans, and so are the statewide offices.
Mississippi: Thad Cochran, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $343,000
But if Cochran retires, expect a wide field of Republicans to jump into the fray. Republican insiders see Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann as a top contender. Other names floated include state Sens. Chris McDaniel and Michael Watson.
If a weak Republican candidate comes out of the scrum, a Democrat with the right profile — someone such as state Attorney General Jim Hood — could well make this a race.
Nebraska: Mike Johanns, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $245,000
Cornhusker State Democrats insist they have a strong bench, but it is unclear whether they can offer a strong nominee.
Maine: Susan Collins, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $823,000
Maine has Democratic impulses, but Republicans are not concerned about her re-election prospects. They point to her 2008 race. It was a tough Republican year and Democrats put forth a strong candidate. She trounced him.
Even Democrats concede that Collins is in good shape and any nominee they offer will likely be running to build future name identification.
Oklahoma: James M. Inhofe, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $622,000
Inhofe runs almost zero risk of a primary challenge as one of the most conservative senators on Capitol Hill. Oklahoma is a ruby-red state, so a general election challenge is equally unlikely.
South Carolina: Lindsey Graham, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $4,346,000
But should a competitive primary materialize, two GOP state senators are mentioned as potential challengers, with Tom Davis seen as more formidable than Lee Bright.
But for anyone to challenge the two-term Senator, he or she would need a massive money haul. And that leaves Graham sitting in pretty good shape.
Tennessee: Lamar Alexander, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,115,000
Alexander is also a boffo fundraiser, which makes any challenge to him a steep uphill climb.
“You will not fund a successful conservative challenger to Lamar out of Tennessee,” one Tennessee Republican operative said. “It would take a national conservative consensus to give him a tough race.”
Right now, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, which should give Alexander a clear path to his third term.
Texas: John Cornyn, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $2,553,000
Texas Democratic sources say that running a statewide campaign is a two-year endeavor, but no Democrat appears organized at this point. Still, operatives are not altogether willing to rule out a competitive race if the national environment is good for the party. The Democratic bench for any statewide office includes state Sens. Wendy Davis and Kirk Watson, Rep.-elect Joaquin Castro and his brother, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.
Wyoming: Michael B. Enzi, R Sept. 30 cash on hand: $301,000
If he does, Enzi should face little competition. Wyoming hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970. Republican Sen. John Barrasso was re-elected this month by more than 50 points, as was Enzi in 2008.
If Enzi opts against running, a long line of Republican primary candidates could form — and there could be a high-profile GOP replacement waiting in the wings. Liz Cheney moved her family to the state this year, and speculation has swirled that she is eyeing a run for office.