The Senate primaries of note are nearly done, and Republicans are close to their best-possible scenario of GOP nominees to make a run at the majority in 2014.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was expected Tuesday to become the latest Republican success story of the midterm primaries. His nomination won’t have any bearing on the fight for Senate control, but it’s thematic — along with Ed Gillespie’s long-expected nomination at the Virginia GOP convention over the weekend — of the kind of year Republicans are having at the halfway point. Outside of Sen. Thad Cochran’s runoff in Mississippi, Republicans continue to emerge from these nomination fights with the candidates they believe are best equipped to compete in an expanded Senate landscape. Now, with fall airtime reservations starting to pick up, the party can mostly look forward to what is still a challenging fight for Senate control in the fall.
“So far so good for Senate Republicans in 2014,” said GOP pollster Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies. “It appears that Republican voters are tired of throwing away Senate seats by nominating unelectable candidates in swing states. “Of course,” he continued, “winning the primary does not automatically equate to winning the general, even in 2014. But, chances of winning in November are much greater when we are able to field a stronger team.”
Republicans' cautious optimism stems from the reality that the party needs a net gain of six seats — a tall climb matching the GOP's success from November 2010. Plus, Democrats were able to field credible candidates in nearly all of their open seats, and vulnerable Democratic incumbents have raised strong sums so far.
Still, there are more than enough states in play for Republicans to take control. Most importantly, the party has so far avoided nominating the type of candidates who foiled its chances at several seats in past cycles.
With the nominees chosen in nearly every race of the broad playing field, the Senate campaign arms are laying down their markers for the two-month, post-Labor Day sprint to the elections.
According to sources tracking ad buys, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has booked $10.2 million of time across four states: $3 million in Alaska, $2.5 million in Arkansas, $2.1 million in Colorado and $2.6 million in North Carolina — all races featuring Democratic incumbents.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has so far reserved $24.8 million of airtime across seven states for seats it is defending: $3.8 million in Alaska, $3.6 million in Arkansas, $4.6 million in Colorado, $1.4 million in Louisiana, $5 million in Michigan, $5.4 million in North Carolina and $1 million in New Hampshire.
Republicans didn’t get all of their targeted recruits to run, but the party has been successful in primaries and is staring down what appears likely to be a favorable cycle. In the June 3 primaries, Republicans nominated former Gov. Mike Rounds in South Dakota, state Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa and Rep. Steve Daines in Montana. The three newly-minted nominees faced varying degrees of primary competition and are all vying for Democrat-held seats.
Last month, the party evaded unpredictable potential nominees in Georgia, where Rep. Jack Kingston and former Reebok and Dollar General CEO David Perdue advanced to the runoff, and in North Carolina, where state Speaker Thom Tillis eclipsed the 40 percent necessary to avoid a runoff.
Where Republicans see a strong field of candidates in Tillis and Reps. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and — should he win a July runoff — Kingston, Democrats see challengers with records to pick apart . Cotton was hit Monday with a TV ad from the Arkansas Democratic Party on his vote against federal relief aid after Superstorm Sandy.
“These are guys with long voting records, and it’s a great contrast and opportunity on middle class thematics,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research. “I just don’t think these candidates are all they’re cracked up to be.”
Outside groups have also begun booking their fall airtime. Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC has reserved $4.7 million in Alaska and $2 million in Arkansas, according to sources, and GOP-aligned American Crossroads says it has booked some $5.6 million in Alaska. Much more is undoubtedly on the way.
Alaska (Aug. 19 primary) and New Hampshire (Sept. 9 primary) are the two states hosting competitive elections where the Republican nominee won’t be official for some time. But the GOP is expected to get its preferred candidate through in both, with former state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan favored to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, and former Sen. Scott P. Brown, R-Mass., expected to face Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
Minnesota’s primary isn’t until Aug. 12, but finance executive Mike McFadden won the state party’s consequential endorsement earlier this month, and that state remains on the outskirts of the competitive landscape.
Democrats are trying to take the fight to Republican territory as well. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is giving Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell another re-election fight , and former Points of Light Foundation CEO Michelle Nunn has put the Georgia open-seat race in play .
The party is also keeping a close eye on Mississippi. Former Rep. Travis Childers, a Democrat, is awaiting the June 24 conclusion of the Republican primary runoff, where state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s defeat of Cochran would kick off yet another race to watch.
Still, with five months to Election Day and the bulk of consequential primaries now over, Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief.