National Journal’s new Senate race rankings paint a grim picture for Democrats. Let’s break down the races into four categories:
• Races that Republicans are pretty much certain to win: South Dakota and West Virginia.
• Core red-state battlegrounds: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana and North Carolina. While Arkansas and Montana may favor the GOP now, Republicans will need to dislodge incumbents in all five, and all will be long, hard slogs.
• Races that would show Republicans have broadened the map if they remain very close later this year: Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota. These will be competitive until the end.
• Races where Democrats have a shot at pickups: Kentucky and Georgia.
Control of the Senate may be decided in states that were carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 and tend to be older and whiter than the broader coalition that Democrats increasingly rely on to win national elections. This, in a non-presidential year. But Democrats could hang on if conditions are right.
The best-case scenario for Democrats: Republicans fail to seriously broaden the map, and Democrats manage to pick off Georgia or Kentucky. If that happens, the GOP would have to sweep all five of the core battlegrounds to win the Senate.
The somewhat-difficult scenario for Democrats: Republicans fail to seriously broaden the map but Democrats fail to pick up Georgia or Kentucky. Then, the GOP would have to sweep four of five core battlegrounds to win, which really could happen given Democratic weakness in many of them.
The harrowing scenario for Democrats: Republicans broaden the map, and Democrats fail to win Georgia or Kentucky. Given that the GOP starts with two more seats in its “likely” column, Republicans would have to win four out of as many as nine. This is very plausible.
Election outcomes will be influenced by the economy, external events, the candidates, campaigns and local issues. Also, Democrats say they are in the worst moment in the cycle, with Obamacare’s rollout problems only just fading and outside GOP groups pouring huge money into areas where Democratic campaigns are not yet spending resources.
Bottom line: The Democrats are on defense, and control of the Senate will likely be decided in a core battleground made up of red states. A GOP takeover is very possible. But it’s way too early to say with any certainty how all of this will play out.
© 2014, The Washington Post