Now that fundraising reports are almost all in for the entirety of 2013 I felt it was time to publish my initial outlook on the state of the United States Senate elections for the 2014 cycle with the House of Representatives and gubernatorial ratings soon to follow. With a handful of special elections taking place, there will now be 36 separate elections in 34 different states this year for the Class II senate seats with 21 held by Democrats and 15 held by Republicans. Democrats currently hold 55 seats to Republicans' 45 meaning that the opposition would need a net gain of 6 to win control of the chamber as Vice President Biden would break a 50-50 tie in favor of Democrats. Many pundits like to assign races to categories of likelihood of a particular party winning, most famously Charlie Cook (Cook Political Report), Larry Sabato (Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball), and Stu Rothenberg (Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call) and I do as well. Using the categories of Safe, Likely, Lean, and Tossup, I'll go one step further and say that, though I lack a formal statistical model I give percentage chances of the following as:
Safe - That party has over a 95 percent percent chance of winning. The other party has no realistic options for victory under present or expected circumstances.
Likely - That party has over an 80 percent chance of winning and is the heavy favorite. However it is possible that the situation might change and the other party has a potential path to victory.
Lean - That party has over a 60 percent chance of winning and is a narrow, but clear favorite. This race will be competitive and it is quite plausible that the other party could win with changing circumstances.
Tossup - Both parties have less than a 60 percent chance of winning and the heavily contested race could easily go either way even if one party might be favored from week to week.
With that system in mind, let's take a look at the playing field mapped out and in chart form.
There are 64 seats not up for election this year and of those 34 are held by Democrats and 30 are held by Republicans. Adding to those all the 2014 races which are a likelihood of Lean D/R or greater yields a total of 48 for each party with 4 being Tossups. On the aggregate I would assign Democrats a 55 percent chance of retaining the senate and Republicans a 45 percent chance meaning that the rating for the chamber stands at Tossup. Democrats are disadvantaged by having to defend many seats in hostile territory with few potential gains, a byproduct of this being the class that saw the 2008 wave where Democrats picked up 8 seats. Additionally there are 6 primary challenges to incumbents worth noting and at the moment I see one losing, one roughly a coin-flip, and another a possibility.
Overall I see Republicans being the clear favorite to pick up three seats and if forced to choose then four total: South Dakota, West Virginia, Montana, and Arkansas in decreasing order of likelihood. Just for the record I called all but one senate race correctly in both 2010 and 2012 with one going Democratic and the other Republican, both narrowly, but regardless these ratings are quite consistent with other prominent ones. Since there are a manageable number of races I'll detail them one by one below the fold.
Alaska - Mark Begich won in 2008 in a bit of an upset over state institution and long-term incumbent Ted Stevens after the incumbent was indicted for corruption a week before the election. Given how Republican Alaska is it is quite fortunate for Democrats that Begich has retained a relatively strong approval rating. But Republicans are making this a must win pick up opportunity and both the incumbent lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell and state department of natural resources directer Dan Sullivan (who conveniently shares a name with the mayor of Anchorage) are running for them. Sullivan in particular has the unofficial backing of important national Republicans like Ohio senator Rob Portman and posted a very strong fundraising quarter while Treadwell is running a very lackluster campaign thus far. Given how cheap the state is this one is poised to see tens of millions of dollars spent on it and likely go down to the wire. If forced to pick I'd bet on Begich given his approval rating and the pro-pork, pro-incumbent nature of the electorate, but this race could easily go either way.
Arkansas - This state more than any other has shifted hard to the Republican party up and down the ballot since Obama was first elected and incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor last elected in 2008. Pryor has a lukewarm though not damaging approval rating and aside from his vote for Obamacare has nothing truly unpopular among the electorate in his 12 year voting record, but that may not be enough. Republicans are running the rather untested freshman representative Tom Cotton who has nonetheless been raising solid amounts of money, but is overall very conservative. Polling has been somewhat infrequent here and will pick up as the campaign heats up, but given how local and even federal Democrats usually run well ahead of Obama's performances Pryor has a high floor here. Still that the state's political transformation is a lot to overcome and I think that Cotton is somewhat more likely to win than not, but nothing is determined yet.
Louisiana - Multi-term incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu has a history of running and winning heavily contested races in a conservative state and unlike Pryor is in a little better of a position to make this year no different. She has a solid approval rating and has cultivated a moderate image, her state is getting no worse for her party unlike Arkansas, and will likely be chair of the senate energy and natural resources committee in a state with a huge energy sector. Her opponent, representative Bill Cassidy, has raised a decent amount of money and is essentially a generic Republican, but is not the best candidate Republicans could have run in the state and is still somewhat unknown. However the state is quite conservative and fairly tough for Democrats without presidential turnout, but Landrieu seems like she has a very good shot at pulling through.
North Carolina - Of any state out of the bunch, North Carolina is the one I'm most hesitant to drop below Leans Democratic. For starters it's pretty much as 50-50 a state as you get and Kay Hagan is already the incumbent who defeated Elizabeth Dole by a very solid margin in 2008, yet her approval rating has declined after $7 million in unanswered attack ads by Koch affiliated super PACs. Despite that though, her opposition is decidedly unimpressive. Republicans lack a strong bench of potential statewide candidates and the establishment has coalesced around state house speaker Thom Tillis. While he might seem like an okay candidate on paper, Tillis has posted poor fundraising getting outraised 3-1 in the last quarter, but more importantly he is the very public face of a Republican dominated legislative session that has passed a very toxic agenda. Though the polls may show the race 50-50 right now, I fully expect Tillis to be quite unpopular on election day after Hagan and her healthy war chest are unloaded on him. But it doesn't end there as North Carolina imposes primary runoffs if no candidate clears 40 percent and Tillis is quite unknown statewide. Also running in the primary are megachurch pastor Mark Harris and physician Greg Brannon who have been endorsed by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and incumbent Kentucky senator Rand Paul respectively. Harris had been very active in the campaign to add a same-sex marriage ban to the state constitution and is well liked by very socially conservative groups. Brannon has been strongly courting tea party organizations and has some support by the very energetic network of Ron and Rand Paul supporters. If Harris is her opponent, Hagan faces an easier fight, but if Brannon is her opponent then Hagan wins under any and all circumstances as his views are undeniably unacceptable to the electorate. Overall I'm expecting any ratings change in this race to favor the Democrats, but fortunately for Republicans they can win the majority with or without North Carolina.
Iowa - An open Democratic-held seat in a very light blue state should be a highly contested fight, but thus far Republicans have clearly been coming up short. Democrats right away landed a very strong candidate in representative Bruce Braley who has been raising solid amounts of funds and already built up positive name recognition. Republicans saw their top tier candidates decline and instead have several candidates who have raised comparatively low amounts of money running in a primary that will head to a convention heavily influenced by conservatives if no one clears 35 percent. Though it could easily change if the national environment shifts to Republicans, Braley is a clear though modest favorite.
Michigan - Though the seat is an open one held by Democrats, their party is still in a strong position to retain it given how solidly Democratic Michigan is at the federal level. When incumbent Carl Levin retired, Democrats landed their strongest possible candidate in representative Gary Peters who has a history of winning tough races in swing districts, but also in appealing to the Democratic base. Republicans are running a decent candidate in former state secretary of state Terri Lynn Land, but she has never run a race on federal issues and was not the party's first choice. Polling has shown this race very competitive and even giving Land the lead sometimes, but simply put polling of Michigan has been horrible recently. In 2012 Romney was tied throughout most of the summer and even right up to the election, but the state was not contested and Obama won by nearly 10 percent. This cycle's polling has consistently showed Land with considerably higher name recognition than Peters and has never had either candidate well over 40 percent. I almost wanted to keep this race as Likely Democratic, but regardless it would take a significant change in events for Peters to lose a state that hasn't elected a Republican senator in 20 years.
Kentucky - One of the marquee races this cycle features the incredibly unpopular Republican senate caucus minority leader Mitch McConnell. Kentucky Democrats have a very strong bench and are running state secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes who has thus far run a solid campaign. Making matters worse for McConnell, wealthy businessman Matt Bevin is mounting a tea party primary challenge with the help of some national conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and has promised to self fund part of his campaign. While McConnell's connections and 30 year tenure make him a strong favorite in a primary, it doesn't help him that most of the electorate consists of registered Democrats and the state has closed primaries. In the general election McConnell is still a modest favorite despite polling evenly matched with Grimes for a few reasons. Most importantly is that, despite his low approval rating, Obama and his policies are even less popular and the state is strongly conservative even if not strongly Republican. McConnell will also have an utterly absurd amount of money at his disposal to tar the Democrat Grimes with. Still, this will be one of the most visible campaigns of the cycle and if Democrats are doing well nationally or are able to damage McConnell's image even further, he could lose.
Montana - This is currently an open seat, but retiring Democratic incumbent Max Baucus has been nominated to be ambassador to China and if or when he resigns early it is probable that the Democratic governor will appoint likely nominee and incumbent lieutenant governor John Walsh as interim senator. Republicans have landed a strong candidate with at-large representative Steve Daines who has raised a solid amount of money thus far. However Democrats in the state have an excellent track record of competing for statewide office at both the state and federal level in recent years and Daines' fundraising totals are dwarfed by what the 2012 candidates and outside groups spent. Still given the overall lean of the state it is hard not to see Daines as a modest favorite over Walsh, whether he is an interim appointee or not.
Colorado - Mark Udall first won election by a comfortable margin in 2008 and has remained relatively popular in a light blue state. Recent polling has shown him somewhat vulnerable, but taking it at face value is misleading. Polling the last few cycles has consistently underestimated Democratic strength on average while Republicans are quite likely to repeat their mistake of 2010 and nominate conservative district attorney Ken Buck. He was unable to win a senate race against an appointed incumbent in the best national year for Republicans in roughly a century and I am highly skeptical that Republicans have much chance against a more popular elected incumbent in a much more neutral environment.
Minnesota - Al Franken won by a 312 vote plurality in 2008 in a race that was dragged out in court until June the following year, but has since kept his head down and built a reputation as a workhorse mainstream Democrat and has a solid though not dominating approval rating. Minnesota is a fairly solid state for Democrats and Republicans have not landed a 1st tier candidate. But they have at least signaled their willingness to run a decently funded campaign with investment bank CEO Mike McFadden. Franken however is the overwhelming favorite, but could see his odds worsen with the national climate.
New Hampshire - Jeanne Shaheen was also a member of the Democratic wave class of 2008 when she defeated an incumbent that year. New Hampshire is light blue and Shaheen has a modestly popular approval rating, but Republicans lack a strong bench to capitalize on any vulnerabilities. Already running for Republicans is former senator Bob Smith who has the flaws of having been defeated in the 2002 primary as an incumbent, then moving to Florida and running for senate in 2004 and generally having a conservative record in a moderate state. Another potential candidate, former senator Scott Brown served in neighboring Massachusetts and could easily be tarred as an opportunistic carpetbagger in both the primary and the general. The state is prone to large swings with the national mood, but it would likely take a wave for this race to become truly competitive regardless of what a few previous polls have shown.
Georgia - The state is strongly Republican, but steadily becoming more Democratic as it becomes less white. Democrats though lacking a good bench landed a solid candidate with non-profit CEO Michelle Nunn who is the daughter of popular former senator Sam Nunn. Republicans have a wide open field that includes three sitting representatives and a former statewide officeholder among others. However Nunn has been raising very solid amounts of money while the Republican field's intake has been less than impressive. Democrats' best hope is that highly controversial representative Paul Broun or somewhat less of a loose-cannon representative Phil Gingrey wins the nomination and given that Georgia requires a primary runoff that is quite possible. However Georgia is also a state which require's general election runoffs if no candidate clears 50 percent and they have been toxic for Democrats with an asymmetric drop in turnout.
West Virginia - Though the state has the longest streak in the country of not electing Republican senators since 1956, it has moved strongly towards their party in recent years at the federal level as national Democrats have supported policies to combat climate change, but hurt the coal industry which has already been in sharp decline due to competition from natural gas. Republicans landed their strongest possible candidate for this open seat in representative Shelley Moore Capito, though Democrats also landed a solid candidate in state secretary of state Natalie Tennant. Polling has been very scant here and Capito has a voting record that is clearly to the right of the state's median particularly on fiscal issues, but her party affiliation, personal popularity, and strong monetary advantage will do more than blunt attacks and make her the heavy favorite.
Delaware - Chris Coons won the lottery in 2010 when longtime moderate representative and former governor Mike Castle was defeated in the Republican primary in a huge upset by ultra-conservative Christine O'Donnell. With Delaware being strongly Democratic and Coons being a non-controversial incumbent with no serious opponent he will cruise.
Hawaii - Longtime senator Daniel Inouye passed away in late 2012 and then lieutenant governor Brian Schatz was appointed as his replacement. Hawaii is quite simply the most Democratic state in the nation and all the action is in the open primary. Schatz is being challenged by two term representative and former state senate president Caline Hanabusa who was passed over for the appointment. Schatz, who has been campaigning vigorously as the progressive choice in the race, has been dominating in the fundraising race but Hanabusa, stressing her experience and ability to get things done, is a very strong challenger. With Hawaii public polling being terribly unreliable in recent years it is difficult to say what the results might be, but at the moment I would presume that Schatz is a modest favorite.
Illinois - Dick Durbin is a multi-term popular senator in a fairly safe Democratic state and will have nothing to worry about. Even in a Republican wave durbin would probably prevail over perennial losing candidate and state senator Jim Oberweis.
Massachusetts - Ed Markey won by roughly 10 percent in the 2013 special election and has no serious opposition for a full term. Massachusetts is one of the most liberal states in the nation and it would take wave conditions and/or a Scott Brown candidacy for Markey to be vulnerable.
New Jersey - Like Markey, Cory Booker won by low double digits in a low-turnout special election in 2013, but now faces no serious opposition for a full term in a heavily Democratic state.
New Mexico - Tom Udall picked up this seat in a landslide in 2008 when it was open and has proved to be a popular incumbent. Couple that with New Mexico's modest Democratic lean and no serious opposition and Udall is a lock.
Oregon - Jeff Merkley knocked off a strong incumbent in 2008 by a modest margin, but has been sufficiently popular enough that with Oregon's strong Democratic lean he should be able to fend off the challenge from whomever emerges from the Republican primary with ease. Republicans have not won a statewide election in Oregon since 2002.
Rhode Island - Jack Reed is a popular multi-term incumbent in one of the most Democratic states in the country and is unlikely to face any serious opposition.
Virginia - Despite the recent entry into the race by former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, freshman senator Mark Warner is still safe come hell or high water. Warner is the most popular politician in the state and consistently sees a approval rating spreads of +20 in polling. Though Gillespie is a favorite of the DC news media and will have plenty of money, he has never run for elective office before and has a horrible resume for it; it basically reads party hack. Governor Terry McAuliffe, a former DNC chairman, won last November with that same resume but that was solely because his opponent was viewed as too ideologically extreme by the electorate. Furthermore, Republicans are foregoing a primary contest and selecting their nominee by a convention in Roanoke that will be dominated by the same conservative activists who nominated unacceptably conservative candidates in 2013 with a strong chance of repeating that mistake this year. With Warner's broad popularity, huge war chest, and Virginia being a purple state, it is unthinkable that he would lose to Gillespie or any other Republican.
Alabama - The state is one of the most conservative in the country and incumbent Jeff Sessions is relatively popular there. The state Democratic party is in disarray and is unlikely to put forth anything more than a token challenge.
Idaho - Same story as Alabama: strongly conservative state, incumbent Jim Risch is popular, weak local Democratic party unlikely to put forth more than a nominal challenge.
Kansas - Kansas is a starkly Republican state, but the scant polling released in 2013 has showed Roberts quite unpopular. However no serious Democratic candidate has emerged and even his Republican primary challengers are lower tier, meaning that Roberts is in a strong position.
Maine - Despite Maine being a strongly Democratic state, multi-term incumbent Susan Collins easily dispatched then sitting congressman Tom Allen in a rout in the Democratic wave of 2008. That performance and her high approval rating have scared off any serious opposition and though her approval rating among members of her own party has been fairly mediocre, Collins faces no serious opposition in that closed primary either. A retirement here would instantly gift the seat to Democrats, but unlike her former colleague Olympia Snowe that is quite unlikely. In contrast to Snowe, Collins is younger at only 61, has no children or grandchildren, is in good health, and is more of a partisan who realizes retirement forfeits her party's hold on the seat. I wouldn't categorically rule it out, but would be rather shocked if Collins did pull the plug especially this far into the cycle.
Mississippi - Perhaps the most polarized state in the nation for federal elections, Mississippi is solidly Republican under any and all circumstances. Longtime incumbent Thad Cochran is relatively popular among the general electorate, but recent polling has shown him to be viewed as insufficiently conservative by the Republican primary electorate. That has prompted a strong and well-funded challenge by tea party state senator Chris McDaniel who has courted controversy with ties to neo-confederate organizations. Still in this age of vigorous tea party challenges demanding ultra-conservative voting records, the likely support of outside money groups like the Senate Conservative Fund, and Cochran being viewed as inadequately conservative, at the moment I believe that McDaniel is a modest favorite to win the primary. As for the general election, there had been talk of Blue Dog former representative Travis Childers running for Democrats but even he would be exceedingly unlikely to prevail even over McDaniel given the current state of Mississippi's electorate.
Nebraska - Despite this being an open seat, Democrats have no hope in solid red Nebraska. Former senator Bob Kerrey got stomped by a 2nd tier state senator in 2012 and national Democrats aren't keen on investing here again. Former state treasurer Shane Osborn and Midland University president Ben Sasse are the two Republicans to watch here.
Oklahoma A - Multi-term incumbent Jim Inhofe is perfectly safe in the general and primary in one of the most Republican and conservative states in the nation.
Oklahoma B - This 2nd seat in Oklahoma will be open with the early resignation of incumbent Tom Coburn. The field is not yet set on the Republican side but anyone who wins the nomination would win the general election under any circumstances short of a conviction.
South Carolina A - Senator Lindsay Graham is fairly popular with the general electorate in staunchly Republican South Carolina, but is heavily embattled in the primary where many local Republicans do not view him as conservative enough. Graham faces multiple primary challengers, notably state senator Lee Bright and businesswoman Nancy Mace, but Graham would have to clear 50 percent outright avoid a runoff. I think he's currently about 50-50 to win the primary though polling has been rather scant. Democrats have no serious candidate yet.
South Carolina B - Incumbent Tim Scott was appointed to this seat in 2013 and is popular enough in a solidly conservative seat that no serious challengers have or probably even will emerge.
South Dakota - Popular former governor Mike Rounds is the likely Republican nominee for this open Democratic-held seat. South Dakota is strongly Republican though not impossible, but Democrats are running former Daschle staffer Rick Weiland who is raising little money and positioning himself as a solid liberal which is not a winning combination against a popular former governor.
Tennessee - Lamar! Alexander is a multi-term senator and former governor who is immensely popular in the state both with primary and general election voters. No strong Democratic challenger will happen and the tea party challenge in the primary is decidedly weak and unlikely to win much funding or backing.
Texas - Texas is solidly Republican and despite Cornyn being relatively unpopular with Republican primary voters, he has no credible opposition in either the general or primary. Sitting representative Steve Stockman mounted a last minute surprise primary challenge but has been running an absolute joke of a campaign.
Wyoming - Wyoming is among the most Republican states in the country and Mike Enzi is quite popular. With Liz Cheney dropping her quixotic primary challenge he could sleepwalk through the primary and general.