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U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington September 24, 2013. Washington faces two looming deadlines, with the Democrats and Republicans far apart on a solution. The U.S. government runs out o
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) probably wants to crawl back into his shell
This week, Daily Kos Elections is changing our ratings on seven races: three Senate, two gubernatorial, and two House. Overall, four are in favor of Democrats and three are in favor of Republicans. The most notable are in Arkansas and Kentucky, where we're moving both Senate contests to "Lean Republican"—but from very different directions. Read on for our explanations of each move.

AR-Sen: Tossup to Lean R. For a long time, it's been evident that Sen. Mark Pryor is the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent up for re-election in 2014, and the reason is simple: demographics. Arkansas is simply playing catch-up with the rest of the South, which preceded it in galloping to the right. In 2010, five of the state's six members of Congress were Democrats; now Pryor is the last standing. And it wasn't merely that year's towering GOP wave that did the party in: Republicans took control of both chambers of the legislature in 2012, despite brand-new Democratic gerrymanders.

Republicans also landed a top-tier recruit in freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, a Harvard-educated attorney who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Army. Cotton's also been fortunate to avoid any tea party-fueled primary opponents. Pryor, meanwhile, is simply hampered by the fact that he sports a "D" after his name, and unhappiness over Obamacare is a difficult thing to contend with in Arkansas, given how red the state is.

The race certainly isn't over yet, and the national mood could still improve. But the polling has never been any good for Pryor, who is stuck in the low 40s at best. However, at this point, the incumbent is now the decided underdog, and if Pryor manages to win a third term, it would be an upset.

Head below the fold for our other six changes, including Kentucky.

KY-Sen: Likely R to Lean R. We've struggled with Kentucky's Senate race all cycle. On the one hand, the polls have shown Republican Senate Minority Leader pretty much tied with his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. On the other hand, it's Kentucky, an almost implacably red state on the federal level and one that's particularly hostile to Barack Obama. But it's possible for longtime politicians to wear out their welcome even in the most hospitable environs, and there's evidently a deep undercurrent of disgust toward McConnell among many voters.

Grimes is still not an especially experienced candidate, though she's shown some pretty serious fundraising chops. If the race were about her, she'd have no hope, but luckily for Grimes, it's really all about McConnell, and that's a serious problem for the incumbent—enough for us to move this to Lean R. At this point, though, McConnell's still the favorite, thanks to Kentucky's demographics, and Grimes has a much bigger hill yet to climb to get this race to tossup status, but it's not impossible.

TX-Sen: Race to Watch to Safe R. Steve Stockman, we hardly knew ye. Visit again soon!

HI-Gov: Safe D to Likely D Race to Watch. Hawaii is a notoriously difficult state to poll, but several different surveys have shown Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie looking strangely weak for re-election. The thing is, we're not ready to move this to Likely D simply because he doesn't have a single declared general election opponent, and a Some Dude just isn't going to get it done. However, Abercrombie does have a Democratic primary challenger, state Sen. David Ige. Ige is little-known and doesn't have much money, but polling has also shown him surprisingly close to the governor.

As such, we're slotting this in as a "Race to Watch," our designation for races where incumbents face potentially serious primaries. And if former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona or former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman (both of whom have said they might run against Abercrombie in the general) gets in, we'll probably shift this contest to the "Likely D" column.

UPDATE: Sneaky, sneaky. As Skaje points out, former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, the 2010 GOP nominee who had said a while back that he was considering a rematch, did very quietly launch his campaign in recent weeks. It doesn't speak well of Aiona that he managed to do so without netting a single bit of news coverage (Nexis and Google News both come up with nothing), but nevertheless, Abercrombie's soft polling suggests this race can't be taken for granted. The incumbent remains the heavy favorite, just thanks to Hawaii's deep blue hue, but we'll be keeping an eye on this one.

WI-Gov: Likely R to Lean R. The Democrats' very disappointing performance in the 2010 Wisconsin recall had us soured on the party's chances of knocking off GOP Gov. Scott Walker in this fall's regularly scheduled election. But even though all the big names were scared off, Democrats managed to land a pretty solid recruit in Madison School Board member Mary Burke, who has the ability to self-fund. Polling has shown the race quite tight, and perhaps even more notably, the RGA has already started to advertise here on Walker's behalf. It could merely be a pre-emptive move rather than a true sign of worry, but even if it's the former, that still indicates there's something going on.

That said, the recall really seemed to polarize Wisconsin voters sharply in terms of their feelings about Walker, and it's very hard to imagine that anyone's truly undecided at this point. Still, this contest is feeling more competitive than we'd initially anticipated.

CA-16: Likely D to Safe D. Democrat Rep. Jim Costa is one lazy sonofabitch, nearly losing in 2010 to an unheralded Republican and costing Democrats a seat in 2012 by refusing to run in the new district that contained the vast majority of his former constituents and instead seeking a safer seat. So he's not someone you can ever trust, which is why we started him off in the Likely D column this year. But even Costa probably can't screw this one up, given how feeble his Republican opponents look. Though don't worry: If it looks like he might, we'll be sure to change our rating back.

WV-03: Lean D to Tossup. West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District is confounding. On the one hand, when it comes to state and local races, it's the most ancestrally Democratic of the state's three seats, and deeply so, even today. It was also Sen. Joe Manchin's best district in 2012; he won it 65-32. On the other hand, it's galloped rightward on the presidential level, going for Mitt Romney by a punishing 65-33 margin. The question for Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall was always where on the wide Manchin-Obama spectrum he'd fall this year.

Without Obama at the top of the ticket, it was plausible to imagine that the 3rd would return to form and embrace Rahall once again after his unusually close 8-point shave last cycle. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Republicans convinced state Sen. Evan Jenkins to switch parties, giving them their strongest candidate against Rahall in many a year, and a recent GOP poll showed Jenkins with a 14-point lead. He probably isn't up by that sort of margin, but Rahall glaringly refused to share his own internal polling data while merely insisting it didn't look like Jenkins'.

That's typically a big tell, the political equivalent of Sherlock Holmes' dog that didn't bark. Democrats haven't given up on Rahall yet, but as in Arkansas, the times are a-changin' in West Virginia. Rahall's going to have a very tough time remaining in office, but even if he does survive this fall, this seat will flip to the GOP one day soon.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 02:54 PM PDT.

Also republished by My Old Kentucky Kos and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm not a big fan of Pryor but man is Cotton scary (8+ / 0-)

    and Pryor should rethink backing not just the minimum wage hike in his home state but the one being proposed in the U.S. Senate.  Cotton's loved by the Bill Kristol type because he's a gross combo of Tea Party and Neo Con reflective of the Bush era.  I'll man up and get more diaries on the AR-Sen race soon.

    Funny Stuff at http://www.funnyordie.com/oresmas

    by poopdogcomedy on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:12:07 PM PDT

  •  HI-Gov (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Taget, stevenaxelrod

    Duke Aiona seems pretty official for governor.  This is his new website after his previous one (a fairly generic "keep up with Duke" series of blog posts) was taken down, and it was a "coming soon" splash page for a week or so in between.

    Anyway, Race to Watch seems a fair designation.  I'm not ready to believe Likely D yet (Abercrombie could very well win by 20 points again or even more), but it warrants keeping an eye on for signs of potential competitiveness.

    I understand the other changes, and my ratings were already pretty much there (though I'd call AR-Sen "tilt R" if we allowed such a rating...)

    •  Boy, that's kind of frustrating actually (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, Skaje

      Aiona managed to launch his campaign without netting a single newspaper article. I think we're going to revise to "Likely D," in that case, since I think that rating is more appropriate. (We really try to limit RTW to just major primaries OR major potential game-changing candidacies, not just random, "This race could heat up" contests.)

      As for "tilt" ratings, we will deploy them, but only much closer to Election Day, as we (temporarily) did with FL-13.

      Get the Daily Kos Elections Digest in your inbox every weekday. Sign up here.

      by David Nir on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:43:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It might be necessary to triage 4-6 eventually (0+ / 0-)

      But we aren't anywhere near that point yet. Simply cannot afford to lose anything beyond the red 7 when the 2016 map is so favorable.

      "What do you mean "conspiracy"? Does that mean it's someone's imaginings and that the actual polls hovered right around the result?" - petral

      by conspiracy on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:44:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm predicting a loss of 5-7 seats for us. (0+ / 0-)

    We lose WV, MT, SD, AR, LA I feel a bit better about our chances in NC & AK but we could lose all seven things are not looking good right now polling wise in any of those states. Anything more than seven would be a disaster for us losing states like IA, MI, or CO would qualify as a wave worse than 2010. Right now most of our losses would be attributed to an unfavorable map we're just very overexposed this year.

  •  Any seats... (0+ / 0-)

    that are likely to go from R to D? Or are we really in danger of losing a ton of seats in the House?

  •  I Don't Think Democrats Will Lose The Arkansas (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gabjoh, uclabruin18, buffie

    senate race.  Pryor is very religious and if he starts focusing on religion when it comes to Obamacare I think that he could have a winning issue.  What he needs to say is that he believes that people should have healthcare because it is the Christian thing to do.  If supporting Obamacare helps millions of people get healthcare than he will not apologize for it.  Also, he should say that expanding Medicaid in Arkansas is right.  Also, he needs to be stronger on supporting an increase in the minimum wage.  

    "Don't Let Them Catch You With Your Eyes Closed"

    by rssrai on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:33:09 PM PDT

    •  I'd bet on Walsh, Grimes and Nunn (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aquarius40, R30A, camlbacker

      before Pryor. The other races can go our way in the current political environment (with campaigning), but the political winds would have to reverse direction for Pryor to win. Also, Cotton>Daines>Gingrey>McConnell>Broun.

      ME-01 (college) ID-01 (home) -4.75, -2.10

      by GoUBears on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 04:25:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Won't make much difference. (0+ / 0-)

      Arkansas has shifted far to the right in the past few years. With Obama in the White House sitting with 35% approvals in the state, it will be almost impossible for a Democrat to win any federal election in the state.

  •  • WI-Gov: Likely R to Lean R. ---Well, good to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus

    see this.  I do think we have a competitive race. At the moment at least.  Walker has lots of money and outside big dark money to toss around.  Burke is inexperienced for the most part and seems to stay close the center not making too many waves at the moment.  

    But her first big ad last week reminded me of the Obamacare roll-out and Republicans are making hay out of it. DRATS.

  •  Grimes in Kentucky (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GoUBears

    has won state wide elections before (she is currently the secretary of state).  Except for their two senators, Democrats have won most of the state wide elections in Kentucky in recent years (Governor, attorney general, etc.) except for agriculture commissioner.

  •  after BridgeGate, 'lean Republican' means less /nt (0+ / 0-)

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

    by annieli on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 06:38:14 PM PDT

  •  Disappointing recall results? (0+ / 0-)

    Weren't a couple of people kicked out of office by the Wisconsin recalls?

    Pretty impressive when you consider that recalls tend to fail.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 06:39:44 PM PDT

  •  McConnel is polling below 50, that's death (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cazcee, Stude Dude

    for an incumbent in a statewide race.

    •  Plus I still say Yertle.................. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      patbahn

      will pay a price for his tough talk in re "crushing"  the Tea Party.  A large chunk of the Kentucky Rethug base will not be fired up to vote for the de facto leader of "establishment" Republicanism.

      Some will "hold their nose" and pull the lever for Mitchie but many will not. Maybe enough to Give Ms. Grimes the victory.

      The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation--HDT

      by cazcee on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 07:08:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  By that metric, WI-Gov Walker is dead (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Yosef 52, wdrath

      He's not polled higher than 47% against Burke in the three polls we've had so far (two Marquette Law School, one Rasmussen).

      It's hardly a great position for an incumbent, but I don't think it's the end of the world for them: Burke hasn't polled any leads yet (the Rasmussen poll was tied 45-45).  At this stage of the game I think a sub-50 just means it's no slam-dunk for them.

      Fake candidates nominated by the GOP for the recalls: 6 out of 7. Fake signatures on the recall petitions: 4 out of 1,860,283.

      by GeoffT on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 10:21:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Any Democrat running for office in W. Va. ... (4+ / 0-)

    ... who doesn't advertise heavily on the state's drinking water woes and the mind-numbingly pathetic response of the state's Republican leadership to the "Freedom Industries" spill is committing political malpractice, IMHO. I get that W. Va. is a deeply red state, but surely even committed Republican voters want drinking water they can trust.

    If I were a Dem running for anything there, I'd be pounding that issue with all I had.

    I vote we run Rick Scott out of Florida on a high-speed rail.

    by ObamOcala on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 06:47:19 PM PDT

    •  WVa isn't a deeply red state (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bananapouch1, METAL TREK

      Obama is very unpopular there but WVa used to vote strongly Democratic. Yes, it is red now, but not nearly as red as the Presidential line would indicate.

      “Industry does everything they can and gets away with it almost all the time, whether it’s the coal industry, not the subject of this hearing, or water or whatever. They will cut corners, and they will get away with it. " Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D, WVa

      by FishOutofWater on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 07:14:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Those days are long gone (0+ / 0-)

        The last time WV voted Dem for Prez was 1988. The goobers have swallowed winger bullshit. The gov is a 'Democrat' like Manchin, so not much party hay to be made on the pollution angle.

  •  if polls start showing burke ahead you can flip (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Stude Dude, ichibon, WisVoter, wdrath

    race to tossup. the dems here really want walker out, and while burke isnt perfect, shes much better than Walker. shed also be the first female governor in state history.

    •  It won't be a tossup. (0+ / 0-)

      There are very few undecideds, and Walker appears to have a narrow edge. Also, Walker will almost certainly have a sizable fundraising advantage.

      •   i think that people gave walker a chance to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wdrath

        finish his term in the recall, but are not keen to give him another 4 years. yes he'll have more money than god, but at some point diminishing returns kick in. the second john doe will be a wildcard, if indictments come out of that, walkers cooked. especially if he himself is indicted.

        •  We'll see what comes out of the scandals. (0+ / 0-)

          But I've also seen Burke being somewhat incoherent - she aired her first ad which contained a blatant lie. I think she has also avoided clearly stating her position of Act 10, fearing either enraging her base or scaring off independent voters. I would say that Walker still has an edge, due to the polarizing first 18 months before the recall. He is in a stronger position than Corbett, Rick Scott, Snyder and probably even Kasich. At the same time, the investigations are a wild card, they could sink walker. If trouble comes only after the election, then Walker could become another Christie, a potential GOP candidate who rose and fell quickly.

  •  See #McConnelling -- Let's defeat that bastard (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ichibon, jplanner

    We MUST defeat McConnell.
    Do all you can to help Grimes.

  •  I don't want to sound optomistic but (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bufffan20, buffie, wdrath

    support for Obama and The ACA has ticked slightly upward. Democrats are either tied or ahead of Republicans on a generic ballot
    It's early and anything can and will happen

    a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.

    by Jamesleo on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 07:33:26 PM PDT

  •  People aren't really unhappy with ACA. It's just (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ChuckChuckerson

    fun for them to say they are...because they can't think of anything else to say.

    We don't need to repeat that sorry excuse on our side.

  •  Wow is this year a disaster in the making (0+ / 0-)

    Hurry up 2016.

    Someone tell me realistically how we keep the Senate given this year's lineup of states.

    Please do it in between ripping me for being defeatist.  I prefer to think of it as realist.

  •  I fear a wipe out election.. (0+ / 0-)

    Lord help this country if these people gain control of the House, Senate and the Presidency?

    It could happen.

    ...the GOP seems perfectly willing to hold their breath until the whole country turns Blue.

    by tommy2tone on Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 09:04:12 PM PDT

  •  we're not going to lose the senate. we pick up (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    buffie, Andrew Lazarus

    ky, then we keep the senate  begich looks like he'll be able to hang on in ak, especially if the rs nominate miler, who's a bonafide nutjob. the rs have to run the table to pick up the senate. all we need is 2 out of the 9 seats.

  •  wrong about mcconnell (0+ / 0-)

    mcconnell has been polling badly for 2 years. evev republicans are tired of him. why are you calling this race for him when he has a TP challenger who will probably defeat him and then be defeated by grimes?

  •  Dems aren't going to win any GOP seats (0+ / 0-)

    McConnell will survive because KY is just too red.  Rand Paul is supporting Mitch, and he'll jump to his defense in the fall if needed.  GA is fools gold for Dems.  Nunn isn't going to win, either.  After the primary GOP voters will come home for both candidates.

    I agree with some of the above posts. Dems definitely lose WV, SD, MT and Arkansas.  That means the GOP needs two of the following six seats, all of which will be hotly contested with gobs and gobs of Koch money:

    MI, CO, LA, NC, NH, and Alaska.

    My guess is that the GOP can bat .333 in those six states and take the Senate by one seat.  Best bets are NC, LA and Alaska.  I project a ten seat GOP gain in the House.  All in all, any scenario that results in losing the Senate is a disaster.  If the GOP wins 4 or more of those six seats, that is apocalyptic, because the Dems probably won't be able to get it back in 2016, regardless of the nominee.

    And, I wouldn't put too much stock in Hillary's coattails.  If she's the nominee, there will be a lot of nose holding on the Left, and a very high turnout on the Right.  And, if Hillary doesn't run, the GOP will win the White House.

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