Senate Democrats Face Long Minority

Recently I wrote about the prospects of Democrats facing a long minority in the House of Representatives.  The same is true of the Senate.  Democrats have tried to put a brave face on the 2014 results, noting that in 2016 the Senate map will favor their party, when the Senate Class of 2010 – the Republican landslide midterm – face voters.  A review of those races, however, suggests that some states may in a good year be able to gain three seats – Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – but the other imagined “tough race” for Republicans would require a Democrat wave to unseat.

Ayotte in New Hampshire, Portman in Ohio, and Rubio in Florida are considered so strong that each has been mentioned as presidential timber.  The other two “vulnerable” seats – North Carolina and Iowa – are not vulnerable at all.  North Carolina is a red, not a purple, state, and Grassley in Iowa is very popular.  Republicans have a good chance of gaining seats in Colorado and Nevada.  The sobering fact for Democrats in all this is that if they do not capture the Senate in 2016, it may be a long, long time before they have a majority in that chamber again.

In 2016, Republicans defend only eight seats, seven of those in red states – Arizona, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming – and the other seat in Nevada, a purple state.  Democrats, in contrast, will be defending 23 seats, including four races they should not have won in 2012 – Indiana, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota – and four other races they could easily lose – Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

The fundamental problem that Democrats face is not which senators are up for re-election in a particular Senate class, but that a majority of the states are red and that several other states are purple.  Democrats have held the Senate in the past by electing “moderate” Democrats from very conservative states. 

These states, until the last few election cycles, had two Democrat senators: Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia.  These states had one Democrat senator: Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina.  Florida is a red state – look at the statewide election results in 2010 and 2014 – but very popular Bill Nelson holds that seat for Democrats.

Twenty-five of the fifty seats are true red states.  This group includes ten of the eleven old Confederate states (excluding Virginia), the five Great Plains states, five of the eight Rocky Mountain states (excluding Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada), and five other states – Alaska, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana.  

Democrats win Senate elections in those states because of disastrous mistakes by Republican candidates (Missouri in 2012) or big divisions within Republicans (Indiana in 2012) or leftist-supported Libertarian candidates (Montana in 2012) or very popular incumbents, who in time will leave (Florida and West Virginia in 2012).  

Eight states are genuinely purple: Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Wisconsin.  These eight states currently have seven Republican senators and, except for the Libertarian vote in Virginia this election cycle, would have had eight, exactly half.

Out of the seventeen remaining states, three are blue but have strong Republican strength.  Michigan has a Republican governor and legislature, and most of its congressmen are Republican.  New Mexico Republicans just elected a State House and re-elected a governor; if the State Senate had been on the ballot, Republicans would have swept the tables.  Pennsylvania has a Republican legislature, and most of its House delegation is Republican.  Even states like Illinois, Minnesota, and Oregon have strong Republican state organizations.

There are only 11 truly and deeply blue states: Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, California, Washington, and Hawaii.  All of these states have Democrat senators. 

As conservatives unite in the 25 red states and the 8 purple states, there is steady majority of 58 Senate seats, perhaps supported by some victories in states like Michigan and New Mexico.  That translates into an unbreakable Senate majority, and that alone will affect which party voters choose in Senate elections in Flyover Country.

Voters in very conservative states like North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana, Arkansas, South Dakota, Alabama, Nebraska, and Mississippi once elected only Democrats to the Senate.  Why?  Voters felt that their state needed senators with the clout of committee chairmanships or Senate leadership that came from being a majority party member to protect their interests.  (Note how Democrats tried to save Landrieu by elevating her to a vital Senate chairmanship a few months ago – and note how the certainty of Republican control of the Senate is helping sink Landrieu now.)

As Republicans become the party much more likely to organize the Senate than Democrats, voters in swing states will naturally incline toward Republican candidates, just as they once inclined towards Democrat candidates.  Senate Democrats may well have a period of minority as long as their comrades in the House.

Recently I wrote about the prospects of Democrats facing a long minority in the House of Representatives.  The same is true of the Senate.  Democrats have tried to put a brave face on the 2014 results, noting that in 2016 the Senate map will favor their party, when the Senate Class of 2010 – the Republican landslide midterm – face voters.  A review of those races, however, suggests that some states may in a good year be able to gain three seats – Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – but the other imagined “tough race” for Republicans would require a Democrat wave to unseat.

Ayotte in New Hampshire, Portman in Ohio, and Rubio in Florida are considered so strong that each has been mentioned as presidential timber.  The other two “vulnerable” seats – North Carolina and Iowa – are not vulnerable at all.  North Carolina is a red, not a purple, state, and Grassley in Iowa is very popular.  Republicans have a good chance of gaining seats in Colorado and Nevada.  The sobering fact for Democrats in all this is that if they do not capture the Senate in 2016, it may be a long, long time before they have a majority in that chamber again.

In 2016, Republicans defend only eight seats, seven of those in red states – Arizona, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming – and the other seat in Nevada, a purple state.  Democrats, in contrast, will be defending 23 seats, including four races they should not have won in 2012 – Indiana, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota – and four other races they could easily lose – Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

The fundamental problem that Democrats face is not which senators are up for re-election in a particular Senate class, but that a majority of the states are red and that several other states are purple.  Democrats have held the Senate in the past by electing “moderate” Democrats from very conservative states. 

These states, until the last few election cycles, had two Democrat senators: Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia.  These states had one Democrat senator: Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina.  Florida is a red state – look at the statewide election results in 2010 and 2014 – but very popular Bill Nelson holds that seat for Democrats.

Twenty-five of the fifty seats are true red states.  This group includes ten of the eleven old Confederate states (excluding Virginia), the five Great Plains states, five of the eight Rocky Mountain states (excluding Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada), and five other states – Alaska, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana.  

Democrats win Senate elections in those states because of disastrous mistakes by Republican candidates (Missouri in 2012) or big divisions within Republicans (Indiana in 2012) or leftist-supported Libertarian candidates (Montana in 2012) or very popular incumbents, who in time will leave (Florida and West Virginia in 2012).  

Eight states are genuinely purple: Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Wisconsin.  These eight states currently have seven Republican senators and, except for the Libertarian vote in Virginia this election cycle, would have had eight, exactly half.

Out of the seventeen remaining states, three are blue but have strong Republican strength.  Michigan has a Republican governor and legislature, and most of its congressmen are Republican.  New Mexico Republicans just elected a State House and re-elected a governor; if the State Senate had been on the ballot, Republicans would have swept the tables.  Pennsylvania has a Republican legislature, and most of its House delegation is Republican.  Even states like Illinois, Minnesota, and Oregon have strong Republican state organizations.

There are only 11 truly and deeply blue states: Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, California, Washington, and Hawaii.  All of these states have Democrat senators. 

As conservatives unite in the 25 red states and the 8 purple states, there is steady majority of 58 Senate seats, perhaps supported by some victories in states like Michigan and New Mexico.  That translates into an unbreakable Senate majority, and that alone will affect which party voters choose in Senate elections in Flyover Country.

Voters in very conservative states like North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana, Arkansas, South Dakota, Alabama, Nebraska, and Mississippi once elected only Democrats to the Senate.  Why?  Voters felt that their state needed senators with the clout of committee chairmanships or Senate leadership that came from being a majority party member to protect their interests.  (Note how Democrats tried to save Landrieu by elevating her to a vital Senate chairmanship a few months ago – and note how the certainty of Republican control of the Senate is helping sink Landrieu now.)

As Republicans become the party much more likely to organize the Senate than Democrats, voters in swing states will naturally incline toward Republican candidates, just as they once inclined towards Democrat candidates.  Senate Democrats may well have a period of minority as long as their comrades in the House.