Democrats on the defensive

March 4, 2014 

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. Arkansas and Montana may favor the GOP now, but 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.

Senate control may be decided in states 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.

Democrats’ best-case scenario: Republicans fail to seriously broaden the map, and Democrats 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 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.

Democrats say they are in the worst moment in the election 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.

Greg Sargent blogs on domestic politics for The Washington Post.

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