At the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency, Democrats controlled both the House of Representatives and the Senate. There were also 60 Democrats (Independents included) in the Senate–a “filibuster-proof” majority. Now, this doesn’t mean Obama could get everything he wanted from Congress–conservative Democrats in the Senate sided with Republicans on many issues, and forced Obama to really curtail his economic agenda. For example, objections from these and some other Democrats killed the hopes for any significant publicly-owned competition with insurance companies in Obamacare. So even this “filibuster-proof” majority wasn’t enough to overcome the dysfunctional Senate process.
Since that time, the House has been taken back over by Republicans, and the Senate majority has dwindled. Democrats + Independents now control 55 seats in the Senate, and this year the Republican Party is drooling at the thought of controlling both houses of Congress for the next two years, to put a complete halt to any progressive legislation or appointments that President Obama and the Democrats might want. They need to win 6 Senate seats from the Democrats to make that happen.
And there are plenty of Republican opportunities to pick up Senate seats. Since individual seats are up for election every six years, the current “Class of 2014” was last elected in 2008, a very good Democratic year. Democratic senators were elected from states that are often quite conservative in general. And the voters who often vote for Democrats (young people, lower income voters, minorities) have had a tendency to vote in presidential elections more often than in non-presidential elections, so many people who voted for Obama in 2008 are expected to just not show up in 2014.
Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia are three states that have retiring Democratic Senators, and where President Obama is deeply unpopular. Polling for these states has seen the Democratic candidate far behind the Republican, and almost everybody agrees that Republicans will win these seats. That’s 3 pickups already, and Democrats have to defend 18 other seats.
Of those 18, the three Democrat-held seats that will be easiest to lose are Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. All of these states vote reliably Republican on the presidential level. Democrats Mark Pryor (Arkansas) and Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) are actually behind in the polls right now, and Mark Begich is having a hard time in Alaska. But even though it looks good for the Republicans right now, the Democrats have two wild cards up their sleeve.
The first is in the most unexpected of places–Kansas. Independent Greg Orman is taking advantage of the Democrat dropping from the race, and appears to be in a position to defeat the longterm Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts. Orman would be in the Senate as an Independent, but the policies that he supports align more with the Democrats, so if Senate control hinges on him, I have to believe he’s going to side with Democrats.
The second surprise factor that the Democrats have going for them is the secretive “Bannock Street Project”. In ten states around the country, the Democratic party is investing millions of dollars in making person-to-person connections and making sure that people get out and vote. Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alaska are three of the states involved in this project, as are others with vulnerable Democrats. If this operation is successful at engaging people in the election process, it could bring in a large under-the-radar voting group that the polls may not be completely catching. And that would be good news for Democrats.
The lesson here? Vote. Even though Mississippi’s election probably isn’t going to be close enough to matter to those in the highest points of American politics, the results matter even here. Because the more competitive our election is, the more relevant we will be in the future. And the more we vote, the more they have to pay attention to us.
My prediction? Democrats keep the Senate, losing only Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Louisiana. Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado, and Michigan all stay Democratic, while the Independant wins in Kansas. And watch out for either Kentucky or Georgia, because I wouldn’t be surprised if either one of those Democrats stuns the incumbent Republican.
Final prediction: 52 D, 48 R