In 2010, Senate Democrats survived one of the biggest Republican landslides in history to narrowly retain control of the chamber despite losing six seats on Election Day. During the 2012 election cycle many political pundits were certain that the Republican Party would easily gain the four seats they needed to wrest control for the first time since 2007, but surprisingly the Democrats were able to actually gain two seats, thanks to gaffe-riddled campaigns of a number of Republican candidates in key “red” states. In 2014, the Democrats will again be playing defense for the third successive election cycle in the hope of retaining their majority control of the United States Senate.
In a mirror to the outset of the 2012 election cycle, the Republican Party is again favored to make gains largely as a result of having to defend just 13 seats, whilst the Democrats have to defend 20, many of which are in deep-red states whererecently clobbered , such as Louisiana and South Dakota. However, much like the last two election cycles, the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party is already looking like it may once again spoil Mitch McConnell’s ambition to be Majority Leader.
The National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) has got off to a strong start by recruiting their strongest possible challenger to five-term Democratic incumbent Jay Rockefeller., daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore and who just won election to her seventh term in the US House of Representatives, this week announced her candidacy, which will immediately make this contest one of the marquee races to watch in 2014. Indeed, Capito would make for such a formidable candidate that the 75-year-old Rockefeller may instead opt for retirement, which would all but hand the seat to the Republicans.
But haven’t we heard all that before?
When Republican congressman Mike Castle announced his candidacy for Delaware’s Senate seat in 2010, the Democrats all but conceded the race, until Castle was stunningly upset by Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell in the primary. Similarly in 2012, Kent Conrad’s retirement was supposed to guarantee that his North Dakota seat would fall to Tea Party back one-term representative Rick Berg. Both O’Donnell and Berg lost their election and allowed the Democrats to retain those seats.
Immediately upon Capito’s announcement, South Carolina’s junior Republican senator, and leader of the Tea Party in the Senate, voiced his opposition to her candidacy saying that she wasn’t conservative enough, and implying that he would be more inclined to support an alternate, more conservative candidate.,
DeMint’s statement should ring alarm bells for two Republican senators in particular.
Incoming NRSC Chairman Jerry Moran will be wary of DeMint’s record of enabling Tea Party backed candidates to upset establishment favourites, only to lose in the general election. An added consequence is that the Republican Party is already battling claims it has a “women” problem; noises which will only get louder if the most senior Republican woman in West Virginia is thwarted in her attempt at winning the state’s primary.
The other man who should be looking over his shoulder is South Carolina senior Sen. Lindsey Graham. DeMint and Graham have not always had the most conciliatory of relationships, and Graham’s proclamation this week that he would be prepared to break his no-tax increase pledge to and work with Democrats on entitlement reform will almost certainly see DeMint try to find a more conservative Tea Party candidate to oppose him in the state’s 2014 primary.
If DeMint successfully influences the outcomes of Republican senate primary elections across the country as he has in the past two cycle, then Senate Republicans could be looking at a third net loss on Election Day. What that would mean for the party’s future is anyone’s guess.