With two weeks to go until the 2014 United States midterm elections — although the advent of extended voting makes that a quasi-fictional deadline — it would appear to be curtains for the Democratic majority in the Senate. Although there is some movement their way in Republican seats, some of which is due to ‘”independents” — i.e. Republicans who think the party is now too crazy for them — the key seats that the Democrats need to hold appear lost, from a combination of immense amounts of right-wing money and poor campaigning by the Dems themselves.
Two hitherto neck-and-neck races appear to be widening in favour of the GOP, with Joni Ernst pulling ahead by around 2.5% in Iowa, and Cory Gardner opening up a 4.4% lead in Colorado. Three other Democratic Senate seats are regarded as gone — in Montana, a 16% gap has opened up after the first Democratic candidate withdrew in the wake of a plagiarism scandal, and in Arkansas, one of the last Southern red states (i.e. Republican voting in presidential polls) with a Democratic Senator, Mark Pryor is trailing Tom Cotton by 5.5%. In West Virginia, held for decades by John Rockefeller, a Democrat with a Republican name, the GOP has turned it from competitive seat into a lead of 6%.
That’s the five the Republicans need to kill the Democratic majority, but if there is a stumble in any of these, they have alternatives — in Alaska, the unlikely Democratic usurper of 2008, Mark Begich, who profited from Republican infighting, is now having time called, with the GOP pulling to a 4.4% lead, and Mary Landrieu, another against-the-odds Democrat, is trailing by between 4% and 5% in Louisiana. If all those came good, the Republicans would have a 52-48 majority, and they have other possibilities, such as the one right-leaning New England state, New Hampshire, where former pinup Scott Brown is now trailing the incumbent Democrat by two points.
Two independent races may hurt the Republicans — South Dakota, where the race between an ex-Republican Senator, now running as an independent, has made the right-wing Bible-bashing state a competitive race, and Kansas, where the disastrous reign of a Tea Party governor has given energy to an independent, Greg Orman. The sole Democrat gain likely looks to be Georgia, after the retirement of old Dixie stalwart Saxby Chambliss, where Michelle Nunn, another member of a dynastic Democratic family, may prevail by 1%.
The loss of majority seems certain, and the Democrats appear to be quietly hoping for a 50-50 result. Their one hope is the combination of the notoriously unreliable state of midterm polls — since it is impossible to know who is actually going to come out and vote — combined with a Democrat ground game focused to an immense degree on the African-American vote, which falls much lower during midterms. Vast efforts at door-to-door and familial campaigning are spread throughout the country, with money being diverted from TV ads to such organising. Should they prevail with such an effort — and their chances are much better than were Mitt Romney’s in bucking the polls — then the entire formula will have been upended forever. And should they fail, then it will be war between Congress and the White House for two full years — which may be far from the worst result for Hillary Clinton, who can then run against everyone.