GOP In Good Position To Grab Senate Control In 2014

The GOP's chances to take over the Senate became much better over the weekend.

113th Senate

With the announcement over the weekend that former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer would not seek to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Max Baucus, Republicans are feeling increasingly confident about taking control of the Senate in 2014:

For the first time this year, Republican strategists believe they’re within striking distance of taking back control of the Senate, thanks to untimely Democratic Senate retirements and red-state Democratic recruits deciding not to run for Congress. The latest blow to Democrats: former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s surprising decision Saturday to pass up a campaign.

Republican recognize they need to win only three Senate seats in the most of conservative of states–Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alaska–and Mitch McConnell could be majority leader in 2015. (That is, if McConnell can hold onto his own Kentucky seat.) The latest developments underline how punishing the map is for Democrats for 2014, and how little margin for error they have.

Democrats can afford to lose up to five Senate seats and still maintain their majority, but they already risk conceding over half that number before campaigning even gets under way.

Schweitzer was the type of grade-A recruit who could nearly guarantee victory despite Montana’s Republican leanings. His near-universal name recognition, blunt outspokenness, and statewide organization made him a heavy favorite, especially when Republicans had yet to field a first-tier challenger. Big Sky Country was beginning to look like a long shot for the GOP.

Had Schweitzer entered the race, Montana would have been a tough state for Republicans to flip, but now it joins a number of other states on a list of possible Republican pickups that is as long as the ones that it enjoyed in 2010 and 2012. Among the states on that list are West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Alaska. Currently, the Senate stands at a 54-46 Democratic majority, but the actual number is 55-45 once you take out New Jersey Senator Jeffrey Cheisa, who is currently holding the seat vacated by the death earlier this summer of Frank Lautenberg, a seat that will clearly be Democratic once again after the October 13th Special Election. This means that the GOP would need to win all six of the states on this list, or win somewhere else if they lose one of these races, in order to get to a Senate where they command a slim 51-49 agenda. If they sweep all six, they’ll have a slightly more secure 52-48 majority. If they fall short of that minimum of five pickups then they’d end up with a 50-50 tie, which would put Senate control in the hands of the Democrats due to Vice-President Biden’s tie-breaking vote. Nonetheless, a Senate tie would require some rather unique power sharing agreements between the two parties on things like Committee assignments, and arguably could hamper a Biden Presidential bid by requiring him to spend a lot more time in Washington prepared to break ties in the Senate. All of this assumes, of course, that the GOP doesn’t lose a seat this time around, but that still seems rather unlikely even given what seems like a threat to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Nate Silver has a great breakdown of the current status of the Senate races of note and calls the question of who will control the Senate when the dust settles after the 2014 elections a toss-up:

Montana along with West Virginia and South Dakota — two other red states where an incumbent Democrat has retired and where the Democrats have not identified a strong candidate to replace them – gives Republicans a running start. Republicans could then win three more seats from among red states like Louisiana and Arkansas, where vulnerable Democratic incumbents are on the ballot, or they could take aim at two purple states, Iowa and Michigan, where Democrats have retired. More opportunities could also come into play if the national environment becomes more favorable to Republicans (such as because of a further slide in Mr. Obama’s approval ratings). Meanwhile, while Kentucky and Georgia are possibly vulnerable, Republicans have few seats of their own to defend; unlike in 2012, they can focus almost entirely on playing offense.

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.


[T]he fact that the battle for Senate control appears to be very close right now does not guarantee that it will end up that way. Although Senate races behave more idiosyncratically than some other types of contests — local factors and candidate quality play an important role — one party has won the vast majority of tossup races in each of the past four election cycles.

In a strong Republican year, the G.O.P. could win all of the tossup and “lean Democratic” seats and pick up one of the “likely Democratic” seats like New Hampshire, which would give them a net gain of nine seats and leave them with a 55-45 majority in the chamber. In a strong Democratic year, the party could lose only West Virginia and South Dakota – and pick up New Jersey and one of Kentucky and Georgia – and hold their current 54-46 edge. It is therefore important to watch macro-level indicators – especially Mr. Obama’s approval ratings, the generic Congressional ballot and major economic measures – in addition to following the recruitment and polling in individual states.

Obviously, it’s still fairly early in the game. There are seventeen months left until Election Day 2014 and there are any number of things that can happen between now and then which could have an impact on the race for control nationally, or on individual state races. Additionally, the most important development in many of these states hasn’t even happened yet, and that’s candidate recruitment. So far, the GOP seems to be doing well with the candidates who are likely to win the nomination in states like West Virginia (Congressman Shelly Moore Capito), Arkansas (Congressman Tom Cotten), Alaska (Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell), North Carolina (State House Speaker Thom Tillis), and South Dakota (former Governor Mike Rounds). In other states, Iowa and Michigan, two states with open races due to retirement, candidate recruitment has not gone well, while others such as Louisiana remain up in the air regarding exactly who is going to end up jumping into the race. Assuming the party can avoid the candidate problems that they had in both 2010 and 2012 with candidates like Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and Todd Akin, they will at least have gotten over that first hurdle. After that, we’ll just have to see how the race goes over the next year. At the moment, though, I agree with Silver that the GOP appears to be well situation in the Senate races in 2014. They could end up with a narrow majority, or they could end up being close enough — either 50-50 or 51-49 Democratic — that the dynamics of how things work in the Senate would be very interesting for at least the following two years.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    That’s tremendous news for the country.

  2. Gustopher says:

    It would be kind of amusing to see the Republicans actually trying to run the country, rather than just grandstanding and throwing wrenches into the works and generally preening around like peacocks for their base.

    Look at how the House couldn’t pass the farm bill. Gaze at the 37 votes to repeal ObamaCare. Then ponder how the Republicans could hold their coalition together if they actually had to do things.

  3. Latino_in_Boston says:

    This shows exactly why the politics of obstruction is good politics. Considering everything Republican Senators have done to block everything and to be as obstructionist as possible (with the sole exception of immigration reform), you’d think that they’d have an uphill battle to try to gain control of the Senate. Of course, no one pays attention to that, so…

  4. stonetools says:

    They were even better placed to gain seats in 2012-but didn’t. I strongly suspect that they will have the same problems in 2014. Even the best candidates in the Republican field are going to have a hard time selling what now seem like core elements of the Republican program- pro-austerity economic policies, draconian anti-abortion policies, and restrictive anti-immigration policies. Nate Silver’s analysis doesn’t account for the Republicans taking unpopular policy stances.
    Still, I will agree with his conclusion-which is that macro-level indicators is what really determine who things will go.

    It is therefore important to watch macro-level indicators – especially Mr. Obama’s approval ratings, the generic Congressional ballot and major economic measures – in addition to following the recruitment and polling in individual states.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    @ LinBeantown…
    Their seats are so safe it doesn’t matter.
    When a chuckle-head like Turtle Face can spend his entire life in politics…it’s clear that what he actually does matters not one whit to his constituents.

  6. Franklin says:

    There are seventeen months left until Election Day 2014

    Don’t forget, that’s also seventeen months for the prime GOP demographic, the pre-dead, to become the now-dead.

  7. Dan says:

    If the GOP was made up of reasonable and intelligent patriots, and not dicks and a**holes, this would not be news. But now, we have the prospect of the majority party in the US Senate comprising of people like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz. God damn. This is not good at all. I don’t want to be too partisan but this would be bad news for America. The Democrats are not perfect but the current GOP is just bad.

  8. They were in similarly good positions in 2010 and 2012. I’m sure the Tea Party will put up enough O’Donnells and Akins again to allow the Republicans to once more snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  9. Woody says:

    With the exception of Schweitzer’s decision, this possibility has been fully realized even by the intrepid sleuths of cable news and POLITICO!, not to mention the parties and their wealthy benefactors. As stated above, a lot can happen in 17 months.

    I’m afraid I’m very skeptical that the rather extreme policies enacted by the state GOPs will have a negative effect on their senatorial candidates in the states with seats in play. Even if poor rural whites have their food stamps, unemployment assistance, and medical care brutally slashed, they will not blame their chosen party – it will never occur to them. Their preferred news sources will place the blame on the usual suspects, and their loyalty will continue uninterrupted.

    As my proof, consider the introspection and self-examination of the Murdoch-Limbaugh audience over the past quarter century.

  10. Barfour says:

    I’ve heard some Democrats express a wish that former governors Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas had run for Senate seats instead of joining Obama’s cabinet. If they had run, they would likely have given Democrats two more Senate seats.

  11. Caj says:

    Only if voters can’t get enough of the insane bills that they have passed all over the country! Don’t think anyone is that stupid! I certainly hope not. The Republican Party has long passed its sell by date and should go the way of the dinosaur. The country just cannot have these fools in charge of the Senate it’s bad enough they run the House. God help America if that ever happens!

  12. Andre Kenji says:

    If they win, that´s going to be Pyrrhic victory, because there is 2016.

  13. al-Ameda says:

    If that happens I’m very hopeful that Democrats won’t inflict payback on Republicans for the GOP’s constant obstruction of proposed appointments and normal legislative business – because that would be wrong.

  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    Since the Republicans have not yet nominated loonies to run for these seats, based on current politics and gut feelings, here are my predictions:

    Arkansas, West Virginia, and Alaska go Republican.

    Landrieu holds on in LA. The complete sh!tshoe state republicans have ran in NC pushes that state back into the Dem column.

    Not sure on Montana.

    Michigan and Iowa go Democrat.

  15. TPF says:

    Landrieu in LA is not vulnerable.

  16. Sejanus says:

    I’m guessing this is wishful thinking on my part, but what are the odds of getting Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to defect from the Republicans in order to compensate for Democratic losses in the Senate?

  17. edmondo says:

    From 60 seats to 50 (or less) in only 6 years. The GOP must be sad Obama can’t run again in 2016.

  18. Raoul says:

    Hudelson above is right- the Senate willl end up 50-50

  19. rudderpedals says:


    From your lips…

  20. john personna says:

    If this is true .. it also shows why there is no need to follow detailed politics … possibly until 2014, and possibly after.

  21. john personna says:

    (See also: rational inattention.)

  22. An Interested Party says:

    From 60 seats to 50 (or less) in only 6 years. The GOP must be sad Obama can’t run again in 2016.

    This from OTB’s version of Pat Caddell…if the “logic” of the above scenario was even remotely accurate, all the GOP would need in 2016 would be another black Democrat involved in the presidential race…

  23. bill says:

    wow, just last month i read a near obituary for the GOP…..what happened!?

  24. edmondo says:

    @An Interested Party:

    another black Democrat involved in the presidential race…

    And this from OTB’s version of Al Sharpton. Maybe he doesn’t suck because he’s black. Maybe, just maybe, he sucks despite the fact that he’s black.

  25. fred says:

    I believe Nate Silver and if the DEMs leadership don’t take heed and action his prediction will come true. I have no idea where the leadership of the DEMs and folks charged with getting DEMs elected in the house and senate are. Never a sound from them until election time, when it is too late to inform some voters. DEMs are worst enemies and not tea party or GOP.

  26. Rob in CT says:

    If memory serves, the GOP had a real shot at the Senate in 2012 as well, before the tide turned (partly due to a few of their candidates saying immensely stupid things).

    So we’ll see. I have no doubt the Dems have a tough fight coming to hang on.

  27. Kylopod says:

    It should be noted that the idea that the out-party to the White House almost always gains seats during mid-term elections is less true about the Senate than it is about the House. Over the last century, this rule has been broken in the House only three times — 1934, 1998, and 2002. But (checking Wikipedia) the Senate has seen the president’s party gain seats during the mid-terms of 1906, 1914, 1934, 1962, 1970, 1982, and 2002 — more than twice as often as in the House during the same period. What’s striking is that this has happened even in years when the president’s party did very badly in the House: in 1982, when Republicans lost 26 seats in the House, they actually gained a Senate seat; and in 1914, Dems gained 4 Senate seats despite losing 60 House seats.

    One caveat is that almost all these examples took place during the president’s first term. I’m not sure whether that’s relevant. But looking toward 2014, while I agree that Republicans have a decent shot at taking the Senate, they actually are farther from that goal than they were in 2012, when everyone was expecting them to capture the Senate and they not only failed to do so but actually lost seats. Furthermore, I calculated that the average Senate seat loss for the out-party to the White House during midterms since the early 20th century has been about 3.5. So even if Republicans gain seats in 2014, they’d have to beat the historical average to take control of the chamber. It’s hardly unrealistic, but it’s far from inevitable–even without taking into account their recent penchant for blowing it.

  28. An Interested Party says:

    And this from OTB’s version of Al Sharpton. Maybe he doesn’t suck because he’s black. Maybe, just maybe, he sucks despite the fact that he’s black.

    Actually, I have better hair than Al…my point was not that he sucks because he’s black but that many Republicans think he sucks just because, or at the very least, primarily because he is black…