Decision 2014: “Pregame” (Part 2: the 2014 midterm elections)

Election season will soon be upon us.  In our previous analysis, we had noted that the genesis for the 2014 midterm elections is already underway, with upcoming elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Colorado.

In this analysis, we would like to discuss the 2014 election. This election really has to be thought of through the separate prisms of US House, US Senate (including Louisiana), and Governor’s races.

Current lay of the Land 

The genesis of most wave elections is perceived partisan overreach from a party holding a monopoly of power, or a bad economy. This (particularly the “monopoly of power”) happened in 1938, 1946, 1966, 1980, 1994, 2006, and 2010. Because control of Congress is currently split (Republicans control the House, and Democrats control the Senate), we see the resulting partisan stalemate as a force preventing this type of wave election – each house of Congress can “cancel out” what the other house has passed. However, there is the “elephant in the room”: the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”).

While “Obamacare” was passed over four years ago, the real “nuts and bolts” parts of the law (additional taxes, setting up of healthcare exchanges, etc) are occurring this year. And as such, there is a lot on the line for either party. Since every US Senate Democrat (and most US House Democrats) supported the legislation, and Republicans were nearly unanimously opposed, Democrats own this legislation.

Initial signs of the progress of implementations are largely unfavorable to Democrats: while they can point to premiums dropping in New York, Republicans can similarly point to surging premiums in Ohio and California, as well as the prospect of businesses refusing to hire more full time workers (Obamacare kicks in with 50 full time employees) . Furthermore, poll results haven’t been favorable towards the legislation, and parts of the law’s mandates have been pushed back until after the 2014 elections.

It is under this current context that candidate recruitment and/or fundraising is occurring for the 2014 elections. Candidate filing actually closes in five months in Illinois (and in three more states six months from now), and the first primaries are in less than eight months. Without yet knowing the public verdict on “Obamacare”, here’s what we see as of July 2013:

US House

The Republicans have controlled the House since January 2011, and their margin of control is 234-201. While the Democratic leadership believes it will recapture the House next year, that belief is unrealistic for the following reasons:

  1. Democrats would need to NET 17 additional seats. Which means converting 17 Republican held seats and not losing a SINGLE Democratic held seat;
  2. In the last two decades, instances of ticket splitting have declined – a House district’s Presidential vote is more often than not an indication of whether it will vote Republican for Democratic in House and Senate contests;
  3. Even though he only received 47% of the Presidential vote, Mitt Romney carried 226 House districts (President Obama carried 209). And only 26 House districts (out of 435) displayed any kind of ticket splitting. In other words, all but 17 Republicans represent districts carried by Obama, while nine Democrats represent “Romney districts”;
  4. It can also be argued that some of the Democratic freshmen elected last year benefitted from a strong Democratic vote (16 Republican incumbents were defeated) at the top of the ticket that will not be present next year;
  5. Even if “Obamacare” is a success, at best, that success will prevent additional Democratic losses.

US Senate

Democrats currently control the Senate 54-46, and have remained in control since January 2007. However, the 2014 midterms are not favorable for the Democrats because any time you have a large number of senators elected from the same party in a “wave election”, that wave tends to subside in the next election cycle, and the weaker candidates that were swept in are the most vulnerable. In other words, the massive Democratic gains from 2008 that coincided with President Obama’s election and (temporarily) gave them a filibuster proof Senate must be defended next year.

While, on paper, the Democrats only have a 19-15 lead in this Senate class, there are 9 open seats, of which 6 are held by Democrats. Furthermore, there are four Democratic incumbents seeking re-election (including three term incumbent Mary Landrieu from New Orleans) who represent states that voted Republican in the 2012 Presidential contest. And only three Republican seats (Georgia, Kentucky, and New Jersey) are thought to be vulnerable (the seat in New Jersey will likely be won by a Democrat this October).

A strong caveat: the party nominee makes all the difference. There are five Senate races (Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada in 2010; Indiana and Missouri in 2012) that theoretically should have been won by the Republicans, but these five nominees were gaffe prone, and Democrats won all five of these races. Curiously, had Republicans won these five races, the US Senate would be under Republican control today.

Governor’s races

Governor’s races are always important, because (1) governors can be future Senate candidates, and (2) in this situation, a governor elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018 will have a say so in the next round of reapportionment in 2021-2022. In fact, it was the 2010 GOP sweep that enabled more GOP friendly redistricting in the 2011-2012 cycle.

This time around, it is the Republicans, by a 22-14 margin, who have more seats to defend. However, there are only five open seats at the present time: Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Texas (the first three are Democratic held; the latter two are Republican seats). So which seats are most vulnerable? At the present time, the GOP’s has to worry about Florida and Maine, while Democrats have Illinois. At the “could be vulnerable” level are South Carolina for the Republicans, and Colorado/Connecticut for the Democrats.


At the present time, we do not see 2014 as a “wave election”, but the atmospherics favor Republicans for US Senate and governor’s races; in the US House, insignificant partisan change is projected.

This can change, however: (1) in the next six months, we will have a clearer picture of candidate retirements, (2) external events like the economy, foreign affairs, or the implementation of Obamacare could be “game changers”, (3) party primaries could put seats in or out of play for either party.