Decision 2014 (a February 6 snapshot)

JMCEL’s Scorecard

  • Congressional filing has closed in six states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia) that have 88 House and four Senate races;
  • (UPDATED 2/11 AM) Upcoming filing deadlines:  Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania;
  • Unopposed House members: 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans (out of 88 districts)
  • House retirements:  19 Republicans and 13 Democrats
  • Senate retirements: 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans
  • Gubernatorial retirements: 4 Democrats and 3 Republicans

Upcoming primaries/special elections

  • March 4: Texas primary
  • March 11: Florida House District 13 special election
  • March 18: Illinois primary

Lay of the Land

As we head into the 2014 midterm elections, it’s important to appreciate the context under which they are being conducted. Republican morale was relatively low in the aftermath of the 2012 elections, when their hopes of capturing the Senate and the Presidency were dashed.

Since then, the GOP was briefly hurt by the political standoff that led to the government shutdown in early October, although they caught a break at about the same time: as the shutdown was occurring, enrollment into the Obamacare exchanges commenced, and its rollout was anything but smooth: between performance problems with the website and the cancellations of individual policies’ not meeting the standards of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama and congressional Democrats saw their approval ratings decline. Suddenly, the Republicans regained confidence that they could retake the US Senate (they need a net gain of six seats), while Democrats (and party influentials) have growing doubts that they can retake the House.

Since the midterm elections are nine months away, however, a lot can happen. Certainly, any adjustments made to Obamacare (or perceived successes) could affect voter attitudes, as will the quality of Republican candidates nominated in upcoming primaries. An early test will be in Texas. Even though its incumbent Republican senator John Cornyn faces weak opposition from a more conservative candidate, it will be interesting to see what kind of “protest vote” his challenger will receive. Particularly since Republican incumbents in Kentucky, Mississippi, and South Carolina are similarly facing more conservative challengers, and the Texas results could cause conservative donors to open (or close) their checkbooks.

The other thing to watch for will be any additional House/Senate retirements. While a series of recent retirements is a signal that more and more Democrats doubt that their party will retake the House, it will be interesting to see if any others follow their lead. Furthermore, the retirement stakes are much higher in the Senate, where Democrats are in the unenviable position of defending 21 of the 36 seats up for election. Of those 21 sears, seven come from states carried by Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election, and seven more Democratic seats are in more competitive states that voted for Barack Obama. Given that the midterm electorate will likely be more Republican than the 2012 Presidential electorate was, Democrats in those “swing states” could be in trouble as well.

All in all, up to 14 Democrats are theoretically vulnerable, while there are only two vulnerable GOP held Senate seats – in Georgia and Kentucky, although with Georgia, a lot depends on the type of Republican who is ultimately nominated in the May 20 primary or July 22 runoff.