President Obama’s advisers have telegraphed their goal to win control of the House in 2014, which would give the president unfettered control to advance his favored policies. But the bigger concern for the White House should be the more realistic possibility that they could lose the Senate in 2014 – an outcome that’s only enhanced by the president’s second-term strategy focusing on rallying the base over centrist governance.
Midterms are rarely favorable to second-term presidents, and this one is unlikely to be an exception. Democrats can’t afford to lose more than five Senate seats (net), and the party is defending seven seats in states that Mitt Romney carried, six of them by double-digit margins. Mobilizing base support on behalf of the president’s pet issues, such as gun control and immigration, will do more harm than good in these conservative strongholds, where Obama is deeply unpopular.
The Democrats’ hope is that weak, far-right challengers will cost Republicans again. It’s not unrealistic, given the growing GOP divisions and their record of the last two elections. But, so far, they’re on track with recruiting in these deeply conservative states. West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced her candidacy early and hasn’t drawn any primary opposition, despite the early hype. Rep. Bill Cassidy would be a credible candidate against Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, and has already stockpiled $2 million in his campaign account. Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds is a formidable nominee, and if Sen. Tim Johnson retires, Democrats may need to referee a potential primary between his son Brendan and former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Republicans are growing more optimistic that freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, a favorite among national party leaders, may challenge Sen. Mark Pryor. (Fears of an unelectable tea-party nominee are higher in Alaska; and in Montana, Republicans’ best hope may be with a former state senator.)