More Democratic-held seats are up for election, including in such conservative states as Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Incumbent Democratic senators have announced their retirements in Iowa, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Yet under similar circumstances in 2012, Democrats actually gained Senate seats. The Republicans’ staunchly conservative base of primary voters helped in some critical races by nominating candidates too clumsy to appeal to mainstream voters.
To win the majority, Republicans must avoid that pitfall, win all three Democratic-held seats Mr. Cook rates as “tossups” and snatch at least three more now leaning toward Mr. Obama’s party. If the economy continues to rebound, however gradually, that will not be easy.
“Modest economic growth, divided government, a midterm election in a president’s second term – it’s kind of a recipe for not much happening,” said Gary C. Jacobson, a scholar of Congressional elections at the University of California-San Diego.But both in 1986 and 2006 -- years featuring the three conditions that Jacobson mentions -- control of the Senate shifted from one party to the other. In 2006, of course, Iraq was a big non-economic drag on the GOP.