2014: Year of the Elephant

In a recent Super Bowl Sunday interview with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, President Obama essentially proclaimed that he was no more liberal than President Richard Nixon. Although such a comparison should be left to the historians, it appears Nixon and Obama actually do share something quite similar: abysmally low approval ratings. In fact, President Obama entered January with the lowest approval rating after the fifth year of a presidency since Tricky Dick himself, who at the time happened to be embroiled in a little scandal known as Watergate. While it’s all great that Obama joyously sang Kumbaya at his most recent State of the Union address, it is time for the President to accept the reality of his situation. The upcoming 2014 Senate elections are the only thing that can possibly salvage his presidency and allow him to escape the political Armageddon that ravaged President Bush.

Most political pundits assert that the Republicans will very likely maintain control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterms. As a result, if Republicans were to assume control of the Senate as well, Obama’s second term agenda is essentially a moot point.

It appears that the President has indeed come to terms with the ominous political landscape, as a recent Politico report notes that Obama recently met with vulnerable Democratic senators, reassuring them that one of his primary goals is maintaining Democratic control of the Senate. On an embarrassing note, a CNN report states that Obama has even vowed to distance himself from races in states where his approval rating is anemic.

It is true that Democrats have a phenomenal grassroots operation, and recent Republican Senate candidates have consisted of individuals who have made downright idiotic comments that cost them seats once thought to be locks; however, the political calculus for Democrats is undeniably grim.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats in order to assume control of the Senate. Currently, there are two legitimate opportunities for Democrats to take control of a Republican-held seat.

In Kentucky, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will face tough opponents both in the primary and general elections. But considering that in 2012 Obama didn’t even eclipse 40 percent of the vote in Kentucky, a Democratic victory is a dubious proposition at best. Moreover, given the magnitude of this particular race, the Republican establishment will funnel millions of dollars into the reelection campaign.

The second opportunity for Democrats to flip a seat comes in Georgia, where a heated Republican primary is expected to take place and a burgeoning Hispanic and African-American population is quickly turning the state purple. Although we won’t be able to forecast this race with much degree of certainty until the candidates are more set in stone, the Peach State still voted Romney by nearly 8 points in 2012, so a slight edge still has to be given to Republicans.

The best opportunities for Republicans to pick up the necessary six seats are in the following states: Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Alaska, South Dakota and Montana.

Arkansas is widely projected as an unequivocal slam dunk for Republicans. Incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor is taking on Tom Cotton, a Harvard Law-educated Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who is beloved by the Tea Party and establishment (and interestingly a Claremont Graduate University alumnus). Already trailing in the polls, Senator Pryor is scrambling to avoid any associations with the President as well as disavow his 2010 vote for Obamacare. Regardless, his chances are slim at best, especially in a state where Obama failed to garner even 40 percent of the vote in 2012.

Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is also in grave danger of losing her Senate seat. Given that the Bayou state voted for Romney by a margin of 17 points in 2012, Landrieu’s recent reaffirmation of her 2010 Obamacare vote will likely not bode well with voters. Despite the inherent advantage of being an incumbent, Landrieu is already trailing her likely Republican foe, U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy. However, as the sister of the current Mayor of New Orleans and someone who has held her Senate seat since 1997, Landrieu is no political amateur. In fact, she is currently seeking to score some major political capital by spearheading a flood insurance bill that would especially benefit Louisianans. In the end, despite her politically savvy efforts, it is doubtful Landrieu will overcome the vast anti-Obamacare sentiment, which to date has claimed the Senate seats formerly held by Ted Kennedy and even Barack Obama himself.

Kay Hagan rode the coattails of Obama’s 2008 election grandeur into her current North Carolina Senate seat. However, it looks like what goes around comes around, as Hagan is now seeking to distance herself from the toxicity of Obamacare, which already has her trailing her Republican adversaries in the polls.

Senator Mark Begich of Alaska is in a similar predicament, as he finds himself defending his Obamacare vote in a heavily red state where the President has dismally low approval ratings.

In West Virginia, retiring Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller (the only elected Democrat from the Rockefeller family) is essentially rolling out the red carpet for a Republican successor. President Obama’s less than 30 percent approval rating in West Virginia, which he can attribute to his administration’s assault on the coal industry, is certainly ominous for any Democrat seeking the seat.

In South Dakota, former Republican Governor Mike Rounds is projected to waltz into the Senate vacancy created by another retiring Democrat, as he currently leads potential Democrat opponents by wide margins.

In nearby Montana, U.S. Representative Steve Daines is leading his Democratic challenger for a Senate seat vacated by Max Baucus, who was recently tapped as the U.S. ambassador to China.

In addition to these seven races, there are several other legitimate opportunities for Republicans to pick up additional Senate seats or make up for any unforeseen mishaps (which are not uncommon in the Republican Party). In New Hampshire, Republican Scott Brown (who famously won the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat) is already tied with the incumbent Democrat in the polls, despite not even announcing his candidacy. Moreover, the Senate races in Iowa and Michigan, where incumbent Democrats are retiring, are projected to be competitive races.

The potential consequences for Democrats in the upcoming Senate elections are monumental. Should Republicans takes full control of Congress, the President would be viewed as the primary source of partisan gridlock, as he would find himself daily vetoing GOP bills aimed to reduce our annual deficits and national debt. Given that Obama rammed through Congress numerous bills in his first two years without an ounce of bipartisan support, don’t expect Republicans to succumb to the President’s half-hearted attempts for compromise. More important, the upcoming elections could provide the infrastructure for a quasi-Reagan Revolution in 2016, should a Republican assume control of the White House (or, in a worst-case scenario, mitigate a Hillary Clinton presidency).

Liberals need to brace themselves. Say goodbye to the New Deal gravy train and hello to fiscal responsibility. 2014 is the GOP’s for the taking.

5 thoughts on “2014: Year of the Elephant”

  1. Good article, but I question how accurately the presidential approval ratings will predict the upcoming Senate elections. Most polls show President Obama’s approval ratings are around 40% which isn’t good, but I’m not sure I would call it “abysmally low.” Keep in mind that the current approval ratings of the GOP and Tea Party in Congress are significantly lower. Those rating of the parties seem more relevant in predicting the upcoming Senate elections than the President’s approval ratings.

  2. I believe that the author’s rationale for deeming the president’s approval ratings to be “abysmally low” stems from the fact Obama has the lowest approval rating starting the 6th year of a presidency since Richard Nixon. So I think the author is asserting that the president’s numbers are abysmally low in a relative, rather than absolute sense.

    You do raise a fair point in the sense that it is valid to question the degree of correlation between a president’s approval ratings and his party’s subsequent performance in midterm elections. However, there is an overwhelming historical precedent at play here, which is that in the midterm elections of a president’s 2nd term, the party not in control of the White House on average gains 6+ seats in the Senate. Moreover, Obamacare is still very much a controversial, divisive issue for many Americans (especially since millions have lost their insurance because of it). I find it hard to believe that disdain for the president’s signature piece of legislation will not spill over into the Senate elections, given that these senators helped pass the bill and having been elected in 2008, have not yet had to face constituent response at the ballot box for their Obamacare votes.

    Sure the approval ratings of the GOP/Tea Party are low, but the same holds for Democrats. A better metric is to look at the generic congressional ballot, which asks individuals who they will likely vote for in the upcoming midterms; the ballot currently reflects a dead heat between Republicans and Democrats. But moreover, you have to breakdown the midterms state by state, and you’ll see that there are many Democrats running for re-election in states where Obamacare is extremely unpopular. After all, the President’s approval rating in 2010 hovered in the low 40s as it currently is now, yet his party nevertheless suffered the largest net loss of House seats since the Great Depression.

    The fact that many Republican challengers are already leading in the polls, as this article illustrates, despite the inherent disadvantage of running against an incumbent, is very dubious for Democrats.

  3. Of course I agree that polls specific to the elections are the best predictors. I just think it’s strange that the president’s approval rating is getting so much attention when there are many other more relevant indicators, like the approval rating of Republicans in Congress (low 20s by the way, significantly lower than Democrats). If you look strictly at the election specific polls, the Republicans have a chance to take over the Senate, but it’s not as optimistic as this article makes it sound.

    1. If you agree that polls specific to the elections are the best predictors, then I do not understand why you believe the Republican’s overall approval rating in comparison to the Democrat’s is so important. Sure, the Republican Party as a whole may not have a high approval rating, probably driven in large part by the media’s slanting of the government shutdown, etc. However, if you look at the polling of the individual races, which is ultimately the only thing that matters, many Republican candidates have an edge or are already pulling away.

      There are several reasons why the president’s approval rating is key and has been a historical determinant of midterm elections.

      First, there is the obvious fact that since the president is not on the ballot in midterm elections, voters displeased with the President’s performance are forced to express their disapproval by voting against the president’s party in midterms (what happened in 1994 to Clinton, in 2006 to Bush & in 2010 to Obama). Sure this may seem counterintuitive to vote against a Democrat just because you disapprove of a Democratic president’s job performance, but this is simply a long-held trend in politics.

      Second, the President more or less determines the direction of U.S. domestic policy, whether it is through the bureaucracy, veto power or bully pulpit. Therefore, as a legislative body, the Senate (and especially the party in power) is inextricably linked to the President’s record. And so when the President is not very popular, as is the case in many red states where Democrats are running for reelection, his party often has a tough time in midterms.

      Finally, the Senate, with its 6 year terms, is much more exclusive and its members often assert themselves more on the national stage. In politics, this usually equates to either disagreeing or agreeing with the President, which is why the president’s approval rating comes into play.

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