U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor’s remarkable loss this week will hearten those backing a tea party-backed candidate who has pushed longtime Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran into a runoff. Yet overall in Senate races this year, things are shaping up nicely for the GOP as it seeks to regain control of that body — and send Senate Leader Harry Reid packing.
Bad candidates doomed the GOP in recent years — remember Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, and Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012? This year’s lineup is stronger and thus has Republicans encouraged about the prospects of gaining control of the Senate by winning six seats.
GOP nominees in South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana are leading in polls and stand a good chance of winning seats now held by Democrats. Republicans also are trying to defend only two seats that are considered up for grabs (Georgia and Kentucky). Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to hang onto six such seats (Arkansas, Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina).
Some Democratic incumbents, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, have tried to distance themselves from President Barack Obama’s policies, particularly as they pertain to energy. Their opponents are making hay by noting the incumbents’ previous votes in support of the president, for instance on Obamacare.
Noteworthy this election cycle is the dearth of conservative grassroots activist candidates who have been able to make a dent in Senate races. Cochran’s race is the notable exception. Chris McDaniel has been hammering Cochran, a six-term incumbent, as a big spender and Washington insider, and he wound up splitting the vote in last week’s primary.
Mississippi is a red state, but Democrats feel they have a shot at beating McDaniel if he takes out Cochran in the June 24 runoff. This race, Politico argued, “remains the last realistic hope that grassroots conservatives have of knocking off an incumbent senator this year.”
A GOP loss would be a blow. It would mean that Republicans would have to claim one other contested seat in order to gain control of the Senate. The goal of getting Reid, D-Nev., out as Senate leader should be on every Republican’s mind when voting in November. Reid is the primary cause of the dysfunction and toxicity emanating out of Washington.
In a recent essay in National Review, Kevin D. Williamson called Reid “a teacup tyrant” who has “done violence to ethical standards left and right … (a man) who takes to the Senate floor to make patently false, malicious and increasingly loopy claims about his political rivals, and who is leading a partisan assault on the Bill if Rights.”
The Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan election newsletter, expects the GOP to gain four to eight seats this fall. However a Rothenberg analyst, Nathan Gonzales, noted that November is still a long way off.
“It seems like we’ve stepped through some of the minefields for Republicans so far,” Gonzales told USA Today. “But when you think there’s not a new way to lose a race, Republicans seem to find one.”
Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, is proof of that, as he got trounced by an unknown. But if Cochran can pull through and their solid Senate candidates can keep from imploding, Republicans may indeed be able to show Harry Reid the door.