An Early Look at the 2014 Senate Landscape

It's seems early to start talking about 2014 Senate races, but the money race has already begun.

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Was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the target of a malicious bugging operation by left-wing conspirators seeking to derail his 2014 re-election bid? We can leave that to the FBI to determine.

But what we do know is McConnell's poll numbers are not good, and stories of nefarious Nixon-esque buggings likely won't do much to bolster his already sizeable re-election war chest. No Democrat has entered the race – performer Ashley Judd backed out after a rough meeting with former governor and still party stalwart Wendell Ford – but a credible opponent could pose a real challenge.

What we did learn from the tape obtained and released by Mother Jones magazine is McConnell understands this. He seems prepared to take all potential opponents seriously, particularly Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. He seems to know little about her and wants to know more. A good sign.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

It's hard to see McConnell losing. The state trends red, opposed President Obama both times and skews to the right on a number of issues. Moreover, an off-year election likely brings an older, whiter, more conservative crowd to the polls.

In The Not-So-Sanguine Category …

If McConnell prevails, it could be a clean sweep for Republicans in defending the 14 seats that will come up in 2014. Only Susan Collins in Maine and the eventual Republican nominee in Georgia are in any danger, and Collins has not drawn a credible Democratic opponent as yet.

The big question will be whether Republicans can net six Democratic seats and regain control of the upper chamber. Democrats will be defending 21 seats next year, and several are up for grabs. Rep. Shelly Moore-Capito, a Republican from a well-known state political dynasty, has raced out to a big lead in the Mountain State. The retiring Tim Johnson's seat in South Dakota could also easily flip.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

And not all the Democrats who will seek re-election are safe. The Rothenberg Report says Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana – also products of well-known state political families – both could be in trouble.

Pryor's situation is more dangerous. He likely faces Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican from the 4th District. Cotton has an  eight point lead in early polls, which has forced Pryor to the right on several issues, including same-sex marriage, which, in turn, seems to dampen national support.

Landrieu, whose father served as mayor of New Orleans, has only one announced opponent – U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a dentist who represents Baton Rouge. He is not well-known outside of his area and presents less of a threat than does Cotton. But it's almost certain more candidates will emerge.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Democrats Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Begich in Alaska and even Max Baucus in Montana also could be in trouble. In Iowa, it now looks like Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat, has the upper hand to replace Sen. Tom Harkin (D). Rep. Steven King, a Republican firebrand, wants to run. But, like Louisiana and Arkansas, the party also finds itself "Desperately Seeking Candidates."

It's early yet. Campaigns are still gearing down from 2012. But the money race has begun, and who wins it and how other events in the national news play out could substantially change everyone's Senate picks. But, for now, Pryor has earned the title "Most Endangered Democrat."

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