GOP Senate Chances Look Good

Having blown five likely Senate wins on bad candidates and worse consulting, it is best not to count chickens before they hatch. But the prospects for Republican gains in the Senate in 2014 are brightening, and there is a solid shot at regaining control.

Two seats seem poised to fall into Republican laps. In West Virginia, the retirement of Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller leaves a void that Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito seems likely to fill. Capito is the daughter of long-time West Virginia governor Arch Moore (a former client) who remained popular even after his conviction and imprisonment. It’s hard to see any Democrat beating her.

The retirement of South Dakota’s Democratic Senator Tim Johnson also creates a vacancy in a heavily Republican state. Republican candidates are likely to be either former Governor Mike Rounds or Congressman-at-large Kristi Noem. The Democratic nominee will probably be Stephanie Herseth Sandlin the three-term at-large Congresswoman who Noem beat in 2010. Before Johnson retired, the PPP poll had Rounds 11 points ahead of him and 5 up on Sandlin. Noem was 4 ahead of Johnson and 1 behind Sandlin. We all need to remember how at-large Congressman Rick Berg managed to mess up his shot at the Senate in North Dakota last year, costing the Republicans an expected pickup. We can’t take anything for granted, but South Dakota looks good for the GOP at this time.

In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor is not retiring — not voluntarily anyway — but Basswood Research has him running 8 points behind newly elected Republican Congressman Tom Cotton. Pryor’s job approval is dead even at 36-36. Since Arkansas has shifted from 3:1 Democrat to 4:0 Republican in its Congressional delegation over the past two cycles and Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln was trounced in 2010, Pryor’s incumbency rests uneasy.

Beyond those three seats, Republicans are hungrily eyeing the Tom Harkin vacancy in Iowa and have legitimate shots at Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Louisiana, Montana and North Carolina — red states all.

Republicans should hang on to all their vacancies but Republican Susan Collins of Maine may be endangered as she seeks another term.

But the lessons of 2010 and 2012 loom large. The Republican Party threw away five likely Senate wins — in Nevada, Delaware and Colorado in 2010 and in Indiana and Missouri in 2012. In each case, a strong Tea Party conservative beat a mainstream Republican in the primaries and then blew the general election (in Indiana, Missouri and Delaware by asinine comments and in Nevada and Colorado by incompetent campaigns).

But remember that without the Tea Party we would never have won 68 seats in the House in 2010. So we shouldn’t reject all Tea Party insurgents but rather be more sensible in our choice of candidates.

But to win, Republicans must end the Democratic hegemony among Latino voters. The GOP performance on immigration reform will tell the story.

And Republicans must stop saying stupid things about abortion. In the narrow sense, we must make sure that we defeat in primaries any candidate who favors a ban on abortion in the case of rape. Such a nominee would be too far to the right to be elected in any of these swing states.

But, in a larger sense, Republican nominees should move away from the legal front on abortion and toward the practical way to vindicate a pro-life agenda. After forty years of Roe under Republican courts, lets all realize that it is not about to be overturned under President Obama. Let’s instead emphasize our determination of reduce the number of abortions by birth control, abstinence education, counseling, adoption incentives and parental notification and consent. We have lowered the number of abortions from 1.4 million to 800,000 in the past two decades. We should set a goal of getting it under 500,000 — a goal both mainstream liberals and conservatives can unite to accomplish.

The prospects are bright for 2014 if we can heed the admonition of the cartoon character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

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