Republicans Can Win the Senate Without Flipping Any Blue States

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 2 2014 11:47 AM

Republicans Can Win the Senate Without Flipping Any Blue States

Republicans could take it

Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

While writing that post about Obama's poll numbers, I kept getting distracted by the math that defines every race this year. It doesn't really matter whether the president's national approval numbers are in the low 40s or the high 40s. National poll numbers include results from voters in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and some smaller states (Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont) that vote reliably for Democrats. It's the Senate that matters this year, and none of the states I mentioned features competitive Senate races. The GOP could take control of the Senate without winning a single state that voted for Obama in 2012.

Obvious, maybe, but compare this situation with the one of 2006. When the Democrats captured the Senate, they could afford no errors. In the red Bush states of Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota, and West Virginia, they needed their incumbents to run again. They did so, and won easily. (Three of those incumbents—Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, and Robert Byrd—have retired or died since 2006.) They needed to find competitive candidates in the four Bush states of Missouri, Montana, Ohio, and Virginia. They did so, and only won two of those races because of the incumbents' own errors. (Sen. Conrad Burns was dogged by the Abramoff scandal, and Sen. George Allen called an Indian tracker "Macaca.") The only competitive race in a state that had voted for John Kerry came in Rhode Island, where incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee had to fend off a Club for Growth primary challenge before losing to now-Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.


Pretty nip-and-tuck. Compare that with 2014. Republicans are already favored to win the open Senate seats in South Dakota (58–40 for Romney) and West Virginia (62–36 for Romney). In Montana (55–42 for Romney), Rep. Steve Daines has consistently polled ahead of appointed Sen. John Walsh. In Arkansas (61–37 for Romney) and North Carolina (51–48 for Romney), the GOP has nominated the preferred candidates in the establishment. In Alaska (55–41 for Romney), it's likely to get another choice candidate. And in Louisiana (58–41 for Romney), the clustering of Republican candidates is likely to result in a December runoff between Sen. Mary Landrieu and the Republican candidate, Rep. Bill Cassidy.

We've heard a lot this year about the GOP challengers in Colorado and New Hampshire and Iowa and Oregon and Virginia. They are all roughly in the position that, say, Claire McCaskill was in 2006—trying to convince an electorate that supported the president to go against his party this year. My point is that all of these ballyhooed new-face-of-the-GOP candidates could hit the mat, and the GOP would still win the Senate, as long as it didn't blow a race in a red state.

I think about this whenever Republicans (Ted Cruz, usually) talk about the legacy of the October 2013 government shutodwn. The GOP could make plenty of strategic mistakes this year, and be outplayed by Democrats, and fail to present an agenda that could win in 2016. It could do all that and win a bunch of Senate seats. Come December 2014, it will be accepted history on the right that all of the GOP's moves in Obama's first term, from shutting down the government to killing immigration reform, resulted in a big win. 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:03 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Ubiquity of Gotham
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.