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Evans

GOP Sees Renewed Prospects

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Mar 21, 2014

Last week, Democrats felt the political world shake underneath them as Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. This election signals that the political environment clearly favors Republicans and makes them a slight favorite to take control of the Senate in November.

The election deflated Democrats because Sink, a former statewide office holder, was a better candidate than Jolly, a former Congressional aide turned lobbyist. Moreover, Sink outspent Jolly 4 to 1, Democrats outspent Republicans by $1 million, Sink won the district in her 2010 gubernatorial race, and Obama won the district twice. With all these advantages plus her pursuit of the Democratic strategy of “fix it, not repeal it” on health care, the Democrat still lost.

It is clear that Obama’s unsuccessful legislative agenda, unpopular health care reform, and foreign policy problems in Syria and Crimea have cumulatively damaged the public’s impression of the president so that Obama’s overall approval is 43% and his problems are weighing down Democrats.

Democrats always knew that 2014 would be a difficult year because they are defending twenty-one Senate seats with 6 in red states (AK, AR, LA, MT, SD, WV), 4 in swing states (CO, IA, NH, NC), and 3 others potentially vulnerable (MI, MN, VA). However, the recent announcements by Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO) to enter the race against Mark Udall and former Senator Scott Brown to enter the race against Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have made two swing state Senators more vulnerable and made the GOP path to a majority clearer.

Previously, Republicans were hoping to win all the red state Senate seats to win the 6 seats necessary to win a majority. With more seats in play this year, the margin of error for Republicans decreases as a loss in a red state can be made up for in another state. Moreover, the expanded playing field means that Democrats have to spread their money around more thinly to protect vulnerable Senators.

Democrats are consoling themselves in several ways. First, the election is eight months away and a stronger economy, good news about health care reform, or an unexpected event may change the political environment. However, a majority thinks we are in a recession despite positive economic news, preliminary estimates show higher health insurance premiums in 2015, and unexpected events usually work against the president.

Second, they hope to pick up two Republican Senate seats in 2014. However, the Georgia seat is probably only in play if the Republicans nominate a flawed candidate, which is very possible. Meanwhile, unpopular Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can probably only win with a Republican wave.

Third, public approval of Republicans is 33% compared to 42% for Democrats. However as political handicapper Stu Rothenberg points out, Independents rate both parties the same. The GOP deficit is because 29% of Republicans are unfavorable toward the GOP. The problem for Democrats is that come November Republicans will vote Republican because they usually always do.

Finally, Democrats are telling candidates to run with President Obama. They will be saddled with Obama’s baggage so the best they can hope for is to use him to raise funds and motivate the base to increase turnout. Overall, Democrats have time to change the political environment, but right now, the odds favor Senate Republicans.

The column originally appeared n the March 21st edition of The Jackson Sun