WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are counting on some Southern comfort to win Senate control next year.
The fate of Democratic incumbents in GOP-trending Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, the ability of the 71-year-old GOP leader to hold his Kentucky seat and the eventual outcome of a Georgia primary will help decide whether Republicans gain the six seats necessary to grab power in the Senate for the final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Fifteen months before Election Day, the GOP has a genuine shot at the majority, especially with the midterm elections’ traditional low turnout and possible Obama fatigue on the party’s side. But both Republicans and Democrats stop short of writing off several Democratic incumbents who would have to lose for the GOP to regain power, and some Republicans worry about holding GOP seats in Kentucky and Georgia.
The transformation of the South from solidly Democratic to nearly all Republican in the half century since the 1964 Civil Rights Act has made the states generally inhospitable to Democratic politicians. And next year’s elections will test whether the last remaining Southern Democrats can survive.
Overall numbers and geography favor the GOP — 21 Democratic seats are on state ballots compared with 14 Republican. Seven of the Democratic seats are in states that Obama lost in 2012 to Republican Mitt Romney, some by 15 points or more. Adding to the GOP bullishness: Democratic retirements in three of the seven states — West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota — and a few recruiting disappointments.
‘‘There’s a lot of hard work to be done, but we feel very comfortable about the progression of the 2014 map in our favor and the quality of Republican candidates expressing an interest in running in key states,’’ said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Still, Republicans had a similar edge in 2010 and 2012, and failed to take control because of flawed candidates and ill-conceived remarks. The GOP list of lost opportunities is long — Delaware, Colorado, Nevada in 2010, Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota and Montana in 2012.
‘‘All of those prognostications were wrong,’’ Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said. ‘‘One of the things that we demonstrated in the last election is that Senate races are about the two people who are on the ballot.’’
Next year’s Senate contests stand as perhaps the best chance for the GOP, especially since Republicans will have to defend 24 Senate seats to the Democrats’ 10 in the presidential election year of 2016.
Currently, Democrats hold a 54-46 edge. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to win next week’s Democratic primary in New Jersey and the Oct. 16 special election, boosting the Democratic margin to 10.
The political ads and videos in Kentucky make it seem like five-term Sen. Mitch McConnell has three opponents — primary challenger Matt Bevin, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Obama.
With close to $10 million on hand to make his case, McConnell is casting himself as the bulwark against the president’s policies in a state that Obama lost by 23 percentage points last year. ‘‘To Barack Obama and his allies, coal country represents a threat,’’ McConnell intones in a video that repeatedly shows the president and never mentions Grimes by name.
McConnell is seeking not just another six-year term but also a shot at the prize of Senate majority leader. And he is taking no chances either politically or legislatively.
He has run four television ads since March, responding quickly to outside groups, promoting his own candidacy and seeking to define his rivals. McConnell has assailed Bevin over payment of taxes in two ads, with one airing even before the businessman announced his GOP primary candidacy.
In the Senate last week, McConnell voted with fellow Kentuckian and tea party favorite Rand Paul to cut U.S. aid to Egypt. The vote put McConnell on the opposite side of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a rare place for a senator who has been a strong supporter of Israel.
On Thursday, in an embarrassment for McConnell, audio of a Jan. 9 telephone conversation revealed that his campaign manager said he was ‘‘holding my nose’’ while working for the candidate. In a brief telephone interview, Jesse Benton, who has deep tea party ties, didn’t dispute the authenticity of the taping, saying he wasn’t confirming it but wasn’t denying it either. Separately, in a statement emailed to reporters, he said he believes in McConnell and is 100 percent committed to his re-election.Continued...