Democrats Are Bullish on Retaking the Senate

   < < Go Back

by Karl Rove,

from The Wall Street Journal,

The theory is that states Obama won in 2012 are ripe for the plucking.

After sustaining crushing losses in 2014, Democrats are projecting confidence about recapturing the Senate in 2016. Unlike midterms, according to the party’s Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman, Justin Barasky, a presidential election “can only help Democrats.” Count me skeptical.

To get a majority, Democrats must defeat five of seven Republican senators in states President Obama won twice—Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (Or five of eight Republicans if you add North Carolina, which Mr. Obama won in 2008 but lost in 2012.)

Although it is true that the Senate landscape in 2016 will be better for Democrats than last year, there are flaws in their narrative.

First, the states Republicans won in 2014 tilted far more Republican than the states with GOP incumbents up next year tilt Democrat.

Second, it is hard to beat an incumbent. In the last eight presidential elections, Democrats have defeated four or more Republican incumbent senators twice, picking off five in 2000 and in 2008. It took extraordinary circumstances to pull this off.

Third, Democrats are struggling to recruit Senate candidates. The only declared Democrat in Pennsylvania, former congressman Joe Sestak, announced without notifying national Democrats and is viewed skeptically by party leaders.

The fourth problem for Democrats is they will be playing defense in at least two purple states: Nevada, where Sen. Harry Reid had a 41% unfavorability rating in a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll late last year; and Colorado, where a recent Quinnipiac poll found only 32% say Sen. Michael Bennet should be re-elected.

Finally, each incumbent Republican senator is busy raising money, building serious organizations and compiling a governing record that appeals to independents and Democrats so they run ahead of the GOP presidential candidate in their states.

The Democratic Senate campaign chairman, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, says, “I will not be successful in this job unless we take the majority back.”

More From The Wall Street Journal (subscription required):