In even a neutral political environment, the 2014 midterms were going to be a challenge for Senate Democrats. They are defending 21 seats to the GOP’s 15, with only two of the Republican seats at any kind of risk of flipping to the Democrats. Moreover, Democrats were defending many freshman Senators who first won office in in Republican states in Obama’s wave election in 2008.
This isn’t a neutral political environment, however. Obama’s low approval ratings, the continued fallout over ObamaCare, current Democrat happy-talk notwithstanding, and the sluggish economy have provided Republicans with an enthusiasm and turnout advantage that could match 2010.
A recent USA Today poll found that those opposed to ObamaCare were more enthusiastic about voting this November. In addition, a recent AP poll found that, since Obama’s reelection, there was been a 10-point swing towards Republicans in voter self-identification. Today, 41% of voters consider themselves Democrat or Democrat-leaning, while 39% now say they are Republicans. Democrats had a 12-point advantage at the end of 2012.
The Republicans need to pick up 6 seats to take control of the Senate. The party appears half-way there, with almost certain wins in West Virginia and South Dakota and a big advantage in Montana. Until recent months, most observers assumed that control of the Senate would rest on four deeply-red states; i.e. Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Under that scenario, the GOP would need to win three of those four contests to take the majority.