What Could Go Wrong for GOP?

Senate Armed Services Committee Member U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) (C) is pursued by reporters after being briefed by military officals about the prisoner exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the U.S. Capitol June 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. The trade of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban officials has angered some members of Congress because they were not informed of the swap beforehand.
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Charlie Cook
Sept. 15, 2014, 5:53 p.m.

At this point, most in­de­pend­ent polit­ic­al ana­lysts are giv­ing the edge to Re­pub­lic­ans in this year’s fight for ma­jor­ity status in the U.S. Sen­ate. Per­son­ally, I give the GOP a 60 per­cent chance of tak­ing the ma­jor­ity, while oth­ers put it a little high­er or lower. At least a half dozen very close races will be de­term­ined by just a point or two, and those can turn on events that may have yet to oc­cur, mak­ing the battle for the ma­jor­ity very volat­ile. So far, the polit­ic­al sea­son has been wild enough. Who knew that hog cas­tra­tion, tres­passing chick­ens, and in­ap­pro­pri­ately billed charter flights cost­ing less than $2,000 would take on such out­size im­port­ance?

Some ques­tions worth ask­ing here: If the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom ends up be­ing wrong, and Demo­crats main­tain their hold on the Sen­ate, why was it wrong? And if the Demo­crats man­age to keep their net losses to five seats or less, what en­abled them to do so? (These ques­tions put aside the po­ten­tial that in­de­pend­ent An­gus King of Maine—or, if he wins, Greg Or­man of Kan­sas—will play a highly prin­cipled game of Let’s Make a Deal or just choose to caucus with whichever party is on top.) Should Re­pub­lic­ans come up short—re­mem­ber­ing of course that this very thing happened in 2012, when what could have been a three-seat net gain for the GOP eluded them and they ul­ti­mately suffered Sen­ate losses—why could that be? What could go wrong for the GOP in 2014?

Un­like the last two elec­tion cycles, when “exot­ic” nom­in­ees cost the GOP as many as five seats, Re­pub­lic­ans have nom­in­ated can­did­ates who at the very least aren’t ob­vi­ously out of the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al main­stream in every place that mat­ters this cycle. So, can­did­ate qual­ity is not the is­sue for Re­pub­lic­ans in 2014.

Two things may be keep­ing Re­pub­lic­an strategists up at night: money and the Demo­crat­ic ground game. Per­haps the biggest un­told story of this elec­tion is how so many Re­pub­lic­an and con­ser­vat­ive donors, at least those whose last name isn’t Koch, have kept their check­books re­l­at­ively closed. In many cases, GOP can­did­ates are not en­joy­ing nearly the same fin­an­cial lar­gesse that ex­is­ted in 2012, and in some races, they are well be­hind Demo­crats. While Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates, na­tion­al party com­mit­tees, and su­per PACs are hardly starving, their Sen­ate and House cam­paign com­mit­tees have not been able to keep pace in fun­drais­ing with their Demo­crat­ic coun­ter­parts. Their su­per PACs do not have nearly the fund­ing that they had in 2012 (even al­low­ing for the ab­sence of a pres­id­en­tial race this year). And, in a num­ber of key races, Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates, party com­mit­tees, and their al­lied groups have been on the air sig­ni­fic­antly more than Re­pub­lic­ans. GOP strategists have privately said that if it were not for spend­ing by or­gan­iz­a­tions af­fil­i­ated with the Koch broth­ers, they might well be in really bad shape.

Many Re­pub­lic­an and con­ser­vat­ive donors ap­pear to be some­what de­mor­al­ized after 2012. They feel that they were misled about the GOP’s chances in both the pres­id­en­tial and sen­at­ori­al races that year, and/or their money was not well spent. In short, they are giv­ing less if at all, and it has put Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in a bind in a num­ber of places.

Two ex­amples quickly come to mind. In North Car­o­lina, in­cum­bent Demo­crat­ic Sen. Kay Hagan is hold­ing onto a small lead that may be slowly ex­pand­ing. This is hap­pen­ing in part be­cause of the pound­ing they have been able to give state House Speak­er Thom Tillis, the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee. There is a sense that a spend­ing dis­par­ity might be emer­ging in Iowa, where Demo­crats—spe­cific­ally the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee and Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id’s su­per PAC—have been at­tack­ing GOP nom­in­ee Joni Ernst in re­cent weeks.

An­oth­er reas­on things might not turn out for Re­pub­lic­ans is if the highly touted Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate ground game comes to­geth­er. Clearly the Obama cam­paign and Demo­crat­ic al­lies had a su­per­i­or voter-iden­ti­fic­a­tion and get-out-the-vote op­er­a­tion two years ago. Earli­er this year, Sen­ate Demo­crats an­nounced the Ban­nock Street Pro­ject, a $60 mil­lion pro­gram with the goal of put­ting in place 4,000 paid work­ers to use tech­niques per­fec­ted and put to work in 2010 by DSCC Chair­man Mi­chael Ben­net in his race, and again two years ago by the Obama cam­paign. While some Re­pub­lic­ans have scoffed at the like­li­hood of Demo­crats be­ing able to mount such an ef­fort, they con­cede that the Demo­crat­ic ground game was su­per­i­or two years ago. In midterm elec­tions, if Demo­crats can crank up the turnout among young, fe­male, and minor­ity voters, then their chances of suc­cess this year in­crease.

Thus, if things go awry for Re­pub­lic­ans on elec­tion night, some of the same factors that went wrong for them in 2012 will have been re­peated.


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