5 Reasons Why Harry Reid Will Likely Keep His Job, Despite Washington Pundits' Predictions
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Last month, the headlines coming out of Washington blared that the Republican Party was at war with itself as party leaders and Tea Partiers fought about the federal budget, debt and who would run as a Republican in 2014. Now headlines are declaring doomsday for Democrats, predicting they’ll lose their Senate majority in next fall’s election.
These swings of the pundit pendulum are not just annoying and ill-informed, as at least one more seasoned Washington political observor wrote last week. They also eclipse a critical reality: that there are as many scenarios why Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will keep his top job as there are paths to a possible GOP rebound.
“I am reading and watching a lot of the same crap as everyone else about the November 2014 elections,” longtime pollster John Zogby wrote. “Trust me. You cannot make predictions in March. I know, I have tried to do it.”
“There are clearly Democrats running for the Senate who are not polling well,” he said. “But many are most fortunate to be running against Republicans who are also in trouble. Listen to me: there is a revulsion against BOTH parties. Just because the Democrats are not polling well does not translate in Republicans polling better.”
Let’s look at the Senate landscape and five trends that are not making it into many of the recent political crystal balls.
Trend 1: State Dynamics Matter, Not National Numbers
The reason Washington pundits are saying that 2014 could be big for Republicans starts with a baseline. Democrats have to defend 21 Senate seats in 2014, while Republicans only have to defend 14 seats. Thus, in midterm elections, when the president’s party is past its honeymoon with voters and tens of millions of presidential election year voters stay home, Democrats are disadvantaged, the conventional wisdom begins. Pundits point to statistics, such as the fact that Mitt Romney beat President Obama in 2012 in eight of the 21 states where Democratic senators face 2014 races, as signs of trouble . That’s one way that the endangered Democrats list arises, pointing to Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia.
“This is a map that’s theoretically very favorable to Republicans,” wrote Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who went on to make a crucial point that has been missed by political fortune tellers, including FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver: Democratic senators have been winning in these states, despite those populations electing Republicans for other offices. “Democrats control the Senate in part because they have shown a better aptitude in recent years for winning Senate races in states that do not support their party’s presidential candidate,” Kondik said.
In other words, many Democratic senators know how to win in their red-leaning states where Obama—and Bill Clinton before him—were not liked. “While Republicans hold eight Senate seats in states where the Democratic presidential candidate won a greater share of the two-party vote than the Republican did over the past four presidential elections, Democrats hold 15 such crossover seats,” Kondik said. “That seven-seat difference more than accounts for the Democrats 55-45 edge in the Senate.”
Trend 2: Senate Democrats Have A Positive Record To Run On
Before we get into the reasons why the 2014 election will be fought more over local issues than national themes, step back and consider this basic political fact: Senate Democrats can point to constructive legislation they’ve passed—even if it was blocked by the House, whereas Republicans can mostly boast of trying to impede real progress. Senate Democrats have passed comprehensive immigration reform, updated employment discrimination laws and toughened the military’s sexual harrassment rules. Next week, the Senate will vote on an unemployment insurance extension, with Democrats providing the majority for passage.