Sean Trende is correct that the Democrats could actually pick up Senate seats in the fall, although that outcome is unlikely. What’s more likely is that the Democrats will largely hold their own, surrendering between one and five seats, and retaining control of the upper chamber. I agree with Trende that South Dakota is the one seat that seems unwinnable for the Democrats, and I also agree that the Democrats have a legitimate shot of winning the seats from Georgia, Kentucky, and (less likely) Mississippi. I don’t expect that the Dems can expand the map beyond that, although I am still keeping my eye on South Carolina, where both seats are up, and Nebraska, which is an open seat.
It’s still early to make confident predictions, but my expectation is that no incumbent Democrats will lose, nor will any Blue States elect Republican senators. That means that Begich, Landrieu, Pryor, and Hagan will all hold on. It means the Democrats will win open races in Michigan and Iowa.
For me, this means that the real toss-up states are Montana (where we have a semi-incumbent in Sen. John Walsh), West Virginia, Kentucky, and Georgia. I think the Republicans have a better chance of winning three or four of those four races than the Democrats do, so I basically predict (as of right now) that the GOP will net one or two seats, leaving them with a 46 or 47 minority. They also have more upside potential than the Democrats, so if my prediction is wrong it is much more likely to be wrong in the Democrats’ favor.
But, let’s say I am right. Let’s say that the Republicans net two seats and Obama finishes his presidency with a 53-seat majority in the Senate. And, let’s say, that Hillary Clinton in the nominee in 2016. How good are her chances of enjoying a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority?
To make this easy, I am going to list 2016 races and show how each state voted in the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections.
New Hampshire (Kelly Ayotte) voted Democratic in every election except 2000.
Missouri (Roy Blunt)- voted Democratic in 1992 and 1996.
Arkansas (John Boozman)- voted Democratic in 1992 and 1996.
North Carolina (Richard Burr)- voted Democratic in 2008.
Indiana (Daniel Coats)- voted Democratic in 2008.
Oklahoma (undetermined)- has not voted Democratic once.
Idaho (Mike Crapo)- has not voted Democratic once.
Iowa (Chuck Grassley, may retire)- voted Democratic in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, and 2012.
North Dakota (John Hoeven)- has not voted Democratic once.
Georgia (Johnny Isakson)- voted Democratic in 1992.
Wisconsin (Ron Johnson)- voted Democratic every time.
Illinois (Mark Kirk)- voted Democratic every time.
Utah (Mike Lee)- has not voted Democratic once.
Kansas (Jerry Moran)- has not voted Democratic once.
Alaska (Lisa Murkowski)- has not voted Democratic once.
Kentucky (Rand Paul, undetermined)- voted Democratic in 1992 and 1996.
Ohio (Rob Portman)- voted Democratic in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012.
Florida (Marco Rubio)- voted Democratic in 1996, 2000*, 2008, and 2012.
South Carolina (Tim Scott)- has not voted Democratic once.
Alabama (Richard Shelby, may retire)- has not voted Democratic once.
South Dakota (John Thune)- has not voted Democratic once.
Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey)- voted Democratic every time.
Louisiana (undtermined)- voted Democratic in 1992 and 1996.
By my count 14 out of the 23 Republican seats that are up in 2016 are in states that voted at least once for the Democrats in a presidential election in the ’92-’12 era.
Of all the Democrats up for reelection, only Michael Bennet of Colorado and Harry Reid of Nevada are from states that voted for Republicans in any of the last four presidential elections, and Obama carried both states, twice. I think Hillary Clinton would be heavily-favored to win both states in 2016. In other words, I don’t think a single Democratic senator will be sailing into the wind on election day in 2016.
There are some states like Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Missouri that voted for Bill Clinton at least once and may not vote for Hillary, but she’ll surely do better in those states (especially Arkansas) than Gore or Kerry or Obama did.
There are other states like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Pennsylvania where the Democrats have been absolutely dominant in presidential years.
And then there are states like New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio, and Florida where the Dems are on a sustained winning streak or have a significant advantage. I don’t think winning seven out of those 23 races is any huge challenge, even if only 14 of them look really competitive.
The Republicans will have a big challenge on election day in 2016 no matter who the Democratic nominee turns out to be, but they’ll have an easier time defending their turf against the Gore/Kerry/Obama map than they would against the Clinton map.
I take no great joy in pointing this out, but it is perhaps the most alluring thing about a potential Clinton presidential run. It could result in a Senate supermajority that would break the gridlock and make some (modestly) progressive legislation possible again.