With incumbents facing hostile re-election challenges, as well as an unpopular president in the White House, it is clear that Democrats will have an uphill battle in the November midterms.
The Senate election map for 2016 shows an entirely different story. Republicans will be vulnerable, with Democrats putting on the pressure. A simple switch illustrates a fact in American politics, that there are many “structural factors” lying beyond the control of any candidate or party.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, examines the structure of congressional politics in the U.S., providing insights of where some of the key races will be won or lost.
Kondik presented his findings — the 10 Maps That Explain the 2014 Midterms — in Monday’s Politico Magazine:
2012 presidential election results
President Obama took 26 states in 2012, and based on presidential returns, Democrats should have 52-48 edges. However, they have a 55-45 seat majority, meaning that Democratic senators are more effective in winning in states where the presidential candidate loses.
Current occupiers of U.S. Senate by state
Democratic advantage become weaker when looking only at heavily Republican states where Democratic-held Senate seats—places where Obama received less than 45 percent of the final vote.
The GOP-friendly 2014 Senate map
This year should be good for the GOP, because the “class” up for a vote in 2014 is the most Republican leaning of the three classes in the Senate.
This year’s Senate races on the “Political Map of the United States”
The states where representing 2014’s Senate Class 2 is less representative of the nation than the other two. The 33 states involved represent slightly more than half of the U.S. population, whereas Class 1 represents more than 75%, and Class 3 (next up in 2016) represents 34 states and 73% of the people.
This year’s most important county
Not really, but Waukesha County, Wisconsin (a big, suburban Milwaukee region) has become sort of an in-joke on Twitter among political reporters.
This year’s actual most important county
The most influential Senate race is in Raleigh’s Wake County in North Carolina, the second-biggest county in the state. Because Florida and Ohio, with pivotal counties like Hillsborough (Tampa) and Hamilton (Cincinnati), do not have Senate races this year, Wake could be the bellwether this year.
The GOP’s Rocky Mountain climb
Republicans do not control the Senate, partly because they lost a highly winnable Colorado race in 2010 by running a flawed candidate, Ken Buck, who lost to Sen. Michael Bennet by less than two points. Rep. Cory Gardner, the 2014 Republican nominee, is a much better candidate than Buck.
Appalachia: The No-Dems zone
Appalachia, with a Democratic redistricting disadvantage, and Democratic voters clustered mainly in urban areas are the reasons why Republicans are in control of the House. Another is the blemished reputation of the working-class party in the country’s traditionally working-class region.
The Democratic House bunkers
Redistricting has not set the Democrats back completely. The Democratic state government redrew Illinois; California had a nonpartisan map, which worked out in the Dems favor.
The long game
Republicans elected in 2010 are up for reelection during 2016, a presidential year. Perceptive Republicans will want to bolster a Senate majority in 2014, with the anticipation that they will lose a few seats in 2016.
Kondik notes that the 2015-2016 Congress will most likely be preoccupied with preparing for the presidential election. Voters then can expect a wave of “culture war manifestos” and nominal budgets with little hope of realization. Therefore, 2014 represents a bridge to the 2016 main event, when both sides might have a better chance to create a unified leadership.