One of my favorite conservatives is Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics. I usually disagree with him on substance, but he’s a good and honest number cruncher. And yesterday, he did a whole lot of crunching, Obama’s Job Approval Points to 2014 Trouble for Democrats. As is typical of him, he has put a conservative spin on what’s actually in the article.
Basically, all he’s saying is that if Obama’s approval rating stays at 43% or goes lower, the Republicans will almost certainly take control of the Senate. But as I wrote about last July, there was always a good chance of the Republicans retaking the Senate. I put it at 50-50. What’s more, I think that Obama’s approval rating really has reached its nadir. It seems mostly due to the problems with the healthcare exchanges. And now that the Republicans are posturing for another Debt Ceiling fight, I suspect his approval will bounce back up—at least a bit.
Regardless, according to Trende, the worst case scenario for Democrats is that in 2015, the Republicans will control 55 seats in the Senate. And the best case:
If Obama’s job approval does bounce back—which is exactly what happened in 2012—there’s a reasonable chance that Republicans could walk away from this cycle with just a handful of pickups. As we’ll see in the next article, that could have major implications for 2016.
And the Republicans need to pick up six seats to control the Senate. We will see. But the more important point is that it really means very little for the Republicans to get control of Senate in the 2014 elections.
As promised, this morning Trende published his second article, Why the 2014 Senate Races Matter So Much. Again, the headline is a distortion. What he means is that if the Republicans don’t make major progress in the Senate in 2014, it is almost certain that the Democrats will get control back in 2016 and even possible they will get another filibuster-proof majority. As I discussed last month, the Democrats will only have to defend ten seats—all of them in blue states—and the Republicans will have to defend 24 seats, of which 7 are in blue states. It is definitely important for the Republicans to get a running start if they don’t want to face a catastrophe in 2016.
Trende does have an annoying tendency to provide a lot of data that can’t be easily summarized. For example, he provides a table with the number of Senate seats the Republicans have after the 2014 election and then provides columns for the cases where a Republican and a Democrat are elected. The bottom line is that it looks bleak for the Republicans. Even taking the very worst case scenario where Republicans have 55 seats and a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the Democrats still have a 27% chance of taking back the Senate. On the other side, if the Republicans only start with 51 seats and a Democrat is elected president, he predicts a 94% chance of the Democrats taking back the Senate. I think both of those numbers are actually low, but you get the idea.
As you can see, if the GOP wins a bare majority in 2014, the odds are very, very good that the Senate will revert back to Democratic hands in 2016. In fact, if GOP gains are confined to the “traditional seven” Democratic races (the three open seats and the four incumbents in states Mitt Romney carried), they’re still favored to lose the chamber two years later. On the other hand, if Republicans get to 54 seats, their chances of retaining control are very good, and given the horrific playing field for Democrats in 2018, they would be extremely unlikely to lose it that year.
Perhaps of more interest, if Republicans gain only a seat or two, a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in 2016 is at least plausible. If Republicans break even or lose seats—and remember, no one thought that Republican losses were plausible at this point in 2012—a filibuster-proof Democratic majority might even be likely in 2016. A year good enough to net Democrats six or more Senate seats would probably given them control of the House as well, giving them an unlikely trifecta for the second time in eight years.
If that happened, it sure would be nice to have something other than a New Democrat in the White House. But I don’t think that’s likely, unless Clinton turns out to be a very different president than her husband. That’s possible, but unlikely.