The announcement by West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller that he will not run for a sixth term in 2014 should draw attention to a basic political fact: having survived and even thrived in Senate races despite a terrible landscape in 2012, it doesn’t get any easier in the next cycle.
Here’s how I described the situation in a recent analysis for The Democratic Strategist:
As in 2012, the Senate landscape is unfavorable to Democrats, who must defend 20 seats as compared to 13 for Republicans. Worse yet, seven of those 20 seats will be in states carried by Mitt Romney, while only one GOP seat is in a state (Maine) carried by Obama (the incumbent there, Susan Collins, won 62% of the vote in 2008 even as Obama was winning 58% in the state). And the Democratic Senate Class that’s up in 2014 is a bit long in the tooth (Frank Lautenberg will be 88; Carl Levin 78; Jay Rockefeller 75; Max Baucus and Tom Harkin 72; Tim Johnson is only in his sixties, but has a history of health problems), so retirements are likely.
And lest anyone blithely assume Democrats will over-perform in Senate races in 2014 because they did last year, remember that the midterm electorate is fundamentally different and much less favorable to the Donkey Party than the one that voted last November.
It gets massively better for Democrats in 2016, when they will have to defend only 10 of 34 Senate seats up that year, and the presidential electorate returns to the polls. And perhaps the silver lining of the overall advantages Republicans will enjoy in the midterms is that another good year for the GOP could very likely convince conservatives that all the “reforms” in their mechanics and message they talked about after November 6 are no longer necessary, and that their core ideology continues to be a fine fit for America.