Midterm Senate Gloom

There’s not much news today, as one might expect on Easter Monday/7th Day of Passover, with Congress in recess. But over the weekend, Jonathan Bernstein penned a real buzz-kill for progressives in a forecast of 2014 Senate races. He didn’t even have to get into the history lessons about second-term midterms as a death trap for parties controlling the White House; the micro-landscape is bad enough:

The two most likely seats to flip are both held by retiring Democrats — South Dakota and West Virginia. One can make a pretty good argument that at least the five next most likely to flip are also currently in the Democratic column. It would be surprising, at this point, if Democrats could manage to break even, even if the national tide does wind up helping them.

The best-case scenario for the Democrats right now is probably salvaging one of the seats in either South Dakota or West Virginia, and then having GOP recruiting failures doom them in the other vulnerable Democratic seats. And somehow managing to pick off one of the longshot Democratic opportunities. That’s a break-even outcome. Realistically it’s hard to see anything better.

On the other hand, it’s not hard at all to picture Republicans picking up six, seven, or even more seats — and taking back a Senate majority. But more likely is probably a 2-5 seat Republican gain, allowing Democrats to keep their Senate majority but by only a slim margin.

Bernstein goes on to say every Senator matters, and I agree up to a point. But in terms of being able to govern the country, the most important goal for Senate Democrats in 2014 is to keep themselves in contention to win 60 seats in the much more favorable landscape of 2016. Harry Reid could change all that with unilateral filibuster reform, making majorities well under 60 meaningful as they were for most of the country’s history. But nobody’s holding their breaths for that to happen.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.