This is the second story is a two-part series
By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
There is no shortage of important elections in 2014, as two recent electoral waves will collide, producing a slate of statewide electoral contests that will shape state and federal policy for years to come.
Democrats won huge shares of the vote in 2008, and that wave has allowed them to maintain control of the U.S. Senate ever since, despite some minor chipping away by Republicans in the past two cycles.
HANGING IN THE BALANCE: Republicans need to win a net of six Senate seats to take control of the chamber for the first time since 2006.
Republicans, on the other hand, enjoyed a wave election in 2010 that carried their party into control in 30 of the nation’s 50 governor’s mansions. The perks that come with that – setting state-level policy and, in many places, controlling congressional redistricting – were reflected in a run of union-busting laws in traditionally blue states and favorable gerrymandering ensuring GOP control of the U.S. House.
This year, Democrats play defense in U.S. Senate races in traditionally red states, with the last vestiges of President Obama’s agenda hanging in the balance.
Republicans, meanwhile, will dig in as Democrats try to take back governorships in several states where GOP governor’s rolled back longstanding union power.
Here’s our list of the 14 most important statewide elections for 2014 – evenly divided between the top seven gubernatorial races and the top seven senatorial races.
Republicans need to pick up six seats to win a majority in the U.S. Senate. Assuming the GOP candidates are able to win several traditional red states that turned blue in 2008, it could all come down to Arkansas, with control of the chamber hanging in the balance.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor has served two terms in that office, but surprisingly won re-election in 2008 without any Republican opponent challenging him. That won’t be the case this time around, as U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton is the presumptive GOP nominee.
Much of this race will be about Obamacare – expect that to be a common theme in pretty much every contested congressional election this year. Pryor voted for the Affordable Care Act and at least one poll already indicates that may be his undoing: More than 60 percent of Arkansans oppose the ACA.
The big election in Iowa in 2014 will be for the U.S. Senate seat Tom Harkin is giving up. Hard to believe, but it’s the first time there will be an open U.S. Senate seat in the state since 1960. Harkin was first elected in 1984, and is still just the junior senator.
Though Iowa seems like an obvious pick-up opportunity for the GOP, the big question mark right now is who the candidate will be. Nearly a dozen names are in the mix.
Thanks to some pretty deep divisions within the state party — traditional powers-that-be vs. Christian right vs. the libertarian bloc that supported Ron Paul for president — the primary could be fascinating.
For the Democrats, it is more straightforward. They’re going with U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a four-term congressman.
Though the story of the 2014 Senate races is all about Democrats trying to hold their ground, this is the one place where they could gain some – and they would take home a pretty big scalp if they did.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finds himself in a pitched primary battle with businessman Matt Bevin, who is backed by the Senate Conservative Fund and other deep-pocketed groups who would like to pull Congress further to the right. Surviving that challenge is his first task, but a general election showdown against Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state, is no easier.
Polls show Grimes and McConnell running nearly neck-and-neck, raising fears this race could turn into a repeat of 2012 for Republicans: when they watched winnable seats go to Democrats after candidates were forced too far to the right during primaries.
Like Arkansas, this could be the tipping point state for Republicans if they are going to seize the majority in the U.S. Senate.
Michigan is no longer the automatic blue state it once was — see Gov. Rick Snyder and his recent union-busting reforms for proof — but Republicans have only won one Senate election in the state since 1980. But with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin retiring after six terms, the open seat has attracted a lot of interest, and money, from national Republicans.
The GOP candidate is former state secretary of state Terri Lynn Land, while the Democratic candidate is three-term congressman Gary Peters.
MAX BAUCUS: Another Democrat who isn’t standing for re-election in 2014 is Montana senator Max Baucus. Republicans see the state as a surefire pick-up.
Six-term U.S. Sen. Max Baucus is retiring, another in a run of Democratic senators who are not standing for re-election in 2014.
But as for who will stand for the election – it’s anyone’s guess right now. A handful of candidates are vying for both nominations.
This state makes our list because Republicans are eyeing the open seat in a state that Mitt Romney won by 13 points in 2012. But Democrats have won 18 of the 21 U.S. Senate elections in the state since 1952, making Montana one of the more intriguing states on the national political map.
Though it’s rarely in the national spotlight, it will be this year: Republicans have to win here — and in neighboring South Dakota — to have any chance at claiming the majority.
Another upper Midwest state, another retiring Democratic senator and another clear-cut shot for a Republican pick-up.
After four terms, U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson is stepping down. Johnson, like Harkin, Levin and Baucus, voted for Obamacare, but that probably doesn’t have anything to do with this trend, right?
It’s the easiest Republican pick-up on the board, as Mitt Romney won the state by 18 points last year. Most national pundits have the state going to the GOP, though it is still unclear who their candidate will be. Former Gov. Mike Rounds figures to be the favorite.
Democrats have not had much luck finding a top-tier candidate. Rick Weiland, a former staffer for former U.S. Rep. Tom Daschle, is the only declared candidate.
Another open seat that the Democrats are scrambling to defend, as U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller decided to retire instead of seeking a sixth term in office.
The Democrats have a slew of candidates in the field, but state Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is the frontrunner in early polling. Republicans are also looking at a long primary battle, but U.S. Rep. Shelley More Capito seems to be the favorite on that side of the ticket.
There has been little coverage of the race so far, but this is another one that Republicans have to have in their column if they are going to find a path to six pick-ups in November and control of the U.S. Senate in 2015.
Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org