Republicans have better odds of seizing control of the Senate in 2014 than Democrats have of taking the House, according to Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
While the party of presidential incumbents typically loses seats in mid-term elections, Democrats are still enthused by the results last November and their strength in national polls. The party has a 10-seat majority in the Senate and needs to pick up 17 seats to claim a majority as well in the House.
Working in the Democrats’ favor, Sabato and colleague Kyle Kondik write in The Wall Street Journal, is the fact that nine post-election polls show that Democratic House members are, on average, 15 percentage points more popular than Republicans.
But Sabato and Kondik caution that “since the start of the modern two-party system in the mid-19th century, the party of an incumbent president has never captured control of the House from the other party in a mid-term election.”
They say the task could be more difficult next year because of “partisan redistricting and an inefficient concentration of the Democratic electorate.” Both “generally favor the Republicans,” they say, recalling how the Democrats lost the House in 2010 even though they won almost 1.4 million more votes than Republicans.
“Based on historical measures, it would take a massive popular preference for Democrats to overcome their logistical disadvantage, perhaps an almost unheard-of lead of 13 points in the generic ballot questions pollsters use (‘will you vote Democratic or Republican for House in the next election?’),” Sabato and Kondik write.
But that's unlikely, since the most recent generic ballot polls show Democrats ahead by only 2 or 3 percentage points.
When it comes to the Senate, Republicans are also in a better position. They need to pick up just six seats to retake control, while Democrats are defending seats in seven states that Mitt Romney won in November. Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia are all in play, Sabato and Kondik noted.
Two formerly safe Democratic seats are also looking more competitive for Republicans with the retirements of veteran Sens. Tom Harkin in Iowa and Carl Levin in Michigan.
“Factor in some freshmen Democratic senators elected from swing states in Obama’s 2008 wave, and Republicans could run competitive challenges in 10 or more Democrat-held seats,” the two write.
To be sure, weak GOP candidates could sully the party’s chances. But according to Sabato and Kondik, “almost all of the seats that Republicans are defending are in solid-red states.”
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