In less than two weeks, Republicans will defend 24 senate seats, Democrats 10. Seven of the GOP seats are in states that President Barack Obama won with 50 percent or more of the vote in 2012, and the current election map could force the GOP right back into the minority.
There’s no guarantee that Democrats will retake the senate. But they sound eager about their chances in states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, while Republicans are preparing more to defend past victories than try to score new ones.
“There’s no doubt about it, it’s going to be a bigger challenge than 2014,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, among the Republicans at the top of the Democrats’ pickoff list.
Historically, presidential elections favor Democratic congressional candidates by increasing turnout of young and minority voters, and Democrats will not have to spend time distancing themselves from an unpopular incumbent as president Obama’s popularity keeps surging.
Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, one of the Democrats likely to be safely re-elected in 2016, said his party already is eyeing a path to retake control of the Senate. Democrats would have to gain a net of four seats if there’s a Democrat in the White House — because the vice president can cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate — or five if the GOP wins the presidency.
“Picking up four or five seats is no small task, but we are certainly in a position to do so,” Schatz said. “The electorate is going to be different and I think Democratic elected officials and candidates and, most importantly, voters are excited about the presidential race, and we’re excited to play offense.”
Democrats are concerned mainly about defending seats in Colorado and Nevada, where Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid will not be seeking re-election.
In addition to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, Democrats have a good chance in New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.