The Democrats took a big hit yesterday when former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) said he would not run for the seat being left vacant by retiring senator Max Baucus (D-MT). Schweitzer, who was elected governor twice, had an excellent chance of holding the seat in this red state. With him out of the race now, the Republicans have a good chance of picking up the seat. However, it is not a sure thing because Montana, unlike many of the other sparsely populated states in the interior West, has a strong populist streak, which often helps Democrats.
Schweitzer said that he didn't want to work in a place where he would have to wear a suit and his dog wasn't welcome. More likely, however, the Republicans were amassing a substantial oppo research book about him, in particular, his ties to some suspect money sources. Very few politicians give up a good chance to become a U.S. senator because they can't take their dog to work.
Currently, the Democrats hold 54 seats in the Senate. If they win the October special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), they will be back to the 55 they held at the start of this session of the Senate. If the Republicans pick up Montana, along with the open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia, the Democrats will be down to 52 seats--assuming they can hold tough seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. If the Republicans can win three of these, they will take control of the Senate.
Democrats have more than a half dozen vulnerable Senate seats at stake (in part because 2014 is the echo of the Republicans' wave year of 2010) and the Republicans have basically none. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is going to challenge Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and although this contest will shoot off a lot of sparks, Kentucky is red enough that McConnell is almost sure to win unless the Republican brand is even more tarnished in Nov. 2014 than it is now. The only other seat the Republicans might lose is Maine, and then only if Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) retires, as her colleague Olympia Snowe did in the previous cycle. But unlike Snowe, who inherited a fortune from her late first husband, Collins actually needs the $174,000 she makes as a senator and is unlikely to retire.
At this point, control of the Senate after the 2014 elections is probably a tossup. Republicans will certainly make gains in the chamber, but picking up the six seats they will need is probably right at the boundary of what is possible. All the stars have to align for them and Republicans in the current Congress can't make any mistakes. If the House, for example, kills the immigration bill passed by the Senate, this could inspire Latinos in North Carolina to go vote, which might be just enough to save the seat of Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), who is up for reelection. And, as we have seen many times, statements by the actual candidates matter a lot and one mistake can be fatal.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has teased the media about a possible Senate run against Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK). She would no doubt be a strong candidate given how well known she is in Alaska and how red the state is. The real question is whether she is serious about a run. Yesterday, the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, Peter Goldberg, said that Palin has never spoken to him. In fact, she has never been closer than 30 feet. Normally, when a politician is contemplating a run for high office, he or she talks to the state chairman, usually to help clear the field of primary opponents, get help with fundraising, and get a copy of the oppo research book on the other party's candidate(s). The fact that Palin has not contacted the state chairman suggests she is not serious. Defeating an incumbent senator is never easy and even someone as well known as Palin is going to need all the help she can get. If Palin doesn't run (and maybe even if she does), Joe Miller, the Republican nominee for the Senate in 2012 who lost to write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski, is likely go for it again. In addition, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R-AK) is also in the race. As a consequence, Palin would face a tough primary and merely tweeting that Obamacare sucks won't be enough to win the nomination because the other candidates will completely agree with her. The other candidates will attack her from the right, claiming they are just as conservative and a lot more dependable.