Senate Races 2014: Establishment Ascendant, Tea Party Defeated

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Senate Elections 2014

The remainder of the Obama Presidency hinges heavily on the outcome of the 2014 Senate races, where thus far, the Republican establishment is in the ascendant and the Tea Party has gone down to defeat. While the Republicans blundered in key races in 2012, the opportunity has again arisen for the GOP to be in the ascendant and retake control of the United States Senate. The possibility of this occurrence seems to be stronger than it was in the last election cycle. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight fame predicted a roughly two-thirds chance that the Republicans would win the Senate in 2014. This prediction may seem to be bearing out thus far, with Tea Party defeats in last night’s primaries. However, significant speed bumps for the GOP may still exist in the forms of Mitch McConnell and Michelle Nunn.

Many Democratic seats are vulnerable, but a lesser number of Republican seats are likewise. For the Republicans to take control of the Senate, it is vitally important that they retain the seats they currently have. Kentucky and Georgia are the homes of two of the vulnerable GOP seats, and they held primary elections last night. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell defeated Tea Party insurgent Matt Bevin in his primary race, but his seat is not entirely secure and may be up for grabs in November, an atmosphere spurred by a large unfavorable rating in his home state. While President Obama remains unpopular in Kentucky, Senator McConnell is also.

McConnell’s challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes, has a number of advantages. She is young, represents change, and is making a big attempt to appeal to women. This is a key demographic that the GOP has failed to attract in large enough numbers, and at great cost. Were she to defeat McConnell in November, a 2014 Republican ascent would become more difficult.

Meanwhile in Georgia, Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, won the Democratic primary. This seat in a traditionally very red state is even more vulnerable to a Democratic hijacker than McConnell’s in Kentucky, as the GOP will not have the advantage of incumbency due to the retirement of Senator Saxby Chambliss, who has served since 2003.

Republican infighting in Georgia may make things even worse for the GOP. There was no definitive winner in last night’s primaries, and so a runoff between ex-Dollar General CEO David Perdue and Jack Kingston, the Congressman for Georgia’s First District, will take place on July 22. That is a long time for the GOP to be battling amongst itself, all the while Nunn will have ample opportunity to build up her war chest and reach out to voters interested in a general election.

However, despite these two significant curveballs, the political winds may indeed be shifting to an ascendant GOP in 2014, and the Senate primaries in other states seemed to lend credence to that proposition.

Last night’s primary races were not kind to Tea Party candidates as one after another fell to defeat against establishment Republicans. This seems to be indicative of earlier polling finding general support for the Tea Party falling from its 2010 high. With no Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks running around, the formidability of the GOP candidates increases for their respective general elections. By banking on more electable, centrist candidates, the GOP wisely believes it will garner wider support while eventually getting those Tea Party supporters back come November. After all, in an election between a still-conservative candidate and one tilted more toward the left, most conservatives will back the former, as to them, establishment candidates are far less evil than a Democrat.

It has been a long tradition in the history of the U.S. Presidency that the second term tends to be far more difficult than the first. As President Obama can attest, this “second term curse” has come true for him too thus far. If an ascendant GOP were to win the Senate in November, it would only make this paradigm that much more concrete and permanent. The Tea Party, which caused President Obama trouble in 2010, may ironically cause him even more trouble in 2014 by being defeated in last night’s primaries by the establishment. His second term will heavily depend on the general Senate elections in November, and the president will certainly be watching the key McConnell and Nunn races with interest, as a harbinger of things to come on that fateful night.

Opinion by Jordan Carpenter