Mitch McConnell (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Mitch is on borrowed time: Early look at '16 Senate map shows great chance for Dems

The 2016 battleground map looks excellent for Democrats -- but they shouldn't take anything for granted


Jim Newell
November 6, 2014 11:00PM (UTC)

The silver lining of all silver linings for Democrats heading into Tuesday's blood bath was that the 2016 Senate battleground map would "flip." Since there were only like ~2 total silver linings, that's not saying a whole lot. But it's true that Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats to the Democrats' 10 in the next cycle -- a presidential cycle, when Democrats actually bother voting.

The next map is so favorable that some have argued the next two years of Republican control would merely be a "rental." That argument was more compelling Monday night than it was Wednesday morning. For starters, you never want to take things for granted. Just as a general rule in life. But baked into it was the assumption that the Republican majority might be a 51-, 52-seat affair. As we learned Tuesday night, though, the polls were skewed in Democrats' favor, and Republicans ended with what's likely to be a 54-seat majority. Democrats will need either four or five seats, depending on the victor of the next presidential election, to recapture control of the Senate.

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That's a taller order. But an early gander at the map still shows that it's within reach.

Only two of the 10 Democratic-controlled Senate seats up for grabs in 2016 appear to present serious problems: Harry Reid's in Nevada and Michael Bennet's in Colorado.

There is no question that Reid's seat will be the GOP's No. 1 target. Even if Reid is a master strategist who controls the strings of Nevada politics, he's going to face the fight of his life. He only barely survived against hilarious crazy person Sharron Angle in 2010, after all. The 2016 electorate will be more favorable than 2010's, but his opponent may not be. If Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who just won reelection with 70 percent (!) of the vote on Tuesday, decides to run against Reid, Reid will have ... problems. Michael Bennet's prospects don't look as dire as Reid's. But Cory Gardner's thumping of Mark Udall on Tuesday night proved that Democrats still can't take Colorado to the bank.

The other states Democrats will be defending in 2016 are California, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Vermont, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. Ha ha ha.

Which brings us to the list of Republican defenses.

The most obvious treats on the menu, in (roughly) ascending order of difficulty: Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Mark Kirk in Illinois, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, and Rob Portman in Ohio.

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In Florida, Marco Rubio says he will not seek reelection if he runs for president. He could change his mind about that if his presidential campaign flames out quickly, because his presidential campaign could flame out quickly. But an open Senate seat in Florida would be another obvious target.

Sen. Richard Burr will be defending in North Carolina. Democrats kept an N.C. Senate race close in the death night that was Nov. 4, 2014, so they'll want to make another run of it in two years.

Iowa's another state that would be amenable to a Democratic candidate in 2016. It would depend on whether Chuck Grassley decides to run for reelection or not. He is, after all, 165 years old -- though sprightly as ever on Twitter.

John Boozman in Arkansas is also an intriguing possibility. Mark Pryor's crushing loss on Tuesday showed that whatever traces of blue it had left in it are gone -- except, perhaps, in the case that a Clinton is on the ballot.

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Let's consider John McCain in Arizona. Will he run again? Fending off another Republican primary challenge would be an exhausting effort for him. He has been very old for a long time, and rumor is that he's getting older by the day. He seems like the sort of guy who wouldn't know what to do with himself if he retired. But if he opts out, or loses to some nutcase in a primary, we'd have a real contest in a state that's toyed with turning purple. Sen. Jeff Flake only won his election by 3 percentage points in 2012.

There are a handful of others that you wouldn't rule out in a presidential year: Missouri, Indiana, Georgia and the Dakotas. Remember that Democrats did win Senate seats in Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota in 2012 -- in the case of the former two, though, only because Republicans nominated candidates who said weird things about rape. And Georgia was competitive down to the wire in this most awful of awful Democratic years.

What else. Louisiana? Maybe? David Vitter is going to run for governor of Louisiana in 2015, so. Kentucky may prove interesting, too, if Rand Paul can't run for reelection because he's running for president.

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It is unlikely that Republicans will struggle to retain control of seats in Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Alabama.

Before Democrats get too excited about this map, though, a few more points about "not taking things for granted."

• It would behoove the Democratic Party to actually develop a positive economic platform that's appealing to voters instead of just attacking Republicans as extremist condom-stealers and expecting demographics to save them.

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• Why should anyone assume that 2016 will be better for the Democrats? President Obama is very unpopular. It's hard for any party to win the White House for three straight terms. There will be much higher turnout in 2016. But what if they turn out to vote for Republicans?

• 2018 will be another "sucks for Democrats" cycle, obvs.

• Even if Democrats win the White House and Senate in 2016, everything will still be terrible. Remember the years 2011-2014? My memory is hazy but I don't recall them being the Golden Age of Progressive Legislation.

• I mean, really, why should anyone bother getting excited about the possibility of anything in politics ever again?

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Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

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