Democrats' grip on Senate may be shaky

  • Article by: DAVID LIGHTMAN , McClatchy News Service
  • Updated: April 18, 2014 - 9:47 PM

Four seats once thought safe appear to be in play.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leads Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn to the front of the chamber before President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.

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– Democrats are finding that their path to keeping control of the U.S. Senate this year is getting bumpier.

At least four states where Democrats hold Senate seats that once were seen as fairly safe are now considered in play: Michigan, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire.

They join seven states with Democratic incumbents where analysts see decent bets for Republican pickups: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried all seven in 2012.

The new four are now battlegrounds for the same reasons that plague Democrats elsewhere. The Affordable Care Act is detested in many circles. Anyone associated with Washington is often toxic. And popular Republicans who are running for other offices are often on the ballot.

“The common thread is that there’s a Democrat in the White House who’s not that popular,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan research group at the University of Virginia. “It wouldn’t be surprising if any of those states went Republican.’

Republicans also appear more motivated. “There’s a sense that a possible takeover of the Senate is real, and that will give a boost to the Republicans’ ability to thwart the president’s agenda,” said Chris Budzisz, the director of the Iowa-based Loras College Poll. He was speaking of Iowans, but the perception holds more broadly.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats for a Senate majority. Democrats are defending 21 seats, the GOP 15. Only two Republican-held seats are considered vulnerable. In Kentucky, if Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wins a primary in May as expected, he’ll be challenged by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat.

In Georgia, where Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is retiring, a big Republican field is seeking the nomination. The winner is expected to face well-funded Democrat Michelle Nunn.

The outlook in the new tossup Democratic-held states:

Michigan

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is retiring, and Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., is trying to take his place.

Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who’s also seeking the seat, led Peters by 6 percentage points this month in a poll by Mitchell Research.

New Hampshire

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, has a long history of winning statewide races, first as a strategist and then as governor and senator.

And few thought Republican former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown would pose much of a challenge. Brown is now in the race, and a Granite State poll taken April 1-9 showed him 6 percentage points behind.

One of Shaheen’s problems: Those who have moved into the state from Massachusetts — about one-fourth of those surveyed — preferred Brown by 13 points.

Iowa

Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, is retiring.

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