A couple weeks ago I attended a National Journal event "A Discussion with Charlie Cook" at the Newseum. The topic of discussion was the 2014 midterms. Charlie Cook opened the discussion with a macro-level look at 2014, saying the election could be about two things: 1) Republicans fixing their brand image (problems with minorities, women, young adults and self-described moderates) or 2) second term fatigue. According to Cook, there has been “no improvement whatsoever since 2012” with regards to the Republican Party’s branding issue, as evidenced by the high unfavorable ratings in polls. Second term fatigue is a concern for Democrats, with President Obama’s approval rating dropping to a low of 40% due to the botched rollout of ACA. Cook addressed the effect of the shutdown by saying that voters want to punish Republicans but they don’t want to reward Democrats. For anti-Republican sentiment to occur strongly enough in 2014 to have an effect on the election outcomes, there needs to be another shutdown or threat of default.
Jennifer Duffy, Senior Editor, The Cook Political Report then offered some thoughts on the upcoming Senate elections. Looking back, Republicans have missed a lot of opportunities. In 2010, they lost a chance to take the Senate because of problem candidates. In 2012, they only needed a net of 4 seats, but again had problem candidates. In 2014, Republicans need 6 seats—and they have a shot at getting them. There are two things working in their favor. First, Republicans have fewer seats to defend: 14 compared to Democrats’ 21. Second, Republicans have fewer open seats: 2 compared to Democrats’ 5. Of these seats, 7 are in play, and of those 7, Romney carried 6 by a significant majority. 3 of the 5 Democratic open seats are in states Romney carried, and the 2 Republican open seats are also in states Romney carried. The most vulnerable seat is Mark Pryor’s (Arkansas), who is running against Tom Cotton. Duffy said there is a 25-30% chance Republicans take control of the Senate. The likely scenario is they get to 48-50 seats; if they have a bad night they’ll have 46-47; if they have a great night, they can get 51.
David Wasserman, House Editor, The Cook Political Report then spoke about the upcoming House elections. Democrats need 17 seats to get to a bare majority of 218, and this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Historically, the Presidential party loses in the 2nd term midterm elections. Additionally, 96% of Democrats are in districts Obama carried and 94% of Republicans are in districts Romney carried. Only 5 Republican districts lean Democratic. The abundance of safe seats makes it very difficult for Democrats to net 17 seats. Another issue is one Democrats suffer in all midterms: low turnout. The 18-29 year old voting block out-votes the 60+ group by 15 points for Democrats. However, young adults don’t tend to vote in midterms, older people do, thus giving Republicans an advantage. Wasserman concluded by saying it’s a toss-up as to which party has a net gain, but for whichever party it is, it will only be in the single digits.