Arizona, Arkansas and Missouri look like unlikely pickups for Democratic Senate candidates to win in 2016. But Democrats are preparing for the unlikely.
You don’t need to look any further back than 2012, when despite a favorable GOP climate, mistakes by two favored Republican candidates kept Republicans from winning control of the Senate.
Last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recruited former U.S. Attorney Connor Eldridge to take on Republican Sen. John Boozman in Arkansas — a state where Democrats lost the last two Senate races. But Democrats say Eldridge has the kind of background that could appeal to voters in the deep red state in the case of an opening, and say his entrance into the race could expand the map as the party seeks to win the majority next November.
Eldridge joins two other Democratic recruits who could forge paths to victory in the right political environment: Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona and Secretary of State Jason Kander in Missouri. Both are adept politicians who face strong GOP incumbents in states that lean Republican in presidential years, but could swing the Democrats’ way in the event of unforced Republican errors.
“It doesn’t always work, but if you put the pieces together and put the race on the map, only good things can happen,” said Ben Ray, a Democratic operative who helped Sen. Joe Donnelly to victory in Indiana in 2012, when Republican Richard Mourdock’s ill-advised rape comments helped Donnelly win an otherwise dark red state.
Yes, Democrats need to win seats like Marco Rubio's in order to win back the Senate. But they also need to challenge Red State Republicans, and they figure given how awful the 2016 GOP nominee for the White House is going to be, they might be able to pull off some upsets.
An unpalatable GOP presidential nominee could also shift the tide towards Democrats, giving them an opening down the ballot. With businessman Donald Trump — who has broken nearly every convention in running a presidential campaign as he’s offended significant segments of the electorate — as the Republican front-runner, there’s a chance that could happen.
“If it’s Trump, you’re going to get a lot of people who are very upset about his candidacy. If they go with someone more mundane, the disappointment for others could very well carry into the general election,” Marsh said.
In other cases, Democrats might be able to benefit from slowly “chipping away” at an otherwise popular Republican’s credibility by tying them to Washington and a Congress which has been repeatedly panned by the public – a strategy already embraced by D.C. outsiders like Kander and Eldridge.
A similar strategy paid off for Republicans in 2014 as they took the Senate majority for the first time since 2006. The GOP seized upon President Barack Obama’s unpopularity and an electorate dissatisfied with the status quo.
Look how badly the four GOP senators are doing in the 2016 White House race too. None are doing better than single digits, where the outsiders, Trump, Carson, and Fiorina have a combined majority of the vote. Going after seats in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states is a good idea. How much worse would things be if Republicans had beaten McCaskill, Heitkamp, Donnelly and yeah, even Joe Manchin?