Senate Republicans have adopted a "majority mentality" going into the 2014 elections, their best hope in years to take control of the chamber — and likely their last chance for a while.
With an election map favoring the GOP and a need for six pickups to replace Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans have begun an aggressive fundraising and candidate recruitment campaign to boost their chances and maybe even scare off some potential Democratic challengers.
It's a wise move, says analyst Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. Kondik, considered one of the best in the nation, said that if the Republicans can build momentum early, it could create a national wave for the Republicans.
"It's unrealistic to expect the Republicans to net a half-dozen Senate seats exclusively through coin-flip victories: Some blowouts would make the job easier and give an obvious indication of a building wave months before Election Day," said Kondik.
The GOP has several targets for building that wave: West Virginia, Arkansas and South Dakota. In West Virginia, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito isn't expected to have a primary challenge and the Democrats aren't sufficiently strong yet to defend the seat held by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller. In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor is a top GOP target. And in South Dakota, the seat being vacated by Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson now leans Republican.
The second tier of targets includes Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina and even Michigan, where rumors swirl that longtime Democratic lobbyist Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell, is eyeing a run.
Powering the effort is the NRSC's "majority mentality," which has the organization pushing in nearly every race. While in some years the GOP has put most its eggs in obvious pickup states, the NRSC is expanding its portfolio to build momentum and create a few backup states in case something happens in elections that now look like easy wins.
It will require a big change in Republican campaign political culture. Sen. Jerry Moran, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for example, has hired an aggressive team including many members of Team Cantor, who helped House Majority Leader Eric Cantor win GOP control of the chamber in 2010. They include Chief of Staff Rob Collins, Communications Director Brad Dayspring and digital chief Matt Lira. Moran also hired Ward Baker as political chief, described as a take-no-prisoners retired Marine.
"Chairman Moran's goal is simple — to win back majority so that the Senate functions again," said Dayspring. "Winning the majority is extremely tough work, but we're prepared for the challenge."