Two months into the botched rollout of President Obama’s signature health care law, Republicans have not only grown cocky about taking control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, but are entertaining thoughts of a commanding electoral shift that could put more Democrat-leaning states in play.
In Virginia, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said he may take on Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, one of the state’s most popular politicians whose seat is considered safe. In New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is driving around in his red pickup truck gauging enthusiasm for a challenge to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
And Republicans were pleasantly surprised by a recent poll in Michigan by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that showed Republican Terri Lynn Land running virtually even with Democratic Rep. Gary Peters for an open seat.
The GOP was interested in but not actively targeting traditionally blue Michigan in its quest for a Senate majority, particularly after two top candidates declined the party's entreaties to run. But Republicans are looking to Michigan with renewed hope. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already helped Land raise campaign cash at an event attended by other high-profile Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio, who heads the Senate GOP's campaign arm.
Most political strategists still give a slight edge in Michigan to Peters, who is in a virtual tie with Land even though she has the advantage of greater name recognition as a former secretary of state.
“It’s a statewide Senate race, and Gary’s not going to have a name I.D. problem when the campaign really starts next year,” said one Democratic strategist with ties to Michigan.
Democrats also note that while they have suffered politically because of the botched Obamacare rollout, the fact that Peters remains competitive at this early stage is a positive sign for the party not just in Michigan but nationwide.
“The climate is bad for us. We’ve just had the worst couple of months we’ve had all year,” said one national Democratic strategist. “The fact that in a state where there is such low name I.D. they’re polling even, that’s very encouraging. And at the height of the problems with the [healthcare.gov] website? That’s great news.”
Polls show that any advantage Democrats gained when voters blamed Republicans for a 16-day government shutdown in October has all but evaporated since the debut of Obamacare. A record number of Americans now consider the health care law to be bad for the country, and Republicans have grown optimistic that the icy reception will move enough votes in battleground states to give the GOP control of the Senate.
“In a midterm [election] where Obama will not be on the ballot himself, it’s his job, not his likability, that will have the most influence,” said Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Vulnerable Democratic incumbents are testing campaign messages about the health care law in light of its initial problems and subsequent attempts to fix it. Democratic Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, an Obamacare supporter, ran her first television ad of the campaign criticizing the law.
The landscape for Senate Democrats is particularly tricky because they have no chance of picking up any seats currently held by Republicans.
The GOP, meanwhile, already has the advantage in races for open seats held by retiring Democrats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. The party would need just three more to take the Senate, and it’s heavily targeting four, in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Alaska.