Four of the seven seats listed as Senate “tossups” by the polling gurus at RealClearPolitics are in the South — North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky and Arkansas. Republican wins in these four states would deliver the magic number required for the GOP to take majority control of the Senate.
In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is currently behind several potential Republican opponents in the polls. But she leads the most likely Republican nominee by a slim margin. Regardless, the state is trending Republican, and Hagan is in serious trouble.
Despite Louisiana’s rather bizarre electoral system, and barring some unforeseen event, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is likely to be defeated by a Republican opponent. She barely survived in her reelection bid in 2008 when she rode the wave of strong voter turnout for Barack Obama. That level of Democratic turnout won’t be there for her this year.
And in Arkansas, things are looking tough for incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor. His GOP opponent enjoys a lead in most polls. And this state in recent years has been moving toward Republican dominance. Mitt Romney carried Arkansas by more than 20 points against Barack Obama. If the Republican National Committee and like organizations can pump enough money into Republican Tom Cotton’s effort, he will likely win in November.
Ironically, perhaps the most drama among these four “Southern Special” elections is in Kentucky. The reelection effort of the GOP’s own Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell — “Ole Happy Face” — is having one heck of a time getting him back to the Senate, where he might then become majority leader. For McConnell, it’s as much a matter of style, with his stodgy and dour demeanor, as it is his policies. While he is viewed by more conservative Republicans as too moderate, he at least seems headed to an easy win in his primary election.
It seems likely that of the four “Southern tossup” states, the GOP can carry at least three in November. But if the South supplies only three tossup victories, Republicans will have to find another close race to win in another region.
One of those wins might be in Michigan, where polling shows a potentially tight battle. It is an open seat with no incumbent and, in the year of the female voter, it will have a woman as the GOP nominee. But Michigan seems more likely to go with the Democrat in November. That’s because President Obama carried it by a 10-point margin in 2012 and its Democratic turnout machine is still alive and well.
But applying that same logic to Alaska, which went for Mitt Romney by double digits, it would seem reasonable to argue that the Democratic incumbent Mark Begich, who by most accounts is hanging on by the seat of his pants, could easily lose his first reelection bid. Particularly if Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell wins the GOP nomination.
Regardless, the Republican’s most logical path to a majority in the Senate is to carry all four tossup Southern states. That effort is made much easier by the increased unpopularity of Obamacare and President Obama in all four states. And these are four states where the Democrats’ “income inequality” message isn’t likely to inspire voters. The South has suffered from poverty and income inequality forever, and every politician since Reconstruction has promised to improve the situation. All have failed, including Obama. Neither refighting the War on Poverty nor igniting a war on women will likely decide the Southern contests.
If Republicans want to win these four seats, they must make each Senate race a referendum on both the president and his health care initiative. If they do this and never let up, they can take the Senate by taking the South.
And if the GOP can’t turn Mitch McConnell into the temporary political version of a “Happy Meal,” they can always serve up some “Baked Alaska” for a taste of sweet victory.
Matt Towery is author of the book “Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency.”