The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

June 9, 2014

Voting trends undermine parties' Senate dreams

WASHINGTON — With most of this year's Senate primary elections complete, Democrats talk boldly about their chances in Kentucky and Mississippi, while Republicans gaze hungrily at Oregon and Colorado.

Time for a reality check.

Both parties face big hurdles in achieving such against-the-grain triumphs. Studies show it's increasingly difficult for Senate candidates to win in states their party lost in the previous presidential election.

That leaves Republicans, virtually assured of keeping control of the House, hopeful about gaining the six seats they need this fall to control the Senate for President Barack Obama's last two years in office.

Democrats are defending Senate seats in seven states that Obama lost, sometimes badly. All those races are leaning Republican or considered highly competitive.

The only Republican seeking re-election in an Obama-won state is Maine's three-term Sen. Susan Collins, considered safe.

The GOP's impressive recruiting has Republicans talking of possibly taking Democratic-held Senate seats in Oregon, Colorado, Iowa and other states Obama carried. Promising Democratic candidates in Kentucky and Georgia, plus bitter Republican infighting in Mississippi, have stoked talk of possible Democratic upsets in those states.

Anything is possible, of course. But those scenarios would defy recent trends in American voting.

"There's a larger proportion of Senate seats going to the party that won the presidential election" in the state, said professor Gary Jacobson, who tracks such data at the University of California, San Diego. For all the talk of low approval ratings for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Jacobson said, "it's a pretty red state. It's tough to imagine him losing."

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz agreed. Senate races are becoming increasingly "nationalized," he said. That means voters' presidential sentiments are more likely to match their Senate choices.

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