2014 Senate Races a Year Out, Part 4: The South

ALABAMA: Jeff Sessions is up for reelection and should easily win as the Democrats will likely field just token opposition. PREDICTION: Safe Republican

MISSISSIPPI: In neighboring Mississippi, Republican incumbent Thad Cochran is also up for reelection. As of this writing, he has not indicated whether he will run again. Given his age, he will most likely seek retirement. At least, that is what the Mississippi press is predicting. Cochran was once a rather moderate, Southern Republican voice and his clashes with Trent Lott are well known. Of late, he has sided with the Republican establishment and cast his lot with Mitch McConnell. The most likely GOP candidates may be current secretary of state Delbert Hosemann. Representative Gregg Harper has also been mentioned and state auditor Stacey Pickering. Both Harper and Pickering are relatively young and have political aspirations above their current positions. Two other wild cards can be state senators Chris McDaniel and Michael Watson. At this early stage of the game, most political watchers in Mississippi give a slight edge to Hosemann should Cochran actually retire. For the Democrats, only state attorney general Jim Hood’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate to run against either Cochran or his successor. Hood is best known as the prosecutor who handled the case of KKK members who firebombed a black church in Mississippi in 1964. On the negative side, he is also the state attorney general during Haley Barbour’s controversial pardons. PREDICTION: Safe Republican seat

KENTUCKY: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is up for reelection in 2014. There are many here who have expressed their displeasure with his “leadership.” Count me among them. I have no problem with McConnell per se, but I certainly have problems with him being the Minority Leader. In all probability, McConnell’s biggest opposition will come from a primary challenge. Specifically, Tea Party elements in Kentucky, emboldened by their championing of Rand Paul over the establishment choice in 2010, have placed a target on McConnell’s back. With Congressman Thomas Massie out of the running as their preferred candidate, the job may fall to Tea Party leader and state auditor John Kemper. Incidentally, in a piece of irony, Kemper ran for office in 2011 under the slogan, “A Debt Free Kentucky” while he faced foreclosure and bankruptcy. This may come back to haunt him. Another possible primary challenger, although not the preferred candidate of the Tea Party, would be Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. In all reality, Massie would have been the toughest challenge, so I would expect McConnell to prevail in the primary.

For the Democrats, the name most mentioned is actress and activist Ashley Judd. Since being mentioned, she has been schmoozing it up with Kentucky Democratic big wigs while doing her best imitation of a coal miner’s daughter. Thus far, she is walking and talking like a candidate and she already has “star power.” She may have to contend with some competition in a primary as former representative Ben Chandler, a member of the dying Blue Dog Democrat coalition, is considering a run. There is also the possibility of a dark horse, secretary of state of Kentucky Alison Lunderson Grimes. In the 2011 race for that statewide office, she received the most votes of any statewide candidate. She is a rising star within Kentucky Democratic circles, but 2014 may be just a tad too soon for her. A possible run against Rand Paul in 2016 seems more likely. PREDICTION: Likely Republican

TENNESSEE: Lamar Alexander will seek another term in the Senate and it is likely he would prevail. The Democrats really have no viable candidate on the bench to challenge him. PREDICTION: Safe Republican

SOUTH CAROLINA: There are two Senate races in South Carolina in 2014. It is doubtful that Tim Scott, who replaced Jim DeMint, would face any primary challenge and any likely Democratic opponent would be defeated. The other seat is that of Lindsey Graham who faces potential problems not from a Democratic opponent, but from a Republican primary challenger who will likely come at him from the right. There is the perception among many that Graham is a squishy Republican too eager to moderate and compromise. If that challenge comes, it will likely be in the form of state senator and Tea Party favorite Tom Davis. He has been vocal in his opposition to Graham and would likely get some outside endorsements as the Liberty for All PAC and the Club for Growth have all noted their dislike of Graham. In a state like South Carolina, a challenger victory over an incumbent may not be as bad a bet as in other states like Indiana, Colorado, or Missouri. However, depending upon who the Democrats field, there is potential for an upset if that Democratic candidate can portray themselves as conservative, or if they can highly motivate minority turn out. Personally, I say why upset the apple cart and run the risk and just stick with Graham? PREDICTION: Scott’s seat is Safe Republican; Graham’s seat is Likely Republican.

ARKANSAS: Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor is up for reelection. To get a grasp on this race, harken back to 2010 when John Boozman defeated Blanche Lincoln in an expensive and contentious primary and run off. Although she prevailed, she was soundly defeated by Boozman in the general election. While I doubt that the Democrats would run that risk again through a primary with a candidate decidedly to the left of the Democratic incumbent in an increasingly red state, Mark Pryor is not out of the woods. There are enough Republican possibilities- including all four of the state’s congressional delegation- who could seriously challenge him. Tom Cotton’s name has been mentioned the most. He would, at this point, seem the best and most formidable candidate to take on Pryor. However, the question has to be whether his star has risen too fast? Taking on Pryor, despite the recent propensities of Arkansas, will not be easy. This is not 2010 and Pryor will not enter the race bruised from a serious primary challenge. It may actually be better for him to sit this one out and possibly take on Pryor in 2020 if he runs again, or in an open race. Instead, Lt. Governor Mark Darr may be the best candidate for 2014. PREDICTION: Leans Democratic

GEORGIA: With the retirement of Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss, Democrats are seeing an opportunity to get another seat in the Senate to mitigate losses elsewhere. A victory in Georgia would certainly change electoral politics greater than a Republican victory in West Virginia. And here is the problem: a deep Republican bench with many possibilities mulling a run. A wide open Republican primary and runoff would likely bruise the Republican Party and actually put this seat at risk. That is why it is important that the GOP make every attempt to avoid that state of affairs. Currently, four representatives have been mentioned: Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Tom Price and Tom Graves. When you throw in the possibility of former Governor Sonny Perdue or secretary of state Karen Handel, one can see how this field could be crowded. Handel is best remembered for her unsuccessful bid for the GOP gubernatorial nod which she lost to Nathan Deal. She was also at the center of the Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood controversy. Both those incidents could come back to haunt her. Instead, I see the most likely GOP winner being Paul Broun and the primary field not to be as huge as many are predicting. There could be pitfalls should candidates attempt to “out conservative” one another in a basically conservative state.

On the Democratic side, only two names have been mentioned. Congressman John Barrow has been the target of the GOP for many m cycles now, but he has prevailed because he is a wily politician. This is a Democrat who represents a district that has, after redistricting, become decidedly more Republican. He will have to decide whether a statewide Senate run or running for reelection in his House district is more winnable. My guess is he will stay put. That leaves only one other star in the Georgia Democratic Party- current Atlanta mayor and certified Obama lackey- Kasim Reed. It may be just me, but every time I see him on television and he opens his mouth, my blood starts to boil when the stupid remarks start to flow. Reed, however, has ruled himself out and suggested the aforementioned Barrow which has the liberal blogs quite upset. Barrow, you see, enjoys NRA support and you can’t have any of that in the Democratic Party. PREDICTION: Likely Republican

LOUISIANA: If Republicans had any brain, they would start now running commercials of incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu’s recent speech on the Senate floor announcing that the government did not have a spending problem. Apparently, she got the anti-Fox News memo from the DNC and Obama. Like Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Lincoln in Arkansas in 2010, Landrieu comes off as a moderate within the Democratic Party. But the problem is that despite the so-called moderate rhetoric, her stances have been either nuanced to oblivion, or her votes have been anything but moderate. Quite frankly, her politics stands at odds with those of Louisiana, unless you live in New Orleans. So the question becomes who will challenge her?

Three current congressmen- Bill Cassidy, John Fleming or Jeff Landry- would make formidable candidates and vacating their House districts would not put any of them at risk. The only problem is that a three-way primary, or a nasty two-way primary, could harm the chances of the eventual winner because Landrieu will likely not face any serious primary challengers. Therefore, setting the field early and then hammering away at Landrieu is vitally important. PREDICTION: Going on a limb early here, but… Likely Republican

VIRGINIA; Mark Warner will run for reelection in 2014 knowing full well that his name has been mentioned as a possible presidential nominee in 2016 should Clinton and/or Biden opt out. In fact, he may run even if Biden runs…and he would have a good chance of securing that nomination. From an electoral vote standpoint, Virginia is more important than Delaware, plus he is considerably younger than Biden. So, the Democratic field is a no-brainer. On the Republican side, out-going Governor Bob McDonnell’s name has been mentioned the most although he too may have presidential aspirations. A lot can change between now and 2014 on the Republican side, although this match up would be a good one. However, although McDonnell will likely leave office popular, Mark Warner is equally popular and Virginians will likely go with the incumbent. In the end, I do not believe the GOP should focus heavily here. PREDICTION: Likely Democratic

TEXAS: John Cornyn will likely face the only name mentioned for the Democrats thus far- state senator Wendy Davis. I believe this race should be watched to see how the Democratic Party’s attempt to turn Texas blue is panning out. A strong run by Davis against Cornyn would be a sign that there is trouble on the horizon for the GOP in Texas, especially if she/they manage a large minority turnout that votes overwhelmingly Democratic. In all likelihood, Cornyn will win reelection, so this should be a “laboratory election.” PREDICTION: Likely Republican

NORTH CAROLINA: Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent, will have a large target on her back come 2014. The list of possible Republican challengers is long and impressive. Among the three mentioned current representatives- Renee Elmers, Virginia Foxx, and Patrick McHenry- the latter two may be just a little too conservative. Remember that Obama DID win North Carolina in 2008, albeit by a small margin. Elmers, although clearly conservative, is not as conservative as the other two. If they opt out of a run- and it is likely at least one will run- current state house speaker Thom Tillis’ name has been mentioned as well as state senate leader Phil Berger. Berger’s stock would rise incredibly if he can usher through legislation that eliminates the state income tax, as he has mentioned recently. one name I find interesting and that keeps coming up is former Ambassador James Cain, who served as our emissary under Bush to that political hotbed of Denmark. PREDICTION: Leans Democrat