Washington wisdom suggests outright control of the Senate is the GOP's to lose. The environment seems consistent with that. The public leans towards GOP control of Congress. The President's approval is under water by double digits in key states and some core issues are going south for their party. Historically, the party of the White House doesn't do well in the off year election during a President's second term and given their base historically doesn't show up well in off year elections anyway, therefore Democrats face a potentially toxic political environment in November.
The math and the cadre of quality GOP candidates also seems to suggest a GOP advantage. The GOP needs six seats to regain the majority outright. Three of those seem certain, assuming the GOP candidates in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia keep their eye on the ball. That leaves a target rich environment of another eleven or so potentially competitive Senate races from which the GOP needs to win three, assuming they hold Georgia and Kentucky. In six of those eleven states, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina, the GOP candidate leads in three and the other three are legitimate jump balls. Let's not slice this to fine at this point. They are all close. There are five other races in Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Virginia that lean Democratic but with numbers to iffy to provide much comfort. A little push from a legitimate wave and the close seats and anyone of these leaners could move in the GOP direction.
Still, the GOP has recently squandered similar opportunities. This time, however, it may be less about bad candidates than outdated campaigns. The recent upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia teaches us three obvious lessons; keeping your eye on the ball back home matters, money alone is no cure for taking your eye off the ball and the electorate everywhere is pretty angry at Washington arrogance. Maybe not so obvious, however, was the oft stated disdain for Leader Cantor's cozy relationship with "corporate influence." While anti-big business, "crony capitalism" has been part of the Tea Party line for some time, it was full-throated the day after this unknown and underfunded candidate upset the Majority Leader even after being outspent 5 to 1.
As I was preparing my thoughts for this newsletter, Red State published an article entitled "Big Business is afraid of conservatives - and they should be." Although I don't buy the full narrative, it does speak to a growing belief among many that "corporate" America is as much a part of the problem as "big government" and hints that big, overt corporate support of candidates may not always be as helpful as it once was.
This carries a significant warning, less related to the rhetoric of the extreme right than it to the tactics used to defend against their insurgency. Congressman Ralph Hall (R-TX) had the support of the business "establishment" and lost in a run off. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) had the support of the establishment too and came in a close second in his primary and is forced to a runoff. Conversely, Tea Party targets Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made the ground game and personal voter contact mainstays of their campaigns and won handily. While it is obvious there was a significant difference in the capability of these candidates, it does suggest there is no substitute for real grassroots in this environment, even by, or especially by, business. Maybe we should keep our eye on the same ball.
Brad Dayspring, a former Cantor aide and NRSC Communications Director said last week, "one of the extremely valuable, must follow lessons is you have to adapt and run a modern campaign. Doing things the same old way in the current environment and with the current electorate isn't going to cut it anymore." Good advice for the GOP and for the business community.