The Campaign Spot

Is 2014 Going to Be a ‘Wave’ Election? Sort of.

The past week has seen indisputably good news for Republican Senate candidates in Colorado and Iowa . . . and then some somewhat ominous news in Georgia, and perhaps Kansas and South Dakota.

Periodically, I’ll hear someone say, “If Republicans are winning in Iowa and Colorado, they’ll win in Georgia and Kansas.”

Eh . . . probably. Maybe. Sometimes you hear the inverse, that “if Republican Senate candidates aren’t winning in a landslide in red states like Georgia, Kansas, and South Dakota, it’s not a wave election.”

Even in a “wave” election, the party enjoying the wave loses some races, and it often includes at least one or two statewide races that they “should” have won.

Was 2010 a wave election? With Republicans gaining 6 additional Senate seats, 63 U.S. House seats, and 8 additional governor’s mansions, and adding more than 660 state legislative seats across the country, most observers would say yes. It was enough of a “wave” or pro-GOP year for Republicans to win Senate races in traditionally “blue” or purple states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, but . . . Republicans also lost Senate races in Nevada and Colorado. In California, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman didn’t perform much better than past losing GOP statewide efforts. Republicans picked up some U.S. House seats in New York, but their statewide candidates for governor and both Senate races lost handily. Democratic incumbents like Ron Wyden in Oregon, Patrick Leahy in Vermont, and Patty Murray in Washington won reelection without breaking a sweat.

Democrats were elated with most of the 2012 election results . . . but a few competitive Senate races didn’t break their way. Republican Dean Heller survived in Nevada by a percentage point as Obama won the state, and Jeff Flake hung on in Arizona. Democrats managed to reelect Jon Tester in Montana and elect Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota while Romney was winning those states, but couldn’t elect Bob Kerrey in Nebraska.

The short answer is, candidate quality and campaign quality matter. Sometimes the national mood generates a wind at a candidate’s back and it’s good enough to get them over the top. But a campaign that counts on that is usually going to be disappointed.

Right now, 2014 looks like it’s going to be similar to 2010, a “regional wave” election. Notice that three GOP Senate pickups are in the bag (Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia) and two more are looking pretty likely (Arkansas and Alaska). Then there’s Iowa and Colorado, both looking good for the GOP. Louisiana’s certain to go to a runoff, and that looks really good for Cassidy.

Now look at Democrats big three hope states. In Kansas, “independent” Orman has only led one of the last four polls vs. Pat Roberts, and it’s by PPP. In Georgia, Nunn’s led only one of the past ten polls, and that one was conducted on a weekend. In South Dakota, the Republican candidate has never trailed. None of them are safe bets for Democrats.

Add it all up, and you have a Republican gain of eight seats.

This doesn’t even count North Carolina, where Hagan’s lead is shrinking or New Hampshire, where Scott Brown led the last poll.

So by that measure, it looks like a wave election. But even then, there’s a catch — if the GOP sweeps all of the above races, they’ll have won in only three states that Romney lost — Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

The forecast is for a mild elephant stampede.

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