14 Factors to Watch in the 2014 Midterms

President Obama and the Democrats clearly have had a case of the winter blues that could well carry over into the fall elections.  Republican David Jolly’s upset win in a Florida special election in a district that President Obama had carried twice is a warning sign that it will be extremely difficult for Democrats to re-take the House of Representatives – and Democratic control of the US Senate is now in even more jeopardy.  Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is now gleefully predicting a GOP tsunami that will wash over the entire country, Red, Purple and Blue states alike.  Michael Barone, co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, titled a column after the Florida election “Democrats are going down with Obama-Care” and compared them to the French generals who quickly lost to the German Army in 1940.

And Americans are generally in a foul mood: every independent survey in the first quarter of 2014 showed that by margins of at least 2-1, voters believed that the country was on the wrong track.  With the President’s job approval consistently below 50% in 2014, the voters will likely take out their discontent on his party.

Mid-term elections are historically a forum for the opposition: in over 85% of off-year elections in the past century, the President’s party has lost seats.  To govern is to choose as the old saying goes, and choosing policies invariably creates opposition that shows up in the next mid-term election.  Beyond history, the Democrats have more Senate seats to defend this year (21 compared to 15 for Republicans).  Even worse, 7 Democratic Senate seats – in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia – are up in states carried by Mitt Romney two years ago with Republicans needing a net gain of six to take Senate control.  So, it was always the longest of long-shots for Democrats to make gains this year.  The historical odds already favored a Republican win in 2014 – and they still do.  The question is: will the GOP win big or small?

The early polls point to a sizable Republican edge: in the “generic” question on which party voters want to see controlling Congress, the Democrats have not been above 50% since the government shutdown went badly for Republicans last fall.  And undecided voters often break against the President’s party in the end.  As of this writing, Republicans clearly have the advantage.  To guess the size of their possible victory, we can try answering these 14 key questions….

1. Will the “Six-Year-Itch” Continue? 

Historically, mid-term elections in the sixth year of a party’s control of the White House have often seen big losses: in 1918, the Democrats lost both Houses of Congress after World War I, FDR’s Democrats lost over 70 House and 7 Senate seats in the recession of 1938 amid a controversy over FDR’s plan to “pack” the Supreme Court with Democratic appointees, the Republicans lost 48 House seats and 13 in the Senate in the sharp recession of 1958, the Democrats dropped 47 in the House in 1966 due to Vietnam and race riots,

Republicans lost 48 House seats in the 1974 Watergate election and Democrats took both Houses back in 2006 during George W. Bush’s second term.  The reason for these defeats is that an Administration usually runs out of steam in the second term and voters are less forgiving of policy errors.  With the various Obama-Care problems, Middle East turmoil and a stagnant economy, the potential for Democratic losses in the Senate is large.  Expert handicapper Charlie Cook rates only two Republican Senate seats as vulnerable while he sees at least eight Democratic seats as in trouble.

2. Will The Tea Party Keep Winning GOP Primaries? 

Since 2009, when grass-roots conservatives began to organize in opposition to the President’s health care plan and housing bailouts, “Tea Party” candidates have repeatedly upset the Republican Establishment in primaries, most famously Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and in Indiana when six-term incumbent Richard Lugar lost.  This year, the most prominent Tea Party effort is in Kentucky where a staunch conservative, businessman Matt Bevin is seeking to oust Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (after 30 years in the Senate).  Other GOP primary races to watch are Mississippi where six-term Senator Thad Cochran is only slightly ahead of State Senator Chris McDaniel and in Georgia where former Secretary of State Karen Handel just won the support of Sarah Palin in an open-seat race.