The Shifting Tides of Election 2014

Heading into the 2014 election season, the political climate seemed to forecast a solid Republican year.  That general theme hasn’t changed much as the summer has transitioned into fall and we’ve rounded the final turn.  But there are striking differences in the expectations of certain races.  Some contests that were on everyone’s target lists have faded to the background, while others passed over in the spring as only potentially competitive have moved to the fore.

Altered Field of Play

Game-changing events either vaulted these races into competitive territory or took them out.

Alaska Governor – Sean Parnell-R:  One place Democrats are expected to enjoy mild success in an otherwise disappointing year is among the nation’s contested governorships.  One governor’s mansion Republicans did not expect to lose is in Alaska.  Until the end of September, incumbent Sean Parnell seemed headed to double-digit victory over his two opponents – Democrat Byron Mallott and Bill Walker, an independent former mayor of Valdez.  But then Mallott and the Alaska Democratic Party decided to abandon their nomination and combine forces with Walker.  With Mallott now his running mate, Walker is looking like the man to beat.

Colorado Senate – Mark Udall-D:  This time last year, Republicans could envision plenty of chances to take seats away from Senate Democrats.  Mark Udall’s Colorado seat wasn’t very high on their list.  Sure, he was potentially vulnerable in this purple state, but the GOP’s field of challengers was less than ideal. Cory Gardner, Republican congressman, changed all that when he decided to jump into the race.  The GOP slate quickly cleared for him to breeze to the nomination, and his candidacy has proven worthy ever since.  At the time of this writing, polls show him up by a couple points.

Hawaii Governor – Open (Abercrombie-D):  Before the Democratic primary on August 9th, the Aloha State appeared poised to scuttle their sitting chief executive, Democrat Neil Abercrombie, for a Republican.  That’s quite noteworthy for a deep blue state who voted for hometown hero Barack Obama at a greater clip than any other state in 2008 and 2012.  But Democratic voters decided instead to hand Abercrombie the largest primary defeat of any incumbent governor in U.S. history.  Their choice, state Senator David Ige, has put the blue team back in front here.

Kansas Senate – Pat Roberts-R:  Like the Alaska gubernatorial election, the Senate race in Kansas was supposed to be a headache-free proposition for Republicans.  Incumbent Senator Pat Roberts should have had little problem earning re-election in this bright crimson state.  But weakened by a spirited primary battle and ill-equipped for a close general election battle, the 33-year veteran found himself ensnared in just that when independent businessman Greg Orman’s campaign began gaining traction.  And when Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the race and succeeded in getting his name off the ballot, Roberts fell well behind Orman in the polls.  Things have improved on that front recently for Roberts, but the GOP never expected to have to come from behind to win this one.

Massachusetts 6th District – Open (Tierney-D):  With a cloud of scandal hanging over him, incumbent John Tierney looked a lot like an endangered Massachusetts Democrat, a supremely rare breed in this liberal bastion, as he looked toward a very tough battle against Republican nominee-apparent Richard Tisei.  Whether he would have survived his rematch with Tisei (he won by just a point in 2012) will never be known.  Instead, Massachusetts Democrats in this district threw their lot behind Iraqi War veteran Seth Moulton.  Now that the struggling incumbent is no longer in the picture, Moulton seems likely to keep this seat in Democratic hands.