WASHINGTON — A GOP-friendly electoral map, along with a spate of retirements among red-state Democratic senators, has once again favorably positioned Republicans to take control of the Senate in 2014.
But Republican operatives are working feverishly to ensure that the bitter split between the party establishment and insurgent tea party conservatives does not lead to a squandered opportunity and GOP disappointment for the third set of elections in a row.
Democrats must defend 21 seats in 2014 , including six in states that President Barack Obama lost in 2012 by double-digit margins, while Republicans are defending 14. Add to that the retirement of a series of veteran Democrats — John Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan and Tom Harkin of Iowa — whose appeal at the ballot box will be hard for their party to replace.
Republicans need to pick up six seats to retake the majority they lost in 2006, and recent history suggests that the task is doable, if difficult. More concerning for Republicans, however, is whether they will again have to endure nasty primaries that produce either triumphant insurgents with limited appeal or establishment survivors who underperform with conservative voters in the general election.
There are already declared and potential candidates that the GOP establishment sees as less than desirable, including Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey of Georgia, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and former congressman Jeffrey Landry in Louisiana.
Senate Republicans have conducted an internal review of their recent failures to better prepare themselves for the pitfalls ahead, both in defending incumbents and in playing offense in winnable races. The review is similar to the "autopsy" that the Republican National Committee performed after Mitt Romney's disappointing loss to Obama last year.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) surveyed candidates, staff and consultants involved in 20 Senate races over the past three elections. The single biggest problem identified was poor communication support in dealing with the fast pace of modern campaigns, GOP strategists said.