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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How 3 Southern Women May Sway Democrats' Senate Fate - Races in Louisiana, North Carolina and Georgia Seen as Key to Control of Chamber

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The fate of Democrats this election year rests in the hands of Southern women.

Three Southern women, to be specific. They are seeking Senate seats in races that, perhaps more than any others, will answer the paramount political question of 2014: Can Democrats retain control of the Senate?

Two of them, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, are trying to win re-election on terrain no longer naturally friendly to Democrats.

The third, Michelle Nunn of Georgia, is trying to do something harder, which is to break the GOP hold in the Deep South. She seeks to take back for the Democrats a seat now held by retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. A statewide victory in the South would be a significant Democratic breakthrough.
A look at the simple math of the Senate shows why these three races are key. Democrats now hold 55 seats, counting two independents who tend to vote with the Democrats. That means Republicans need to pick up six Democratic seats to take control.
Democrats have to defend 21 seats they currently hold, while Republicans have to defend just 15, meaning the GOP has more targets of opportunity. Nine of the seats Democrats are defending are very competitive and could go either way; only two Republican-held seats really fit that description.
All three of the Southern Democratic women are running in such competitive races. The race in Georgia is the one where the Democrats have the best chance of taking away a Republican seat, which would help offset losses elsewhere.
In each of these races there are distinct limits to the amount of help President Barack Obama can provide; to some extent, he is a liability. But there are things the president can do to help.
The first is to raise money. One distinct bright spot for Democrats so far this election cycle has been their success at outraising Republicans despite the president's rough political year in 2013, an advantage a sitting president can help maintain.
Nationally, the Democrats' Senate campaign committee raised $52.6 million during 2013, while the Republicans' committee raised $36.7 million. Individually, each of the three women outraised their likely Republican opponents. Being well-funded is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for winning in a tough environment—particularly when well-heeled outside groups are sure to lend Republicans a hand.
Second, Mr. Obama can generate excitement and pump up turnout among the Democratic base, especially minorities. The African-American population is a big factor in each of these states; it represents more than 30% of the population in Louisiana and Georgia, and just over 20% in North Carolina.
Third, the president could approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar-sands oil south across the U.S. for shipment on to refineries in the Midwest and South, tends to be a popular idea in red-tinged states, such as these three, and among independent voters of the kind these Democratic women must woo. It's particularly important to Ms. Landrieu in energy-obsessed Louisiana.
So what are the prospects for these Southern women? Consider their races in turn:
Louisiana: This state used to elect Democrats regularly but has moved steadily Republican. The GOP holds the other Louisiana Senate seat, and five of the state's six House seats, and Mr. Obama won just 41% of the 2012 vote.
Offsetting those problems is the Landrieu name, a venerable one in Louisiana politics, and Ms. Landrieu's relatively moderate voting record. Like other Democrats, though, she appears to have been dragged down by the rough rollout of the Affordable Care Act championed by the president. Odds are she'll face a tough fall runoff against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, a solid contender.
North Carolina: This state is more favorable territory for Democrats; Mr. Obama won North Carolina narrowly in 2008, though he lost it narrowly four years later.
Still, polls suggest Ms. Hagan has her hands full. One advantage she enjoys is the fact that she has prepared for a tough race. She raised $2 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with about $700,000 for state House Speaker Thom Tillis, her most likely opponent. She has $6.8 million in the bank, while Mr. Tillis has about $1 million.
Georgia: This state has become tough sledding for Democrats, but they hope there is enough magic left in the Nunn name to reverse their fortunes. Ms. Nunn has been chief executive of the bipartisan Points of Light Foundation and is the daughter of former Sen. San Nunn. Aside from that golden family name, Ms. Nunn has one other advantage: A crowded field of seven Republican contenders, who could well slice and dice one another in both a primary election and a likely runoff to determine the GOP nominee.


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