The unexpected 2012 Senate gains helped us dramatically when it comes to holding the Senate in the next cycle, as we have a 55-45 cushion heading into a midterm where we have a lot of red-state Dems facing various challenges when it comes to holding their seats. One of the most important political stories over the next couple of years will be to ensure a Democratic majority in the Senate heading into the next Presidential election, due to the fact that we cannot risk complete gridlock at the end of Obama's 2nd term. We'll most likely lose a couple of seats, but looking at the upcoming Senators up for election, there's still about a 2/3 chance we'll be successful.
Below the flap we'll go over which races I think will be competitive, which races lean one way or the other, and which races are noncompetitive.
In 2014, 20 Democratic Senators and 13 Republican Senators will be up for reelection. First, we'll go over the group of Senators who will not face a seriously competitive race. When the roundup is done, I believe we will have 6 seats that are currently tossups to defend (AK, AR, LA, NC, SD, WV) as opposed to one seat (ME) that we look good to pick up.
Delaware: The Republican bench is incredibly thin there. Michael Castle, the best candidate on the GOP side in 2010, looks unlikely to run, and there are no other legitimate Republicans of his stature who can win against an incumbent in a Democratic state.
Illinois: Despite some retirement rumors, I believe Richard Durbin will run again, and there are no Republicans who can take him on in a heavily Democratic state.
Massachusetts: Kerry or no Kerry, Brown or no Brown, this state will end up in the Democratic column.
Michigan: If Carl Levin runs again, this is a safe seat. If Levin retires, Michigan could become competitive, but I believe Levin will run one more time.
New Jersey: A Lautenberg retirement opens up the seat for Cory Booker, who I believe will pass on the 2013 NJ governor's race and hold the seat. The GOP has a thin bench here and Christie isn't running for Senate.
New Mexico: Unless Steve Pearce or Susana Martinez run, Tom Udall won't get challenged (and I don't think they're running; Udall creamed Pearce in 2008 and Martinez will probably run for reelection as Governor in 2014).
Rhode Island: Jack Reed is an institution in this state; he will easily win reelection.
Virginia: With Mark Warner's announcement that he will stay in the Senate and run for another turn, this seat goes from competitive to safe, as Warner is the most popular politician in the state.
Alabama: There are no Democrats in Alabama with the stature to take on Jeff Sessions; Alabama is a solidly GOP state at all levels.
Idaho: Jim Risch, the former governor of Idaho, will probably not face a top-tier challenger in this deeply red state.
Kansas: Unless Kathleen Sebelius leaves the HHS Department comes back to Kansas to run for Senate, Pat Roberts is safe. I don't think Sebelius will run.
Mississippi: Thad Cochran or not, there are no real Democratic challengers to make this seat interesting.
Nebraska: Mike Johanns is relatively popular there, and I don't see a significant challenge to him.
Oklahoma: This state is so Republican that Inhofe, or any other Republican, could eat a baby kitten on live TV and they'd still win,
Tennessee: Unless Lamar Alexander retires and Phil Bredesen, the very popular former Democratic governor runs, I can't see a competitive race here.
Wyoming: Unless Dave Freudenthal, the only strong statewide candidate we've got runs, this state is Safe R.
Now for the seats that lean for one party or the other. First, the Leaning Democratic states:
Colorado: Mark Udall is building a very strong base of support as a first-term incumbent. Although the Republicans have a decent bench here (Mike Coffman, Scott Gessler), Udall is favored in a state that is trending blue and hasn't gone Republican in a Presidential, Senate, or Governor's race since 2004.
Iowa: Although Harkin is always strong, his reelection campaigns seem to be relatively tight. Tom Latham would be a formidable opponent; the DSCC would like to see Steve King get out of what will be a bloody primary. Even if Latham makes it out of that primary, Harkin is a strong favorite for reelection in a lean-blue state.
Minnesota: Despite the fact that Franken won only 42% of the vote in the closest race in the country in 2008 which took 6 months to resolve, he has done a tremendous job laying low and doing the work required of him as a Senator. As a result, Franken's popularity has improved significantly and he is a solid favorite for reelection against Phil Kline or Michelle Bachmann.
Montana: The two strongest candidates are actually on the Democratic side (Sen. Baucus and former Gov. Schweitzer). The only way this becomes really competitive is if Baucus barely wins a bloody primary. That's the only reason I have it leaning D instead of safe.
New Hampshire: Democrats did a very good job cleaning out the GOP bench in New Hampshire, placing Jeanne Shaheen in a very strong position. Charlie Bass will most likely be Shaheen's challenger, but she starts a solid favorite because the only other NH Republican with any political capital can't run against her (Sen. Ayotte).
Oregon: Rep. Walden has been rumored to run against freshman senator Jeff Merkley, who faces approval ratings between 45-50% However, Merkley kept his head low, kind of like Franken, and is a favorite for reelection even if Walden runs due to the state's Democratic lean.
Now, the Republican held seats that currently Lean Republican:
Georgia: Saxby Chambliss had to win in a runoff last time, and he's less popular than his Republican colleague Johnny Isakson. Georgia is an interesting case, because the state is Republican, but trending away from them slightly as Cobb and Gwinnett County look more like Atlanta every year. Kasim Reed might make a very interesting challenge should he go for the seat, but Chambliss will be favored.
Kentucky: This is an incredibly fascinating situation. Minority Leader McConnell is not popular with the Republican base, and could get primaried if he makes too many deals with the President. The Democrats have a relatively strong bench, led by Crit Luallen. If Luallen runs and McConnell loses a primary, this seat switches to tossup; otherwise McConnell is still favored. If the Dems nominate Ashley Judd, McConnell will almost surely win, and the state will be Lean Republican even with a Tea Party standard bearer.
South Carolina: This is a similar situation to Kentucky. Lindsey Graham is really unpopular with the Tea Party and is dangerously close to getting primaried. If Graham gets primaried and runs as an Independent, this seat might move to Tossup with a decent Democratic candidate as Graham and the Tea Party standard bearer will split the GOP vote. If Graham survives a primary, this seat moves to Safe Republican.
Texas: John Cornyn is also not a big favorite among the Tea Party, and there are a lot of Texas Republicans who might want to target him in a primary. Democrats are lining up DNC keynote speaker Julian Castro to run; no matter what happens on the Republican side, whoever makes it to the general will be favored due to Texas' Republican lean. If Castro chooses to run for Governor, this seat moves to Safe R.
Now for the Democratic tossups:
ALASKA: Mark Begich is another Democratic freshman who has kept his head low and done the proper job of a Senator. Despite the fact that Alaska is trending towards the Dems, Begich will face a coin-flip reelection if Governor Sean Parnell runs against him, which looks like a distinct possibility. Begich can rely on local popularity himself to buoy him in a red state that is starting to turn purple.
ARKANSAS: The Pryor name is still popular in Arkansas, but Republican Congressman Tim Griffin is gunning for this seat. Although Bill Clinton delayed Arkansas's move to the right, it eventually joined its Southern relatives and became hardcore conservative Bible-toting territory. This is perhaps the most challenging seat for us to hold next cycle.
LOUISIANA: Mary Landrieu is in a similar situation to Pryor, but she's got a couple of advantages over her northern neighbor. Landrieu is much more popular with Democrats in Louisiana than Pryor is in Arkansas, as her name has a legacy. She also has more experience winning hard-fought statewide campaigns. The Republicans look to run Jay Dardenne or one of the five Congressmen against her, but due to Landrieu's local popularity and some population growth finally returning to New Orleans after Katrina, Landrieu has a 50/50 chance to survive.
NORTH CAROLINA: Kay Hagan is another freshman Democrat who doesn't make waves and fits her state very well as a moderate. The danger for her is that this is an off year electorate, she's not fully entrenched, and the state still slightly leans red at the federal level, although it is trending towards us. Several Republicans are exploring a run against Hagan; their primary will tell a large part of the story regarding how difficult a challenge Hagan faces.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Next to Arkansas, this will be the hardest state for us to hold, due to the fact that Senator Johnson is probably retiring and former Republican governor Mike Rounds is almost certain to run in either circumstance. Democrats will have to recruit former Congressman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin to give us a shot to hold the seat in the case of a Johnson retirement. A Rounds-Johnson race is even; a Rounds-Herseth race is leaning Republican.
WEST VIRGINIA: This race is all dependent on whether Jay Rockefeller runs or retires, and whether Shelley Moore Capito runs or not. A Rockefeller-Capito race starts relatively even, with a slight advantage to the Democrats. If Rockefeller retires the race is a complete tossup, with Capito giving the GOP an edge against most of the Democratic challengers, including Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. Until we know Rockefeller and Capito's status, I rate this as a tossup, probably leaning towards the Dems.
Now on to the Republican tossups:
MAINE: This is the only apparent tossup held by a Republican at the present time, due to the state's blue lean and the Tea Party's attempts to destroy all vestiges of moderate Republicanism. Susan Collins is in a very precarious position like her old twin, outgoing Senator Olympia Snowe. If Collins runs and survives the primary, the race leans Republican against Chellie Pingree or former Gov. John Baldacci. If Collins loses her primary or retires, this seat will go to the Dems.