Contentious Primaries are Dinging Democrats 2016 Senate Hopes

The 2016 presidential race continues to make for great headlines. With this many candidates and this many personalities being given nearly infinite opportunities to say something intriguing, bombastic or gaffe-worthy, it’s no surprise that the media is having a field day. Given the tabloid-like behavior of the news media today it’s little surprise that Democrats under-the-radar attempt to recapture the Senate isn’t exactly making the front pages. That said, the battle for the Senate majority may be just as politically important as the race for the White House, and, if you pay enough attention, you’ll notice it’s replete with its own dramatic storylines.

One of them has been Democrats inability to attract top-tier candidates in key races. Even if they were able to pull off a Nick Saban-like recruiting coup, Democrats would have faced tough sledding. The party needs to capture either four or five seats–depending on which party wins the presidential election–in order to regain a Senate majority. Considering that there are only seven GOP-held seats up for grabs this year that are considered competitive and there are two Democrat-held seats that Republicans have their eye on, cobbling together four or five wins is difficult.

Essentially, Democrats have to run the table in toss-up states like Illinois, Wisconsin and Colorado, places that are far from a sure-thing. Then they have to catch breaks in two of three states that currently lean in the GOP’s direction: Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire. And then they have to hope that they don’t blow it in toss-up-ish races for seats that they currently hold in Nevada and Colorado.

As Josh Kraushaar reports for National Journal, although the math is clear, the path to a majority is rocky.

For a while, they appeared on track, but in the last month, the storm clouds have gathered. Former Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina opted not to run again for the Senate, leaving Democrats empty-handed as they seek a challenger against Sen. Richard Burr in the swing state. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who looked likely to challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte, now appears to be hedging her bets in the midst of a tough budget battle with Republicans. Scandal-plagued Rep. Alan Grayson is taking on party favorite Rep. Patrick Murphy in Florida, and he’s poised to spend millions damaging Murphy’s image in the primary. Meanwhile, party concerns over former Rep. Joe Sestak continue unabated in Pennsylvania—with few alternative candidates looking to run. Even Strickland, despite leading in several polls, disappointed party officials with his underwhelming first two quarters of fundraising.

Notably, Democrats aren’t making life any easier on themselves. In four key races, each of which is crucial to winning back the Senate, Democrats are caught in a brutal primary, often from unwanted challengers that are stirring up trouble from the party’s left-most flank. Alex Roarty reports for National Journal:

The latest showdown was set Tuesday, when a former top aide to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Katie McGinty, declared she would seek the party’s nomination for Senate in a race that already includes former congressman and 2010 nominee Joe Sestak.

The Pennsylvania race joins a list of intraparty showdowns that already includes Ohio, where former Gov. Ted Strickland is trying to fend off a young city councilman from Cincinnati, and Illinois, where Rep. Tammy Duckworth faces the former president of the Chicago Urban League. In Florida, the most high-profile fight of all awaits, when outspoken Rep. Alan Grayson takes on Rep. Patrick Murphy.

The bevy of primaries is a relatively new phenomenon for Democrats, who have escaped most recent election cycles with nary a serious fight in a state considered a general-election battleground—and it has left leading operatives scrambling to devise a strategy to make sure the strongest possible nominee reaches the general election. The fights have also left Republicans sensing opportunity to help their own chances of holding onto a majority.

The Democrats are already scrambling to try and lock things down. In a nearly unprecedented move, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already endorsed candidates in places like Florida, Illinois and Ohio, where the races are far from settled. Coalescing behind a candidate can be a smart strategic move, but in this political climate, where the public’s frustration with Washington is palpable and anger with the establishment is fueling the rise of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, an official endorsement from the party could be a kiss of death.

There is no doubt a damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don’t feel to Democrats’ current political balancing act. But with absolutely no room to maneuver, one false step could cause their hopes of winning the Senate in 2016 to plummet back to earth.