The retirement of Democratic Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) means that six Democrats are set to leave the body in 2014, putting Democratic control of the Senate in jeopardy.
Democrats currently hold 53 Senate seats, and two Independents — Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King — caucus with the party. Republicans need to swing six seats to gain control.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Collins said Tuesday that the electoral map is in “free-fall” for Democrats after Baucus’ retirement.
But there are two reasons Democrats aren’t yet worried about losing control of the Senate.
First, privately, they don’t think any seat’s dynamic has changed other than races in Iowa and West Virginia, where Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin and Jay Rockefeller have announced they will retire om 2014.
Second, they point to the 2012 election, when Democrats were supposed to lose even more seats but ended up gaining two.
“Democrats would have a lot more reason to worry had Republicans not blown a handful of easy elections in 2010 and 2012,” one Democratic strategist said. “We’ve got more of a cushion going into 2014 than most observers were thinking we would six months or a year ago.”
Here’s a look at the state of the race in five key states where Democrats are retiring:
The consensus within the Democratic Party is that Baucus’ retirement actually helps the party. A person familiar with his thinking said that former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer is leaning toward running for the seat to replace Baucus.
Democrats feel much more comfortable with Schweitzer. They are upset with some recent moves from Baucus — including voting against an amendment to expand background checks on gun purchases and saying that the implementation of Obamacare was on track to be a “train wreck.”
“Montana was never going to be an easy state for us to defend,” the Democratic source told Business Insider. “But Schweitzer is the much stronger candidate.”
A recent Public Policy Polling survey found Baucus trailing two potential Republican candidates — U.S. Rep. Steve Daines and former Gov. Marc Racicot. Schweitzer polled better against every potential Republican candidate, and he had double-digit leads over the two most talked-about GOP contenders to date — former State Sen. Corey Stapleton and former member of the State Legislature Champ Edmunds.
Sen. Carl Levin, who has been a Senator since 1979, will retire. The Cook Political Report still lists the race as a “likely” Democratic victory because of Levin’s popularity and because of the lack of strong potential Republican candidates.
A PPP poll found that Levin would beat any Republican challenger by double digits. That won’t hold up with other candidates, but Democrats feel that their lead would be safe.
On the Democratic side, one insider said that U.S. Rep. Gary Peters has shown interest in jumping into the race and “will be making a statement about his plans in the near future.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley is the Democratic candidate in a race that Democrats admit has gone from a likely win to a toss-up. Republicans have yet to settle on a candidate, with the most likely options being Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Steve King.
Democrats, privately, are hoping that Republicans settle on King, because they think his history of controversial statements could make him another Todd Akin-type in the party.
With Tim Johnson retiring, Democrats are bullish on two candidates — his son Brendan Johnson, the U.S. Attorney for the state, and former U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.
A poll taken before Johnson announced his retirement in March found that Herseth Sandlin actually improved Democrats’ chances in a hypothetical race. Tim Johnson trailed both potential Republican candidates — former Gov. Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, who could be in for a long primary battle. Herseth Sandlin fares much better against each and leads Noem.
Other than Iowa, West Virginia is the seat Democrats view as most vulnerable — and with good reason. An early poll of the race found that Republican candidate U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito would trounce Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall.
Charleston attorney Nick Preservati is considering entering the race and would receive backing from the Democratic Party, but has no formal political experience.
According to the Cook Political Report, five other Democratic Senators could be vulnerable — Alaska’s Mark Begich, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Minnesota’s Al Franken, and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan.
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