Will Midwestern Senators Face Electoral Repercussions for Yesterday’s Failed Vote?


Will Midwestern Senators Face Electoral Repercussions for Yesterday’s Failed Vote?

The American electorate, who in polls demonstrated a 90% preference for enhanced background checks, will have their first opportunity to choose new representatives in next fall’s midterms elections. How likely are Midwestern progressives and moderates to make such changes, and when?

Time is on their Side

Voter sentiment regarding the Manchin-Toomey amendment can be expected to fade as time passes, therefore anger over the vote can be expected to yield its maximum influence in the 2014 midterm elections, and to decline in subsequent elections.

The problem is that most of our region’s senators – 17 out of 24 – still have four years or more to sit back and let their constituents forget about the whole thing, regardless of how they voted.

For Democrats, this isn’t much of a problem. Half of the Midwestern (and Democratic) senators who voted Yea won’t seek reelection again until 2018, so they have plenty of time yet.

Republicans, however, benefit equally from fading memories. The majority of the senators who voted Nay on the amendment – 10 out of 12 – will enjoy at least four years before they will face reelection. Disgruntled voters will have to wait for 2016 to see their best opportunity to effect change, when two-thirds of the senators who voted Nay on the amendment – 8 out of 12 – will seek reelection.

The 2014 Midterms

In the 2014 Midterms, the big question appears to be “Can the Democrats hold the line?” Five of the seven Midwestern Senate seats that will come up for reelection in 2014 are currently held by Democrats. At least one of those seats is in danger of flipping to Republican.

  • Only one Midwestern senator who voted Nay on the amendment will be up for reelection in 2014 – Pat Roberts (R-KS). Roberts is extremely likely to win reelection.
  • Two Midwestern senators who voted Yea will be seeking reelection in 2014 – Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN). Both Durbin and Franken are expected to retain their seats.
  • Complicating the matter, four of the seven current senators have publicly stated that they will retire after this term – Mike Johanns (R-NE), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Tim Johnson (D-SD). The Nebraska seat is likely to remain Republican. Iowa could be very competitive, depending upon the quality of the Republican nominee. Michigan leans Democratic, but could also be rather competitive. The South Dakota seat seems likely to flip to Republican.

The Senate seats of Roberts, Durbin, and Franken look safe for the incumbents, so in the Midwest the Democrats chances in 2014 are riding entirely on who wins the seats of three of the four retiring senators. Will the Democrats be able to hold Harkin’s seat in Iowa and Levin’s seat in Michigan, while successfully defending Johnson’s seat in South Dakota?

Bottom Line in 2014:

Best Case Scenario – Democrats hold the line, and the region’s Senate seats remain balanced, 12 – 12.

Most Likely Scenario – Republicans pick up a seat in South Dakota, and the region’s Senate representation leans GOP, 13 – 11.

My Advice – Midwestern Democrats should fight hard to hold the line in the Senate, but look to the House of Representatives for electoral gains.

The 2016 Election

In 2016, Midwestern voters will see nine of their 24 senators come up for reelection. All nine are Republicans. The 2016 election will be the Democrats best chance at shifting their Senate representation to a more moderate view.

  • Eight of these nine senators voted Nay on the amendment – Dan Coats (R-IN), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Hoeven (R-ND), Rob Portman (R-OH), John Thune (R-SD), and Ron Johnson (R-WI).
  • Only one of the senators who voted Yea will be seeking reelection – Mark Kirk (R-IL). 

Bottom Line in 2016: It is conceivable that Democrats could pick up several of the open seats in 2016. At least half of these Senate races should prove to be competitive, though it is far too soon to prognosticate.


If Midwestern Democrats are going to harness the voters’ outrage over yesterday’s failed Senate vote, they will need to be both patient and pragmatic. In the midterms, that energy is likely to affect the composition of the House of Representatives more than the actual Senate, where the vote took place. Still, if Democrats can play defense in the Senate while pursuing gains in the House in 2014, the party’s prospects in 2016 appear to be much brighter.

Corey McLaughlin

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