By Albert R. Hunt
There could be light at the end of the tunnel for Democrats after yesterday’s devastating defeats in congressional and gubernatorial contests; but it’s a couple years away.
Democrats couldn’t find any positive spin to put on the midterm elections, in which they lost control of the Senate and suffered further setbacks in the House and governorships, including two big prizes they thought attainable, Florida and Wisconsin.
With a politically weakened president, they are now looking to 2016. In the presidential contest, as of today, Hillary Clinton looks strong, and the Senate seats in play are in friendlier territory.
This year, Democrats had a lot more states to defend than did Republicans. Many of those races were in states carried by the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
In 2016, Republicans will have to defend 24 of the 34 Senate seats that are up; and 17 of those will be in states that President Barack Obama carried in 2012.
Even before last night’s vote, Democratic operatives were eyeing Republican targets in blue states, including Senators Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Mark Kirk in Illinois and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, where Democratic strategists hope to persuade Gov. Maggie Hassan, who was re-elected Nov. 4, to run for the Senate in 2016.
Nonetheless, Democrats may have some problems of their own, starting with the Nevada Senate seat held by Harry Reid. The Senate Democratic leader called in a lot of political chits to help Lucy Flores with her run for Nevada lieutenant governor. She was trounced.
Had she won, Reid believed it would have made it tougher for the state’s very popular Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, to run against him for the Senate in 2016, possibly turning the state government over to Democrats. (In Nevada, the governor and lieutenant governor don’t run as a ticket.)
Now, some Democratic insiders say, it’s more likely that Reid, 74, will retire and not run for re-election in 2016.
Some Democrats who lost their race could try again in 2016. In Georgia, Republican Senator John Isakson’s term will be up and the most formidable Democratic opponent might be Michelle Nunn, who lost a race for the other Georgia Senate seat on election day.
And if Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky decides to run for president, rather than re-election, there may be another opportunity for Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
For today, however, it’s a safe bet that anyone who has just completed an exhausting and losing campaign isn’t thinking about two years from now.
• Al Hunt writes for Bloomberg View and the views expressed are his own. Reach him [email protected]