Democrats stand little chance of improving their lot in the Senate

For Democrats, the Don Blankenship dream is over. The coal-mining baron and ex-con was a pleasant diversion—the prospect of yet another train-wreck Republican candidate was exactly the kind of opponent that Sen. Joe Manchin needed in his dicey reelection campaign in West Virginia—but now it’s back to the reality of a merciless map that offers little hope for Chuck Schumer’s dream of becoming majority leader.

It may be the cruelest irony of the Trump era. During an election season when the House seems to be a lost cause for Republicans and nearly every indicator suggests massive Democratic gains in November, the outlook for wresting the Senate away from the GOP remains grim.

The long list of flipped state legislative seats since Donald Trump’s election (40 at last count), the supercharged Democratic turnout in recent special congressional elections, the avalanche of small-donor cash, the geyser of grass-roots energy — none of it changes a Senate landscape where Democrats are defending more seats, in more hostile places, than at any other time in memory.

It’s hard to overstate the degree of difficulty in flipping the Senate this year. As Nate Silver has noted, it’s possible that Democrats are confronting the worst Senate map ever—as in, since direct Senate elections began in 1914.

Roughly one-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, but this time the Democrats are defending almost three times as many seats as the Republicans are: 26 to 9. While Democrats simply need to net a measly two seats to win back the majority, they must do it by running a gantlet through Appalachia and some of the whitest, most rural, least Democratic and pro-gun terrain in the nation.

First, the party must cull those two Republicans from a very small herd. Because the bulk of Republican incumbents up for reelection this year are in states that are nearly impregnable—think Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming—Democrats will almost certainly have to defeat Nevada’s Dean Heller and pick up the Arizona seat left open by Jeff Flake’s retirement.

Beyond that pair, everything else is a stretch. Rep. Marsha Blackburn appears capable of blowing a lay-up open seat in Tennessee for the Republicans, and there are signs that Sen. Ted Cruz could be ripe for a takedown from cash-flush Democrat Beto O’Rourke in Texas, but both of those races are mostly progressive wishcasting at this point.

In any case, picking up two seats is the easy part. The Democrats must also protect incumbents in 10 states that Trump won in 2016. Five of those senators (Indiana’s Joe Donnelly; Missouri’s Claire McCaskill; Montana’s Jon Tester; North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp; and Manchin) represent states where Hillary Clinton failed to muster even 40 percent of the vote.
This would mean that Democrats would be unable to block Trump's appointees to the courts and to administration positions.  It would stymie much of the Democrat agenda even if they manage to take the house.  As for those 40 state legislature seats, Democrats have flipped that is pretty small potatoes considering they lost over a 1000 such seats while Obama was in office.


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