this Jan. 6, 2014 file photo, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Even as Republicans
celebrate their Senate takeover, they are making plans to
defend it. In the 2016 Senate elections, GOP candidates will
be defending incumbents in states President Barack Obama won
_ a stark turnaround from this past November when Democrats
were on the defense.
Senate majority in hand, ascendant Republicans are set to
challenge President Barack Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill
come January. But a much tougher election map two years from now
could force the GOP right back into the minority.
In November 2016,
Republicans will defend 24 seats, Democrats 10. Seven of the GOP
seats are in states that President Barack Obama won with 50
percent or more of the vote in 2012.
It's a stark
reversal from this past November, when Democrats were the ones
contending with a brutal map, including candidates running in
seven states Obama had lost. Democrats were crushed on Election
Day, losing nine seats and their Senate majority.
It will be a
tough climb for Democrats to make up those losses, and there's no
guarantee they will. But coming off November's trouncing,
Democrats sound eager about their chances in states such as
Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Illinois, while Republicans are
preparing more to defend past victories than try to score new
this Nov. 14, 2013 file photo, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.,
right, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Even as
Republicans celebrate their Senate takeover, they are making
plans to defend it. In the 2016 Senate elections, GOP
candidates will be defending incumbents in states President
Barack Obama won _ a stark turnaround from this past
November when Democrats were on the defense. Sen. Mark
Warner, D-Va. is at left.
doubt about it, it's going to be a bigger challenge than
2014," said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, among the
Republicans at the top of the Democrats' pickoff list. "But I
think we have a really good opportunity here in the next couple
years. We will reach out to the other side. I think Americans,
Wisconsonites, will find out that we're not the party of
Sen. Brian Schatz
of Hawaii, one of the Democrats likely to be safely re-elected in
2016, said his party already is eyeing a path to retake control of
the Senate. Democrats would have to gain a net of four seats if
there's a Democrat in the White House — because the vice
president can cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate — or five if
the GOP wins the presidency.
four or five seats is no small task, but we are certainly in a
position to do so," Schatz said. "The electorate is
going to be different and I think Democratic elected officials and
candidates and most importantly voters are going to be excited for
a presidential race, and we're excited to play offense."
strong headwinds on numerous fronts in November: Obama's low
approval ratings, a scandal involving Department of Veterans
Affairs' hospitals, the Ebola outbreak, the rise of Islamic State
extremists. Compounding everything was the painfully slow economic
It's too soon to
say what new issues may arise in the next two years or how strong
the economy will be. But presidential elections can favor
Democratic congressional candidates by increasing turnout of young
and minority voters, and Democrats will not have to spend time
distancing themselves from an unpopular incumbent.
both parties are looking at many of the states Obama won in 2012,
plus a few others, as the most contested places in 2016 where
Democrats could try to defeat Republicans. In addition to
Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Illinois, the list includes New
Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.
concerned mainly about defending seats in Colorado and Nevada,
where Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid faces what could be a
bruising re-election fight if he seeks a sixth term.
Some analysts and
Republican strategists say that as tough as the map looks for the
GOP, there are some factors in the GOP's favor. Republicans have
strong incumbents in Democrat-friendly states, such as Kelly
Ayotte in New Hampshire, Rob Portman in Ohio, and Marco Rubio in
Florida, if he runs for re-election rather than the presidency.
The GOP's strong
showing in November gave them breathing room with a 54-seat
majority, making it that much harder for Democrats to make up the
difference. States such as New Hampshire or Illinois may be easier
for Republicans to defend than strongly GOP-leaning Arkansas,
Louisiana and others were for the Democrats this year.
"In the face
of what can seem to be a very steep climb for the Republicans you
really have to look at each individual race and ask yourself about
the vulnerability of each of those candidates," said Ross
Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.
"These Republicans are pretty skillful politicians. I don't
see Kelly Ayotte as a particularly easy mark for the
Wicker, R-Miss., who will lead the National Republican Senatorial
Committee through 2016, acknowledged a "difficult map."
But, he added, "You take them one by one and I feel very,
very good about it."
thing that helps our candidates is, state by state, the fact that
they've tended to business, they've been diligent legislators and
taken care of the home folks," Wicker said.
fortunes may depend in part on how the newly GOP-controlled Senate
functions and whether incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of
Kentucky can advance legislation or gets hamstrung by the tea
party faction in his caucus led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, another
potential White House candidate.
question is will the Republicans want to work with us or will the
tea party pull them too far over," said Sen. Chuck Schumer,