A Senate retirement is one of those wild cards in politics that can give the opposition party a shot at picking up a seat.
Typically, incumbents enter the campaign season with name recognition, seniority, and a strong fundraising advantage. So an open seat can help level the field.
But before retirements are even factored in, the 2014 campaign cycle represents an unusually strong chance for Republicans to gain Senate seats: Democrats currently hold 21 of the seats that will be up for election (including a special election in Hawaii); Republicans, only 13. In 2016, the odds swing back to favor Democrats, who are defending 10 seats to 24 for Republicans.
Still, much depends on who opts to stay and fight for their seats. Here are eight senators who have decided not to seek reelection in 2014, giving hopefuls in both parties a rare shot at a US Senate seat – and, moreover, one that could flip control of the Senate.
[Updated Sept. 24, 2013.]
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that he will not seek a third term on Jan. 25, citing "frustration" with Washington gridlock. But the prospect of a costly, bruising primary fight with a tea party opponent, such as the one that toppled six-term Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana in 2012, could also have figured in his decision.
Tea party activists in Georgia and beyond were spoiling for a chance to knock out Senator Chambliss, who is best known for his efforts to work across the aisle with Democrats like Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia in the so-called Gang of Six, which tried to find middle ground on curbing deficits and debt. Only 38 percent of likely voters in the GOP primary backed Chambliss, compared with 43 percent who favored a more conservative unnamed candidate, according to a December poll, although in a hypothetical head-to-head race in which both candidates were named, Chambliss defeated all likely GOP rivals.
"Many people in the tea party movement here in Georgia felt Chambliss was tired and unwilling to fight the difficult battles to control government spending in Washington without increasing our nation’s tax burden," said Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer in a statement after Chambliss announced his decision not to run for reelection. Tea party activists have pledged to find a strong conservative voice to replace him.
On Feb. 6, Rep. Paul Broun (R) of Georgia, a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, announced his candidacy for the open Senate seat. Some GOP activists fear that a Broun candidacy could turn on toxic gaffes, along the lines that famously felled GOP Senate candidates such as Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana in 2012 or Nevada's Sharron Angle and Delaware's Christine O'Donnell in 2010. (There's now a mini-civil war within GOP ranks over whether national super "political-action committees," such as Karl Rove's new Conservative Victory Project, should help ensure that only electable conservative candidates make it through GOP primaries in 2014.)
If the GOP nominee swings too far to the right, it opens up prospects for Democrats in Georgia, which is typically a strong red state. With Chambliss out of the race, Georgia is viewed as the No. 1 prospect for a Democratic takeover in the 2014 Senate campaign cycle. The demographics of the state are shifting, with more black and Hispanic voters as well as younger voters in the electorate and likely to support Democrats.
While Republicans face a crowded and likely divisive primary, Democrats rallied quickly around the candidacy of Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D), a popular centrist and, until his vote against the Gulf War, a likely presidential contender. Ms. Nunn, a former CEO of President George H. W. Bush's Points of Light Foundation, is new to politics but a recent Public Policy Polling survey has her either tied with or leading all her potential GOP opponents. But "a lot of voters are undecided, and they lean Republican," the poll concludes.
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