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A Wave Election?

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By JAY COST
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So in 2014, Republicans could well do better than six seats. In fact, they could easily take nine seats from the Democrats—in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. In each of these states, Republicans plus independents constitute a majority, and there is no clear Democratic candidate edge. A true repeat of the 2010 wave should therefore give the Republicans 54 seats—give or take—in the Senate.

The big question is whether a coalition of Republicans and independents will actually gel. The fact that it has not yet done so leaves open the possibility that it may never come together, but historically speaking there is no reason to expect it to have formed over the summer months. September will be highly informative: If we are in for a 2010-type wave, we should begin to see a break over the next few weeks.

Weighing in favor of a 2010 repeat is the relative weakness of President Obama. At this point in 2010, his job approval rating in the Real Clear Politics polling average was 46 percent; today, it is 42 percent. That decline in approval is matched by an increase in disapproval, from 47 percent to 52 percent. On the other hand, the Republican party’s reputation has seen a similar decline. Polls conducted over the spring and summer by CBS News, ABC News/Washington Post, and Gallup suggest a 1- or 2-point decline in the party’s favorable rating since 2010, and a 4-point hike in its unfavorable rating. On top of that, the consensus among nonpartisan pundits at this point is for something less than a pick-up of nine seats, in large measure because of persistent weakness in the GOP’s brand. 

While it is far too soon to say what will happen in November, we can already lay down a clear marker for evaluating the results. The Democrats’ position has unmistakably declined relative to this point in 2010. If Republicans cannot capitalize on that weakness, then they will have some serious soul-searching to do. If strong candidates like Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner cannot capture seats in purple states like Colorado and Iowa this year, how can the party hope to win the purple states in the presidential election of 2016? Moreover, if it cannot produce clear Republican majorities in states like Alaska and Louisiana, what will that say about the enthusiasm of conservative voters ahead of the showdown with Hillary Clinton?

The Republican party’s reputation has been dreadful for nearly a decade. No party can succeed for very long if three-fifths of the people dislike it. The GOP has been struggling for nearly a decade to hold together its historic alliance between business interests and grassroots conservatives, and to appeal to the swing voters who hold the balance of power. If it fails to win a strong victory this November, Republicans should take this as a sign that the health of the party is in critical condition. 

This year, Republicans should do not only well, but very well. If they don’t, it will be the surest sign yet that something is very wrong with the Grand Old Party.

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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