Defcon 4: That’s where Democrats are now. The smart money in Washington is for a hung Senate—maybe the party loses West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas, Montana, and Alaska. But Democrats aren’t actually down in the polls in Alaska.
That state, which hadn’t previously elected a Democratic senator since Mike Gravel (yes, him), is a test case of whether Democrats can help a lousy candidate navigate the Republican primary to face the DSCC on the killing field. Begich is four points ahead of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who’s running, but he’d be 12 points ahead of Sarah Palin if she ran, and he’d be doing even better if failed (and Palin-endorsed) 2010 GOP candidate Joe Miller won the primary. Knowing this, Begich has aggressively trolled Palin, and gotten the predictable angry response in the form of Facebook posts.
This is a playbook Democrats haven’t snapped shut yet. In 2012, Guy Cecil helped shape Sen. Claire McCaskill’s strategy of elevating Todd Akin by attacking him as the “most conservative” candidate in TV ads that, obviously, thrilled conservatives. In 2014, they could try that in Georgia, where two of the most right-wing members of the House are trying to make the runoff. “They’ve never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” said Bennet. Would the DSCC help them in that effort? “If we did, I wouldn’t tell you.”
Defcon 3: This is where the recruiting fails, Sen. Mitch McConnell discredits everyone running against him, and control of the Senate comes down to saving North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Both of them ran ahead of Barack Obama in 2008, but both benefited from higher turnout with the black voters who made up, respectively, 29 percent and 19 percent of the electorate. In 2010, when that turnout fell, Democrats were vaporized in both states.