Karl Rove says Republicans have an "outside chance" of winning a majority in the Senate in 2014, as long as they don't nominate awful candidates. Conservatives activists railed against Rove since his American Crossroads group announced it was creating a Conservative Victory Project to prevent Todd Akin-types from winning Senate nominations, so this is a bit of self-defense. Rove writes on the op-ed page of today's Wall Street Journal:
Republican success will depend on having quality Senate candidates. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock self-destructed last fall, and other candidates squandered important opportunities.
But Rove ignores a couple problems. One, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock had the same position on abortion as the official Republican Party platform. Two, several non-Akin-types lost in 2012, too. Why did they self-destruct? They didn't say something weird about abortion or rape. Nevertheless, the Akins of the world make politics more interesting. Here are some of the most promising seats for Republicans to pick up in 2014, with an analysis of their Akin potential.
Seat: Open. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring.
Akin potential: High. Rove warns that, "Georgia will have a big primary but should remain Republican unless a candidate ill-suited for the general election sneaks through the primary." Romney won Georgia by 8 points, a much smaller margin than in Montana and North Dakota. And Georgia's primary promises to draw many colorful candidates.
They include Rep. Phil Gingrey, who said Akin was "partly right" about women's bodies blocking rapist sperm: "We tell infertile couples all the time … 'Don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.' So he was partially right, wasn’t he?" Sen. Rand Paul just endorsed Rep. Paul Broun, who called evolution "lies straight from the pit of hell." Rep. Jack Kingston entered the race by telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he "will yield no ground to any of my opponents as to who is the most conservative."
The Associated Press reports that Rep. John Barrow could put together a coalition of black voters, urban liberals, and suburban moderates, especially if there's an Akin factor. Michelle Nunn, an executive who's the daughter of popular former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, could also run.
Akin potential: Lower. Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, left office in January after two terms with a high approval rating, and might be poised to run for Baucus's seat. Schweitzer polls ahead of all possible GOP candidates except former Gov. Marc Racicot. Racicot beats Schweitzer by 1 point, according to a Public Policy Polling survey in February. In 2003, Racicot angered evangelicals by meeting with the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. That's not very Akinish. On the other hand, Denny Rehberg himself is considering running again.
Seat: Open. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson is retiring.
Akin potential: Moderate. Rove likes former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, and writes that if he "faces a first-tier Democratic opponent, he'll have to raise more money and mount a stronger campaign than in his gubernatorial races." Maybe so. But Rounds also has an Akin quality. In 2006, Rounds signed a law banning abortions, with no exception in the race of rape or incest. That is exactly the position of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. But Rounds is considered the strongest candidate. Rumored Democratic candidates are Johnson's son, Brendon Johnson, a U.S. attorney general, and former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who lost in 2010.
Seat: Open. Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring.
Akin potential: Moderate. Rove describes Rep. Shelley Moore Capito as "a terrific campaigner." She raised $915,000 in the first quarter of 2013. But just after she announced her candidacy, the Club for Growth called Capito the "establishment candidate." Former state legislator Pat McGeehan is challenging her, saying he's "a true conservative... someone who’s pro-gun, pro-coal, pro-life, and, most importantly, pro-Constitution."
Seat: Up for re-election is Democratic Rep. Mark Pryor
Akin potential: Lower. A possible Republican challenger is Rep. Tom Cotton, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran. He's more known for his hawkish foreign policy views than the social issues stuff.
Seat: Up for re-election is Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu
Akin potential: Moderate. Rep. Bill Cassidy will challenge Landrieu, and the physician is mostly known for attacking Obamacare. But! Tony Perkins of the evangelical activist group The Family Research Council has been floated as a potential candidate.
Seat: Up for re-election is Democratic Sen. Mark Begich
Akin potential: High. Joe Miller is considering running against Begich. A Sarah Palin-endorsed candidate in 2010, Miller defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary, only to lose to her write-in candidacy in the general election. During the campaign, Miller said, among other interesting things, that the U.S. should consider East Germany's example in stopping the flow of immigrants. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell could also challenge Begich.
Seat: Up for re-election is Democratic Rep. Kay Hagan
Akin potential: Unknown. Rove writes that "The picture is less clear in North Carolina." Hagan leads all potential Republican challengers in a Public Policy Polling survey. Of seven potential candidates, only state labor commissioner Cherie Berry has a positive favorability rating.