But let's start off by being clear on what this is not. It is not a simple "here are the 10 races that are most likely to flip" list. Because, with all due respect to the fine efforts of Natalie Tennant and Rick Weiland, even loyal DKE readers are going to get pretty bored seeing West Virginia and South Dakota grace the top of the list month-after-month.
It is also not a "who won the week/month" pundit-fest. Those kinds of subjective festivals of "instant analysis" are often driven by some pretty inane crap. Sure, Bruce Braley did himself no favors over the past two weeks, but does it merit the breathless "ZOMG! GAME CHANGER!" stuff we have seen? Doubtful. If you're skeptical of that dismissal, I'd ask you this: remember how Barack Obama was supposed to be doooooooomed by the "clinging to guns and religion" comment?
There is actually an objective rubric for our list, by the way. But, if you want the specifics, and the inaugural power rankings in the battle for the Senate majority, you'll have to head past the jump.
THE RUBRIC: Three criteria were used to generate our top 10 list. One is competitiveness. This was done rather easily, utilizing our DKE Senate race ratings. If a race had been designated by the Daily Kos Elections crew as a "toss-up," that netted that race 15 points. If the race was designated as a "lean" D/R race, it was worth 10 points. If the race was designated as a "likely" D/R contest, it was worth five points. Finally, the small handful of "races to watch" netted a mere two points.
The second criteria is newsworthiness. Some races, for lack of a more elegant way of putting it, have more going on than others. The criteria here was also objective: a Senate race received a single point for every day in which it was mentioned in a Daily Kos Elections Daily Digest. There was some pretty wide discrepancies here. Amazingly, some races had newsworthy stories in nearly half of the digests for the month of March!
The final criteria is "pollworthiness". Media outlets, campaigns, and polling firms are not going to poll a race for nothing. The more intriguing races are going to get more data points, typically. So, four points were awarded for each poll conducted (primary or general) in a given state's Senate race.
Here was a genuine surprise (at least to me): by utilizing this criteria, fully 27 of the 36 Senate contests on the 2014 docket scored at least one point.
Which, now that I think about it, lends itself well to a fun trivia contest for the true DKE junkies: try to name the nine snoozers that had nary a breath of interest for March!
(The answer will be at the end...no peeking!)
With the criteria now explained, let's move on to the inaugural list.
First, let's give a quick recognition to the also-rans. Here were the seventeen races that received at least one point for the month of March. They were (in order): Montana (John Walsh—17 points), Minnesota (Al Franken—15 points), Virginia (Mark Warner—15 points), Oklahoma "B" (Open seat—13 points), Nebraska (Open seat—9 points), Mississippi (Thad Cochran—8 points), South Dakota (Open seat—7 points), New Mexico (Tom Udall—5 points), Oregon (Jeff Merkley—5 points), South Carolina "A" (Lindsey Graham—5 points), West Virginia (Open seat—5 points), New Jersey (Cory Booker—4 points), Hawaii (Brian Schatz—3 points), Texas (John Cornyn—3 points), Kansas (Pat Roberts—2 points), Maine (Susan Collins—2 points), South Carolina "B" (Tim Scott—1 point)
With the "also receiving votes" crew now dispensed with, here are the "Ten That Matter" in the U.S. Senate:
#10—KENTUCKY (19 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Republican
For a lot of people, this race is the clubhouse leader in media attention, if for no other reason than because it is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's political future at risk (plus, to her credit, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has the resources to make this race really interesting). But while McConnell did mess the bed in spectacular fashion by outing himself as a Dukie in the middle of the NCAA tournament, the race has been a little quiet this month. The main reason? The expected primary challenge that might've captivated a bit more attention just hasn't panned out. And I doubt that Matt Bevin taking a brave stand in favor of cockfighting will make it more likely for the challenger to close that gap.
#9—ARKANSAS (21 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Republican
Surprised this one isn't higher? One of the reasons is simple: there is a real logjam between #4 and #9 (only six points separate them). The other reason is a little more complex, and a little problematic for the Democrats. There is something of a growing sense that the terrain in the rapidly reddening state, plus the available data from the state, are painting a picture of a race that might be getting away from incumbent Mark Pryor a bit. Ironically, only one poll in the state came out this month, and it had Pryor ahead. But there have been six polls since December—four of them have had Republican Tom Cotton ahead.
#8—IOWA (23 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Democratic
Sure, much of the news here in the last half of the month was Braley's foibles, and associated hilarity (Joni Ernst offering a campaign statement by a pig was a true high water mark in political rhetoric). But the bottom line is that multiple polls taken thus far in 2014 tell us two things: (a) the primary on the GOP side may get very, very interesting and (b) Bruce Braley has what could only be described as a very modest edge. Expect this race to still be on this list, long after nobody remembers that Braley slandered a farmer by calling him ... a farmer.
#6 (tied)—MICHIGAN (24 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Democratic
Michigan is a rare bird, really, on this list. It has two characteristics that we really don't see much elsewhere. For one thing, there is virtually no prospect of a dicey primary for either frontrunner. It is nearly universally assumed that GOP former Sec. of State Terri Lynn Land will see Democratic Rep. Gary Peters in November. For another, it is not a tough slog for the Democrats because of traditionally perilous terrain. While Michigan will occasionally break character, it is a state that Barack Obama has carried twice, and fairly comfortably in both cases. That said, the race looks to be awfully competitive. Until this month, Lynn had played the kind of error-free ball needed for a Republican to win the state. That changed for the worse after a GOP surrogate group made an awful accusation that Peters supported abortion rights so his daughters could have "cheap and accessible" access to abortions. Ugh.
#6 (tied)—GEORGIA (24 points)—DKE Rating: Likely Republican
Georgia is everything Michigan is not. It is a red-tinted state that Mitt Romney carried by roughly the same percentage that Obama carried Michigan. And unlike the Wolverine State, Georgia has a Republican primary that could very well become must-see TV. Paul Broun? Phil Gingrey? Jack Kingston? Karen Handel? David Perdue? Now is the time to invest in popcorn futures. The likely Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn, lies in wait. And if that GOP primary gets ugly enough, this race could fly up the charts. If it is a tame affair, the natural terrain of the state might make it harder to get to 50 percent. One ace in the hole for Nunn: GOP Governor Nathan Deal is unloved, and fighting for his own political life.
#5—ALASKA (26 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
Let's face it: from now until November, this one just isn't going anywhere. This will be the last Senate race to be counted on Election Night, and it seems quite plausible that control of the Senate may hinge on this one. The terrain sucks badly for the Democrats here. But, lest we forget, Democrats were credible here in statewide races in years other than 2008 (when Obama actually got thumped here worse than he did in 2012). For his part, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is making a pretty effective case thus far, mixing issue ads that will play well, even if they might not please national Democrats (read: oil) with softer bio ads like this one. A competitive GOP primary could also help Begich out, though polls have this race damned close.
#4—NEW HAMPSHIRE (27 points)DKE Rating: Likely Democratic
Yeah, yeah, the Granite State being this high on the charts this month is entirely about you know ... whatever. The media got their dude in the pickup truck. And three different pollsters took a look in March. What did they find? Meh. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is not destroying Mr. Massachusetts, but her average lead was around 11 points. That's reasonably decisive, which is why we here at Daily Kos Elections still have this race at Likely Democratic. Candidly, I'll be a little surprised if this race is still in the top five next month.
#3—LOUISIANA (30 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
With all due respect to Alaska, astute elections junkies already know that the balance of power in the Senate, thanks to a quirk in the electoral calendar, could be decided on the bayou. That's because the all-candidate "primary" in Louisiana is on Election Night (November 4). If no candidate hits a majority of the vote, then the runoff will happen in early December. With a handful of Republicans in the field, it is at least slightly possible that Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu may battle the near-certain GOP nominee, Congressman Bill Cassidy, in December.
#2—COLORADO (35 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Democratic
Had there been a previous edition of the power rankings here at Daily Kos Elections, this probably would've been the biggest mover in the field. The late February entrance of Republican Rep. Cory Gardner into the race has immediately moved the re-election bid for Democratic Sen. Mark Udall into "must watch" territory. Udall will have to work considerably harder here, though Gardner did manage to fire a shot into his own foot late in the month by going all over the road on his own views on "personhood" legislation. Plus, he does still face a primary challenge, albeit a much more diminished one after he largely cleared the field with his entrance into the race.
#1—NORTH CAROLINA (41 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
It is one of three races that Daily Kos Elections rates as a pure coin flip. It has a vulnerable incumbent in a state that was among the three closest states in the country in the last two presidential elections. It has a Republican primary looming next month that all polling hints is gonna be pretty close, featuring a ginormous field. It is the primary target of the well-heeled outside spending groups (a particularly nefarious example can be found here). And it is the home state of our prolific pals over at PPP, which guarantees regular deliveries of data (like this). Yup ... I'd expect this one to be around for the duration of the campaign, if not in the top spot, then pretty darned close.
Congrats on reading this far, you degenerate fan of all things electoral. You have earned your reward: the trivia answer!
The nine races to notch absolutely ZERO points in this first round of the power rankings were as follows: Alabama (Jeff Sessions—R), Delaware (Tom Carper—D), Idaho (Jim Risch—R), Illinois (Dick Durbin—D), Massachusetts (Ed Markey—D), Oklahoma "A" (Jim Inhofe—R), Rhode Island (Jack Reed—D), Tennessee (Lamar Alexander—R), Wyoming (Mike Enzi—R). If you guessed all nine ... the key to recovery is admitting you have a problem!