Between gerrymandering and geographic sorting, Republicans have a solid grip on the House of Representatives. For Democrats to make substantial headway—or win the majority—they would have to run in a favorable political climate—think 2006 or 2008. Otherwise, they’re stuck in the minority.
Indeed, given the extent to which this isn’t a year for Democratic triumphalism, wouldn’t it make sense for the party to abandon its ambitions, leave John Boehner to his dysfunctional caucus, and devote their energy to protecting the Senate from GOP takeover? According to POLITICO, some Democrats say yes:
Some Democratic operatives think a big chunk of that money should be going to Senate contests instead — and they’re beginning to make that case to wealthy contributors. One senior Democratic strategist who is involved in a number of Senate races said conversations with many of the party’s biggest donors about shifting their giving away from the House and toward the Senate had begun and that, “it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing the results.”
“After the health care rollout and with the start of the new year, Democratic donors are starting to focus on a critical choice they have to make: Donate money to pick up a small handful of House races or defend the Senate majority at all costs so that the president can get something — anything — done,” the strategist said.
If you step back from 2014, and look ahead to the next few election cycles—including 2016—it’s easy to see that this is the right choice. For Senate Democrats, this year’s map—where they’re defending seats in red states like North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana—is their toughest in recent memory. If economic conditions worsen, or if turnout drops substantially, the party could easily lose its control of the Senate, all but ending the potential for Democratic action on domestic policy.
This makes holding the Senate a huge priority—it’s a necessary step if Democrats want to finish Obama’s presidency with success and accomplishment. What’s more, it’ll pay dividends in the next election cycle; if this year’s is a bad map for Democrats, then 2016’s is just as bad for Republicans, who will have to defend blue state Republicans during a presidential election year, where turnout is high and the electorate is more diverse.
In other words, if Democrats can keep the Senate for two more years, then—for the first time since 2008—they’re suddenly in striking distance of a filibuster-proof majority, with the potential for pick-ups in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and—most optimistically—Georgia.
A large Senate majority would be valuable if Americans elect a Republican in 2016, and indispensable if Democrats manage another term in the White House. To make an analogy, think Princess Leia giving up Dantooine to save the Rebel base on Yavin IV from the Death Star. It's a sacrifice worth making.