Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer and the unofficial start of the general election. While political campaigns already have spent months, if not years, pressing the flesh and slinging mud, this marks the moment that those voters who only casually follow politics start to pay attention. If you’re just tuning in, here are five of the most interesting Senate races of 2014.
Republicans are poised to become the majority party in the Senate and gain the six seats necessary to gain control of that chamber for the first time in a decade. But it’s possible they could do so even as their leader loses. Five-term Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell is in the race of his life against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Despite the Bluegrass State’s clear GOP leaning, McConnell is deeply unpopular in his home state. The race is poised to be the most expensive Senate campaign in American history and already is shaping up to be one of the ugliest.
What happens if you pit a Republican stereotype of a Democrat and Democratic stereotype of a Republican and run them against each other in a swing state? That’s the proposition that seems like it’s being tested in Iowa’s Senate race where Republicans are painting Democrat Bruce Braley as an effete out-of-touch elitist and Democrats are depicting Republican Joni Ernst as a Palinesque extremist. But while this sounds like almost every other race in recent years, it’s managing to include elements as disparate as therapy chickens and conspiracy theories about the United Nations in the process, making it one of the weirder races in the country.
It’s normally not a winning recipe for a Democrat to run an ad touting Obamacare in a Republican state in the South. But it seems to be working for incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor in Arkansas. Pryor, a second-generation senator, is holding off a fierce challenge from conservative idol Tom Cotton. Cotton, an Iraq veteran who graduated from both Harvard and Harvard Law, has become the beau ideal among conservative donors from all wings of the party. The race will go down to the wire but it will be a key test to see if a conservative Democrat like Pryor can still be elected in an increasingly Republican South.
Remember Scott Brown? The Massachusetts Republican who pulled off a shocking special election upset in 2010 to take the seat once held by Ted Kennedy and end the Democratic supermajority in the Senate is back. Only this time, Brown is running in New Hampshire. Having thought better of the dubious political prospects of being a Massachusetts Republican after being defeated by Elizabeth Warren, Brown moved up Interstate 93 to New Hampshire where he’s now taking on incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Brown’s race will be a big test of whether carpetbagging is as big of a negative for politicians as it once was. Shaheen is currently the favorite but the race is expected to be very competitive.
If you don’t want your elections to stop in November, there’s always Louisiana. Because of the Bayou State’s peculiar election laws, the Senate race there likely won’t be decided until December. Two-term incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is hoping to get over 50% against a field that includes Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy and Tea Party darling Rob Maness on November 4. If she doesn’t (and no one else gets a majority of the votes either), the race goes to a runoff in December among the top two finishers and it’s possible that runoff could determine control of the Senate in 2015. The race is currently dead even and, as always in the strange, twisted world of Louisiana politics, anything could happen.