Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently announced his retirement, making the total number of senior Democrats who are leaving the U.S. Senate, six.
Baucus will be joined in retirement by long-time senators Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Carl Levin of Michigan, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. These retirements combined account for several generations of experience leaving the Senate. Lautenberg is the last World War II veteran still serving in the Senate and is the oldest at 89 years old.
In addition to these Democratic senators, two Republicans are retiring as well-Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).
These eight open seats, once seen as shoo-ins by well-funded incumbents, are now potential toss-ups. If Republicans were to gain the six seats being vacated by the Democrats, they could attain a majority in the Senate in 2014.
Currently, there are 53 Democratic, 45 Republican, and 2 Independent senators. On Nov. 4, 2014, 35 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for election – of those seats, 14 are held by Republicans and 21 are held by Democrats.
Most the states where voters will cast their ballots are Republican-leaning and seven of the 21 Democratic-held seats are in states that were carried by Mitt Romney in 2012.
Political strategists have different takes on the outcome of the 2014 mid-term elections.
Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report said, "There are some vulnerabilities on the Democratic side, but a lot of it depends on how popular the president is in the midterms and the quality of the Republican [candidates]."
Matt Canter, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) communications director, told CNN that Democrats have proven that they "can win in red states, we can overcome steep spending deficits, and we can defy the odds even when the map is tilted against us. Remember only two Democratic incumbents have lost re-election in eight years."
Yet, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said, "If 2014 is similar to past midterm elections, the demographics of the people who turn out to vote will be very different from the electorate in the presidential elections of 2008 or 2012. If history is any guide, the 2014 midterm electorate will be older and a bit whiter than this year, which could easily benefit Republican candidates."
Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, points out that history reveals that a second-term president's last midterm is "frequently bad for his party." Going back to the era of World War II, he points out that historically, there have been significant congressional losses for a president's respective party in what he refers to as the "sixth-year itch" midterm elections.
"Will there be a sixth-year itch to scratch in 2014?" he asks. "The odds are, yes. But how irritating an itch for the Democratic Party? That is completely unknowable," he says.
The Daily Kos predicts that Republicans will only pick up two seats – in West Virginia and Montana – and that a 2014 Senate will only change slightly to total 51 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 47 Republicans.
Nate Silver of The New York Times reports that these retirements and the potential change of seats in the mid-term election could create "the largest turnover in the Senate in nearly 40 years."
"Since the 1972 congressional elections," he writes, "the Senate has typically seen about six retirements in each Congress. Beginning in 2009, however, senators have been leaving at a significantly higher rate."
As a result of these retirements, which represent a generational shift, the electorate can anticipate an increased turnover in the 2014 election that will usher in younger members.