Can Republicans Win the Senate in 2014?

With Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's decision last week not to seek Max Baucus' U.S. Senate seat, Republicans appear one step closer to taking control of the Senate in 2014. They need a net five seat gain to accomplish that task.

The year 2008 was good for Democrats. Obama won the presidency and the "coattail effect" meant that Democrats on the ballot with him had an advantage. Several Democrats were able to win, or defend, Senate seats that year in states where Republicans usually have an advantage, such as Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), and Mark Pryor (Ark.). In 2014, those Senators will reach the end of their six year terms. Additionally, three Democratic senators representing red states have announced their retirements:  Max Baucus (Mont.), Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.V.).

There are six states currently held by Democrats won by Romney in 2012 and holding an election in 2014: Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. Only two states with a 2014 Senate election and currently held by a Republican were won by Obama – Maine and New Jersey. The incumbent in Maine, Susan Collins, is popular and expected to win re-election.

The only state Republicans are expected to lose is New Jersey, which is currently represented by Jeffrey Chiesa, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. This means that Republicans will likely need to win at least six seats.

With Republicans now expected to win the open seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, they will need three more among this list of four: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Of those four, two are held by freshman – Begich (Alaska) and Hagan (North Carolina) – making them likely targets. The remaining two are held by seasoned Democrats who won more than once, even though they represent red states – Landrieu (La.) and Pryor (Ark.).

While Republicans will mostly likely need three of those four, there are four other states where Republicans have an outside chance – Iowa (an open seat), Michigan (held by six term senator Carl Levin), Minnesota (held by first term senator Al Franken), and New Hampshire (held by first term senator Jeanne Shaheen).

Democrats also have some long shot possibilities in Georgia (an open seat) and Kentucky (held by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his fifth term).

For other Senate 2014 predictions, check out Sabato's Crystal Ball or the Cook Political Report.