The news was good for Republicans over the weekend when Tom Harkin announced that he wouldn’t seek a sixth term in the U.S. Senate. The 73-year-old legislator, who was bitterly disappointed by the hollow filibuster reform compromise Senate leaders reached last week, would have been a strong bet to win reelection in 2014. But in an open seat contest in the Hawkeye State, Republicans have a real chance at scoring a pick-up.
The GOP’s magic number is six: Post a net gain of a half-dozen seats and control of the upper chamber will be theirs for the first time since 2006. This is actually a much weaker position than the party should be in, given the strong hands it was dealt in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
In each of those cycles, the GOP squandered several winnable races by nominating deeply flawed, polarizing candidates. Without Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, the party might today control the Senate; not only did those candidates lose races that generic Republican nominees would have won, the publicity they generated with their fringe antics helped poison the party brand and hurt Republican candidates elsewhere.