Family Ties May Not Be Enough to Save Vulnerable Senators

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 2, 2014 · 3:20 PM EDT

It seems like everyone wrote the story: Family political dynasties were supposed to save Mark Begich, Mark Pryor and Mary L. Landrieu, the trio of vulnerable Democratic senators running for re-election in Republican-leaning states.

But as the sports adage says, “That’s why they play the games.”

The three Democrats’ strong family connections to voters in Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana respectively has been one of the most popular narratives of the 2014 cycle. Roll Call, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Newsweek and National Journal all wrote similar stories, just to mention a few.

But with five weeks to go before Election Day, Pryor, Begich and Landrieu are even more vulnerable than they were when the cycle started. And their Democratic colleague, North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, is arguably in better position for re-election, even though she lacks a similar political pedigree.

So what is Hagan’s secret? Of course, she gets to run for a second term in more competitive territory than her red-state colleagues. But Hagan’s race appears to show that having an overwhelming financial advantage and destroying the credibility of your opponent are more important than being part of a well-known political family.

State Speaker Thom Tillis, the GOP nominee in the Tar Heel State, has consistently been upside down (his unfavorable ratings are higher than his favorable ratings) on his image, except for the recent CNN survey. The Republican nominees in Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana have better identification ratings than Tillis.

The North Carolina Senate race is rated a Tossup/Tilts Democratic by the Rothenberg Political Report while Alaska and Louisiana are pure Tossups and Arkansas is rated a Tossup/Tilts Republican contest.

Hagan’s edge can’t simply be chalked up to the purple hue of her state. Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is extremely vulnerable and he comes from a political family, albeit outside of Colorado, and a state President Barack Obama won twice.

Udall’s opponent, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, is even trying to use the incumbent’s family legacy against him in a clever new ad that is disarming for its soft tone. The congressman runs through all the politicians that Udall is related to in an attempt to make his own case for change.

None of these five races are foregone conclusions. It’s possible for Democrats to win all of them, although there is probably a greater chance they lose all of them. But the point is that even the most reasonable, thoughtful analysis early in an election cycle can just turn out to be wrong as the races develop.

That’s why they play the games.