Senate majorities can be won or lost 18 months before Election Day. At least it felt that way after Brian Schweitzer, the popular former governor of Montana, opted this month against a Senate campaign. The decision stunned Democrats, who had confidently courted Schweitzer for months, publicly pledging support and pri-vately boasting that his entrance would all but guarantee the party would retain the seat held by retiring Sen. Max Baucus.
Now, instead of confidence, Democrats feel the first inklings of panic. They're worried the Montana campaign will deteriorate like the open-seat races in West Virginia and South Dakota, deep-red states where the party lacks anything resembling a strong candidate. The trio amounts to half the number of victories the GOP needs to retake the majority, and there are still vulnerable Democratic incumbents in conservative states such as Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. As election prognosticator extraordinaire Nate Silver wrote in The New York Times, Schweitzer's dropout makes Republican takeover chances "close to even-money."
So, with their majority looking shaky for the first time this cycle, Democrats are turning to a surprising strategy to keep themselves afloat: Take the fight to the Republicans on their home soil. While trying to steal a seat deep in enemy territory is a long-standing goal of both parties, such aggression had been considered unlikely in 2014, when almost all of the Senate contests will take place in red states. (Party operatives frequently say it's the most one-sided map they've ever seen.) But a pair of Republican-leaning states held by the GOP, Kentucky and Georgia, suddenly have viable Democratic contenders. "We've recruited strong candidates that put Kentucky and Georgia in play," wrote the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's Guy Cecil, in a memo distributed last week. "Now the public polls are confirming we are playing offense in red states for the second consecutive cycle."