Former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott's praise of former segregationist Republican Strom Thurmond in 2002 cost him his Senate GOP leadership status. In 2012, Missouri GOP candidate Todd Akin's Senate campaign crumbled after he declared the female anatomy capable of preventing pregnancy in the case of "a legitimate rape." Likewise Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's bid sank after he said pregnancies that result from "that horrible situation of rape, that is something God intended to happen."
The more cautious rhetoric in 2014 has come as a relief to national GOP leaders who want to close the Democrats' edge with women, younger and minority voters. Last year, the party had a series of candidate training sessions on speaking carefully.
The GOP needs to gain six seats to win Senate control. In addition to Iowa, Republicans are locked in tight races in Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.
"There has been a concerted effort early on to introduce these positions that Republicans hold as extreme," said Justin Barasky, national press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Meanwhile, Republican candidates are portraying their opponents as the allies of Obama's health insurance program.
Democrats are trying to highlight comments by North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis in 2012 about demographic changes in the state as part of what they call his "history of divisive and offensive comments." While the ethnic population is growing, "the traditional population in North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable," Tillis said. North Carolina Democratic consultant Gary Pearce acknowledged the remark is no game-changer.
For Democrats, the search continues for words that suggest fringe views.
"If it sticks they're delighted and if it doesn't they move on to the next thing," North Carolina Republican Wrenn said.