It's been a couple of months since I made known my prognostications on the upcoming midterms. I am confining my analysis to the battle for the Senate, as analyzing the races for the house is daunting and better left to the pros.
Without further ado, the competitive races.
Democrats have a legitimate opportunity at picking up 7 GOP held seats. Now, when I say "legitimate opportunity" I mean there is reason to believe they could win. The vast majority of these 7 are likely to stay red this cycle. The states are KY, OH, MO, NH, FL, NC, and AK.
Let's begin with some fairly obvious observations. Polling has indicated that OH and MO are just about out of reach for Lee Fisher and Robin Carnahan, democrats both. In fact, Quinnipiac university, a poll that typically skews 1-2 points democratic showed Republican Rob Portman (OH) staked to a 20 point lead yesterday. Astounding in a state Obama carried by 4 points. Roy Blunt's lead over Carnahan isn't nearly as large, but it's been slowly growing and has not slipped below mid-single digits all summer. Hard to see either of these seats flipping.
KY is interesting because the GOP nominee Rand Paul is a libertarianish Republican running against a run of the mill democrat. In a state that values social conservatism and populist/left-of-center economic policies, neither candidate is a perfect fit. Additionally, Paul, right after his nomination, got his foot caught in his mouth regarding the Civil Rights Act. (States rights is a legitimate debate, but any candidate for national office ought to know there are better ways to bring up the issue of Federalism than challenging the Civil Rights Act.) That said, it's a GOP year and KY has trended Red at the national level. Polling is showing Paul with a lead of 5-7 points. As long as he avoids any more gaffes, Paul should be quite alright.
NH is another state where the Republican, Kelly Ayotte, has maintained a small, statiscally significant lead. There is simply no reason to rule out Paul Hodes, the democrat. But no good reason to say his chances are increasing. Polling has been pretty steady in Ayotte's favor. Two polls released after this past Tuesday's primary showed Ayotte with 4 and 7 points leads. The former is probably on the low end with the latter on the high end. Ayotte is winning, and the race is hers to lose. I believe she holds Judd Gregg's seat.
Florida is becoming less and less complicated. Two polls have staked Marco Rubio to double-digit leads this week. Many predicted this would happen. Kendrick Meek, the democratic nominee, has begun to solidiy his base and is stealing possible voters from Charlie Crist, the GOP turned Independant candidate. Crist is in am impossible situation of trying to draw enough Republicans (who he has infuriated by switching parties) and enough democrats (who see a possible pickup opportunity if Crist and Rubio split conservatives). The problem for Crist is that he simply can't be everything to everyone. His best chance would have been to tack right and draw a genuine split of conservatives while maintaining his good standing among unaffiliated voters. Meek might have won in this scenario. As it stands, trying to occupy the middle ground will keep Meek at arm's length and allow Rubio to pull away. Leads of 11 and 14 this week show that has begun.
The five races above are all open seats. I don't believe the democrats will win any of them. But they represent the best targets.
We must also consider NC. Rasmussen showed a poll that had Burr (R) leading Marshall (D), by 24. It was probably an outlier, considering Burr is not particularly popular. But the state is conservative and in a GOP year, that bodes well for Burr to hold his seat. He is running a very effective ad right now, and I believe he ends up holding this seat by double-digits.
AK must also now be considered a possible pickup-and quite frankly, it may have jumped the other 6 seats which were thought to be possible pickups. Joe Miller won the GOP nod in a shocking upset of Lisa Murkowski. Miller is the favorite against his democratic opponent, but that will be jeopardized now that Murkowski has decided to run a write-in campaign. Can she get roughly a third of Alaskan voters to write in her name? Doubtful. Can she get enough to thwart Miller? Not impossible at all.
In fact, based on limited polling, and Mark Begich (D) winning in 2008, all she would need is to siphon 10-12% of the vote to make it extremely close between Miller and Mcaddams. I still see this as a hold, but I'm watching for more polls on the race.
All of this means that for the democrats to hold their majority they will have to make sure the GOP doesn't pick up 10 seats they currently hold. This has gotten a bit easier since my last writing.
For Sures: When I last commented, AR, IN, ND, and DE were considered locks for GOP pick ups. Christine O'Donnell's win in the DE GOP primary certainly take this off of the "for sure" list and probably should be said to be leaning heavily toward the democrat Chris Coons. O'donnell raised close to 1.5 million in the two days after her shocking win. She'll have the cash to make her case to Delaware. But a strong conservative in a deep blue state, already trailing by 11 according to the most recent poll, is probably not in great shape for a pick up. Nonetheless, the other three remain locks for the GOP. (That would make a 56-44 democratic majority)
Then there is a list of possible pick up opportunities which I don't believe the GOP will get. These states include CT, CA, and WA.
In CT, Richard Blumenthall lied about his Viet Nam record. That combined with his opponents huge personal fortune have helped the GOP's Linda McMahon pull to within mid-single digits in a fairly liberal state. We will keep a close-eye on this one, but my gut tells me this state stays blue. McMahon has also come under scrutiny for how the WWE, of which she was CEO, goes about its business.
In CA, Carly Fiorina is right on Boxer's heals. But almost all polling has shown just that. On her heels but never pulling in front. Fiorina has money and may benefit from social conservatives angry about proposition 8 being overturned in court. Remember, Obama sailed to victory in 2008 in CA because of a very strong performance with the states Hispanic voters. These voters are heavily Roman Catholic and could easily be persuaded to switch sides in this election to vote for Fiorina. We'll see about this one.
WA-Three straight polls have given incumbent Patty Murray a lead of 5-9 points. That's significant. I never thought this would be an easy pick up. I think it will be close but no cigar for GOP retread Dino Rossi.
This leaves a swath of states including NV, IL, WI, PA, WV, and CO.
All of these races are competitive. But I would point out that Pat Toomey has run an excellent campaign in PA and has lead by high single digits for awhile. Joe Sestak could win, and his Philly roots will help. But he is pretty liberal and I don't think he's fully recovered from the mini-scandal over whether the White House offered him a job if he didn't primary Arlen Specter. CO's Ken Buck does not have anywhere near as comfortable a lead, but his small lead has been consistent. His opponent, Sen. Bennett, has been hit hard with his votes for the stimulus and for his role in a public school property scandal. I believe both of these seats will flip. (54-46)
WI is a slightly left-of-center state, represented by the faily liberal Russ Feingold. His opponent, businessman Ron Johnson, has a post-primary lead of 7 points. Now that's from Rasmussen (a pollster whose house effect is 1-2 point Republican) and it is likely that that 7 points comes partially from a bounce. Still 7 points is significant and in an anti-incumbent year you don't want to see your opponent over 50%. At 51% that is exactly what Russ Feingold is seeing. I've become a believer on this race. I think Johnson will upset Feingold. (53-47)
WV is a hard nut to crack. The most recent poll shows Gov. Brian Manchin leading GOPer Maes by 5. Manchin, the democrat, is wildly popular (in the 70% range.) But Barack Obama is equally unpopular and the GOP is making the case that Manchin would, despite his rhetoric-and perhaps best intentions-become a rubber stamp for Obama's policies. The question really is how independant can Manchin prove himself to be. Very little polling has been done of this race so it's hard to establish a trend. But Obama is truly toxic here. This seat could flip. Yet, at this point, there is not enough evidence to warrant giving it to the GOP. Furthermore, if all politics really are local, Manchin's popularity should win out over Obama's unpopularity. For now, we will keep this as a democratic held seat.
With that in mind, it is all but impossible for the GOP take over the senate. A seat that is currently not considered in play would need to become so (more on that in a minute.) But the other two states on our current list are truly coin flips at this point. In NV, the last 13 public polls have been astoundingly consistent in terms of the margin separating Harry Reid and Sharron Angle. Of those 13 polls, 9 show Reid leading (7 by two points or less, one by three, and one by four.) Three show Angle leading, none by more than 2 points. One poll showed a tie. The numbers indicate an ever so slight advantage for the incumbent. But Reid's approval numbers and the fact that he is consistently polling in the mid-40's show that the voters of Nevada just need a good reason to vote for Sharron Angle. Her gaffes and some truly very right-wing views do seem to put her slightly at odds with Nevada's electorate, but Reid is simply so unpopular that that might not matter. We'll have to wait and see. I suspect we'll be waiting up very late on election night to see the results of this race as well as California's. I'm going to go out on a limb (a strong limb in this case) and call the upset for Angle.
Illinois is simply a case of two scandal-ridden candidates who no one appears to like. Mark Kirk, a GOP moderate is taking on Alexis Giannoulis. Mr. G's family bank went under and Kirk also greatly exaggerated his resume, particularly regarding his Viet Nam service. A spate of recent polls show neither candidate hitting 40 percent. That's rather remarkable. There are a couple of minor candidates in the field, but generally the electorate is undecided. Illinois and Michigan are probably the most liberal states in the mid-west and plane states. My thought is that people will default to this and give Giannoulis the win. Barack Obama will undoubtedly be able to campaign here as well. He's lost some points in his home state, but remains popular. With these two races, the senate would sit at 52-48 in favor of Team Blue.
Honorable mention: NY I said I would return to "another state" in a minute. From the time Kristen Gillibrand was appointed to Hillary Clinton's senate seat to the moment that Rudy Guliani and George Pataki said "no" to challenging her, this was thought of as a pick up opportunity. Since the "no", it's been thought that Gillibrand was mostly safe. The two most recent polls of the state show here with leads of 15 (Quinnipiac) and 20 (Rasmussen). Now her opponent has a lot of room to grow as he is not well known. Also, it should be pointed out, that Rasmussen only surveyed 500 people in a very large state. I think that could skew the results. Q polled almost 1500, for perspective. A 15 point lead is nothing to look down on, but when an incumbent is only polling at 43% (which is where Q shows her) there is the potential for an upset. An article by Dick Morris came out today arguing that Gillibrand was beatable and that she wasted the Summer not going to the voters. This race is on the very edge of my radar screen. I won't discount the possibility of a party switch. But I say it's doubtful at this point.
So 52-48 would be the result. For the record, the strongly democratic years of 2006 and 2008 would back up this number. In 2006 the Democrats gained 6 seats. In '08, with Obama at the top of the ticket, they picked up 8 seats. I'm forecasting 7 seats flipping in this election.
As always, let me know what you think!