Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Upper Chamber

Many have been speculating, particularly after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, how Republicans would be able to fully repeal  the law.  To be completely honest, even with a President Romney, the GOP would likely not be able to repeal the entire law, but only parts of the law that directly relate to the United States budget.  Otherwise, they would need 60 votes, which, at least at this point in the cycle, seems entirely unfathomable. 

Therefore, with the fate of the Presidential election looking more and more like a toss-up, the Senate races are becoming much more important for each of the parties.  Today, I will break down each race and attempt to project the most likely outcome for November.

The Democrats and the Republicans have almost the same share of their respective seats declared “safe”, with the GOP having 5/10 and the Dems 12/22.  However, to complicate problems for the Democrats, they must defend 22 seats this cycle compared to only 10 for the Republicans.  Let’s begin with the seats each respective party is likely to keep.

John Barrasso-WY:  Mr. Barrasso hasn’t served in the Senate long, but Wyoming hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.

Tom Carper-DE:  There hasn’t been any general election polling in the state, but it is safe to say that Mr. Carper will be re-elected in the Democratic stronghold that is Delaware.

Maria Cantwell-WA:  Washington State has been trending more Democratic for years, and public polling shows that Cantwell enjoys large support in the state.

Bob Casey-PA:  Everyone expected this race to be much closer than it is.  However, Republicans ended up with a lackluster candidate in Tom Smith, and Casey enjoys double-digit leads over his opponent.

Ben Cardin-MD:  Cardin is finishing his first term as Senator for Maryland, and the public still really likes him.  He has a double-digit lead against the GOP challenger.

Bob Corker-TN:  Like in Delaware, Tennessee hasn’t seen any polling, but the fact that President Obama’s name will be at the top of the ballot and Tennessee’s strong GOP history suggests Mr. Corker has nothing to worry about.

Diane Feinstein-CA:  Mrs. Feinstein has represented California since 1992 and has never had a truly difficult re-election.  The state is solidly Democratic, and the Republicans haven’t recruited a formidable challenger.

Kirstin Gillibrand-NY:  In 2008, Gillibrand was essentially picked by President Obama to serve the remainder of Hillary Clinton’s term.  Few expected Gillibrand to be quite the powerhouse she has become, and her polling lead over her rivals clearly demonstrates her broad popularity in New York.

Orrin Hatch-UT:  Mr. Hatch has been fighting for his political life all year, but not from a challenging Democrat; he first had to prevail against insurgent Tea Party backed Dan Liljenquist.  If Liljenquist were to have knocked Hatch off in the primary, Democrats may have at least stood a chance.  However, with Hatch running for another term, they don’t have a prayer at winning the seat.

Kay Bailey Hutchison-TX:  Though the Senator is retiring, Democrats haven’t fielded a strong challenger to whomever wins the GOP primary (Dewhurst or Cruz).  Further, Texas is still ruled by Republicans and 2012 won’t be the year to change that.

Amy Klobuchar-MN:  Though both of its U.S. Senators are Democrats, Minnesota’s legislatures are controlled by the Republican Party and the state has a history of independence.  That is why it is surprising to see Klobuchar polling so well in the state with only four months to go before the election.

Joe Manchin-WV:  This one is something of an anomaly, and truthfully, I initially overlooked it as a “safe” seat.  However, despite how terribly the President is expected to perform in West Virginia, Mr. Manchin, the Democrat is currently polling in the mid 70s.

Bob Menendez-NJ:  For a bit it seemed as though Mr. Menendez would have a tough path to re-election, as he isn’t greatly popular in the state.  However, Kyrillos, the Republican challenger, seems to be even less popular, and, for now, Menendez is leading by double digits. 

Bernie Sanders-VT:  This independent Senator from Vermont is running for yet another term, and all polling shows it is likely Vermont will give it to him.

Debbie Stabenow-MI:  All signs were leading to what looked like a close race between Mrs. Stabenow and Pete Hoekstra.  However, the GOP challenger hasn’t been able to recover in polling since his widely criticized (and racist) ad in February.

Sheldon Whitehouse-RI:  Mr. Whitehouse isn’t a high-profile Senator, and perhaps this is why he is performing so well in his state; he trounces each of his potential opponents in head-to-head matchups.

Roger Wicker-MS:  Mississippi is the last place Democrats will pick up a seat.  Move along.  Move along. 

The remaining races will be placed in order with increasing likelihood of changing party:

Daniel Akaka-HI:  The retiring Senator is leaving an open seat and a (small) chance for former Republican Governor Linda Lingle to take the seat that has long been held by Democrats.  However, she will have an uphill climb: the two Democratic challengers are each leading Mrs. Lingle by about 10%.  However, if the primary were to get too bloody and the party not heals before the election, the former Governor would have a chance to pull off a major upset.

Sherrod Brown-OH:  At the moment, Brown seems to be in a favorable place.  He is leading his GOP opponent, Josh Mandel, by about 10%, while the Republican has had weeks of bad press and just doesn’t seem to be ready for the limelight.  However, Ohio will be an extremely competitive state in November, and it is likely the gap will close in the coming months.

Joe Lieberman-CT:  No sitting Senator has upset both sides of the isle as much as Mr. Lieberman, and after this year, he will be retiring from politics.  The race to succeed him is relatively close, given Connecticut’s strong Democratic background.  Linda McMahon, the candidate who lost to Richard Blumenthal, is trying her luck again, this time most likely against Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy.  Polling has the Democrat with a 9-point lead, but Mrs. McMahon has a lot of money and name recognition that could work to her advantage in the fall.  This is one race that could heat up very quickly and put the Democrats on the defensive.

Jon Kyl-AZ:  Though Mr. Kyl is retiring, Republicans have a deep bench in Arizona, and Rep. Jeff Flake is currently leading Democratic challenger and former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona by an average of about 7%.  However, if President Obama is to invest as heavily in Arizona as some campaign officials are projecting, Mr. Carmona’s chances at winning could be buoyed, and the Republicans will at least have to spend money to keep the seat from flipping. 

Dick Lugar-IN:  Unlike Senator Hatch of Utah, Mr. Lugar didn’t survive his primary battle with Richard Mourdock.  That is only good news for Democrats, who have a fairly strong challenger in Joe Donnelly.  Whereas Lugar would have likely cruised to victory, the race between Mourdock and Donnelly is quite literally tied, according to two polls.  However, President Obama isn’t expected to run nearly as well in Indiana as he did in 2008, and that will likely have down ballot effects on the Democrat.  The seat will likely remain in GOP control.

Bill Nelson-FL:  Florida is yet again a swing state, and both Senate candidates will be affected by the Presidential campaign.  Currently, Mr. Nelson holds a six-point lead over rival Connie Mack, but that is likely to narrow as the general election campaign heats up.  Nelson isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Sunshine State, though neither is Mack.  The Democrats are currently favored to keep the seat, but a strong performance by Mr. Romney in Florida could spell the end of Nelson’s political career.

Dean Heller-NV:  Heller hasn’t been Senator for long; he was appointed just a year ago when Senator John Ensign resigned amid growing scandal.  This seat is competitive because Nevada as a state is competitive and the Republican Party in the state is in shambles (remember Sharron Angle circa 2010?).  Still, Heller has an average lead of 4.7 points on Democrat Shelley Berkley, one that is likely to shrink, especially if President Obama wins the state in November.  Look for more polling in the coming months, but for now, it’s advantage GOP.

Jim Webb-VA:  Virginia will likely host the most competitive Senate race all this cycle.  The race has remained deadlocked for the past 18 months.  The winner will most likely be based on who wins the Presidential election in the state.  If Obama wins Virginia, so does Kaine.  If Romney wins, so does Allen.  In that respect, perhaps it’s constructive to look at recent polling in the state on the Presidential level.  President Obama is currently leading by about 2.5%, a small lead that could be reversed with just a couple polls. 

Jon Tester-MT:  The Republicans in Montana are doing everything they can to tie Tester to the President, especially on issues like Obamacare and the economy.  However, Senator Tester is holding on to a miniscule 1-point lead against his Republican Danny Rehberg.  However, Montana is very likely to swing for Romney in November, and Rehberg will likely benefit from down-ballot spillover.  Tester needs to build up a lead larger than 1% before November; otherwise, the GOP will likely flip the seat.

Scott Brown-MA:  There is no race Democrats and liberals are more excited about (including the Presidential race) than the Massachusetts Senate race.  Liberal champion Elizabeth Warren is facing off against Senator Brown after he has been in office since early 2010.  The race is currently tied, and has been for a while.  However, if polling still has the race tied by Election Day, Warren wins.  Why?  For the same reason Rehberg wins in Montana: down-ballot spillover and overall state dynamic.  Scott Brown will likely be a one-term Senator. 

Kent Conrad-ND:  Senator Conrad is yet another retiring Democrat this cycle, and, initially at least, the seat was expected to be an easy pickup for Republicans.  However, Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota’s former Attorney General, has run a smart campaign and is only down by 3 points to Republican Rick Berg.  Again, because North Dakota is expected to vote for Romney by a large margin, Heitkamp will likely lose unless she can take the lead in the state by a few points.

Herb Kohl-WI:  Former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson is running in hopes of securing the seat being vacated by Senator Kohl in November.  Currently, polling has Thompson leading Democratic Representative Tammy Baldwin by about 9%.  However, Thompson isn’t guaranteed to survive the primary, as he has taken a number of positions at odds with the ever-growing conservative base in the state.  If Mark Neumann were to defeat Thompson in the August primary, it’s jump ball for the general election.  Until then, however, the GOP is looking like they will pick up the seat.

Clair McCaskill-MO:  There is perhaps no greater imperiled incumbent than Mrs. McCaskill.  Not only is she representing an ever-increasing conservative state, but she has also had her fair share of scandals and controversies since being elected in 2006.  Further, she is a fervent supporter of the President’s, which does not sit well with many of her constituents.  Luckily for her, the GOP primary is downright bloody.  If she survives, it will be because the Republicans beat themselves up too much to credibly convince the electorate they would be better than Senator McCaskill. 

Olympia Snow-ME:  The Republican Senator from Maine is retiring, and with the announcement came an even larger one: a three-way race.  Former Independent Governor Angus King is enjoying massive leads in the state against Democrat Cynthia Dill and Republican Charles Summers.  All indicators lead to a King victory, and the Democrats have essentially given up on the race, instead all-but supporting King.  Both sides will court him heavily to caucus with them in the Senate, as he could be the deciding vote on who obtains the majority.  He has openly said that he supports Barack Obama, and most analysts, myself included, believe he will caucus with the Democrats.

Ben Nelson-NE:  After deciding there was no way he would win, Senator Ben Nelson decided to call it quits.  The GOP will almost assuredly win the seat, as Republican Bruning is leading the Democrat Bob Kerry by double digits. 

To conclude, it seems as though the Senate will likely be very stable.  According to this analysis, the Democrats will probably pick up two seats and the GOP will pick up five.  That will give a net +3 seats to the Republicans, dividing the chamber 50-50.  However, it is entirely possible that, if Democrats were to have a really good night, they could net +4 seats, bringing their majority to 57-43.  Conversely, if the GOP were to truly outperform on election night, it is not improbable for them to pick up a net of +9 seats, which could sway King to caucus with the Republicans, bringing their majority to 57-43.  The most likely scenarios are obviously somewhere in the middle, with 50-50 Battleground270’s current projection.

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