Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Republicans Now Have Slight Edge For Senate, But Will It Last?

Nearly four months ago, Battleground270 came out with its first 2014 Senate projection.  In December, the model showed that Democrats had a good chance of keeping the Senate.  It gave Democrats a 69% chance of having 50 seats or more after the November elections, which, at the time, was a much better chance than most political observers were giving the party.  

Those December predictions, as well as our current predictions, are based off of numerous factors such as candidate quality, historical data, and of course current polling.  

Now, however, it is the GOP’s turn to get some good news.  The model is predicting a 57% chance of the GOP taking control of the Upper Chamber.  This is a 16-point reversal from just four months ago.  As the graph depicts below, Democrats are now most likely to hold 49 seats after the midterms.  

So what happened?

First, Republicans have been able to recruit some very strong candidates. In states that were either likely or leaning Democratic such as Colorado and Michigan, the GOP has coalesced around stronger candidates. 

Second, it seems less and less likely that there may be a Todd Akin-like candidate emerge from the GOP primaries.  In states such as Georgia, North Carolina, and Alaska, the establishment candidates seem to be leading the more Tea Party candidates. 

Finally, Democrats are suffering from public fatigue of the Obama Administration.  Though the President’s approval rating seems to have stabilized, and it is unlikely they will go any lower, it seems increasingly unlikely that President Obama will have a net positive approval rating by November.  This means that the President will not be welcome in red states and most purple states that have vulnerable Democratic incumbents. 

Below, I have broken down the likelihood that each candidate will win in November.  Further, I have also shown how that compares to the candidate’s chances when I last wrote in December. 

Most Democrats on this list are regulars, but there are few who have moved form ‘likely Democratic’ to ‘safe’.  Those Senators include Al Franken, Tom Udall, and Jeff Merkley.  In each of these cases, the GOP has not been able to recruit a strong challenger and the incumbent Democrat is polling very well. 

The ‘likely Democratic’ list is one that has gotten a lot of media attention lately, but for little reason.  In fact, neither of these candidates have had their chances of victory increased or decreased. 

The first, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, finally got the challenger many were expecting to jump in the race: former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.  I will be quite honest in that I did not expect Brown to jump into the race, despite all the hype over the past year. 

However, his entrance does not reduce Shaheen’s chances of winning another term.  Why?  The possibility of Brown’s entrance was already factored into the model in December.  Further, Shaheen has kept a relatively strong polling lead against Brown, and her favorability numbers are where they should be to get reelected.  Brown is a strong candidate, but he’s already made a couple gaffes and he will have to combat the carpetbagging charge that will likely follow him throughout the campaign. 

The second race is between Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner and former GOP strategist Ed Gillespie.  Republicans picked up a great recruit in Gillespie… if he were facing a more vulnerable Democrat.  However, Warner is very popular in Virginia, and it would take an exceptionally strong candidate and very ugly campaign to knock him from his seat.

The ‘leans Democratic’ category has lost a couple Democrats, including those from Alaska, Michigan, and Louisiana.  That leaves it with two Democratic seats and only one incumbent. 

Colorado’s Mark Udall is now facing a very strong challenger in Congressman Cory Gardner, a strong, establishment Republican who cleared the field of more Tea Party candidates.  However, Udall is still polling well at this point in the cycle and has decent approval numbers.  It is very possible this race will move to tossup if the GOP and outside groups spend heavily, but for now, it is still leaning Democratic.

Iowa’s senate race has not changed.  The GOP field is still very large and undecided, though in the most recent Suffolk poll, Joni Ernst has begun to pull ahead.  However, her lead is small, and even if she wins the primary, she will have spent a lot of money to do it. 

This is where Democratic Representative Bruce Braley has an advantage.  He does not have a serious primary and can save his cash for the general election.  The same Suffolk poll had Braley’s lead in the high single digits, but expect his race to be closer than that.

The GOP’s future as a possible majority in the Senate lies in the ‘tossup’ column.  In total, the party needs to net six seats in order to take back the upper chamber.  They are very likely to pick up at least four seats (as I will discuss further below), so that means they will need to pick up at least two more within the ‘tossup’ or ‘leans Republican’ categories without losing any of their own seats. 

Starting with Alaska, Democratic Senator Mark Begich has seen his chances of victory diminish since December.  This is mostly a result of new polling that has shown him in a dead heat with his GOP challengers.  Further, it is looking less and less likely that Tea Party candidate Joe Miller will win the GOP nomination.  However, Miller hasn’t ruled out a run as an independent (though that is unlikely) who would likely act as a spoiler in favor of the Democrat.  Begich has raised plenty of money to stay competitive, but it may not be enough for the Democrat who barely won in 2008, a great year for Democrats.

In Michigan, Senator Carl Levin is retiring, giving an opening for the GOP to capture what was once a presumably safe seat for Democrats.  Democratic candidate Gary Peters will be facing a very strong Republican challenger in Terry Lynn Rand.  Rand has either been leading or tied with Peters for most of the cycle, but Michigan is still a moderately blue state, so expect this race to be a nail-biter.

North Carolina’s Kay Hagan has also seen her chances of reelection drop since December.  Polls show Hagan in a virtual tie with each of her challengers.  If she were in a bluer state such as Michigan or Iowa, we might expect her to have a better than even chance at victory.  However, North Carolina is still a state that leans Republican.  Hagan’s best chance will be if the state’s House Speaker Thom Tillis wins the nomination.  He has helped push through some of the more conservative pieces of legislation in the state over the past couple years, and that record could haunt him in a statewide general election. 

Not all news is bad news, however, for the Democrats.  The party has a very good chance of picking one or two Republican-held seats. 

The first is the seat currently held by retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss.  The problem for the GOP lies in the field of primary candidates, most of whom are much more conservative than the state as a whole.  Perhaps the bigger problem for the Republicans is who their eventual nominee’s challenger will be: Michelle Nunn.  Nunn is the daughter of former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn.  She is a businesswoman who has never run for political office and is not tied to any of the President’s policies, which are generally unpopular in Georgia.  Nunn is polling well for a Democrat in the state.  Expect to see Democrats prop up the most radical of the GOP candidates in order to help Nunn in the general election.

The second GOP-held seat up for grabs is none other than Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s.  Despite Kentucky being a very conservative state, McConnell is not well liked and is having to spend money to ensure victory against a Tea Party candidate in the primary.  While Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has high name recognition and is polling well against McConnell, she may not be able to pull out a victory.  McConnell will have plenty of money and will likely pummel Lundergan Grimes with negative ads in order to keep his seat. 

The only seat currently in the “leans Republican” column this month is Louisiana’s, currently held by Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.  Landrieu has won three consecutive terms in conservative Louisiana, but 2014 is shaping up to be her toughest fight yet.  Polls show a dead heat, with some giving her main Republican challenger, Bill Cassidy, a slight edge.  Further complicating Senator Landrieu’s position is her state’s electoral system.  In Louisiana, a candidate must attain at least 50% of the vote.  It is increasingly difficult to see any Democrat, even a moderate one, win under those conditions.

Arkansas and Montana are two must-win states for the GOP if they hope to take control of the Senate.  If a GOP candidate cannot win in these states, it shows the party likely would not be able to win in more purple states.

That being said, Senator Mark Pryor is in trouble.  His challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, is an up-and-coming star in the GOP and will not be short on cash.  Further, Arkansas is a state that has been trending more red with each election.  Most polls give Cotton a slight edge.  If Pryor can defend his vote on Obamacare while running a targeted, disciplined campaign, he still has a shot.  

Senator John Walsh, who was appointed to fill now Ambassador to China Max Baucus’s seat, will have a hard time holding on to the seat that was given to him.  Despite being a former Lieutenant Governor of the state as well as a commander of Montana’s National Guard, Walsh is polling poorly.  This is mostly due to challenger Steve Daines’ strong approval in the state.  Montana has elected many Democrats statewide lately, but Walsh likely won’t be one of them in 2014. 

Most seats in the ‘safe Republican’ list have been there from the get-go.  Only a couple seats have been added to the list.  Those include seats from Maine, South Dakota, and West Virginia. 

Maine, though a fairly liberal state, will almost assuredly vote to keep its Republican Senator, Susan Collins.  This is mostly due to Collins’ very moderate record.  However, Democrats have also been unable to find a credible challenger.

Both South Dakota and West Virginia have retiring Democrats.  The Democrats in South Dakota have a small bench of prospective candidates.  This leaves the GOP (and its much larger bench of candidates) with a huge advantage.  Polls show Republicans with large leads against any Democrat.

Finally, West Virginia’s Shelly Moore Capito is trouncing her Democratic challenger in the polls.  Any Democrat would have a tough time winning in conservative West Virginia, but the GOP also recruited a top candidate in Capito.  This seat should be an easy win for Republicans in November.


Both parties still have a good chance of winning the Senate at this point.  Statistically, the GOP are currently the safer bet.  However, messy primaries and potential upsets in currently GOP-held seats could very well stave off Republicans yet again from control of the upper chamber.

Agree? Disagree? Post your comments below!

No comments:

Post a Comment