Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Senate Ratings: Democrats Likely to Keep Senate Majority

In 2010, Democrats lost control of the House but retained control of the Senate. While retaining control though, they lost six seats and have a 53-47 advantage over the Republicans. Therefore, Republicans could gain three Senate seats and win control of the Senate if Romney becomes President because Romney's Vice President will cast the tiebreaking vote. Assuming Obama wins reelection which most polls suggest now, Republicans will need to gain four Senate seats in order to have 51 Senators to bypass Vice President Joe Biden's (D) tiebreaking vote. 

2012 is one of the worst years for Democrats to retain control of the Senate because they have 23 seats up for reelection in 2012 while the Republicans have only 10 (before the Scott Brown (R) win in the special election in Massachusetts, the Democrats would have had 24 seats to defend in 2012.) The Democrats gained six of their Senate seats up for the 2012 election cycle in 2006 when conservatives stayed home because they had depressed enthusiasm due to the Bush Administration's failures with the Iraq War. This is 2012 though where the Republicans are more enthusiastic because of their opposition to Obama. The focus this year is more on the Presidential election too but if Republicans regain control of the Senate, they have a chance to win the Government trifecta. In August, Republicans seemed to have a 50-50 shot at gaining the Senate but their chances fell in three tossup seats. Those seats include Missouri where Todd Akin (R) said his famous rape comments, and Wisconsin where Tammy Baldwin (D) has campaigned more energetically than her opponent Tommy Thompson (R) has. 

On another note, I am not including writeups on most Safe and Likely seats, they can be found here though:

Dark blue = Safe Democratic
Blue =Likely Democratic
Light Blue = Lean Democratic
Light Red=Lean Republican
Red=Likely Republican
Dark Red/Brown=Safe Republican
Green = Safe Independent
Gray= no election

Seat changes favoring Democrats

AZ-Lean R-Tossup
FL-Lean D-Likely D
MA Tossup-Lean D
MI-Likely D-Safe D
VA-Tossup-Lean D
WI-Tossup-Lean D
Seat changes favoring Republicans: 
PA-Safe D-Likely D (moved because some polls are showing a single digit race.) 

Seat changes not favoring Independents: 

ME Safe I-Likely I

Safe Democratic (11 seats) CA, DE, MD, MI, MN, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA, WV

Likely Democratic (5 seats) FL, HI, NM, OH, PA

Lean Democratic (4 seats) CT, MA, MO, WI

Tossup (6 seats) AZ, IN, NV, MT, ND, VA

Lean Republican (0 seats)

Likely Republican (1 seat) NE

Safe Republican (5 seats) MS, TN, TX, UT, WY

Likely Independent (1 seat) ME

Lean Democratic (4 seats) 

Connecticut (Open-Joe Lieberman): Rep. Chris Murphy (D) is facing Linda McMahon (R), former WWE CEO who spent around $50 million in the 2010 Senate race (she lost by 11 points) but is running closer in the polls than in 2010. In late August, McMahon was tied in the polls after she sent an ad blitz into Connecticut. Murphy though was boosted after the DSCC spent money to help him. The most recent poll, Rasmussen shows him leading by 5 points. If even Rasmussen, a conservative leaning polling firm shows a mid single digit lead for Murphy, it suggests he has escaped danger. Also, McMahon at a recent debate said churches could deny emergency contraception pills to rape victims. In Connecticut which is a strong pro choice state, those comments should be very harmful to her. 

Massachusetts (Scott Brown (R)): Brown seemed to be invincible after winning Ted Kennedy's (D) former Senate seat in this heavily Democratic state in a 2010 Special Election until Elizabeth Warren (D), Obama's nominee for the Consumer Protection Bureau decided to run. Her fundraising has been strong. For Brown to win, he needs to win more than 2/3rds of the Independents because he won in 2010 by winning Independents in the Boston exurbs while underperforming in the college towns and Boston proper (but Obama should increase turnout in those areas and some colleges were not in session in the 2010 Special election.) Warren has been a prolific fundraiser and is one of the top 15 highest fundraisers in Senate history. She also raised $12.4 million in the 3rd Quarter (compared to 7.45 million for Brown) and has performed well in the debates. Brown said his role model was Scalia which plays into Warren's strategy that a vote for Brown is a vote for a Republican to control the Senate. This is Warren's strategy because polls including a PPP one released on October 11th shows that 53%-36% of Massachusetts residents want Democrats to control the Senate. Brown has been running away from the Republican party but Warren has been tying him to the unpopular Republican Congress. Warren's strategy seems to be working though as her leads in the polls are mainly around 5-6 points which is high enough to put the race in the Lean Democratic category. 

Missouri (Claire McCaskill (D)): I was at first very worried about McCaskill's chances here because of Missouri's sharp turn to the right (it was the only swing state in 2008 to support John McCain and it voted Republican for Senate by 13 points in 2010.) Then Republican candidate Todd Akin (R) said his famous legitimate rape comment which turned a 5 point Akin lead into a 5 point McCaskill lead. I was worried that Akin could make up ground after the legitimate rape comments but McCaskill is holding steady and even Rasmussen is showing her ahead by 6 points. Also, McCaskill has 3.5 million CoH while Akin only has 500k CoH. 

Wisconsin (Open Herb Kohl (D)): Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) from Madison is running for the seat against former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). At first, Republicans thought that this seat would be an easy pickup for them because Thompson is moderate and won reelection with 60%+ as Governor. Conventional wisdom also said Baldwin was too liberal for the district. What conventional wisdom did not say though was that Baldwin would campaign extremely hard throughout August and September while Thompson made only a few campaign appearances due to his "frail health." This is what happened and Baldwin's hard work has paid off because she has led in all of the nine polls conducted since September 17th (yes, even Rasmussen shows her ahead.) Also, Thompson's son said, "Obama should go back to Kenya," which should hurt the Thompson campaign. Baldwin's fundraising is going strong too, she has 3.5 million CoH compared to Thompson's 2.0 million CoH.

Tossup (6 seats)

Arizona (Open Jon Kyl (R)): Democrats seemed to have found a strong candidate here in former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D). He served under George W. Bush and was a registered Independent until recently. He also is campaigning as an Independent frustrated with gridlock and has criticized the Bush Administration which is helping him with Independents. The Republican candidate is Rep. Jeff Flake (R)-Mesa who was leading early this year but the last two polls have shown Carmona ahead by 2 (PPP) and 4 points (Rocky Mountain) respectively. Carmona is also posting big leads among Hispanics, including a 36 point lead in the PPP poll. The Rocky Mountain polling firm is relatively unknown but since they used the words "Democrat Party" in their memo (that's a common phrase Republicans use to describe the Democratic Party,) I assume they are not affiliated with the Democratic Party. What the Rocky Mountain firm does do though is not undersample cellphone only voters and they also sample Spanish speaking voters (who usually vote Democratic.) 

Indiana (Open Richard Lugar (R)):  The Republican Legislature gave Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) a Republican leaning seat after redistricting which urged Donnelly to run for Senate (if Donnelly wins, Republican candidate and State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) is not going to be happy with the legislature.) Mourdock defeated 36 year incumbent Lugar in a primary by claiming Lugar was not conservative enough for Indiana (Democrats may win though because Mourdock may be too conservative for Indiana.) To win, Donnelly needs to convince the voters that is the case. He also needs to perform well in not only Indianapolis and the Chicago suburbs but also win a big margin out of St. Joseph County (South Bend,) which is in his district and hit 40%+ in heavily Republican Elkhart County which is also in his district. Donnelly's strong campaign skills (he survived 2010,) and moderate views should help him though. Polls have been showing a slight Mourdock lead but due to the sparse number of polls, it is difficult to gauge who is ahead. What polls do show though is that most undecided voters are Republicans (mainly those who voted for moderate Lugar and are worried about Mourdock's extremism,) so Donnelly has been tying himself to Lugar, including mentioning how Lugar and him both backed the auto bailout which saved Indiana jobs. Although Indiana is a Republican leaning state, I do see a path for Donnelly to win. Obama did win in 2008 so voters here are open to supporting Democrats. Nate Silver says Donnelly has a 52.5% chance to win, showing a very tight race. 

Montana (Jon Tester (D)): Rep. Danny Rehberg (R) is challenging Tester, a popular incumbent with strong campaign skills (who can forget his haircut ad: and his new ad with a similar Montana theme ( Rehberg however is well known and popular throughout this Republican leaning state, making it more difficult.  Like in 2006, this race could be one of the last Senatorial races decided and the polls reflect a very tight race. What Tester has to do is to win over some Romney voters who are conservative on guns while capitalizing on Obama turnout in the cities. In 2006, Tester won by carrying Native Americans and urban voters. He needs to replicate this to win. 

Nevada (Dean Heller (R)): This is another chance for a Democratic pickup as Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) from Las Vegas challenges appointed Senator Heller, a former Representative from the northern part of the state.   Recently Berkley is making a wise campaign move by campaigning heavily in Reno because voters there are unfamiliar with her. She does not want to repeat the 2006 gubernatorial race where Dina Titus (D), a Las Vegas centric candidate over performed in Vegas but lost because she underperformed in Reno. Heavy turnout in Las Vegas should help Berkley (Obama will be targeting Clark County too due to the large base there,) but unless she can win Clark County by more than 10 points, she needs to make inroads in Heller's base.  Also, Nevada is underpolled in the Democrats' favor. The reason is that Obama is polling well in Nevada and OFA is registering voters like crazy and volunteers are flooding the state to help out Obama. This made a big difference in 2008 when polls showed Obama leading by 6 but he ended up winning by 12 in Nevada. Also, the Harry Reid organization is working strong for Berkley. Also, the Melman polling group found her ahead by 3 points and they were the only polling firm showing Reid with a lead right before November 6th. Melman's track record is very strong and if they show Berkley ahead, they are probably right.

North Dakota (Open Kent Conrad (D)): At first, this seat seemed to be an easy Republican pickup for Rep. Rick Berg (R). This race has narrowed after former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) announced her candidacy. Many North Dakotans vote for the person, not the party and Berg is not very personally popular which works in Hentkamp's favor. She is very likable and a news reporter described her as "the person who hugs everyone in the room while Berg is the person in the room who gives talking points about why you should vote for him."  North Dakota really likes personally popular candidates (Kent Conrad won easily because he is personally popular,)  but it is a Presidential year and North Dakota should go for Romney. Berg has been working to tie Heitkamp to Obama and he may receive support for the new conservative residents moving in after the oil boom. Heitkamp though hopes she can win over enough native North Dakotans who are used to voting for likable Democrats. A recent poll showed a tied race. 

Virginia (Open Jim Webb (D)): This race pits two former Governors against each other, Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R). Most polls show this race to be extremely close although Kaine seems to have gained a slight edge. A Rasmussen poll (a Republican leaning polling firm,) with a likely voter model showed a dead heat between the two. Also, Allen may face some backlash from the racial slur “macaca” he said to a campaign worker for Jim Webb while complaining that the campaign worker would catch any gaffes he made. Also, another hopeful sign for Kaine is that Obama barely leads in Virginia and while there are many Romney-Kaine voters (a recent New York Times article showed how many southwest Virginians were ticket splitting,) but there were almost no Obama-Allen voters. For Kaine to win, he has to perform well in Northern Virginia, winning with 60%+ in Fairfax County and carrying bellwether Loudon County. Also, high African American turnout in the Hampton Roads/Richmond area should help Kaine too. Kaine and Allen are both well known so most voters have chosen a side so the candidates have to focus on turning out their voters. In a recent debate though, Kaine made a gaffe about tax rates but it does not seem to have much backlash. Polls though have differed on Kaine's lead. PPP says Kaine is ahead by 7 but Rasmussen says Kaine is leading by only 1. I would guess it is somewhere in between, maybe around 3 points but it is still in the tossup zone. 
Lean Republican (0 seats) 

Likely Republican (5 seats) 
Nebraska (Open Ben Nelson (D)): Conservative Democrat Ben Nelson has retired and Democrats found former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D), their best candidate to retake this seat. Kerrey was once very popular in Nebraska but since his Senate retirement, Kerrey has been President of Eugene Lang College in New York City, hurting his Nebraska roots.  Also, polls have shown the Republican candidate Debbie Fischer (R) with a 10-18 point lead, suggesting this will be a Republican pickup. Kerrey received a recent boost from comedian Steve Martin who endorsed Kerrey and released a strong ad for him here (Martin also has not endorsed candidates until now.) It may help move a few voters but Fischer's lead is too high for Kerrey to overcome. 

Likely Independent: (1 seat)
Maine (Open Olympia Snowe (R)): Moderate Republican Snowe is retiring (who can blame her? She was a swing vote in the Senate and felt pressure from both parties.) This race seemed to be a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats until former Governor Angus King (I) threw his hat in the ring and polls show him ahead 20%+. He has not announced which party he will caucus with but his liberal leaning views such as his support for Obamacare and marriage equality suggest he may caucus with the Democrats. He also endorsed John Kerry for President in 2004 as well as endorsing Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Republicans think they can win this race and have been backing their Republican candidate. Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill (D) is polling below 10% though so she will probably not be a big spoiler. Also, most pundits are suggesting King will caucus with the Democrats (although he has not officially announced yet,) so this race should be considered a Democratic pickup. Also, King has outraised the other candidates by more than 2-1.

Overall, what does the Republican path to the Senate majority look like? Well, they already have 47 seats and need 4 seats to win a majority, assuming Obama wins reelection and Biden is the tiebreaker. Nebraska is already likely R and Maine is Likely Independent (Angus King probably will caucus with the Democrats,) so Republicans need to sweep all tossups which includes retaining AZ, IN and NV and picking up VA, ND and MT. That still only gives them +3 so they must win one of the leaning Democratic seats, CT, MA, MO or WI. Democrats have leads in all those states so it makes it difficult for Republicans to make a surprise win. Overall, Republicans have a very difficult path to the Senate majority, even with the post first debate performance. 

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