Where the GOP Stands in the Battle for the Senate

Note:  This is a revised and updated version of a blog post originally posted here on September 30th.   The original can be viewed at https://autherightwing.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/the-battle-for-the-senate/

With just over two weeks until Election Day, we can safely say that Republicans will take back the House, barring some unfortunate strain of plague that only attacks Republicans running for office.  But what about the Senate?

After Christine O’Donnell’s upset primary victory in Delaware, some pundits, including this one, wrote off the chance of a GOP-controlled Senate.

That declaration may have been a bit premature.  While it is still an unlikely outcome, the GOP does have a (small) chance of taking back the upper house of America’s bicameral legislature.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, released his updated “Crystal Ball” outlook for the November midterms.  After what he terms the “disaster in Delaware,” Sabato lowered the GOP’s Senate gain from +8-9 to +7-8.

However, thanks to strong GOP showings in West Virginia and Wisconsin, he is once again predicting GOP gains of +8-9. While that’s not the ten pickups required for the GOP to control the Senate, it is still a tremendous showing.  With just a couple of upsets, the GOP could regain the Senate.

Let’s take a look at some of the individual Senate races to get a better idea of the GOP’s chances in November:

  • Ohio:  Republican Rob Portman versus Dem Lee Fisher.  RCP average:  Portman up 17% with 52.4% to Fisher’s 35.4%.  Another GOP win, but not a pickup since Republicans already control that seat.
  • Washington:  Republican Dino Rossi versus Dem Patty Murray.  Ann Coulter called Murray a moron, in part because she has praised Osama bin LadenRCP average:  Murray up 3.8% with 48.8% of the vote to Rossi’s 45.  This is still a toss up but I think Rossi might be able to pull off an upset win.
  • Arkansas:  Republican John Boozman versus incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln.  Boozman has a 19.7 point advantage according to RealClearPolitics.  This is an easy pickup for the GOP.
  • North Dakota:  Republican Gov.  John Hoeven versus Dem Tracy Potter.  Current Senator Byron Dorgan (D) decided to retire rather than face a difficult race.  Hoeven’s up by 43 according to the latest Rasmussen Reports surveyEasy pickup for Republicans.
  • Colorado:  Ken Buck versus incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet.  Latest RCP average has Buck up by 3.0 points, 47.7% to Bennet’s 44.7%.  RCP calls it a toss up, but looking at Colorado’s history of swinging its Senate delegation back and forth from D to R, I rate this as a difficult but possible GOP pickup.
  • West Virginia:  Republican John Raese versus Governor Joe Manchin.  Despite Manchin’s high approval as Governor, they don’t want him in the Senate as a rubber stamp vote for the Obama agenda.  The RCP average has Manchin up by 2.5, but Rasmussen has Raese up by 3.  This is a toss-up.
  • Connecticut:  Incumbent Democrat Chris Dodd and his shady mortgages decided to retire.  Thus, we get State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal versus businesswoman Linda McMahon.  Blumenthal, who exaggerated his Vietnam service, has a 9 point lead according to RCP.  What was formerly a toss-up is now leaning Dem.
  • Wisconsin: Incumbent Senator Russ Feingold, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, was thought to be immune from defeat.  Then came Republican Ron Johnson, who turned a point-deficit for the Republicans into a surplus.  Johnson now leads by 7.3 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average.  This race leans GOP, which leads me to call this a likely Republican pick up.
  • Florida: The race in the Sunshine State has been interesting, to say the least.  Governor Christ, former Republican, is so pathetic that, to try and hold onto his small sliver of political relevance, he became an independent to avoid the primary challenge from Marco Rubio, who would have easily trounced the tan and white-haired Gov.  Now we have a three-way race between Crist, Rubio, and Kendrick Meek,  the unfortunate Democrat who no one is paying attention to.  RCP has Rubio up by 16.2, leading me to put this in the GOP column.  But since Republicans already control that seat it isn’t a pickup.  At least we’ll get to see Crist lose.
  • Alaska:  RINO Lisa Murkowski lost in the GOP primary.  Being that she comes from a family of sore losers, Ms. Murkowski has decided to mount a write-in campaign.  Republican Joe Miller, leading in a Rasmussen Reports poll by just 1 point, will probably win since write-in candidates usually get more support in polls thatn they do on election day.  Republicans will keep the seat, even if Miller loses to Murkowski, who has pledged to remain a Republican.
  • California: Originally I thought Carly Fiorina would lose to incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer.  That’s because over half of California voters are brain dead from all the medical marijuana.  But recent polling data shows the race tightening.  Boxer now leads by just 3.3 points in the RCP average. This race is a toss-up.
  • Indiana:  Moderate Democrat Evan Bayh decided to not seek reelection.  The Democrat in this race, Brad Ellsworth, is probably doing worse than Bayh would have done as an incumbent. Republican Dan Coats has a 17 point lead according to RCP.  It’s a GOP pickup.
  • Illinois: The RCP average has the Dem, Alexi Giannoulias, up by 0.5.  The Republican, Mark Kirk, still has a chance.  I grade this a toss-up.
  • New York:  Kirsten Gillibrand, the hottest member of the Senate, is facing a challenge from the father of American Idol’s Kara DioGuardi.  Joe DioGuardi, a former Congressman,  trails Gillibrand by 15.7 Dems will hold onto this seat.
  • Delaware: After the upset primary victory of Christine O’Donnell, Republicans lost an easy pick-up.  Mike Castle, who O’Donnell defeated in the primary, had a lock on this seat.  Chris Coons, the Dem, is a pretty incompetent candidate, yet the media have been having a field day with video of O’Donnell saying silly things on a late night talk show.  The Democrat will win, since he’s currently up by 17.6 in the RCP average.
  • Nevada:  Oh, Harry Reid.  What a sad, sad, man.  Why not retire while you still have some dignity?  The race in Nevada is a statistical tie according to RCP.  I think Sharron Angle, the Republican, can pull this one off.  But it will be difficult, especially since Harry Reid has eeked out a narrow victory before.  As much as I want to call this a GOP pickup, it is too close to call.

Other races that will remain in GOP hands include Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Louisiana, and North Carolina.  Democrats will keep Oregon.

Here are two separate scenarios of how Election Day could turn out for GOP Senate races:

  1. Scenario 1:  Large-scale victory (all toss-ups as GOP victories)
    1. GOP Pickups (Ten required for control)
      • i.     Indiana
      • ii.     Wisconsin
      • iii.     Pennsylvania
      • iv.     California
      • v.     Colorado
      • vi.     Illinois
      • vii.     Nevada
      • viii.     Washington
      • ix.     West Virginia
    2. Dem Pickups
      • i.     None
  1. Scenario 2:  Small-scale victory (all toss-ups are Dem victories)
    1. GOP Pickups
      • i.     Indiana
      • ii.     Wisconsin
      • iii.     Pennsylvania
    2. Dem Pickups
      • i.     None

Under scenario number one, Republicans would be one seat away from control.  If Linda McMahon is able to pull an upset in Connecticut, the GOP would gain control (another, equally-likely, scenario would be Joe Lieberman joining the Republicans in the Senate, since he endorsed John McCain for President and has a bromance with him).

Under Scenario two, Republicans would gain only three seats.  That would suck.

Most likely, the real outcome will be somewhere in the middle.  Even if that is the case, the Senate will be dramatically different from the current body.  New Republican faces will represent Ohio, Florida, Alaska (potentially), Missouri, New Hampshire, and Kentucky.  Although these seats are currently controlled by the GOP, the new candidates are dramatically different from their predecessors.

Kelly Ayotte, for example, will take the place of outgoing Republican Judd Gregg.  Kelly is one of the many female Republicans in this election cycle.  Rand Paul, the GOP candidate in KY, will take the place of retiring Senator Jim Bunning.  Paul is a Tea Party favorite and certainly much more libertarian than Sen. Bunning.

So can the GOP take back the Senate?  While it is still unlikely, I give the GOP a 50% chance.  A pickup of 8-9 seats is not out of the question, especially if the non-partisan and very accurate Larry Sabato says so.

To win back the Senate, they need to turn their 41 seat minority into a 51 seat majority.  Not an easy thing to do, even with the gross incompetence of the Democrats in Congress and the White House.

Too many of the seats in this election cycle were already under GOP control.  In 2012, more Democratic Senators will be up for reelection, meaning that if President Obama continues his reign of incompetence, the GOP will get to finish what it started in 2010.

UPDATE:  Since I originally posted this, RCP has changed the Washington Senate race from “toss-up” to “leans Dem.”

Also, here is some additional information about the Senate races this election cycle:

Likely Dem
DE: Open (D)
NY: Gillibrand (D)
OR: Wyden (D)
Safe Dem Seats
Likely GOP
AK: Open (R)
FL: Open (R)
IN: Open (D)
LA: Vitter (R)
NC: Burr (R)
OH: Open (R)
Safe Races
HI: Inouye (D) MD: Mikulski (D)
NY: Schumer (D) VT: Leahy (D)
AL: Shelby (R) AZ: McCain (R)
AR: Lincoln (D) GA: Isakson (R)
ID: Crapo (R) IA: Grassley (R)
KS: Open (R) ND: Open (D)
OK: Coburn (R) SC: DeMint (R)
SD: Thune (R) UT: Open (R)

Source:  realclearpolitics.com

For more insightful commentary from Josh Kaib, visit his blog at http://americantruthmachine.wordpress.com or listen to his internet talk radio show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/joshkaib.

About Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib, a junior at American University, is President of AU College Republicans.
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