A month ago, I wrote a post casting some doubt on the then-current mood that the sky was falling on Democrats and that Repubs could take over Congress in the 2010 midterms. Since then, most of the latest developments, in national mood, in the commentary of the commentariat, and in race-by-race developments in up-shaping Senate and House races, continues to be more favorable for the Repubs than the Dems.
It’s usually a good idea not to get too excited about day-to-day developments nine months before Election Day. But us political junkies can’t help wanting to read the latest tea leaves. So here are a few of those, from the races for U.S. Senate:
Charlie Cook has now identified 10 Dem-held Senate seats that are either likely to go Repub, toss-ups or in which the Dems are slightly favored but not safe. There are four seats, currently held by retiring Repubs, that are rated as toss-ups. From that list, Wash Post poli-blogger Chris Cillizza, it is possible to imagine that the next Senate opens with a 51-49 Repub majority. That outcome would require the Repubs to win all 14 of the races mentioned above. This is far more unlikely than likely, but Cillizza also points out that in these situations, the close races tend not to be split anywhere near down the middle. The party with the late momentum tends to pick up way more than half, a trend that benefitted the Dem Sen candidates enormously in 2006 and 2008, when they went from minority status in 2006 to a 60-40 majority for a few months in 2010.
If you want Cillizza’s more thorough overview of those races, it’s here. Here’s my short version, relying on Cillizza, Cook and a few of the other national raters:
Four likely Repub pick-ups
The Dem-held seats in Delaware and North Dakota are now deemed to be leaning Repub. In each case, the most popular Repub in the state is going for the open seat and the strongest Dem has declined.
Incumbent Dems Harry Reid in Nevada and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas are trailing their likeliest Repub challengers by double-digits in recent polls.
Those four seem like the best bets for Repub gains.
Three where Repubs may have an edge
In Colorado, the Dems have an unelected incumbent (Michael Bennet). In Illinois, the Blago-tinged Dem Roland Burris is retiring and the Dems primary this week went to State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and most national political analysts seem to think the guy he beat would have been a stronger general election candidate. The first post-primary poll, by Rasmussen, has the Republican nomninee, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, up by six points. In Pennsylvania, incumbent Arlan Specter switched from Repub to Dem, in part because he didn’t believe he could be renominated and reelected as a Repub, but now faces a tough Dem primary opponent, the more liberal U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, which probably weakens the eventual nominee for a fall matchup against Repub former Rep. Pat Toomey. These three races will be in the toss-up coategory, pending future trends.
Three where Dems are still favored
In red-leaning Indiana Dem Sen. Evan Bayh may have dodged a bullet when U.S. Rep. Mike Pence decided not to challenge him. But then former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats got in the race this week. Coats held the same seat before Bayh, but he retired voluntarily and served as G.W. Bush’s ambassador to Germany. As a former senator, Coats starts with name recognition and proven political skills. But he’s been living outside Indiana for more a decade, most recently living and voting in Virginia while working as an Washington adviser to an Atlanta-based law firm. While National Review greeted Coats’ likely entry (he didn’t really announce but said he would explore) with a headline declaring that Bayh’s reelection is converted “from Cakewalk to Competitive,” Bayh has been a magical name in Indiana politics for decades and Evan Bayh won both of his previous Senate races by well over 20-point margins. Since I started i first posted this piece a few minutes ago, Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report downgraded Bayh from “safe” to holding a “narrow advantage.” His rationale is here, which will also get you an overview of his rankings of every Senate race. In Rothenberg’s usage, “narrow advantage” is one category away from “toss-up.”
It’s hard to believe that in blue-leaning California, Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has won her three Senate terms by rising margins of four points, 10 points and 20 points, is in serious trouble. Former Hewlett-Packard exec Carly Fiorina, who was a top McCain campaign advisor on economics, is the likeliest Repub nominee. the case for the Repub majority gets shaky if it has to go through Boxer. But Charlie Cook doesn’t rate her as safe.
Connecticut Dems continue to be thankful the Sen. Chris Dodd decided not to seek a sixth term. Dodd was trailing all the likely Repub challengers but his replacement as the almost certain Dem nominee, Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, has led by likely Repubs by 20-plus points in every poll. He’s never run for Senate before but he has statewide name ID. It’s a little hard to see what Connecticut is doing on the list (CQ rates the race “safe Dem”). But without all three of the races in this category, there is no currently credible for the Repubs to get to 51.
And all of that assumes that the Repubs hold all 41 of the seats they now occupy. The Repub incumbents are retiring in Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio.
I won’t try your patience by going over those four today, except to note that all four are currently in the toss-up category in most ratings. It’s best to take huge doses of salt with any efforts to predict the outcomes in February of 37 statewide elections in November. But from where we stand, it’s easy to see how the Repub Senate caucus grows from 41 to 45, 46 or 47 — any of which would have enormous implications for the Obama agenda in the second half of his term. But to get to 51, the Repubs would need a perfect storm. (By the way, if it’s 50-50, the vice president gets to break the ties.)