With four weeks to go until election day, the polls have tightened up not only in the race for the White House but for the balance of power in the Senate as well.
Two months ago, I wrote a piece that analyzed Rasmussen polls in the Senate to conclude that the Republican Party was merely one seat away from locking a majority in November. However today, many of those races have tightened and have moved from pick ups to toss ups. Below is an updated look on each race.
For the record, I had used Rasmussen polls considering that a Fordham University study concluded that Rasmussen had been the most accurate pollster throughout the 2008 election. But due to criticisms I received and in the interest of diversity, I have decided to use the RealClearPolitics average of polls on each Senate race for this analysis.
REPUBLICAN PICK-UPS (LEADING BY 10 POINTS OR MORE):
Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson (D): Nebraska is in fact the only race left where Republicans are still guaranteed to pick up an incumbent Democrat seat. State Sen. Deb Fischer (R) has maintained a strong double digit lead over former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) all year long, and is really the only Senate race where name recognition has not helped the veteran lawmaker.
DEMOCRATIC PICK-UPS (LEADING BY 10 POINTS OR MORE):
Maine – Sen. Olympia Snowe (R): Former Gov. Angus King (I) is poised to win the seat held by Snowe for the last 18 years in this three-way race between Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) and State Sen. Cynthia Dill (D). Although technically not a Democrat, King’s positions and endorsements lead most to believe he’ll be caucusing with the Democrats if he wins.
So taking those races into consideration, we’re still left with a 53-47 Democratic majority. There are a dozen other seats that are up for grabs in November – twice as many incumbent Democratic seats as Republican.
TOSS UPS (WITHIN 5 POINTS OR LESS):
North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad (D): Twenty-year incumbent Kent Conrad is finally retiring and, like Nebraska, most expected North Dakota to easily flip. To be fair, no one has conducted a poll in this race since July. Although RCP has Rep. Rick Berg (R) up by only 5 points, I’m willing to lay money down that he’s winning this one over former State Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D).
Montana – Sen. Jon Tester (D): I’m also pretty confident in Rep. Denny Rehberg’s (R) chances to defeat incumbent Jon Tester in Montana, despite RCP only showing Rehberg’s lead at a razor-thin 2 point margin. Of the 13 polls that have been conducted on this race all year, Tester has only led in three. Tester is doing everything he can to look as “moderate” as possible, but I don’t think it’ll be enough.
Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill (D): I still have a hangover from this one. Everyone had written off Claire McCaskill this year as a lost cause. She has become widely unpopular in her state since taking office in 2006, particularly after voting for Obamacare. It was a given that whoever won the Republican nomination would easily take the election – all he or she needed to do was just not blow it. Well, the nominee managed to blow it.
Many were expecting State Treasurer Sarah Steelman to win the GOP nomination (including me) but instead it went to veteran Congressman Todd Akin. I’m sure we all remember what happened afterwards. Every Republican office holder starting with Mitt Romney on down condemned his statements as “insulting, inexcusable, and wrong.” Every political organization from the NRSC to American Crossroads withdrew all funding from his campaign. Every conservative media personality from Sean Hannity to Ann Coulter demanded that he withdraw from the Missouri Senate race.
And he didn’t. He ate his words and vowed to remain in the race. The strangest part of all this is that McCaskill is still so unpopular she only leads by 2.3 points in the RCP average of the four most recent polls – within the margin of error. That’s right, Akin could still win this. I’m just as shocked as you are.
Wisconsin – Sen. Herb Kohl (D): I’m also just as shocked that this race has ultra liberal Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) with a 4.8 point lead over former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). Baldwin is a far left Democratic leader according to GovTrack’s own analysis of bill sponsorship and with incumbent Gov. Scott Walker having won two elections in that state, Ron Johnson winning the other Senate seat in 2010, party chairman Reince Priebus going on to lead the RNC and Congressman Paul Ryan (R) being named the vice presidential nominee, I would’ve thought an extremist like Baldwin wouldn’t stand a chance. But Thompson did go through a pretty bruising primary of which it seems he’s still recovering from while the state Democratic Party will no doubt pool all its remaining sources into the only major seat it can still win in Wisconsin.
Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman (I): This one has surprised me as well. If former WWE CEO Linda McMahon (R) couldn’t win Connecticut in a red year like 2010, I didn’t think she’d have a shot in 2012. But Rep. Chris Murphy (D) only leads her by 3 points in the RCP average. Still, it’s New England. Republicans will always have an uphill struggle in any one of those states. Good luck to McMahon.
Virginia – Sen. Jim Webb (D): Two political veterans are after Jim Webb’s seat – former Sen. George Allen (R) and former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) in a race that has been virtually tied all year long. But lately Kaine has been pulling ahead in the polls and has now developed a 4.7 point lead in the RCP average. By all accounts Virginia should be a solid red state but despite all the work Gov. Bob McDonnell and the GOP-majority state legislature have done to lower unemployment and balance the budget, there are many jobs in that state dependent on federal government spending. It’s why Obama and Romney are running neck-and-neck in Virginia and it’s why many voters are hesitant to vote for any Republican candidate who talks about spending cuts.
Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown (D): In another critical 2012 swing state, incumbent Sherrod Brown is being challenged by State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R). While Brown had commanded a double digit lead earlier in the year, Mandel has done an effective job of cutting that lead to within 5 over the last few months. Still, Mandel has a lot of work to do if he’s going to win in Ohio – as does the Romney-Ryan campaign. But there are some numbers working within the GOP’s favor there. The natural-gas boom in southern Ohio has swelled the population in Republican counties. Meanwhile, the population of Democratic stronghold Cleveland has declined. You would also think the fact that Gov. John Kasich and the GOP-majority state legislature there eliminated a record $8 billion deficit and gave the state a credit rating upgrade through lowering taxes and unemployment would help the GOP’s chances in that state, but apparently it hasn’t been noticed.
Florida – Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Quite honestly, I’m stunned two-term incumbent Bill Nelson is pulling away in this race ahead of Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) for the seat previously held by Mack’s father. Florida, of course, is another critical swing state in the presidential race, and the GOP have swept power in that state over the last two years; including Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio, Congressman Allen West and Attorney General Pam Bondi. But I guess the “Mediscare” ads are still working there. Mack’s bid has also been marred by problems, including stories about his hard-partying youth and questions about his recent voting record. But this seems to be a race over who is the most centrist of the two. Just as Florida is a must win for Romney’s path to the White House, I also believe this Senate seat to be a must win if the Republicans are to take a majority again.
Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R): The contest for Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat has been a dead heat between Scott Brown and law professor Elizabeth Warren (D), despite the ongoing controversy over Warren’s past claims of Native American heritage. With only 12.5% of voters in Massachusetts registered as Republicans, Brown has to focus on maintaining independent voter favor – something Romney understood all too well. Besides Maine, I believe this is the only other incumbent Senate seat Republicans genuinely have a chance of losing. Like I said earlier, it’s New England.
Indiana – Sen. Dick Lugar (R): Tea Party-favorite State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) upset 36-year-incumbent Lugar for the GOP nomination back in May, yet it may surprise some to find Mourdock is polling dead even with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) in the Indiana senate election. Although Obama won Indiana in 2008 by merely 1 point, Romney currently leads the state by double digits. I can’t imagine the GOP losing this one, I’m betting the only reason Mourdock isn’t running away with this is simple lack of name recognition.
Nevada – Sen. Dean Heller (R): I also can’t imagine incumbent Dean Heller losing this one against Rep. Shelley Berkley (D). Granted, Nevada is a solid purple state these days and although no other state has been hit harder in its housing market or jobs climate, it never seems to tip solidly one way or the other. Heller is tied with Berkley in the polls, but he’s no Sharron Angle. He’s going to win.
Arizona – John Kyl (R): I can’t believe RCP has this one as a toss up. There’s no way Rep. Jeff Flake (R) is not beating former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) to keep this seat in the GOP camp. Arizona is a red state, Flake is widely popular there and Romney has a solid lead in the polls. I can’t add up the math to a Carmona win.
Going into November, indeed the entire Senate is a toss up. Whereas I thought the odds of a majority was in the GOP’s favor two months ago, now I’m not so sure. If it’s going to happen, I believe the most realistic path (assuming both Maine and even Massachusetts are lost for argument’s sake) would be through Nebraska + North Dakota + Montana + Missouri + Wisconsin + Virginia or Ohio or Florida. No easy task, but not impossible. The GOP did pick up a net six Senate seats in 2010. Those last three states are also the critical swing states in the presidential race. Notice how Romney cannot win the White House without winning at least one of those three (if not two out of three). I believe the same holds true for the Republican Party’s efforts in winning back a majority in the Senate in 2012.