One week left to go and control of the Senate is just as close as the race for the White House. In the 2010 midterm elections, while the Republican Party picked up a net gain of six Senate seats, they only won three out of eight toss-ups (excluding Alaska where the two leading candidates were both Republican) without a presidential candidate running at the top of the ticket.
Looking back at 2010, there were certain Democrat incumbent seats in red states that the GOP were easily going to win, including Indiana, Arkansas, and North Dakota. But in blue and purple states, the races were a lot closer. Going into Election Day, Real Clear Politics showed eight legitimate toss-ups within five points: California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Among the lessons I took from the 2010 results was that you can nominate as manyconservative Republicans as you want in red states — like Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — and safely bet they’ll win. After all, they’re in red states.
In the blue and purple states, however, the GOP has to nominate the right candidates. The West Coast and Northeast are the Democratic strongholds of the country while the South and the heartland are GOP country. The Midwest has now become the true battleground of America.
Nominating far right candidates such as Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle in blue and purple states is insane. O’Donnell never had a chance in Delaware and the GOP blew a sure win in Nevada by nominating Angle over Sue Lowden or Danny Tarkanian.
But center-right candidates such as Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and Rob Portman won their respective races in blue and purple states Illinois, New Hampshire and Ohio, respectively. Even Republicans that were labeled as part of the Tea Party, such as Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey, won in purple states in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, respectively.
With center-right candidates such as Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, and Dino Rossi losing in states like California and Washington, I think the West Coast has become a lost cause for the GOP. If candidates like them couldn’t win even in a red year like 2010, I don’t know what Republicans can win in those states.
Then there were elections that just stunned me. Every poll had Ken Buck leading in Colorado and Joe Miller winning in Alaska. I really don’t know how to describe Buck’s loss and Alaska must be more purple than Republicans think it is. And West Virginia belongs in a category on its own. I always joke with my colleagues that Democrats in West Virginia are conservative while Republicans in Maine are liberal because neither state got the memo after the 20th century.
Fast forward to 2012. The Democrats now have a 53-47 Senate majority. Every poll shows Republican candidates with comfortable leads in the Democrat incumbent races of Nebraska and North Dakota while Republicans will definitely lose their incumbent seat in Maine. So taking those into consideration, we now have a 52-48 Democratic majority.
The only other incumbent seats Republicans are in danger of losing are Massachusetts and Nevada with Indiana now possibly in jeopardy. Real Clear Politics shows Elizabeth Warren with a 4.5 point lead while Dean Heller maintains a 3.5 point lead. For argument’s sake, let’s assume the Democrats win in Massachusetts but not Nevada, pushing them back to a 53-47 majority.
Of course, many Democrats are assuming Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock is finished in Indiana after his Akin-esque rape comment during his last debate. Indeed, they may be right. No one has done a poll there since that debate so we may not even know what damage was done to Mourdock’s bid until Election Day. Certainly anything’s possible, but with Romney leading Indiana by double digits in every poll, I’ll bet Mourdock still keeps this seat in the GOP camp.
So taking all those races into consideration, we’re still left with a 53-47 Democratic majority and eight tossups left – all Democrat incumbent seats: Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Republicans would have to win half those tossups – four out of eight – to lock a Senate majority in 2012.
As I mentioned earlier, the Northeast is a Democrat stronghold. While Linda McMahon has remained competitive in Connecticut, if she couldn’t even win in a red year like 2010, I’m not placing any bets she can pull it off in 2012. I’ll say it stays blue.
Missouri Republicans made the same exact mistake in 2012 that Nevada Republicans did in 2010. All the polls showed Claire McCaskill was finished in 2012. All the GOP needed to do was just not blow it and it would’ve been an easy win. They had several candidates they could’ve nominated, including Sarah Steelman and John Brunner, but who did they pick? Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, thus blowing a lock win. He ate his words and refused to bow out. Still, polls show this race isn’t over either. And while Romney leads in Missouri by double digits, it may or may not be enough to carry the state for Akin as well. In that respect, Akin is in the same boat as Mourdock in Indiana, and once again the GOP shot themselves in the foot putting races at risk that needn’t be. But Indiana and Missouri should be lock wins for Romney, so the Senate results in those states should show whether they are still purple states or have transformed into solid red ones.
That leaves Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin – all states that are up for grabs in the presidential election as well. In predicting a 52%-47% Romney win come November, the bipartisan Battleground Poll also noted that, “Should Romney win by 5 percentage points, it would increase Republican chances of gaining control of the Senate. His coattails would help elect GOP Senate candidates in Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.”
Romney needs Florida and Virginia no matter what and RCP shows him with slim leads in both states. Assuming he wins both, he would only need one of the remaining three to lock an Electoral College victory.
I predict the same will go for the Senate and agree with Battleground Poll’s conclusion. If Romney wins Montana, Missouri, Florida, Virginia and either Ohio OR Pennsylvania OR Wisconsin, chances are not only will he win the White House but the GOP Senate candidates should win in those states as well. If he fails to win five of those eight states, then Republicans probably won’t lock a Senate majority either.
The lesson Republicans need to take away is that they must stop blowing sure wins even in red states such as Missouri and Indiana by nominating candidates who are dumb enough to fall for the bear traps on social issues and letting their opponents use those opportunities to distract voters from their reckless spending records, poor economic decisions and careless expansion of government. It’s amazing how far rhetoric rooted in emotional arguments can carry a politician more than what they actually do.