Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Senate in Play

In June, I began preparing a piece about how there were 8 Democratic and 6 Republican seats "in play", with the Democrats having to run the table on all 14 contests to retake the Senate.

My working theses were the futility of any Democratic hope to retake control of the Senate and the foolishness of the (so-called) liberal netroots leaders in messing with a safe D seat in Connecticut. Here was the draft lead:
The Democrats say that they believe that this year represents their best chance in many election cycles to take back control of Congress. In the Senate, the Democrats need a net gain of 6 seats to wrest control of the upper Chamber. Casey defeating Santorum is key to that hope. Taking a look at the other contests, it may be close but the likelihood of the Democrats to taking over leadership in the Senate seems a little remote right now

There are 33 Senate seats up for grabs on November 7, 2006. The Republicans have been in the majority since 2003 (I know, it DOES seem longer than that.) Right now, the Senate has 55 Rs, 44 Dems and Jim Jeffords (VT), who is retiring. Seventeen Democratic seats are up in 2006, fifteen Republican, and Jeffords' seat in Vermont is also up this year.

Of the 33 seats up for grabs, there are nine which I see as completely safe Democrats running for reelection -- Byrd (WVa), Bingaman (NMex), Lieberman (CT), Akaka (HI), Conrad (NDak), Feinstein (CA), Clinton (NY), Carper (DE), and Kennedy (MA). I am going to give the Republicans nine successful contests -- Snow (ME), Hatch (Utah), Hutchinson (TX), Lott (Miss), Lugar (IN), Thomas (WY), WebbAllen (VA), Ensign (NV), and Kyl (AZ).

If you're playing along, you already know that leaves eight contested Democratic seats and six Republican seats "in play".

In order to regain the Senate, the Dems need to run the table on all fourteen contests.
The draft was never completed, not proofed, and never ran, in part because I just didn't get the time needed to complete the research I wanted on local issues and polling in each state. Lucky me. Since June, some of you may have noticed, "stuff happened". (In Virginia, for example, back in June, a SurveyUSA poll put Republican Incumbent Allen up 19 points. In Connecticut, Lieberman will win. Thanks to the netroots-endorsed Lamont challenge, he will re-enter the Senate with lessened enthusiasm and obligation to vote for Democratic causes for which he might lack personal conviction. Curiously, the same netroots enthusiastically supported Democratic primary candidates to the right of Lieberman (e.g., Casey in Pennsylvania). )

This year the mid-terms are not about the "traditional" battleground states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Contrary to my pre-empted June review, Casey winning in Pennsylvania is no longer the "key" to the Democratic chances in the Senate -- the Republicans have given up hope there.

Instead, we are looking at contests in the border states as the new "keys". In Virginia, where no sane person thought there was a chance of upsetting Allen; In Missouri, where sane Democrats didn't see themselves as welcome; and in Tennessee, where Bill Frist's seat was widely seen as a safe "R" not too long ago. Howard Dean isn't getting the credit he deserves, yet. Remember when he was laughed at for the 50-state strategy? Not so funny, now, is it? At least not if you are a Republican.

Today, the Wall Street Journal sees the Senate race coming down to the results in Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia. Rasmussen's most recent (October 20) "Balance of Power" report sees the toss-up states as Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia. and The Washington Post agree that it is all riding on three states: Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia. (I am currently inclined to believe that Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island will end up in the Dem column, along with Pennsylvania, which I called a long time ago.)

Eight, four, or three -- it doesn't matter. Simply talking about the Democratic chances of retaking the Senate in realistic terms seemed fantasy just a few months ago.

The WSJ list has some good summaries of the races in those key states, with links to solid sources of information and has all the polling data you could ever want.

While anything can happen in a close election, over the three weeks just past, it seems that everything has been breaking the Democrat's way. It is a well-polished axiom that incumbents faced with a close race often lose ground in the last three to five days of the contest, as unenthusiastic registered voters, independents, and undecideds (the great "tepid class") tend to break towards change.

This year that will hold again, with a slight but very significant difference -- ALL Republicans are "conceptual incumbents". For the "tepid class", this time around change will mean a vote for the Democrat, regardless which party holds the seat.

Tip O'Neill's observation about all politics being local isn't holding the day, at least in many of the Senate races we are watching. The Republicans may not like it -- and for certain there are local issues and concerns impacting some races -- but this midterm, more than any other in recent memory, is a direct referendum on President Bush and the Republican control of Washington. Neither are doing too well and there is scant time left to turn that around.

The Democrats might be down two, one out, in the bottom of the ninth, with Aaron Boone on deck. But, I like their chances right now.

{UPDATE} Rasmussen's latest on the NJ race (not released except to Premium Members yet) has the race dead even at 45-45. has now moved the NJ race into the toss-up category. Menendez has been a disappointment. NJ should not have been in play.

In Missouri, Rasmussen's (again, not public yet) latest poll gives Talent a 2-point advantage, 50-48%.

Virginia incumbent George Allen is a toenail ahead of Webb in Tennessee, 49%-48% (again, an unreleased Rasmussen survey).

In Ohio, SurveyUSA today released a death-blow poll for Mike DeWine (who is all in all not horrible as Rs go), giving Brown a 20-point lead, 57-37.

Harold Ford is 2-points ahead of Republican Corker, 47-45, according to an unreleased internal DSCC poll.


PA progressive said...

Jim Webb is a Democrat. George Allen is the Republican incumbent in that Virginia race.

A Big Fat Slob said...

Yeah, I know. The old draft had the typo, I fixed it.