A slew of retirements and a changing presidential election landscape have made for some ups and downs for the two parties in this year’s fight for the Senate. But the basic contours of the cycle remain the same: The Senate is up for grabs in November.
Republicans who last year looked at the number of seats up in 2012 and assumed that a gain of at least four seats was a slam dunk now surely feel depressed. Conversely, Democrats who sensed doom last fall now have reason to smile.
All of this has caused some to say that the Senate is likely to remain Democratic after November. But before anyone gets carried away with a new round of predictions, it’s best to state the obvious: Neither party is in the position to claim victory. Too many Senate races are still up for grabs for anyone to guarantee that one party or the other will have a majority in the chamber come January.
Where do things stand now?
Republicans still look certain to gain a seat in Nebraska, where Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson is retiring. State Sen. Deb. Fischer won the GOP nomination in an upset, and she is a very difficult target for ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D), whose years as a college president in New York City make him a candidate whose time has passed. Early polls and the state’s partisan bent suggest the race ended before it began.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is doing what she can to win a second term, but her prospects have not improved dramatically recently. Rep. Todd Akin, businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman are fighting it out for the GOP nomination. Either Brunner or Steelman would be favored over McCaskill, whom Republicans will tie closely to President Barack Obama. Again, the polls and the Senator’s early embrace of the president in a state where he will do poorly undermines the incumbent’s prospects.
North Dakota is an interesting contest, in part because former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) is such a well-known commodity and likable candidate. Heitkamp is personable, smart and down-to-earth, and she’ll get the votes of many North Dakotans who otherwise wouldn’t vote for a Democrat this year. While the race now looks very close, Republican Rep. Rick Berg probably will benefit from GOP voters “coming home” in the final weeks of the campaign, giving him an advantage in an otherwise competitive race.