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Senate Fight: Still Too Early to Count Chickens

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Virginia, where former Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine (above) is running, is one of three tossup Senate races that will decide which party controls the chamber.

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McMahon is running a good campaign but, after increasingly strong Democratic attacks, she must overcome the impression in very Democratic Connecticut that she and her party are too conservative and that her election would empower tea party conservatives in Congress. 

Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV is not running the kind of campaign that would allow him to overtake incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), but the Republican lawmaker could be dragged into the Senate by Romney if the GOP presidential nominee carries the state strongly enough. Still, Mack is likely to lose to Nelson.

Finally, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel may have crawled back into the Senate race against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), but that is not the same thing as being a coin flip away from victory. Mandel almost certainly needs Romney to win the state to have any chance of defeating Brown, and at this point, the Senator has a big advantage in the race.

The bottom line, of course, is that none of the three is even money to win. One or all of them could succeed, but all of them are, at least at this point, underdogs in their races.

Itís at this point that conservative activists will be jumping out of their chairs to complain that I have left Pennsylvania businessman Tom Smith off the list of potential GOP winners. 

Smith, who has an interesting life story that includes adopting four children and building a hugely successful coal business from scratch, spent millions of dollars to win the Republican Senate nomination and has become something of a threat to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.

While I was impressed with Smithís story, sincerity and commitment to the race when I interviewed him, I doubted that he could beat the incumbent. 

But his money has helped him gain ground on the Senator, who didnít appear to take the challenge all that seriously. Smith turned a race that didnít deserve to be on anyoneís radar into an interesting, uphill effort.

Six recent public polls showed the Smith-Casey race within the margin of error, and one, from a Harrisburg-based Republican polling firm, showed Smith with a 2-point lead. Other polls, a bipartisan survey conducted for the Philadelphia Inquirer and two Democratic surveys, including one for Casey, showed the incumbent Senator with a low
double-digit lead.

Unfortunately for Smith, two of the GOP polls also showed Romney leading Obama, which did not reflect the actual situation in Pennsylvania when those polls were conducted. That raised a whole series of questions about sampling and weighting for those surveys and, in my view, tended to undermine their findings on the Senate ballot.

Where is the race now? Iíd guess that Casey is ahead by somewhere between his poll (13 points) and Smithís (2 points). That would put it at 7 points or 8 points, which seems reasonable ó and still a ways from the nail-biter that some Republicans like to think it is. (A Muhlenberg College poll released Monday showed the race at 8 points, substantially different from the 2-point race the college found in its previous survey.)

In any case, it is still hard to imagine Smith overtaking the incumbent, given that Casey is finally matching Smith on TV after being significantly outspent by the Republican.

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