A Nerve-Wracking Finish for Democrats
How big of a year is this going to be for Republicans? It’s still hard to tell, one week before voters go to the polls for the midterm elections.
But it could be bigger than you think.
Republicans have a plethora of House and Senate opportunities, and given President Barack Obama’s standing in the polls and the generic ballot question — which favors the GOP narrowly — the upcoming midterms could be surprisingly reminiscent of 2010.
But it’s also a little odd that Republican candidates in so many places are struggling to pull away from their Democratic opponents, given Obama’s weakness and the terrible news — Vladimir Putin and Ukraine, the Islamic State terror group and beheadings, Ebola and terrorism in Canada — that has arrived on an almost daily basis for the past few months.
Our outlook for the Senate has changed only modestly since the Rothenberg Political Report issued specific guidance about the fight for the Senate in our newsletter more than a year ago.
In August of 2013, our initial forecast for the cycle suggested the GOP was likely to gain three to six Senate seats. At the end of the year, in mid-December, we raised our target to four seats to seven seats. Three months later, we raised our forecast to four to eight seats, and at the end of August we moved the likely range of Republican gains to five to eight seats.
The changes reflected better than expected Republican recruiting and the party’s brighter prospects in Iowa and Colorado.
While two races are likely to go to a runoff (Louisiana in December and Georgia in early January), Republicans now appear well-positioned to take over six Democratic seats: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Colorado and Iowa continue to be more difficult to call.
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner seems to have a slight edge in Colorado, and Republican Joni Ernst is no worse than even money in Iowa. If both win, a Republican takeover of the Senate is virtually guaranteed. Even if only one wins, GOP control will be likely.
Democrats now seem to have only two opportunities: Kansas and Georgia.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is drawing a very dangerous 45 percent in hypothetical ballot tests in Kansas and running even with independent Greg Orman. But Republicans have a strong advantage in TV advertising in the final week, and the state’s GOP bent presents a challenge for Orman.
In Georgia, Republican David Perdue has only himself to blame for the fact that he is running about even against Democrat Michelle Nunn. But the race is complicated for Democrats, since the oddly timed early January runoff presents considerable challenges for Nunn.
If control of the Senate rests on the Georgia runoff, Nunn and national Democrats will find it difficult to make the election about anything other than Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
As Election Day approaches, both South Dakota and Kentucky look more like mirages rather than realistic Democratic opportunities.
Republicans have helped re-shape the South Dakota race by attacking both Democrat Rick Weiland and independent Larry Pressler, and Bluegrass State Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes trails Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell by more than a few points. She has become a substantial underdog in her uphill bid.
New Hampshire GOP challenger Scott P. Brown trails Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen by only a couple of points, roughly the same situation facing North Carolina Republican challenger Thom Tillis, who trails Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.
Both challengers merit watching, but each appears to need at least a modest GOP breeze at his back to squeeze past the incumbent. And if that happens, Republican Senate gains could well reach the eight seat to 10 seat range.
The fight for the House doesn’t involve control, but it still looks increasingly dangerous for Democrats.
Only about one-quarter of competitive contests (races rated as tossups, tilts or leans) are in districts currently held by the GOP, and any move toward the party in the final week could threaten a dozen Democratic seats that now appear at only limited risk.
One Republican open seat, in California, is all but certain to flip to the Democrats, and a couple of others, in Iowa and Arkansas, are tossups. In addition, three districts with vulnerable Republican incumbents — in Florida, Nebraska and New York — are at considerable risk. Some or all of them could remain in GOP hands, however.
Not only are there more Republican opportunities, but new ones are popping up in unexpected places.
Three Democratic open seats — in Utah, North Carolina and upstate New York — are sure to flip, and another seat in Illinois looks ready to fall. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and the question is how much of the iceberg isn’t yet visible.
Until recently, I was skeptical about former Rep. Nan Hayworth’s chances of regaining her New York seat and Republican prospects in Bruce Braley’s Iowa open seat. But both districts are very much in play as Election Day approaches.
Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, Ami Bera of California, Brad Schneider of Illinois, Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and Rick Nolan of Minnesota are all in serious trouble.
The big question is whether Republican gains will reach into second- or third-tier races. If that happens, GOP net House gains could grow from the middle- or high-single digits to the double digits, or even into the teens.
All of the talk about the number of tossup races is correct. The outcome is not yet clear. But that should not obscure the GOP’s advantages or hide the distinct possibility that Republicans will have a remarkably good year in House and Senate races.