We’re in the home stretch now as we look at the final set of Senate races. Each of these contests are either complete tossups or utter blowouts.
Pennsylvania - Republican: Tom Smith. Democrat: Bob Casey (Incumbent).
This race had flown under the radar as it appeared that Casey was cruising to re-election. Smith started gaining momentum at a time when nearly every other Republican was losing it, and he has now narrowed the gap. Even when Casey was well ahead he was failing to poll at the magical 50% number. Casey’s problem is representative of the shift in the Pennsylvania Democratic party. While his father was a true social conservative, and therefore a good fit for the state, the younger Casey pays only lip service to abortion and other issues. I think that Casey will survive, but only barely, and for just one more term. Prediction: Democrat hold.
Rhode Island - Republican: Barry Hinckley. Democrat: Sheldon Whitehouse (Incumbent).
A Republican polling firm has this race in single digits. Until I see other polls showing it that close, it still looks to be a pretty safe seat for Whitehouse. Prediction: Democrat hold.
Tennessee - Republican: Bob Corker (Incumbent). Democrat: Mark Clayton.
Corker was just about the only Republican to win a close election in 2006. He won’t have to sweat this time. Prediction: Republican hold.
Texas (open R) - Republican: Ted Cruz. Democrat: Paul Sadler.
Democrats in Texas must feel like Republicans in New York and California. One would think in a state as big as Texas, as Republican-dominated as it is, Democrats would be able to field a semi-competitive candidate. As it is, the real election occurred over the summer when Cruz upset the state’s Lieutenant Governor in a primary runoff. The only question about this contest is how big Cruz’s margin of victory will be. Prediction: Republican hold.
Utah - Republican: Orrin Hatch (Incumbent). Democrat: Scott Howell.
For once Orrin Hatch had to battle for re-election, but it wasn’t the general election that he had to worry about. Hatch was able to avoid the fate of his former colleague, Bob Bennett, and successfully fended off a tea party challenge for the nomination. Hatch had a little more conservative credibility than Bennett, obtaining the support of figures like Mark Levin. Having won re-nomination, Hatch will cruise in the general. Prediction: Republican hold.
Vermont - Republican: John MacGover. Independent: Bernie Sanders (Incumbent).
If there is a silver lining for Republicans, it is that this will continue to be technically a non-Democrat seat. Yeah, I’m stretching. Prediction: Independent hold.
Virginia (open D) - Republican: George Allen. Democrat: Tim Kaine.
In a year of tossups, this might be the tossiest-up of them all. Allen is running to regain the seat that he macaca’d himself out of six years ago. Allen has done better than he did during the last campaign, when he spent the better part of the Fall running negative ads against Jim Webb in a desperate effort to deflect attention away from his macaca moment. The 2006 election was one where partisans on both sides wished both candidates would just go away. Now, in an election pitting two former, relatively popular governors, once again it seems there is surprisingly little enthusiasm. At times it appears that both candidates are kind of going through the motions to win a seat neither really desperately wants, but feel compelled to run for out of some sense of party loyalty. It is truly a strange dynamic, and the voters have expressed their own confusion by failing to break for either candidate. It’s almost impossible to pick a winner, but I’ll go with Allen to win back the seat. No matter who wins, I sense that this will be an open-seat contest again in 2018. Prediction: Republican pickup.
Washington - Republican: Michael Baumgartner. Democrat: Maria Cantwell (Incumbent).
Another seat that the Republicans had some hopes for at the beginning of the year, but this was never a race. Prediction: Democrat hold.
West Virginia - Republican: John Raese. Democrat: Joe Manchin (Democrat).
Manchin has done a masterful job of persuading Mountaineers that he’s a rogue independent while siding with his party when it really matters. Prediction: Democrat hold.
Wisconsin (open D) - Republican: Tommy Thompson. Democrat: Tammy Baldwin.
This race has followed a path unlike most of the others. When former governor Tommy Thompson won the nomination this seemed like a prime Republican pickup opportunity, and Thompson did hold a double digit lead over the summer. Baldwin received a nice post-convention bounce, and she and Thompson have swapped leads it seems with every other poll. Thompson may have seemed like the safe choice for many Republicans in the state, but this is a case where the other candidate’s relative youth may be too much to overcome. Prediction: Democrat hold.
Wyoming - Republican: John Barrasso (Incumbent). Democrat: Tim Chestnut.
I don’t anticipate we’ll be up late waiting to hear a winner announced here. Prediction: Republican hold.
FINAL ANALYSIS: I have the Republicans picking up Florida, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Virginia, while losing Maine. That would be a net gain of five seats for the GOP, giving them a 52-48 majority (assuming the independents caucus with Democrats). I’m starting to rethink my Florida and Missouri calls, though I can see Ohio, Pennsylvania, and especially Wisconsin breaking in their favor (though Massachusetts can also swing the other way). Whatever the case may be, my most fearless prediction is this: we will know the identity of the next president much earlier in the evening on election night than we will which party will control the Senate.
Minnesota - Republican: Kurt Bills. Democrat: Amy Klobuchar (Incumbent).
Minnesota feels like the mirror image of Arizona. It’s a state that a lot of people keep expecting to turn more purple, but it just never does. While Romney could eek out a victory here if the presidential election turns into a blowout, Klobuchar is quite safe. Prediction: Democrat hold.
Mississippi - Republican: Roger Wicker (Incumbent). Democrat: Albert N. Gore.
Yes, Gore is indeed a distant relative of the former Vice President. And he has about as much of a chance of winning here as the other Gore would. Prediction: Republican hold.
Missouri - Republican: Todd Akin. Democrat: Claire McCaskill (Incumbent).
Originally thought to be one of the Republican’s surest pickup opportunities, Akin had to go and open his mouth. Despite pleas to drop out of the race, Akin stubbornly stayed in and seemingly doomed the GOP here. Of course he had a secret weapon ready to deploy: his opponent. The fact is, McCaskill is a deeply unpopular Senator who is far too left-wing for her state. Throw in some corruption, and suddenly Mr. Legitimate Rape has a shot. With the polls narrowing, Republicans will have no choice but to throw some money Akin’s way. Looks like he’ll have the last laugh. Prediction: Republican pickup.
Montana - Republican: Danny Rehberg. Democrat: John Tester (Incumbent).
Tester defeated incumbent Conrad Burns by less than 3,000 votes in 2006, and it looks like this is turning out to be another nail-biter. With Montana and North Dakota having close Senate elections, we might be up late on election night wondering who has control of the Senate long after the presidential race has been decided. Rehberg is the at-large Representative for Montana, so he is as familiar face with the electorate as Tester. Considering that this is a more favorable year for Republicans than 2006, I think Rehberg will win a squeaker. Prediction: Republican pickup.
Nebraska (open D) - Republican: Deb Fischer. Democrat: Bob Kerrey.
This race was decided the day Ben Nelson decided to accept the “Cornhusker Kickback” in exchange for voting for Obamacare. The Democrats had to pluck Bob Kerrey out of retirement in New York in order to even pretend that they had a chance, but this is the one GOP layup for the evening. Prediction: Republican pickup.
Nevada - Republican: Dean Heller (Incumbent). Democrat: Shelley Berkley.
The polls have been narrow throughout, but Heller has maintained a consistent edge in the range of 2-5 percent. Most worrisome for Heller is that he has only cracked 50% in one poll, which is always a danger sign for incumbents. Once again the momentum of the presidential race might determine the ultimate outcome, but it looks like Heller should be able to hang on. Prediction: Republican hold.
New Jersey - Republican: Joe Kyrillos. Democrat: Bob Menendez (Incumbent).
Every now and then New Jersey tantalizes Republicans. Once a fairly strong suburban stronghold for the GOP, it has become a solid blue state since the Clinton years. Though Republicans have done well on the gubernatorial level, and though they do actually have an even split with Democrats in the House caucus, the GOP just has never been able to breakthrough in the Senate. That will not be changing this year. Prediction: Democrat hold.
New Mexico (open D) - Republican: Heather Wilson. Democrat: Martin Heinrich.
New Mexico has been the one semi-swing state that hasn’t turned towards the Republicans this cycle. President Obama seems safe here, and Heinrich has opened up a comfortable double-digit lead. Prediction: Democrat hold.
New York - Republican: Wendy Long. Democrat: Kirsten Gillenbrand (Incumbent).
Believe it or not, but when I was a kid growing up in New York the Republican party in the state wasn’t a joke. Prediction: Democrat hold.
North Dakota (open D) - Republican: Rick Berg. Democrat: Heidi Heitkamp.
For the second cycle in a row, a Democrat retirement has opened up an opportunity for the Republicans to pickup a Senate seat in North Dakota. Unlike last time, this will not be a cakewalk for the Republican candidate. Congressman Rick Berg is running against Attorney General Heitkamp. The polling here has been sparse, so it’s difficult to know how the race stacks up. Even though Romney will win here fairly comfortably, and even though the state trends pretty heavily towards the GOP, this is far from a lock for Berg. I predict he will pull it out, but this is going to be very close. Prediction: Republican pickup.
Ohio - Republican: Josh Mandel. Democrat: Sherrod Brown (Incumbent).
Mandel had this race close, but then Brown started to pull ahead after the Democratic convention. The race has tightened up again, but Brown has a decent-sized lead. Once again, though, Brown fails to poll above 50%. Since Ohio could be viewed as the Democrats’ firewall for both the presidency and the Senate, I do not envy anyone living in the state. My advice – turn off the television. At any rate, though Brown is far to the left of the majority of the state, he is a tough guy to beat. I think Brown will hold on, but this race could easily shift towards Mandel in the closing moments. Prediction: Democrat hold.
Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems that even the Senate races are getting less attention than usual this year. I live in proximity to one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the country, and it’s gotten relatively little attention. It’s all the more amazing considering that almost half of the races are fairly competitive, and the gap between the parties is small. Currently, Republicans hold 47 seats while Democrats have 53 (including two independents that caucus with them). If Mitt Romney is elected, Republicans will need to pickup a net of three seats in order to win effective control of the Senate. Considering recent Senatorial history, Republicans would do well to win a few extra seats.
Since Democrats have to defend two-thirds of the seats up for election this cycle, it would seem that Republicans should have a good chance of winning back control of the Senate. Unfortunately a couple of key retirements and several inopportune gaffes have made the Republican road to Senate control all the more difficult.
All that said, I will briefly analyze each of the Senate races. With 33 seats up for grabs, I will be splitting up these posts in batches of 11 each, working my way through them alphabetically. So let’s get to it. Continue reading