There are growing signs that the Democrats will retain control of the Senate in Tuesday’s election as key races in Indiana, Massachusetts, Virginia and elsewhere have begun to move decisively into the Democratic column.
A year ago, it seemed almost a given that the Republicans would recapture the Senate, with the Democrats forced to defend twice as many seats as the GOP and the political winds working against the Democrats. The GOP needed just four of 23 Democratic seats up for grabs to claim a bare 51 to 49-seat majority in the Senate, while they were almost certain to retain their majority in the House.
But with only six days to go before the election, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” political blog is predicting that Democrats will emerge from Tuesday’s election with at least a 52-to-46 seat advantage over the Republicans, with races in Arizona and Wisconsin still too close to call.
The Democrats have been greatly helped by the gaffes of the Republican Tea Party nominees in Indiana and Missouri, in contests for seats that should have been easy pickups for the GOP. Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock recently declared that “life is a gift from God,” even when conceived in that “horrible situation of rape” – an assertion that further boosted the chances of Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly to claim the seat that had been held for decades by Republican Richard Lugar.
Mourdock’s blunder was similar to that of Republican Rep. Todd Akin, who blew his chances of unseating the politically vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri after remarking in August that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy.
Sabato and other University of Virginia political analysts recently projected that the Republicans would retain control of the House. “Now we are willing to call the Senate for the Democrats — as long as the presidential race doesn’t break heavily for Romney in the last days,” Sabato said.
Here’s how the math works: 30 Democratic senators and 37 Republican senators are not up for reelection this year. In this year’s 33 contests, Democrats are likely or safe winners in 15 states: California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. That includes two independents: Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who Sabato upgraded to likely Democratic/independent.
Meanwhile, Republicans are safe or likely winners in Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Despite some recent tightening in Nebraska and Republican ex-Sen. Chuck Hagel’s expected endorsement of the Democrat, the “Crystal Ball” don’t see ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) beating state Sen. Deb Fischer in Republican Nebraska.
That leaves a Senate of 45 Democrats, 43 Republicans and 12 truly competitive contests. Here’s how the Crystal Ball calls the tightest races, in their own words:
ARIZONA: Ex-Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) is running a very strong race, and there’s not much daylight between him and Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in most surveys, public or private, that we’ve seen.
CONNECTICUT: Party ID and Obama coattail has taken over in Connecticut, where Linda McMahon (R) appears likely to come up short in the second consecutive Senate election despite her millions and a better campaign this time (including strong TV ads), this time to Rep. Chris Murphy (D).
INDIANA: After Republican Richard Mourdock’s Akin-esque gaffe about abortion and rape, Rep. Joe Donnelly’s numbers have gone up. We’re certainly not 100% sure, and maybe Romney’s big expected Hoosier margin will pull Mourdock in despite himself, but now Donnelly seems to us to be the favorite.
MASSACHUSETTS: The same phenomenon propelling Murphy to victory in the Nutmeg State is boosting Elizabeth Warren (D) over Sen. Scott Brown (R). President Obama is sweeping Massachusetts, and his coattails are too long for Brown to survive.
MISSOURI: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is this year’s Senate Lazarus; Rep. Todd Akin (R) is this year’s Icarus. Republicans found the one Republican who could lose to McCaskill, who was halfway out the Senate door in this increasingly conservative state.
MONTANA: The race between Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) remains close, and Libertarian Dan Cox could be a spoiler.
NEVADA: While President Obama is probably leading here, so apparently is appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). There probably will be too many Obama-Heller voters for Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) to overcome.
NORTH DAKOTA: Democrat Heidi Heitkamp has run an excellent race against a sub-par GOP nominee, but we’re hearing that this might be a bridge too far for any Democrat. Rep. Rick Berg (R) may just narrowly pull it out, and he’ll benefit from Romney’s landslide victory.
OHIO: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is running ahead of President Obama in Ohio, and Treasurer Josh Mandel’s (R) campaign has been such a disaster that typically mainline Republican newspapers like the Cincinnati Enquirer and Columbus Dispatch have endorsed the liberal Brown.
PENNSYLVANIA: Despite a real scare from Tom Smith (R) and a lackluster campaign effort, Sen. Bob Casey (D) should limp to a second term.
VIRGINIA: Ex-Sen. George Allen (R) needs a fairly substantial Romney tide in Virginia to send him back to the Senate, as ex-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) appears to be running a few points ahead of Obama here.
WISCONSIN: Give it to Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) and national Democrats for running a good race here, but ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) might still pull out a win.