GOP Likely To Take The Senate, Retain The House, Maintain The Status Quo In The States
The GOP has a good chance of taking the Senate in 2014, but it will be by a narrow margin.
The latest analysis from The Washington Post finds that there’s a very good possibility that the Republican Party will gain the six seats necessary to gain control of the Senate in the midterms:
The decision by Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) not to seek election in November in the wake of a plagiarism scandal is the latest piece of good news for Republicans as they strive to take control of the Senate in less than three months.
Walsh’s departure from the race came in the same week that two Republican senators — Pat Roberts in Kansas and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee — defeated tea party challengers in primary fights, ensuring that every GOP senator seeking reelection would be the party’s nominee.
These past seven days typified the fates of the two parties this election cycle. Democrats have been hit by retirements in tough states — Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and, to a lesser extent, Iowa — and Republicans haven’t nominated the sort of extreme candidates who lack broader appeal in a general election.
Those realities — along with a national playing field in which a handful of incumbent Democrats are defending Republican-leaning seats in places where President Obama is deeply unpopular — have made a GOP takeover a better-than-50/50 proposition.
Walsh’s decision not to run takes what was an uphill climb for Democrats and turns it into something close to a no-chance race. (A committee of Democrats will pick the party’s nominee by Aug. 20.) Montana joins the contests for open seats in West Virginia and South Dakota in that category, meaning that, unless something drastically changes, Republicans should have three takeovers in the bank — a nice head start going into Election Day.
That means the party needs three more pickups to gain the Senate majority. And it has more than enough seats in play to do it. Democratic-held seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina are competitive at this point. (Races in Michigan, New Hampshire and Oregon seem to be moving in the Democrats’ direction.)
Of that group, the seats in Louisiana and Arkansas seem to be the most endangered for Democrats, in large part because of the strongly Republican nature of both states.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) has run a very good campaign, while Rep. Tom Cotton (R) has underwhelmed somewhat. (To be fair, Cotton, a freshman member of Congress, entered the race with impossibly high expectations.) And yet, the public polling in the contest gives Cotton a narrow edge. (Internal polling shows Pryor in a slightly stronger position.)
In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has a wide lead over Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) as well as two other Republicans in the contest. But Landrieu seems unlikely to win more than 50 percent of the vote Nov. 4, and if she doesn’t, she will face a runoff Dec. 6 against the second-place vote-getter, who is likely to be Cassidy. Head-to-head polling between Landrieu and Cassidy gives the slightest edge to the challenger.
Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina fit comfortably into the next tier of vulnerability. Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst (R) has run a terrific campaign for the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D) and has been aided by the stumbles of Rep. Bruce Braley (D). Republicans’ last-minute recruiting coup in Colorado landed them Rep. Cory Gardner, although Sen. Mark Udall (D) hasn’t been caught by surprise and is working hard to paint the GOP congressman as extreme on social issues. The North Carolina contest is the quietest close race in the country; Sen. Kay Hagan (D) isn’t well-defined as a candidate, but she has endured millions of dollars in spending by conservative groups relatively well. State House Speaker Thom Tillis performed well in the Republican primary, but his stewardship of the chamber will be a major issue this fall.
Then there is Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who has run a solid campaign and is well-known and liked in the state. Republicans have a late primary — on Aug. 19 — and former U.S. attorney Dan Sullivan is expected to emerge with the party’s nomination. Early polling gives Begich a slight lead, but Sullivan remains relatively unknown and would seem to have room to grow.
Nate Silver came to the same conclusion in his most recent projection, which was released before Walsh had dropped out of the race:
If Americans elected an entirely new set of senators every two years — as they elect members of the House of Representatives — this November’s Senate contest would look like a stalemate. President Obama remains unpopular; his approval ratings have ticked down a point or two over the past few months. But the Republican Party remains a poor alternative in the eyes of many voters, which means it may not be able to exploit Obama’s unpopularity as much as it otherwise might.
Generic congressional ballot polls — probably the best indicator of the public’s overall mood toward the parties — suggest a relatively neutral partisan environment. Most of those polls show Democrats with a slight lead, but many of them are conducted among registered voters, meaning they can overstate Democrats’ standing as compared with polls of the people most likely to vote. Republicans usually have a turnout advantage, especially in midterm years, and their voters appear to be more enthusiastic about this November’s elections. Still, the gap is not as wide as it was in 2010.
The problem for Democrats is that this year’s Senate races aren’t being fought in neutral territory. Instead, the Class II senators on the ballot this year come from states that gave Obama an average of just 46 percent of the vote in 2012.1
Democrats hold the majority of Class II seats now, but that’s because they were last contested in 2008, one of the best Democratic years of the past half-century. That year, Democrats won the popular vote for the U.S. House by almost 11 percentage points. Imagine if 2008 had been a neutral partisan environment instead. We can approximate this by applying a uniform swing of 11 percentage points toward Republicans in each Senate race. In that case, Democrats would have lost the races in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon — and Republicans would already hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.
It therefore shouldn’t be surprising that we continue to see Republicans as slightly more likely than not to win a net of six seats this November and control of the Senate. A lot of it is simply reversion to the mean.2 This may not be a “wave” election as 2010 was, but Republicans don’t need a wave to take over the Senate.
Other analysts are basically reaching the same conclusion right now, namely that there are few signs that 2010 will be a wave election in the manner that 2006 and 2010 were, but the factors influencing the election at this point still point to a very favorable environment for Republicans in November. President Obama’s job approval, for example, both overall and in specific areas such as the economy and foreign policy remains low and is likely to stay that way for the next three months. While the Generic Congressional Ballot continues to slightly benefit Democrats, it’s worth noting that the gap between the parties is smaller than it has been in the past and that the General Ballot prior to the 2010 elections was not showing a massive Republican wave until we got much closer to Election Day. As I’ve noted before, the Republicans are also in a strong position here thanks to the fact that the Democrats are defending far more vulnerable seats than the GOP is being required to. Most specifically, there are seven Democratic incumbents or open seats currently held by a Democrat up for election year. By contrast, there is only one Republican incumbent running in a state that President Obama won in 2012, and that seat, held by Susan Collins of Maine, is going to stay Republican regardless of what happens in the rest of the country. There are vulnerable Republicans, of course, in Kentucky and Georgia, but in both case it looks as though the Republican candidate, Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and David Perdue in Georgia, will be able to pull out a victory absent some massive mistake on their part. At the same time, it now seems apparent that other states that seemed as though they could have been GOP pickups are pretty much out of reach. Jeff Merkley has a seemingly insurmountable lead over Monica Wehby in Oregon, for example, and Jeanne Shaheen is polling quite well against Scott Brown in New Hampshire. Those last two states are examples of why it’s unlikely that we’ll see a wave election this year. The GOP is going to do well most likely, but this election doesn’t seem to be a 1994, 2006,or 2010. Republicans would need to win six of the seven vulnerable seats, or perhaps pick up a seat in a state like Iowa or Michigan where the GOP nominee seems to be polling much better than expected, and hold on to those two seats to get the 51 votes needed for a Senate majority. This does not include the possibility that someone like Angus King or Joe Manchin might end up deciding to caucus with the GOP when it comes time to vote in the leadership elections. At this point in time, the probability that they’ll do so, while not certain by any means, certainly seems to be more likely than not.
While the fate of the Senate remains up in the air, there’s really no question about what’s likely to happen in the House of Representatives. Notwithstanding public statements by House Democratic Leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, there doesn’t seem to be any realistic chance that control of that body will change in November. This is due to a number of factors ranging from the redistricting advantages the GOP won out of the 2010 Census, the apparently lack of good candidates on the Democratic side, and the fact that there simply are not as many potentially “flippable” seats this year as there were in previous midterms where party control changed in the House. Republicans are so confident of their majority, in fact, that they are talking about increasing the number of seats that they hold in the House to as many as 245, although as Kyle Kondik points out that is much easier said than done. More likely than not, we’re likely to see a few seats change hands, probably in favor of the Republicans, but nothing noteworthy out of the House elections this time around.
On the state level, things are mixed for both parties. Republicans are defending all of the Governor’s races that they won in 2010, and currently find themselves in tight races in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, and Kansas. At the same time, there are also Democratic incumbents who find themselves vulnerable in Colorado, Connecticut, and Illinois. Two Republicans, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Paul Le Page in Maine, seem to be headed to certain defeat, although LePage may be saved by the fact that he once again faces a three-way race just as he was in 2010. At the end of the night on Election Day, the GOP will probably see some Gubernatorial losses but will still end up with the majority of Governor’s mansions for the next four years. On the legislative level, it does not appear that we will see any significant changes from the status quo, which benefits Republicans.
On balance, then, 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for Republicans, but not the kind of spectacular one they saw in 2010. Obviously, that assessment could change over the next three months.