Prospects For GOP Senate Takeover Appear To Be Slipping Away

It's looking less likely that the GOP will be able to gain control of the Senate.

In addition to aiming for the White House, Republicans and Republican-leaning SuperPACs have been putting tremendous resources in the battle for the Senate. Currently, the Democrats hold a 53-47 seat majority in the body, and the number of potentially vulnerable Democrats on the ballot this time around led many on the right to think that it wouldn’t be hard at all for the GOP to pick up the minimum of four seats necessary to win control of the Senate. Quickly, though, events started happening that made things problematic for the GOP. Richard Mourdock’s defeat of Dick Lugar led Democrats to view Indiana as a seat they could possibly win, rather than won they’d have to write off. Olympia Snowe’s retirement from the Senate made the prospect of the GOP holding on to the Maine Senate seat less likely, especially after popular former Governor Angus King entered the race as an independent. Scott Brown ended up with the well-funded Elizabeth Warren has his opponent. And then, of course, Missouri Republicans gave their Senate nomination to Todd Akin, who proceeded to turn Claire McCaskill into a favorite by making idiotic comments about rape.

Now, with 47 days left to go until the election, Democratic Senate candidates are surging in the polls and Republican hopes of a Senate takeover seem to be slipping away:

Democratic candidates in some of the most critical Senate races in the country are surging, putting the party in its best position of the election cycle to keep its majority in November.

The reasons range from the post-convention bounce led by President Barack Obama, to potent Democratic attack ads, to anemic performances of some GOP candidates.

Fresh polling in marquee contests shows a distinct trend line in the Democrats’ favor, making the GOP’s narrow path to a Senate majority significantly more difficult with less than two months until the election.

Democratic candidates in Virginia, Massachusetts and Wisconsin are on the rise after navigating a summer of challenges, and benefiting from Obama’s growing strength in all three states. In Florida and Ohio, Democratic incumbents have so far withstood a tidal wave of spending by conservative super PACs and outside groups.

Senate Democrats said Wednesday that stumbles by Republican Senate candidates, infighting between the tea party movement and establishment wings of the GOP and effective Democratic ads have all helped their cause. The Democratic convention, they say, firmed up the party’s base.

“Obama’s convention bounce is going to — in the short term — make taking the Senate majority look near impossible for a little bit,” acknowledged one top GOP strategist.

Democrats came into the cycle defending 23 seats, versus only 10 for Republicans. Obama and the Democrats had taken a historic beatdown in the 2010 midterm elections, and the president was polling behind Senate Democratic candidates and incumbents in key swing states. Many in the party feared an unpopular president combined with a bad economy would cost the party the White House and the Senate.

The race for the Senate is far from over, but those fears are nowhere near as acute seven weeks out from the election.

Obama is far stronger, especially in battleground states. And Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) decision to retire was a huge gift, putting a safe GOP seat into play.

“A year and a half ago, no one gave us a shot at all of being in the majority after November,” said Washington Sen. Patty Murray, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We have increased the odds dramatically.”

On Tuesday, Nate Silver published his first protection for the race for control of the Senate, and concluded that, at present, the situation looks really good for the Democrats:

An unusually large number of Senate races remain competitive, meaning that a wide range of outcomes are still possible. Republicans have about a 10 percent chance of winning a net of at least six seats from Democrats, according to the forecast, which would give them control of at least 53 seats next year. However, there is also about a 20 percent chance that Democrats could actually gain Senate seats on balance, giving them at least 54. The only thing that seems completely assured is that neither party will control enough seats next year to hold a filibuster-proof majority.

But the odds of a favorable overall outcome for Democrats have increased in recent weeks. The forecast model now gives them a 70 percent chance of controlling the chamber, either by having at least 50 seats and the presidency, or 51 without it.

Although this represents the first official FiveThirtyEight forecast for the Senate this year, I ran backdated forecasts to July 1 based on the polls that were available at that time. Two weeks ago, for example, the model would have given Democrats a 52 percent chance of retaining Senate control — and four weeks ago, it would have given them a 39 percent chance.

The trend toward Democrats is a relatively recent one. Part of the shift may reflect the bounce President Obama received from the Democratic convention. If so, it could recede, especially if Mr. Obama’s poll numbers do so, too.

But our analysis also suggests that the Democratic advantage has probably been building over the past few weeks, and may not have any one root cause.

In the light of new polling, Silver revised that forecast today to give Democrats a 79% chance of retaining the Senate, and  it’s easy to see why that’s the case when you actually start looking at the polls.

Florida, for example is a state that Republicans once thought they would certainly be able to pick up even with three-term incumbent Bill Nelson on the ballot. Now, though, Nelson has a comfortable lead over Republican Connie Mack, including a recent poll that put the incumbent Senator 14 points ahead of his opponent. Absent some kind of major mistake in the upcoming debates by Nelson, or a surge in the polls by Mitt Romney on the Presidential side, where Obama currently has a +2.0 lead in the RealClearPolitics average, it seems highly unlikely that Nelson will be defeated. So, that’s one potential GOP pickup off the list.

Another state where the GOP hopes to be able to pick up a Democratic seat is Virginia, where two popular former Governors, Tim Kaine and George Allen, are facing off against each other. For most of the summer, this race has been as tight as the Presidential race in Virginia, with Allen and Kaine staying within a few percentage points of each other in poll after poll. More recently, though, Tim Kaine has started to pull ahead in recent polls, although a  new PPP Poll only gives him a one point lead, and now has a +4.4 lead in the RealClearPolitics Average. This has coincided with President Obama’s own rise in the polls in the Old Dominion, where he now has a +4.7 advantage in the RCP Poll Average. This race is likely to remain competitive right to the end, though, and with a series of candidate debates beginning today we’re likely to see some movement in the poll numbers. In the end, though, if President Obama does well in Virginia, then he’s likely to pull Tim Kaine into the Senate with him.

Republicans have also looked to Wisconsin as a takeover target, especially given the fact that their nominee is popular former Governor Tommy Thompson. Thompson has been leading in some recent polls, but this week Marquette University released a poll showing Democratic nominee Tammy Baldwin up by nine points, giving her a +1.3 lead in the RCP Average. Thompson may still have a shot here, but it’s looking like it’s going to be much tougher for him than it was looking just a few weeks ago.

There are a number of states in which there hasn’t been recent polling, but where Republican fortunes appear to be a bit better. These include North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska. and Nevada.  Three of these, North Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska, would be GOP pick ups if their nominee won and, at the moment, the only one where the GOP may have a problem is in Montana where Senator John Tester polled two points ahead of his Republican opponent in the most recent poll of the state. Tester may pull off a victory here, thus frustrating another path to a GOP takeover.

Then there are a group of four states where Republicans are in danger of losing a GOP held seat. The most obvious one, of course, is Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren’s recent surge in the polls has given her a +4.3 lead in the RCP Average. Another state where Republicans are vulnerable is Indiana, where Richard Mourdock’s defeat of Dick Lugar in the Republican Primary has given Democrats a hope for victory in an unexpected state. Mourdock may still win in the Hoosier State, but it will require Republicans to expend resources there  that they would not have had to expend had Lugar been the nominee. Additionally, the retirement of Olympia Snowe has led to a situation where the GOP could end up losing another Senate seat. Former Governor Angus King has been leading in that three-way race for awhile now, although his numbers slipped a bit in a recent PPP poll, and he currently has a +19.7 lead in the RCP Average. If, as expected, King wins in November and caucuses with the Democrats that will be a GOP loss. Finally, of course, there’s Missouri, where the nomination of Todd Akin has led to a situation where Claire McCaskill, once thought dead, seems likely to be re-elected.

The one potential surprise for the GOP comes in Connecticut of all places, where Linda McMahon is running a much better race than she did in 2010. As a result, she’s been leading in recent polls and has a slim lead in the RCP Polling Average. If she can pick up a win here, it would at the very least offset a loss in one of the vulnerable GOP states listed above.

Based on the current polling, it seems unlikely to me that the GOP is going to be able to grab control of the Senate unless there’s a major turnaround in the way several of these races are going. Right now, it seems that the best the GOP can hope for is a net pickup of one seat, leaving the Democrats with a 52-48 majority, an outside shot at a two seat net pickup that would cut the majority to 51-49, and a longshot chance at a three seat net pickup that would leave the Senate tied at 50-50. There’s also a better than even chance that, after it’s all over, we’ll be at precisely the same place we are now, 53-47, just with a bunch of different players. At this point, though, the least likely possibility would be the four seat net pickup that the GOP needs to gain control of the Senate without having to rely on a Vice-President’s tie breaking vote.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Me Me Me says:

    At this rate it will be welcome back ma’am, here’s your giant gavel as well.

  2. Mikey says:

    I’ve heard Republicans say for a long time that if they would only nominate REAL! CONSERVATIVES! they would win everything. Well, the problem with that is “real conservatives” usually means “social conservatives,” who apparently hold a lot of views with which a majority of Americans disagree.

    I hope the whole REAL! CONSERVATIVES! thing goes away after it becomes obvious it cost the GOP their Senate takeover, but I’m not too optimistic.

  3. Me Me Me,

    The odds of the GOP losing the House are very, very low.

  4. mattb says:

    Am I the only one who wishes that Scott Brown would have moved from Mass to CT? I’d much rather have him stay in the Senate than Mrs McMahon…

  5. Mikey says:

    And then there’s this:
    Post Poll: Tim Kaine opens first lead over George Allen in Virginia Senate race

    Kaine’s tenure as governor of Virginia was entirely unremarkable, and I had thought Allen was pretty much a shoo-in for the seat Jim Webb is leaving. Certainly, if the election had been held a year ago, it would have been a done deal for Allen.

    It’s amazing how fast things can change, isn’t it?

  6. Tano says:

    There are two potential surprises out there that I see – where Dems actually have a fair chance of a victory where no one would have expected it. Keep an eye on North Dakota and Arizona.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Well, the problem with that is “real conservatives” usually means “social conservatives,”

    “real conservatives” also tend to fiscal frauds.

  8. Rob in CT says:


    Heh. I’ve complained in two different threads that I wish I could trade a Brown victory in MA for getting Warren here in CT. Similar thoughts.

    Holding the Senate would be nice. Roughly zero chance at re-taking the House, though, so I for one worry about a replay of 2010-present.

  9. Hal 10000 says:

    This is a pity. I think it’s likely that Obama will be re-elected and having both houses of Congress in the opposition’s hands is a good way to keep Presidents in check (for example, spending has grown only 1% each of the last two years). Last time we had a Democratic President and a Republican Congress, we did pretty well. The problems we’re facing may be too big for gridlock, but gridlock is at least not making things worse.

  10. @Hal 10000:

    Gridlock is great when economies are healthy and budgets are trending well, when you don’t have both those things, not so much.

  11. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug: Dems are now leading in “generic” house polls and they only need to flip 25 seats. Sh*t Romney says fires up the Dem base. And the DCCC is out-fundraising the NRCC. It can happen. Romney has the power to make it so.

  12. Curtis says:

    The one advantage to gridlock for 2013-2017 is that a lot of things just need inertia to get moving in the right direction.

    Without any further action, the healthcare exchanges will be up and running, the consumer credit protection bureau will get rolling, and the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 will end. I don’t think that is the most elegant way to fix the budget in particular, but at least we can start with a place of higher revenues and work from there.

    That said, while things appear to be trending to the D’s right now, I am not sure they will stay that way at all. The last month has had everything working correctly for the Democrats and nothing going right for Republicans. But lots of these races are still competitive, and several times in recent years we have had all of the competitive races swing one way or the other all together. It seems like the likely outcomes for both chambers should look like a bell curve, but I tend to see them look more like a saddle.

  13. Tony W says:

    @Me Me Me: And, apparently, the inclination!

  14. Me Me Me,

    The value of the “generic” polls is limited at best. Check out the forecasts from the Cook Report and Rothenberg, they actually look at the individual races. Again, the odds are low.

  15. Gromitt Gunn says:

    A month ago I would have said that Romney was the best option for the GOP, in that I expected that he would lose (and probably get trounced) but be milquetoast enough to not affect downticket races one way or another. Now, however, I feel pretty confident that on November 5, he’s going to be at least as persona non grata in GOP circles as Dubya.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    Agreed, “generic” often does better than specific. I would expect you’d see that to be particularly so in districts that lean opposite (so generic Dem > specific Dem in R-leaning district). I could be wrong about that – that’s just an off-the-top-of-my-head guess.

    and the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 will end

    I seriously doubt it. The big argument is over whether to extend them all or to only extend them for income below $200/$250k. I really doubt they will be allowed to expire in their entirety.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    My bonus win that would make me happy is if Ryan lost his House seat in addition to losing the Veepship.

  18. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I wonder if Biden will hit him in the debates with “social security breeds dependency” quotes from his privatize-ss days?

  19. Davebo says:
  20. Rob in CT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The horror! He might have to get a job! [unlikely, I know. Wingnut welfare will provide]

  21. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: In 4 of the last 5 cycles the party leading the generic ballot polls at this point in the calendar has ended up in control of the House.

    An imperfect indicator? Yes.

    Useful nonetheless? Yes.

  22. mantis says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My bonus win that would make me happy is if Ryan lost his House seat in addition to losing the Veepship.

    I would suggest throwing some support to Rob Zerban!

  23. Facebones says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The odds of the GOP losing the House are very, very low.

    True, although I would have thought the odds of the Dems retaining the senate were very very low as of two months ago.

    Give Romney a few more weeks of his impressive campaigning skillz and we might get a filibuster proof senate and 300 house seats for the Democrats.

  24. Mikey says:

    @Rob in CT:

    The big argument is over whether to extend them all or to only extend them for income below $200/$250k. I really doubt they will be allowed to expire in their entirety.

    I also think the reduction in employee’s share of Social Security from 6.2% to 4.2% is here to stay.

  25. Dave says:

    Tommy Thompson shot himself in the foot attacking Baldwin for being a lesbian in a fundraising mailer. Wisconsin is sick of the attack by now. Secondly, the ads against his lobbying activities are hurting him. I never thought a drunk harley riding former governor wouldn’t take an election. Which is surprising because many people still view the Thompson years very favorably. I remember the disappointment when he left to join Bush’s cabinet. Which brought us too many Doyle years.

  26. Rob in CT says:


    Interesting question, that one. Of all tax cuts, it’s the one I’m most likely to support as a stimulus measure. But I have always seen it as a temporary measure. I guess we’ll see. There is some worry on the Left that cutting the funding source for SS, resulting in more and more useage of the general fund to pay SS benefits, will undermine political support for SS (because it makes SS into a more explicitly redistributive program). I’m… undecided.

  27. Mikey says:

    @Rob in CT: Good points, all. I think once the economy has recovered, the employee’s share should return to 6.2%, but gradually. Otherwise it’s a $1,000 hit to the median income all at once. Perhaps .5% a year for four years?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed at 4.2% for a very long time, though.

  28. DRE says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Check out the forecasts from the Cook Report and Rothenberg, they actually look at the individual races. Again, the odds are low.

    The odds are certainly low, but the predictions aren’t really very reliable this year, because they depend a lot on assumptions based on partisan registration data, and from contests not held in these districts. The election following redistricting always has a much higher degree of uncertainty than any other congressional election.

  29. Me Me Me says:

    Nancy-mentum! Via Andrew Sullivan we learn that the first forecaster has just stuck his head above the parapet and predicted the Dems will retake the house.

  30. Buffalo Rude says:

    When the upside of the GOP’s fortunes is sending Linda McMahon to the Senate, something is seriously wrong.

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mikey: Payroll taxes will have to be raised back to 6.2% in order for SS to retain viability. Maybe even higher. All depends on how they tweak it. The stepped increase makes the most sense but I wouldn’t want to venture when it will come.

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    From TPM:

    But if the trend continues, the question may no longer be whether Republicans can win the Senate — but how vulnerable they are to losing the House. Finally there is this tidbit (teaser?) from Nate Silver at the very end of yesterday’s post on the Senate: “But if the trend continues, the question may no longer be whether Republicans can win the Senate — but how vulnerable they are to losing the House.”

    It is from a reader who seems to know his stuff. I certainly don’t as my eyes tend to glaze over with all the race horse stuff.

  33. James in LA says:

    There appears to be growing concern about keeping the House as well. Even if the gains are in the 18-20 seat range it puts the GOP in a real bind.


  34. How is all this possible, when OWS was such a failure and TP was such a success!

  35. LC says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My bonus win that would make me happy is if Ryan lost his House seat in addition to losing the Veepship.

    That would go far to mitigating the effect of the House staying in Republican hands. Ryan’s been the de-facto leader of House Republicans. Were he to lose his seat, some of the “intellectual” air would go out of the party and, if there are any moderate Republicans left, they might be more inclined to compromise.

    Not that I honestly expect we should be so lucky. Just keeping the Senate will be hard enough.

    (Does anybody know anything about the composition of Ryan’s district?)

  36. Hoot Gibson says:

    If this is true, a vote for Obama is a vote for the status quo gridlock.

    But if leftwing wacko TPM is correct we will see another glorious two years of unpopular legislation like we did during the FIRST two years of Dear Leader’s reign.

    So if the pundits are to be believed our choice is either:

    1. More gridlock

    2. Riots in the street by the proletariat.

    Bad government or NO government—-it’s your choice on November 6.

  37. Mr. Replica says:

    Considering the recent developments in the Senate where the Veterans jobs act was shot down by republicans…even tho it was payed for and written partly by republicans, that wasn’t enough. The same republicans that wrote parts of the bill, then turned around and voted AGAINST IT! They got what they wanted, but no, they decided that the troops were not important enough.
    Even tho a handful of republican senators voted with the democrats, it STILL wasn’t enough to over come the republican filibusterer. And now the troops have to wait a year before this bill can come up for vote again.

    Those republicans that voted against this bill, they should be ashamed of themselves. But, sadly, they do not care.
    Shit like this gets my blood boiling.
    If this does not absolutely secure the senate for the democrats in this coming election, then I do not know what would.

  38. LC says:

    @Mr. Replica:
    According to Maddow last night, the Republican Senators responsible were Boozman, Johanns, Burr and Toomey – all of whom had a hand in writing the bill but had “procedural issues” with it.

    I don’t know what states they represent or if they are up for re-election (probably not). Dems should, if they are smart, use this bill to illustrate the consequence of voting for Republicans for the Senate.

  39. Mr. Replica says:

    Oh, and the icing on the cake on this whole Veteran jobs act debacle for the republicans…

    They voted to allow themselves a two month vacation from governing in Washington. Basically postponing everything till after the election in November.


  40. Hoot Gibson says:

    Mr. Replica is right—why even bother? That last bazillion posts here have determined that Romney is doomed so all wingnuts should just lie down, spread their legs and think of the Joys Of Big Government And Higher Taxes.

    Yes, it’s a done deal so the wingnuts shouldn’t even bother showing up at the New Black Panther patrolled polls; Democrats will take complete control of congress and OBAMA IN A LANDSLIDE!111!!!!!

    This should be the last of Doug’s anti-Romney posts—the inevitable is—inevitable.

    Time to move on to what a second Obama term will mean with a rubber-stamping Democrat controlled congress.

  41. @Hoot Gibson:

    It is very funny to see the party of obstruction use gridlock as their argument.

    The right unveiled obstruction at the start of the Obama term. Soon after, the first rule of obstruction was that no one acknowledged it, and pretended that Obama just couldn’t make a deal with congress. That tension lasted until this election when people on the right started volunteering that the way to end obstruction was to elect a Republican. That was a direct “pay the hostage takers” demand.

    … and now you promise more?

    (rude suggestion self-edited)

  42. Mr. Replica says:


    I don’t know what states they represent

    Watch the video again. Rachael tells you what states they are from.
    Toomey I know of, because he is from PA, where I live.

  43. Mr. Replica says:

    Wing-nut “logic”:

    “I don’t care that we sent our troops into two wars that were totally unfunded, adding trillions to the debt.
    Obama is my enemy, so the troops that were sent to die/get maimed, they can suck it.”

  44. David M says:

    As far as the GOP obstruction goes, It will have to end when Texas becomes a swing state in presidential elections. When Texas joins the other larger states in the Democratic column, then either the GOP will adopt more moderate and realistic policies, or the Democrats will own the White House.

  45. Hoot Gibson says:

    Ya gotta love leftwing wacko logic—you agree with them and they spew hate at you.

    Mr. Replica said it best: “they can suck it”.

    Just another example of “fact-based” leftwing argument.

  46. PJ says:

    Me Me Me:

    Doug: Dems are now leading in “generic” house polls and they only need to flip 25 seats. Sh*t Romney says fires up the Dem base. And the DCCC is out-fundraising the NRCC. It can happen. Romney has the power to make it so.

    I would want the Democrats to retake the House, but I agree with Doug here, I doubt it will happen. While The DCCC is out-fundraising the NRCC, you’re forgetting about SuperPACs/etc. Conservatives will drop loads off money on House races especially now that both the Presidency and the Senate is slipping away.
    While I thought that SuperPAC money would play a bigger part in the Presidential election, I no longer do, but I still think it will in House elections.
    One thing that may help is Obama’s coattails, so hopefully they are very long.

  47. bk says:

    @Hoot Gibson: Your posts give quite a bit of credence to Santorum’s recent “smart people aren’t Republicans” admission.

  48. Hoot Gibson says:

    bk offers even more leftwing “fact-based” arguments .

    Is that all ya got?

    Jeez! You don’t have to put your brain in a lockbox to be a Obama worshipper—but it helps!

  49. Mr. Replica says:


    Feeding the trolls is frowned upon on the internet.

  50. bk says:

    THIS is “fact-based”??

    Riots in the street by the proletariat

  51. bk says:

    @Mr. Replica: True. I was eating lunch at my desk and was bored.

  52. anjin-san says:

    Moot Gibson is back?

  53. Mr. Replica says:


    I am not saying that you can’t do it. It’s not like I am an official moderator here on this blog or anything.
    (In fact, I am not even sure that this place has the ability to ban/do other moderator type stuff, like you find on many sites.)

  54. michael reynolds says:

    Hoot Gibson is back but now he’s no longer “a good ole country boy a-given’ them big city fellers what fer.” I for one miss his Walter Brennan impersonation.

  55. Hoot Gibson says:

    Oh come on—use your imaginations. Obama said he would have more “flexibility” after the election and the consensus here is that next year Nancy Pelosi will run the House, Harry Reid will run the Senate and OBAMA IN A LANDSLIDE!!!1111!!

    So what are your hopes, desires and wet dreams for the New Democrat Reich?

    It’s so ZZzzzzz to just bash the GOP when it will be Democrats Uber Alles in ’13.

    What do you want the “flexible” Obama and his lockstepping congress to accomplish next year?

  56. Rafer Janders says:

    @Hoot Gibson:

    What do you want the “flexible” Obama and his lockstepping congress to accomplish next year?

    Uh, I dunno — FEMA re-education camps, maybe?

  57. bk says:

    @Hoot Gibson:

    So what are your hopes, desires and wet dreams for the New Democrat Reich?

    Banning the use of moronic Nazi analogies?

  58. Hoot Gibson says:

    Rafe and bk really zing me with their “fact-based arguments”.

    I gotta bow to their superior intellect. lol

    It’s obvious Nazi re-education camps for The Other are what they are hoping Obama will be “flexible” enough to implement.

  59. Rick Almeida says:

    @Hoot Gibson:

    You are a very good poster, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  60. jukeboxgrad says:


    What do you want the “flexible” Obama and his lockstepping congress to accomplish next year?

    I heard Barack is personally going to slice up the actual Constitution so he can use it for rolling papers.

    I also heard everyone is going to be forced to have a gay abortion. It’s a sharia thing.