Electoral Projections: The Senate

In a previous article, I described the methodology used for the Presidential election. Unfortunately, applying that system to Senate and House races is futile. For the Senate, since there are two per state, it is difficult to get an accurate view of long and short term electoral trends even when one looks at the actual seat in play. Obviously, with House elections, redistricting every ten years totally upsets the apple cart. Because House elections are a guarantee every two years, to obtain a long-term trend, one would have to go even further back in time. Additionally, the down-ticket effect in Presidential election years that coincide with Senate and/or House elections is important and would have to be controlled for in any analysis.

First, in the Senate, let us dispense with the obvious outcomes. For the Democrats, the winners will be Diane Feinstein (CA), Ben Cardin (MD), Bernie Sanders (VT), Tom Carper (DE), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). For the GOP, it will be Roger Wicker (MS), Tom Barrrasso (WY), Bob Corker (TN) and Orrin Hatch (UT). Some here have expressed a willingness to dispense with Corker and/or Hatch. Hatch is out of the way and conservatives will have to wait six years to get rid of him. Corker in Tennessee is another question as they have not had their primary yet.

In the other races, moving west to east, it is likely that the race for an open Democratic seat in Hawaii will be between former GOP Governor Linda Lingle and Rep. Mazie Hirono for the Democrats with Hirono the winner. Likewise, although I believe the race will be closer than polls currently indicate, Maria Cantwell should keep the seat in Washington in Democratic hands. Assuming a Flake-Carmona match up for the open Republican seat of John Kyl in Arizona, look for Jeff Flake to win keeping it in GOP hands. In Nevada, Dean Heller will face Shelley Berkeley and, at this point, I see a 6-point victory for Heller. An interesting race to watch will be in New Mexico where John Bingaman’s Democratic seat is up for grabs. With Heather Wilson the GOP candidate, she is probably the best bet for the party and will face Martin Heinrich. Although polls indicate a Heinrich victory, this race should be very closely watched and if Wilson prevails, it could be the biggest Senate upset of the night.

There is only one poll out of North Dakota thus far and it shows Heitkamp (a Democrat) with a one point lead over Rick Berg for Byron Dorgan’s open Democratic seat. That will definitely change and should be a lesson against using “the most recent poll” method in projecting winners. This is a GOP pick-up in the Senate. In Nebraska, Debra Fischer is running for the GOP after outlasting a crowded field in the primary. She will run against former Senator Bob Kerrey for Ben Nelson’s open seat. Even before the primary, Fischer (indeed, every Republican) led Kerrey and that trend holds true after the primary. Hence, Nebraska is a second Republican pick-up in the Senate. And although candidates for both parties will be determined after a run-off, whoever replaces Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) will be a Republican.

Missouri has yet to have their primary to determine who will take on the very vulnerable Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. Polls show that any of the three GOP possibilities- Steelman, Akin, or Brunner- would defeat McCaskill, which is not good news for McCaskill. Should she prevail, it will be by the skin of her teeth. Assuming the GOP candidate does not shoot themselves in the foot- never a given- it looks like yet another GOP pick-up (running count- +3 seats). In Montana, incumbent Democrat John Tester will face a tough challenge to keep his seat also. These two states- Missouri and Montana- are where the down-ticket effect comes into play. Assuming both will break for Romney, and given the polls thus far, I would look for a Republican pick-up in Montana also. Hence, our running count is a net 4 seat pick-up for Republicans.

In Michigan, although showing signs of slipping slightly, miscues by GOP candidate Pete Hoekstra still has Debbie Stabenow headed for reelection. For Herb Kohl’s open Democratic seat in Wisconsin, there is one certainty- the Democratic candidate will be Tammy Baldwin. Against either Thompson or Neumann for the GOP, there has been a fairly consistent trend- Thompson would be a shoo-in while Neumann would be a nail-biter. With the future so important, let us not repeat the mistakes of Delaware/Colorado in 2010 and go with an almost-sure thing. If Thompson, then the GOP takes this seat, hence a 5-seat pick-up.

In Ohio, Republican Josh Mandel will face off against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown, probably one of the most consistently liberal voices in the Senate. At first glance, given Brown’s liberalism and Mandel’s thin resume and questionable background, this creates a weird race. Unfortunately, unless something changes, I do not believe the down-ticket effect will benefit Mandel. Thus, I would keep a close eye on this race, but have to give it to Brown at this point. In Indiana, having dispensed with Dick Lugar in the primary thus creating an open Republican seat, the only poll shows a tie between Richard Mourdock and Joe Donnelly with an almost equal number undecided. Personally, given the post-primary approach of Mourdock, I cannot see this seat falling into Democratic hands, thus a Mourdock victory.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic incumbent Bob Casey will win reelection. And despite dismal approval ratings in his home state, in neighboring New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez will win reelection. I may have told this story before about my home state Senator during the Obamacare debate. I had sent e-mails to both Lindsey Graham (R-SC) based on a floor speech, and to Menendez. Although it was not Graham’s policy to reply to non-constituents, he nevertheless did. Menendez’ reply was a plea for a campaign contribution. Needless to say, I would rather vote for Willy the Wonder Donkey rather than Robert Menendez.

In New York, it would appear that Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand will win reelection. In Maine, Olympia Snowe’s surprise retirement creates an open Republican seat. It appears that an independent will win this seat. And there is no mistake that Snowe’s decision- despite her reasoning- has hurt the GOP in the Senate. Thus far, there is no doubt as to who they will caucus with in January. Saying you will vote for Obama over Romney is a big “duh!” The premiere race out of New England will be in Massachusetts where Republican incumbent Scott Brown faces uber-liberal Elizabeth Warren. Whatever the outcome, it will be very close. However, I feel that Brown has positioned himself sufficiently as a moderate while Warren’s miscues and brand of liberalism maybe just too much even for Massachusetts. Then again, this is the land of Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank and John Kerry. At this point, I would call this race for Brown. The final race out of the Northeast is in Connecticut where Joe Lieberman’s seat is up for grabs (technically a Democratic seat). Unlike the GOP, if the Democrats choose Susan Bysiewicz as their candidate, they place the seat at risk. If not, no matter who runs for the GOP- Linda McMahon (again) or Chris Shays- this seat stays in Democratic hands. Thus coming out of the Northeast, the GOP loses one seat (thanks, Snowe!) for a net gain of four seats thus far.

The final two races are in Florida and Virginia. In Florida, initially the Republicans thought they finally had their candidate in Rep. Connie Mack. However, incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson has shown a rather consistent lead in the polls since the beginning of the year. I would not count on a GOP pick-up here just yet. Finally, in Virginia- one of the most polled states for the Senate- it has been back and forth between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen for an open Democratic seat. I have no doubt that the final result will be razor thin, although there are a lot of undecided votes in practically every poll conducted. Here, the down-ticket effect may play a major role in the Senatorial outcome. Additionally, the role played by Gov. Bob McDonnell in delivering Virginia for both Romney and Allen will be an important factor. Based on the average of all the polls, at this point, I would give the race to Allen. Hence, the GOP should pick up a net 5 seats in the Senate and control of that chamber.

I do have one major suggestion when and if this happens. Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has done a deft job as Minority Leader in certain aspects, I personally do not believe, given the challenges facing this nation, he is the right man for Majority Leader. Making that transition to Majority Leader is not a given. Hence, come January, McConnell should be thanked for his service and eased out of his leadership position. There are certainly “better” candidates- John Cornyn (TX), James Inhofe (OK) or even Jim DeMint (SC)- who can better represent core conservative values.