A lot has changed in the last month in the Senate races for next year! The current healthcare debate has brought about more changes than most saw coming in just a short amount of time. A possibility that no one would have dreamed of just one year ago, that the Republicans could retake the Senate, is now becoming real. It’s still an uphill climb, and I personally don’t see it happening, but the very fact that there is now a clear path to a Republican Majority should make Democrats uneasy. The Republicans need 11 new votes to change the balance of power in 2011.
Here is my updated analysis for the 2010 Senate races. I’ve generally ranked them in order of most likely to flip to least.
Nevada – Harry Reid
For the third time, I rank Nevada as Republicans’ best pick-up opportunity, ironic since Harry Reid is majority leader. There was a time when that automatically guaranteed electoral success. Not true now. A mid-October Research 2000 poll has both Republican challengers beating Reid outside of the margin of error. Danny Tarkanian leads Reid 46-41 while Sue Lowden leads 47-42. The latest Republican primary poll (a MaisonDixon/LVJR poll from early-October) shows Lowden now slightly leading Tarkanian 23-21.
Still, Reid is the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, and his war chest is extensive. This isn’t by any means a shoo-in, and other races will probably eclipse it later on. But for now, I rate it as the best chance for a flip.
Connecticut – Chris Dodd
Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, announced she would challenge former Representative Rob Simmons for the Republican nod to challenge Sen. Chris Dodd. As of an early-November Quinnipiac poll, Simmons leads her 28-17.
The same Quinnipiac poll found Simmons leading Dodd 49-38, well outside of the margin of error. McMahon led 43-41.
There are two problems I see with this race: 1) A crowded primary. While the race seems to be coming down to Simmons and McMahon, Ambassador Tom Foley, Peter Schiff, and Sam Caligiuri could be spoilers. 2) Connecticut is a solid blue state. Even though polls are more favorable at the moment, I still rate Connecticut as a less-likely pick-up than Nevada because Nevada is generally a red to purple state.
Still, Connecticut is proving to be an interesting state to watch. More on Sen. Lieberman later.
UPDATE: Word has it today that both St. Sen. Sam Caligiuri and former Ambassador Tom Foley have decided to get out of this race to pursue a house race and the governor’s race, respectively. This leaves McMahon, Simmons, and Schiff.
Colorado – Michael Bennet (Appointed)
Oddly, in what could end up being our best pick-up opportunity, little polling has been done. Since former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton announced her entrance into the Republican primary, there has only been one primary poll, aTarrance Group poll from mid-September. Still, it seemed to confirm that Norton has become the instant front-runner for the nod, especially since Ryan Frazier decided to switch to a house race. She leads her closest rival, Ken Buck, by 45-15.
Sen. Bennet isn’t yet guaranteed his nomination, though he does lead his challenger, former Colorado State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff by a healthy 41-27 in that same poll.
Fortunately for Republicans, Norton is beating both Democrat possibilities in a mid-September Rasmussen poll. She leads Bennet 45-36 and Romanoff 42-34.
Colorado is a truly purple state, but I’m anxious to see Norton top 50% in a poll before I rank it any higher than our third best pick-up possibility.
Arkansas – Blanche Lincoln
Sen. Blanche Lincoln is on the brink of being endangered. However, polling is sparse and inconsistent. A late-September Rasmussen poll looked good for Republicans. St. Sen. Gilbert Baker led Lincoln 47-39, Curtis Coleman led her 43-41, St. Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren led 44-41, and Tom Cox led 43-41. However, the latest Zogby poll has Lincoln leading Baker 41-39 and Hendren 45-29.
Arkansas is a tough nut to crack for Republicans. It’s a fairly conservative state, but Democrats hold a surprising edge in voter registration, and they control both senate seats and 3 of the 4 House seats as well as both state chambers and the Governor’s mansion.
Sen. Lincoln’s recent health care stance won’t be popular in Arkansas. If she holds to it, I see this race becoming our number one pick-up opportunity. However, at this point it could go either way.
Delaware – Ted Kauffman (Retiring)
Rep. Michael Castle decided to run and instantly brought this race into the competitive category. The presumed Democrat candidate, Vice-President Joe Biden’s son Beau, hasn’t yet announced, though he has said he is considering the race.
This is going to be an interesting race to watch. As of now, the latest Susquehanna poll from mid-November has Biden leading Castle 45-40. But Castle is an experienced politician and campaigner whereas Biden is relatively new to the political world. Castle has also never lost a race, so the early advantage is still his.
This race comes down to, I think, presidential popularity. Obama and V.P. Biden will both be here to do everything they can to assure Biden, Jr’s victory.
This is the only race to move down on my list of competitive Democrat seats since my last analysis.
North Dakota – Byron Dorgan
The latest Zogby poll from mid-November finds Republican Governor John Hoeven cleaning Democrat incumbent Byron Dorgan’s clock by a whopping 55-36. Health care certainly has a lot to do with that in conservative N. Dakota, but the state is an anomaly: all three congressional seats are held by fairly liberal Democrats. Still, Republicans have a better than excellent chance at picking up this seat…
…if Hoeven runs. That’s right, the Governor hasn’t announced yet whether he’s running, and he appears to be in no hurry to do so. If he does, this race shoots up to Republican’s top pick-up opportunity. If he doesn’t, it remains comfortably with the Democrats.
New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (Apointed)
The latest Marist poll from mid-November gives Republicans a lot of hope in deep-blue New York. Appointed Sen. Gillibrand falls way behind Republican Rudy Giuliani 54-40. This could prove to be one of the best Republican pick-up opportunities if Giuliani decides to give it a go. The Marist poll also showed Republican George Pataki leading Gillibrand 47-45, so even if Giuliani decides against a race, we could still have a chance at taking Hillary’s old seat.
The New York Daily News seems to think that Giuliani will run, but he is remaining mum.
Pennsylvania – Arlen Specter (Party-Switcher)
A mid-October Rasmussen poll must have turncoat Specter sweating. It shows Rep. Joe Sestak within striking distance for the Democrat nod, while Specter still leads 46-42. Specter held a 13 point lead in August and a 19 point lead in July. He should be getting nervous. On the Republican side, former Rep. Pat Toomy has the nod sewn up.
That same October Rasmussen poll had some more bad news for Specter: Toomy leads him 45-40. All other polls have the race within a 3% margin of error. Oddly, Sestak leads Toomy 38-37.
I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that Sen. Arlen Specter will be stripped of his “Senator” title come January 2011. However, if he’ll be replaced with a Sen. Sestak or a Sen. Toomy is still up in the air. Republicans can only hope Specter holds on until after the May 18 primary.
Illinois – Roland Burris (Retiring)
Alexi Giannoulias still appears to be the front runner in the Democrat primary, but no new polls means that there could be an undetected change. On the other side of the aisle, an early-October Megallan poll has Rep. Mark Kirk claiming a whopping 61% of the primary vote. No other candidate breaks 5%, so he is the assumed Republican candidate.
The latest mid-October Rasmussen report shows Giannoulias and Kirk tied at 41. Polling has been back-and-forth since last January, so it’s anyone’s guess where this race could eventually head. However, I think Kirk has to break 50% to have a real chance at beating Chicago corruption and actually pull this race out. For now, this race is possibly competitive but is still a wait-and-see.
California – Barbara Boxer
Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore are locked in a tight primary fight to see who will challenge Sen. Boxer. According to a mid-November Rasmussen poll, it doesn’t seem to matter who gets the eventual nod since Boxer leads Fiorina 46-37 and DeVore 46-36.
California isn’t completely gone, but I don’t think we should hold out for a take-over unless election night is a huge red wave.
Hawaii – Daniel Inouye
No new developments in Hawaii. Gov. Lingle has yet to announce her intentions.
Indiana – Evan Bayh
While some grassroots activists hope to make this race competitive, and my heart is with them, there just isn’t any polling data to support that yet. However, Bayh is a popular incumbent. Until we see some polling numbers, I consider this race as safely Democrat with the slim possibility of becoming competitive.
Wisconsin – Russ Feingold
A late-September WPRI poll shows former governor Tommy Thompson polling slightly ahead of Sen. Feingold at 43-39. However, Thompson has announced he is considering a run for the Governor’s seat, so this poll is not likely to result in a take-over opportunity.
Sens. Patty Murray (WA), Ron Wyden (OR), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Martha Coakley (?) (MA), Pat Leahy (VT), and Chuck Schumer (NY) all seem safe, but these seats might become competitive in the future.
Missouri – Kit Bond (Retiring)
Missouri is once again the Republicans’ least secure seat. A mid-November PPP poll has Democrat Sec. of State Robin Carnahan leading Republican Rep. Roy Blunt 43-42. However, that’s well within the margin of error and a lot could happen in purple Missouri. Republicans usually do better than predicted in Missouri, so I think this race will eventually come home for the Republicans, especially if the night is particularly good for us.
Ohio – George Voinovich (Retiring)
An early-November Quinniapiac has some good news for Rep. Rob Portman: He leads Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner 38-34 and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher 39-36. The Democrats are locked in a tight primary race. Still, this race is competitive and could still go either way, especially once the Democrat primary is over.
New Hampshire – Judd Gregg (Retiring)
An early-October Granite State poll found Attorney General Kelly Ayotte solidifying her lead over Democrat Rep. Paul Hodes 40-33. This race isn’t out of the woods yet, but I’m breathing a little easier about it. If Ayotte breaks 50%, it’s over.
Kentucky – Jim Bunning (Retiring)
A surprise WHAS-TV/Survey USA poll from early-November showed Rand Paul leading Sec. of State Trey Grayson 35-32 in the Republican primary. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo leads A.G. Jack Conway in the Democrat primary. Paul and Mongiardo are tied at 43% while Grayson would handily defeat him 48-38. Conway leads Paul 44-39 and trails Grayson 43-39.
This is quite a shock since last month when Republicans had seemingly saved this race from endangerment, but with Rand Paul’s surge, this could prove to make it more competitive for Democrats. It is the only Republican race to move up in competitiveness.
North Carolina – Richard Burr
A PPP poll found Sen. Burr edging a generic Democrat 44-40. He also edges all declared Democrat candidates: Kenneth Lewis 45-32, Sec. of St. Elaine Marshall 45-34, and Kevin Foy 44-32.
The latest Rasmussen poll from mid-September shows incumbent Burr leading all Democratic challengers. He leads Lewis 48-32, Marshall 48-38, and Etheridge 48-34.
I would feel still like Burr to poll above 50%, but I feel confident than the Republicans should have no problem defending this seat unless we see a surprise wave year for the Democrats.
Louisiana – David Vitter
While we still have no new polls for the Republican primary, Republican candidates handily beat Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) in the latest Rasmussen poll. Incumbent Sen. Vitter leads him 46-36 while Sec. of St. Jay Dardenne leads 56-23.
Florida – George LeMieux (Retiring)
Gov. Charlie Crist still leads former Speaker of the St. House Marco Rubio for the Republican primary, though his lead is quickly evaporating. A Research 2000 poll shows Democratic front-runner Rep. Kendrick Meek beating Marco Rubio 38-30 while getting his clock cleaned by Crist 50-33. This race could jump up in competitiveness if Rubio continues to gain ground on Crist.
Kansas – Sam Brownback (Retiring)
A early-October Survey USA poll found Rep. Jerry Moran topping Rep. Todd Tiahart for the Republican nomination 43-27. Both are solid conservatives, and either should hold the seats for the Republicans.
Arizona – John McCain
A mid-November Rasmussen poll shows former Rep. J.D. Hayworth challenging McCain for the Republican nod. McCain still leads 45-43, but a slim chance for an upset here could happen. Hayworth hasn’t announced yet, but if he does he may get a few more points. No polling has been done on how Hayworth v. the Democrats. McCain is still the strong favored one both for the nomination and the general.
Utah – Robert Bennett
Sen. Robert Bennett is facing several more conservative challengers in the Republican primary. The candidate will be chosen at the generally conservative Convention, so Bennett could be in trouble. No polling has been done, but this could become competitive since Sen. Bennett seems determined to be considered a ‘moderate’ but represents the deepest of red states. Whoever gets the Republican nod will almost assuredly keep the seat red.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), John Thune (SD), Tom Coburn (OK), Jim DeMint (SC), Johnny Isakson (GA), Richard Shelby (AL), Chuck Grassley (IA), and Mike Crappo (ID) all seem safe, but one or two of these seats might become competitive in the future.
Republicans are poised to make significant gains in the Senate next year. For the first time, there is actually a path to retaking the majority. If Republicans can hold their own in MO, NH, OH, KY, and FL (most of these races won’t be competitive in 6 months anyway) and sweep competitive races in NV, CT, CO, AR, DE, PA, and IL, we’re already at 47 seats. Convincing Hoeven and Giuliani to run could add ND and NY giving us 49. Our 50th could come from IN, CA, or WI if the cards were dealt just right.
However, recent events in the health care debate suggest the Sen. Lieberman (I-CT) could be kicked out of the Democrat caucus for his refusal to support the Public Option. If he is stripped of his committee chairmanships, chances are he could vote for a Republican Majority Leader or, if not, at least refuse to vote for a Democrat Majority Leader.
Alternatively, Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska could be a possible party switch if he is punished for his pro-life stance on the health care bill.
The magic 51 could come with either Nelson or Lieberman or a double pick-up in the combination of IN, CA, and WI.
It’s still a long shot, to be sure. But even the faintest breath of a hope is more than we had 12 months ago.
Realistically, I see all of the Republican seats eventually coming home (with MO being the most doubtful). This should become evident before summer. I think we stand a better than 50% chance of taking NV, CT, and CO and, with the right candidates, NY and ND. Currently we have around a 50% of taking AR, DE, PA, and IL.
Realistically speaking, I don’t put much stock in IN, CA, or WI, though that could change.
Conclusion: Republicans stand an excellent chance of gaining 3-5 seats, a good chance of taking 4-7, and a fair chance of taking 6-7+, and a slim chance of taking 9+.
*Edited to fix grammar errors and include note on Sen. Ben Nelson.