Diary

Senate 2010 Analysis (late-January)

All bets are off for every Senate competition in 2010. Republican Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts, arguably the most liberal State in the Union, showed us, more than any of the upsets from 2006 or 2008, that no party has dominate control of any particular Senate seat.

That said, I’m going to continue my Senate 2010 analysis as I have in the past. These are not my predictions; these are only the way the race stands right now. Much of the following information can and probably will change in the next 10 months.

Once again, I’ve ranked the seats from most likely to flip to least under each Party.

Democrat Seats:

North Dakota – Byron Dorgan (Retiring)

Since my last update, right after Sen. Dorgan’s retirement announcement, North Dakota has jumped from our #2 best chance to an overwhelming #1.

Popular Republican Governor John Hoeven officially threw his hat into the ring on January 12, all but guaranteeing Republican take over of this seat. While some Republicans would have preferred him to wait until 2012 to challenge North Dakota’s other Democratic Senator, it gives Republicans at least one guaranteed pick-up come November.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Earl Pomeroy has declined to run against Gov. Hoeven. Whoever the eventual nominee is, he or she will be crushed by Hoeven.

Nevada – Harry Reid

Things keep going from bad too worse for poor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. A mid-January poll from Public Policy Polling has Republican Sue Lowden now breaking the 50% mark and leading Reid 51-41. Republican Danny Tarkanian also leads Reid 50-42.

A recent Mason Dixon poll from early-January has Tarkanian leading Loweden 28-26 in the primary.

But there may be a joker in the deck: Republican Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki has suddenly expressed interest in running. No polls have been released either with Krolicki in the primary or against Reid. He has won state-wide before, so that should make him a stronger candidate than either Lowden or Tarkanian. The downside is that he had been charged several felonies, only to have them thrown out on a technicality.

In my last update I said I would feel more comfortable if one of the Republicans polled consistently above 50%. I’d still like to see that, but I’m becoming more convinced that Nevada is the Republicans’ seat to take, whoever the eventual nominee is.

Colorado – Michael Bennet (Appointed)

A mid-January Rasmussen poll has Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, leading Sen. Bennet 49-37. I rank this one lower than Nevada only because Bennet is still fairly unknown in Colorado and because Norton needs to break that 50% ceiling before I improve her chance of taking the seat.

But the January poll had every Republican candidate ahead of every Democratic candidate, so Colorado looks to be a fairly certain switch.

Arkansas – Blanche Lincoln

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, for the first time, now trails every one of her potential Republican rivals in the latest Rasmussen poll from early-January. State Senator Gilbert Baker leads Lincoln 51-39 while State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren leads 47-39 and Curtis Coleman leads 48-38.

Things are far from certain in Arkansas. For one thing, Sen. Lincoln may be getting a primary challenge from Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. If Halter does challenge Lincoln, this would probably increase Republican chances of taking the seat since he seems to be determined to challenge her from the left.

Or Sen. Lincoln could decide she needs “more time with her family” and simply follow Sen. Dorgan’s example. It’s unclear whether this would increase or decrease Republican chances of taking the seat. One of the popular Blue-Dog Democrats that opposed ObamaCare could possibly keep the seat for the Democrats, but that doesn’t seem to be likely at this point. Thanks to Obama’s high disapproval numbers in Arkansas,my guess is that, regardless of who the eventual nominees are for either party, this seat turns red.

Delaware – Ted Kauffman (Appointed – Retiring)

NO NEW UPDATE: Still no confirmation from State Attorney General Beau Biden on whether he will run. This seems bizarre, but it’s impossible to know whether his delay means that he is more likely to run or less likely.

If he decides to run, Democrats will still have to spend money to win. Republican Representative Michael Castle leads him in an early-December Public Policy poll 45-39.

Whoever the eventually Democratic nomination is, be sure that Delaware will receive a lot of visits both from President Obama and Vice-President Biden.

I still rate Delaware as a fairly good pick-up opportunity, but it would be a lot easier if Biden decides not to run.

Pennsylvania – Arlen Specter (Party-Switcher)

A late-January Rasmussen poll now has Democrats worried that Republicans may be rolling up the 2010 elections.

First, the poll found that Senator Arlen Specter still leads Representative Joe Sestak 53-32 for the Democratic primary. This represents a slight increase of support for the dear Senator.

But the shocking part is that the same poll found Republican former Representative Pat Toomey leading the dear Senator 49-40! Toomey also polls 43-35 against Sestak, so he is clearly the front-runner in this race no matter who the Democratic candidate ends up being.

I’m still not willing to bet too much on it, but my feeling right now is that Toomey stands a very good chance of beating the dear Senator next November.

But this is Pennsylvania, and with Pennsylvania comes a host of voter fraud possibilities. Toomey will have to win by several points in order to actually take this seat.

New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (Appointed)

Since former Tennessee Representative Harold Ford, Jr. announced he was interested in challenging Senator Gillibrand for the Democratic nomination, we’ve seen three polls (Rasmussen, Siena, and Marist) showing Gillibrand with a shaky-but-firm lead for the nomination. She needs to be sweating, but right now she’s favored to get the nod.

Her greater worry is the general. A mid-January Rasmussen poll showed her beating a “Generic Republican” only 39-34 (although for some reason they included Ford in the poll as well, so this number is likely much higher in reality). The real shocker was the mid-January Siena poll showing Republican former Governor George Pataki trampling Gillibrand 51-38.

Pataki isn’t as strong of a candidate as Giuliani would have been, but he stands an excellent chance of turning this seat red IF he decides to run. He hasn’t announced his intentions. Representative Peter King is another wild card; he has announced that he’s re-re-considering his decision not to run, but he’s still keeping his cards close to his chest.

Apparently New York Republicans don’t feel any need to hurry with their decisions. This seat is definitely doable, much more so than last month, but only with the right candidate.

I’ve bumped this seat above Illinois only because, should Gov. Pataki decide to run, I think this race would ultimately break for the Republicans.

Illinois – Roland Burris (Appointed – Retiring)

NO NEW UPDATE: Alexi Giannoulias still appears to be the front runner in the Democrat primary. A mid-December Chicago Tribune has him leading his closest rival, Cheryl Jackson, 31-14. None of the other candidates scratch 10%. The same poll has Representative Mark Kirk claiming 41% for the Republican nod while none of the other candidates even get 5%.

Sadly, this race seems to be slipping away from Republicans. The latest, an early-December Rasmussen report now shows Giannoulias leading Kirk 42-39. This is almost the converse polling from the same Rasmussen poll last August. Kirk’s lead has never been strong and it seems it’s slowly dissipating now.

And, of course, this is Illinois, so Republicans would have to be polling more than 5% more than Democrats to actually beat the voting-fraud in Chicago.

A lot could develop here, but I think President Obama’s old senate seat is no longer a plausible pick-up for the Republicans.

California – Barbara Boxer

Earlier this month former Representative Tom Campbell announced that he would challenge former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina and State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore for the Republican nomination. A fairly hasty Field poll released in mid-January shows Campbell with a good chance of taking the nomination: He leads Fiorina and DeVore 30-26-6 respectively. This seems to indicate that DeVore’s candidacy has imploded with Campbell’s announcement.

While Campbell’s entrance does slightly increase Republican chances of replacing “Senator” Boxer, she still leads all of her Republican challengers in the same poll: Fiorina 50-36, DeVore 51-36, and Campbell 48-36.

After Massachusetts, I’m not sure I would label this race as a “phantom pick opportunity for Republicans” as I did in my last analysis. But it’s still a long-shot.

Indiana – Evan Bayh

Representative Mike Pence has hinted that he may be considering running against Bayh. This may be a ruse to get the Senator to act more moderately in the following months, but it would be an uphill climb for Republicans even if Pence did decide to get I in. No polls have been taken on this match-up, but Bayh seems fairly comfortable in his seat.

We do have four declared Republian candidates: Former Congressman John Hostettler, State Senator Marlin Stutzman, and businessmen Richard Behney and Don Bates Jr.

This is another race to watch for future developments, but for now the Democrats are favored to retain the seat.

Connecticut – Chris Dodd (Retiring)

The first polls have been released after Senator Chris Dodd’s decision not to run for re-election. Unfortunately for our side, it appears that State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has easily saved what was once our best pick-up opportunity.

Every poll released since early-January shows Blumenthal thrashing every Republican challenger by no less than 19 points.

Something may develop in Blumenthal’s candidacy à la Martha Coakley, but until that time, this seat is not turning red anytime soon. It will most likely join HI, WA, OR, MD, VT, WI, and NY as safe seats in my next update.

Other:

Sens. Daniel Inouye (HI), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Chuck Schumer (NY), Ron Wyden (OR), Patty Murray (WA), Russ Feingold (WI) and Pat Leahy (VT) all seem safe for the moment. But after Sen. Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts, nothing can be too certain these days. These seats might become competitive in the future.

Republican Seats:

Ohio – George Voinovich (Retiring)

Two new polls from mid-January in Ohio show Republican Representative Rob Portman increasing his lead since my last analysis. In the Rasmussen poll, Portman leads Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D) 41-35 and Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher (D) 37-31.

Portman’s lead is widening, but the slow speed of his growth is making me uncomfortable. I’ve switched Ohio to Republicans’ most vulnerable seat not because I think Portman won’t pull it off, but because recent news in Missouri seems to be more positive than Portman’s slow gain in support. In actuality, I would probably rank them as equally vulnerable: If we lose one, we probably lose the other.

Missouri – Kit Bond (Retiring)

Missouri continues to be Republicans’ shakiest seat to defend in November, but the latest Rasmussen report from mid-January is good news: Republican Representative Roy Blunt leads Democrat Secretary of State Robin Carnahan 49-43.

While this lead is fairly significant, this is the first poll in over a year showing Blunt in the lead; the others have all been statistical ties. I’ve always said I think Missouri will come home for the Republicans, but this poll might be an outlier and the race is probably still tight. Nevertheless, I think this is a good sign for Blunt and I’ve slightly downgraded the chances of it switching.

New Hampshire – Judd Gregg (Retiring)

The mid-January Rasmussen report continues to show Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte building on her lead over Democrat challenger Representative Paul Hodes. She now leads 49-40.

As with Reps. Bond and Portman, I’d fell better if Ayotte polled above 50%, but I’m fairly confident this race is ours in the end. And since New Hampshire isn’t known for voter fraud the way Ohio and St. Louis are, I think she’s more secure than Portman or Blunt.

Kentucky – Jim Bunning (Retiring)

An early-January Rasmussen poll again showed that Republicans are well-positioned to keep Kentucky red. Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson leads Democrat Attorney General Jack Conway 45-35 and Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo 44-37 while Republican Rand Paul leads Conway 46-38 and Mongiardo 49-35.

We haven’t seen any updates in either primary race, but the late-December Public Policy poll showed Paul leading Grayson by 44-25 and Conway beating Mongiardo 37-33.

This race is almost certain for Republicans, but I’d like to see the Republicans creep over the 50% mark. The real question will be whether we get Senator Grayson or Senator Paul.

North Carolina – Richard Burr

A mid-January Public Policy poll shows Senator Burr continuing to build on his lead against all of his Democrat challengers. He now leads Kenneth Lewis 46-34 and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall 44-37

Once again, I would feel still like Burr to poll above 50%, but I feel confident than the Republicans should have no problem defending this seat in the end. However, North Carolina could surprise us like they did in 2008 if Democrats stabilize themselves. This is one to watch.

Florida – George LeMieux (Retiring)

NO NEW UPDATE: A mid-December Rasmussen poll has, for the first time, former Speaker of the State House Marco Rubio tying Governor Charlie Crist for the Republican primary. This might have had Democrats rejoicing since, until that time, Rubio seemed the weaker candidate against presumed Democratic candidate Representative Kendrick Meek.

However, the same poll found Rubio leading Meek 49-35 while Crist only leads 42-36.

This race is almost assured to stay in Republican hands whoever the final winner is of the primary.

Louisiana – David Vitter

The only reason Louisiana is still on this list is because we still don’t yet know whether Senator Vitter will lose his primary to Reprublican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. We haven’t had any updates on that race since last March, so it could be anywhere.

In a mid-January Rasmussen poll, Vitter leads Democrat Representative Charlie Melancon 53-35 while Dardenne leads him 53-31.

This seat stays red.

Kansas – Sam Brownback (Retiring)

NO NEW UPDATE: An early-December Survey USA poll finds Representative Jerry Moran topping Representative Todd Tiahart for the Republican nomination 37-34. Both are solid conservatives, and either should hold the seats for the Republicans. Nor word yet on who the Democrats will put up as their sacrificial lamb.

Utah – Robert Bennett

NO NEW UPDATE: Senator 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. Because the nomination will not be done through a primary race, no polling has been done.

Other:

John McCain (AZ) joins 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) in the group of Republican Senators who are almost certain to easily win reelection.

Synopsis:

Republicans are even better position than they were at the beginning of the month to put a dent in Democrats’ majority. Senator Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts showed that the national tide is moving against Democrats and, if they don’t wake up, they could lose big this November. It also changed the balance of the Senate from 60-40 to 59-41, meaning that Republicans only need pick up 10 more seats to win control of the Senate.

I’m still doubtful that this is possibly, or even desirable, for 2010. In the end, Republicans should defend all of our “endangered” seats: OH, MO, NH, KY, NC, FL, and LA. The last three or four were never even really competitive. We should also easily take ND, NV, CO, and AR, with DE and PA being excellent pick-up opportunities as well.

That gives us 47 seats. We need four more to hit the magic 51.

With the right candidates running in the right political weather, Republicans could further pick up NY and IL.

But we still have to find two more seats.

CA and IN are the most likely as of this point to become competitive. I don’t think either will when all is said and done, but we might stand a chance of picking off one or both of these if all of the other races break our way.

And if these seats are in play, then WA, WI and possibly even OR are in play with the right candidates. Those candidates haven’t yet materialized, or even been hinting that they’re going to materialize, but then no one saw State Senator Scott Brown as a realistic challenge to Attorney General Martha Coakley either.

Alternatively, 3 November 2010 could see any number of Democrats applying to switch parties and hand Republicans control of the Senate: Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Jon Tester (MT), Jim Webb (VA), Joseph Liberman (CT), and Robert Casey (PA), all of whom are up for reelection in 2012, could decide they have better chances of reelection in 2012 with an “R” after their name.

But I’m of the decided opinion that perhaps Republicans would be better off with a 50-50 tie in the Senate, allowing Democrats to retain control and thus take full credit for the continued failure of… well, Obama’s presidency. But a 50-50 split would mean that Republicans would be able to stop the vast majority of the Democrats agenda.

Regardless of whether Republicans actually reclaim the Majority in 2010 or simply become a powerful Minority, 2012 offers to expand Republican gains made in 2010. There were several seats in 2006 that should never have turned blue and have an excellent chance of flipping back in 2012. They include Sens. Jon Tester in MT, Jim Webb in VA, Claire McCaskill in MO, and Sherrod Brown in OH. With the right candidates, these seats are all ripe for the picking. And at least one other seat is already almost guaranteed to flip after Obamacare passed the Senate: Ben Nelson in NE. That puts Republicans at 55 seats (if we hit 50 in 2010) come 2013.

In addition, Democrats could face several retirements/vacancies that provide excellent pick-up opportunities for Republicans: Robert Byrd in WV will be over 95 come November 2012; Herb Kohl in WI will be 77, Diane Feinstein in CA will be 79, and several others may simply decide that they’ve had enough of politics, especially if the mood is still anti-Democrat and it has become clear that Democrats will be in the minority come January 2013. We may see several Senators follow Byron Dorgan’s example and take an early retirement. Particular to this case would be Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Kent Conrad (ND), and Robert Casey (PA).

There are other States that could see retirements in which Republicans already have strong chances of beating Democratic incumbents even if the he decides to run again: Governor Jodi Rell could easily beat Joseph Liberman in a three-way contest with a real Democrat in CT and Governor Linda Lingle could challenge Senator Akaka in HI. Likewise, if the climate is still toxic, Governor Jim Douglas could challenge Senator Sanders in VT.

Lastly, Republicans won’t really have many seats to defend in 2012: Scott Brown in Massachusetts will face (another) uphill battle to win reelection and I personally have my doubts he can do it. More positively, John Ensign in NV is the second most endangered Republican incumbent, but his numbers are looking better than they were a year ago. We could have retirements in either AZ or ME that could make these seats vulnerable, but if not they should be safe.

So let us just imagine for a moment: Republicans start with 41 seats and win 9 more in 2010 (ND, NV, CO, AR, DE, PA, IL, NY, and either IN or CA) for a total of 50. We have fairly good chances at 9 more in 2012 (MT, VA, MO, OH, NE, WV, CT, FL, and HI) putting us at 59. We could easily pick up another few seats with the right candidates with the right combination of retirements in CA, WI, ND, or PA. And that’s not even mentioning shock-races like Massachusetts that could develop in New England or other States we haven’t considered vulnerable.

Looking even further down the road, Republicans are also well-positioned for 2014 as they lost quite a few seats in 2008 that never should have never been painted blue. VA, NC, MN, NH, and MO all could flip back to the Republicans while Democrats could also face tough battles in AK, CO, SD, AR, MN, and LA and retirements in WV, IA, MI, and NJ. Meanwhile, Republicans could face retirements in AL, GA, ID, KS, KY, MS, OK, and IN, but look well positioned to keep all of these seats at the moment.

Realistically, we could see the Republican make-up of the Senate increase to 47-50 in 2010, 55-60 in 2012, and 63+ in 2014.

With that many seats and a Republican in the White House, we could overturn Obamacare (if it passes) and reshape the Supreme Court for the next 50 years.

Of course that’s all pipe dreams at the moment. Republicans will have to play their cards right and govern shrewdly, or they could be treated worse than 2006 and 2008 come 2012 and beyond.

I wouldn’t be stupid enough to bring up the nonsense of a “Permanent Majority,” but Republicans are extremely well-positioned for the next few election cycles in the Senate.