Diary

Senate 2010 Analysis (early-February)

Things keep looking better and better for Republican Senate elections in November. My last analysis had several chunks of good news for Republicans, and this analysis continues the positive news.

The fallout of Sen. Scott Brown’s victory continues to send shock-waves through Washington’s establishment from both parties. The following analysis is where things sit as of 9 February 2010. I look for things to continue to improve for Republicans over the next few months, but it is important to realize that things could drastically improve for Democrats as well.

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 9 months.

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

Democratic Seats:

#1: North Dakota – Byron Dorgan (Retiring)

North Dakota continues to be our #1 pick-up opportunity. Barring a major scandal from Governor John Hoeven, he will crush any Democratic challenger.

#2: Delaware – Ted Kauffman (Appointed – Retiring)

I had no new update on this race in my last analysis, but since then, State Attorney General Beau Biden has announced that he will not run against Republican Representative Michael Castle. Biden was the Democrats’ best chance of keeping this seat, and now they are stuck with Chris Coons.

The first poll from Rasmussen showed Castle destroying Coons 56-27. Delaware has definitely become an almost guaranteed pick-up. The only reason it isn’t rated as our #1 pick-up is because North Dakota is even more comfortable.

#3: Arkansas – Blanche Lincoln

Shortly after I posted my last analysis, Republican Representative John Boozman announced he would be throwing his hat into the ring of an already crowded primary to challenge incredibly weak Senator Blanche Lincoln. He became the instant front-runner for the nomination, but a surprise could develop if several of the nine other Republican candidates don’t pull out.

Nevertheless, Boozman’s entrance was exceedingly good news for Republicans. A late-January Public Policy poll found Boozman crushing Lincoln 56-33. An early-February Rasmussn poll confirmed this lead when it showed him leading 54-35.

But that’s not all! Republicans are well-positioned to take the seat even if Boozman doesn’t win the nomination. State Senator Gilbert Baker leads Lincoln 52-33, State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren leads 51-35, and Curtis Coleman leads 50-34 in that same early-February Rasmussen poll.

Arkansas has jumped from a fairly safe Democratic seat a few months ago to an all-but-assured Republican pick-up.

#4: Colorado – Michael Bennet (Appointed)

Colorado is the third Senate race to jump up in probability of a switch since my last analysis. An early-February Rasmussen poll finally has former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, topping the 50% mark and leading Senator Bennet 51-37. She also leads former Democratic Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff 45-38.

Even if Norton loses the primary, Republicans are still in good shape to take the seat. Ken Buck leads Sen. Bennet 45-41 and Romanoff 45-39.

It would be nice to have more polling on the primary situation in Colorado, but I’m fairly confident at this point that Republicans will pull this seat off, especially if Norton is the candidate.

#5: Nevada – Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continues to poll badly against both Republican challengers. An early-February Rasmussen poll now has Republican Sue Lowden leading Reid 45-39. This isn’t as big of a lead as Public Policy Poll last month that showed her topping 50% and leading Sen. Reid by 9 points.

Republican Danny Tarkanian leads Reid 47-39 in the same poll. This also shows Reid polling slightly better than he did one month ago.

The most concerning thing about this race is that both Republicans are second-tier candidates who just don’t seem to be catching on with the electorate. Reid is definitely vulnerable, but his number are actually beginning to rebound a bit; this worries me because it means that Reid COULD pull this out if Republicans don’t play there cards right.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki has expressed interest in jumping into the race and trying to give Republicans a bigger name. Unfortunately,, the same Rasmussen poll found that he led Reid 44-41, polling lower than both Lowden and Tarkanian.

It has been awhile since we’ve had any polls in the Republican primary race, but Tarkanian led Lowden by only two points in early January, so it’s anyone’s guess who will be the eventual nominee.

In my last update, I downgraded Nevada for the first time from our #1 pick-up opportunity to our #2. I’ve now continued the downgrade of this seat, not because I don’t think we’ll win it in the end, but because Delaware, Arkansas, and Colorado seem much easier in the end. Nevertheless, I’m confident that Republicans CAN win this seat come November. Whether or not they actually will remains for time to tell.

#6: Pennsylvania – Arlen Specter (Democrat-Republican-Democrat)

Life continues to be tough for the dear Senator from Pennsylvania. There are some bright spots for him, though. He continues to lead Representative Joe Sestak 53-32 for the Democratic primary in the latest Rasmussen poll.

Unfortunately for the dear Senator and for Democrats, Republican former Representative Pat Toomey leads both Specter and Sestak. Toomey leads the dear Senator 45-31 and Sestak 37-33.

Pennsylvania is anything but a done-deal for Republicans; she tends to be more blue than purple, and voter fraud in Philadelphia should give the Democrats an artificial advantage.

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 unseating the dear Senator next November.

#7: Illinois – Roland Burris (Appointed – Retiring)

Illinois had been sinking in my estimations over my last few analyses, but since my last analysis, things are beginning to look up.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias won the Democratic nomination and almost immediately began receiving negative exposure for a host of unethical and possibly illegal activity. Moderate Representative Mark Kirk easily won the Republican nomination.

A Rasmussen report released the day after the primary showed Kirk leading Giannoulias 46-40. This represents a shift of nine points from Rasmussen’s poll from December. I’m still hesitant to say that Illinois will materialize, but I think it is doable, depending on how much negative exposure Giannoulias continues to get and whether the Tea Party movement embraces Kirk or chooses to support a third-party candidate.

#8: New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (Appointed)

Senator Gillibrand seems a bit better positioned for reelection than my last analysis. First, a late Marist Poll showed her leading former Tennessee Representative Harold Ford, Jr. 44-27 for the Democratic primary. We have yet to see if Ford will actually enter the race and, if he does, how bloody it could be.

Another piece of good news for Sen. Gillibrand is that she leads the only announced Republican Candidate, Port Authority Commissioner Bruce Blakemen 52-30. But even Ford leads Blakemen 39-35…

The bad news for Gillibrand is that she is still trailing former Republican Governor George Pataki 49-43. Pataki hasn’t announced he will challenge Gillibrand, but his numbers are an improvement over the last Marist poll from mid-November.

If Pataki runs, this becomes an excellent pick-up opportunity. If he chooses not to, I rather doubt that the GOP stands much chance at turning this seat Red.

#9: California – Barbara Boxer

CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina released her “DemonSheep” commercial attacking fellow Republican former Representative Tom Campbell recently. The ad swept the Internet as the most hilariously painful ad to watch this election season, damaging both candidates pretty heavily. We haven’t had any new polls saying how it may affect the Republican primary,

Nevertheless, a late-January poll showed Campbell leading Fiornia and State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore 27-16-8 in the Republican primary. That’s a pretty sizeable gap in a three-way contest, so Campbell is definitely still the favored to win the nod.

I’m still not sure why they are fighting so much. Senator Boxer leads all three in the latest PPIC poll: Campbell 45-41, Fiornia 48-40, and DeVore 47-39.

California is still a seat that may become competitive, but as of now, I don’t really consider it a realistic chance. Time will tell.

#10: Indiana – Evan Bayh

Representative Mike Pence announced that he would not challenge Senator Bayh, thus eliminating Republicans’ best chances of taking the seat. Still, Republicans aren’t completely without hope in Indiana.

Former Republican Representative John Hostettler announced his candidacy and became the instant front-runner for the Republican primary. A Rasmussen report from late-January showed him trailing Bayh 44-41; not good numbers for a supposedly popular incumbent matched with a former representative. Worse, Bayh wasn’t even able to break 50 when paired with much weaker Republican candidates.

Since this poll, though, former Republican Senator Daniel Coats has announced that he will challenge Bayh. Coats was a fairly popular Senator back in the day, but he retired in 1998 and his seat was taken by… Sen. Evan Bayh. In addition to being a retired politician, Coats also moved out of Indiana and has been living on the East Coast for the last 10 years. This may not sit well with Indiana voters.

Nevertheless, Coats has a great amount of respect and loyalty within the Republican establishment in Indiana and should be the favorite to win the nomination. No polls have been released matching Coats and Bayh, so this race could be competitive… or not.

Other:

A recent Moore Information poll in Washington State showed Senator Patty Murray (D) trailing former State Senator Dino Rossi 43-45. She is safe unless Rossi enters the race.

A recent Rasmussen report showed Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) trailing former Governor Tommy Thompson 47-43. He appears safe unless Thompson enters the race.

Sens. Daniel Inouye (HI), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Chuck Schumer (NY), Ron Wyden (OR), and Pat Leahy (VT) all seem safe for the moment, and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal seems certain to hold Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat (CT). But Sen. Scott Brown proved that no race is a foregone conclusion these days. These seats might become competitive in the future.

Republican Seats:

#1 Ohio – George Voinovich (Retiring)

A new Rasmussen poll from early-February continues to show the Ohio race to be fairly competitive, with the early edge going slightly to Republican Representative Rob Portman. He has all but sewn up the primary and is now concentrating on his two Democratic challengers, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher.

The poll showed Portman leading Brunner 42-38, an increase of two points since the last poll in early-January. Against Fisher, Portman leads 43-39, an decrease of his of three points since the last early-January poll.

Ohio is going to be a squeaker. I now rate it as more competitive than Missouri, but in reality I think they both could go either way but are more than likely to come home for Republicans.

#2: Missouri – Kit Bond (Retiring)

NO NEW UPDATE: Missouri continues to be one of Republicans’ shakiest seats 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.

#3: New Hampshire – Judd Gregg (Retiring)

Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte seems well position to get the nomination, according to an early-February Research 2000 poll. She leads her closest challenger, perennial candidate Ovide Lamontange 36-27. That’s perhaps a little too close for comfort, but at this point she is still the favorite for the nod.

In the general, Ayotte leads Democrat Representative Paul Hodes 46-39. This continues to reflect an incremental improvement for Ayotte.

If Republicans nominate Lamontagne, we will almost definitely lose the seat. Hodes leads Lamontagne 46-36.

For now, I consider New Hampshire fairly safe. If Lamontagne wins the primary, this becomes Democrats’ biggest (and possibly only) pick-up opportunity.

#4: Kentucky – Jim Bunning (Retiring)

No new updates in either primary race, but the late-December Public Policy poll showed Rand Paul leading Secretary of State Trey Grayson by 44-25 in the Republican race and Attorney General Jack Conway beating Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo 37-33 on the Democratic side of things.

An early-February Rasmussen poll again showed that Republicans are well-positioned to keep Kentucky red, but there is a bit of a warning. Grayson leads Conway 44-40 (-5 points from January’s poll) and Mongiardo 49-35 (+7 points from January).

Paul leads Conway 47-39 (no change from January) and Mongiardo 48-37 (-3 points from January’s poll).

If Republicans insist on a bloody primary, this seat could be in danger. Nevertheless, I think with the current climate, Paul is still likely to pull out the primary and the general.

#5: North Carolina – Richard Burr

NO NEW UPDATE: 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.

#6: Florida – George LeMieux (Retiring)

A late-January Fabrizo/McLaughlin poll shows State House Marco Rubio continuing to build his lead over Governor Charlie Crist for the Republican nomination. Rubio leads 44-30. This verifies a slightly older Rasmussen poll that showed Rubio leading Crist 49-37.

In the general, Crist still crushes Meek 47-29 while Rubio leads Meek 42-30.

The wild card here is that, if Rubio etches out a close victory over Crist in the primary, Crist could decide to run as an independent. In the case of the of a three way race, the Fabrizo/McLaughlin poll found that Rubio still leads Crist and Meek 31-26-24 respectively.

The real danger here, I think, is if Crist decides to switch parties and wins the Democratic nomination without Meek in play. I’m not sure of the likeliness of this happening, but if so, I think he would be the heavy favorite to win the general. I would assume that the majority of Meek’s number (24) would be added to Crist’s polling numbers as an independent (26) and he tops 50% easily.

This race could become more competitive depending on how bloddy the primary becomes.

#7: Louisiana – David Vitter

Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne announced that he would not be challenging Senator Vitter in the primary. Multiple mid-January polls shoed Vitter leading Democrat Representative Charlie Melancon with over 50% of the vote.

This seat was only considered competitive because we weren’t sure which Republican would be Senator from Louisiana come January 2011. It will be removed from the competitive seats in my next analysis.

#8: Kansas – Sam Brownback (Retiring)

A late-January Survey USA poll continues to find Representative Jerry Moran topping Representative Todd Tiahart for the Republican nomination 40-33. Both are solid conservatives, and either should hold the seats for the Republicans. The only way Democrats could make this seat competitive is if former Governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Seblius jumps in. She leads both Republicans in an early-February Research 2000 poll but does not break 50%.

#9: 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 in May, so Bennett could be in trouble. Because the nomination will not be done through a primary race, no polling has been done.

Other:

Sens. John McCain (AZ), 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) are all almost certain to easily win reelection.

Synopsis:

Republicans continue to improve their outlook for November’s Senate races, and more and more pundits are beginning to speculate that Republicans could, if the planets align just the right way, retake the majority. Senator Scott Brown’s historic win in Massachusetts sounds a warning bell for Democrats: Change your ways or you will lose Congress in November.

I’m still wary of saying it will happen, but the road to 51 Republicans in the Senate seems to stretch broader and brighter with each of my analysis (the sole exception was when Dodd retired, thus taking CT from our #1 pick-up to a solid Democratic hold).

The road, nevertheless, is there. Republicans must hold seats in OH, MO, NH, KY, NC, and FL. We easily take seats in ND, DE, and AR. We are extremely well-positioned in CO, PA, NV and, for the first time in a long time, I actually thing we have at least a 50% chance of taking IL. That gives us 48 seats. We still need three more…

NY (Gillibrand) is ripe for the picking… if the New York GOP could get their act together.

And speaking of NY, recent polls show that Senator Chuck Schummer could also be vulnerable, but only with the right challenger. Giuliani could probably defeat him, and if Pataki took out Gillibrand the GOP could be poised to sweep New York. But for now, Giuliani maintains that he won’t run and Pataki continues to remain undecided.

Indiana may be competitive; we don’t yet know what the entrance of former Senator Coats means to the race.

I don’t really consider CA a likely switch. WA and WI are also fairly safe for the Democrats… for now. These two seats could become some of our best pick-up opportunities if the right candidates declare. Alternatively, there could be one or two more surprise retirements in the Senate that open up another heretofore presumed safe Democratic seat.

In the end, I think Republicans chances of having a healthy minority are most likely. We have a decent chance of re-taking the majority, and we could, if the perfect storm ensues, end up with as many as 54 Republican Senators comes January 2011. That’s extremely unlikely, but the fact that it is even on the radar represents a MASSIVE shift in Republicans’ political fortunes in the last year. If the next 9 months are as favorable to Republicans as the last 9 have been, it might become a reality.

And of course, the slim chance remains that 3 November 2010 could see any number of Democrats applying to switch parties, especially if Republicans are on the verge of taking control: 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.

Looking forward again to 2012, Republicans are extremely well-positioned to make further gains. Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Jim Webb (D-VA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) already start with “just average” chances at reelection. If the year is particularly nice to Republicans, they could all go down in flames, especially if big-name super-star candidates decide to challenge them. And of course, that isn’t including the dead-Senator-walking Ben Nelson (D-NE) who is all but sure to lose reelection.

Democratic retirements, especially if they lose the majority in 2012, could prove to be even more bad news for Democrats: Robert Byrd (D-WV) will be over 95 come November 2012; Herb Kohl (D-WI) will be 77, Diane Feinstein (D-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. We may see several Senators follow Byron Dorgan’s example and take an early retirement.

Additionally, Governor Linda Lingle (R-HI) gives Republicans a good chance of beating Senator Akaka (D-HI) if she were to challenge him. Governor Jodi Rell (R-CT) could also easily beat Joseph Liberman (I-CT) in a three-way contest with a real Democrat and she would stand a good chance of beating him in a two-way contest. Likewise, if the climate is still toxic, Governor Jim Douglas could challenge Senator Sanders in VT.

Republicans will be playing defensive with Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Other than that, competitive Republican seats will be hard to come by in 2012. One or two may develop, but it certainly won’t be a wave year for Democrats no matter what happens.

So now we have a road map to 65 seats by 2013. Stay tuned to see if Republicans develop a chance at reaching the super-super majority of 67 seats.

And 2014 looks even better for Republicans…

Plausibly (not likely, but plausible), we could see the Republican make-up of the Senate increase to 47-53 in 2010, 56-64 in 2012, and 66+ in 2014.