Diary

Senate 2010 Analysis (mid-February)

Yesterday’s earth shattering news that Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) would retire rather than facing reelection continues the good news leading up to what could now be a historic Republican victory in November.

Once again, please note that my Senate 2010 analysis is not a prediction; it is simply my take on where the races are right now. Personally, I look for things to continue to improve for Republicans over the next few months, but Democrats could also recover to minimize Republican gains.

Unfortunately, this mid-February 2010 Senate Analysis will be my last post on Red State until mid-March. I will be back in March to give a rundown of where things stand, but a month is a long time in the political world, especially in an election year. I feel certain that many, many of the following races will have some serious updates by then. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, several of the following States have no new updates since my last Senate Analysis from last week. Check it out if you’re curious.

One new feature to this analysis is that I have now included the shift since the previous polls in parenthesis. I think this will help explain momentum.

Democratic Seats:

#1: North Dakota – Byron Dorgan (Retiring)

North Dakota continues to be our #1 pick-up opportunity as Governor John Hoeven crushes his nearest Democratic rival former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp 65-29 in the latest Rasmussen poll from early-February.

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

NO NEW UPDATE: State Attorney General Beau Biden 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

The only thing I have to add from my last analysis is that I now believe there is at least a 50% chance that Senator Blanche Lincoln will announce her retirement in the next two months. Other than that…

NO NEW UPDATE: 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)

NO NEW UPDATE: 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

The only real update to this race is that it has been announced that the Tea Party is now an official party in Nevada and will be fielding a candidate in November. Adding to this the Libertarian Party’s candidate, Senator Reid might just pull this one out. Nevertheless, I’m not yet downgraded Republicans’ chances of taking over the seat until new polling is released including the Tea candidate (what a stupid name for a political party). Until then…

NO NEW UPDATE: 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 numbers are actually beginning to rebound a bit; this worries me because it means that Reid COULD pull this out if Republicans don’t play their 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 only 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. But we can also grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

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

The dear Senator is still leading Representative Joe Sestak 51-36 (-6) for the Democratic primary in the latest Rasmussen poll.

Unfortunately for the dear Senator and for Democrats, Republican former Representative Pat Toomey continues to lead in the polls against both Democrats. He still leads the dear Senator 47-38 (+0) and Sestak 43-35 (+0).

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. Added on that is the relative stability of this race, and I think Spekter could pull it out in the end.

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)

NO NEW UPDATE: 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: Indiana – Evan Bayh

With Senator Evan Bayh’s surprise retirement announcement, Indiana jumps from Republicans #10 to #8 pick-up opportunity. I expect that this race will continue to climb the list and may find itself sitting right under North Dakota at #2 next month. Nevertheless, I’m wary to bump it up too quickly until we actually know who the candidates are and see some polling data.

To replace Bayh on the Democratic side of things, there is a limited amount of possibilities. The two names that have the early lead are Representatives Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill. Both represent districts that lean Republican.

The three big names in the Republican primary are now former Republican Representative John Hostettler, former Republican Senator Daniel Coats, and State Senator Marlin Stutzman. There hasn’t been any primary polling, so there really isn’t any clear indication who is leading here.

I feel confident that, with this field, it doesn’t really matter who the nods go to. Republicans are favored to pick this seat up.

#9: California – Barbara Boxer

Moving in front of New York (Gillibrand), California is still an uphill battle for Republicans. However, a mid-February poll shows all three Republicans gaining on Senator Boxer.

Boxer still leads all three Republican challengers, but she should start sweating. In the latest Ramussen poll, CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina trails by only 42-46 (+4) while former Representative Tom Campbell trails 41-45 (+0) and State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore trails 42-47 (+3).

I still don’t have much faith in pulling California out, but if Republicans continue to improve the way they have recently, we could see California turning red next November.

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: New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (Appointed)

NO NEW UPDATES except that this seat has dropped from Republicans #8 to #10 best pick-up opportunity.

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.

#11: Washington – Patty Murray

A mid-February Rasmussen poll confirmed that Washington could be in play if former State Senator Dino Rossi decides to get in the race. Rossi leads Senator Patty Murray 48-46, mirroring his lead in a recent Moore Information poll late last month. If Rossi enters, this seat becomes competitive. If not, Sen. Murray easily cruises to reelection.

#12: Wisconsin – Russ Feingold

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

#13: Maryland – Barbara Mikulski

The latest rumor, fed by Sen. Bayh’s retirement announcement yesterday, is that Sen. Mikulski is considering retiring. If she does, this race could become competitive if Elrich or Steele jumps in. Otherwise, it’s a fairly safe Democrat hold.

Other:

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)

NO NEW UPDATE: A 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, a decrease 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. I think they both could go either way but are more than likely to come home for Republicans.

#2: Missouri – Kit Bond (Retiring)

A mid-February Rasmussen poll confirmed that Republican Representative Roy Blunt is now favored over Democrat Secretary of State Robin Carnahan in November. He leads her 49-42 (+1).

While this lead is fairly significant, this is still only the second poll in over a year showing Blunt in the lead, and both polls have been from Rasmussen. Every single other poll in the last year has shown the two candidates in a statistical tie. Nevertheless, I’ve always said I think Missouri will come home for the Republicans, and I think Rasmussen is starting to confirm it. If Blunt can poll over 50% with at least one other polling agency, this race will be seriously downgraded.

#3: New Hampshire – Judd Gregg (Retiring)

Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has slipped a few points in the latest Rasmussen poll in which she still leads Democrat Representative Paul Hodes 46-39 (-2). This is the first backward move for her since polling began last June.

Ayotte also faces a primary against perennial candidate Ovide Lamontange. At the moment, an early-February Research 2000 poll found that she led Lamontange 36-27. That’s perhaps a little too close for comfort, but at this point she is still the favorite for the nod.

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

For now, I consider New Hampshire fairly safe, but it is far from certain. Ayotte’s lead is shaky, and if Lamontagne wins the primary, this becomes Democrats’ biggest (and possibly only) pick-up opportunity.

#4: Kentucky – Jim Bunning (Retiring)

NO NEW UPDATE: A late-December Public Policy poll showed Rand Paul leading Secretary of State Trey Grayson by 44-25 in the Republican primary and Attorney General Jack Conway beating Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo 37-33 on the Democratic side.

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) and Mongiardo 49-35 (+7).

Paul leads Conway 47-39 (+0) and Mongiardo 48-37 (-3).

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 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)

NO NEW UPDATE: 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.

One wild card here is, 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 for a Democratic take-over depending on how bloody the primary becomes.

#7: Kansas – Sam Brownback (Retiring)

NO NEW UPDATE: 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%.

#8: 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:

For the first time, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) joins 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) as all but certain to easily win reelection. More developments could arise in any one of these races, but for now the incumbents all seem safe to win reelection.

Synopsis:

It’s really quite unbelievable the luck that Republicans have had in the last few months, with really only one or two strokes of bad luck. Let us consider some of the major events:

1)      Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) announcing that he would challenge dear Senator Specter in the Democratic primary

2)      Ted Kauffman (R-DE) announcing that he would seek the open seat

3)      Democrats’ insistence on ignoring the public over health care

4)      Finding top tier candidates in CO, PA, and IL to challenge vulnerable Democratic seats

5)      Finding top tier candidates in NH, MO, and OH to defend vulnerable Republican seats

6)      Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) announcing his retirement

7)      Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) snagging a solidly blue seat away from Democrats

8)      Beau Biden (D-DE) announcing that he would not seek his father’s old Senate seat

9)      Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) announcing that he would challenge Sen. Lincoln

10)  Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) announcing he would not seek reelection.

In contrast, the only two major things that didn’t go Republicans’ way were:

1)      Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) announcing he would not seek reelection

2)      The registration of the Tea Party in Nevada

I said back in my first analysis in September that Republicans could do no worse than gaining one seat. Such minimal gains are laughable now! I first laid out the Path to the Republican Majority in my late-November analysis. That analysis included CT as one of our top pick-up opportunities and ND and IN were barely on the radar screen. A lot has changed!

Republicans look poised to sweep all of their “endangered” seats. Of the eight I analyzed, KS and UT have never been in danger of a Democratic take-over; I’ve included them because we aren’t yet sure which Republican will fill their seats come January 2011. FL, NC, and KY should be added to that list of all but guaranteed safe seats.

MO, OH, and NH are really our only competitive seats, despite what certain pundits may want to think. The problem for Democrats is that these are all slightly reddish purple States. In other words, Republicans should do better in these States than in many of the blue States that are now considered competitive. I just don’t see any scenario in which Democrats can take all three of these seats, though one or two might slip through the cracks if Republicans play their cards wrong.

As for Republican gains, I can’t help but write this section with a huge grin on my face. Republicans are now way ahead in ND, DE, and AR. Republicans are only slightly less way ahead in CO, NV, and PA, but we are definitely favored to win these seats. IL is also looking good, but we have to wait on this one. IN will probably be a strong pick-up opportunity in my next analysis (in mid-March). So Republicans are now slightly favored or guaranteed a gain of 8 seats. CA could continue to develop for us as well.

For review, we need a total of 10 seats to seize control of the Senate.

Five other races could be added to this set of 9 competitive Democratic races. In WI, WA, and NY (Gillibrand), Republicans already lead Democratic incumbents, but none of them (Thompson, Rossi, and Pataki) have announced.

Another race that could possibly become competitive is NY (Schumer) who has been experiencing poor polling recently. It’s only competitive if Giuliani jumps in against him, but that seems highly unlikely.

The other race that could surprise is Maryland. Online rumors suggest that Senator Barbara Mikulski is thinking about retiring. With the right candidate, this could clench Republican control of the Senate.

But do Republicans really want to control the Senate in 2011-2013? I’m not convinced it would be the best strategy. If Democrats continue to control at a 50-50 split (with VP Biden casting the deciding vote), Republicans will basically halt the far-left agenda but still not be responsible for the continued failure of Obama come 2012. The best-case scenario for Obama’s reelection is for Republicans to take the Senate 51-49 and the House by a slim majority. This allows Obama to share the blame with them while still refusing to moderate his agenda. Most importantly, Obama would most likely still be able to get through leftist judges, especially in the upcoming two Supreme Court vacancies.

The worst case scenario for Obama, on the other hand, would probably be if Republicans can take a wide majority in both the House and the Senate and continually present conservative, common sense solutions and defeat leftist judge nominations on a straight up-or-down vote. Obama could turn right like Clinton did in 1994, but somehow I deeply doubt that, and if he vetoes everything that comes from Congress, the Republicans should be able to paint HIM as the obstructionist. Even if he signs conservative legislation, this will cost him dearly; the Left has gotten so much more radical than they were under Clinton, and if Obama follows Clinton’s lead, he may find himself completely losing all support from his base and possibly earning himself a bloody primary challenge in 2012.

So the question is, should Republicans aim for 51 seats? My personal opinion is no. I’d rather sacrifice a gain in IL than be stuck at 51 seats. However, if it becomes clear that Republicans should gain at least 51 seats, we need to push harder than we have ever before to take at least a few more. That’s possible with the right candidates and under the right circumstances. We could end up with 54+ seats (ND, NV, AR, CO, PA, DE, IL, IN, CA, WI, WA, NY, NY, and MD).

And of course, the 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 or have taken control by a huge margin: 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. That could bring us up to 57+.

And 2012 continues to look good for Republicans. Sens. Tester (D-MT), Webb (D-VA), McCaskill (D-MO), Brown (D-OH), Nelson (D-NE), Byrd (D-WV), Kohl (D-WI), Feinstein (D-CA), Akaka (D-HI), and Liberman (I-CT) are all in weak positions to win reelection with Republicans only really playing defensive in MA (Brown).

And 2014 looks even better for Republicans…

Plausibly (not likely, but plausible), we could see the Republican make-up of the Senate increase to 47-54 in 2010, 57-65 in 2012, and 68+ in 2014.