Diary

Senate 2010 Analysis (mid-June)

I apologize for my longer-than-expected absence. I’ve finally found the time to get around to my Senate analysis update. As of yesterday, we have a host of new updates, so I’ll head right into the actual analysis.

Just a quick reminder: please remember that my Senate 2010 Analysis series is not my predictions; they are simply my take on where the races are right now.

DEMOCRATIC SEATS:

#1: North Dakota – Byron Dorgan (Retiring)

Governor John Hoeven continues to crush Democratic challenger State Senator Tracy Potter by a whopping 72-23 in the latest mid-March Rasmussen poll. North Dakota is turning bright red in November!

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

Delaware continues to beat out Indiana as Republicans’ second most-secure pick-up opportunity in 2010. Republican Representative Michael Castle is way ahead in this race, leading Democrat Chris Coons 55-32 in an late-April Rasmussen poll. No polls have been done in the Republican primary, but Castle looks well positioned to fend off a challenge from perennial candidate Christine O’Donnell. No polls have been done matching O’Donnell and Coons.

Delaware is still 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

Senator Lincoln succeeded in fending off fellow Democrat Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter in their primary run-off yesterday, but that can’t be too comforting to the 2-term Senator. A late-May Research 2000 poll shows Republican Representative John Boozman leading Lincoln by a shocking 56-33, echoing a slightly older poll by Rasmussen.

I only rate Arkansas as #3 because Lincoln is still the incumbent and performed better than expected in the Democratic primary. Nevertheless, if polls continue showing Boozman way ahead, this could surpass Delaware as Republicans’ #2 pick-up.

#4: Indiana – Evan Bayh (Retiring)

Despite a fairly nasty primary, former Senator Dan Coats seems to have finally solidified support from most conservative arenas. He leads Democratic Representative Brad Ellsworth 47-33 in an early-June Rasmussen poll, down a few points from a similar poll a month before.

Indiana jumps from Republicans’ #6 opportunity since my last update. Coats could still lose, but at this point he looks likely to turn this seat bright red in November, guaranteeing at least a +4 pick-up in the Senate for Republicans.

#5: Colorado – Michael Bennet (Appointed)

The current scandal brewing in the Democratic primary may put a surprise twist in Colorado’s Senate election, but as of a mid-May Public Policy poll, former Democratic Speaker of the state House Andrew Romanoff trails the Senator 31-46.

The same poll showed former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton leading Ken Buck for the Republican nomination 31-26.

Colorado looked to be a sure-fire pick-up a few months ago, but Democrats’ chances of retaining the seat were improved with the release of a mid-May Public Policy poll showing Bennett leading Norton 44-41. An early-June Rasmussen poll showed Norton re-taking the lead 46-40. A similar situation exists in the match-up between Norton and Bennett, with Norton re-taking a slight lead 43-42 in that early-June Rasmussen poll but trailing Bennett 41-43 in that mid-May Public Policy poll.

Meanwhile, the situation is a little rosier should Buck be the Republican nominee. He takes a 46-41 lead over Bennett in the Rasmussen poll after trailing 39-45 in the Public Policy poll. Against Romanoff, Buck leads 45-39 in the Rasmussen and trailed 38-41 in the Public Policy.

Republicans are still probably the favorite to take this seat, but Democrats could still pull it out if Republicans have a bloody primary or go off-message in the summer.

#6: NevadaHarry Reid

This race has fallen from Republicans’ #1 pick-up opportunity back when I first started tracking the Senate 2010 races back in September.

Yesterday’s Republican primary delivered what would have been considered a shock had I prophesied it last September: Unknown former State Assemblywoman Sharron Angle etched out a victory over Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian and heads into November with a tiny war chest and disunity in the State party.

Nevertheless, the latest Mason Dixon/LVJR poll from early-June showed Angle leading Reid 44-41. That was after an early-June Research 2000 poll just a few days earlier showing Reid leading Angle 42-37. It’s anyone’s guess where this race really is, but Republicans may have flubbed up one of their best pick-up opportunities.

But the year isn’t over and Reid is definitely vulnerable. If Angle unites the party, keeps both feet out of her mouth, raises a boatload of money, and plays her cards shrewdly, she stands an excellent chance of beheading Senate Democrats for the second time this decade.

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

Republican Representative Mark Kirk still leads Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias 41-38 in the latest Research 2000 poll from early-May. This is in line with most other polls since April, though Giannoulias’ numbers are cut slightly when Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones is included.

To me, it still seems like Republicans have a slight upper hand, at least as far as legitimate voters are concerned. But Illinois is a solidly blue state known for voter fraud and corruption. Kirk will need to pull his lead up and pass the 50% mark before I consider this a comfortable win.

#8: Pennsylvania – Arlen Specter (Democrat-Republican-Democrat-Defeated in Primary)

One of the greatest victories for the American people came when turn-coat and political opportunist Specter was defeated by Representative Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary. Unfortunately, Sestak is a tougher opponent for Republican former Representative Pat Toomey who only leads Sestak 45-38 in an early-June Rasmussen poll but trailed Sestak in the latter half of May in Rasmussen and Research 2000 polls.

The problem in Pennsylvania is the same in Illinois: voter fraud. Toomey is going to have to get his numbers up past 50% before this seat should be considered a safe take-over.

#9: Washington – Patty Murray

Former State Senator Dino Rossi finally decided to announce a few weeks ago, making Washington yet another competitive seat. In a late-May Washington Poll, Rossi leads Murray 42-39, but he trails Murray by one point in the Rasmussen poll released just a few days before.

Washington could shape up to be one of Republicans’ best pick-up opportunities, assuming that Rossi takes the Republican nomination. At this point, I think it really could go either way.

#10: California – Barbara Boxer

After winning the endorsement of Sarah Palin, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina beat out former Representative Tom Campbell and State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore for the Republican nomination to challenge Barbara Boxer.

Fiorina has trailed Boxer for over a year. The latest USC/Los Angeles Times poll showed her trailing Sen. Boxer 38-44.

California is a solidly blue state, and this seat could continue to develop. If it does, it means that election night has been a route for Democrats and Republicans have already taken control of the House and, possibly, the Senate as well.

#11: Wisconsin – Russ Feingold

Late-May polls from Rasmussen showed a Republican within a few points of Senator Feingold. Businessman Ron Johnson trails by only 2 points at 44-46. There have been no polls for the Republican primary

#12: Connecticut – Chris Dodd (Retiring)

Despite the recent scandal over “misstatements” about his military record, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal seems set to Republican smash businesswoman Linda McMahon. Even after the scandal, Blumenthal leads McMahon 56-33 in an early-June Rasmussen poll.

This race could develop for Republicans, but at this point I don’t see it happening and, barring any major developments, this race will be downgraded in my next analysis.

Other:

Sens. Daniel Inouye (HI), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Chuck Schumer (NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Ron Wyden (OR), and Pat Leahy (VT) all seem safe for the moment. One or two more of these seats might become competitive in the future, but it looks like the 12 seats above are the field for competitive Democratic seats.

REPUBLICAN SEATS:

#1: Ohio – George Voinovich (Retiring)

Ohio continues to be the most precarious seat for Republicans to defend in 2010. Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher won the primary for the Democratic nomination against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, and it looked like he might have some difficulties solidifying Democratic support for him. However, that seems to have worked itself out for Fisher, and he jumped ahead of Republican Representative Rob Portman in every poll from April and May. An early-June Rasmussen poll has Portman bringing the race back to a tie at 43%, but he really needs to gain a few percentage points before we can consider it out of the blue-zone.

Ohio is going to be a squeaker. It’s the Democrats’ #1 pick-up opportunity, and it could go their way even if they lose 6-8 of their own seats. Nevertheless, with the current national mood, I think Ohio might just stay red this year…

#2: Florida – George LeMieux (Retiring)

Florida jumped from the #4 most vulnerable Republican seat to the #2 when Governor Charlie Crist decided to drop out of the Republican primary and challenge Republican former Speaker of the State House Marco Rubio as an Independent. Democrat former Representative Kendrick Meek is also still in the race and should be considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, but Florida Democrats seem to be leaving him in droves to support Crist in order to try to have a shot of having the former Republican governor caucus with them.

Crist has been leading the three-way pack since late-May, with the latest early-June Quinnipiac poll showing him leading Rubio and Meek 37-33-17. Rasmussen paints a bit more Republican-friendly picture with Crist and Rubio tied and leading Meek 37-37-15.

One possible outcome is that national Democrats will court Crist until he lets it slip, informally, that he will caucus with the Democrats should he be elected. If that occurs, it could create a groundswell as the rest of Meek’s supporters shift to him or it could suck the wind out of his sails as many of his supporters cross to Rubio.

More likely, Crist will keep his cards close to his chest hoping for 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats, allowing him to be the balance of power and giving him a shot at powerful committee slots no matter which party he chooses to caucus with.

Unfortunately, I think Rubio has his work cut out for him. It’s going to be difficult to pull this one out, but if Crist implodes it’s Rubio in a walk.

#3: Missouri – Kit Bond (Retiring)

Missouri is a right-tilted fickle state. Republican Representative Roy Blunt and Democrat Secretary of State Robin Carnahan had been tied for well over a year before Blunt pulled ahead last January. He kept his lead into May but an early-June Rasmussen poll shows his 8-point lead has been cut to a 45-44 advantage.

Missouri is still a reddish-purple State and was the only swing state to go for John McCain in 2008. I feel confident that it’ll come home for Republicans in the end, but Blunt needs to get busy in the coming months.

#4: Kentucky – Jim Bunning (Retiring)

Kentucky jumps from the #7 most vulnerable Republican seat to our #5, but it looks to climb the list and could possible rank as high as #2 in the coming weeks.

Rand Paul provided the Tea Party movement with it’s first victory of the year when he beat out Secretary of State Trey Grayson for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile Attorney General Jack Conway beat Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo for the Democratic nod. Paul looked to be the heavy favorite until several disastrous media missteps. An early-June Rasmussen poll shows Paul leading Conway 49-41, a huge change from his 59-34 lead just two weeks before.

If Paul continues to have problems, he can and will easily snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Nevertheless, Kentucky is a fairly solid red State that deeply dislikes President Obama. Barring serious future problems, Paul should pull this one out in the end.

#5: New Hampshire – Judd Gregg (Retiring)

Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte faces a primary against several other candidates, but her closest competitor is businessman Bill Binnie. A late-May Magellan Strategies poll showed Ayotte leading Binnie, businessman Jim Bender, and perennial candidate Ovide Lamontagne 38-29-4-9, but as we’ve seen in Nevada and other States, a lead that small could evaporate overnight, especially in a crowded primary.

Meanwhile, Democrats have united behind Representative Paul Hodes.

A mid-May Rasmussen poll shows Hodes trailing Ayotte 38-50 and Binnie 37-49 but leading Bender 41-39 and Lamontagne 43-38.

If Republicans nominate Ayotte, this seat definitely stays red.

#6: North Carolina – Richard Burr

A mid-May Public Policy poll shows Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former State Senator Cal Cunningham tied at 35% after heading into a run-off for the Democratic primary.

Senator Burr has struggled gaining traction this year in the State that threw out Lizzy Dole in 2008. An early-June Public Policy poll showed him leading Marshall 46-39 and Cunningham 46-35. Those aren’t good numbers for an incumbent in an anti-incumbent year. But this will probably also prove to be an anti-Democrat year, so Burr may be safe in the end.

#7: Kansas – Sam Brownback (Retiring)

A late-May Survey USA poll continues to find Representative Jerry Moran topping Representative Todd Tiahart for the Republican nomination 52-29, building on previous leads. Both are solid conservatives, and either will hold the seat for the Republicans.

#8: Utah – Robert Bennett (Defeated in Primary)

Senator Bennet missed qualifying for the Republican primary at the State Convention.  Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater are headed to a run-off to see who will win in November.

Other:

Senators Richard Shelby (AL), Lisa Murkowski (AK), John McCain (AZ), Johnny Isakson (GA), Chuck Grassley (IA), Mike Crappo (ID), David Vitter (LA), Tom Coburn (OK), Jim DeMint (SC), and John Thune (SD) are still considered safe. In the current political environment, I’d be surprised if we see any more Republican additions to the above vulnerable seats, but a few may develop.

SYNOPSIS:

Republicans’ hopes to make significant gains in the Senate are healthy but the chances of reclaiming control are now slimmer than they were 2 months ago. It seems that we may have reached a plateau in good fortune, with no new Democratic seats on the horizon.

Republicans look to gain at least 4 seats (ND, DE, AR, and IN) with another 5 (CO, NV, IL, PA, and WA) having a stronger than 50% likelihood of turning Red in November. Republicans look well-poised to also make 2 more seats (CA, and WI) competitive, at the very least taking Democratic money away from competitive seats in other States.

On the other hand, Democrats currently have an excellent shot at 2 seats (OH and FL) with another 4 (MO, KY, NH, and NC) possible. If Republicans play their cards right, the later four will not be in danger next August while the other two could go either way at this point.

This leaves Republicans with no less than 43 seats next autumn. If the election be held today, Republicans would pick up a whopping 9 seats but lose 1, giving them 49 seats. In many ways, 49-50 seats would be the ideal number for Republicans since it would help to maximize gains in 2012. If the Red Wave is bigger than most are predicting, Republicans could finish next November with 52 seats. That would almost guarantee 1-3 more seats flipping as several sitting Democrats could jump ship if they are no longer part of the Majority. These include: Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Jon Tester (MT), Jim Webb (VA), Joseph Lieberman (CT), and Robert Casey (PA), all of whom are up for reelection in 2012.

Realistically, I see Republicans with 47-51 seats come January 2011.

Looking forward, 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).

If Republicans play our cards just right, we could win 2012 with super-majorities in both chambers of congress and the White House, just in time to repeal Obama-Care before it goes into effect in 2014, give Justices Thomas/Scalia a chance to retire without risking their seats going left (as well as the possibility of 1 or 2 moderate-liberal seats coming open), and deal with whatever mess Obama has gotten us into in the Middle-East.

Note: Portions of this diary have been reposted with slight editing from previous of my Senate 2010  Analysis articles.