Diary

Senate Balance of Power in Seven Seats

Just months ago, the prospect of Republicans taking over the Senate was considered laughable.Now, it is clear to all that control of the chamber hangs in the balance.With roughly half of the thirty-seven seats in play, Republicans have a realistic opportunity to snag just enough seats to win the gavel.Even so, Democrats still hold the advantage, as Republicans would need to net ten seats to take over.

According to Charlie Cook’s ratings, only seventeen of the seats up can be considered safe.Not all seats are equal, though, and many of those currently lean Republican, with one leaning very heavily toward the Democrats.Some of those leaners could easily close.Republicans in Colorado , Missouri , New Hampshire , Ohio and Pennsylvania have started to create some daylight in races that had previously been considered too close to call, and Rand Paul, though he has had some recent troubles, continues to lead Jack Conway in Kentucky. Those races are hardly over, but they’re certainly looking good. In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin III leads John Raese and is considered the heavy favorite, though a recent Rasmussen survey suggests that the President’s abysmal approval ratings (29/70 approve/disapprove) in the state could make the race more competitive than previously thought. As far as more marginal races are concerned, Republicans will take over Arkansas and North Dakota and are running strong leads in Delaware and Indiana. Senators David Vitter and Richard Burr, though not out of the water, also have consistently led in their reelection bids.

If West Virginia goes Republican, it probably means that the GOP wave was already big enough to put Republicans back in the Majority, and the Mountain state would give Republicans our fifty-second seat.If any of the Republican-leaning races goes back to pure toss-up status, Republicans will gain seats, but probably not enough to get to fifty-one, or even fifty.With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seven seats that are likely to determine control of the Senate.Republicans would need to win five to take over.

California

Sen. Barbara “Ma’am” Boxer has represented California in the Senate since 1993, but could her reign finally be coming to an end?Although she represents one of the most liberal states in the country, Boxer’s confused priorities may finally render her too out of touch with her constituents.Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina said that extremist environmentalists have “captured her theology” in her support of the Delta Smelt. The Delta Smelt, for those unfamiliar, is protected under the Endangered Species Act. In order to protect it, the government turned off water in the San Joaquin Valley, costing thousands of Californians their jobs. Although her support for the fish may earn her the appreciation of the fish, people tend to outvote our finned friends by large margins. Throw in the fact that Boxer was more interested in discussing whether a Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh should call her “ma’am” or “Senator” during a hearing about Louisiana coastal restoration after Katrina and you have a race made very tight by voters who aren’t sure where the Senator’s priorities are. It’s no surprise, then, that Boxer hasn’t hit 50 in a poll since January. This race will likely turn on whether Californians vote for Senator or Majority Leader.

Connecticut

Most people assumed this race was over the day Sen. Chris Dodd announced that he would not seek reelection.Democrat AG Richard Blumental, who has held his office for a couple of decades, was considered the prohibitive favorite when he entered.Republicans, well, all but Linda McMahon , threw in the towel. Plagued by an early scandal that broke in the New York Times of all papers, Blumenthal took a major hit in the polls and many thought he might have to abandon his campaign. Democrats successfully turned the issue to Republican Illinois candidate Mark Kirk, though, who had a similar problem, and the issue seemed to disappear. Once he weathered the storm, it again appeared that Republicans had little chance.

Recent polls , though, show that Blumenthal, who hasn’t had a serious race in years, is at or under 50%. What’s more, the last two polls of the race show him with two of his three lowest numbers (50% and 47%) and McMahon with two of her strongest (40/40). Democrats early on referred to Blumenthal as Martha Coakley in pants. While his demise has been slower, his numbers are headed in the same direction as hers. At this point, the real question seems to be, “Can Dick Blumenthal run out the clock?” With just over two months to go and his poll numbers slowly but surely eroding, it’s not clear that he can.

Florida

Will voters trust Charlie Crist?That is the big question in what is arguably the most compelling Senate race of the cycle.Early in the Republican primary, many considered Gov. Charlie Crist the prohibitive favorite not just for the primary but for the general election.Enter Marco Rubio . The conservative golden boy of the cycle rose to the challenge and, through a swell of grassroots support, made it abundantly clear to everyone, including Crist, that there was simply no way for the sitting Governor to win the nomination. Rather than concede defeat graciously, Crist abandoned the Party and decided to run as an independent.

Apparently, though, that decision has confused the Governor.He quickly scrapped the pro-life section of his website and hired a Schumer staffer to run his campaign.This week, he has struggled with questions on the caucus he would choose, as well as his evolving developing ever changing positions on health care and gay marriage. Perhaps his statements on health care, though, offer a glimpse of his party of choice, as he channeled John Kerry on healthcare. He was against it before he was for it before he was against it.

This race will come down to one simple question: Will Floridians elect a man who could determine control of the Senate without knowing with which party he would caucus?

Illinois

In a battle of two scandal-plagued candidates, one of them has to win.Democrat Alexi Giannoulias made bad loans at a bank that ultimately collapsed and was taken over by the government.Democrats had talked about his withdrawal from the race when the bank collapsed, but Republican Rep. Mike Kirk provided a lifeline when it was revealed that, like CT Dem Richard Blumenthal, he had embellished his military record.It’s no surprise, then, that in the sixteen polls taken this year, only one candidate in one polls has cracked 45%.It should help Kirk, though, that Republican Bill Brady has opened up a lead on Democrat Pat Quinn in the Governor’s race.If the current margin holds, Giannoulias will have to rely on a lot of ticket-splitting.Given that the financial crisis is a major issue this year, it is difficult to see many people changing over to vote for him.

This dirty campaign will only get dirtier, and the winner will likely be determined based on which scandals with which voters can more easily live.

Nevada

Majority Leader Harry Reid looked dead in the water until he started hammering Republican nominee Sharon Angle . The bad news is that Sen. Reid has closed the gap and is now running even with Angle. The good news is that the Senator seems stuck in the mid-40s. That’s not devastating for the Senator because Nevada does have a “None of these candidates” option on the ballot. Since the primary, it has seemed that Reid is campaigning more for that option than himself. Angle, for her part, has been reminding Nevadans of why Reid is so unpopular, hammering Reid on the housing crisis and unemployment. A political purist might like to think that this will come down to whether voters see Angle as a viable alternative to Reid. In fact, though, Reid’s fate could be determined in large part by his son’s race. Rory Reid trails Gov. Brian Sandoval by high double digits. In a tight race in a bad year for Democrats, can Reid really count on 15% or more of Sandoval voters not supporting Angle?

Washington

Sen. Patty Murray has had competitive races before, winning all three of her races with less than 60%.Republican two-time gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi , however, is used to closer match-ups, losing two races by less than 2%. Is it third time lucky for Rossi?

Unlike other Democrats in tight races, Murray has flirted with the 50% mark and led in most polls, albeit very narrowly.Indeed, since he declared his candidacy, each candidate has held a seven point lead in one poll, with the other polls not showing more than a 4-point differential.A quick glance at the candidates’ websites offers a clear contrast in the two candidates.Sen. Murray is campaigning on a platform of raising taxes and spending while Dino Rossi is talking about fiscal responsibility . The two candidates offer voters a choice of ideologies in a relatively clean race. With polls suggesting that the race is a toss-up, this race likely hinges on turnout.

Wisconsin

Many analysts wrote this race off the moment former Gov. Tommy Thompsondecided against a bid, but when entrepreneur Ron Johnson entered the race, he was immediately even with Sen. Russ Feingold, arguably the most liberal member of the Senate. All but one poll since May has had the two candidates within the margin of error. Most notably, three term incumbent has been unable to crack 46%. Johnson’s personal fortune will enable him to match Feingold’s spending through the election. Johnson’s recent introductory ad humorously portrayed him as an outsider, an image that provides a stark contrast to someone who has been in elective office since President Reagan’s first term. After decades in office and months of campaigning, Russ Feingold will need half of the undecided against a political newcomer and relative unknown. It’s hard to see how that happens.