Sunday, August 10, 2014

The State of the Senate

Sec. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes with former President Bill Clinton
We are going to be continuing with the theme of the last few days of political posts (we’ll get back to some more entertainment-based posts either tonight or tomorrow) with a rundown of the Senate elections.  In the past few weeks, pundits from all over the political spectrum (even James Carville) have started to concede that the Republicans are more than likely going to win the six seats necessary to take back the Senate.

As a result of this, though, I figured it was time to look again at what seats are most likely to turn, and where the battle for the Senate will shift.  Below I will rank the ten seats most likely to change hands (Number One being the most likely), and what the dynamics are of each of the seats.  Quibble in the comments if you have any opinions to the contrary.

10. Kentucky

I could be one of those people who cheats and lists twelve seats so that I can mention Michigan and Georgia, but honestly, neither of those seats seem particularly compelling at this point.  Terri Lynn Land hasn’t been able to top a poll in a while, and Rep. Gary Peters (D) does appear to be able to hold the Michigan seat for the Democrats at this point, even though he’s a fairly lackluster candidate when you get down to it (think Richard Blumenthal in 2010).  And Michelle Nunn (D) may have run a very strong campaign in Georgia, but she isn’t running against a Washington politician with David Perdue having won the nomination in the Peach State (thus depriving her of her "outsider" argument), so I just don’t see a way for her to win right now.  Both of these seats are close, but I don’t see a genuine chance of either of them flipping.

The same cannot be said for Kentucky. This seat has started to fall in my opinion in competitiveness as the Republicans have gained a bit of steam in the past few weeks and McConnell has been ahead in a couple of polls (albeit within the margin of error).  Recent allegations that McConnell’s wife is fighting against coal in Kentucky could hold water, but I would assume that Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has made her campaign largely around McConnell not being good for women, could be reluctant to attack his family members, particularly a female one.  This race still could turn, but McConnell has the slightest of advantages in a seat that is a must hold for the party.

9. Colorado

One of the closer races on-paper, I still cannot quite buy that Rep. Cory Gardner is the second coming that Chris Cillizza and others around Washington claim him to be.  Sen. Mark Udall has the advantage on-paper, having both won statewide before and enjoying a state that has gone sharply blue in the past few elections (including 2010), but guns and immigration being major topics in this state could make him vulnerable.  I still think that if the election were held today Udall would win, but this race is more on the list because it’s one of the more likely to turn if the Republicans pick up any steam.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)
8. North Carolina

Sen. Kay Hagan (D) has had a wild ride this cycle.  For a while there she seemed like the most vulnerable elected incumbent in the country, but now that seems to have shifted.  The dynamics of this race favor her opponent Speaker Thom Tillis (R), but he has been stuck in the unpopular state legislature and Hagan has been out campaigning harder than him.  This race could become the most expensive of the cycle, but polls have shown a definite shift in momentum back to Hagan, who is benefitting from not running against a generic Republican.  There’s also the wild card of Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh running for the seat.  Haugh may not get more than 2-3% of the vote in November, but in a race this close that could be all that Hagan needs to win a squeaker second-term.

7. Iowa

Probably the election that I find the most intriguing in the country right now, as there is little doubt the Republican is running the better race but the Democrat here has an inherent advantage.  Rep. Bruce Braley’s idiotic comments disparaging farmers (and popular Sen. Chuck Grassley) landed like a lead balloon in an agricultural state, and State Sen. Joni Ernst has run an unconventional but pretty effective campaign.  As a result, I think that Ernst would win if this were a different state, but Iowa, while pretty much the definition of a purple state, has gone Democratic in the past two presidential elections and has gotten used to electing a Democrat to this seat (if it were Grassley retiring, I think it would be going red).  That could be the difference here, but Ernst is hardly the gadfly that Democrats were hoping for and this is a coin-toss election.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
6. Alaska

It’s hard to tell, quite frankly, whether it is Iowa or Alaska or North Carolina that is "THE SEAT" for the Democrats (these seats combined surely are the wall the DSCC should be spending most of their money on right now, though-if Harry Reid can hold all three it’s hard to see him losing the Senate), but considering it’s the most conservative of the states, I’m going with Alaska.  Still, this is one of the only seats where the GOP candidate hasn’t been decided (though it’s likely to be former National Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan), and anything could happen as a result.  Sen. Mark Begich only won six years ago because of a scandal, but Alaska loves its incumbents, even the junior ones, and Begich has run a very strong campaign (albeit a slightly odd one when you get into the “riding Lisa Murkowski’s coattails" portion of it).  If the election were held today I think he’d head to a recount, but it’s hard to see him maintaining this kind of momentum for three more months so I suspect this is the sixth seat.  Still, he's in a stronger position now than I would have expected.

5. Louisiana

I’m torn whether Mary Landrieu or Mark Pryor is the more vulnerable incumbent.  Landrieu has a lot more options than Pryor, though, so I’ll stick with her at fifth.  Her best shot still remains winning in November, and that’s the operation that she is running under right now. Landrieu has won reelection statewide more than any other person on this list save Mitch McConnell, and that has to count for something-clearly voters like her enough to check the box for her, and she’s running a top-notch campaign.  The question continues to be whether she can get enough voters in New Orleans to the polls to win 50%+1 in November (she’ll probably have little trouble reaching 46%-it’s the last few points that will be a burden).  If she cannot, she has to hope that everyone above her name won their reelection, as it’s hard to see her being able to make an argument for her reelection if she’s the pivotal vote giving the Democrats control of the Senate or if the Republicans are already in the majority (thus depriving her of her gavel on the Energy Committee).  Like Begich, it’s tough to see her winning, but it’s still theoretically possible.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
4. Arkansas

The last of the “unlikely, but possible” senators, Mark Pryor has had a ride that’s sort of the inverse of Kay Hagan.  Polling in Arkansas has been scarce, but what little polling that has come out shows that Rep. Tom Cotton has emerged into a tie, if not a slight lead over Pryor.  Pryor has excellent retail politicking skills and Cotton has flubbed a couple of times throughout the campaign, but that’s just not enough with hatred of President Obama so strong here.  If it were a vote on whom the voters liked better personally, I have a feeling that Pryor would be winning (if the party labels were reversed, this wouldn’t even be close), but elections in the South have become far, far more partisan in recent years-this is likely to be a fail for the Democrats.

3. West Virginia

West Virginia moving down this list is more of a sign that Montana has become a cluster for the Democrats rather than any hope for Sec. Natalie Tennant beating Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.  Tennant has done better with getting fundraising and fundraisers (including Elizabeth Warren and Heidi Heitkamp, both of whom have an appeal here), but this race has yet to remotely exhibit any sort of sign that it could be competitive.  Capito is surely going to win, even with the historical trend the Democrats have in the state.

2. Montana

Sen. John Walsh ended his short campaign, meaning that what once was a longshot is now a complete goner.  Democrats may get NARAL President Nancy Keenan or a member of the state legislature, but the best they could hope for is that they don’t drag down the rest of the ticket.  Rep. Steve Daines got SO lucky this cycle with Baucus, Schweitzer, and Walsh all imploding or chickening out, and will be the rare one-term representative that jumps straight to the Senate.

1. South Dakota

I’m still mad at former congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who, considering the movement of this cycle, could well have won here considering a legitimate Democratic challenger probably would have meant a more organized effort to sabotage the Republican primary.  She’ll now become a former congresswoman forever, and Mike Rounds will be senator.

And those are the races.  Like I said, while the Republicans are probably somewhere between 4-8 pickups, the most likely scenario remains six, giving them just enough for a majority.  Which race do you think is the critical sixth seat?  Alaska, Iowa, or North Carolina?  Share in the commetns!

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