Democrats’ Senate Chances Keep Looking Better

Martin LongmanOver the weekend, Martin Longman, as part of his usual duties at Political Animal wrote, I Am Optimistic About the Senate Races. I am not quite as optimistic as he is, but I still tilt in his direction, so I thought it would be useful to go through his argument.

Let’s start with the bad news. He has given up on Tim Johnson in South Dakota. But he is also quite gloomy about John Walsh in Montana and Natalie Tennant in West Virginia. I think he’s being way optimistic on these last two. The Upshot provides a great comparison of five groups who are handicapping the election: The Upshot itself, 538, Cook Political Report, Rothenberg Political Report, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Of all three races, the best prediction for Democrats is Rothenberg, that finds Montana a toss-up—and if you go to their site, you’ll see even it thinks it tilts Republican. Anything can happen, of course, but this is a clear -3 for the Democrats.

Now we get to the more winnable races. First up, we have good ol’ Mark Begich of Alaska. Everyone seems to agree that this one is a straight tossup, except (strangely) 538, which gives a slight advantage to Begich, even though they still think the Republicans have the edge in keeping the Senate (or at least they did back in March when they last calculated it). Similarly, pineapple crusher Kay Hagan of North Carolina is looking the same, although The Upshot is slightly bullish on her. For Longman, this means we’re going to keep these seats. For old statistical me, I think it means we’ll keep one of those seats. So that’s a likely -1 for the Democrats.

He also noted:

Mark Pryor of Arkansas has opened up a double-digit lead in the polls, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana had a 24% lead in the April New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll.

That’s putting far too good a spin on these races. 538 (which is out of date, but still) and Rotherberg both have these races leaning Republican. And Longman is putting way too much emphasis on that one poll. The Upshot only gives Landrieu a 41% chance right now. Again, I’d split the difference and give the Democrats a -1 on this. That puts us at -5 thus far—one less than the Republicans need to take over the Senate.

Longman also takes it as a given that the Democrats are going to take Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire. I tend to agree, and I have to say that I don’t understand why people give Mark Udall such a low chance. The best is 61% from The Upshot. But I think that the Democrats will manage to keep all those seats. But if the Democrats lose just one of those seats, the Senate goes red.

There is one other element here. There are two Republican seats that could go blue. The first is Georgia, which I wrote about this weekend, Could Michelle Nunn Win in 2014? On that race everyone gives the advantage to the Republicans. But I’m encouraged in this race. Nunn polls especially well against Kingston, and he seems to be the guy that the Republicans want to nominate. In the end, it is all going to come down to turnout. But I really do think that Nunn could pull this one out. Still, the best you could say is that it is a tossup.

The other Republican seat is just too delicious: Kentucky, where the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is up for election. At this point, everyone agrees that McConnell has a big advantage over Alison Lundergan Grimes. But McConnell is not well liked in the state, and if Grimes can find an issue that resonates with the voters, she could win. Thus far, she seems to be getting some traction with the Medicaid expansion. Other than the true believers on the right, I don’t think McConnell’s position on that issue makes much sense. “Why do you want to deny healthcare for poor people and not stimulate the Kentucky economy?” Still, you have to say this one is McConnell’s to lose.

Right now, The Upshot give the Democrats a 58% chance of keeping the Senate. And their likeliest scenario is exactly what I’ve just outlined: 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the Senate. Given the Democrats hold the White House, that means they would have control of the Senate. Much will happen in the next five months though. I’d like to think that the economy will continue to improve. That makes many of the marginal Democratic candidates far more competitive. If that happened, it could easily end with the Democrats only losing one seat: 54-46 Democrats. But if the economy tanks, I think you have to assume the Democrats losing seven seats: 52-48 Republicans. But that’s likely the worst we would see.

It doesn’t look like the catastrophe for Democrats that many Republicans are expecting, even under the worst conditions.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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