Monday, November 3, 2014

Sensing The Senate Races-2014

The mid-term elections are tomorrow and I thought I would pull out my smeared and smudged crystal ball and see what I see developing in the U.S. Senate election races across the country.

The current make-up of the Senate is 55 Democrats (2 are "Independents" who caucus with the Democrats) and 45 Republicans.  Therefore, the Republicans need to pick up six seats overall to assume majority control.

My evaluation of the races in each state are based on several factors: Obama's vote total in the 2012 elections, the extent to which reduced black voter turnout could harm the Democrat candidate this year compared to Obama's vote totals in each state in 2012, the individual appeal of the Senate candidate and recent polling data I have reviewed.

There are 35 Senate seats up for re-election. 34 are regular elections and one is a special election--the South Carolina seat of former Senator Jim DeMint who resigned in early 2103 and was replaced by Tim Scott who was appointed by Governor Nikki Haley. Scott is running for the remaining two years of DeMint's term while Lindsay Graham is also seeking re-election to a full six year term as South Carolina's senior Senator. suggests that 42 Republicans seats are either not up for re-election or are considered safe in 2014. On the other hand, only 38 Democrats seats are considered safe by Real Clear Politics heading into the election tomorrow.

Therefore, control of the Senate rests on 20 seats and the Republicans merely have to split those seats to take 52-48 majority control (or nine of the twenty to get to 51-49). Where do I see the best chances for the pick-up of those 9 or 10 seats?

Here are my thoughts based on the most probable to least probable Republican wins.  There are 13 states in which the Republicans have very good chances to pick up the 9 seats they need. I doubt they win all of these. However, 10 of the 13 races ending up in the Republican column seems reasonable although we might not see that number until after the run-offs in December.

West Virginia
Shelly Moore Capito looks to be a lock in the Mountaineer state. Obama only got 36% of the vote in West Virginia in 2012. He has to be even more unpopular today. Capito is +17 in the RCP poll average.

South Dakota
Another state where Obama did poorly with just 40% of the popular vote in 2012. Mike Rounds is +12 in the RCP poll average. Rounds would be polling better but for the fact that former Republican Senator Larry Pressler is on the ballot as an Independent and is most likely siphoning off some of Rounds' potential support.

Obama lost Montana by 14 points to Romney. Steve Daines is +18 in the RCP poll average.

Barack Obama only got 37% of the vote in Arkansas in 2012. The incumbent Democrat Senator Mark Pryor has a big political name in the state, has two terms under his belt but also too many votes siding with Obama. The GOP has 37 year old rising star Tom Cotton on the ballot. Cotton is +7 in the RCP poll average.

Another tough state for any Democrat supporting President Obama. Obama only received 38% of the 2012 vote of those in the Blue Grass state. It is no wonder that Democrat candidate Alison Grimes refused to admit she voted for Obama. McConnell is definitely vulnerable and he could have been taken out here with the right candidate. It just does not appear that Grimes is the person to do it after a series of campaign missteps.

Alaska warmed up a little for Barack Obama between 2008 and 2012. He drew only 38% of the vote in 2008 and improved to 42% in 2012. Mark Begich is the incumbent Democrat facing off against Republican Dan Sullivan. Sullivan is +2 in the most recent RCP poll average. I don't know anything about Sullivan but it is hard to believe that any Republican could lose to a Democrat in Alaska (like Begich) who has voted voted with Obama 97% of the time.

This is a state that should be an uphill fight for the GOP. Obama won Iowa by 10 points in 2008 and 6 points in 2012. However, it is an open seat which makes the task at little easier compared to other states like Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia which favored Obama by similar margins two years ago and have incumbents on the ballot. Joni Ernst, the GOP candidate, seems to have run a very good campaign. The Democrat, Bruce Braley, has been less sure-footed with several gaffes involving farmers in a state with 90,000 farmers. Ernst is +1.4 in the RCP poll average that shows just how hard it is to turn a blue state to red even when you have the better candidate.

Obama was -18 to Romney in 2012. The Landrieu name is famous in the state but Mary Landrieu has also voted with Obama 97% of the time. She got 52% of the vote in 2008 but that came with Blacks making up 29% of the total vote and favoring her 96-2 over the GOP challenger. It appears that Landrieu can only win if there is a Black turnout similar to 2008 and 2012. She lost the white vote 2-1 the last time around. This election will likely be decided in a run-off in early December as there are two GOP candidates that are splitting the opposition votes. Landrieu is only averaging about 40% support in the RCP poll average.

Georgia supported Romney + 7 in 2012. However, this is an open seat with the retirement of Saxby Chambliss that has provided an opportunity for the Democrats for a pick up. Michelle Nunn (daughter of the popular ex-Senator Sam Nunn) is the Democrat nominee. David Perdue, a businessman who is running for his first political office is the GOP standard bearer. Turnout of black voters will again be the key to this race and Nunn probably needs African-American turnout to be over 30% to win. A Libertarian candidate is polling around 3% which might also push this race to a run-off as Georgia law requires the winner to have more than 50% of the popular vote.

North Carolina 
North Carolina was the only state that supported Obama in 2008 that did not return the favor in 2012. Romney won by 2 points after Obama squeaked by McCain by .4 points in 2008. The Democrat, Kay Hagan, is the incumbent which provides her an advantage over Thom Tillis. The race is complicated by a Libertarian who is polling at around 5%. The Black vote will again be critical as Hagan won this demographic 96-1 in 2008. She has voted with Obama 97% of the time.

Update as of 6am 11/4/14-I just saw the numbers related to early voting in NC and it makes me more optimistic for Tillis. Jay Cost of The National Review states that 52% of early votes have been voters age 65+. In 2012 this number was only 36%. Young voters age 18-29 made up 13% of early voters in 2012, only 5% in 2014. In addition, white voters are up and black voters are down in the early numbers. Read my earlier blog post, Turned On and Turned Out to see why these numbers could be important to Tillis if these voting trends continue with the total vote.

Kansas is the state where voters undoubtedly wish there was someone else on the ballot. The Democrat nominee, Chad Taylor, withdrew as a candidate to provide the "Independent" a better chance of unseating 5-term Senator Pat Roberts. Kansas has not elected a Democrat Senator since FDR's years. Kansas voters are left with the option of voting for an over-the-hill Roberts or a fake Democrat (Greg Orman) in a state in which only 38% supported Obama in 2012. Anything can happen here. This should be a sure GOP win. However, now you can see why I have this race so far down the list. Roberts only wins if voters use the vote to send a message to Obama and Harry Reid. If Orman wins it will be the third state that has an "Independent" as a Senator--the most in the history of our republic. Interestingly, the positions of these "independents" on the issues are anything but independent. All are Democrats in substance. It is just easier to get elected without the liberal Democrat label. We will see if that trick works on Kansas voters.

Most of the pollsters and political pundits have been pointing to this as a GOP pick-up with Cory Gardner beating incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. I have my reservations. First, it is always harder to beat an incumbent. Second, Colorado was +5 for Obama in 2012. Third, are the same voters who legalized pot two years ago going to vote for a Republican? I don't think so. Gardner only wins if the voters who voted for Obama and pot in 2012 don't bother to vote in 2014.

New Hampshire
Obama won NH by 6 points two years ago. The incumbent Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen, is a former popular Governor who appears to be in trouble in this race. Scott Brown, who won election to succeed Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, on a wave of anger about Obamacare in early 2010 (only to lose to Elizabeth Warren in 2012) is taking Shaheen on having established his legal residence in the state. This is one of the key races of the night as if Brown can unseat Shaheen it will send reverberations that will be felt very quickly across the country. Brown has made immigration a big issue in his campaign so if he wins you can be sure that it will also carry the same warning bells to politicians in Washington on this issue as did his win in Massachusetts with Obamacare. Watch this one closely. Shaheen is only up +1 in the RCP poll average.

There are a few other states that might come into play for the Republicans if tomorrow night starts shaping up to be a wave election. I don't expect it but it is possible.  If so, these states are the next possibilities for Republican gains.

Obama won Virginia by 4 points and a big part of his margin came out of the DC suburbs with support from young people and minorities in particular. The rest of the state tilts GOP. Again, turnout is key here.  Democrat Mark Warner has been a popular Governor and Senator so he is tough to take out. Ed Gillespie is the GOP challenger and the RCP average has him -10. However, when I look at the 4 point Obama margin and the fact that minority and young voters will not likely turn out like they did two years ago, it seems Gillespie could make this a race in the end.

I still have a hard time even uttering the words Senator Al Franken. I often have a hard time understanding what is going through the minds of Minnesotans. How could any state elect both Jesse Ventura and Al Franken? Minnesota went +9 for Obama in 2012 so this is an uphill battle for the GOP as Franken has lots of money and challenger Mike McFadden is a political novice in his first bid for public office after a successful business career.

New Mexico
Another state that went +10 for Obama in 2012. Tom Udall is the incumbent Democrat Senator and being challenged by another successful businessman (Allen Weh) who has not held elected office before. Weh might be helped by Susana Martinez, the popular GOP Governor, who is running for reelection and is up by 13 pts in the RCP average. There has not been a lot of good polling in the Senate race and RCP does not have a polling average on the Senate race. How long are the coattails of Martinez?

There does not appear to be much other opportunity for Republican pick-ups in other states. Michigan and Oregon looked like possibilities earlier in the year but the GOP candidates in those states failed to gain any momentum or money.

An interesting newcomer to keep your eye on is the likely new Republican Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse. Sasse is +23 in the RCP poll average so he looks like he is on his way to Washington.
Sasse is age 42 and has a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D from Yale and most recently was the President of a small university in Nebraska (Midland University) in the town he as raised in.

This is how Real Clear Politics sees the Battle for the Senate on the eve of the election. 8 toss ups! Many of these races will be determined solely by who shows up and votes. And by those that think they have something better to do and don't vote.

Make sure you vote!

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