Maiello's Book-Almost Hits the Metaphorical Stands
Miami Fans Mistakenly Chant "Let's Go Eat" During Playoff Game
The Democrats are going to hold the Senate. Let's get that out of the way. The question is by what margin. That the Democrats hold it at all is a historical anomaly. Since direct popular election of the Senate began around World War I, the House had changed hands from one of the major parties to the other eight times -- and all eight times, the Senate did too. The Tea Party helped make this history in 2010, when the nominations of Sharron Angle (Nevada), Christine O'Donnell (Delaware), and Ken Buck (Colorado) cost it three seats in the Senate. Absent those clear mistakes, the GOP would likely have had 50 Senate seats for the last two years. This time out, the mistakes were Todd Akin (Missouri), and Richard Mourdock (Indiana). Like the other three mistakes, they were all the most conservative nominee in their respective primary fields. Mourdock, like O'Donnell, helped retire a more-liked and more-moderate Republican incumbent (Rep. Castle in Delaware, Sen. Lugar in Indiana). Lacking these latest two mistakes, the GOP would have 51 Senators for the next two years. This blog explains why, instead, there will be 54 Democrats (or Democrat-caucusing independents), and 46 Republicans (or Republican-caucusing independents). Before beginning, the author humbly notes that in 2010, he was one seat more accurate than both Sabato and Silver, as we all missed Nevada and Colorado, while I had Murkowski in Alaska and they did not. Onward to the Democratic gains likely on Tuesday, in what was supposed to be a Republican cycle:
The Democratic Base: 44 Seats That Are Safe or Not Contested
In addition to a host of seats not in contest, Democrats (and their independent allies) are safe in the following races: CA (Feinstein), DE (Carper), HI (Hirono), MD (Cardin), ME (King), MI (Stabenow), MN (Klobuchar), NM (Heinrich), NY (Gillibrand), RI (Whitehouse), VT (Sanders), WA (Cantwell), WV (Manchin).
In addition to many seats also not in contest, Republicans are safe in MS (Wicker), NE (Fischer), TN (Corker), TX (Cruz), UT (Hatch), and WY (Barrasso). This brings the GOP base to 44 Senators who are a mortal lock to serve for the first half of the next Presidential term. There are 13 seats at issue that will decide the balance of power in that chamber.
The Thirteen Seats in Question: Ten Democratic Wins, Three Republican Wins
My prediction for Tuesday is that Democrats will exceed expectations, as they did in the GOP's excellent 2010 cycle. Until August, the storyline of this election was that the GOP would likely take the upper chamber. Missouri seemed a lock, as did Indiana. Montana was leaning red, and Massachusetts seemed at least a 50/50 proposition. Tommy Thompson led handily in Wisconsin during the summer, and Virginia, Florida, and Connecticut all looked better for the GOP than they do today. It's hard to say precisely why and how the change happened. Todd Akin's rape comment in midAugust seemed to ripple through the Presidential race and Congressional numbers. Shortly after that, the strong Democratic convention, and the unusually weak Republican convention, preceded a bounce that was stronger for some Democrats (Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, for example), than it was for President Obama. Then, as Presidential and downticket voting have become more highly correlated in recent years, President Obama's weak weeks in October dragged down some of Democratic Senate candidates. Nonetheless, the Democratic candidates are in an excellent position approaching Tuesday. Here is where I predict the races will come out, in descending order from most to least likely Democratic wins:
The Near-Locks: Florida, Ohio
Florida: Senator Bill Nelson should cruise to an easy victory over Rep. Connie Mack IV, whose notoriously stingy great-grandfather owned and managed the Philadelphia A's for fifty years, and whose father held the Senate seat he is seeking until 2000. Look for Nelson to modestly overperform the average of polls (here Nelson +6.9%), as President Obama's campaign will turn out voters in numbers not being captured fully by likely voter models, just as it did in 2008.
Prediction: Nelson 54, Mack 45.
Ohio: Senator Sherrod Brown has led 32 consecutive non-Rasmussen polls of his race against Republican Josh Mandel. The margin seems to sit around 5 or so. Brown almost always (but not always) shows a higher margin over Mandel than President Obama does over Governor Romney when samples of Ohioans are asked about both races. President Obama's polling in Ohio also suggests a definable lead, underscoring that Brown (with the great consistency in his numbers) is nearly a lock. Finally, Democratic turnout has thus far been great in Ohio, suggesting even more clearly in Mandel's case than in Romney's that the GOP challenger has to put up unattainably high numbers on Tuesday to win. We will have at least one Senator Brown for six more years.
Prediction: Brown 53, Mandel 46
The Highly Probable Wins: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Missouri, Massachusetts
Pennsylvania: Don't believe the hype. The race between incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey Jr. and Republican Tom Smith, a Keystone State CEO, has only tightened to the degree that you would expect of Smith curing a name-recognition deficit and having extensive advertising on his behalf. Casey has never trailed or been tied in any poll. He runs slightly better than President Obama does in the state, another sign of safety for him, since President Obama should win the state by 5. Nothing to see here, please move along.
Prediction: Casey 54, Smith 46
Connecticut: The Constitution State is returning to form. Long before this election, you had to figure that Rep. Chris Murphy would cruise. He had held his seat, in the most Republican-trending House district in Connecticut, despite a strong challenge in the wave election of 2010. He was to face an opponent, former WWF exec Linda McMahon, who had lost decisively (by 11.8 points) to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in that same 2010 GOP wave election.
But a funny thing happened on the way to victory. In the climate of 2012, an outsider businessperson seemed more appealing to voters in Connecticut. The sometimes brash McMahon softened her presentation of self on one hand, while hammering Murphy with expensive attacks on the other hand, some emphasizing questions raised about financial dealings. This resulted in a boomlet of decent polls in August, suggesting a small McMahon lead.
As has happened in Senate race after Senate race, however, August's favorable polling numbers for Republicans are now memories. Murphy has led 8 of the 9 polls of this race taken since October 1 -- the other showing a tie. McMahon seems stuck in the mid40s, while Murphy is cracking the 50 percent barrier in the same polling. Murphy by 8.
Prediction: Murphy 54, McMahon 46
Missouri: Sen. McCaskill was dead in the water, with polls showing her likely voteshare in the low 40s under any circumstances -- until Rep. Akin's famously ill-considered comments about rape. Since then, a Senate seat the Democrats had no business retaining has been an almost inevitable win. With the exception of a survey by unreliable Gravis Marketing in midSeptember suggesting a four point lead for Rep. Todd Akin, Sen. Claire McCaskill has led the last 12 polls of her race for re-election. The leads have been small but definable, floating around 5 points. They depend on utterly ginormous gender gaps -- for example, one poll showed McCaskill up 51-43, with Akin winning men 52-36, and McCaskill winning women 58-31. That's -16 to +27 -- just a 43 point gender gap -- and it still results in a fairly modest win. Notably, the same poll shows Akin getting beaten among Missouri's reasonably large African-American voting population 98-2. Todd Akin is trying to win a Senate seat with predominant support one demographic group only -- white men. The maths are not favorable for that approach.
Prediction: McCaskill 52, Akin 47
Massachusetts: Progressive darling Elizabeth Warren, who trailed savvy incumbent Senator Scott Brown in most early-year polls, has now led in 9 of the past 11 polls of her race against Brown. The campaign early on saw Warren struggling to find a campaign style that worked, and dogged by questions about whether she had claimed incorrectly or for improper advantage to be Native American. Yet Warren has found that stride; her featured role at the Democratic National Convention coincided with a nice bounce in the polls; Brown's nasty and churlish turn in the debates, continuing to go harshly and personally negative at times, has given away some of his brand. The recent resurgence of the Obama candidacy probably helps firm her numbers as the race heads to its close. The heady feeling some had when Brown took Sen. Kennedy's seat in a special election against Martha Coakley has officially passed it best-by date.
Prediction: Warren 53, Brown 47
Close But Clear
Indiana: Gift number two. To be clear, Rep. Joe Donnelly had a real shot in this race. A poll in the spring showed this race tied, with a huge number of undecideds. But now he has a very high probability of winning this seat, and becoming the heir to Evan Bayh as a conservative Senate Democrat from the Hoosier state. In the wake of Tea Party favorite and Republican nominee Richard Mourdock's own rape gaffe, which dominated national political talk for a couple of days and which was hastily repudiated by many GOPers, public polls show Donnelly leading by 3 and 11, as does Donnelly's polling, while Mourdock's shows the race even. Indiana is a state where the Democrat wins when things go right, and the combination of Mourdock's already weaker-than-Lugar support, Obama on the ballot, and the gaffe down the stretch appear to be enough.
Prediction: Donnelly 52, Mourdock 47
Policing the Plain-Close Line
Wisconsin: Former Governor and Bush HUD Secretary Tommy Thompson led most of the year in his race against Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who would be the first openly lesbian Senator. Thompson had opened up a substantial lead during the summer, but after the Democratic National Convention, President Obama's bounce was paired with an even larger bounce to Rep. Baldwin, who consistently led during September. Thompson correctly noted that Senate candidates falter when the top of their ticket isn't faring well. Thompson then experienced a boomlet during October, as he moved ahead in four of six polls at one stretch. Since then, however, President Obama's numbers have been on the rebound, and Rep. Baldwin has led in four of the last five polls, the fifth being a tie from Rasmussen. As I have noted many times, one of the most important things to understand in predicting House and Senate races is the degree to which they have come to correlate to Presidential preference. Wisconsin was behaving like Scott Walker's state until Labor Day. It is now behaving like Barack Obama's. Add to that late and irresponsible claims by Thompson that Baldwin has slighted the cause of memorializing 9.11 victims, which preceded her recent run of good polling. The bottom line is this: President Obama should win Wisconsin by 5 or so, and just as Baldwin's performance has followed the President's but lagged a point or two, she should ride his coattails to the Senate on Tuesday.
Prediction: Baldwin 51, Thompson 48
Virginia: Virginia is the new Ohio. Formerly more southern and Republican in political culture and voting behavior, it is the state that is reasonably close to the tipping point in both the Presidential campaign and also the fight for the Senate. This race pits former Governor and Democratic Party National Chair Tim Kaine against former Senator George Allen. The race has very closely followed trends in the Presidential campaign. After the Democratic National Convention, Governor Kaine put up 12 leads and a tie over 13 polls of the Old Dominion. Kaine has led 9 of 13 polls since the Denver debate, but Allen has lead in 2 of the last 4, including a disquieting Allen +5 from Roanoke College's polling. The more Democratic-friendly pollsters WaPo and Quinnipiac show Kaine up 7 and 4, respectively. Kaine has generally run a shade ahead of Obama, who more likely than not will win Virginia. Kaine in a squeaker.
Prediction: Kaine 51, Allen 49
Montana: This is the closest to my cut line as to which I am still predicting a Democratic victory. Populist incumbent Jon Tester faces a strong challenge from Rep. Denny Rehberg, who represents Montana's single, unitary House district. For most of the year, this race had a clear Republican and Rehberg lean, with Tester leading only in polls by PPP, and trailing in the others. October has been a different story, with Tester leading in PPP by 2, leading in Rasmussen by 1, tied in Rasmussen, and trailing by 4 in Mason-Dixon, which has a very pronounced GOP lean in this cycle. That PPP and Rasmussen have shown tiny Tester leads makes me think the race is tied. In 2010, Democrats overperformed their final polling in all eight states with close Senate races by an average of around three points. I take Tester in a squeaker.
Prediction: Tester 49, Rehberg 48
The Likely GOP Victories
Nevada: The newest reliably blue state, Nevada went for President Obama by 12 in 2008 (5 points above the national trend), and then reprised the role as a Democratic state when final polling showed that Sharron Angle would beat Senator Harry Reid 48-45 -- and Sen. Reid won 50-45. Sen. Dean Heller, seeking re-election in what was Sen. John Ensign's seat, should have been in a bad position in his face-off with Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democratic Congresswoman in the Las Vegas area. Unfortunately for the Democratic side, Berkley proved to be a flawed candidate, as questions have persisted about her advocating for government funding for a hospital linked to her doctor husband. In a year during which President Obama has led by 2, 3, or 5 in most every poll of Nevada, Berkley continually trails by 3-6. Heller's television advertising has been pervasive and fairly effective. This is the flipside of many of the above races -- a seat the Democrats should win but likely will not. The only hope of victory is the turnout machine Sen. Reid has built in Nevada. It is formidable indeed. I think Berkley will overperform her polls but lose a squeaker anyway.
Prediction: Heller 50, Berkley 49
Arizona: Democrats have the right candidate in Bush Surgeon General Richard Carmona, a decorated combat veteran and former Pima County Sheriff's deputy, who would be the state's first Latino Senator if elected. His opponent, Rep. Jeff Flake, is a bit to the right of center in Arizona, and was softened up by a senseless primary campaign in which millionaire Wil Cardon spent $9 million (largely on negative ads) trying to primary Flake to his right, and depleting Flake's ample warchest in the process.
In the last month, both have led in polls, though one poll showing Carmona up 4 implausibly showed Obama up 2. The President will probably lose Arizona by 4-6 points. On the other hand, the Rasmussen poll showing Flake up 6 suggests that Flake will win a quarter of the Latino vote and almost as much of the Democratic vote, both of which seem wrong to me. Polling shows an unusually high number of undecideds for late in the race, making it hard to assess. Carmona has been endorsed by newspapers in Tucson and Prescott, but Flake won the equivocal endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, which generally praised Carmona as well.
The red lean of this state makes Flake a very narrow favorite, but Carmona (with the exception of telling a debate moderator in mid-debate that he was prettier than Candy Crowley) has run the campaign a Democrat needs to run to win this state.
Prediction: Flake 51, Carmona 48
North Dakota: Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, a nonideological Democrat with crossover appeal in this state, has come from nowhere to very close in her race to succeed retiring Sen. Kent Conrad. Her opponent, Rep. Rick Berg (who like Rep. Rehberg in Montana represents as a Republican in the House the entire state in which he is running for the Senate already, a pretty good base to work from), was originally far ahead and now is not. Heitkamp has closed to within 2 (Mason-Dixon), and 5 (Rasmussen), but seems parked in the mid40s, while Berg polls in the 46-50 range. North Dakota did not perform as Democratic as pre-race polling in 2008 or 2010. Edge to Berg.
Prediction: Berg 53, Heitkamp 46
Conclusion: 54-46 or Bust
President Obama should have a nice Senate majority to help him during the first two years of his second term. Given that the Republicans and the Tea Party that has ceded the Senate will keep their hold on the House easily, he will need all the help he can get in budget negotiations and in working to fund Obamacare. Look for 2014 to be a high-stakes showdown for control of the House, with Democrats focusing on candidate recruitment, and Presidents Obama and Clinton campaigning hard for the House majority the Democrats failed to reclaim in the mid-to-late 90s, and are failing to reclaim this year too. The story of this election, other than the President's re-election (which I will forecast in detail tomorrow), is how the Tea Party that drives the GOP won the House but gave away the Senate. The D team is on top in the upper chamber. Don't tread on D, inDeeD.