Democrats are the party that is most often accused of creating campaigns around what the polls say. And if one compares the two major US parties, this would seem to hold true. However, it currently has less to do with Democrat pandering, and more to do with Republican voters' utter rejection of what the numbers say.
And it is this that means the Democrats might actually have a chance to hold the Senate in November’s election.
For a bit of background: in November Americans will vote for who they want as president, for members of the house of representatives who serve two-year terms, and then for 33 of the country’s 100 senators (two per state) who serve six-year terms. These terms, however, are staggered so that one-third of the senators are up for election every two years.
The Democrats currently hold the Senate with a 53-47 majority. In fact, to be clearer, Democrats only have 51 senators, but two independents, Joe Lieberman from Connecticut and Bernie Sanders from Vermont, caucus with the Democrats.
Democrats need to hold on
Of the 33 seats being contested this cycle, 23 are held by Democrats, nine are held by Republicans and one independent, Lieberman, is retiring. Advantage: Republicans, right? They only need to take four or more seats to control both legislative bodies (making Democrat President Barack Obama’s life hell as Republicans are unlikely to lose the House of Representatives). Democrats, 23 of whom are competing, need to hold on to virtually all of them.
Not all that long ago everyone thought Republicans just really needed to hold on tight and not break anything to retake the Senate. But guess what, they did. And it’s probably now around 50-50 to see who takes the body in November.
Of the 33 seats being voted on, seven are likely to remain Republican and 15 should remain beneath the rear ends of Democrats, which means 11 are in play. And of those 11, six are held by Republicans and five by Democrats. So to take control of the Senate, Republicans would need to hold their six contestable seats and take three of the Democrats’ five to split the Senate – or find another way to achieve such a net gain.
The contested seats in Nevada and Indiana are where Republicans have shot themselves in the foot. Richard Lugar, a 36-year Senate veteran, lost a state Republican primary two weeks ago, and is no longer in the running; he lost to a chap called Richard Mourdock. Lugar was yonks ahead in polls versus the Democrat candidate Joe Donnelly in what is considered a safe Republican seat. Mourdock is a controversial and somewhat divisive Tea Party candidate and is level in polls with Donnelly. What should be an easy win for Republicans is turned into a 50-50 seat.
The same kind of thing happened in Nebraska where state senator Deb Fischer beat heavy favourite John Bruning on Tuesday. While Bruning was also a first-time candidate, the unknown Fischer may be easier to compete with for Democrat candidate (and former governor, and senator) Bob Kerry. In all likelihood, however, Fischer will beat Kerry – polls have her leading by double digits – but the landscape of the election is vastly different. Bruning is infinitely more electable in a general election setting than Fischer. Nebraska is a must-win for Republicans if they wish to wrest control of the Senate.
One of the most notable of these showdowns will be the contest between Elizabeth Warren (Democrat) and Scott Brown (incumbent Republican) for the Massachusetts seat, and although Brown is the incumbent and marginally ahead in most polls, Warren has steadily eaten into his lead over the last few months. I see this as a 50-50 seat. It will be decided by very few votes.
The seats for Montana and Missouri are both held by Democrats who are in a statistical tie with their Republican opponents. So I’d give a slight edge to the incumbents, especially Claire McCaskill from Missouri who is one of Obama’s more trusted allies. Another tough to call is Nevada, which should favour Republicans, but the party there is a disorganised mess, and it still trying to get itself together before the election.
The seats in Florida and Ohio are labelled under contested for no other reason than the states are such in every general election. Both Democrat candidates for these seats are well ahead of Republican challengers, and Democrats holding on wouldn’t be unexpected in the least.
The contests in Virginia and Wisconsin are tricky to call due to a lack of recent polling, but the seat in Wisconsin will most likely fall Republican and the Virginia one will go Democrat, which leaves us with just one seat to go: Maine.
Not an easy run
Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican senator from Maine decided earlier this year that she would not run again for her state’s seat due to infuriation with her party. She was an absolute shoo-in, and will most likely be replaced by a Democrat or a liberal independent in this heavily liberal state.
So what should have been an easy run for Republicans contesting the senate, needing a net gain of four seats among these flippable contests, doesn’t look so rosy. By my scorecard, four Democrats should hold on while only three Republicans do.
And only four seats could go either way. Republicans will need to win all of them to see success in November.