The (temporary) home of practical progressives

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Predictions Part 1: House and Senate

First, I want to give my best and worst-case scenarios for Democrats on November 7.

Best-Case Scenario: Dems net 8 Senate seats (PA, OH, MT, RI, MO, TN, VA, and AZ; lose none).
Worst-Case Scenario: Dems net 2 Senate seats (PA, OH, and MT; lose NJ)

Best-Case Scenario: Dems net 40-45 seats
Worst-Case Scenario: Dems net 6-10 seats (lose the two seats in GA)

Best-Case Scenario: Dems net 12 Governor's mansions (NY, OH, MA, AR, MD, CO, MN, NV, FL, AK, SC, GA)
Worst-Case Scenario: Dems net 4 Governor's mansions (NY, OH, MA, AR, MD; lose OR)

As always, the truth will almost certainly be somewhere in between. The Dems still have a strong tailwind. The NJ Supreme Court decision was surprisingly a one-day story, which probably helps Dems because it means that social conservatives are not likely to be as riled up as most people thought they would be.

I won't make specific predictions for the House, except to say that the following seats appear to gimmes for the Dems:
AR-08, TX-22, PA-08, PA-07, IN-08, OH-18, FL-16, CO-07

And the only two Dem districts the GOP has legit chances of winning are the 8th and 12th districts in GA. Of the two, Jim Marshall (D) in the 8th District is the stronger incumbent, but is facing a tough opponent in Ex-Rep. Mac Collins in a district made tougher by redistricting. Freshman Rep. John Barrow (D) is not an overwhelming candidate in the 12th District, but he won the district in 2004 with 52% of the vote, and is now facing the same opponent as an incumbent and in a district which may have been made slightly more Democratic by the redistricting (which increased the district's black population from 42 to 45%). The wild card in all this is the GA governor's race, where incumbent Sonny Perdue (R) looks like he's going to win in a rout; but I think it will be closer than most people think.

In any case, there are no other endangered Dem house seats in the country. If the GOP can't pick up the two GA seats, it's probably going to be the first time in a recent memory that a party has failed to pick up a single House seat during a national election.

The Senate and Governor's seats are another story. Whereas House seats are extremely susceptible to the winds of the national climate, Senate and Governor's seats can turn more on the personalities, positions, and political prowess of the individual candidates.

That said, here are my assessments of the most competitive Senate seats this cycle, listed here in order of their likelihood (in my humble opinion) to flip from one party to another. As you will see, I'm predicting that the Dems will pick up 5 seats, which would make for a 50-50 Senate (with Dick Cheney casting the tiebreaking vote):

1) Pennsylvania - Rick Santorum (R) is running for reelection
Santorum has consistently trailed Bob Casey, Jr. (D) by 8+ points throughout this cycle. Everyone predicted that the race would tighten down the stretch, but it hasn't. Santorum threw everything he had at Casey, and none of it made a dent. Voters' opinions on Santorum were simply too firmly entrenched. Add in the fact that Rendell romping to victory in the Governor's race, and the best Santorum can hope for is making this one a little closer than expected.
PREDICTION: Casey by 12

2) Ohio - Mike DeWine (R) is running for re-election
DeWine is the victim and Sherrod Brown (D) the beneficiary of a perfect storm. Gov. Bob Taft (R) is the least popular governor in the nation's recent history, and has been a drag on all GOP candidates in the state. Democrats have been riled up ever since the close '04 election, and the subsequent allegations of voter fraud. Conservatives were angered by the relatively moderate DeWine's participation in the Gang of 14, and liberals were angered by his continued support for the Iraq War. DeWine was torn apart by political currents beyond his control; like Casey, Brown could have won without lifting much of a finger.
PREDICTION: Brown by 9

3) Montana - Conrad Burns (R) is running for re-election
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this race is the fact that Jon Tester (D) has consistently led Burns in polls, but has never hit the magical 50% in any polls except those run by Rasmussen (which had perhaps the least accurate polling results in the '04 cycle). That said, Burns hasn't polled in the lead in this race for 6 months, and the race doesn't seem to be tightening.
PREDICTION: Tester by 5

4) Rhode Island - Lincoln Chafee (R) is running for re-election
A tough GOP primary with conservative Steve Laffey drained Chafee's energy and resources, which allowed Shelden Whitehouse (D) to leap out to a solid lead after the primary. Chafee finally seemed to catch his stride a couple weeks ago, but it might have been too little and too late. Though he is by far the most liberal member of the GOP caucus, Chafee had the bad luck of running in what is probably the bluest state in the country. This is the first race that I wouldn't be surprised with a result either way, but the advantage is definitely with Whitehouse.
PREDICTION: Whitehouse by 4

5) Tennessee - Bill Frist (R) is retiring
Three reasons I think this is more likely to flip than Missouri: 1) Harold Ford has won the media war over Bob Corker's (R) ads during the past few weeks, which has lead to 2) Polls showing Ford with the momentum during the past week; and also 3) Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is going to win re-election in a rout. Democrats have two reasons to turn out on 11/7; Corker doesn't have anyone else to help him motivate voters.
PREDICTION: Ford in a nail-biter

6) Missouri - Jim Talent (R) is running for re-election
McCaskill seems unable to pull away from Talent, who always seemed like a remarkably weak candidate to me. Polls show that Talent has had the momentum over the past few weeks. I'll be very curious to see if the coverage of the Michael J. Fox ad moves this race at all. If it doesn't, and if there isn't a nationwide Democratic tidal wave, I think Talent hangs on.
PREDICTION: Talent in a nail-biter

7) New Jersey - Bob Menendez (D) is running for a full term
Polls seem to show the race tied or with Menendez slightly ahead. The continuous corruption charges levied against Mendendez seem to have worn thin, and the Menendez campaign team has dealt with them well. Tom Kean (R) just can't seem to break it open, and this is one state where the Dems have a significant advantage in getting out the vote on Election Day.
PREDICTION: Menendez by 3

8) Virginia - George Allen (R) is running for re-election
Is it just me, or did Allen's book-quoting attack on Jim Webb (D) seem a bit of a strange move for a candidate who was a few points ahead in polls? Maybe he just wants to close the deal, but it could also be that his own polls show this race is a dead heat, and that Allen is getting nervous. This is the toughest race for me to handicap, but I have a tough time believing that Allen won't pull it out, since he somehow managed to weather the Macaca fiasco with his lead intact.
PREDICTION: Allen by 4

9) Maryland - Paul Sarbanes (D) is retiring
Michael Steele (R) has run a good campaign, but polls show that he hasn't been able to attract any more support from blacks than most GOPers do. He needed to make a significant dent in the Dem base to have a chance, and that doesn't seem to have happened. Ben Cardin (D) is perhaps the dullest campaigner of the cycle, but that hasn't hurt him in the polls. The GOP is making a big last push here, but I don't think it makes up the difference.
PREDICTION: Cardin by 5

That's all for my specific predictions, since I don't think any other races will determine who wakes up with control of the Senate on 11/8. A major wave could result in the Dems taking GOP-held seats in AZ and NV, but that won't happen unless all the seats listed above go to the Democrats as well (in which case the Dems would have at least a 2-seat Senate majority anyway).

And of course...
Connecticut - Joe Lieberman (I) is running for re-election
I probably shouldn't say anything here, but frankly, this race was over the moment Ned Lamont decided to run the "Turncoat" ad campaign rather than pounding Lieberman on Iraq. They released a good ad featuring Wes Clark recently, but it was 6 weeks too late. Lamont waited too long to go back on the offensive, and consequently failed to expand his base much beyond the people who supported him in the Dem primary. The GOP realized that Schlesinger had zero chance of winning, and quietly decided to back Lieberman over Lamont as by far the lesser of two evils from their point of view. The debates doubled Schlesinger's support, but not really at the expense of Lieberman (unsurprisingly, most of the new Schlesinger voters were previously undecided). It seems that voters' opinions on Lieberman were already set by the time Lamont decided to re-engage Lieberman.
PREDICTION: Lieberman by 6

And no, I don't think there's any risk at all of Lieberman jumping to the GOP caucus. Reid is not an idiot, and will offer him his seniority and Chairmanship (or ranking member status) of the Homeland Security Committee. That's all Lieberman really cares about. Even if that weren't the case, he promised too many times during the campaign that he would caucus as a Democrat if elected; his political career would be over if he broke that pledge. GOPers gave him money this cycle because there was no way they were going to elect a member of their own party, since Schlesinger refused to step aside. But no amount of GOP funding could overcome the hit he would allow him to overcome the hit he would take if he broke his pledge; they wouldn't be too likely to contribute to a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, anti-FMA candidate again anyway. Lieberman is not so stupid as to make a mistake that would ensure this would be his last term in the Senate.