Politics

Sabato: The GOP can still make major gains in Senate despite O’Donnell ‘disaster’

The nomination of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell may have blown the Republicans’ chances to gain control of the Senate, but a change of momentum in other key races may help pick up crucial seats, said election analyst Larry Sabato in an election update Thursday.

Sabato, who directs the University of Virginia Center for Politics and has made a national name for himself accurately predicting election outcomes, re-calibrated his estimate from 8-9 Republican pick-ups to 7-8 after the O’Donnell primary victory last month.

“Christine O’Donnell’s GOP primary victory in the First State in mid-September was a momentum-breaker for the Republicans, depriving them of a near-certain pick-up of a critical Senate seat,” Sabato said in an online statement. “O’Donnell’s macabre campaign, including the ludicrous “I’m not a witch; I’m you” spot that will live forever on the political blooper tape, has likely insured her defeat, despite strong fundraising numbers.”

But since the Delaware primary, Republicans have picked up momentum in West Virginia and Wisconsin races. Sabato now says that even with O’Donnell’s “disaster,” he still thinks the GOP can pick up an estimated 8-9 seats, just one shy of the 10 they need to take the Senate. O’Donnell is currently down by more than 18 points, and few expect her to make it up in the short time left before Nov. 2.

“The nomination of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell may have blown the Republicans’ chances to gain control of the Senate, but a change of momentum in other key races may pick up the slack,” Sabato wrote.

In West Virginia, the long-held seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd was widely expected to go to the state’s popular Gov. Joe Manchin. But his opponent, John Raese, has capitalized on the anti-Obama and Democratic fervor and now holds as much as a three point lead in one poll.

The state of affairs is even more bleak for longtime Wisconsin Democratic incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold. Sabato now has the race as leaning toward Republicans, a bad sign for someone who has served for nearly two decades. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Feingold down by more than seven points.

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