Tightening Connecticut race weakens Democrats’ final firewall between them and loss of Senate

Jon Ward Contributor
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The news Tuesday that the Connecticut Senate race is edging close to a dead heat was bad news for Democrats looking at the national map.

Not only is Republican Linda McMahon’s self-funded steamroller of a campaign going to require national Democrats to divert money into the race at a time when they are already stretched thin, but Connecticut could be the state that moves the GOP to 10 pickups and control of the Senate.

Democrats tried Tuesday to push back against the idea that Connecticut was moving to a tossup, pointing to an internal poll from Monday showing Democrat Richard Blumenthal up 12 points over Republican Linda McMahon. But the reality of the aggregate polling is that former WWE CEO McMahon has steadily narrowed the gap with a barrage of ads, and shows no signs of easing off her stated goal of spending up to $50 million of her own money.

That is a huge boon for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which can focus its resources on other strategic states in a mad dash over the final month before Election Day. The NRSC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee both have roughly $24 million in their war chests to spend in the last 30 days.

The likelihood of a GOP Senate takeover seems a bit less likely than it did a few weeks ago, when Beltway speculation abounded. But as of now, the Nutmeg State looks like the most vulnerable of the five races that make up the Democrats final firewall: California, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Washington.

New York remains the outlier of the five, still only a fantasy in a race where Republican Joe DioGuardi is badly outgunned in finances by incumbent Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s $12 million war chest. But recent polling has shown that race tightening, and Gillibrand’s lead in the Real Clear Politics Average has been cut from 20 points less than two weeks ago to 10 points.

Democratic incumbents Barbara Boxer in California and Patty Murray in Washington have been the brights spots of late for a national party beginning to assume the fetal position. Both have begun to put some distance between themselves and their Republican challengers in the last two weeks, and are about five or six points ahead on average.

Boxer, in particular, has done so well that national Democrats have argued that the NRSC’s withdrawal of a $1.9 million ad buy for the last week before the Nov. 2 election was a sign that the GOP wants to move the money to other races and is giving up on their candidate, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Republicans say they merely wanted to give Fiorina flexibility to spend the money around the state and not just in one city.

But a Democratic ad buyer who has watched the race closely said the GOP’s buy in late July locked in about 1200 points – or a guarantee of roughly 12 ad views per person in the target range – over that last week. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee made a similar ad buy at the same time over the summer.

However, rates have gone up since then, the Democrat said, and so giving up the buy means that a repurchase by the GOP would cost more for the same amount of air time or would buy fewer points with the same $1.9 million amount.

NEXT: NRSC says it is the Democrats that are cutting loose candidates

It’s possible that Republicans have decided their money would be better spent in a race like West Virginia, which has quickly become very close, with the bet being that their chances are better there and that Fiorina can afford to spend some more of her own fortune in California if she deems it a worthy investment.

But NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said nothing has changed in the GOP’s commitment to California.

“The NRSC has committed a minimum of two million dollars to Carly Fiorina because we are confident she will beat Barbara Boxer in November,” Walsh said.

Walsh said that the DSCC has “cut loose” their candidates in Ohio, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Indiana, Arkansas and Florida after bragging for months of their viability, and that, in contrast, “our candidates have the full support of the NRSC and we are committed to helping them win.”

On Wednesday evening, Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund responded to an e-mail sent Tuesday evening, saying “there is not one shred of truth to this rumor.”

“The NRSC’s commitment to Carly has not changed and the fact is that this is nothing but wishful thinking on the part of Barbara Boxer,” Soderlund said.

Then there is Delaware, where some observers have speculated that Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell could pull close and ride grassroots fervor to another unlikely victory. But polling so far has not borne that out – and so for now the First State is firmly in the Democratic column.

But a Republican sweep of the six Democratic-held seats where races are too close to call, and one win in any of the five firewall races, would likely net a Republican majority in the Senate.

The three states virtually guaranteed to flip from blue to red are Arkansas, Indiana and North Dakota. Then there is the second tier of neck and neck races, where Republicans have a slight edge in five out of six: Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrat, has scraped and fought to stay barely ahead of Republican Sharron Angle, in a race that is about whose negatives will be higher.

Winning all of the tight races may be the GOP’s biggest challenge in getting to 10, their magic number. But even if they don’t get to 10, the fact that such a prospect is a real possibility shows the breathtaking change in the political landscape over the last two years.

“We could see Republican gains of seven or eight seats, but they could be as high as nine or 10,” wrote the National Journal’s Charlie Cook on Tuesday.

“Historically, it’s very unusual to see the House flip but not the Senate,” he said. “There is some history for the Senate changing hands and the House staying the same. But when the House goes, the Senate seems to follow.”

Democrats hope that in addition to keeping their firewall intact, they can win some combination of Illinois, Colorado and West Virginia, and maybe even steal Missouri or Kentucky from the Republican column.

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