The GOP’s Road To 51: Predictions

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This is the sixth and final in a series of articles looking at the races most likely to determine whether Republicans capture or Democrats hold the majority in the U.S. Senate after Election Day.

As we wait for the election results on Tuesday night (and likely later), many long shots have become sure bets and a few have stumbled in the stretch.  By Wednesday morning, we certainly expect to see a very different balance of power in Washington with a Democratic president, a Republican House and a Senate so divided that its members may not even be able to agree on what time to set the clocks without a filibuster.

While recent history (and GOP optimism) would suggest that both chambers of Congress might switch — as political handicapper and University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato recently penned, “[s]ince World War II, the House has changed parties six times, and in every case, the Senate switched, too” — this will not be the case in 2010.

The GOP will hold all of the Senate seats currently held by retiring Republicans (FL, KY, MO, NH and OH), but it will fall short of picking off the 10 seats currently held by Democrats it needs for Senate control.  The enthusiasm advantage is with the Republicans, but the Democrats’ ground game advantage looks to help their Senate candidates in at least two key states.  Ironically, the Democrats have spent much of the year campaigning against “W” (Pres. George W. Bush), but it will likely be two “Ws” (Washington and West Virginia) that will save the upper chamber for the Dems in 2010.

Below are the eight Senate seats the GOP will pick up:

1. North Dakota (D-Open): There are few things that are guaranteed in politics, but Republican John Hoeven is the closest thing to a sure bet.  As the state’s sitting governor, Hoeven has strong name identification, and we are not even sure whether the North Dakota electorate even knows the name of his Democratic opponent (it’s Tracy Potter if you’re wondering).

2. Arkansas (D-Lincoln): Democrat Blanche Lincoln survived a grueling primary, but the Arkansas electorate is taking two steps to the right.  Republican John Boozman will be riding the state’s distrust of the Obama administration’s policies all the way to Washington.

3. Indiana (D-Open): In a time of economic uncertainty, Hoosier State voters will be relying on a name they know, and that name is Republican Dan Coates.

4. Wisconsin (D-Feingold): Republican Ron Johnson may get the nod as political newcomer of the year.  Johnson is branding himself as a fiscal conservative who speaks for Main Street, and the Badger State’s independent electorate is buying in.

5. Pennsylvania (D-Open): Keystone State voters are not only unhappy with the Obama administration’s policies, they are displeased with Democratic Governor Ed Rendell’s policies.  Turnout will be key, but Republican Pat Toomey should win in Pennsylvania, much to the chagrin of organized labor.

6. Nevada (D-Reid): There is no race with greater symbolic importance for the GOP, and Sen. Harry Reid may well have the best home-field advantage of any at-risk Democratic incumbent.  Still, despite the money and attention Reid poured into early voting, Republican Sharron Angle looks to have a slight edge going into Election Day.  Republican Joe Heck’s strong challenge in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District bodes well for Angle.  If her campaign can make sure that rural voters get to the ballot box in droves and can keep pace with the Democratic get-out-the-vote machine in Clark County, she should be able to cancel Harry Reid’s ticket to the Byrd-Kennedy lifetime Senate club.

7. Illinois (D-Open): Republican Mark Kirk will score a victory in the Land of Lincoln, but he needs to turnout voters in hoards downstate.  Luckily for the North Shore Congressman, Bloomington native Bill Brady (R) is maintaining a consistent lead in his run for governor and should help boost the ticket outside of Chicago.

8. Colorado (D-Bennet): Get ready for a possible recount.  The Colorado GOP is the textbook definition of disaster, and the national GOP’s get-out-the-vote efforts aren’t much better.  Although he has made several missteps along the campaign trail, Republican Ken Buck is still a good bet to win.

Voters are not happy with the direction of this country, and their displeasure has become anger with the Washington establishment — currently synonymous with Democrats.  Although the GOP will control the House (a net gain of 50-55 seats) and make gains in the Senate (a net gain of 8 seats), 2010 should not be seen as a “mandate” for the GOP.  As political prognosticator Charlie Cook said on “Meet The Press” this past Sunday, “[Republicans] are the beneficiaries of this election, not the victors.”

Nothing in the economic forecast suggests that the political winds will diminish during the next two years.  President Obama and the Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — will have a short window to come together in 2011 and find a way to instill confidence on the main streets and at the kitchen tables across America on the key issues of jobs, the economy, taxes and the national debt.  Otherwise, in 2012 an equally large number of incumbents on both sides of the aisle will be on the chopping block, along with President Obama.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are the co-founders of ProjectVirginia and CivicForumPAC, and the co-creators of TurnNevadaRed.com.