TheDC Election Outlook: Senate takeover may be out of reach, but big GOP gains likely

Jon Ward Contributor
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The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans have little chance of picking up the 10 seats in the Senate that they need to take control of the chamber.

California and West Virginia have trended away, to some degree, from Republicans in recent days, and so that conventional wisdom appears to be reasonable.

But in the closing days before Tuesday brings long-awaited election results in most races, the overall trend is clearly in the GOP’s favor. They are in position for gains that are much higher than most Democrats had hoped.

All of the closest races for seats held by Democrats that are tossups — in Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — look to be headed toward likely Republican wins. That’s in addition to three seats that are a lock to go from the Democratic column to Republicans, in Arkansas, Indiana and North Dakota.

And in the 16 most competitive races, the Real Clear Politics polling average moved in favor of the Republican candidate from Wednesday to Sunday in every race but one.

Some of these 16 races are ones where a Democrat is going to win. But they encompass the full roster of races that TheDC has watched closely in recent weeks, and even where Democrats are winning big, they lost points over the last few days. The only race not to move right was in Ohio, where Republican Rob Portman’s lead went from 18.5 points to 18.2.

Most notably, in Washington and California — the two most important races that are tight but have been leaning Democrat — the numbers there have tightened in the last several days.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, the incumbent Democrat, was thought to be edging toward winning safely. But the last few polls have shrunk her advantage to within the margin of error.

In Washington, the race is ranked as a tie, and statistician Nate Silver of the New York Times wrote Friday that “the race has moved a bit toward” Republican Dino Rossi, at the expense of Sen. Patty Murray, the incumbent Democrat.

Silver said Friday that he puts the GOP’s chances of a Senate takeover at 10 percent.

If West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin holds on to win his race, that would mean Republicans would have to win Washington and California to have any chance at Senate control.

The race in Alaska was always going to be a delayed decision, but now it appears that it could play a role in deciding who controls the Senate. It had been thought that Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski would caucus with the GOP if she wins her write-in candidacy. But, according to CNN’s Dana Bash, she began to hedge Sunday on the matter.

The results in Alaska may not be known for weeks, because of the write-in factor. If Republicans somehow pickup 10 seats but Murkowski’s allegiance is in question, that would make a legal dispute over write-in ballots highly charged.
On Saturday, the Cook Political Report adjusted its prediction for GOP gains in the Senate from 7 to 9 down to 6 to 8.

But the total number of pickups has always been potentially as low as 4 or 5, and Republicans pointed out just how dramatically their fortunes have improved in the less than two years since President Obama took office.

As late as June 2009, Republicans pointed out, Charlie Cook had said that “absent any national tide or trend, Democrats might be expected to … pick up a seat or two, possibly three, in the the Senate.”

Likewise, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said in February 2009 that “it is not an exaggeration to say that the GOP will be very fortunate to hold its own or pick up a seat or two.”

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