Christine O'Donnell -- File Under: Opportunity Squandered
In the last two weeks Senate races have tightened noticeably. Whether due to inept candidates (O’Donnell), late-stage revelations (Miller), or flat-out screw ups (Rand), aggressive, well-funded challenges are falling short in a number of states. But the key to understanding how this will affect control of the Senate is the measure of current party control of the seats most up for grabs.
The current Senate split is 57 – 41 in favor of the Democrats, plus the two members who are nominally independent but caucus regularly with the Dems. That makes the effective majority 59 – 41, plus a Democratic tiebreaker in Joe Biden. In terms of control of the Senate, it doesn’t matter whether Lisa Murkowski or Joe Miller wins, because the seat was already in Republican hands. Same with the battle between nominally independent underdog Charlie Crist and Tea Partier Marco Rubio in Florida. Safe Republican seats in Ohio, Missouri and New Hampshire are likely to stay that way as well.
But turning the Senate red requires that the Republicans sweep the toss-up races, and more—and that’s just not likely.
Here’s how some of the close races and party changes break out.
Democratic Wins: Delaware
Chris Coons will ride his First Amendment quiz show knowledge to victory because Chris O’Donnell is just too lame. It isn’t that the Republican shadow funders picked a candidate that was too conservative to win; they just picked one who is too inept to win. This race alone may very likely save the Senate for the Democrats.
Republican Wins: Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, North Dakota
In Arkansas, the health care reform debate doomed Blanche Lincoln, who from her vulnerable perch out on that limb found that folks back home just didn’t want to hear it. Now she’s reduced to buttonholing people in parking lots. Republican John Boozeman will cruise to victory according to those who claim to know.
The Florida seat already was in Republican hands, and Crist, were he to eke out an unlikely victory, would likely caucus with the Republicans, so no change here.
Indiana and North Dakota represent to almost certain blue-to-red transfers. In Indiana, Dan Coats maintains a significant lead and North Dakota Governor John Hoeven has no opposition to speak of.
Running Tally: 54 - 44
Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, California
While none of these races are a sure thing by any means, the Democrats have shown a remarkable reluctance to roll over and die, and in Kentucky most notably the Republican candidate was not all he was cracked up to be. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon the wrestling magnate is likely to once again prove that throwing one’s personal fortune at a Senate seat sometimes comes up short. Carly Fiorina is looking likely to prove the same in California where voters seem ready to say, “Barbara Boxer is a weak Democrat, but she’s our weak Democrat.” Fiorina’s hospitalization for a breast cancer-related infection will probably inspire a bit of sympathy while at the same time reminding voters of the uncertain nature of her health status. Plus, she’s missing all those last-minute campaign appearances.
In Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak benefits from his state’s nominally blue reputation, plus the fact that he already knocked out one state icon, party switcher Arlen Specter. Kentucky’s Rand Paul has been branded with the Libertarian weirdo tag effectively enough that Democrat Jack Conway should be able to close the deal, in what would count as a remarkable defeat for insurgents on the right.
Running Tally: 55 - 43
This Midwestern tale of heartbreak confounds all the analysts. Russ Feingold trails by six to nine points despite the fact that he shows high positives in recent polling. Wisconsinites seem to be ready to sacrifice him on the alter of… what was it exactly? Oh, limited government, sorry.
Running Tally: 54 - 44
Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Washington, West Virginia
Don’t take my word for it, non-Republicans from across the punditry spectrum put this collection of races in the wild & wacky category. Some of the outcomes, as in the case of Alaska noted above, don’t affect control of the august debating society. Colorado shows temporary incumbent Michael Bennet defying earlier polls and hanging on for dear life. Illinois is definitely in the wild and wacky category in a race that proves President Obama’s coattails are not a factor even for his own old seat. Plus, his Democratic buddy Alexi Giannoulias is a member of a banking family with a bad banking record. Not to mention the foreign sounding name. (Russian and Greek? Where’s his birth certificate?)
Nevada. What can be said here? Sharron Angle is a nutcase with too many r’s in her name, but the whole state seems ready to use a second amendment solution on the never-worse-off Harry Reid. This race proves how little national leverage counts when the folks at home hate you.
Washington. I refuse to believe that the Democrats can lose here, but that’s what they say—it’s a tossup. Have the militia types relocated from Idaho? Incumbent Patty Murray shows just how feeble the so-called advantage of incumbency is in this election cycle. Republican challenger Dino Rossi has honed his campaigning skills after two previous runs for governor and has so far avoided big blunders.
West Virginia. Governor Joe Manchin, (D), who never met a mountaintop that he wouldn’t mind sacrificing to the national addiction to coal, is no friend to the progressive wing of the party in his state. In this race for the (somewhat wrongly) hallowed seat held by the former Senator Byrd, Manchin could not run any farther away from President Obama if call told him to just shove it. Despite Manchin taking the hugely retrograde stance of wanting to sue the EPA for enforcing the law of the land, and wanting to repeal parts of health care reform, Republican challenger John Raese remains locked neck-and-neck. Who knows? Perhaps West Virginians feel like why elect an ersatz Republican when Raese is the real deal.
Running Tally: Here’s where it gets interesting.
Say the Republicans win Wisconsin and six of seven tossup races. That means they win seven races, but only pick up six new seats, due to Alaska’s previous red status. That leaves the split at Democrats 48 – Republicans 50, with two independents on the Democrats side for a tie of 50 – 50, but Joe Biden is still the tiebreaker. Given Biden’s role in a tie, the Republicans are effectively one seat short. So they still have to win one out of the blue-leaning category of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and California—and the odds of picking up six of seven tossups are very low.
You might say you see a real shot for them in Pennsylvania and Kentucky. But I’ve already spotted them Colorado, Nevada, and Washington. So, while not impossible, a Republican win would give new meaning to the term, “running the board.” Don’t expect to learn the complete outcome on election night though. Close races, absentee ballots, and a write-in candidate could cause final tallies to be determined in a matter of days or weeks rather than hours.
How much does it matter? Lots, really. And yet not so much at all. But we won’t go there here. Some say it would be better for Obama to have a solid Republican Congress he could run against, á la Harry Truman. Which brings us to the central takeaway from all of this. No matter what happens, odds are the 2012 race for president will begin on November 3, 2010.