After stalled attempts to regain control of Congress’ upper chamber in 2010 and 2012, the Republican Party heads into a promising Election Day with high hopes of not only gaining a modest majority in the US Senate but potentially laying the foundation for an expanded one through one or two possible caucus defections.
Even celebrated political prognosticator Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com likes the odds of the GOP gaining control of the US Senate and gives Republicans a 73% chance of succeeding. Silver has also pegged Wendy Davis’s chances of winning the Texas governorship at .6%.
The two main reasons for this is that the Democrats are having to protect more seats than the GOP and having to do so in a year when President Barack Obama is unpopular.
Republicans, whose Senate caucus currently numbers 45, are all but certain to pick up Democratic seats in South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia and Arkansas, meaning the GOP is only three short of lifting the Harry Reid embargo on Republican house legislation.
However, Republicans have had to play defense in a few pockets, ironically enough in red states that voted for Mitt Romney just two years before. The Republican bastion of Kansas might very well send up its first non-Republican to the US Senate since FDR was elected president as GOP incumbent Pat Roberts, who limped out of a tough primary challenge, is in a neck-and-neck fight with independent candidate Greg Orman.
Orman is a political weathervane, having donated to Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 while claiming to have voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Keeping to his erratic, seasonal politics, Orman has declared he will caucus with whatever party has the majority. Orman enjoys a slight lead in most polling and in the event the GOP scores at least 51 senators on Tuesday night, he will have the distinction of being the least reliable member of the Republican caucus since Arlen Specter.
Over in Kentucky, it appeared another Republican incumbent was having problems consolidating his base after surviving his own bruising primary, though fortunately for Mitch McConnell, that scrap was back in May so he had time to “get the band back together”. Democrats went after the Republican senate leader with a young attractive candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes.
And while the Kentucky contest looked like a dog fight, the Democratic Party began to walk back their support, leading activists to shriek their displeasure and consequently reinvested in the race. Turns out the party would have been better off buying Solyndra stock (well, not really), as McConnell has pulled away while Grimes never seemed to get beyond her refusal to admit how she voted in the 2012 presidential election.
Over in Georgia, the GOP found itself in a quagmire after a tough primary (notice a pattern here?) resulted in the nomination of businessman David Perdue against the daughter of longtime Democratic fixture Sam Nunn. After trailing in mid-October, Perdue has consistently led in all of the most recentpolls and is close to avoiding a January runoff as a Libertarian candidate has been polling between 3-6 points. It should surprise nobody that whenever the Libertarian candidate poll numbers drop, Perdue does much better. Perdue can win outright of the Libertarian falls 3 points are below on Election Day.
Whether these races are settled in November or January, the GOP is likely to fare no worse than going 2 and 1 in the three defenses, with the one defeat being the politically agnostic Orman.
Counting Orman as a Democrat in terms of effective control, the GOP needs to win three seats out the the Democratic defenses in six highly competitive states: Iowa, Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Odds are they will find them in first three as Republican Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic incumbent Mark Begich of Alaska in all of the recent polling with one exception; Republican Cory Gardner has consistently led Colorado Democratic incumbent Mark Udall by a modest margin in every poll taken since mid-October and GOP nominee Joni Ernst has led her Democratic opponent Bruce Braley in recent polling, including one by three points conducted by the Democratic-oriented PPP firm.
Things are murkier in the other three races.
Former Massachusetts Republican US Senator Scott Brown and current Democratic US Senator Jeanne Shaheen have been dancing within the poll data’s margin of error for the past few weeks with a PPP poll giving Shaheen a two-point advantage while a New England College poll gives her GOP challenger a one-point lead.
In North Carolina, Democratic US Senator Kay Hagan is running neck and neck with Republican Thom Tillis. The x-factor in that race is once again a Libertarian (live to spoil, spoil to live) who is currently drawing between 4-6 points in polls.
Conventional wisdom says the Democrats will retain both seats, however if 2014 is truly a wave election, one or both could shift over to the GOP when the voters hit the ballot box on Tuesday.
Finally there is Louisiana, the state everyone believes will go into extra innings, pitting Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and Republican congressman Bill Cassidy in a December 6th runoff.
Unlike the other races where third-party candidates will likely see their numbers contract from the polls, Republican Rob Maness is likely to end up in the neighborhood of 10% on election night, though I suspect he will finish with a tad less than he is polling.
The big question on Tuesday night in Louisiana is where does Landrieu finish?
In 2002, Landrieu received 46% in the open primary and picked up roughly six points in the runoff. However the nature of Maness’s vote is very different than what was left on the table in 2002 as the de facto TEA Party candidate’s constituency is rabidly anti-Landrieu.
While 50% plus one is likely beyond her reach in November, the closer Landrieu approaches t50% the better her chances will be of surviving the December election. Landrieu needs to get 47% or better in the primary and hope that Maness keeps Cassidy below 40% in order to project a big lead heading into runoff.
46% is not going to cut it this time.
Predictions- The GOP will end the evening with 52 seats and Landrieu leading the Louisiana primary with 47%.