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May 25, 2014 11:17 PM I Am Optimistic About the Senate Races

By Martin Longman

We had an old friend over for dinner tonight. He’s a regular reader of the blog and he likes to pick my brain about politics whenever we get together. It’s a good exercise because he forces me to really think about my assumptions. For example, he wanted to know why I am so optimistic about the Democrats’ chances in this fall’s Senate elections. And he was willing to challenge me on pretty much the entirety of my position.

So, having spent my evening talking about the Senate races, I’ve concluded that I really only see one seat as irretrievably lost, and that is Sen. Tim Johnson’s seat in South Dakota. I think Rick Weiland is a good candidate, but he’s far behind in the few polls that have been taken and former Governor Mike Rounds just seems like he’s too popular to lose. The only way that I can see Weiland preserving this seat for the Dems is if some kind of scandal erupts.

There are two other seats that I am not optimistic about. Sen. John Walsh in Montana is going to have a tough time fending off Steve Daines. The polling has been sparse, but it also hasn’t looked good. It’s unclear to me whether Sen. Walsh can use his incumbency as an advantage or not. We just saw Jon Tester win a second term even while sharing a ballot column with Barack Obama, and Montana has a Democratic governor. So, we know that this race is winnable, but Walsh has to build up his name recognition and earn some trust.

In West Virginia, the polls are similarly discouraging, but it’s early. Natalie Tennant is a strong candidate who outpolled Barack Obama in 2012 by 160,000 votes during her reelection bid as Secretary of State. She actually won by a slightly higher percentage (62.4) than did Mitt Romney (62.3). West Virginia is certainly trending Republican, but they have almost no track record of electing Republicans to statewide office. Nonetheless, I have to put this race in the Republicans’ column for now.

So, there are three races where I think the GOP has a clear advantage. But that’s it. I am concerned about the reelection prospects of Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, but I’d put my money on both of them if you forced me to make a choice. Mark Pryor of Arkansas has opened up a double-digit lead in the polls, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana had a 24% lead in the April New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll.

We obviously have to keep our eyes on races in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire, but things look positive in all four states right now.

And that leaves the races in Kentucky and Georgia, where recent polls have shown both Alison Lundergan Grimes and Michelle Nunn up narrowly within the margin of error. If the polls are right, the Democrats are poised to lose three seats and gain two. And I think that is roughly what will happen. If Hagan and Begich lose, control of the Senate could get dicey, but I think there is a little padding to keep us from going down as low as 49 seats.

Now, things could move sharply against the Democrats and bring everyone’s poll numbers down. I am not saying that that cannot happen. But I have no compelling reason to predict that that will happen, and the opposite is true, too, which is that things could move sharply against the Republicans.

So, I am optimistic, but it’s not without reason. What I am seeing right now in the poll numbers is that the Senate elections are on course to be a wash, which would be a disaster for the Republicans and set the Democrats up to reach a filibuster-proof 60 seats after the 2016 elections.

The reason for that last bit should be obvious. The Republican class of 2010 is going to be incredibly vulnerable in a presidential election year with high turnout. If Hillary Clinton runs against Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or Rand Paul or Jeb Bush or Bobby Jindal, I wouldn’t bet one red cent on the political careers of Rob Portman of Ohio, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, or Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. And if I were John Boozman of Arkansas or Roy Blunt of Missouri or Richard Burr of North Carolina, I wouldn’t be feeling too confident about my reelection prospects, either. Even John McCain could lose his bid for reelection in 2016, assuming he even runs.

Of course, the House of Representatives is another matter. I am not optimistic about our chances there, at all.

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