Friday, November 2, 2012

GOP likely to take senate despite missteps


n 2010, the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats. Although they made gains in the Senate, the Democrats retained control by a 53-47 margin (including two independents that caucus with the Democrats).

Two races that have received much attention are in Missouri and Indiana where the Republican candidates made controversial comments about rape and abortion. In Missouri, Real Clear Politics shows the Democratic incumbent leading challenger Todd Aiken by an average of four points. Nevertheless, Sen. Claire McCaskill is polling at 45 to 46 percent in three of four recent polls. This means that it is likely that Aiken may still win the seat because undecided voters almost always vote for the challenger. The race can be considered a tossup even though the most recent poll on Oct. 30 showed McCaskill with 49 percent.

In Indiana, Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly are competing to fill the seat of Richard Lugar, a Republican defeated by Mourdock in the primary. The most recent poll, taken in early October by Rasmussen, showed Mourdock up by five points. However, this was before his controversial remarks in a debate in which he said “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen” according to ABC News and that he personally opposed abortion even in cases of rape. Even though Mourdock has been vilified in the media, his comments may be more acceptable to mainstream voters. Still, the race must be considered a tossup.

A solid Democratic race that has suddenly become a tossup is in Pennsylvania. Incumbent Bob Casey has had a double digit lead for most of the summer according to Real Clear Politics. As the presidential race narrowed in Pennsylvania, many senate race polls closed as well. Casey still leads in the polls, but a number of recent polls show Republican Tom Smith within the margin of error. Further, almost all of the polls show Casey with less than 50 percent support. Pennsylvania is another tossup.

In Ohio, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown leads Republican Josh Mandel by five points, but Brown has less than 50 percent of the vote. The latest poll, by the University of Cincinnati, closed Oct. 30 and showed Brown with 49 percent to Mandel’s 44. This makes Ohio another tossup.

In Wisconsin, Democratic incumbent Herb Kohl is retiring. Republican Tommy Thompson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin are neck-in-neck. Most polls give Baldwin a slight lead, but one poll, Rasmussen, favors Thompson. At this point, Wisconsin is also a tossup.

In Florida, Connie Mack is challenging Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Nelson has consistently led the race throughout the summer, but the most recent poll, taken on October 30 by Gravis Marketing, showed that the race had tightened to within the margin of error. In many of the polls, Nelson scores less than 50 percent approval. That makes this race a tossup as well.

Connecticut is also a close race. Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy are vying for the seat of retiring independent Joe Lieberman. The race is still close at this point, but the most recent poll by Rasmussen shows Chris Murphy leading with 51 percent. The race can be considered a tossup, but Chris Murphy is a slight favorite.

In Montana, there has been scant polling, but Democratic incumbent Jon Tester is in a dead heat with challenger Denny Rehberg. With Tester polling as low as 45 percent in a recent Public Policy poll, Rehberg will probably win this tossup race.

In Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb is retiring after only one term. Republican George Allen, who lost to Webb in 2006, is running against Democrat Tim Kaine for his old seat. Kaine has seen a consistent lead in the polls turn into a true tossup. Real Clear Politics lists no fewer than 12 polls taken in October. The results are mixed. The RCP average gives Kaine a one point lead. The race is truly too close to call.

The Republicans are the favorite to pick up two Democratic senate seats. In North Dakota, Rick Berg is heavily favored to succeed the retiring Democrat Kent Conrad. Deb Fischer is favored to win Ben Nelson’s old seat in Nebraska although her lead over Bob Kerrey had narrowed in the only poll done in October.

Democrats are only favored to win one Republican seat, that of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. After a tight race during the summer, polls show challenger Elizabeth Warren taking a small, but consistent lead. With Scott Brown below 50 percent in the polls, this makes Warren the likely winner in a close race.

Republicans will also likely lose Maine’s senate seat held by Olympia Snowe. In a three-way race, Angus King, an independent, is the heavy favorite over both Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill. Real Clear Politics notes that King has not said which party he would caucus with. His website indicates a mixture of stances that favor both parties. He supports the Affordable Care Act, but seems to be open to its reform. He is pro-abortion and same-sex marriage, but also wants to reduce the regulatory burden. He favors tax reform that reduces tax rates and closes loopholes to reduce the debt and deficit. Republicans can probably count on King for help on many economic reform issues, but he will side with the Democrats on social issues.

If the Republicans currently hold 47 seats and lose Maine and Massachusetts, they will need a total of five seats to tie the Democrats and six seats to gain a majority. In the event of a 50-50 split, the vice president becomes the tiebreaker. This means that the party that controls the White House would also control the senate. With Romney the current favorite to win the presidential election, the Republicans only need to pick up five seats to control the senate. With nine Democratic seats rated as tossups, this is very possible.

With the close nature of these races, voter turnout is critical. Many of the races are in swing states where voter turnout will be high. The outcome of the presidential race in these states may well affect the outcome of the senate races if voters choose to vote the straight party line. A Pew poll from last week shows that Republicans are more interested in and positive about this year’s election than Democrats. That may give Republican candidates the edge.

Though most races are still tossups, it seems likely that the Republicans will win in Montana, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida in addition to North Dakota and Nebraska. The Democrats will likely win in Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Connecticut and Massachusetts. This means that the Republicans will probably gain control of the senate with control of 52 seats. The Democrats will likely hold 46 seats and continue to count on support from Vermont’s independent socialist Bernie Sanders. Maine’s Angus King may be a swing vote.

Even though Republicans will probably control the senate, the Democratic minority will be numerous enough to mount filibusters. Since Obamacare was enacted as a budget reconciliation requiring only a simple majority, Republicans can repeal it the same way. Obamacare will soon be history, but other issues facing the country will require bipartisanship to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Originally published on

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