Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Update On Senate Tossups

If you’ve been following the runup to the midterm elections, you know that 2018 has been a bleak year for Republican congressional prospects. While Democrats remain the odds-on favorites to control the House next year, Republicans have high hopes that the Senate will be a firewall against a total loss of Congress.

Democrats began the campaign with a difficult election map, but as recently as last month their chances of winning the Senate seemed to be improving. Of 36 senate seats that are up for election this year, only nine are held by Republicans. That means that Democrats have only nine chances to flip the two seats that they need to win a majority. However, as the year progressed, seats that had seemed safe for Republicans began to look more and more shaky.

As of this writing, nine seats are considered to be tossups. Only four of these are Republican seats so Democrats remain at a disadvantage for winning control. As Resurgent reported last week, during the furor of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the momentum in three Senate races seems to have shifted towards the GOP.

Here is a rundown on the tossup Senate races, along with links to the Real Clear Politics polls and FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting model:

Arizona – Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema are competing for incumbent Jeff Flake’s seat. Sinema has consistently outpolled McSally with the exception of two polls in early September. The Real Clear Politics average has Sinema ahead by about three points. FiveThirtyEight gives Sinema a 66 percent chance of winning.

Florida – Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson is defending his seat against Governor Rick Scott. Scott led the polls for most of the summer, giving Republicans hope of picking up the seat and causing Democrats to fret. Nelson surged in late September and has led four of the last five polls (with the fifth a tie). Nelson’s lead in most polls is within the margin of error, but his consistent lead gives him the advantage. FiveThirtyEight puts Nelson’s odds of winning at 60 percent.

Indiana – Another Democrat seat defended by incumbent Joe Donnelly against Mike Braun, a Republican state legislator. Polling has been scant and mixed. The RCP average has Donnelly up by four points, but this is due to two older polls from July and August. Nevertheless, FiveThirtyEight gives Donnelly a 77 percent chance of retaining his seat.  

Missouri – Democrat Claire McCaskill is defending her seat against Josh Hawley, the state’s Republican attorney general. Polling shows a dead heat with Hawley up by less than half a point in the RCP average. The FiveThirtyEight forecast basically shows a coin toss with McCaskill given a 58 percent of winning.

Montana – The race for Democrat Jon Tester’s seat was recently moved from “lean Democratic” to “tossup” by Cook Political Report. Matt Rosendale, the state auditor, still trails in the RCP average by three points, however. The FiveThirtyEight model gives Tester an 85 percent chance of retaining his seat.

Nevada – Dean Heller, the incumbent Republican, is facing a strong challenge from Jacky Rosen, a state legislator. Rosen has led in three of the past four polls giving her a slight edge in the RCP average that is within the margin of error. FiveThirtyEight considers this another coin toss race and gives Heller a 52 percent of winning.

North Dakota – This is yet another red state Democrat seat with the incumbent in serious trouble. Heidi Heitkamp was already trailing when she voted against Kavanaugh. Now North Dakota’s at-large congressman, Kevin Cramer, seems poised to flip the seat for Republicans. Cramer leads by double-digits in the two polls from September and FiveThirtyEight gives the GOP candidate a 68 percent chance of taking the seat.

Tennessee – Republican Bob Corker is retiring and two longtime political operatives, Republican Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Phil Bredesen are vying for his seat. Blackburn currently holds a 2.5-point advantage but has been steadily surging since the end of August. FiveThirtyEight gives Blackburn a 70 percent chance of winning, but Taylor Swift’s recent endorsement of Bredesen may upend the race. reports that 65,000 people registered to vote in the 24 hours after Swift’s endorsement, more than 2,000 of them in Tennessee.

Texas – The election in the deep red state of Texas for the seat of Republican stalwart Ted Cruz was a surprise tossup. At the beginning of the year, few would have imagined that Cruz would be fighting for his political life. Polling was close over the summer, but no one really thought Texas would dump Cruz for Democrat Beto O’Rourke, did they? The RCP average now has Cruz up by six points. That’s closer than it should be, but FiveThirtyEight gives Cruz a 73 percent chance of hanging on.

If you’re keeping score, the current forecasts indicate that Democrats would pick up only one of the four Republican tossups and that Republicans would flip only one of the five Democrat seats at risk. When the dust settles, the balance of power in the Senate could remain unchanged. The nature of tossups is that they could go either way, however, and several of the races, particularly Nevada and Missouri are truly too close to call.

Overall, the Democrats have an uphill battle that requires them to win almost all the tossup races to win control of the Senate. FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of this at about 20 percent. These are long odds, but they are not insurmountable. In fact, it’s pretty close to the same odds that they gave Donald Trump.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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