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Monday, October 03, 2016

A quick Senate scorecard

by Gaius Publius

[Note: Alaska race updated.]

I want to offer a quick Senate scorecard for the upcoming election, not just races to watch and their current status, but the effect of the races on the "final score" — control of the Senate until the wipeout in 2018 puts the Republicans firmly in control.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (source)

To do this, I want to organize the races the way basketball or football analysts look at your favorite college team's upcoming season — games grouped by Should Be Easy, Tough Call, On the Bubble, Would Take a Miracle. For this exercise, we'll ignore the baked-in results in places like California (Democratic and will stay that way), and list the races to watch by these categories:
  • Washouts — four contests (IL, WI, OH, FL)
  • No Change — one contest (CO)
  • Possible Flips — three contests (NH, PA, IN)
  • Toss Ups — three contests (NV, NC, MO)
  • and one Wild Card race — Alaska
We will look briefly at these 12 races. Others may disagree, but it looks to me like these are the ones to watch.

For reference, the state of the Senate today is:
  • Republicans: 54 seats
  • Democrats: 44 seats
  • Independents: 2 seats (caucusing with Democrats)
No independent is up for reelection this cycle. Democrats need a net pickup of +4 to tie in the Senate (50-50) and +5 to take it outright (ignoring for now the "60 vote rule" that makes sure no progressive legislation gets passed). Here are races in each group, with the likeliest outcomes by group in parentheses.

Washouts (+2 D)

The "washout" states are those where one party has conceded the race by withdrawing money. All four seats are held by Republicans. Two of the Democrats have washed out, as have two of the Republicans. These are:

Illinois, currently Republican
Winner should be Tammy Duckworth (D)

Wisconsin, currently Republican
Winner should be Russ Feingold (D)

Ohio, currently Republican
Winner should be Rob Portman (R)

Florida, currently Republican
Winner should be Marco Rubio (R)

Net result: +2 Democrats.

From Electoral-Vote.com:
Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy in Florida, incumbent Republican Mark Kirk in Illinois, Democratic challenger Ted Strickland in Ohio, and incumbent Republican Ron Johnson in Wisconsin are doing badly enough that their parties either have already cut off the money (the two Republicans), or are close to doing so (the two Democrats).
I think most would call these races closed. Note: Sen. Chuck Schumer interfered with progressive challengers in Florida and Ohio, both of which are now projected to stay Republican. The +2 Democrats could easily be +4 Democrats in this category, absent that interference. (Update: Start here, search on "Sestak", then on "Florida".)

No Change

This category could be larger (I had the New Hampshire race here at first), but let's play it safe.

Colorado, currently Democratic
Winner should be Michael Bennet (D)

The Hill on Bennet:
Once viewed as one of the only ripe opportunities for Republicans, Bennet appears poised to sail to reelection. Republicans aren’t coming to the aid of Darryl Glenn, a county commissioner who trumpeted his conservative bona fides during the primary. But he’ll need to look beyond his base in a state that Obama carried twice and also has a large Latino population.
Michael Bennet is this guy, by the way, from 2014: "Shorter Republicans: 'We forgive Michael Bennet for trying to win the Senate." Shorter Sen. Bennet: "Glad we're still friends.'"

Possible Flips (+2 D, maybe)

These are fairly close races where the Democrat could flip a Republican seat. I have three of these:

New Hampshire, currently Republican
Leader is Kelly Ayotte (R)

Pennsylvania, currently Republican
Leader is McGinty (D)

Indiana, was Republican, now open
Leader is Bayh (D)

If the current leader wins each seat: +2 Democrats, but this is iffy.

In New Hampshire, Ayotte has been surging (+8 in a mid-September Marist poll), but she's coming from behind. Hassan could take it, but I'm not confident.

The Hill on the Pennsylvania race:
The presidential race appears to be trickling into Toomey’s reelection. Political observers in the state say he’s running a strong campaign, but his dip in the polls is largely thanks to the top of the ticket.

Toomey continues to withhold his support from Trump. But his opponent, Katie McGinty, a little-known former gubernatorial chief of staff, has been helped by Clinton’s consistent lead over Trump in the Keystone State. McGinty has maintained a lead since mid-July, though one survey has Toomey up 7 points.
RealClearPolitics has this race a wash, but I think Toomey has the edge. In Indiana, Bayh is only up by single digits, but has never trailed.

(Note: Chuck Schumer interfered with non-establishment Democrat Joe Sestak in the primary, someone whom many expected to beat Toomey. Schumer-chosen candidate McGinty has a steeper uphill climb.)

Too Close To Call (A wash)

There are three races here — Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri — and Republicans are defending two of the three seats. (Nevada is an open seat, but was Democratic.)

Nevada, was Democratic, now open
Joe Heck (R) has a slight lead over Catherine Cortez Masto (D)

North Carolina, currently Republican
Richard Burr (R) has a low single-digit lead over Deborah Ross (D)

Missouri, currently Republican
Roy Blunt leads Jason Kander (D), but not by much

Republicans flip one seat if all three leaders win. Most likely positive case for the Democrats is no change (two wins and one loss). If Democrats win out: +2 Democrats.

Subtotal (+2 D or +4 D)

If you're counting the total to this point, Democrats are up +2 among the Washout races, then it's a wash until the Too Close To Call races, where there's either no change (more likely) or they go up +2 (by winning them all).

In other words, our best case so far gives the Democrats +4 seats, and our middle case gives them +2 seats. That's not enough to take the Senate.

Wild Card race: Alaska

Alaska is a Republican seat at the moment, with Lisa Murkowski defending it. A pro-Sanders Democrat is in position to win the seat — and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants him to lose (!).

Howie Klein has written about the Alaska race here:
[T]he populist Democratic Party in the state-- which gave Bernie a 81.6% to 18.4% landslide over Hillary and massive victories in every single electoral district (numbers that beat Trump too)-- also nominated Ray Metcalfe, a former Anchorage state Rep who was one of the state's original Bernie for President organizers. Although he won the party nomination, 15,198 to 10,074, Metcalfe is not a Schumer kind of candidate....

The DSCC (and Alaska's grotesquely corrupt Democratic Party establishment) are worried that-- with teabagger and Trumpist Joe Miller in the race as a Libertarian and tearing Murkowski apart from the right-- Metcalfe could actually win. ... That's how Schumer's reptilian mind works. So he's encouraging a proven corruptionist buddy of his, Mark Begich, to mount a last minute write-in campaign to draw votes away from Metcalfe and throw the election to Murkowski!
More from Electoral-vote.com (my emphasis)
Alaska looks like it's going to become a free-for-all. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is running for reelection, trying to keep a seat that she last won as a write-in candidate after being primaried by tea partier Joe Miller. She could end up facing four viable opponents: Ray Metcalfe (the Democratic nominee), Margaret Stock (an independent with a very impressive resume), Miller (who's back, as the recently-chosen nominee of the Libertarian Party), and possibly former Democratic senator Mark Begich (who may run—wait for it—as a write-in candidate). 30% of the vote could very well win this thing.
Schumer has succeeded in every race he tried to influence, so I'll give Murkowski the win.

Alaska, currently Republican
Lisa Murkowski (R) has the edge in a five-person race

Update: Mark Begich, who was "being asked to launch a write-in campaign," has dropped out of the race. Ray Metcalfe is polling well behind Murkowski and Miller.

Net change: None.

Your most likely 2017 Senate

The most likely 2017 Senate, the high point of the bell-shaped curve, if all current likelihoods hold, appears to be this:
  • Republican: 52 or 50 seats
  • Democrats: 46 or 48 seats
  • Independents: 2 seats (caucusing with Democrats)
So there it is, a scorecard to follow as these races evolve. For the Democrats to reach 50 seats, watch the Too Close To Call races, plus Alaska.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)