U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) serves as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. When asked in July, 2010 if the Republicans could win control of the U.S. Senate in 2010, he responded in the negative, stating “I think it’s going to be a two-cycle process.”
Back in July, I agreed with Senator Cornyn. The political math seemed to completely preclude any possibility of a GOP takeover.
The Democrats currently have a 59-41 advantage over the Republicans in the Senate. This year’s election includes 37 Senate seats, 19 of which are currently held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans.
The Republicans must attain a net gain of 10 seats in order to win control of the Senate. Of the 19 Democratic seats up for election, 8 were considered “Safe Democrat” in July, leaving only 11 seats as possibly winnable for the Republicans. The GOP would have to win 10 of these 11 seats, plus hold onto Republican seats which were then considered toss-ups in Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida. Thus, in July, 2010, the necessary net gain of ten seats seemed impossible for the GOP to achieve.
Since July, however, the national political climate has changed dramatically in favor of the Republicans. Republicans lead by 51% to 41% among registered voters in the Gallup Poll weekly tracking of 2010 Congressional voting preferences. This 10-percentage-point lead is the GOP’s largest so far this year and its largest in Gallup’s history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress. There is now little doubt that the Republican Party will win the 40 seats necessary to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
This generic advantage has also given the GOP Senate candidates in Ohio (Rob Portman), Kentucky (Rand Paul), and Florida (Marco Rubio) a huge boost. Portman, Rand, and Rubio now all enjoy double digit leads over their opponents. Republican victories in these three contests will ensure that the GOP will not lose any of the U.S. Senate seats it currently holds.
The question then becomes whether the GOP can win 10 of the 11 Democratic Senate seats “in play”, to wit: Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Illinois, Washington, Nevada, California, and Wisconsin. Last week, RealClearPolitics.com and Larry Sabato, the highly respected Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics both projected a likelihood of an 8-seat Republican Senate pick-up.
If one examines the poll results in these states, it appears that the GOP has a virtual certainty of winning from the Democrats the seats in Arkansas, Delaware (provided that Congressman Mike Castle is the GOP nominee), Indiana, and North Dakota and an overwhelming likelihood of winning the Pennsylvania seat. Furthermore, a strong positive trend is developing in Colorado for Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck over Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet. Buck is now a definite strong favorite in this race. If the GOP captures these 6 seats, they will have 47 seats, 4 shy of a majority.
RealClearPolitics.com now projects the Republican Senate candidates as the favorites in the Washington and Illinois contests, as does Intrade.com. Victory in these two states would give the GOP 49 seats, only two shy of a majority.
This is where it gets difficult, but not impossible for the GOP. The Republicans must then capture two of three seats where the Democratic incumbent candidates are currently favored, to wit, California (Barbara Boxer), Nevada (Harry Reid), and Wisconsin (Russ Feingold). These contests are currently very close, however, and it is not at all impossible for the GOP to win two of these three seats.
Moreover, there is a real possibility that the Senate seats in Connecticut and West Virginia, which were considered to be “Safe Democrat” in July, may well become “in play”. In Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal’s false statements regarding his military record and the well financed campaign of his Republican opponent, Linda McMahon have resulted in his 23 point lead in June being shaved to 7 points in August. In West Virginia, in the race for the Senate seat previously held by the late Robert Byrd, Democratic Governor Joe Manchin only leads Republican John Raese by six points. Raese is wealthy and financing his own campaign in a state where President Barack Obama is highly unpopular.
A Raese victory is well within the realm of possibility and more likely than a McMahon victory. A Republican victory in either the West Virginia or Connecticut race would significantly enhance prospects of a GOP Senate takeover.
Bottom line: I will not predict a GOP takeover of the United States Senate in the 2010 election. It is a real possibility, however, and neither will I predict against it.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations. He also served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former Governor Christie Whitman.