Can the Dems Reach 60?
Now that the financial bailout (ahem, Wall Street rescue plan) has passed, we’re seeing polling shift almost universally toward the Democrats, up and down the ballot. It’s too early yet to say the national race is over (although seeing McCain in New Mexico and not in a battleground like Indiana is telling), but we can say the fight in the U.S. Senate is now shifting toward a “firewall” strategy of keeping the Democrats from attaining 60 seats.
Here’s my rundown of the 19 most competitive seats, ranked in the likelihood they’d vote Democratic. And I’ll update the list again once we get the 3rd Quarter Financial data from these races:
19. Kansas (Roberts vs. Slattery) – Likely Republican
Previously Ranked: #18
Slattery continues to disappoint in this red state – not because he could have won, but because his lack of national attention makes it seem like he’s not even trying.
18. Idaho (Risch vs. LaRocco) – Likely Republican
Previously Ranked #19
LaRocco was always going to face an uphill battle. The polls put him about 20 points down, though, which is actually not too bad for a Democrat here.
17. Oklahoma (Inhofe vs. Rice) – Likely Republican
Previously Ranked #15
Andrew Rice slips down the rankings here mostly because of the dearth of polling in this race, and the difficult calculus of any Democrat running here, where Obama trails nearly 2-1. He’s got a debate with Senator Inhofe tomorrow, during which he might be able to turn things around. Or not.
16. Nebraska (Johanns vs. Kleeb) – Likely Republican
Previously Ranked #17
Scott Kleeb is going to benefit from the renewed focus on trying to steal the Omaha-based electoral vote for the Obama ticket – but the key thing here is whether Kleeb has the resources to put in a strong finish to this race.
15. Maine (Collins vs. Allen) – Likely Republican
Previously Ranked #13
Tom Allen sure can use an Obama landslide in Maine to get some coattails going for him. But given his lackluster campaign to date, he’s going to need to do more than rely on straight-ticket voting to get elected over Susan Collins. But if this race tightens, the GOP has to be worried about a political tsunami.
14. Georgia (Chambliss vs. Martin) – Likely Republican
Previously Ranked #15
Saxby Chambliss, like John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell, appears to be taking the brunt of post-bailout polling, with one polling giving him a dead heat. Can the fundraising numbers help Martin, or will this be one of those “coulda been” races?
13. Texas (Cornyn vs. Noriega) – Likely Republican
Previously Ranked #14
Cornyn is not a popular politician – he is part of a recent bunch of senators who often pride themselves on partisanship and hating intellect. Fortunately for him, this is Texas. And unless there is a surge of new voters from the border country, I can’t see how Noriega stays competitive, especially with lackluster fundraising.
12. Kentucky (McConnell vs. Lunsford) – Lean Republican
McConnell voted for the bailout, while Lunsford opposed it. That, in a nutshell, explains the recent tightening of the polls. Whether it can be sustained is another question, but Lunsford could open up his wallet if needed. This race has potential.
11. Mississippi (Wicker vs. Musgrove) – Lean Republican
This state will be as good as any for a test of the Bradley effect, and whether increased black turnout inspires even more racially polarized voting among whites. Give Wicker the edge, for now, but Musgrove can strike the right populist notes to keep this competitive.
10. Minnesota (Coleman vs. Franken vs. Buckley) – Tossup (tilt Republican)
As Obama builds up steam in the blue states, this Senate race continues to tighten, in part due to the unpredictable presence of a major third-party candidate. The race between the two major candidates is getting ugly – ugly in a way that reminds some of how Ventura won in a third-party bid here ten years ago…
9. Oregon (Smith vs. Merkely) – Tossup (tilt Republican)
Previously Ranked #8
This race is literally as tossed up as you can make it in our metrics. But we recently received word that McCain has pulled out his last field office in the state, leaving Obama to be the overwhelming winner. This does not bode well for Smith. As polls have moved in Merkely’s favor, my guess so has the fundraising. This race could shift its tilt by my next update.
8. North Carolina (Dole vs. Hagan) – Tossup (tilt Democrat)
Previously Ranked #9
Liddy Dole has seen her poll ratings plummet against the much younger state Senator. And now, to make matters worse, Obama seems to have moved ahead in the presidential polls, depriving her of coattails from McCain. And DC insiders are already beginning to privately talk of Dole as a certain loss.
7. Alaska (Stevens vs. Begich) – Tossup (tilt Democratic)
Everyone seems to be awaiting the outcome of the Stevens corruption trial. A new poll and new financials could help clear up the picture, but our guess is that Stevens might not have enough time to go from trial to the campaign trail, unless he gets a big assist from his state’s favorite daughter.
6. New Hampshire (Sununu vs. Shaheen) – Lean Democrat
A momentary blip in the polls gave Sununu some life in the polls, but that seems to be receding now in the wake of the bailout mess. Question on my mind is – how much of Sununu’s cash advantage has he blown on his momentary blip, and is it too late to really use the rest of what he has?
5. Colorado (Schaffer vs. Udall) – Lean Democrat
Like with most bounces, they fade over time, and as such Udall has reasserted his lead here. He might not win by a landslide like his cousin Tom in New Mexico, but a win by 6-9 points would be in keeping with virtually every poll on this race.
4. Louisiana (Kennedy vs. Landrieu) – Likely Democrat
It’s a statement of how bad things are for the GOP that they are not seriously discussing the Bayou State as a pickup opportunity anymore. Perhaps if they weren’t putting fires out in Georgia and Kentucky, but until then, Landrieu has a most unlikely of likely advantages.
3. New Jersey (Zimmer vs. Lautenberg) – Likely Democrat
Lautenberg is 84 now, and will be 90 when his next term is up. Yet, no matter how much the state hates its politicians, they seem ready to give him at least one more crack at Washington.
2. New Mexico (Pearce vs. Udall) – Safe Democrat
The only surprise about the Land of Enchantment these days is that John McCain even showed up in the state today at all. Like his visit to Iowa earlier, what is his campaign thinking? None of the polls show he should be spending time here for himself or for Pearce. Maybe he was there to help save a House Republican candidate? Either way, nothing to see here.
1. Virginia (Gilmore vs. Warner) – Safe Democrat
When the biggest question in the state’s political chatter is whether John Warner will vote for Mark Warner (no relation) for the seat he’s vacating, you know the race is in the bag. Oh, and it seems Obama has become the favorite in recent polls here, too.
What does this all mean? If we pushed everyone into their categories, including the tilts of the tossups:
Dems 55, GOP 43, Ind 2
But really, all four tossups (AK, NC, OR, MN) could go either way, and the general drift favors Democrats, so even some long-shots could surprise us in 29 days.