The media buzz out there is that Dems are doomed! The GOP is pulling away! Yet, that’s an exaggeration of what the data actually shows. Yes, the GOP is still favored to take over the Senate, but that’s far from a done deal. There has been some small movement toward the GOP in Colorado and Kansas as of late, but there’s also been positive movement recently for Democrats in Iowa, Kentucky, and Georgia. Now, until and unless Democrats actually seem to pull ahead in Kentucky or Georgia, the loss of Colorado would be pretty lethal. But so far, while Udall’s data still looks ugly, I’m far from considering that race anything but a Toss-Up.
And so, with less than two weeks to go, we’re still sitting at a really familiar picture. The GOP is likely at 48 Seats. Democrats are likely at 47 Seats, if you include the Independents that caucus with them in Maine and Vermont. That leaves five races that will likely determine the Senate: IA, CO, KS, KY, and GA. Then, on the outside looking in, there are some potential upsets that lean toward a candidate but are still in the realm of possibilities of potential surprises: AK, AR, LA, and NC. NH is also hanging out there, but that would frankly be a huge statistical surprise if Shaheen actually were to lose, no matter how close Scott Brown may or may not be. (All signs still point toward a mid-single digit victory for Shaheen.)
Thus, to maintain control, Dems need to hang onto their leads in North Carolina and New Hampshire and then pick up three of the remaining eight states in play. Republicans are favored in three of those (AK, AR, LA). Meanwhile, IA and CO are historically the best chances for them. IA may remain their best chance as Braley is holding his own as of late. CO is historically very poorly polled, especially as pollsters often underestimate Latino voters. But, the data for Udall in Colorado continues to slowly worsen. Then there’s GA and KY. Either would be a coup for Democrats, but they may need both if either CO or IA slips away and they can’t gain traction in any of the states they’re currently behind in (AK, LA, AR). And then there’s the Wild Card: KS. It’s hard to even talk about that race because no one ‘officially’ knows what Orman will do from a caucusing perspective. While there’s a good chance he’d go with Democrats, he may be very unlikely to do so if they’re not in control of the Senate. Of course, then his seat wouldn’t determine Senate control. So, if his seat were to truly matter, it would only matter if Dems were at 49 and the GOP was at 50. This could be a very real possibility if Dems pick up IA and one other state, be it CO, KY, GA, or another surprise. Then, Orman is the kingmaker, and I’m not in the business of predicting him from there.
The point is: Either party still has a good chance to control the Senate, though neither may control it until there are run-offs in Louisiana and Georgia. There is simply no wave this year, unless I suppose if the GOP picked off all these states including NH. The GOP is currently doing well in states where they should do well: red states. They’re also doing well in purple states like IA and CO, but neither leans their way as of now. And yet, they also haven’t completely put away red states like AR, AK, or LA were upsets are still possible. Meanwhile, while NH looks close, it’s a purple state that is still trending against them. So is NC, a state they should pick up in a real wave. In a wave year, a state like MN or MI should be more competitive. They’re not. Thus, there’s no wave this year, just more of the status quo reverting to standard dynamics. Thus, even without a wave, I could still see the GOP hitting 53 seats when all is said and done. They could even sneak to 54 if Tillis were to pull it out in NC. 55 is ‘possible’ but highly doubtful. Meanwhile, Dems still have a good chance to get to 49. If they hold NC, IA is basically 50/50 odds for them. I’m still watching CO as, though Udall’s in rough shape, Gardner is nowhere near 50% yet in the model. Then, 50 comes down to: KS? KY? GA? A Red State? Many possibilities remain.
So, stay tuned. A quick note on how to read the models with about ten days to go. If you’re a daily reader, you’ll likely see slow climbs in the last ten days in each race. The models will accelerate toward final predictions, pushing candidate model numbers up across the board. You’ve already seen this happen in some states. If a candidate is hitting a number in the model, they’re very likely to hit that number come election day. But, what that means is, in a state like Colorado, there’s a lot of room for error, late breaking undecideds, and state fundamentals to kick in that still somehow are not showing up in the model. While Udall(D) being stuck at 45% is bad news, Gardner(R) is still only at 46% in the model. So, where do those other 9% of voters go? The model is essentially predicting that they could break a couple of ways, if they’re still unassigned. Could Udall win by a few points? Yep. Could Gardner pull out a mid-single digit victory? Yep. While this may drive some readers crazy, I always say it’s a better illustration of reality then anyone that tries to convince you that a candidate will actually win by +1.4 to +1.6%. No data is that consistent in all races. The more data you have, the more you should look at the actual top-line numbers I report. The less data, be very careful. If neither candidate is hitting 50% come election day, those races are very much worth watching. So, sit back and either pull your hair out or enjoy the show, whichever your political-style may be.
So, let’s run through the states:
AK: As a Dem Incumbent in a red state, things don’t look great for Begich who remains stuck at about 43%. That said, Alaska data remains quite limited and on-the-ground efforts in this less conventional state may improve the room for error. Sullivan is in the driver’s seat but is also below 50% himself. Race still worth watching.
AR: Pryor finds himself in a similar situation as Begich. He’s stuck below 43% in the model with only a few days to go. Ouch. That said, Tom Cotton has hardly put this race away. I’d like some more data here, but again, it is GOP favored but much is left on the table.
CO: Udall’s numbers continue to fall. Yet, Gardner’s numbers have still been peaking right around the 46% mark. Are all of his voters already showing up in the polls? If so, the question remains: are the remaining voters going to stay home, or are they going to less than enthusiastically vote for Udall, a candidate who likely matches their ideology better than Gardner? This race is very much up in the air, despite some noisy poll numbers.
GA: Nunn-mentum? More and more, it looks like Nunn may very well win a plurality of votes come election day. But, the question is, can she get a majority since Georgia law requires a candidate to get 50% to avoid a run-off? That seems doubtful, but not impossible. Dems typically fall off hard in run-off elections because of low turnout, so Nunn has to do everything she can to hit 50% in less than two weeks time.
IA: While the bottom seemed to drop out for Braley a few weeks ago, I’ve never had him down by more than 1-2%. As of late, you’ve seen many pollsters come back to that line. This is essentially a 50/50 race. Like in CO, the question is whether the GOP candidate is close to their peak already in a purple state that leans slightly blue. This is common in off-year elections: the party out of power polls well all along as their base is fired up. The question then becomes: do Democrats show up? Do moderates stay home?
KS: This one may be a mystery ’til the end. Does Orman(I) have any kind of GOTV effort? He’s being pummeled by big money as GOP voters come home to Pat Roberts. Yet, never discount a fired up Democratic base in Kansas who may actually have a chance to win this year, or at least theoretically win if the candidate caucuses with them. Couple that with potentially high Independent turnout and there’s plenty of room for error in some of these poll numbers. Roberts has been shoring up his base more than Orman has been losing voters. All eyes may be on Kansas very soon…
KY: Don’t count out Grimes. There’s no doubt that recent data has shown positive trends for her. What’s against her is that she’s stuck at about 46% in a very red state. But, in part like NC, southern Democrats in Kentucky are not like Democrats elsewhere. Obama got clobbered in Kentucky in 2008 yet McConnell far underperformed John McCain’s numbers. That means many voters who had no appetite for Barack Obama were willing to split their ballots and vote for a Democrat for Senate. So, don’t assume this one is going to McConnell with data points like these. Is this 2008? No, but don’t assume state dynamics are the same as national ones.
LA: See AK and AR. GOP is favored in a heavily red state, but Landrieu is keeping it close. If that holds, keep an eye open for her as the Landrieu family machine is quite strong in this state. But, then there’s the run-off effect, just like GA. This race isn’t likely to be decided in November, and that doesn’t bode well for Landrieu in the long run.
NC: Hagan continues to be hanging in there. That said, while the Tillis numbers are woeful, Hagan being stuck at 46% remains rather scary for her. This has continually leaned her way, but a lot of voters are left out there. As I live in a Hagan friendly county, I can tell you her ground game has been really strong as of late attempting to get her base out. Like Grimes, Hagan is no Obama. She’s from the 1-40 Corridor part of the state that is not part of the liberal Research Triangle. This gives her a strong base in a part of the state that Democrats need to carry to win statewide, and she plays better with rural and moderate voters than the President does in the state. The question remains: will she turn out the base in this quickly changing state? Will she win big margins on the 1-40 corridor?
NH: I’d still be shocked about this one being anything but Shaheen. Has it closed? Yea, but a Brown win still seems to be an entirely different story…