Senate races in 2010

Come November there’s the midterm elections in the US, where 36 senate seats will be up for grabs. I’ve consciously held off from blogging about this because predictions have been so volatile for the past year, as well as having being no health care bill passed (which should affect all the close elections quite a bit). But, with less than a year to go and enough emerging trends developing I think I can try my hand now.

With the Senate races, 18 are currently held by the Democrats and the other 18 are held by the Republicans. There’s 10 open seats (maybe 11 depending on the primary race between Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Rick Perry for the governor’s mansion in Texas), of which 9 will be competitive. Where there are incumbents, there are a further 9 close contests. I know I’ll be watching these 18 races with keen eyes.

It’s expected that the Republicans will gain seats. The consensus seems to be at the moment that Democrats will hold, roughly, 53-55 seats when all is done – a loss of 5-7 seats. If things improve significantly, some pundits figure the Democrats to hold 56 seats at a minimum. If things stay the same as the past month, the same pundits expect Democrats to lose 7 seats at a minimum. So the chances that the Democrats jag their 60-seat majority again is very slim.

It should be noted that poll number-crunchers and trend analysts give roughly the same percentage chance of Democrats retaining their 60 seats (7-8%) as they do the Republicans gaining control of the Senate (6-7%) and there being a 50-50 split (6%). SO it’s not the direst of futures for Democrats (for the moment).

What is being forced as interesting is the number of retirees that are causing all these open seats: There will be 4 Democrats retiring, 6 Republicans. With more Republicans leaving than Democrats, you would think the media would make a case that it’s a Republican exodus. Not the case. They are making more hay out of the 4 Democrats, and calling it like it’s rats jumping off a sinking ship. But whatever, it’s not correct nor is it really that important in the narrative.

What I find of more interest is the races where there are incumbents because they not only have a track record for their congressional votes, but they also have an electoral history in their state which gives people like me something to ground initial predictions on. It is also something to compare and contrast against national trends. Let’s take Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) for example. This example will also serve to demonstrate why I hadn’t blogged about Senate races until now.

Blanche Lincoln is the senator from Arkansas, taking office in 1999. She will have served for 2 terms, giving her 12 years experience and ranking her 50th in the line of seniority. While Arkansas is, in general elections, quite a Republican state (it voted for native-son Bill Clinton in ’92 and ’96, and then Southerner Jimmy Carter in ’76, but other than that Republican through-and-through), for state elections it is very Democratic. That is, its Governor Mike Beeb and both US Senators (Lincoln and Mark Pryor) are Democrats, as well as the Democratic party holding supermajorities in the Arkansas General Assembly (their state government made up of the upper and lower house). Further evidence is found in the 2006 local results where Democrats won every state-wide election in a huge sweep. The party continues to hold the majority of all the offices in the state.

Lincoln’s election performance reads like a good campaigner: As representative for Arkansas’ 1st congressional district she won 70% in her first race, then reelection with 53%, then her first run for US Senate at 55% and then reelection with 56%. They aren’t huge margins, but the 13% and 12% are sizeable.

And even with all this, Lincoln’s seat is rated as the second most competitive (after North Dakota, which deserves a post on its own) out of all the races. It ranks ahead of every open seat other than North Dakota. The people doing the ranking have decided that North Dakota is 99% going to flip from the Democrats to the Republicans in November; Lincoln’s seat ranks right behind this. It even out-ranks Harry Reid’s race in Nevada – Reid who is the face of the Democrats in the Senate, near-enough the boss of the Democrats in the Senate, and shouldering much of the blame for the lackluster year that has finished, all in a true swing state.

Now, this time lat year, or 6 months ago, or even 2 months ago, Lincoln wasn’t even rated in the top 10 of races. Even with a vote for a hypothetical health care bill, she still was looking at reelection – not without a fight, but would get there by the numbers. But as the Democratic brand has soured, the health care bill dragged on, the Republicans hitting an up-swing and gaining confidence, Lincoln is no sure thing. In fact, the pollster I visit that has hit Senate election predictions at 100% since 2006 has the seat at ‘leans Republican’ at the moment.

Now none of this is to say that it won’t change. Every predication is made on the now and not a totally hypothetical future. But to say that Lincoln is safe now is totally wrong. If a health care bill gets passed and if bills related to jobs and the economy get passed and if the Democrats improve their image, Lincoln will fall in the ratings and not sweat so much. But there’s no escape for her to go back to her good number prior to 2009.

The particular races I’ll be following are listed below, with the open seats in bold. The open seat in Kansas hasn’t been listed because the Republicans could do a Weekend at Bernie’s with that race and still win. Next to a few I have made some notes, but not all. Maybe I’ll go back as time draws nearer to November and profile those races that don’t have notes (as these are the ‘toss ups’ and the too close to call (at the moment) races).

Democratic-held:

  1. Arkansas
  2. Colorado
  3. California – California would never have made this list even a month ago. But, with Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer might have a bit of a run against the winner of the Republican primary – likely to be Carly Fiorina at the moment. Fiorina might make this a contest because she was formerly the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, VP of AT&T, and was an economic advisor to John McCain. In saying all that, Fiorina was forced out of Hewlett-Packard because, under her watch, the company’s shares lost 60% of their value, and got a $20 million severance package (which wouldn’t play well with current voters losing their jobs). I expect this to be a Democrat retain.
  4. Connecticut – Chris Dodd is retiring because he was chair of the finance committee when the banks went under, let a bill get through that allowed big bonus to be paid out of bailout money for banks, got an ‘exclusive’ (see: corrupt) deal for his own mortgage, and couldn’t get past 30% in any poll. The Democrat leading the primary polls, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, dominates the general election match-up against any Republican. This all makes for a heavy Democrat retain.
  5. Delaware
  6. Illinois
  7. Indiana
  8. Nevada
  9. North Dakota – North Dakota is like Arkansas: Both US senators are Democrats. The retiring Senator Byron Dorgan has come at a bad time: The Democrat’s bench is thin to begin with in ND, and with the current climate they will be hard pressed to get a strong candidate in. There is one hope: Earl Pomeroy, the at-large Representative of ND. But he is likely to not give up his safe reelection for a huge gamble against the incumbent Republican Governor John Hoeven who leads every poll. Republicans will likely win this one.
  10. New York (Gillibrand) – Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed to replace Hillary Clinton until the next election, is facing a primary challenge (that she should easily win). Come the general election, she should, again, get home but it might be closer than expected with the current problems the Democrats are facing. But her NY counterpart, Chuck Schumer (3rd in the Democratic power listings) has taken her under his wing and will pour every resource he has to keep her in her seat (with his own reelection a guarantee). Expect the Democrats to retain this one.
  11. Pennsylvania

Republican-held:

  1. Florida
  2. Kentucky
  3. Louisiana
  4. Missouri
  5. New Hampshire
  6. North Carolina
  7. Ohio

This list isn’t definite. I expect to be making changes as the days draw down, mainly by the way of subtraction. Though there’s the outside chance of a couple of other states making the list (South Dakota and Texas spring to mind). They are outside chances, but still chances none-the-less.

Thomas.

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