January Senate Forecast
by Chris Bowers, Mon Jan 23, 2006 at 08:27:50 AM EST
Forecast: Democratic gain of one to three seats.
2006 has begun with a flurry of activity on the Senate front. Here is the Senate forecast:
Likely Pickups Democratic Republican Pennsylvania NoneCasey has consistently maintained a double-digit lead over Santorum. Even beter, these same polls put him at or over 50%. Casey also has a ton of money to match Santorum, and a lower name ID that could allow him to rise even further in the polls. This still remains a very likely pickup unless something drastically changes. Because of this, Democrats start with a built-in advantage of +1 in my forecast.
Already Competitive Democratic Challenges Republican Challenges Missouri New Jersey Montana Maryland OhioThis is a category of campaigns where most of the recent polls have shown the sitting party / incumbent to be either tied with a lower name ID challenger, or slightly behind. In other words, these are campaigns where the incumbent party is in trouble, but are not yet facing an uphill battle ala Santorum in Pennsylvania.
Since December, Democrats have gained Montana in this category, as the various scandals surrounding Burns have caused him to sink to new lows. Unfortunately, Republicans have added two races in this category. The original wave of optimism surrounding Menendez after the first Q-poll showed his 2006 chances to be excellent has faded. Now, some polls are showing Menendez to be in real trouble, although it should be noted that polling in New Jersey has been really poor over the past two years, and consistently showed Democrats to be in more trouble than they actually were.
Maryland is a notch below these other four right now. The only reason it is in this category is because of what might very well be a hard outlying Rasmussen poll that shows Steele leading both Cardin and Mfume. Otherwise, no other poll has shown Steele in front. Combine this with Cardin's significant fundraising edge and Maryland's deep blue tint, and Maryland is probably a race with the potential to be competitive, rather than a race that is already competitive.
In a column I have often quoted over the past few months, Chuck Todd gave an insightful, concise description of this dynamic:
- At least six very strong Democratic challenges to Republican held seats.
- A numeric Democratic advantage of at least three when it comes to very strong challenges to Senate seats held by the other party.
The Campaign Dynamic
While it is not reasonable to forecast a landslide at this point, there still remains real hope on the horizon for Democrats. Only one of the already listed seats is in a "safe red" state (Montana), and the DSCC actually has a large monetary edge over the NRSC (22.4M to 9.1M cash on hand). Further, among the seats already listed, Democrats are attacking four Republican incumbents (Burns, DeWine, Santorum and Talent), while Republicans are attacking no Democratic incumbents (Menendez really doesn't count). All of this will stretch Republican resources much thinner than they were stretched in 2004.
More hope comes form races that can no longer be realistically seen as competitive. Over the past month, while Mississippi has dropped of the board for Democrats, it has become obvious that Vermont and Florida can no longer be considered campaigns where Republicans have a realistic shot of winning. This further reduces the universe of seats that Republicans can potentially make competitive.
Counting the six seats already listed, overall, Democrats have nine challenges still on the board, while Republicans have only seven. These races are as follows:
Races with Potential, Tier One Democratic Challenges Republican Challenges Rhode Island Minnesota Arizona Washington Tennessee Michigan Races with Potential, Tier Two Democratic Challenges Republican Challenges Nevada Nebraska Virginia WisconsinDemocrats can start talking blowout, and dreaming of Senate control, if they can move two more of these races into the "already competitive" category than Republican (note that this is the case even if Maryland drops out of the "already competitive tier). We are not there yet, but there remains real hope that we can get there. The goal from now until at least Labor Day, and possibly until the beginning of October, will not be to rack up as many Casey vs. Santorum-esque "likely pickups." Such races are nice, but they will actually have less impact on the state of the overall Senate picture as the competitive, "toss-up" races. This is not only because at this point it would take a major scandal to create anymore of these races, but also because the outcome of such races seem to be more or less a foregone conclusion at this point. Come October, campaigns such as Casey vs. Santorum will not be the primary focus of resources for either national party in October. Instead, the battle for the Senate will take place in close, competitive, "toss-up" campaigns where both parties will focus their resources. If there is going to be a large national Senate swing in favor of one party or the other, as there was for Democrats in 2000 and as there was for Republicans in 2004, it will be because one party is able to stretch the defensives of their opponent extremely thin. Right now that doesn't look possible for Republicans to achieve, but we aren't there yet either.