Senate Majority Leader McConnell? Don’t tell us what color you like your drapes just yet!

I want to draw your attention to this National Article authored by noted political analyst Charlie Cook on Saturday, September 4. The article postulates that it is not impossible for the Republicans to wrest control of the United States Senate, although that outcome is not probable. I agree with Cook’s prognosis. At this time, I would lay 33% odds in favor of the Republicans taking over the Senate. If the election were held tomorrow, I believe that Republicans would come away with 48-50 seats (up from their current 41)- close but no cigar (remember that Republicans need 51 seats for the majority, because even if they get 50, Vice President Joe Biden (D) would cast the tie-breaking votes in the Senate, thereby retaining a Democratic majority).

How difficult can it be to get 51 seats if there’s a good chance that the Republicans will get 50, you may ask? Well, very difficult. As students trying to enhance their grades or athletes endeavoring to improve their ranking will tell you, counter-intuitively, it is the seemingly small final hump that is the hardest to climb over. Based on my analysis, to get a 51-seat majority, the Republicans will have to defeat either Democratic Senators who are currently leading in the polls or win open seats in Democratic bastions.

With that as context, I want to keep you apprised of several noteworthy developments since the Cook article was written:

1)      In Ohio’s US Senate race, former congressman, White House (Bush 43) Budget Director and United States Trade Representative (also Bush 43), Rob Portman (R) has widened his lead over sitting Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D). Portman’s lead is in the 10-point range or slightly higher, not insurmountable for Fisher, but a steep uphill climb in a political environment that strongly favors the Republicans.

2)      In Pennsylvania’s US Senate race, former congressman and strong fiscal conservative Pat Toomey (R), has widened his lead over Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to about 7-8 points. Again, not insurmountable for Sestak, but a steep uphill climb.

3)      Businessman Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin is ahead in the polls for that state’s US Senate race by about 10 points over Sen. Russ Feingold (D), whose name is virtually a statewide institution, which in the current tea party infused environment, is a negative rather than a positive.

4)      Former HP CEO and McCain presidential campaign adviser Carly Fiorina (R) is down by about 5-6 points against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) in California’s US Senate race. In most states this election cycle, high voter turnout is an advantage for the Republican in the race because voters are strongly against the Democratic agenda and many who voted for Obama in 2008 are dispirited. However, California has never been “most states”. In this left leaning state on the left coast, a high turnout in the state’s two most populous areas, around Los Angeles and San Francisco, favors Boxer. It remains to be seen whether Boxer can turn out her base in those areas, and whether Fiorina can turn out hers, which consists of voters residing in the large agricultural center of the state (from Bakersfield up to the state capital of Sacramento), in the so-called Inland Empire east of Los Angeles and San Diego (Riverside and San Bernardino counties), and in the counties north of San Francisco and just south of the Oregon state line. Closely watched battleground areas of the state will include areas south of Los Angeles (San Diego and Orange counties).

5)    Businessman John Raese (R) is leading Gov. Joe Manchin (D) in West Virginia’s US Senate race by 2 points. This is a big surprise because although West Virginia is a conservative state (votes Republican in presidential elections, though not necessarily so in statewide elections), Manchin is a very popular governor; yet, he is slightly behind in what is obviously a very tight race. It is evident that even a popular Democratic governor is swimming against the tide this election cycle.

6)      In New Hampshire’s US Senate race, state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) won a competitive primary and will face Rep. Paul Hodes (D) in the general election. Ayotte leads Hodes by about 7 points in the polls.

7)      In Delaware’s US Senate race, tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell (R) upset the establishment candidate Rep. Mike Castle in the primary, and she will face New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D). Coons is leading by 10-11 points in the polls. This is the seat that was until recently held for a long time by Vice President Biden (D).

8)      In Florida’s 3-way US Senate race, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) leads Gov. Charlie Crist (Independent, but formerly a Republican) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D). The polls show Rubio with 41% of the vote, Crist with 30% and Meek with 23%.

9)      In Connecticut’s US Senate race, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) leads businesswoman Linda McMahon (R) by about 5 points in the polls.

10)   In Indiana’s US Senate race, former Sen. Dan Coats (R) leads Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) by a big margin – 16 points.

11)   In Washington state’s US Senate race, Sen. Patty Murray (D) seems to be opening up a lead over her challenger, three-time statewide candidate Dino Rossi (R), and is currently leading by about 6 points.

12)   In Illinois’ US Senate race, Rep. Mark Kirk (R) leads state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias by about 2 points. This is a very close race to occupy the seat held until recently by President Barack Obama (D).

13)   In Missouri’s US Senate race, Rep. Roy Blunt (R) is leading Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan by about 8 points.

It’s early days yet, and things can change in either direction. But this is sure to be an interesting election with significant consequences in the policy and political world.


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