Democrats look to hold Senate easily

September 29, 2012

Last month, I went on the Afternoon Shift and gave a fairly pessimistic view of the Democrats’ chances of holding on to the senate. Of the 33 seats up for grabs, all but ten are Democrats, meaning that because the Dems have a lot more to defend, they also have a lot more to lose.

I had figured the Dems had 14 sure shots, not including independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the likely winner in Maine, Angus King, who, like Sanders, will caucus with the Democrats.

But I had the GOP looking very secure in eight races, with a full nine races in a complete toss-up -- meaning that the Republicans looked like they only had to defend two to hold and six to tip the senate if President Obama won again, and only five should Mitt Romney pull off the upset.

But things have changed somewhat since then, and the Democrats appear to be in a better position.

Here’s the break down:

The Blue sure bets

Incumbents Dianne Feinstein in California, Tom Carper in Delaware, Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota, Bill Nelson in Florida, Robert Menéndez in New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand in New York, Sheldon Whitehouse in Rhode Island, Maria Cantwell in Washington, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, Ben Cardin in Maryland and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania.

And, yes, I think Casey’s safe, even with the voter ID law. He’s more popular than Obama, who I believe will win Pennsylvania.

If you add in Sanders, that’s 13 right there.

Among the seats with retiring Democrats, two are easy calls: Mazie Hirono has been leading former GOP Gov. Linda Lingle by almost 20 points since the start of the race. In New Mexico, Martin Heinrich has also been leading Heather Wilson steadily, but more importantly: Dems have a very strong voter registration edge and Obamas way ahead.

My total’s an easy 16 for Dems, taking King into consideration, with no change from August.

The Red sure bets

Among the incumbents, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Utah’s Orrin Hatch and John Barrasso of Wyoming are guaranteed GOP wins.

In Arizona, Jon Kyl is retiring and though the Dems are running a decorated Hispanic Vietnam vet in Richard Carmona, Rep. Jeff Flake has had a steady lead and the state’s just too darn red. Same story in Texas, where Republican newcomer Ted Cruz will cruise to victory. And In Nebraska, Deb Fischer is beating former Sen. Bob Kerry by double digits to fill his former seat, which is open in this election.

That’s a total of seven, one less than I counted as sure things in August.

The leaners

Leaning Democratic: To my surprise, in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin is holding her own against former Gov. Tommy Thompson. I really thought with Paul Ryan on Mitt Romney’s ticket and the recent recall victory by Gov. Scott Walker, that Thompson would cakewalk it. He was up by more than ten points at one point this summer. And he might still win, but it looks like this will be close. Baldwin’s been ahead in the last few polls so the GOP Super PACs are coming to Thompson’s aid in the next month. He might beat her back but it looks good for Baldwin right now.

In Indiana, Democratic Joe Donnelly is ahead of Republican Richard Mourdock. It’s a tenuous but steady lead but it could falter once the GOP PACs bring in the big bucks, as is the plan for the next month.

In Massachusetts, Dem Elizabeth Warren is holding her post-convention lead, and Sen. Scott Brown may have screwed himself by standing behind his staff’s recent crude war-whooping and tomahawk chops meant to ridicule Warren’s claim to Native American heritage.

Also leaning Dem: Rep. Chris Murphy has been steadily beating back Linda McMahon in Connecticut by a few points above the margin of error for several weeks.

In Ohio, Sherrod Brown has led by 20 and by two over GOP challenger Josh Mandel — a rollercoaster ride — but he’s always led. He seems to have recouped momentum recently as Obama went up in the polls.

And lastly, North Dakota seems to be going with Democrat Heidi Reitkamp over Republican Rick Berg. She’s been ahead all summer by five points or more and may be the surest of the Democratic leaners.

In Montana, however, Dem incumbent Jon Tester’s lead fell to GOP challenger Denny Rehberg in the last few weeks. Tons of Republican PAC money is going into this race from the far right to support Rehberg and he might well pull it off. Tester’s been backing away from Obama, who’s losing the state.

In Nevada, GOP Sen. Dean Heller, who was installed to take disgraced Sen. John Ensign’s place last year when he resigned, has been just above the margin of error for the last few weeks agains Democrat Shelley Berkely, who’s put on a much more intense race than anyone imagined.

The math: Six Democratic probables and two for the GOP.

Toss-ups

Only two that are total guesses, considerably fewer than last time.

In Missouri, crazy Tea Party fave Todd Akin is statistically tied with incumbent Dem Sen. Claire McCaskill and though there was a lot of GOP noise asking Akin to step aside earlier this summer, that’s all over now. GOP money will pour in this month.

The other anything-could-happen race is in Virginia where retiring Sen. Jim Webb’s seat is being contested mano a mano by former Gov. Tim Kaine and former Sen. George Allen. It’s a dead heat.

Final math: 22 Dems, nine Republicans, two mystery senators.