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Could the G.O.P. Take the Senate?

    It is probably a foregone conclusion that Republicans should win the House this year.  A perfect storm of a stagnant economy, a floundering President, and anti-incumbent fever has Democrats on the rope.  Although many pundits are predicting a turnover of epic proportions, my analysis shows that we should hold on.  Although the House will certainly flip, this is a double-edged sword.  On the plus side, Nancy Pelosi will no longer be Speaker.  On the minus side, John Boehner will be Speaker of the House.

     In previous entries, I noted that the Senate would remain under Democratic control, although their stanglehold will certainly be weakened.  The consensus among the pay sites like Cook and Rothenberg is that the Republicans will pick up a maximum of seven seats.  However, after looking at the polls from August and the trends, I believe the Senate to be within sight.  In those previous entries, I noted that Republicans should pick up the following states: North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.  The August poll numbers confirm this- in Indiana, Dan Coats has opened his biggest lead (21 points) thus far, John Boozman (38 points) same thing, and Pat Toomey (8.7 points) is leading for the first time outside the margin of error.  Perhaps only Mike Castle in Delaware has shown a drop off, but 13 points is outside the margin of error and it was doubtful he would maintain 20+ leads until November.

     Looking at the key Republican seats to be defended, Republicans lead in six of seven seats.  In Missouri and Ohio, Republicans have their highest leads so far while Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire almost matched her high.  David Vitter in Louisiana continues to lead Charlie Melancon by double digits which totally perplexes the Democratic Party.  And despite low popularity numbers, Richard Burr continues to poll in almost double digit leads.  The two “problems” are Florida and Kentucky.

     First, Florida because it really presents less of a problem.  With the primaries out of the way, the race is set.  For the Democrats, those results present a little problem.  Meek, the winner, first had to spend a lot of money in his primary while Rubio, the Republican, ran unopposed basically thanks to Charlie Crist.  Secondly, Meek represents the Democratic status-quo and is African-American.  In Florida, there simply are not enough blacks and liberal Democrats to offset the Hispanic and the conservative vote.  Assume blacks will vote for Meek along with the hard core liberal Democrats.  The remaining Democrats will split thier vote between Meek and Crist.  Hispanics will probably split their vote between all three with all conservatives going to Rubio.  The numbers, under this scenario, based upon past voting behavior, gives the seat to Marco Rubio by a comfortable margin.  And, in fact, we see that trend in the polling from August with Rubio gaining over three points, Meek gaining over two points (which is not a problem since he is so far behind), and Crist losing a point.  This demonstrates that people are choosing their candidate- the undecideds are less and those former undecideds are moving away from the politically opportunist Charlie Crist.

     The main problem is in Kentucky.  Rand Paul trails for the first time in five months of polling, but only by one point.  Although this should give Democrats a cause for celebration, it is a mere point and only one month.  As a dose of reality to the Democrats, this is Kentucky- mainly a red state- and although there may be questions based upon miscues thus far, Rand Paul should win a close race in Kentucky to keep the seat in Republican control.

     Hence, it would appear that the Republicans pick up five seats at a minimum and defend all their seats of interest.  That leaves seven contested Democratic seats from which Republicans can take the Senate.  In Washington, Dino Rossi, for the first time, leads incumbent Patty Murray by two points and has led in the two most recent polls.  In Wisconsin, although they still have their primary on September 14, Russ Feingold leads, but that lead is precariously low for a popular incumbent.  This would be a real shocker if Republicans win this seat and they can win if they stay focused on the economy.  In California, Barbara Boxer should be buying stock in Depends adult diapers because Carly Fiorina is coming on strong.  Their first debate revealed the strategies to be used:  Boxer will concentrate on Fiorina’s tenure at Hewlett-Packard, while the Republican will concentrate on Obama and Boxer’s spending policies having cost California jobs, jobs, jobs.  Although it will show up in the September polling data, the first two post-debate polls show Fiorina with a lead.

      In Illinois, Mark Kirk’s gaffes have hurt him, but luckily those gaffes occurred early enough in the campaign that they are considered past history now.  While Gianoullis has been ahead at various times by eight points, Kirk has led by as much as five points.  Today, it is a virtual tie and has been for the past two months and neither nominee can match the momentum they had after the primaries.  It would be such a blow to Democrats to lose Obama’s seat.  In Pennsylvania, Republican Pat Toomey has opened his biggest lead thus far and the first outside the margin of error.  Living in New Jersey, its interesting to watch the ads for Sestak so far trying to paint Toomey as some Wall Street insider- a “pioneer in derivatives.”  Typical class warfare- Wall Street versus Main Street crap.  As the polls show, the voters aren’t really buying it as Toomey stays on course with portraying Sestak as a classic Obama liberal.

     In Colorado, Ken Buck maintains his polling lead over Michael Bennett for the fifth consecutive month.  I think this will be a close one, but Buck should pull it out, especially if he links Bennett to Obama whose popularity has dropped in Colorado despite winning that state in 2008.  Finally, there is Nevada.  What a wonderful psychological blow it would be to the Democrats if Republicans (1) win the House and demote Nancy Pelosi, (2) take Obama’s old seat in Illinois, and (3) oust the incumbent Democrat and Senate President- Harry Reid.  Could Democrats then sit back and say this election was not a referendum on Obama and the Democratic Party?  Currently, Sharron Angle trails Reid, but certainly within the margin of error.  In reality, it isn’t Reid that is keeping him in the lead…it is the money behind him.  Angle needs to hammer across the point that Reid is beholden to special interests in Nevada, especially the labor unions and their declining membership.  She needs to show that Democratic policies have hurt the state of Nevada despite largesse being directed that way by Reid and company.  If she can define Reid instead of Reid trying to define her, then she may pull out a win in this state.

     So how does it all break down in reality?  The Republicans should pick up a minimum of seven seats.  That would make the breakdown 52-48 for the Democrats.  To capture the Senate, the G.O.P. would have to take three seats.  Realistically, I can see two definite pick ups if trends continue- Washington and Illinois.  Capture California or Nevada and the Senate reverts to Republican control.  I cannot see them capturing both and I suspect that as crunch time nears, Wisconsin may not be in the cards for the Republicans.  Unfortunately, that puts McConnell as Senate President.  Well, guess that’s the price of victory.

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