Three months prior to the midterm congressional elections, polling is giving Republicans ample reason to be optimistic. Prominent political analysts estimate that enough Senate seats will change hands to create a Republican Senate majority. With new polls released on August 7, polling points toward a Republican Senate majority next year. August 7 also brought the revelation that a Democratic incumbent would withdraw from his reelection campaign.
As Examiner reported in March, a total of 36 Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Democrats are defending 21 seats and Republicans 15. The majority of these seats are safe for both parties, but 16 races are competitive enough to offer a challengers a chance. Republicans currently hold 45 seats in the Senate and would need to win an additional six seats to form a majority.
Alaska is still considered a tossup by both the Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, both respected political analysts. With the Republican primary not until August 19, two recent polls give Democratic incumbent Mark Begich a slight lead over two potential Republicans challengers. A Public Policy poll from August 7 showed Begich leading former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan by four points. A second Public Policy poll put Begich ahead of former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell by three points. On July 28, a CBS poll showed Sullivan trailing Begich by 12 points and Treadwell trailing by two.
Public Policy found that Sullivan leads the primary polling with 35 percent. Treadwell is close behind at 29 percent, while 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller is a distant third with 20 percent. The eventual nominee is likely to get a bump in the polls from his victory that may well boost him ahead of Sen. Begich.
Arkansas, another Democratic seat, is also a tossup. Incumbent Mark Pryor trailed Republican Tom Cotton by two points in a Public Policy poll from August 5.
Georgia is also a split decision with Sabato rating the seat of the retiring Saxby Chambliss as leaning Republican while Cook calls it a tossup. Two recent polls released on July 28 were also a split decision. CBS gave newly anointed Republican candidate David Perdue a six point lead over Democrat Michelle Nunn and Landmark Communications found a four point lead for Nunn. The race will likely start to solidify soon now that Republican nomination has finally been decided.
Iowa is considered a tossup by both analysts. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is retiring, pitting Democrat Bruce Braley against Republican Joni Ernst. The July 28 CBS poll found a dead heat with Ernst leading by one point.
Kentucky is rated likely Republican by Sabato and a tossup by Cook. Nominally considered a safe seat, Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell was weakened by a tough primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate. A July 29 poll in the Courier Journal showed McConnell with a scant two point lead over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. The CBS poll released one day earlier gave McConnell a four point lead.
Louisiana is yet another tossup. CBS found that Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu trails Republican Bill Cassidy by one point.
Michigan is another split decision with Sabato calling the race a likely Democratic victory and Cook labeling it a tossup. The current senator, Carl Levin (D), is retiring. The most recent poll, by CBS, showed Republican Terry Lynn Land with a one point lead over Democrat Gary Peters.
Minnesota is a likely Democratic hold in the view of both analysts. Incumbent Al Franken leads likely Republican candidate Mike McFadden by 12 points in the CBS poll. The Minnesota primary will be held next week on August 12.
Mississippi is considered to be a probable Republican hold in spite of the bruising and still disputed primary campaign that left Republican incumbent Thad Cochran in the race. CBS found Cochran with a 14 point lead over Democrat Travis Childers. The wild card in this race is Cochran’s primary challenger, Chris McDaniel, who has still not conceded defeat and may challenge the primary results in court.
Montana is a likely Republican pickup according to both analysts. Democratic incumbent John Walsh trailed challenger Steve Daines by 16 points according to CBS and was unlikely to make up the deficit. He announced on August 7 that he was dropping out of the race in the midst of a scandal involving plagiarism in a 2007 research paper at the Army War College.
North Carolina is another tossup. Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan trails Republican Thom Tillis by five points in the most recent Rasmussen poll on August 7. A Civitas poll two days earlier showed Tillis with a two point lead and the CBS poll showed a one point Tillis lead. The race is still very close but is trending toward Tillis.
New Hampshire is rated as a Democratic hold by both analysts. Jeanne Shaheen, the incumbent, led former Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown, by 10 points according to CBS.
South Dakota is a second likely Republican pickup. Democrat Tim Johnson is retiring and Republican Mike Rounds is favored over Democrat Rick Weiland. There are no recent polls for this race.
Virginia is a likely Democratic hold. Incumbent Mike Warner leads former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie by 23 points in a Hampton University poll.
West Virginia is a third likely pickup for the GOP. CBS shows Republican Shelly Moore Capito leading Democrat Natalie Tennant by eight points. The seat is being vacated by Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring.
In the current analysis, Republicans will almost certainly flip three Senate seats from Democrat to Republican. These seats are in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. In addition to these three seats, the GOP would need three more seats to win control of the Senate.
There are nine states still rated as tossups. Seven of these states are being defended by the Democrats, while only two are Republican. Currently, Republicans hold narrow leads in five of the Democratic tossups: Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina. It is interesting to note that three of these states, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, which may indicate an ideological change since the last Senate elections.
It is also interesting to note that several of the incumbent senators in tossup states were part of the class of 2009 that rode to victory on Barack Obama’s coattails. These senators include Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Udall (D-Col.), and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). With President Obama often polling with lower approval ratings than Democratic congressmen, he is unlikely to have coattails in 2014.
A final factor to consider is the rule of thumb that any incumbent who polls at less than 50 percent is in serious trouble. History has shown that undecided voters often, but not always, predominantly vote toward for challenger.
On the other side, only two seats are possible pickups for the Democrats. In Georgia, a tough primary season allowed Democrat Michelle Nunn to establish an early lead over the eventual Republican nominee, David Perdue. In Kentucky, a bitter campaign between Tea Party challenger and incumbent and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell left McConnell in a close race for the general election. Both of these races are likely to break for the Republicans.
In the end, whether the Republicans can successfully defend these two seats may well determine control of the Senate. It is a much easier proposition to win three tossup races than five. As Larry Sabato points out, Republicans have not beat more than two Democratic incumbents in any year since 1980. With the three likely pickups in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, the GOP is set to break a 30 year losing streak, but it will take more to win control of the Senate.
Many analysts believe that the GOP will overcome the odds. Sabato himself predicts a GOP pickup of between four and eight seats, which would put the chances of a Senate majority at approximately 50 percent. The comprehensive poll of Senate races by CBS also forecasted a 51-49 majority for the Republicans.
The Washington Post puts the odds even higher, giving the GOP an 82 percent chance of taking control of the Senate. The Post model calls for Republicans to win in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia, a pickup of seven seats. Based on current polling and trends, Examiner agrees with this assessment and would also consider North Carolina a likely Republican pickup for a total gain of eight seats.